the story: Sisko receives a puzzling vision of the future while Kira adjusts to temporary command of the station.
what it's all about: I don't know how impactful "Image in the Sand" is as a season premiere, especially since its story continues into the next episode ("Shadows and Symbols") before breaking off into a string of standalone episodes. It's kind of a place-holder, a slow burn beginning. On one hand it's kind of a status update. Kira, for the first time ever, is in charge of the station, and finds that all over again she has to learn how complicated everything really is (kind of her life story over the course of the series). Sisko, meanwhile, is kind of moping at home on Earth, before being thrust into what will turn out to be a kind of radical revision of the character (more on that next episode). There's also some of how Worf's dealing with the death of his wife, Jadzia Dax. Plus the soft introduction of the new Dax.
All of it combines for an episode that feels far more like a continuation than anything. Which at this point is probably just about right for a series that had been creeping toward serialization from the start. As I said in my thoughts for the sixth season finale ("Tears of the Prophets"), the producers seem to have finally decided to move forward at any cost with their storytelling, which meant they were no longer waiting around for fans to catch up with them. Which is just as well. This was going to be the final season anyway; there was literally nothing to lose.
The only thing truly odd about all this is that "Image" and "Shadows" really should have been a two-part episode, like "The Search" at the beginning of the third season and "Way of the Warrior" at the beginning of the fourth. The fifth began with a complete standalone ("Apocalypse Rising") while the sixth had a six-episode arc to help kick off the Dominion War. The war, meanwhile, just sort of exists in the background of "Image," even though "Tears" had just made a point of Starfleet looking to ramp up the offensive. Kind of weird. But again, "Image" was a lot of character work, the hallmark of the series. Which seems appropriate.
franchise- Casual fans might find the episode somewhat impenetrable.
- series - Dedicated ones will suffer no such confusion.
- character - Sisko and Kira find themselves at turning points.
- essential - Sisko's on the verge of a big reveal, so this material is pivotal.
Deborah Casey (Sarah Sisko)
Brock Peters (Joseph Sisko)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Barry Jenner (Admiral Ross)
Casey Biggs (Damar)