The Die is Cast (****½)
The second part of this story sacrifices the intrigue from the first part and replaces it with some visceral scenes and high-stakes action. It's almost as good as the first part, but some of the scenes on the Defiant in the middle of the episode feel like they're stalling for time and distract from the more engaging story taking place on the Warbird. After being warned several times this season that Garak is not to be trusted, and one of those warning came from Garak himself, here's the pay-off; he rejoins the Obsidian Order and tortures Odo. I'm trying not to sound sadistic by saying this, but the torture scene was fantastic. Here's a guy that's undergoing a process that we humans could never understand but the acting by Auberjonois and Robinson, and the wonderfully disturbing make-up, make it completely convincing. In a sense, both men are being tortured in that scene and both have a desire to return home, which leads to a twisted sense of camaraderie developing between them.
Then there's the main plot. Up until now there has been little feeling of the Dominion threat, and when the characters discuss it it seems like it's a little overblown. They blew up a Galaxy class ship by ramming it, but other than that we haven't seen them do much. Revealing the Changelings as the Founders made them more interesting, but the Dominion as a whole came across a little like generic thugs, they're certainly not as threatening as the Borg. This episode changed that. The scale of their plot is immense, they not only encouraged the building of a fleet to attack them, the Founders also abandoned their planet and relocated as part of the ruse. (Of course, they probably did that anyway after being discovered in The Search
.) We get a real example of just how dangerous Changeling infiltrators can be, they have the ability to replace any high-ranking official in an Alpha Quadrant government and weaken the standing of those empires. And what I really like about this plot is that the Federation isn't involved, this is a major interstellar event involving three alien empires and yet we still care and feel like it matters.
Another thing I love about this episode is how well it stands up while rewatching the show. The talk between Garak and Tain at the beginning, especially the part where Tain suggests executing Mila, hints at a deeper connection between those three characters than the show at this point acknowledges. The damage caused to the Obsidian Order here fatally wounds them and allows the upcoming revolution on Cardassia. The Changeling specifically threatens to target the Federation and Klingons next, and within a few months they're in conflict with one another because of another Changeling. And Admiral goldshirt "threatens" Sisko with promotion for his actions. It's a strong episode in its own right, but all these extra elements make it even more special.
Runabouts Lost: 3
So long USS Mekong, you're irreplaceable. At least until the USS Rubicon shows up.