I think another point in the episode's favour is that it draws attention (deliberately or not) to the skewed perspective viewers have on the universe these shows are set in. With the exception of Quark, our viewpoint characters are in service to a powerful, sprawling organization that essentially has the power to define the situations and the people it encounters - both in-universe and in the eyes of viewers. In TNG, and in early DS9, we see plenty of smaller or weaker powers, planets-of-the-week, but those planets are presented to us in terms of their dealings with the Federation (of course they are, it couldn't be otherwise). All things considered, we see a rather orderly galaxy. For all that the planet-of-the-week has problems (or represents problems), the rich, powerful Federation is there to police the chaos. To respond, to mediate, to set a shiny example. And even when Picard or Sisko deal with major powers like Cardassians, Romulans and Klingons, we're still seeing a world in which the Federation defines the galaxy. Those other powers are presented in terms of relations with the UFP, treaties and stalemates and careful regulation of the balance of power. It's a rather neat galaxy, all things considered. But in this episode, we're basically given a glimpse into all the minor worlds who aren't part of the Federation, aren't able or willing to call it in to solve a dispute, aren't locked into treaties with it as rivals, aren't on the Federation's radar at all. Quark represents our only real chance to access the seedy underbelly of that neat galaxy, because Quark is our insight into the little guy; he's the one character who isn't affiliated with the uniform and the higher purpose. Even Kira and Odo - who represent the more rugged home militia of the struggling nation rather than the shiny army of the rich superpower - are involved with maintaining order rather than rummaging in the chaos.
In this episode, we're introduced to minor conflicts that are apparently raging in the galaxy "right now", with no apparent mediation by the UFP or any attention at all from major powers. Nations like Palamar or the other worlds Hagath mentions have slipped through the cracks of the Trek universe. They're involved in horrific civil wars, conflicts with one another that seem devastating (at least on their more limited scale), desperate struggles that see millions of deaths...and in a universe as large as Trek's, it "doesn't matter". The Federation and other major players apparently haven't noticed, we
only "notice" because we have the Quark character to dip his toes into that other galaxy - an other galaxy that no other main character could
enter. It's quite a jolt, I think, to be given the impression that all the high-stakes politics we see elsewhere is obscuring all sorts of conflicts and sufferings that we ordinarily wouldn't get a glimpse at. Okay, that's an obvious truth if you think about it, but it's not about our logic, it's about what the show actually, well, shows us. This episode actually presents us, knowingly or not, with the hard fact that as Sisko and Gowron debate the Khitomer Accords, or as Winn and Legate Turrel sign a peace treaty, some world like Palamar is being made a wasteland and no-one notices...save the arms dealers making a profit from it.
Episodes like this are interesting in that they show us glimpses of the Trek universe we don't often see - because all our other viewpoint characters are representing their government, we only see those worlds that come to those governments' attention.
Gaila's speech about the stars, and whether it really matters if Quark helps him put out one of those stars, takes on another layer of meaning for me. If Palamar is made a wasteland...does it matter?, and I don't mean does it matter in-universe, or to Quark, but does it matter to me, when that world is in a Trek galaxy I don't often see? The fate of Cardassia matters because the show is, in part, about Cardassia. The fate of Palamar doesn't matter...only here, for this one episode, it does, because Quark has entered its story and so made its story relevant to us. (Yes, I'm aware Palamar doesn't really exist
- I hope what I'm saying makes sense of a sort; I'm talking about how the episode insists we suddenly look at, and find meaning in, an implied chunk of the fictional universe in which the shows are set that ordinarily is of no relevance). In a sense, this episode is daring (and I think it maybe doesn't realize just how daring it is, seeing as I think it arrived at its destination in ignorance, just by following the Quark character).