I wasn't sure entirely where this episode was going. A simple revisitation of the tragedy which opened the series? A look at the relationship between Jake and Sisko? This turned out to be half of a very, very rich moment in the series, a look at Benjamin Sisko brought to life by some superb acting from Avery Brooks. Unfortunately, Brooks couldn't save the episode from its own premise, and the other half was a confusing "huh?"
Dr. Seyetik (Richard Kiley) is a larger than life character - flamboyant, confident, quite willing to mock himself and brag about his achievements - who never, for me, quite crystallizes into humanity until the point where he admits to Sisko that his wife, Nidell, no longer loves him and that Seyetik is fully aware of this, and the tragedy that Nidell, whose people mate for life, can not leave him on her own. Seyetik's the perfect sort of character to try and breathe life again into a solar system. But this is a shell for the real drama... which begins the minute Sisko leaves his cabin, musing about Jennifer. We saw his wife's death in the opening episode of the series at the hands of the Borg at Wolf 359; she's now part of the series mythology. Sisko's almost missing the anniversary of her death shows he's moving on-and not before time. Even Jake is ready for Sisko to accept the guilt and move on. It's not surprising therefore that when the beautiful, alluring Fenna appears that Sisko immediately lets her know he is the commander of the station (really one of the better pickup lines I've seen pulled off on television.) I was entranced throughout by the mystery of Fenna - was she just a psychological echo of Jennifer? An idealized woman? Is she a second personality of Nidell's, or somehow her twin? Fenna and Sisko have an instant energy, and she's really quite beautiful; Salli Richardson does an excellent job bringing what might have been a one-sided character to life.
The storylines merge when it turns out that Nidell and Fenna are the same spirit, if not the same person. Nidell, traumatized by years away from home, is telepathically projecting Fenna, a more innocent and seemingly carefree version of herself, and giving her license to roam the station. Without Nidell, Fenna does not exist. The longer Fenna is projected from Nidell, the closer Nidell comes to death. Sisko, ever the hero, encourages Fenna to let go, to at least allow Nidell to live. Seyetik's decision to kill himself to free Nidell seemed out of character - egomaniacs rarely commit suicide - but Nidell seems unperturbed by his death, Fenna disappears, and Sisko is once again alone.
The character Nidell does approach him again, but in order to find information out about Fenna: what was she like? This is one of the finer moments of the episode, one of the reasons I'm calling it so rich. Sisko recognizes why she approaches him. Fenna's clearly some sort of escape from her psyche, a return to a less stressful, more innocent self. When he tells Nidell she's just like Fenna, he's not trying to get Fenna back. He's trying to give Nidell confidence that she will be free and happy again. I wonder if others read that moment the same way; it's one of those fantastic character moments that bears multiple interpretations.
But after you step away from the immediate pathos of the show, you're left with annoying technical questions. Why would Seyetik come to DS9 to try his terraforming technology? Why would the command crew of DS9 go with him instead of a bunch of techies? It's no wonder the A plot sort of took a backseat in this episode.
Bits and pieces
Sisko discovering again the ability to love is a beautiful thing, and Brooks brings a substantial change to the character. One of the areas where this episode just worked is how his community reacted to him. Jake repeats Nog stories. Kira notices. Dax notices. Odo rolls his eyes. Even Quark comes by with a drink and a dirty expression. I was thrilled by each of the little, and sometimes subtle, moments with the crew. How much they've come to know him, and how much he's come to respect and trust them, is becoming abundantly clear.
Kira: Every morning for the last year, I've seen you walk in here and start your day with a raktajino.
Sisko: I love raktajino.
Kira: I know. You never even talk to anyone until you've had your first cup.
Sisko: I'm not awake until I've had my first cup.
Kira: So how come you're drinking chiraltan tea?
Sisko: I, er, I just felt like having something different. That is all right with you, isn't it, Major?
Kira: Of course. You can drink whatever you like.
Sisko: Thank you, Major. I appreciate your support.
Jake: Dad, are you in love?
Jake: You know, with a woman. You're showing all three of the signs.
Jake: The ones that Nog told me about. Loss of appetite, daydreaming, smiling all the time.
Sisko: You've been talking to Nog about women again?
You'll love it while watching, then question your commitment afterwards. Two out of four intriguing phantom women.