(this review contains some spoilers for the first episode in the trilogy, "The Homecoming")
The middle part of any trilogy is usually the weakest of the bunch. It doesn't have the explosive beginning and it doesn't have the riveting ending. Instead, it's a transition, where things start to go even worse for the good guys. Star Trek has a reputation for having lackluster endings to its two-part episodes, but it's never had a trilogy before, so this was unexplored territory. Like a trooper, though, Deep Space Nine follows through with a solid outing that continues the trend of good episodes.
In "The Homecoming", Major Kira (Nana Visitor) rescued Li Nalas (Richard Beymer), a Bajoran Resistance hero, from a Cardassian prison camp, hoping that he could lead Bajor through the dark times that a radical group called the Circle was bringing about. Li claimed not to be the man that everybody thought he was, but Commander Sisko (Avery Brooks) convinced him that he could be that man. The episode ended with Li Nalas replacing Kira as Sisko's first officer.
As "The Circle" begins, Kira is trying to discover her place in the new regime. As she tries to pack and her friends try to convince her to fight for her job, Vedek Bereil (Philip Anglim) comes to her quarters and asks her to stay at the monastery. Meanwhile, the door to Sisko's quarters has been vandalized with the sign of the Circle, indicating that they can go anywhere on the station. Quark (Armin Shimmerman) has some important information for Odo (Rene Auberjonois) about who is supplying the Circle with weapons as the violence spills into the streets. With Kira trying to relax and "be useless for awhile" and Sisko trying everything he can to get her back, the Circle tightens its noose. Revolution is coming to Bajor, and there may not be room for the Federation after it's finished.
While the teaser is positively chilling with the sign of the Circle on Sisko's door, the opening scene after the credits is simply priceless. Kira is trying to pack and one after another of her friends comes to see her. Odo is after her to fight for her position, Bashir (Siddig El Fadil) is trying to figure out what is going on and just wants to say goodbye, and everybody else just makes the situation even more chaotic. It makes Bereil's entrance even more effective and startling. It's a wonderfully played scene by Visitor and the others, and Angelim brings a wonderful serenity to his role as Bereil. In fact, Angelim is outstanding throughout the episode, contrasting the intensity of the action and emotion with his detachment, even as he fights his growing attraction to Kira. The scenes between Kira and Bereil simply crackle with potential energy, just waiting to be released.
Which brings me to another great guest-starring turn, by Louise Fletcher. She hasn't changed since "In the Hands of the Prophets". In fact, her words and tone of voice are dripping with even more malevolence. The scene where she interrupts Bereil and Kira as they discuss their orb visions is simply wonderful. Fletcher is a veteran, and she brings the wonderful smarminess to the role of Vedek Winn that she brought to Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. She only has two scenes in this episode, but they are both intense.
Which brings us to Minister Jaro (Frank Langella, uncredited). What a guest cast they have brought together for this trilogy! They all bring class and style to their roles, with Langella being one of the best. He has a quiet menace to him, especially once his secret is revealed. The only problem is, once again, he seems to mumble. I'm not sure what it is, but when I can hear everybody else but not him, it's not a good thing. Still, subtitles fix that and he is otherwise fantastic.
I can also say the same for Richard Beymer. Li's very uncomfortable in his role as Sisko's first officer, and he's especially nervous with the status that Bajor has given him. "I don't even know what a Navarch (the title they have given him) does." When he's forced to command, he asks Dax (Terry Farrell) for advice, being completely out of his element. Sure, he's led fighters into battle, but command of a station? Beymer brings a quiet passion to the role, showing us a man who wants to do the right thing but isn't necessarily sure what that right thing is.
I've spent a lot of time on the guest cast, but the regulars are almost perfect as well. The opening scene mentioned above is classic, a nice bit of comic relief in the middle of a tension-filled episode. The Quark-Odo scene is quite good as well, where Quark gives Odo the information on the weapons shipment. Odo makes good use of his shape-shifting ability in finding out the secret of the Circle. There is not a bad performance in the bunch, but I have to give special kudos to Visitor. Her scenes with Bereil and opposite Jaro are well-acted.
Finally, there's the rest of the episode. What can I say about it? It carries forward the plot from the first episode and leaves us with a lovely cliffhanger for the final episode. The pieces are in place, our heroes know what is going on but can't communicate that fact to Bajor, and we're given hints that we're in for a rollicking conclusion.
There is a nice action sequence toward the end of the episode for those of you who like phaser blasts. It's well-choreographed and executed. It does suffer a bit from "Red Shirt Syndrome," but at least the men aren't killed. There is one minor niggle in the episode, though. When Kira is kidnapped, how does Quark know where she's being kept? Being an underhanded businessman, I can understand how he'd hear about the weapons trading, but knowing the secret hideout of a fanatical Bajoran sect? Please.
The normal let-down that occurs in a second episode does not happen here. Yes, it is a transition between the first and the last episode, but this one is just as interesting as the first. We were introduced to the problem in "The Homecoming," and "The Circle" shows us how things are even worse than we had figured. There's no running around incoherently or treading water while the show fills time until the final episode. Instead, the plot ratchets up another notch or two and things look even bleaker. I have to admit that I loved it, and I can't wait for the conclusion.
"We've got to leave! Well, I do, anyway. You can just turn into a couch." Quark