An alien presence takes over the body of Keiko O’Brien, threatening Keiko and Molly while demanding that Miles sabotage the station.
Plot Summary: When Keiko O’Brien returns from studying botany in Bajor’s Fire Caves, Miles is shocked to be told by his own wife that her body has been possessed by an alien that will kill Keiko if he doesn’t do exactly what she says. Since no one, including the station’s computer, can detect any change in Keiko, and since the alien demonstrates the ability to stop Keiko’s heart more quickly than a phaser blast could knock her out, Miles decides that he must meet the demands, which begin with what sounds like a benign request for some changes to the station’s communications array and sensors. The alien controlling Keiko goes ahead with a planned birthday party for Miles and socializes with the station’s senior crew, proving to Miles that Keiko’s consciousness must remain inside her body. But when Miles tries to tell Sisko what’s going on, the alien makes Keiko fall from the upper level of the Promenade, which Bashir says could have been fatal had she not been fortunate to land the way she did. Desperate to finish the alien’s project, Miles recruits the newly ambitious Rom, making him promise not to discuss their secret project even with the command-level offices. When Dax finds evidence of sabotage, Miles then frames Rom, who maintains his vow of silence even when Sisko questions him. Since Sisko insists that Miles speak to Rom, Miles turns off the security surveillance devices to listen to Rom wonder why Starfleet is trying to target a chronoton beam at the wormhole aliens. Suddenly Miles realizes that the entity inside Keiko must be a Pah-wraith, one of the legendary enemies of the Prophets who were exiled to the Fire Caves, and that killing the wormhole aliens is her goal. When he returns to work, Odo tells him that he did a poor job sabotaging the security surveillance, but before Odo can arrest Miles for sabotage, Miles knocks him out and takes Keiko into space in a runabout. She orders him to target the center of the wormhole, but he fires the chronoton beam at the runabout itself, which knocks the Pah-wraith out of Keiko. Back on the station, he and Keiko explain their behavior to Sisko and to each other.
Analysis: I have a confession to make. When I first saw “The Assignment,” I spent about half of it expecting to find out that Keiko wasn’t possessed by an alien at all, but was manipulating Miles for some reason of her own. The writers have had her jerk him around in all sorts of ways before, so it didn’t seem at all surprising to me that, given her frustration with Deep Space Nine and her career and the pregnancy that Kira is now carrying for her, she might join the Maquis or conversely some peace-first group that opposes Starfleet’s involvement with the Klingon-Cardassian conflict. The revelation of the Pah-wraith was the episode’s most interesting aspect for me, and it remains so, since this is the first time we learn that the wormhole aliens have enemies who threaten the wormhole and Bajor itself. The main pleasure for me in rewatching the episode comes from these early discussions of the Fire Caves, which Jake wishes he could visit as a tourist, and the long-dismissed Bajoran legends about the exiles from the Celestial Temple who may have powers similar to the Prophets themselves. As for the rest of this dragged-out, meaningless bottle show whose only long-term consequence involves a promotion for Rom – apparently for demonstrating his talent for sabotage and willingness to lie to senior officers to protect his immediate superior – the only person who emerges from the debacle unscathed is Kira, who does not appear in the episode since Nana Visitor was at the time giving birth to the baby who necessitated the changes in the O’Brien family arc that apparently led to this forced re-bonding of Keiko and Miles after Miles nearly tried to run off with Kira. In a reasonable universe, it would also lead to Miles getting suspended from his job, but the level of incompetence demonstrated by everyone besides Rom and the Pah-wraith is so high that I can’t really blame Sisko for keeping Miles on. It’s not like Dax could track down the sabotage, Odo could stop the saboteur, or Kira was around to explain the Pah-wraith legends, right?
I really try to like and root for all women on this series – and I must note that the story’s unseen, unsung hero is Leeta, who told Rom about the Pah-wraiths – but I have to admit that any time Keiko’s name appears in the credits of an episode, I find myself sighing, and through many of her scenes, I find myself gritting my teeth. This is not Keiko’s fault and not really Rosalind Chao’s, though the range they’ve given her character is too limited for her to carry an episode like this one. We’ve seen her playing passive-aggressive and quietly angry so many times that the alien isn’t much of a shade beyond that, which is a big reason I wasn’t sure I believed Keiko was possessed in the first place. When Miles was possessed by evil aliens on Picard’s Enterprise, it was obvious that we weren’t seeing the real engineer, and when we met a duplicate Chief O’Brien on DS9, he was almost more Miles than Miles, so terrific were Colm Meaney’s little gestures and facial tics. I don’t fault Chao for not having as many subtle details because she plays the character less often, but Keiko in “The Assignment” merely seems like a more extreme version of the whiny, cutting shrew she became in “Fascination” and in a couple of episodes where she wasn’t under the influence of anything but her own frustration and annoyance. I find it extremely telling that she seems more comfortable with Keiko’s body and sexuality while under the influence of an alien exiled to the Phantom Zone than when she’s just being herself, and I wish we got to hear her reaction to that aspect of the possession. This is a woman whose marriage appears to be fraying at the seams more often that not, whose husband has been making eyes at another woman right under her nose for weeks, who is expecting a baby that will be yet another strain on the relationship no matter how badly they each want another child…how does she feel about knowing that her body can be possessed and made to manipulate her husband, threaten her child, nearly take her own life? How can she not feel a bit like Picard after his experiences as Locutus? Is there no moment of rethinking her choices, pondering the frustrations and joys and risks of her job, asking herself if this is the life she really wants?
It’s particularly distressing because she apparently either has a medical episode, is the victim of an attempted murder, or tries to commit suicide on the Promenade in front of a great many people and no one seems at all interested in investigating the circumstances. A couple of questions in Sickbay and they all declare that she just needs to rest, even Bashir, who if remotely competent would be investigating the first and last possibilities far more aggressively, wife of his best friend or not. And Odo should be trying to figure out whether there’s a dangerous structural flaw in the railing or someone who gets his jollies tossing women down several stories. Meanwhile Dax can spot sabotage but can’t shut down the affected systems until they can be investigated, and Sisko finds no reason to punish a chief of operations who nearly uses a Starfleet station to murder a world’s gods and likely start an interstellar war. Miles chooses the safety of his wife over the lives of hundreds of people on the station, including all his friends and co-workers plus his children both born and unborn, since he has no idea what the alien’s ultimate goal might be. Even if he believes there’s no possible way Bashir could save his wife and the alien’s demands pose no threat to any lives, he has ample opportunity to leave some sort of secret message for Dax or Odo as he undercuts their systems, to let them work on a defense to which he can’t be connected. He has lots of opportunity while doing all that rerouting and rewiring to do something that would force the senior staff to take notice. Instead he surrenders unconditionally in the name of his family, who are all going to die anyway if whatever the alien does damages the station in any way. It takes Rom of all people to show him the big picture – perhaps instead of merely a promotion to the day shift, O’Brien should make him chief of operations. That would give O’Brien more time with a wife for whom he declares love constantly, yet shows it much less often with his actions. As far as I can recall, the events of “The Assignment” don’t do anything to strengthen their marriage, not even to make them feel closer to the child Keiko keeps threatening while possessed. Poor Molly’s going to grow up more traumatized than Jake Sisko.