Sisko and O'Brien, in a runabout, come across an M-Class planet with an uncharted human settlement on it. They beam down to talk to the people there and find an agrarian society led by a woman named Alixus. They also find that their equipment no longer works — nothing electronic does — due to a duonetic field around the planet, so they are unable to beam back up or call for help. They are determined to return to their ship, but Alixus tells them they may have to accept that they will never leave, as they have never been able to themselves.
As Sisko and O'Brien stay on the planet, it soon becomes apparent that Alixus is ruling the colony with an iron grip — anyone who breaks any laws is placed inside a punishment box to go without food or water, and the efforts of O'Brien and Sisko to contact their runabout earn Alixus' retribution, culminating with her ordering Sisko placed in the box. He goes along with this punishment, even returning to the box over submitting to Alixus when she temporarily frees him.
Realizing the planet's geology can't be responsible for the duonetic field and uses a makeshift compass to track down its true source — a generator. O'Brien shuts it down and returns to the village to free Sisko and reveal the truth. Alixus confirms she purposefully marooned the colonists on the planet but it was for the best, as it allowed them to build a peaceful, happy society together.
Dax and Kira, who had gone looking for the two and found their runabout, contacts Sisko. The colonists, though now aware of Alixus' true colors, agree that she gave them their community, and elect to stay on the planet, now with the option to return to the galaxy if they choose to. Sisko and O'Brien are beamed up, along with Alixus and her son Vinod to answer for their crimes.
- Absentee Actor: Only half the main cast appear in this episode. Bashir, Odo, Quark and Jake are all missing.
- The Bad Guy Wins: While Alixus and her son are exposed and taken prisoner to answer for what they've done, the colonists still agree with her philosophy and the results it achieve, and choose to stay on the planet and continue to live there without technology. She's no Karma Houdini, but Alixus won in the end.
- Bittersweet Ending: Alixus and Vinod are taken to face justice for what they've done, Sisko and O'Brien are rescued, and the colonists are freed from Alixus' control. However, she still claims a moral victory in that they still feel tied to their community and choose to stay on the planet, though they are now aware they can re-establish contact with the Federation if they choose so.
- Break the Badass: Alixus tries this on Sisko. She fails miserably.
- Burning the Ships: It is revealed that Alixus and her son had secretly sabotaged the ship so it would crash on the planet. Afterwards they persuaded the castaways to throw away all their electronic technology, who thusly voluntarily forsook any chance to call for help. At the same time, Alixus keeps a duonetic field generator going that blocks all electronic technology, so nobody can use technology on the planet even if they want to.
- Call-Back: O'Brien tells Sisko that he gained his Gadgeteer Genius skills at Setlik III.
- Contrived Coincidence: Averted. Indeed, that fact that Alixus and company find themselves stranded on a planet that just happens to coincide with her personal philosophies so well is what first raises Sisko's suspicions.
- Cult: Alixus' community has shades of this.
- Determinator: An alternate title for the episode could have been "Cool Hand Benjamin."
- Diabolus ex Machina: The ending feels a little like this. Throughout the episode, we're shown that many of the colonists really would desperately like to have the technology to survive, and are appalled by Alixus' treatment of Sisko and O'Brien, then learn that all their suffering has been built on an lie. They ultimately decide to continue living on the planet. Whether they will continue to use the duonetic field generator or reestablish outside contact is left in the air. It feels like the writers decided that resolving the episode by taking down the big bad and having it become a more standard colony world was "too easy" so wrote something much more ambiguous.
- Didn't Think This Through: Sisko and O'Brien put less than five minutes into trying to persuade the community members to come with them — that's in contrast to the ten years of brainwashing they've received from Alixus. But the officers' haste is understandable; at that point, they just want to get the hell off that planet.
- Die or Fly: Part of O'Brien's backstory. Fighting against the Cardassians helped him develop his engineering genius.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Stealing candles earns you a day in the heat box.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Sisko continues to refer to his father in the past tense, as though he is long dead.
- Evil Luddite: Alixus.
- Honey Trap: Alixus tries to use Cassandra to seduce Sisko into taking off his uniform. It doesn't work.
- Alixus, an Evil Luddite, uses advanced technology to restrict anyone else from doing so and to hide her utopia. Besides her tech-dampening duonetic field, she gets onto the Rio Grande to try (unsuccessfully) to destroy it. This implies she has a cache of high tech devices (at least a communicator and possibly a transporter) she has no qualms about using to maintain her position.
- In her justifying speech to the colony at the end, she claims that they should all be grateful she did this, as it allowed them all to "realize their true potential" instead of wasting away their lives in menial, dead-end positions. She did this by essentially kidnapping them and forcing them to perform endless agricultural labor on a backwater planet without technology and with the risk of fatal diseases and accidents. While she's right about how the experience "redefined" them, it's only in her view that it was for the better.
- At the end, Alixus tells Stephen that he would be in prison by now if it weren't for her bringing him to the community... even though he was introduced being freed from the punishment box for stealing a candle, and Alixus is basically keeping the entire colony prisoner on the planet.
- Idiot Ball: A strange field that could interfere with communicators, and thus preventing them from beaming back up? Well, better send down both men who are on the runabout!
- It's What I Do: After Dax shuts down Kira's idea to stop the wayward runabout Orinoco:Kira: You got a better idea?
Dax: I'm a science officer. It's my job to have a better idea.
- I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure: When O'Brien is caught trying to contact the runabout by Alixus's men, she has Sisko placed into the hot box instead of O'Brien, under the justification that Sisko was his commanding officer and culpable for O'Brien's acts.
- Ludd Was Right: Alixus espouses a philosophy that technology is bad, while Sisko grows increasingly suspicious of the fact that she has "accidentally" found a planet that suits that philosophy so well.
- The Main Characters Do Everything: A routine survey mission is carried out by the man who runs the station and the man who ensures said station is running.
- Meaningful Name: The planet and its star are named Orellius.
- Outfit Decoy: O'Brien proves his own ingenuity with this trick to beat Alixus's son, who is armed with a bow.
- Punishment Box: How Alixus punishes any crime, including trying to escape. Sisko voluntarily puts himself in the box rather than take off his uniform.
- Shout-Out: This episode is essentially Cool Hand Luke with a dash of The Bridge on the River Kwai IN SPACE!
- Stockholm Syndrome: By the end of the episode, the colonists have come to accept Alixus' Evil Luddite philosophy, and intend to keep following it after she's arrested for her crimes.
- Straw Character: Alixus has some interesting ideas, but the authoritarian way she runs the community heavily discourages viewers from thinking of her as anything but a villain.
- Throwing the Distraction: Vinod is hunting O'Brien in the forest and spots a flash of black cloth. He shoots and pins O'Brien's empty uniform to a tree. O'Brien then jumps him from behind.
- Utopia Justifies the Means: Nobody is going to interfere with Alixus Space Amish dictatorship. Even if it means dying from an easily curable illness. When Sisko directly asks if she would still believe this if it had been her own son who was fatally ill, Alixus replies "yes."
- Villain Ball: Alixus is dead-set on not allowing Sisko and O'Brien to leave the colony, even though it's obvious they have no intent of staying and she gains nothing from keeping them there. Her repeated efforts to try and keep them there also ensure that even if they eventually gave up hope of escape, they would never trust her or submit to her and would probably cause trouble of some sort otherwise, so her insistence on them staying is downright self-sabotaging.