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 and rescue the colonists, but the colonists, particularly Alixus, extol the virtues of living a simple life and don't seem in a rush to leave.
Sisko and O'Brien are given jobs, which seem to take precedence over any effort they might make to facilitate an escape. 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. They also learn that Alixus held luddite views long before winding up on a planet that required a luddite lifestyle. As time goes on, Alixus makes increasingly blunt assertions that escape from the planet is impossible, so the two newcomers will have to settle in as permanent members of the community.
Sisko and O'Brien have no desire to live the rest of their lives as medieval farmers. They refuse to change out of their uniforms, and Sisko orders O'Brien to study the duonetic field so they can return to their ship. When a colonist gets deathly ill, Sisko campaigns for him and O'Brien to try to reach the medical kit in the runabout, but Alixus thinks that it would be a waste of time and focus, saying they should instead search the wilderness for new herbs. The patient ultimately dies.
Things come to a head when O'Brien gets caught researching the duonetic field, and Alixus announces that he's committed the colony's greatest offense: wasting energy on a pointless pursuit. She punishes Sisko as his commanding officer to sit in the punishment box. After a long stay, Alixus releases him temporarily, offering him water and rest if he'll discard his uniform and commit to staying in the colony. Without a word, Sisko staggers back inside the punishment box.
Meanwhile, Kira and Dax have noticed that Sisko and O'Brien are missing. They venture out and eventually locate the runabout left behind by the pair. In spite of Sisko's assertion that his runabout would bring attention to the planet he's stuck on, it's actually just drifting in space. Dax and Kira realize that someone must have tried to pilot the ship into the nearby sun but missed. They resolve to track its warp signature to find out where it's been.
Back on the planet, O'Brien has discovered that 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 armed with a phaser to free Sisko and reveal the truth. Alixus confirms she purposefully marooned the colonists on the planet but states that it was for the best, as it allowed them to build a peaceful, happy society together.
Sisko manages to get into contact with Kira and tells them to prepare for multiple transports. However, the rest of the colony doesn't want to leave. In spite of the lies that got them there and the many difficulties they face, Alixus was right that they are more happy in the colony than back in their previous lives. For Alixus and her co-conspirator son, however, they will have to answer for the many deaths that they've caused by her deception. The four beam away, leaving the colonists behind.
- Alpha Bitch: Alixus, to a tee. She adheres strongly to her philosophical beliefs, has lied to the colony about their situation, uses an iron hand to dispense justice, and even lets a colony member die because she is so ardent with her back-to-nature beliefs. On top of that, with an implied stash of technological tools, she almost throws away the Rio Grande runabout to burn up in the planet system's sun, if it weren't for the timely intervention of Kira and Jadzia.
- Anti-Villain: It's pretty easy to dislike Alixus, but her whole motivation is trying to create a utopia, and she's ultimately vindicated in the end when none of her followers choose to leave the society she created even after learning about her lies.
- Artistic License Chemistry: It's stated a few times that there are "astatine deposits" in the nearby marshes, which most of the colonists assume to be the source of the duonetic field. Astatine is a real element, but its most stable isotope has a radioactive half-life of about eight hours, and it also generates so much heat in the process that no quantity visible to the naked eye can exist without vaporizing itself.
- 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.
- Continuity Nod: A former Starfleet officer in the colony notes that Sisko and O'Brien's uniforms are different from what he remembers, referencing the new design used by this show in comparison to Star Trek: The Next Generation.
- 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.
- 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, though she's a bit of an Anti-Villain given that she's ultimately proven right: the colonists prefer to stay in the luddite colony even after learning the truth of her lies.
- Felony Misdemeanor: When O'Brien is caught trying to reactivate his tech, Alixus acts like he's committed the worst kind of transgression against the colony. She then acts like Joseph is being corrupted when he speaks in O'Brien's defense.
- 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: The colonists become convinced that Alixus's old fashioned lifestyle really is the best way to live.
- The Main Characters Do Everything: A routine survey mission is carried out by the man who runs the station and the man who ensures it runs smoothly.
- 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.
- "Ray of Hope" Ending: The last shot of the episode shows two of the colony's children staring at the spot where Sisko, O'Brien, Alixus, and Vinod disappeared, no doubt the first time they had ever witnessed a transporter being used. This suggests that while the adults will continue to follow Alixus's philosophy, the next generation will likely be more open-minded.
- 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. While one could Hand Wave that she doesn't want them to leave to ensure her followers never get the idea it may be plausible for them to leave as well, she could have easily arranged to get the two off-planet without her followers knowing.