After several skirmishes in which the Defiant is able to destroy Dominion ships, only to be told to fall back, Dax takes Sisko to task over the low morale that the crew is under. Sisko is apparently aware of this development, and has formulated a plan to retake Deep Space Nine. When the plan is presented to the Federation brass the next day, there is skepticism all around. Of particular concern is how lightly defended Earth would become, stoking fears that the Dominion would prefer to strike at Earth at the first available opportunity. Sisko, however, is insistent that the plan go ahead: his viewpoint is that the Wormhole is the key to controlling the Alpha Quadrant, and that whoever controls Deep Space Nine controls the wormhole. The Federation brass approves the plan to retake Deep Space Nine, however it would appear that Gowron isn't on board. To that end, Martok and Worf go to Q'onoS to plead with Gowron directly. The way they see it, if an ally (Martok) and enemy (Worf) of Gowron are telling him to do the same thing, it may convince Gowron to join the battle.
Meanwhile, on Terok Nor, all attempts to get Rom free from imprisonment are not going well. Odo has spent 3 days linking with the Female Shapeshifter, while Weyoun has labeled Rom an enemy of the state and is proceeding with plans to have him executed. When Kira tries to press further, Weyoun shoots back that he is aware that Kira is one of Rom's closest accomplices and that Kira would be wise to drop the subject lest she herself is marked for execution.
Kira then contacts Ziyal to see if she can talk to Dukat. The thinking is twofold: Rom is married to Leeta, a Bajoran, and that as a half-Bajoran, perhaps Ziyal can convince Dukat to spare Rom. Secondly, since Dukat has been trying to foment a reputation as a savior of Bajorans, this is a perfect time to show leniency to Rom in light of his marriage to Leeta. Unfortunately, Dukat refuses to listen to Ziyal, which makes Ziyal realize that her own father isn't the great man that Dukat says he is. Ziyal storms out.
Later on in Quark's Damar asks for his usual drink of Kanar. He's feeling more positive than usual, and for good reason too: he tells Quark the field tests to disable the mines with the station's anti-graviton beam have worked and he is now working on disabling all mines, one-by-one. Once the replication units of all mines have been disabled, they can be detonated at will, which will likely take a week. When Quark tells Kira about Damar's news, she is concerned and wants to send a message to Starfleet. As it turns out, Jake has already asked Morn to smuggle a message to his father in one of the gifts Morn is taking home to his mother. Kira then approaches Morn about smuggling a second message....
... which ends up in the hands of Ross and Sisko. Ross asks Sisko if the courier is considered trustworthy, and Sisko says he has known Morn for more than 5 years. But the bigger concern is the message itself, based on the date that Kira has sent him, the minefield will be down in 3 days. They can no longer wait for any reinforcements, Klingon, Federation, or otherwise, they must undertake the mission to retake Deep Space Nine before the minefield is brought down.
The actions of the Federation have not gone unnoticed by Cardassians and the Dominion. Damar reports that there has been a large fleet buildup near where Sisko is stationed. Dukat, however, is pre-occupied with his earlier conversation with Ziyal and wants Damar to talk to her to make her see things his way. But when Damar tries to press the issue with Ziyal, Kira unleashes a can of whoopass on Damar before retreating with Ziyal. Damar goes to Dukat, demanding that Kira be arrested, however Weyoun nixes that idea, preferring to concentrate their effort to stop the Federation Fleet, now on its way to Deep Space Nine. Dukat proceeds to draw forces to counter the immediate threat.
Elsewhere on the station, Odo has been spending a lot of the time with the Female Shapeshifter, to the point that they were exploring sexual intimacy experienced by the Solids. The Female Shapeshifter finds the experience underwhelming, while Odo is shocked at the passage of time, he was unaware that three days have passed while they were linked together. Later on, while on the Promenade, Odo has been reminiscing with his experiences with the Solids while the Female Shapeshifter says that the Solids love of freedom must be destroyed and their experiences forever bound to the servitude of the Founders. Odo is taken aback by her comments and realizes how deep he has been with the Female Shapeshifter. He goes off to try to make amends with Kira but Kira will have none of it, retorting that with the Minefield due to come down, the Dominion is on the cusp of its final victory against the Alpha Quadrant.
The Defiant's fleet meets the Dominion fleet several hours away from Deep Space Nine. The Dominion have 1254 ships, a 2-to-1 advantage against the Federation. The battle to retake Deep Space Nine is about to begin.
This episode provides examples of:
- All There in the Manual: "Operation Return" is never referred by name, which comes from the DS9 Technical Manual.
- Batman Gambit: The Defiant crew fake damage to the ship in order to lure some Jem'Hadar ships into an ambush.
- Berserk Button: Do NOT manhandle Tora Ziyal in front of Major Kira.
- Big Brother Instinct: As Rom becomes resigned to his fate:Quark: Besides, do you think your big brother would let anything happen to you?
Rom: What can you do?
Quark: I'm not sure, but I will think of something. No matter what it takes, no matter what I have to do, I'm going to get you out of here.
- Broken Pedestal: Ziyal finally sees past her father's self-aggrandizing claims of being a merciful man and regretful tyrant and refuses to speak with him after he refuses to release Rom.
- Character Development: This episode has Sisko declaring his love for Bajor, along with his intention to build a house there once the war is over. Quite a long way from the man who was treating the posting at Deep Space 9 as just another assignment.
- Chekhov's Gun: Morn visiting his mother.
- Condescending Compassion: Odo and the Female Changeling both lament that Solids are bound to only a single perspective. Driving the point home, they're literally looking down on a progression of people as they say so.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: Damar's fight with Kira is painfully one-sided; Damar only manages to get in one hit before Kira beats him senseless.
- Darkest Hour: The Federation learns the minefield will soon come down, allowing a massive Dominion fleet to come through the wormhole. Lacking the time for additional Starfleet ships or Klingon support to arrive, Sisko has no choice but to take a limited fleet into battle.
- Death-or-Glory Attack: Discussed by Admiral Ross and Sisko. The plan to retake DS9 will either give the Federation the initiative in the war, put the Dominion on the defensive, and eliminate the threat of further reinforcements from the wormhole or it will cost every ship they have and likely spell all out defeat for the Federation.
- Field Promotion: Nog goes from Cadet to Ensign after spending months on the front lines. O'Brien jokes (though not really) he didn't know the war was going that badly.
- Flaunting Your Fleets: We see the Federation fleet around Starbase 375 get larger and larger as the episode progresses, before flying off to retake Deep Space Nine. Then the Dominion sends an even larger fleet to block them at the end of the episode.
- Damar tells Ziyal that her father knows the alliance with the Dominion is a dangerous one, and if Cardassia shows any weakness, they will become the Dominion's scapegoats. This is what eventually happens in Season 7.
- While talking with Ross, Sisko voices his desire to build a home on Bajor, which will be revisited in Season 7.
- The Female Changeling tells Weyoun that Odo is the only thing that matters to them, more than the entire Alpha Quadrant.
- Gondor Calls for Aid: Sisko's plan hinges on Klingon involvement, but Gowron is reluctant to commit so many ships when they're having trouble defending their own territory. Martok and Worf leave to convince him in person, because, as the General says, an ally and an enemy telling him the same thing will surely convince the Chancellor.Sisko: Gentlemen, I need those ships.Worf: And you shall have them.
- Heel Realisation: When the Female Changeling starts talking about "breaking" people of their need for freedom, Odo starts to realise (or, more accurately remember) exactly what the Dominion stands for.
- "Hell, Yes!" Moment: When Jadzia says they need a big victory to turn the war around, Sisko tells her he intends to propose a major plan to the brass."We're going to retake Deep Space 9."
- Hidden Depths: As it turns out, Weyoun would like to be able to carry a tune.
- Hidden in Plain Sight: The Federation receives word that the minefield around the wormhole is coming down from Morn - Kira's Resistance cell had it encoded on the ribbon he used to wrap his mother's birthday present.
- Horrible Judge of Character: Damar believes that Quark is a typical Ferengi, one who puts profit and greed above all else (including family). He fails to see that Quark does have a conscience and is firmly not on the Dominion's side.
- Hypocrite: The Female Changeling expresses pity for Solids being trapped in a single form and a single perspective. Her idea of a solution? Break them of their need for freedom and put them into the service of the fascistic Dominion.
- I Like Those Odds: Averted. Everyone is shocked when they run into a Dominion fleet that outnumbers them two to one. But Sisko knows they have to try and push through anyway. Cue Title Drop.
- Lack of Empathy: The Female Changeling's lack of regard for anything that's not another changeling shines through; when Odo describes the solids' love for freedom, she remarks that the Dominion will need to "break" them of that. She brushes it off as a poor choice of words (naturally, the result of solids' language being to imprecise, rather than any fault of her own), but it's enough to start weakening her hold over Odo, who isn't yet too far gone.
- Literal-Minded: When Kira tries to appeal to have Rom released, Weyoun jokingly says that there's no logic in releasing a man before he's executed.
- Momma's Boy: The day is saved because Morn is taking his mother so many birthday presents that he can easily smuggle a message out.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Realising that he's allowed the Female Changeling to influence him, Odo is overcome with regret and tries to apologise to Kira.
- My Species Doth Protest Too Much: Ziyal is only half-Cardassian, but she's disgusted at her father's belief that "enemies of the state do not deserve mercy", nor is she moved by Damar's attempt to appeal to her patriotism.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: See: Berserk Button.
- Oh, Crap!:
- Damar's reaction upon learning that the Federation fleet is heading for the station. Of course, Dukat is more immediately concerned with what happened with Ziyal.
- Quark gives a very subtle reaction when Damar tells him that the minefield will be taken down in only a week, clearing the way for the Dominion's final victory.
- Please Spare Him, My Liege!: Ziyal pleads with Dukat to pardon Rom. He refuses, and their relationship starts breaking down again.
- Rejected Apology: Odo trying to apologize to Kira for what happened last episode:Kira: We are way, way past "Sorry."
- Skewed Priorities: Damar lampshades this when Dukat orders him to take care of the matter with Ziyal, especially when they've received word that the Federation has just redeployed an enormous fleet. Weyoun likewise remands Dukat for putting his family issues ahead of the war effort, but neither repudiation does a thing to change Dukat's mind.
- Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: The Bajoran deputy is more than a little uneasy at having to stand guard with a Jem'Hadar.
- Title Drop:Sisko: There's an old saying: "Fortune favors the bold." Well, I guess we're about to find out.
- You Are a Credit to Your Race: Damar says this to Quark word-for-word, "complimenting" him on valuing good business above his brother's life in true Ferengi fashion.