As boring as I found Babel, it was quickly followed by one of the best early episodes of the series, Captive Pursuit. While in the last several episodes, DS9 has seen increased traffic due to the wormhole, this is the first episode in which we encounter life from the other side. First contact, the essence of diplomatic relations.
So what do we learn about life on the other side of the wormhole? The first creature from the other side is an alien who calls himself Tosk. He has some pretty advanced survival techniques, such as the ability to camouflage himself by turning invisible, only requiring 17 minutes of rest per cycle, and has nutrient sacs embedded around his body for sustenance. Tosk is extremely skittish, reacting quickly to unknown noises. He really seems like a fugitive from justice, a cornered rat, with a built-in flight or fight reflex.
We thus get our first hint that things on the other side of the wormhole are perhaps worthy of caution. A region which has developed a race like Tosk, either through natural selection, or, as it turns out, through genetic manipulation, is a dangerous place.
As if to make up for the lack of screen time in Babel, O’Brien is the primary contact for Tosk. It’s a combination of his technical aptitude, and generally non-confrontational nature that makes him a good fit. Through O’Brien, we learn that technology from the other side of the wormhole is roughly comparable to that of the Federation, if slightly unfamiliar.
This brings us to the next race that comes through the wormhole, Hunters in search of their prey: sentient life. Their entry onto the station isn’t very diplomatic either. They beam directly aboard, and blast their way to where Tosk is being held, then they demand his release.
This raises an interesting ethical and diplomatic issue. The callous treatment of Tosk flies in the face of Federation values. If they refuse to hand him over, they risk future relations with an alien race, but if they hand him over, they’re condemning Tosk to degradation and imprisonment. The Hunters seem disgusted that they have found Tosk alive. It’s not sporting, it would seem.
While Sisko reluctantly agrees to release Tosk, O’Brien decides to take matters into his own hands. He plays upon Odo’s insecurity, telling him that the prisoner transfer is a Starfleet matter, as orders from Sisko. He then leaves his com badge behind, and then ambushes the Hunters, allowing Tosk to escape.
So much for a peaceful first contact. First the Hunters blast open the brig, and then a Starfleet officer goes rogue and incapacitates the aliens? Of course, as O’Brien points out, when he discusses his actions with Sisko, it would have been an easy thing for Sisko to stop him, by activating force fields in the station to block him off. Although O’Brien disobeyed orders, he did so in a way that preserved the ideals of the Federation, and in a way, enabled the glory of the Hunt to continue. There doesn’t seem to be any long-term consequences for O’Brien, as after Tosk escapes, the Hunters seem pleased that the hunt has started once more, apparently smoothing over relations, even after a firefight.
All in all, Captive Pursuit is an excellent episode, giving some added characterization to O’Brien and Sisko, while introducing aliens from the Gamma quadrant.
Captive Pursuit first aired January 31, 1993. Teleplay by Jill Sherman Donner & Michael Piller. Story by Jill Sherman Donner. Directed by Corey Allen