Two great scenes make part 1 work.
Sisko realizing that he now thinks of DS9 as home instead of earth. Sisko bring his collection of African artifacts to DS9 is a great way to show us this. He doesn’t think of protecting DS9 as just a job anymore and that subtly raises the stakes.
Odo and Kira, alone together, in the shuttle craft. I love the silence. I love how it makes the shuttle craft feel so warm and safe after the assault on the Defiant that we just witnessed. I love how Odo is telling Kira that everyone they know may very well be dead or captured. We the audience realize that Starfleet is totally incapable of matching the Jem’Hadar’s combat capabilities. I love how Odo could care less about any of that. These events have granted him an opportunity to get to the Omarion nebula. That’s all that matters to him.
Part 2 isn’t as good as part 1 – but I expected it to be a letdown. I think the singular reason is that the simulation everyone is living in never once seems real. Even if I had believed it was real I would have been annoyed with how the story on DS9 was moving way too fast compared to the Odo and Kira story.