Sanctuary is an episode that should be more than just merely interesting or passable, but should stand out as a prime example of Star Trek's ability to deal with a contemporary in a futuristic setting. Sadly, in an episode that deals with two very Star Trek ideals like racism and freedom, it ultimately fails to make much of a case for either.
Right from the beginning when our 'alien race of the week' show up, a rather uninspired group calling themselves the Skrreea, we are already on a rocky road. Firstly we learn that they are impoverished refugees who have broken free from centuries of slavery. This by itself might have made for a decent episode. However, the writers seem determined to add as many quirks and traits to the aliens as possible.
The Skrreean's are a matriarchal society. And interesting concept that is ruined by the fact that the female domination of their society does not come their intelligence or strength, but more from the idiocy of its males. Frankly, the Skrreea are a deeply distasteful race. They suffer from a skin condition that causes their skin to flake. So when the Bajorans begin to feel overwhelmed by the mass arrival of a race that seem only to get in the way and consume precious resources, it's not difficult to understand where they are coming from. When you are trying to deal with racism and show how stupid it is, you usually don't make the racists seem somewhat sympathetic.
So not only do you have a pathetic excuse for an alien race, the writers decide to waste the first half of the episode with the flimsy idea that the Skrreean language is too complex for the Universal Translator to understand. So we have Major Kira and the rest of the crew wandering around the station with the Skrreean members acting as though they are communicating with chimps. Sometimes when the Skrreeans waddle about in a crouched stance, touching everything and getting into trouble, it sometimes feels like they are.
Again, the Skrreea are simply too annoying as a race to care about which eliminates any drama that episode might have had. The episode is too much of a Hodge podge of random attempts to deal with a complex issue. We have Jake and Nog in a side story where Jake is tutoring a Dabo girl and the young Ferengi makes light of her aspirations and treats her as a sexual object. We also have an old Bajoran musician who Kira is a fan of providing a perspective we are supposed to believe represents the majority of the Bajoran population. Indeed, he makes the most cogent argument against the Skrreeans. That Bajor is simply too overstretched to cope with them so soon after they themselves were freed from oppression and slavery.
There is no doubt that the episode is Kira centric. But by the end the character has not really grown. The lessons Kira is supposed to have learned are ones she has already conquered in episodes such as Progress, Cardassians and Duet. Kira is no longer the angry young Bajoran woman she was in the first season. This was highlighted to greater effect in the preceeding episode Second Skin, which only serves the render this episode an even greater disappointment.
Ultimately the episode presents nothing new. When the Skrreea appear and start bleating about their long lost homeworld that lies beyond what we all know is the wormhole, we immediately understand that they are talking about Bajor. And we also know that under no circumstances are the Skrreea going to be allowed to settle on Bajor. So when they are denied and toddle off into space to a nice Federation surveyed planet, we know we'll never see them again. And we also see their self righteous parting shot at Kira and Bajor for their fear and intolerance which could cost them.
Sanctuary is filled with interesting ideas that are simply half baked. Had the writers peppered them into multiple episodes it would have been fine, but it seems as though they had a shopping list of interesting ideas that they decided to compress into one episode. This decision mixed with uninspired performances by the actors and the atrocious makeup of the aliens, makes Sanctuary an episode of frustrations and missed opportunities.