Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Necessary Evil

"You're not afraid of anyone, are you, shape-shifter? Not even me. I was right about you. You are the man for this job."

In an unusually-written and filmed episode which comes off almost as a glimpse into Trek Noir, an attack on Quark gives us insight into the making of the Constable we all know and love: Odo. But will his search for truths both past and present destroy everything he's built over the years?

When this episode opens on the whole Chinatown-like Bajoran femme fatale Pallra, I thought, and I'm sure I'm not the only one, that this would be a follow-up Ferengi episode to "Rules of Acquisition." When it becomes clear Pallra's asking Quark to go a-stealing, it turns out to be something much better: an Odo episode, one giving us more glimpses into Bajoran life under the Cardassians. And it's an episode which drives home the point that the past is full of sins that will haunt us, no matter how clean our uniforms and how sharp our haircuts may be today.

The setup's almost a film in itself: the ignorant thieves, the discovery of the treasure, the mysterious assassin. But the best part of the episode opening is the give and take between Quark and Rom: Armin Shimerman has pulled off the enviable acting trick of turning his costume into his background. This is especially true, I think, when the costume consists of gigantic ear implants. When we begin the flashbacks, the focus on Quark in the opening makes sense. Who among the cast have been there both before and today? Odo. Kira. Quark. Gul Dukat. The Quark/Rom plotline here could have been useless fluffery but not on this show: not only do we learn more about the brothers and about Rom in particular, but it also gives Odo a person to begin interrogating, while Bashir does his best to save the station bartender. Odo learns what was stolen, what was worth almost killing Quark for, was a list of names.

Let me tell you, stepping back in time on Deep Space Nine isn't like stepping back with Supernatural or Arrow. I was honestly tense and anxious during every flashback. In the past, Odo is selected to investigate a murdered Bajoran by Gul Dukat, after he's escaped Bajor itself to flee from Cardassian treatment. Odo's trademark severity takes on a totally different cast with a Cardassian background. We don't see the man who's been softened by the friendship and trust built up with the Deep Space Nine crew. We see a man holding on to one singular truth in the Universe: that he has a sense of justice. He balances this truth with an assumption: that his people, who he's never met, will share that sense of justice. His background as a trick pony for Cardassian scientists, and his need to escape that degradation, only tightens his hold on both that truth and its accomplice.

Gul Dukat often encapsulates the Cardassians: political, greedy, a horrible history, a betrayer of his own people. I think in some ways he also embodies the whole concept of Justice without mercy to temper it. It doesn't matter who is responsible for the crime Odo's investigating; anyone discovered to have lied or done something wrong is potentially a victim of the sword of Justice. Justice takes several hits over the course of this episode. I thought the twist of having the list of names be a bunch of Bajoran sympathizers who took money from the Cardassians was unexpected. Once that truth is revealed, however, events both past and present focus on Kira.


The final reveal is heavily painful for both, and Odo's confrontation with Kira for the first crime after he arrests Pallra for the second was heart-wrenching. It's not just that Kira lied to him. It's that Odo vouched for her on the basis of that lie, despite his own instincts and claims for being a just person. It's that Kira became more trustworthy because of the whole experience. Without those lies, nothing - no friendships, none of what happened on DS9 in the past year - would have come to fruition. Kira would be dead, and Odo would still, despite his strident denials, be working for the Cardassians. I love the open-ended nature of the cut-to-credits: from beginning to end this felt more like a film than a TV episode, and, like a film, found itself able to deal with large, uncomfortable, and even debatable truths.

Bits and Pieces

In the beginning Odo complains about having to keep a personal log, frustrated that the Federation doesn't trust his memory. Throughout the episode, though, he proves his memory is as good as he claims.

Rom's always comic, but his screaming when he realizes he's saved Quark and lost the bar in the process had me guffawing.

Quotables

Odo: All right, let's try again. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Clear your mind of everything in it, if there's anything there. Breathe. Breathe. Now, what do you see?
Rom: The bar.
Odo: Yes?
Rom: With my name on it.
Odo: The past, Rom, not the future.

Quark: Yeah, I remember her. She wanted a job.
Odo: How long was she here?
Quark: Long enough.
Odo: Long enough for what?
Quark: Oh, you know.
Odo: No, I don't. Why don't you tell me.
Quark: She was showing me her, er, initiative.
Odo: Is that some sort of sexual reference?

Overall

I was startled by the very effective changes in style and totally drawn in by the story until it ended up at a place very familiar and, again, somehow very alien: the relationship between Odo and Kira. Kudos for the symphony. 4/4 lists of Bajoran sympathizers.

2 comments:

Great PurpleRobe said...

In my opinion, the first really good episode of the series. The DS9 crew has dealt with moral ambiguity previous to this, but not in a way depicted here. Odo, quite correctly, protects Kira from prosecution as a terrorist, because she did not commit the murder Odo was investigating. It made we wonder how many more times before the end of the occupation that Odo's and Kira's paths would cross.

The best is yet to come for this series, which has become my favorite Trek show of all time. --JB

Patrick said...

This episode isn't just Star Trek at its best, it's science fiction at its best. Using a fantastical setting to tell what is at its core a very human story. But within the Star Trek universe, it's a story that could only be told on Deep Space Nine, because of the impact it has on a character relationship we've already become invested in, and the connection it has to the history established for the world of the show. It remains one of my favorite episodes of the season, beautifully written, and containing outstanding performances from both Nana Visitor and Rene Auberjonois.