How do you react when the man who raised you in a lab, two steps away from a Petri dish solution, suddenly shows up at your full time and highly demanding job on a space station? Then what do you do when he offers you the key to your own soul?
I think Odo is one of my favorite DS9 characters by now, after Kira. We already knew that he suffered mockery and oppression at the hands of the Cardassians. This episode takes it up a notch by showing us he wasn't only mocked and oppressed by one race, he was "benevolently" tested and treated like a lab rat. If you were ever wondering how and why he might have chosen at one point to work for the Cardassians, it's here: they might be a little bit worse, but at heart Odo's experiences must make him question whether either the Bajorans or Cardassians were better. Wasn't this the man who made him learn that Cardassian Neck Trick?
Is the alien he encounters with Dr. Mora another creature from Odo's origin planet, a random phage from some other Gamma Quadrant world, or something entirely different? We never really find out; for this episode at least, the alien metamorphic thingy is simply a deus ex machina for two far more vital events: Odo's reconciliation with his inner anger at the oppression of his "childhood" in the Alpha Quadrant, and Dr. Mora's recognition of the inhumanity of his own actions.
Dr. Mora's a paradox in speech and action. His careful scientific analysis of Odo's relationships with the crew, his job, and his self are balanced by the hypocrisy of what he represents. Isn't Mora also having difficulty reconciling that, through it all, he somehow became a parent? How many of his actions were inspired by his internal resistance to that very unscientific idea? As a researcher myself I'm grateful research now embraces the inclusion of the researcher and rejects the illusion of quantitative objectivity for a more nuanced approach. In biology and chemistry, however, de facto is often ipso facto. But then rarely is a scientific subject as contextualized as Odo is.
How realistic is the gas that attacked our hero, and could he become the monster we saw take him over? I don't think so. I think that viruses can put systems on overdrive - and what we saw was a shapeshifter version of a fever and delirium which drove Odo to crime and murder. But still, after all of this, and it was a well-done episode that presented not only what Odo is but a horrific vision of what he could be. Aren't you glad he's on our side? I felt most badly for the alien life that Odo, I guess, killed. We never really found out much about it - but I don't regret learning more about Mora, and hope to see him again.
Bits and Pieces
Taken by themselves, the individual pieces of Odo-transformations don't seem that impressive, but when you watch them as part of the story, they just work. I think this is because who Odo is and what his limitations are - including the famous pail - have now become a clear and dependable part of the series mythology, letting the writers play with them.
I thought I'd seen Dr. Mora elsewhere - and after a little research I think it was on Quantum Leap. I recognized how much Odo had made himself look like Mora in the very first second - great work.
Mora: Still having trouble with social integration?
Odo: I integrate as much as I want to.
Mora: Define as much as I want to.
Odo: As much as I want to means, as much as I want to.
Sisko: You've studied that whole Klingon opera for the music test on Friday?
Jake: I'm going to ace the test, Dad, I promise.
Sisko: This isn't about tests, Jake. This is about learning. You can't learn to appreciate Klingon opera by cramming for the exam the night before.
Jake: What am I ever going to use Klingon opera for?
Sisko: Well, first of all, you don't know what you're going to be when you grow up. You may discover along the way that you want to be a musician, or you may find yourself among some Klingons in a job somewhere.
Jake: Dad, even if I did, they wouldn't be going around singing operas.
I liked this episode a lot - even though I felt teased by the revelation of Odo's origin. What we got was backstory about his childhood, and it was a great story. Three out of three half-full buckets.