DS9: Chief of Security Odo: Probably naked all the time

QuarkOK, back to the usual more lengthy recaps. Also: your regular reminder that these are not spoiler-free discussions of 25-year-old television shows.

S1E11, “The Nagus” (writer: David Livingston)

A low-stakes, highly enjoyable pure character-building episode, and a good break from the recent string of rehashed Trek Standards. There’s a hint of a plot but it’s mostly about establishing some Ferengi stuff and developing a few relationships. As such, I’ll discuss in terms of characters rather than story:

  • Grand Nagus Zek – In a bit of inspired casting, played by Wallace Shawn. The Grand Nagus is the economic, and therefore political, leader of the Ferengi. As such, he is their shrewdest, greediest, surliest, and feistiest. Naturally, Quark idolizes him.
  • Quark & Rom – Usually Quark gets to be the Alpha Ferengi around the station, lording over the hapless Rom. But with the Nagus around, Quark has to fall in line, appeasing the Nagus in any way he demands.
    • The Ferengi are basically played for laughs in the Trek universe and it 100% works. They maintain a snarling facade, but saddled with a short stature and troll-like ugliness, they hardly seem dangerous. More like a neighborhood chihuahua yapping violently at passers-by from the safety of its sturdily-fenced backyard fortress. Their unrestrained avarice and selfishness makes them single-minded in their pursuit of petty schemes, but in practice it’s usually the other way around, in that they are easily lured into traps under the haziest promise of a sweet deal.
    • Since we usually only see Quark and Rom, we haven’t gotten much of a sense of the crushingly patriarchal and rigidly ranked greater Ferengi society we see in “The Nagus”. If Zek decides he wants to buy Quark’s bar, even on the slightest pretext of scent of a potential profit-generator, Quark just has to let him have it at whatever pittance Zek allows. Worse, Quark isn’t permitted to sit at the table with the Ferengi bigwigs, and spends most of the episode lamenting his sorry position, rather than stewing in his usual boastful confidence.
    • On the flip side, when Zek controversially names the low-status Quark his successor (beautifully reasoned: “I’m just not as greedy as I used to be”), Quark’s naturally inflated ego is instantly back, and we enjoy some fantastic scenes of Quark awash in his own importance.
    • Have we ever seen a Ferengi woman? Not on DS9 as yet. Maybe on TNG but I don’t remember specifics, though I have the impression that Ferengi males esteem women somewhere below household replicators. Seems ripe ground to cover as the series progresses.
  • Jake & Nog – Nog’s bad influence continues to corrupt the characteristically responsible Jake. Nog can’t deal with the boring structure of a human school and mostly just wants to loiter around the promenade and hatch schemes. I can imagine that young Ferengi tend to educate themselves not through formal means (other than memorizing the Rules of Acquisition) but through numerous failed teenage hustles until they grow shrewd enough to get a foothold in some fledgling entrepreneurship. Basically they’re a race of C-minus MBAs. Interesting to see Nog’s awkward maturation in contrast to the high-level Ferengi maneuvering taking place above him.
  • Good Sisko & Jake bits squeezed in. So far I’m really impressed with how the show builds in some plot-related character moments, it’s a worthy heir to TNG.
  • and, not to be forgotten: Morn! We are starting to love that there is a mute barfly at Quark’s appearing in one scene every single episode. Why is he even there? He must work on DS9 but spends all his leisure time at Quark’s. I’m not sure if I’d be happier to know that one particular person plays Morn, or that there is a “Morn of the Week” and a different person gets to don the Morn suit for each episode. Today, it’s the set electrician. Next week, it’s the caterer. I’m also not looking up anything about Morn in Memory Alpha, I really do not want spoilers in case he takes a turn for the relevant.

Overall: Peak DS9. 5 out of 5.

S1E12, “Vortex” (writer: Sam Rolfe)

In the early going, Quark has cruised into position as the most fun character, but Odo is probably the most interesting. The other regulars have a clear motivation and background, but Odo has been established as a mystery. He’s never met another shapeshifter and has no idea where he comes from. He sleeps in a bucket and can transform into anything, on sight, instantly and seamlessly. Since this essentially makes him a superhero–it’s basically invisibility without the need to be naked all the time*–he could probably do anything in the universe, but instead is the security officer on a distant space outpost, transmogrifying into drinking glasses or wallpaper or whatever else it takes to mete out justice. So, one might assume that whatever greater life mission he’s on, he is absolutely dedicated to fairness and adherence to the law.

* I also started wondering–and maybe this was established and I missed it–whether Odo is wearing clothes. I don’t see how he can be. Whenever he transformed he’d sort of slip out of them, right? So that means the clothes are part of his humanoid illusion…and he *is* naked all the time. It seems like you really can’t get around this inherent invisibility problem. So, dude is walking around naked all the time. Maybe that’s why they don’t want to get into it on the show.

So Odo gets tangled up in an interplanetary feud when Croden, a guy who appears to be quietly getting trashed at Quark’s bar, interferes in Quark’s transparent fencing operation with a pair of Miradorn twins. Croden is bad at being a thief but good at accidentally killing people, so he ends up botching the robbery and shooting one of the twins. He’s also really good at lying, so even though Quark isn’t, Odo can’t really get anywhere in his investigation, even though Quark probably put him up to the theft in the first place. Croden’s smooth talking about knowing stuff about shapeshifters also starts to influence Odo, aided by a tantalizing pendant made of an organic transforming material. Odo, being entirely made of organic transforming material, can’t help but be intrigued, but also is getting this information from a con artist murderer in a jail cell so like, there could be more reliable sources. Odo also has bigger problems than Quark’s endless petty crimes, as Croden’s homeworld is already after him and wants him back, and the Miradorn is ready to revenge-murder him at the first opportunity. Odo has to sneak Croden off DS9 to take him home, which sets up a longer opportunity for Croden to keep working on Odo, and it’s eventually revealed that, even though Croden doesn’t actually know anything about the shapeshifter race, he has some noble motivations. He even somehow emerges as a sympathetic figure and Odo is put in a tight situation trying to figure out how to deal with him.

In the end, this ends up being a terrific, complex episode, as long as you maybe don’t dig too deeply into what Odo actually decides. The show was conceived as something like an old west-style remote setting, and here’s a natural extension of that, where a sort of semi-lawless moral frontier justice prevails over coded, enforceable law. So Odo, as an officer of the law, who will mention such at any opportunity, and who is, I remind you, giving up being a badass invisible superhero to perform this task, just lets Croden go despite his extensive criminal history and recent murder. Well, to be fair, the murder was more or less in self-defense and that Miradorn guy was a criminal and a jerk.

Endnotes:

  • Speaking of the Miradorns, interesting concept of a race of twins. What would be the implications of one dying? I guess if was your symbiotic twin, you’d be as mad as that guy was. I wonder if we’ll see more Miradorns later in the series.
  • The Chamra Vortex felt like an homage back to Kirk et al escaping into the Mutara Nebula in Wrath of Khan. Lots of convenient nebulae in space to evade pursuit, it seems.

Overall: DS9 is bringing it early and often so far, with some deep, complex plots and characters. 5 out of 5.

S1E13, “Battle Lines” (writer: Hilary J. Bader)

Let’s say you are an important commander of a deep space starbase, maintaining a position of significant importance near a newly discovered wormhole that leads to an entirely different part of the galaxy. And, being in a very important place, and being a very important person, other important people may show up from time to time for important business (important SPACE BUSINESS). They might ask to see some local attractions. You might indulge them. Should you, in this situation, venture with the important visitor through the wormhole to the far side of the galaxy, rendering yourself immediately untethered to your station, in potentially hostile space, and incommunicado?

Well if you are Commander Sisko, yes you do.

And also:

  • Not just any important visitor, Kai Opaka, the spiritual leader of the Bajoran people, who own the very station in which you are in charge.
  • Who has never even left Bajor before. Her appearance is literally unprecedented.
  • In a runabout, the spaceship equivalent of a golf cart.
  • And then they investigate a mysterious subspace signal. Instead of, say, making a note of it.
  • And then they promptly get shot down.
  • And find themselves in an fantastically dangerous nonstop war.

I just–listen, this wasn’t a great plan.

Of course the DS9 crew eventually track them down and everything gets straightened out. In Sisko’s defense he was perhaps being manipulated a bit by Opaka, who had a persistent eerie feeling that she was going…somewhere…to do…something. She was right! She also obeyed an important TV rule, which is, if you have a really weird feeling about things, tell no one and just let stuff happen and hope it will work out OK.

Endnotes:

  • Intriguing SF idea about the endless, regenerative war. It’d be horrifying if it this wasn’t a TV-PG universe. Despite ongoing commentary about the hopeless, endless terror, recovering from each grim death appears to be about as unpleasant as rousing oneself out of a recliner. It could have been “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” nightmare territory.
  • Reverse the polarity! O’Brien invents a differential magnanometer to foil some deadly probes.
  • This is the second leader of an entire race on DS9 in three episodes. Maybe Odo should go ahead and allow for the one additional Federation guy to help out with security.

Overall: Some fun ideas here but a lot of plot holes, leaning on some tropes, and some needless technobabble. 2 out of 5.

S1E14, “The Storyteller” (writer: Kurt Michael Bensmiller)

Episodes 14 and 15 (I’ll get to the latter next post) both go with a clear A & B story format, and in both cases the B story is Jake and Nog hatching ridiculous schemes. K and I were both delighted by this development.

The A story in “The Storyteller” has another new and fun character thing: we learn that O’Brien is super annoyed by the over-chatty Bashir. For his part, Sisko is establishing a pattern of pushing his charges’ limits, in that he smirkingly makes O’Brien go on a mission with Bashir anyway. Even though we’ve also established that O’Brien is the only guy who can fix anything on DS9. Maybe nothing will break this time? Anyway perhaps Sisko is being a clever manager of people, knowing they just need some time to bond. Or perhaps he is an obnoxious boss abusing his power and demonstrating his ignorance of the value of his charges.

“The Storyteller” is a nephew of a the familiar “Trek Visits a Village” setup (“The Apple” comes to mind first, but both TOS and TNG have loads of variations on this) where they are drawn into a local crisis and need to weasel their way out. In this case, O’Brien mysteriously and quite unwillingly gains the favor of the village elder, called the Sirah, who appoints O’Brien the new Sirah as he is dying. The Sirah’s job is to tell a really good story that unites the village and wards off a monster…that turns out to be an angry cloud. O’Brien would mostly rather go back to DS9 to be with his family and fix replicators, and as he’s trying to figure out how to make that happen one of the villagers tries to murder him. It turns out the would-be murderer is the rightful successor to the old Sirah, but lost favor with the village after it turned out he was really bad at being a Sirah and everyone hates him. Well, this is the same as O’Brien, but this guy wants to fight angry clouds at least, and at least ostensibly knows how. Naturally the thoroughly unqualified O’Brien fails pitifully at Sirahmanship, and the new guy is forced to take over, but with renewed vigor and focus, and brings the village together to repel the angry cloud monster. Bashir sees the subtext: that the old Sirah knew exactly what would happen, and in making the new guy fight for the position and focus, he’d move past his previous failures. Also O’Brien and Bashir share a fun bonding moment when they both almost died.

While all this is going down on Bajor, back on DS9 Sisko is arbitrating a land dispute between two Bajoran factions. One of the factions is represented by Varis, a teenage girl, assuming leadership responsibilities after her father was killed. Like O’Brien, she is obviously not at all qualified to fulfill her expectations, though for some reason has been sent anyway, with no advisors or staff at all (?), and is immediately in over her head. However, as ostensibly the only teenage girl on DS9, Jake and Nog latch on to her, and with her negotiations failing, it isn’t long before she’s loitering around the promenade with them being all moody and teen-agery. But they actually manage to steer her in the right direction by relating their fathers’ wisdom, which for Jake is various nuggets from Sisko, and for Rom is mostly Ferengi Rules of Acquisition, because what don’t they know?

Ultimately this episode is a mini leadership and management academy lesson. Sisko and the old Sirah both push their people a bit beyond their comfort zones, being confident that they’ll succeed and grow. Well, it worked out that way, anyway–if you ignore the attempted murder and near-death by cloud monster. (There’s an alternate universe where both misread the situation and Bashir and O’Brien can’t effectively work together while the new Sirah actually really is lousy at his job and the village is destroyed. Then Sisko has to explain to Starfleet Command why he sent his Chief Engineer to his doom merely to score a managerial win.) Meanwhile the Bajor faction that stubbornly stuck with the flaws of its hereditary leadership culture, like an organization mired in routine, breaks out of its rut when Varis brings in some helpful outside consultants and things work out.

Endnotes:

  • Honestly this whole setup in the village with the predictable but inscrutable and incredibly dangerous cloud monster was pretty unsatisfying and arbitrary to me. Why hasn’t the village ever reported this phenomenon to Bajoran authorities? Maybe you’ve learned to live with it, but dang, at least mention it to Starfleet when you ask them to send you some medical help.
    • Village: “Help! We need a Doctor!”
    • Starfleet: “OK, help is on the way! Any other specialized personnel needed? Anything we should know about your village?”
    • Village: “Hmmm… nope, can’t think of anything. Thanks! See you soon!”
  • How can the tricorder not pick up a single thing about the monster? Not that we should believe tricorders are capable of analyzing literally all known and unknown universal phenomena, but that’s *even more reason to get some help with it*.
  • O’Brien’s lousy attempt at being the Sirah is actually pretty funny. Everyone in the village is just so baffled and horrified at his sorry performance. Poor O’Brien is going to have flashbacks to this every time he’s asked to give a toast.
  • Love the bit where Varis asks Jake and Nog if their fathers are good with advice. Jake: “Yes!” Nog, son of the hapless Rom: “Uh, no.”
  • Odo’s only role in this episode is to repeatedly chase loitering teens off the promenade. He appears to enjoy it.
  • It’s of dubious value to the plot, but Nog’s killer prank on Jake is the best moment of the episode. They break into Odo’s office, and Nog makes like he’s going to steal Odo’s sleeping bucket, but instead hurls some disgusting glop out of it onto Jake. Jake and Varis think it’s the sleeping, inert form of Odo, which is now splattered all over his office. But it’s just gross oatmeal.

Overall: A lot going on here and a bit contrived if you look at it too closely but it all ties together in an interesting way, and lots of good character stuff. 4 out of 5.

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