This group of episodes starts off strong with Rivals in my opinion. There’s not a whole lot of meat to this episode… it’s a standard “Macguffin makes things go wacky in the station and the crew has to figure out the source and stop it”-type episode that doesn’t have any metaplot for meat. But it’s just so dang fun. The macguffin in question is a little toy-like device that alters the laws of probability, meaning people suddenly start having hilariously good or hilariously bad luck. The guest star trouble-maker is Chris Sarandon, aka Prince Humperdinck, and he’s in fine form. He’s a con-man on the take before he gets his hands on the macguffin.
The B-plot is a fun sports rivalry between O’Brien and Bashir… a one-sided rivalry. O’Brien wants to reclaim is space racquetball glory days. Bashir is a much better player than him. O’Brien refuses to give up. Bashir just wants out. It’s actually really fun to witness.
And in the end, the con-man gets conned, which is one of my favorite plot devices ever. I love this dang episode. I wouldn’t want every episode to be like it, but it’s a good break from more serious stuff.
The Alternate is definitely a more serious episode–and it’s all about Odo. Dr. Mora, who was the scientist in charge of Odo when he was found, shows up on the station. Odo’s got a lot of feelings about this that René Auberjonois does really good work expressing, often via long stres.
It’s honestly upsetting to see people misinterpret Odo’s relationship with Dr. Mora as something father-son, and the episode expands and explores that relationship, which is a very uncomfortable one. Odo and Dr. Mora are bound together, but they were scientist and experimental subject, which is a very different sort of power dynamic. They might have some sort of affection for each other, but particularly from Odo’s perspective, there’s plenty of reason to resent Dr. Mora and even feel threatened by him.
The driver of the exploration is a strange volcanic gas that sort of unleashes Odo into an altered, monstrous state when he’s in his rejuvenation cycle–or driven to it by an extreme of emotion. The monster-Odo fixates on Dr. Mora, and while it’s a scary creature, it also becomes very understandable. When Dr. Mora figures out what’s going on, he basically tries to badger Odo, telling him that he’ll be put in a zoo. (Odo’s already been in Dr. Mora’s zoo.) That Dr. Mora is the only person Odo can trust–to which Odo bitterly argues, “Who says I trust you?”
After an episode of Dr. Mora talking over Odo, first almost like a fond parent, then insisting that no one knows as much as he does about shapeshifters (“Except for me,” Odo notes bitterly.) you can hardly blame Odo’s id for wanting to smash him flat. And it takes that level of fundamental anger for Dr. Mora to finally realize that he was not Odo’s parent, but his prison keeper.
It’s such a good episode because it focuses so tightly on the relationship between Odo and Dr. Mora and uses that as a window into both of the characters.
Dr. Mora: You had to speak in a voice loud enough for me to hear.
Odo: I’m sorry.
Dr. Mora: I’m sorry it was necessary.
Armageddon Game is another episode that puts O’Brien and Bashir together. They’re an interesting combination because they’ve got such clashing personalities–and O’Brien will argue with anyone at the drop of a hat. They’ve also got their similarities, being very good at what they do and needing to have something to do that they can pursue. Can’t say this episode is a favorite, but it’s good to see O’Brien getting some development, even if the writers haven’t figured out a damn thing for Julian to talk about that’s not how much he totally wants to have sex with a lady. (Like for goodness sake, watching him natter about space racquetball a couple episodes before felt like a massive change for him.)
Anyway, it’s another stand alone episode. O’Brien and Bashir are working together to destroy some horrible biological weapons at the request of alien cultures that finally have a peace treaty. Right when they’re destroying the last one, some people bust into the lab, shoot everyone, blow up where the weapons are, and O’Brien gets splashed. Then the two of them escape. The aliens then lie that O’Brien and Bashir are totally dead and it’s their own fault. So while the boys try to figure out how to get in contact with DS9, everyone there is feeling incredibly sad–even Quark, in a rare, very genuine moment for him.
We eventually find out that the murder of the scientists and attempted murder of O’Brien and Bashir was orchestrated by both sides of the new peace treaty, because they wanted everyone with knowledge of the biological weapons dead. Which is not what I expected, honestly. But, as that great philosopher Jake Peralta says, “Cool story, still murder.”
It’s an okay episode, but after the incredibly intense character work in The Alternate, it’s a little wanting. It feels like the writers just couldn’t find the same depth in Bashir and O’Brien at this point as they found in Odo, which is a shame.
I do love that Keiko gets to be the one who solves that mystery and discovers the “proof” that O’Brien and Bashir died is bullshit. The bit where she even figures out exactly what O’Brien is drinking by checking the spectroscopic analysis… I wish they gave her more moments like this.
Now, Whispers is another episode that’s definitely my jam. Chief O’Brien thinks there’s some kind of conspiracy going on at DS9, and since the episode is shot very much from his viewpoint, it becomes very evident that there’s definitely something going on in the background. So it’s basically O’Brien becoming increasingly paranoid and then figuring out how to get the hell off the station and go on the run. It’s DS9’s take on The Manchurian Candidate and when we got to the end of the episode I was yelling at the TV because the conclusion was pretty dang fucked up. A+, would watch again.
Kind of hilariously, I found the next episode, Paradise to be just as creepy and fucked up, but in a different way. O’Brien and Sisko beam down to a planet where there’s an unplanned human colony and get stuck on the planet. At first, the humans–who were on their way to a different planet to colonize and got stuck–seem welcoming and pretty cool. Then the leader of the colony, Alixus, starts getting creepier and creepier. She leaves her philosophical writings everywhere, and it becomes apparent she has decided how the community will go and doesn’t want things to change. Alixus doesn’t like doors. Alixus says that everyone agrees to locking people in a hotbox is a totally cool punishment. Alixus has made sure the only thing everyone reads are her philosophical writings. Alixus says they don’t need to have technology even to save someone’s life. Alixus really wishes they’d take off those uniforms and stop talking about Star Fleet coming to rescue them.
Oooh, she is so creepy, and so sure of herself, and so convinced that hers is the only way. Obviously if Sisko doesn’t agree with her shit, he just needs his attitude adjusted with more work. I mean, props to Gail Strickland for playing a character I can hate almost as much as Winn, but being way more subtle about it. My god, her entire speech accusing O’Brien of “wasting his time” trying to get his tricorder to work so he could save someone’s life and making him an enemy that’s trying to destroy the community by challenging what she sees as their righteous way of life. Gave me chills. And that little smile when she puts Sisko in the hot box? Brrrrrrr. (Also, let’s just consider for a moment Alixus, a white woman, locking a black man in a hot box for someone not working as hard as she wants them to. Yiiiiiiiikes.)
Alixus: This is painful for me to. I want so much to give you water. But I can’t without your help.
Hats off to the writers for crafting such a believably abusive and manipulative character. And the thing that’s grossest about it is that if she’d just asked for volunteers for her back-to-nature philosophy wank fest, she would have gotten them. And Sisko points out how people died? “You have no idea how much I suffered, because I watched them die.” The worst part is that she wins in the end–though I will say that about the last two minutes feel like it wrapped up too quickly, too neatly, and I really do not understand why it shook out the way it did.
Also, I need a moment to tell you how much I fucking love Mile O’Brien because he is so unabashedly smart and yet so firmly rooted in the working class. (Which I think is why they keep matching him with Julian, because the contrast is so pronounced.)
It’s time for some Detective Odo in Shadowplay! Dax and Odo go to a village where peole are mysteriously vanishing. Sadly, it’s not murder, it’s that the village is the Matrix, and the Matrix is glitching. That whole plot is pretty straightforward. And then we get Kira and her main squeeze and something about gambling debts as the B plot to fill out the episode. The big take-home from the episode is a little more information about the Dominion and how bad they are–and a fun little thought exercise about if hologram people are actually real people–artificial intelligences.
Odo + Kids is my favorite combo, I think. Odo gets along so well with kids because he basically treats them like they’re tiny adults.
My headcanon for this episode, by the way, is that every 30 years now someone will go back to the planet, do the maintenance on the holographic projector, and let the little colony of hologram AI people continue to evolve.
It’s an okay episode.
In Playing God, Dax has a Trill initiate to teach. There’s some background Star Trek bullshit plot that involves O’Brien dealing with a vermin infestation and then some kind of pocket universe thingy bob that wants to eat the station. Mostly it’s there to let Dax expand on her background a bit and bounce off the nervous student. Though the most fascinating part is seeing Jadzia’s resentment toward Curzon; it’s always cool to see the Trill interacting with their previous lives.
The number one thing to love about this episode is the return of the Klingon Street Food Restaurant and its totally amazing, singing proprieter. The rest is a lot of good character work for Terry Farrell.
Oh, and also this:
Kira: It’ll be like stepping on ants.
Odo: I don’t step on ants, Major.
What a good. Anyway, it’s a good episode if you want Dax development, very meh otherwise. And the development of Dax as a character doesn’t feel as raw or immediate as it did, say, for Odo in The Alternate because it’s more about her revealing events of her past than reckoning with concrete effects in the present. This might also be because Jadzia is a kind of understated character; I do feel like her discussion with Sisko where she struggles with not wanting ot be like Curzon, and then realizing the Curzon might have had a point, and then figuring out her own way to make the same statement without being a total dick is important. But it’s easy to lose when there’s a lot of louder stuff going on in the episode.