“Chimera” (season 7, episode 14; originally aired 2/17/1999)
In which Odo doesn’t want to change…
One of the things you realize as you get older is that you aren’t just one person. Personality is, in a sense, a series of outfits you wear depending on context. So you have the at-work suit you wear on the job, which means you’re friendly and helpful and don’t swear as much. You have the at-home suit, and your with-friends suit, and your with-parents suit, and your trying-to-hit-on-a-stranger suit, and so on. Sentient beings are complex machines which have any number of programs running at any given time, and sometimes some of those programs get pushed into the background. To lead a well-balanced life, you want to know enough people and have enough opportunity to let all the strongest aspects of your personality shine.
Hardly anybody does, but I’m betting most of us are at least slightly better off than Odo, who spends all his time around others pretending to be something he’s not. This pretense has become one of the defining characteristics of his life, to the point where he no longer really notices it unless someone else brings it up. One of Odo’s main storylines over the course of the show has been discovering who (and what) he really is, and how those discoveries have affected his place on Deep Space Nine. Once he realized he was a Changeling, and that as a Changeling, he had a heritage and a biological identity, being the oddest creature in a station full of oddities was no longer quite so easy to accept. The tension, then, came from what he would do with this knowledge: stay the Constable, or leave and join the others like himself (at least on genetic terms) in the Great Link.
Complicating matters was Odo’s love for Kira, an emotional connection which, at least in this arc, always worked better when viewed as a symbol for more complicated feelings. I have no problem with Odo being in love with Kira, but I get uncomfortable when the writers lean hard on the idea that the only thing stopping Odo from turning his back on everyone and going full Founder is his affection for one specific person. It diminishes the importance of every other friendship Odo has, and while he’s never been a social butterfly, I do think that his relationships with Sisko and Quark and Garak and the rest should have some value, even if his connection to Kira comes first. A crush can influence your decisions; deep romantic yearning has driven a great number of people’s to a great many things, both good and bad. But there’s something simplistic and kind of sad about making it your sole motivation, in a way I’m not sure the writers realize.
“Chimera” at least makes it clear that Kira is worthy of devotion, if there was any doubt. While Odo and O’Brien are coming back to DS9 after a conference, a strange alien entity approaches and boards their ship; it’s a Changeling, only this creature, who calls himself Laas (J.G. Hertzler), doesn’t know he’s a Changeling. Odo quickly realizes that Laas is another one of the Hundred, sent out by the Founders to study the universe and (someday) report back on what they found to the homeworld. Laas is older than Odo, and in his time traveling, he’s developed some definite opinions about solids, which he calls “monoforms.” He doesn’t like them, and as the episode develops, the conflict becomes clear: Odo is once again being asked to question his loyalty to his friends and his place on the station against his desire to be among his own kind, and share in the link.
We’ve been here before, because it’s not a question with an easy answer. To its credit, DS9 has never underplayed the joys of the Great Link, or Odo’s deep loneliness, and it has always felt at least a little possible that he might rejoin the Founders someday. Given the almost non-existent main cast changeover during the run of the series (only one lead has left, and that was for personal, not story reasons), it’s doubtful Odo was ever going to pack up and leave before the end. That’s not really the kind of show this is. But at the same time, there’s never been any effort to pretend that Odo isn’t in a hellish spot, and the writers (and actor) have never treated the character’s struggles as if it was assumed he was going to stick around.
In a way, though, that’s why “Chimera” is less successful than it might have been; because this conflict has been gone over so many times before, and so thoroughly, it’s hard to get invested in it again. Laas is, for entirely understandable reasons, an anti-social creature when it comes to the solids, and Odo’s few attempts to integrate him into the general flow of life on the station all go as badly as you’d expect; in one particularly painful (though sort of hilarious) scene, he manages to alienate nearly all of Odo’s “monoform” friends in the space of about three excruciatingly awkward minutes, and the final act of the story is precipitated when Laas kills a Klingon on the Promenade. Yet in the midsts of all of this dickishness, Laas takes an immediate shine to Odo, and begins to pepper him with questions about why he chooses to endure what, to Laas, seems like a mediocre and humiliating existence.
While Laas isn’t particularly likeable (which also hurts the episode; it’s fun for a bit, but his arrogance is one note), his questions aren’t ones that Odo has easy answers for. So he resorts to the answer he always gives: Kira. While it’s easier to justify that answer this time, given that he’s in a committed relationship with Kira and not just hopelessly pining for her, there’s something less than compelling about repeating this debate without (at least initially) offering any new insight. Another changeling approaches Odo, offers him a chance to be a different, potentially truer version of “himself,” and this time, that offer comes without the drawback of having to join forces with the enemy against his friends. Knowing about the disease that’s running rampant through the Great Link, Laas (who also doesn’t act that interested in conquest) wants to join forces with Odo, find the rest of the Hundred, and create a new link. And still, all Odo has to say for himself is “Kira.”
The ending of the episode thankfully does a better job justifying this answer than previous episodes have done; when Kira learns of what’s happening, she’s so concerned for Odo’s well-being that she helps Laas escape from jail, and sets up a rendezvous point for the two to meet later, believing that this is probably Odo’s last chance for true happiness. (Laas is arrested after that whole Klingon-killing thing.) She’s sacrificing her current happiness—and there’s no sign whatsoever that her and Odo’s relationship has been anything but blissful before now—because she wants what’s best for the person she loves. Which in turn convinces Odo that he’s right to stay. It’s not something that Laas can understand; to him, love between a changeling and a solid (or a metamorph and a monoform) is a fleeting connection, fragile and ultimately doomed by time. To Odo, that’s what makes it so precious.
That’s a lovely discovery, and while the final scene of Odo turning into some kind of golden mist around Kira when she asks him to show her his true form doesn’t quite work (the idea is beautiful, the execution is Nana Visitor doing her best to look rapturous in a room full of cheesy special effects), that doesn’t undercut the message. What keeps all of “Chimera” from being as good as its conclusion is the fact that Odo’s crises of self-identity no longer have the power they once did. It’s too late in the game for him to have dramatically compelling self-doubt, especially now that the one thing he wanted more than anything has finally happened. Odo mentioning the sickness in the Great Link is necessary exposition, but it also serves the unfortunate effect of reminding us that there are much more interesting stories we could be telling than revisiting this familiar ground again. It’s not that this is a bad story. I’m just not sure it told us anything we didn’t already know.
- O’Brien’s desperate attempts to buy one of Odo’s gifts for Kira is a stark reminder of the hell that is the O’Brien marriage. (Actually it’s kind of sweet.)
- One of the best parts of the episode were the various forms Laas changed into that we’d never seen on the show before: there’s the strange fish-like creature that catches up with the runabout, the fire in Odo’s apartment, and the mist in the Promenade. Even more than Laas’s arguments, these serve as pointed reminders of the potential Odo is putting aside to stay where he is.
- That said, while it makes sense that Laas would be eager to get going, I’m not sure why he’s so defeatist when Odo chooses to stay. By his reckoning, Odo’s relationship with Kira can’t last much longer than way, forty or fifty more years? After which point, Odo will presumably be more than happy to join in the quest. Take the long view, dude.
- It’s possible read Laas’s fervent pro-Changeling attitude, and Odo’s insistence on the importance of “passing” as a solid, as metaphor for the ways repressed races and cultures handle their oppression. At times, the episode itself seems to demand such a reading. I’m just not sure it’s necessary, especially in this context.
- “You’ve seen through our evil plan.” Ezri gets off a good one! (Seriously, I laughed.)
“Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang” (season 7, episode 15; originally aired 2/24/1999)
In which the crew does a job for a pally…
First, a promise: I’m not going to complain about holosuite technology, partly because we’ve been down that road enough, and partly because “Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang” doesn’t offer me much to complain about. Sure, Vic is as magically conscious as ever, but the episode explains just as much as it has to, and no more. Frankie Eyes (Robert Miano) and his thug Cicci (good old Mike Starr, who I’ll always think of as the guy Gabriel Byrne punches in Miller’s Crossing) are a “jack-in-the-box” program hidden inside the simulation, designed by Felix, the programmer, to make sure things stay lively. O’Brien can’t just delete them or reboot the system, because that would mean Vic losing all the memories he’s established in his time on the station. And since no non-holographic person’s life is actually in danger, it makes perfect sense that our heroes would go to extreme lengths to save their friend.
This is an ideal set-up for a holosuite story: the stakes exist (if they lose, Vic gets “buried in the desert”), which means there’s legitimate tension, but the situation isn’t so dire that it has you questioning why anyone would allow such a machine in a place where people could use it. “Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang” isn’t a great hour of television. The main flaw is the pacing; far too much of the episode is sluggish, including a big chunk in the middle which gives us a fantasy version of how the heist is supposed to go down—a classic expository device, to be sure, but here, without any visual trickery or snappiness to it, the sequence just dies on-screen. The plan—emptying the count room long enough for Odo and Nog to clean out the safe, thus ensuring Frankie won’t have the skim money earmarked to pay his mob boss—isn’t so complicated that it desperately needs a visual aid, either.
Apart from pace, the whole thing has that usual community-theater-ish feel that Trek so often gets when it attempts to homage genres it’s not really conversant in. There’s authenticity, and there’s the imitation of authenticity. This is more like one of the writer’s saw a caper movie one time as a kid, and then another writer watched the trailer for The Godfather, and viola. You need to get past a certain amount of chintziness. Although, since the whole thing is already a simulation designed to entertain people who have no idea what the actual deal would be like anyway, maybe that isn’t so bad. It’s dopey, but dopey is part of the point.
But I was trying to get all my criticisms out of the way before stunning you with the reveal that I actually enjoyed the episode (sorry, spoiler alert)… Well, I’m not quite sure what to make of Sisko’s issue over the fantasy element of Vic’s period version of Vegas. Structurally, it makes for a fun reveal when Sisko finally does join up with the gang. But it’s such an odd, discordant note to strike early on—he’s offended because in the actual history of Vic’s time, black people weren’t treated so great in Vegas (to put it mildly), but the holosuite program doesn’t have a setting for racism. Given the space of time between the Vegas of Vic’s and Sisko’s present, there’s something charmingly nerdy about the captain’s objections, like a Scotsman getting pissy over the inaccuracies in Braveheart. Yet the awkward intensity of his anger seems to be covering something else that we never really deal with. Kasidy talks some sense into him, he calms down, and ultimately forms an integral part in the final caper. If I had to guess, I’d say the writers just wanted something to create tension in the middle of the episode, and decided Sisko’s heretofore absence from the program (and maybe his time as Benny Russell?) would work well enough.
Okay, I think that covers all of my main objections (and that last isn’t so much an objection as a curiosity); on the whole, I liked this. Didn’t love it, but there’s a certain inherent adorability to the whole thing that won me over by the end. I like all of these characters, and with most of them (excluding Ezri and Vic because they’re such recent arrivals), I’m invested in them; I’ve spent a year or two watching their adventures unfold, and there’s something to be said for the occasional adventure that doesn’t require a lot of soul searching or terror or death. This is a playful hour, from the title on down, and there’s something so charmingly guileless about that playfulness that I couldn’t get annoyed with it.
I don’t even mind Vic at this point. I mean, I don’t think I ever really minded him, but his presence never made a lot of sense to me. And hell, to be honest, it still doesn’t; he feels more like a character introduced for a potential spin-off series who got stuck on this show when his spin-off didn’t pan out. But I don’t shudder when he appears, and watching everybody (except Worf) band together to try and save him and his club was more sweet than annoying.
Yes, Kasidy’s assertion about the importance of sticking up for a “friend” is a little forced, and it would’ve been nice if the episode had leaned less on sentiment, and more on the obvious fact that all of these people (with their very serious lives) were relishing a chance to go on a mission that wouldn’t involve a body count. But it never got cloying, or overly sappy, y’know? Everyone got a fun bit or two (Kira seducing a hologram! Sisko as a big spender! Nog figuring out a safe!), and the heist itself, including the inevitable collapse that threatened to blow the whole thing apart, was pleasantly staged. Not, like, nail-biting or anything, but I was impressed at how long they dragged the time out. In a way, it felt like an homage to the original series, all seat-of-your-pants plotting and no one worrying much about plausibility.
Really, you can sum up the entire episode’s appeal in the fact that Sisko sings “The Best Is Yet To Come” with Vic at the end. This is wildly indulgent; the only tenuous justification is Sisko’s earlier reluctance to join in with the others. Now that he’s come around, he’s going to commit, dammit. But even that doesn’t justify playing out the whole song. It’s cool, though. Avery Brooks sounds fantastic, the whole cast is grinning like loons, and it has the fun feeling you get right after a production—the fine satisfaction of a job well done. This isn’t the great story ever told. But it ain’t a bad one.
- According to the IMDB, this is the “last light hearted episode” of the series.
- Ezri uses reverse psychology on the creep in the counting room. Good work! (I guess this week is my “be nice to Ezri” week.)