“The Darkness and the Light” (season 5, episode 11; originally aired 1/6/1997)
In which Kira realizes that terrorism makes some people unhappy…
Way back in the first season, Kira was the go-to character for complex dramatic storylines. As a former resistance fighter with an ambiguous relationship with Sisko and the Federation he represented, Kira allowed for commentary on the violence of the past, the cost of progress, and how some scars will never be healed. It didn’t hurt that Nana Visitor took to the role with gusto. But as the show developed, and its ensemble came into its own, Kira became less of a focal point; and while that was a good sign overall, I find myself missing her storylines, and wishing she had more to do than hang out in ops, or serve as back-up on a raid. Admittedly, Kira’s surrogate pregnancy hasn’t helped much, as her condition severely limits her mobility and the amount the writers are willing to put her in danger. (At least, that’s what I assumed, although this episode goes some lengths to pretend otherwise.) That might be the whole reason for her fading into the background, though. Maybe the writers have run out of things to say about the occupation, the resistance, and what comes next.
“The Darkness And The Light” will not disabuse anyone of this notion. It’s not terrible: Visitor is her usual excellent self, the mystery is compelling, and there are the usual small but welcome character touches that help make the station feel like a home. But the script is sloppy, and the central point—that Bajoran rebels who fought against the Cardassians weren’t always judicious in picking their targets—feels like something we’ve seen before. There’s something a little tired, a little familiar about the whole thing, and here, that familiarity isn’t to the episode’s benefit. If you ignore Worf and Kira’s bulging belly (and, okay, the herbs Kira is taking for her pregnancy that save her life), there’s nothing here that would’ve been much out of place in the show’s first or second seasons. In that context, this could’ve been a minor classic, or at least another promising sign of DS9’s upward swing. In the fifth season, it’s decent, but disappointing, squandering a couple of minor characters and moderate suspense for nothing in particular.
A minor, but nagging problem: the plotting of this is off, as though the writers keep forgetting the show exists in a larger universe. Kira learns from Odo that Latha Mabrin, one of the members of her resistance cell during the occupation, has been killed while in prayer. She then gets a garbled, untraceable recording of a voice saying, “That’s one.” Very creepy, but all right, there’s no need to jump the gun and assume some sort of conspiracy. But Latha’s death was only the beginning. Trentin Fala, a servant who used to pass information to the resistance, contacts Kira to tell her she’s afraid for her life, and Kira sends Dax and Worf to go beam her off Bajor. Unfortunately, the assassin saw this coming, and planted a small device on Trentin’s skin that causes the transporter to rip her to pieces. Some time later, Kira gets another garbled message, this time on a padd Quark found in a shipment of Saurian brandy: “That’s two.”
At this point, the sensible choice would be to contact the remaining members of the cell and warn them of the danger. At the very least, Kira might consider getting in touch with her boyfriend Shakaar (I wasn’t sure if they were still dating, but he pops up in the next episode). She doesn’t do this. She gets upset, she accepts the additional security from Odo, and she waits, brooding over her inability to save her friends’ lives. It’s a small omission, and one that could’ve been fixed easily enough, but the lapse makes the episode feel strangely weightless. Fala’s death is shocking, but the only characters to die who have any meaning for the audience are Lupaza and Furel, whom we first met last season when Kira was trying to negotiate for Kai Winn. The two show up on the station, bust into Kira’s quarters, and offer their help, before getting sucked into space off screen. Neither character was hugely important to the series, but without any visceral connection to their execution, the loss is empty, a forced attempt to generate pathos. Kira’s shock and horror over what happens makes sense, but the audience doesn’t get to relate to her emotions, which robs the story of much of its power.
It also leaves more time to question how much all of this makes sense. Even looking past Kira’s (and Odo’s) refusal to warn the rest of the potential targets, or make any kind of concentrated effort to ask the others who might be trying to kill them, “The Darkness And The Light” is shaky. The assassin’s ability to target his prey borders on omniscient, but hey, this is a science fiction show, and it’s good to have a bad guy (or seriously tormented murderer) who can pose a severe threat. Far more irritating is the ease with which Kira tracks the killer down. Now, to cut everyone some slack, it makes sense that the Cardassian responsible for the attacks (a horribly maimed ex-servant named Silarin Prin) would want Kira to track him down eventually. He’s doing this in part to torment her—which, come to think, I’m not sure why that is. Apart from the fact that Kira is a main character on the show, what sets her apart from Shakaar and the others? It’s not like Lupaza and Furel were getting creepy messages. But still: Prin is trying to mess with Kira’s mind, and the end game is her death. So, theoretically, he could’ve made himself easier for her to track. But this isn’t mentioned. Instead, we get a (very cool) scene of Kira beaming herself in to Odo’s office, stealing his list of suspects, and then just stumbling on the right one on her first try. Sure, she eliminates three people before she finds Prin, but Odo said the list was 25 names long. This isn’t episode-killing, but it is some half-assed plotting, and something that wouldn’t have been at all difficult to fix.
But putting aside all the holes and the nitpicks, the reason “The Darkness And The Light” never gets beyond “decent” is that the premise never makes the necessary step beyond the obvious. Kira’s terror at watching the people she cares about die is well done, and her monologue about the first time she joined the resistance is well done, and beautifully staged. (She’s in the infirmary, lying on her side, after Lupaza and Furel’s deaths; Odo comes in to speak with her, and she just starts telling him about how she grew up wanting to help, and how scared she was that when the time came, she’d let everyone down.) That speech also ties in with Prin’s accusation that the resistance didn’t care who was hurt, as long as they were Cardassian. Kira talks about firing and firing because all that mattered to her was doing her part, and who knows if she took the time to think about what she was doing, or if she looked that closely at who she was aiming at.
But there’s just something missing here, and none of Prin’s crazy monologues and attempted torture really makes up for it. Yes, the work of Kira and her friends wasn’t always clean, and she had to commit herself completely or else she wouldn’t have been able to do what she felt needed to be done. This is ground we’ve covered before, but it still has some potential. It’s just that this story ends when things are about to get interesting, at least from a character perspective. Prin actually has some justification for his crimes, and while that doesn’t make him a hero, it at least prevents this from being a simple case of black and white. But just as we learn this information, just as we realize Prin was driven mad by his injuries, and his losses, Kira escapes his trap and kills him. There was tension in the earlier murders, but tension is just a starting point. A great hour of DS9 finds ways to warp that tension around, and force you to question who you’re rooting for, and what you’re rooting for. “The Darkness And The Light” never gets there. It’s possible to read Kira’s grim expression at the end as either a refusal to admit any culpability, or horror over the echoes from her past. There are questions worth investigating. But the story’s over before anyone has a chance to ask them.
- I realize the extreme circumstances, and that Kira has every right to make her own decisions, but her willingness to put herself at risk while carrying the O’Briens’ baby wasn’t her finest hour. More than anything else, this plays like a sign that the writers are sick of pregnant Kira, and choose to ignore the situation rather than deal with it directly. Thankfully, the next episode will make the issue moot.
- Speaking of the O’Briens, I guess Miles and Kira are okay again? Because Keiko is gone to Earth, which leaves the two of them alone in the apartment.
- “Sometimes innocence is just an excuse for the guilty.” I get the intention of the line, but it’s awful just the same, a kind of Doublespeak way avoiding discussion. Which makes me wonder if this episode wasn’t meant to take a harder stance on Kira’s position (Ron Moore wrote the script based on a story by Bryan Fuller, and it reminds me a little of Battlestar Galactica, when Adama or Roslin would make hard choices that we weren’t necessarily supposed to agree with), but didn’t follow through.
- Shakaar knew Kira when she was 13 and he was old enough to lead a resistance cell. That’s—well, it’s not really gross or anything, but it does point to a certain tendency in Kira’s relationships.
“The Begotten” (season 5, episode 12; originally aired 1/27/1997)
In which Odo adopts…
This shouldn’t work. It’s soon, for one thing. Odo has been a solid for all of twelve episodes, and while the season has spent some time establishing what it’s like for the former Changeling to deal with his new status, there’s still more room to explore. Losing his ability to shape shift is the sort of huge, painful transition that could change a character’s entire bearing, and Rene Auberjonois and the writers have done an excellent job indicating all the small ways Odo is adapting (and struggling to adapt) to his new circumstance. He smiles more now than he ever used to, I think, and he drinks more. He’s a bit more visibly emotional, a bit more depressed, probably a bit more self-loathing. These are changes that make sense, and I was looking forward to seeing how those changes would deepen over time. There was always the possibility that Odo would be restored to his former self, but I assumed we’d have more time. But at the end of “The Begotten,” the injured baby Changeling Odo has been caring for is dying, and as its final gift, the creature merges with its adopted father and gives Odo back himself.
This shouldn’t work. But it does.
Maybe the writers decided there was only so much material to be gained from Odo-as-a-human. (After all, it’s not like there aren’t plenty of solids on board DS9 already.) Maybe they decided to subvert expectations and give the poor constable a win after so much losing. Whatever the reason, “The Begotten” is a lovely meditation on parenting and learning to accept the flaws in your own upbringing. The final twist is at once completely unexpected, and fundamentally sound, and while it’s easy to wonder at what might have been if Odo was forced to put on his pants one leg at a time just a little bit longer, it’s hard to begrudge such a satisfying, moving resolution. The most important factor in justifying Odo’s “cure” was that it felt earned, and not just a factor of the writers deciding they missed all those cheesy morphing effects. This passes that test, with flying (heh) colors.
Of course, that’s not the only storyline in “The Begotten.” Kira finally gives birth, which turns out to be a complicated process involving lots of gonging and relaxation rituals. This is played for laughs, and, thankfully, doesn’t take up a lot of the running time; the biggest joke is how Shakaar and O’Brien keep squabbling for their place in the delivery room. O’Brien thinks he has every right to watch the baby crowning, and Shakaar is uncomfortable at another man seeing his girlfriend’s vagina, which you’d think would be more Kira’s decision, but I guess she’s busy being chill. (Bajorans have to be completely relaxed to give birth, which sounds terribly stressful.) It’s all very sitcom-esque, provided you overlook the fact that the mother-to-be is giving birth to a baby of a different species that was transproted into her womb after an awful space ship crash. Shakaar barely registers, and there’s no real emotional pay-off to the delivery, just another generic, “Oh, the miracle of life!” moment in the middle of a lot of goofiness. (The goofiness isn’t all that funny either.) The only real emotional beat in the whole arc is Kira telling Odo at the end how much she wishes she’d been giving birth to a child of her own; it makes you realize how little the writers have been interested in getting into the reality of this experience, especially since Kira’s confession largely exists so she and Odo can bond over the dead Changeling child.
But hey, at least that arc is over. The really important part of “The Begotten” has Odo buying a sick Changeling from Quark, who found the thing in its bottle as part of a shipment of Saurian Brandy. Still struggling with his current biological stasis, Odo takes to the creature at once, asking Bashir’s help in curing it (radiation poisoning), and then showing the “baby” around the station. Grumpy characters who melt in the face of children (literally in this case) are an old idea, but Odo’s enthusiasm and warmth are a joy to watch. It’s rare to see him so utterly open, and it points to yet another justification for his usual stoicism: deep down, Odo is just a big softy, and softies have to put up a good front to avoid injury. But now that he’s found someone who truly understands what it was like to grow up as a shape-shifter, someone who allows him the opportunity to re-engage with a part of his life he thought lost forever, Odo is just a big old puddle of goo. Figuratively speaking, of course.
His discovery doesn’t go unnoticed, however. The Dominion War is still brewing, so as soon as Sisko learns about the new Changeling, he reports the information to Starfleet. The word gets back to Dr. Mora, and in spite of Odo’s wishes, his old mentor/tormentor/surrogate father arrives on the station, excited to assist in the new Changeling’s upbringing.
The show has dealt with Odo’s resentment towards Mora before, and it is a potent subject. Children often grow up to resent their parents, particularly when those parents are excessively demanding or borderline abusive. Odo is no exception, and given that he spent his early years in a lab, being poked and prodded by a scientist who didn’t initially grasp that the substance in the beaker was a life-form, he has some cause for resentment. And yet Mora refuses to apologize for his behavior, and what makes the conflict so compelling is that the script doesn’t take a side. It’s easier to agree with Odo, given that he’s a main character, and also given that he’s so intent on a no-shouting, nurturing form of parenting; but while Mora’s use of pain as a motivator makes him appear cold and clinical, he’s undeniably passionate about his work, and clearly fond of Odo. More, he has a point. The Changeling needs a push, a reason to start forming shapes. Otherwise it’s content to simply bask in Odo’s warmth. But while Odo eventually gives in to Mora’s advice, it’s clear that his own approach to bonding with the creature also helped in the baby Changeling’s development. The balance between the two men was necessary to achieve progress, and recognizing that balance allows Odo to accept, and even forgive, how he himself was treated.
Even past the philosophical implications, the education of the baby Changeling is pretty damn delightful; while Odo has talked about his process as a shapeshifter before, this is the first time we’ve seen that beginning steps of that process laid out in concrete terms. It’s a different kind of tension than the show usually goes for, because the stakes aren’t that high: will the goo become a cube isn’t life-or-death. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important, both in terms of deciding which parenting method “works,” and simply because we want to see Odo get his wish. We want that baby to succeed. The creature doesn’t get much in the way of a personality, but that isn’t detrimental to our emotional investment. There’s something alien about the process that still feels familiar, even universal: struggling to make a connection to a creature that isn’t yet capable of returning the effort. And when the Changeling finally does begin to shift, and even goes so far as to mimic Odo’s face, the payoff is tremendous. On an intellectual level, it’s not hard to realize that the baby will have to respond eventually, but emotionally, that puddle of goo (at one point, Odo’s carrying it around in a mug, which seems like it could lead to a horrible confusion) is just, well, goo. When it finally transforms into a visibly living being, the surprise is nearly as strong for us as it is for the characters.
And then the poor thing up and dies. It’s a potentially unbearable bleak twist, especially in the face of Odo’s joy; after he and Mora’s first success, the constable gets drunk and even spends time in Quark’s bar after hours, while Quark struggles to understand what’s going on. It’s no secret that Odo has been on a bit of a bad streak of late, and to see him finally happy, only to have the source of that happiness taken away, would’ve gone past drama and come perilously close to the realm of narrative sadism. At the same time, I’m not sure keeping a Changeling baby around on the station would’ve worked long term; the creature’s presence would’ve required a significant shift in focus for Odo’s character, and those can be difficult to pull off. And having Starfleet take the child off Odo’s hands would’ve been a tough sell, because it’s hard to imagine Odo willingly letting the baby go. So it was reasonable to expect there’d be some kind of permanent conclusion to the storyline, but when the news came out that the Changeling baby was dying (the radiation damage was too severe for Bashir to have cleansed all of it), I figured Odo would make a trip into Dominion territory and try and return the creature to its home.
Instead, the Changeling absorbs itself into Odo, and Odo gets his powers back. It doesn’t feel like a cheat either. The moment is a complete surprise, and that helps; there was no telegraphing that this was even possible before it happened, and yet, given what we know about the Great Link, in retrospect it doesn’t seem like that much of a stress. More importantly, the shot of Odo utterly astonished, shifting out of his clothes and flying across the Promenade as a hawk is so intensely powerful that I’m tearing up a little even thinking about it now.
Plenty of drama writers have realized the effect that misery and suffering can have on an audience; forcing characters to make impossible choices is one of the cores of great storytelling, and giving those choices extremely high stakes is critical. But few dramas realize that darkness and grit can also serve to make the light shine all the brighter when it finally breaks through the clouds. Odo has lost his people, has lost his love, has lost some of his most basic physical abilities, and these tragedies have formed a crucible, refining him to the purest essence of his character, and making his love him all the more. And then, suddenly, in a moment of his utmost despair, to get something back—something he never expected, but which he utterly earned—is quite simply transcendent. It’s the kind of moment that reminds you why you engage in art in the first place: to care and endure and be taken aback by joy.
So maybe it shouldn’t have worked. And maybe in the weeks to come, I’ll be disappointed to see Odo revert to his old self, and I’ll wonder what might have been. But for right now, the writers, and the actors, have earned this.
- “You carry yourself too rigidly.” “This is how I’ve always carried myself.” -Bashir and Odo, engaging in some light theme work
- Cannot stress enough how adorable it is to watch Odo talking to his mug of goo.
- “Constable, why are you talking to a beverage?” -Worf, not getting it.
- There’s a damn Bajoran ritual for everything, isn’t there.
- “I was never a very good shapeshifter.” -Odo
- “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” -Dr. Mora, quoting the Bible, for some reason. (It’s such an odd reference. I get not wanting to come up with a faux Bajoran knock-off, but there’s no reason for Mora or Odo to have any familiarity with the Bible at all. I suppose Mora could just be quoting a phrase he heard Earthlings use, but why?)
- “If you’re happy, there’s something very wrong in the world.” -Quark to Odo
Next week: Sisko faces off against an old frenemy in “For The Uniform,” and Garak goes looking for Enabran Tain, and finds something much worse in “In Purgatory’s Shadow.”