2.12: “The Alternate”

OK, so, first of all, it was kind of weird that they just…took the obelisk off that planet, right? Like. Y’all couldn’t just take 3D scans of it or something? Come on, you cannot just take random shit from an alien world and not expect things to go terribly wrong. Have none of you people survival instincts???

With that out of the way…

Who’s up for some Odo analysis?

As previously noted, I’m not really a big Odo fan — mostly, I have issues with the way the narrative takes it for granted that he’s one of the good guys despite having spent four years working for the Cardassians, but in general, the character himself leaves me cold compared to a lot of the other characters on the show — but Auberjonois can do some really lovely things with his performance, and this episode is a great example. We see a more emotional range from Odo than we really have previously here, and it seems like Auberjonois uses a very light touch for moments when Odo’s discomfort is purely emotional rather than caused by physical issues like needing to regenerate or illness — not surprising, for a character for whom nonverbal physical emotional cues are, really, a second language of their own, one he’s still not quite mastered.

The only previous episodes I can really think of where Odo’s seemed truly uncomfortable, even anxious, are his interactions with Lwaxana Troi in “The Forsaken” and his initial meeting with Gul Dukat in “Necessary Evil” (where he seems downright intimidated, initially — hunched posture; not making eye contact with Dukat; short answers delivered in a quiet, neutral tone). Both are cases where people are paying him a great deal more direct attention than usual; learning more about his earliest memories here — that he was being studied in a lab by someone who didn’t even realize he was sentient, with whom he had no idea how to communicate — and seeing that what triggers one of his worst violent dissociative episodes is Mora suggesting that he return to the science center for further study — adds a lot more context to his discomfort in those scenarios. Additonally, however, Jason made a great point in the comments for “Necessary Evil”:

I think the read on Odo (although I’m not sure whether this was intentional or not) is that he’s basically a Founder who didn’t have the context of the Dominion within which to mature, and as a result decided (unconsciously, I guess) to pick whatever dominant power was available within his daily environment to align himself with. He choose to call it an interest in justice, fairness, etc., but what it really comes down to is a very slight variation on the Founders’ creed as expressed later in the show: control, because “what you can control can’t hurt you.”

I call this out because that was, I think, the other element of those two previous shows of discomfort/anxiety we’ve seen from Odo: not only were people paying close attention to him, but they were doing so while also not being under his control. Lwaxana, a well-known and apparently well-regarded ambassador, is interested in him not because she needs him to solve a crime (or even look the other way while she commits one), but simply because she’s, well, interested in him, as a prospective romantic/sexual partner. In “Necessary Evil”, his general mien becomes much more recognizable as the Odo we usually see — though in the flashbacks, he’s still slightly subdued compared to the present — once he realizes that Dukat does, in fact, need him to solve a crime, isn’t just singling him out as a curiosity.

That would go along, too, with so much of Odo’s distress in this episode being the prospect not just of being studied — or of another life form similar to himself being studied — but being trapped. I mean, in fairness, I doubt many people would love such a scenario, but I think in the context of what we later learn about the Founders — their paranoia and mistrust of “solids”, their need for control — Odo’s triggers in this episode, and his previous shows of true discomfort, make a lot of sense.

“Dr. Mora is not my father.”

The Mora-Odo dynamic made for a really interesting emotional anchor to what would have otherwise just been a pretty run-of-the-mill Weird Space Thing of the Week story. Apparently the initial plan had been for Auberjonois to play Mora, a la Brent Spiner playing Noonian Soong, but the amount of makeup work involved would have doubled the amount of time it took to film. It does make sense from a character perspective — that in attempting to take humanoid form, Odo would model himself on the person he saw most frequently — but I also think the actor, James Sloyan, bears a close enough resemblance to Auberjonois that it still works, and Sloyan plays off of Auberjonois really well.

I liked that it didn’t feel like the tension between the two was neatly resolved: both are willing to try to have a relationship, but it’s clear that building that relationship won’t be a simple or quick matter. The whole concluding scene between them was just…a pleasant surprise, actually? In that Mora apologizes for not understanding sooner, but even then, it seems to be clear that apologetic words alone aren’t enough, that one has to try to do better in the future. Mora doesn’t expect Odo to immediately forgive everything, and is willing to accept a relationship on Odo’s terms.

(And I love both Quark’s responding to the chilly, awkward dynamic between Mora and Odo with “This is a family reunion! I had a hunch” and Sisko’s misinterpretation of Odo’s tension, assuming that he’s anxious about the health of a loved one and frustrated by his inability to do anything to help — it’s a rare misstep from Sisko, who’s typically pretty good at reading the people around him. Although even then, he’s right about Odo’s discomfort, he’s just wrong about its cause.)

I was also struck by the fact that Mora was the one encouraging Odo not to discount the possibility that the sample they found was intelligent — he didn’t want to see Odo repeat his own mistake, and didn’t want to cause the same pain and discomfort to another creature that he’d unintentionally caused Odo.

I would kind of like to know what happened in the period between Odo leaving Mora’s lab initially and when he ended up on Terok Nor. Mora’s “tell me about this police thing you’ve gotten yourself involved with” was striking, seeing as Odo’s been doing this for five years now.

(And, as I mentioned after “Necessary Evil”, I’d also still like to know how Odo ended up on Terok Nor in the first place — the impression I got from Dukat’s remarks there was that Odo had already been there for some time when Vaatrik was murdered, rather than Dukat summoning him to the station specifically for the investigation, but I’m not sure it was explicitly stated one way or the other.)

Other notes

  • GODDAMMIT JULIAN YOU WERE DOING SO WELL. You just had lunch with Dax and managed not to be weird and gross at her in literally the very last episode! It makes her comment about how he wouldn’t let her leave the infirmary and hid her clothes less funny and more gross, too; I know it’s meant to just be about his being overzealous in his job and her disagreeing with his medical opinion, but his treating her offer to get coffee like a proposition definitely undercuts the funniness.
  • That said, I did love Farrell’s delivery of her line about having to sneak out — she’s so understated about it, clearly not concerned when there’s Science To Be Done.
  • Jake saying that even if he does meet Klingons, it’s not like he needs to know their opera because they’re not going go be going around singing it is…kind of hilarious, actually, given how much Worf loves listening to Klingon opera.

Horniness rankings

  1. JULIAN. GET YOUR LIFE RIGHT. >:(

3 thoughts on “2.12: “The Alternate”

  1. Something that’s always bugged me a little about this episode is that Odo clearly patterned his physical appearance after Mora – the hair and facial features make this obvious. (I thought there was a line that says it explicitly, but I missed it if so.) Why, then, do all the other Founders we meet later on the show (other than Laas, who I think is said to have patterned himself after some other alien race) also appear to have patterned their physical appearances after Mora, whom presumably none of them ever met? Or are they all just trying to look like Odo to make him feel more comfortable?

    Also why do neither Mora nor his assistant wear earrings?

    OK, petty observations done. The father/son drama dynamic was not badly done here; although it was a little over the top I think it worked because Odo hadn’t shown anything like this kind of emotional range before, other than in “The Forsaken”. The way the story resolved this arc was effective and realistic. It would have been unbelievable for them to have a big reconciliation scene (or one that was any bigger than the one they did have).

    I got a kick out of Julian’s “I prescribe rest, because it’s hard for a doctor to go wrong with that one.” Whenever he has to treat Odo he becomes a total 21st century doctor. (“I have no idea what happened to you or whether it will happen again,” he shrugs at Odo in “Dramatis Personae.”) This episode is definitely a step backwards for him vis-a-vis Dax, but at least they didn’t make us *watch* the interaction she describes, which would have been utterly cringe-worthy.

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    1. Why, then, do all the other Founders we meet later on the show (other than Laas, who I think is said to have patterned himself after some other alien race) also appear to have patterned their physical appearances after Mora, whom presumably none of them ever met?

      This always bothered me too!!!! We know that in general they’re better at human shapes than Odo is, and I guess the Doylist explanation for why they don’t just use human actors is that so that we A) know that they’re Not Humans and B) know that they are, in fact, the same race as Odo. But it’s weird. I think the best I ever came up with was, like you said, that it was meant more as an attempt to reach out to Odo/make him feel more comfortable.

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