(Alternate title card for this one: “Odo Loses His Virginity”.)
WHEW! So, a whole lot happens in this one, even if some of it was just a
dream simulation. The biggest thing, of course, being the revelation, soon after Odo finds his people, that they are, in fact, the mysterious Founders, the power at the center of the Dominion.
Apparently part of the goal with the “it was all just a dream” ending was to underscore how powerful, and how alien, the Dominion is — to illustrate that enormous acts with far-reaching consequences like collapsing the entrance to the wormhole or starting a war with the Romulans could, for them, be treated so casually. It was also meant to reinforce that Odo’s story wasn’t actually separate from that of Dominion politics, that in fact, it was tied together more closely than anyone knew. I’m not sure how well it really worked, but it’s a cool idea, anyway.
So, let’s talk about the Founders…
With all their paranoia around and disdain for “monoforms”, it was a little odd that the leader/spokeswoman for the changelings seemed so surprised at how “damaged” Odo was by “living among the solids”. Like…what did y’all expect? If it was so important for them to have a concept of their identities as shapeshifters, why not send adults?
The Great Link is a really interesting concept to me — I’m reminded a bit of the Geth, from the Mass Effect game series. The Geth are robots, not organic life forms, but they have networked consciousness, meaning that A) they’re more intelligent the more of them there are in a given place, and B) they understand one another’s minds in a way that might be comparable to total telepathy — or the Great Link. Even a single Geth unit conceives of itself more as a collection of programs housed in a remote platform than an individual being.
I was really struck this time around by the fact that the Founders used to be explorers, and that it was only later in their history, after their efforts to explore led to extensive persecution by the solids, that they retreated into secrecy and devoted themselves to “imposing order on a chaotic universe”. Odo even says, specifically, that his friends “travel the galaxy in order to learn things, much as you once did”. It’s even more interesting to me in light of the trailer for Discovery‘s third season, set nearly nine hundred years after the Dominion War, which seems to be hinting at a storyline about rebuilding the Federation and rededication to its original principles.
(Given that Picard looks to involve a fair bit of the titular character acting outside of Starfleet, I’m curious to see if/how it’s going to set up a “the Federation is forgetting its foundational ideals” thing. We’ll see soon!)
A couple of things that I was a bit suspicious about, upon consideration:
- Would they really have allowed Kira to just leave, or if they were simply waiting for an opportunity to put her down in the lab with the others. They didn’t want her sending a signal that would alert people to their position; were they really going to let her leave, and risk her telling people directly?
- They claim that Odo was part of a project of exploration — they wanted to learn more about the galaxy, they sent the babies out, they implanted them with the drive to return home one day…and what did they then plan to do with the knowledge they’d gained? I can’t help thinking that Odo, and the others like him, were part of a reconnaissance operation. The fact that she simply tells him that
…and let’s talk about Odo in particular
I did find it interesting that, for what I think is actually the first time, the show makes the deliberate distinction between justice and order vis-a-vis Odo and the other Founders. I do feel like they don’t really spend enough time looking at what that distinction actually means to Odo, however.
Just last episode, he was angry over having to share his duties with a Federation officer, and argued that the security breaches Starfleet cited as why they wanted him replaced wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t been “tied to Starfleet regulations”. He’s previously commented that “whether you agree with [the Obsidian Order’s] methods or not, you can’t help but admire their efficiency” and that “Cardassian rule may have been oppressive, but at least it was simple”, and he doesn’t really seem to think much of basic civil liberties. That the show doesn’t really ever have him wrestle with the question of justice vs. order feels like a lost opportunity (and a waste of Auberjonois, who does some phenomenal work even without it) when so much of the character growth on the show involves people having to question their beliefs and the things they’ve previously taken for granted.
In a similar “lost opportunity” vein, I was really struck by the fact that “no changeling has ever harmed another” comes up for the first time in the context of Odo putting himself between the Founders and the rest of the crew. His initial argument is simply that “these solids have never harmed you”; in treating them as guilty until proven innocent, the Founders have acted counter to Odo’s beliefs about justice (or so it appears, anyway; given that Odo is a fairly “guilty until proven innocent” guy himself, it’s strange to see him bothered by it now). But he goes on to say that, in fact, he regards the crew as, well, his family: “I admit this Link of yours is appealing, but you see, I already have a link with these people”. It was a lovely moment — but it wasn’t nearly as emotionally effective, for me, as it might have been, because, with the exception of his relationship with Kira, the show hasn’t really done much to illustrate that.
- The use of Garak was interesting — for him to have scenes with both Sisko and Bashir felt a bit like setting him up to represent the part of their minds telling them that something was wrong.
- Following his discussions with Jake and Jadzia in the last episode, Sisko’s anger that the Federation planned to hand Bajor over to the Dominion was really moving for me.
- Kira’s “I’m really happy for you, Odo. I know everything’s gonna work out fine,” was just — oh my gosh, Visitor just fits so much emotion into those two sentences and it’s so lovely and poignant.
- I find Odo’s “my people have no need for doors” inexplicably hilarious? IDEK
- That simulation pretty perfectly captured Garak and Bashir’s horniness for one another.
- Garak also seemed to be…slightly into Sisko? This is not the first time I have gotten that vibe from him, honestly.
- I’m still not sure Odo — or any of the changelings — feel horniness in the same way that solids do, but they definitely feel something comparable. Also, congrats to Odo on finally getting laid!
One thought on “3.02: “The Search, Part 2””
I had two very distinct and separate reactions to the story centered on Sisko and gang playing in Dr. Mindbender’s Science Experiment. I generally don’t like “it was all a dream/simulation” episodes of Star Trek because they feel cheap and rarely have any lasting impact, and this one I’m not sure was much different (do Sisko and crew approach the Dominion any differently as a result of what they experienced in the simulation? it’s not clear to me that they do, although I guess you couldn’t prove the negative), but they can be fun if they provide the actors a chance to do some crazy stuff with their characters. In that respect, this episode wasn’t really trying for that. Everyone was pretty much “in character.”
Anyway, first reaction was that it really strained credulity for me that the Dominion could devise a simulated environment so realistic that it would completely fool *all* the participants (which includes three different species, therefore three different brain chemistries) *so* completely. In the simulation, Sisko and crew return from their mission to locate the Founders, a mission that everyone (presumably) knows involved the Defiant getting shot to shit by the Jem’Hadar, killing at least one crewmember. Reunion with loved ones on the station would be a major emotional event. Sisko would reunite with Jake, O’Brien with Keiko, Bashir with Garak… and the Dominion’s simulation so perfectly emulated how those people would react/respond to the point where none of them noticed anything off? Now I imagine they are drawing on the actual memories of the people in the simulation to create it, which is how they can recreate the right people in the first place, and I accept that to a certain degree you just have to buy into the plot or there’s no real point in watching the episode, but for a show so firmly grounded in the emotional connection between the key characters, it rang false to me, and that became a distraction.
I may have missed it, but I don’t think anyone commented on the absence of Kira and Odo from the station when the crew returned. It would have ruined the surprise, but it would have been much more interesting to have had a version of Kira running in the simulation to give more resonance to Sisko’s decision to protect Bajor by collapsing the wormhole. (Which a Bajoran character in the mix would probably have reminded him is, after all, Bajor’s Celestial Temple and home of the Prophets – and you’re about to detonate a bunch of photon torpedoes on top of it. Seems important to note.) On the other hand, it’s also kind of nice that Sisko doesn’t *need* Kira there in order for him to get all fired up about the prospect of Starfleet abandoning Bajor to its fate; he gets mad about that just all on his own. I liked that, and that felt true.
My second reaction to this storyline was that – honestly, it would have been a really interesting direction for the series to have gone if it weren’t a simulation but had actually happened. As was emphasized last season, the Federation loves its treaties and there is a very strong bias among the leadership toward using diplomacy and mutual understanding to resolve problems. Deep Space Nine as a show exposes some of the flaws in assuming that that mentality will always prevail. But at this point in the series narrative, I could really, really easily believe that the Federation – confronted with dramatic firsthand evidence of the Dominion’s superior military capabilities – would run straight at the diplomatic route. Imagine a season 3/4 aligned against this story instead. Disruption to existing alliances and partnerships could easily become a developing theme that would look more realistic over time. Over the course of a season or two, Sisko and crew would have been confronted with the decision of remaining with a Starfleet that was increasingly diverging from their values in the name of peace, or breaking with them and trying to undermine it. What was rushed into the last 20 minutes of this episode I actually think would have been really interesting to explore over the course of a full year. And the show probably could have wound up ultimately about where it did, via a different route; Starfleet would have realized that they’d made a devil’s bargain and broken out of it, with predictable consequences; in this narrative, Sisko’s character arc actually would mirror Dukat’s from the real show – he probably would have wound up dismissed from Starfleet and acting as an independent or aligned with Bajor before returning to the Federation. And that would have reversed Sisko and Kira’s roles so nicely; Sisko would be a participant in a resistance against a far superior occupying force, which is Kira’s element – and something that was profoundly damaging to her as a person.
Anyway, water under the bridge now, but the more I think about it the more I would have been interested to see the show go that route with the Dominion plot instead of the way they went. Not that I dislike the way they went, but I think this could have been more interesting and challenging to the characters. I know it’s too radical for where Trek was in the 1990s to conceive of them doing this. (Although I read once that as far back as TNG’s “Second Chances” there was a strong interest in using the episode with the arrival of Thomas Riker to kill Will Riker and reboot the character with Frakes as Thomas instead, and *that* would have been nuts.)
The Odo storyline I found … not bad, although not really all that compelling. It was interesting to see that his principal emotion upon encountering his people was impatience and frustration. I don’t know that I have a ton of reaction to it besides that. For all that it’s a game changer for the character, the end decision (“I already have a link – with these people”) did not, for the reasons you point out, feel all that realistic or, y’know, in character. And an area that could have been mined for much dramatic potential – Odo being confronted with the fact that the personality traits that center him on trying to create “order out of chaos” are remarkably similar to the character traits that underpin the oversight of a massive military dictatorship – is left unexplored. He could have grown a bit with this, but I don’t really think that he did. Not that I expected it to happen in this very episode, but it … never did? Maybe the point is that as a character Odo is just inflexible and ridden with denial about difficult life choices, and hey, I get that.
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