3.06: “The Abandoned”

I actually liked this one a lot more than I remembered liking it, and I ended up having a lot more to say about it than I expected. As established, I’m not really the biggest Odo fan, but I actually liked him a lot in this episode, and felt like they were doing some really interesting things. I get that they didn’t want it to just be a retread of TNG’s “I, Borg”, but I also found it a little disappointing that the show seems to come down on the side of genetics as destiny with the Jem’Hadar, particularly when Odo himself points out that he’s started to reject his own genetic “programming”.

Content warning: I do talk a bit about Mardah, the dabo girl dating Jake, and how her comments about her background have some pretty troubling implications, perhaps more so than the writers intended. I don’t get graphic or anything, but just wanted to mention that the possibility that she was, essentially, being sexually exploited as a teenager is a theme I examine for a bit. The Mardah section of the post is pretty clearly demarcated, though, so it should be easy enough to skip over.

More Sisko with babies, please

One of my favorite minor recurring themes on the show is Sisko’s baby fever? Like, obviously he’s a great father, but when it comes to babies, of any species, Sisko pretty much just loses the plot for a few minutes, and it’s just delightful. He’s just generally such a very composed person, who spends so much of the time dealing with really serious stuff, that it’s just lovely to see him let down his guard while bonding with children, and it’s really charming that among the few times he publicly loses control of his calm demeanor, it’s becasue he’s getting excited about BABIES!!!!!!

(It’s perhaps most delightful when they find a baby changeling later, and even though it’s just glop in a beaker, he still takes a few moments to just coo and gaze lovingly at it.)

And then later, when the baby has turned into an eight-year-old overnight, he introduces himself and Bashir as “Benjamin” and “Julian”, which is…just so lovely and sweet? Ughhhh Sisko with children just kills me every time.

Let’s discuss Mardah

So…in an episode where both the A and B plots deal with the theme of growing up too fast, I feel like it’s a serious lost opportunity that, even as they hint that that’s what happened to Mardah, too, they don’t actually deal with that in any serious way (or even any way that makes me certain those hints were intentional, honestly).

Like. Mardah’s siblings haven’t spoken to her in “years”, apparently because they don’t approve of her working as a dabo girl. She’s been doing that since…??? Since their parents died? Since she was Jake’s age? Younger? She says she’s been on her own since she was thirteen, but it’s not clear that that’s when she came to the station. I feel like even for Quark, having a thirteen-year-old child serve as sexual bait for Cardassian soldiers would be going too far, but also, if the show considers Jake, at fifteen or sixteen, old enough to be dating an adult, I can’t really discount possibility that she’s been doing it at least since that age? W H E W.

I mean, as I have noted previously, a twenty-year-old dating a sixteen-year-old is not great, and it was even less great a year ago, when Jake was fifteen, but I feel like Mardah has a LOT of potential as a character, and would’ve liked to have seen more of that. And, like, it’s still not appropriate, but finding out that they were actually at school together for a little while helps a little.

And, of course, though this is much darker than I think they were going for, the possibility that she, uh, may have started doing this when she was about Jake’s age herself could also mean she’s got some emotional issues of her own that make her a bit less mature, in some regards, than others her age, even if she’s a bit more mature in others. As I said above, kids growing up too fast is a theme with both the A and B plots in this episode, and it’s a shame (and perhaps another indicator of the fact that the writing staff was almost entirely male) that the show never considers — barely even acknowledges — the possibility that the same thing happened to Mardah, too.

…I am making myself extremely sad with this line of thought. On a somewhat lighter note, it’s gotta be really weird for her, dating the Emissary’s son. Like. Can you imagine, if your boyfriend’s father was also an enormously significant figure in your religion? I would’ve loved to have seen a little more of that angle, honestly — one of her siblings showing up ostensibly to reconcile and in reality as a way to suck up to the Emissary, or something.

It really took me awhile to get to the A plot

I can be pretty tough on Odo, but I actually really enjoy him in this episode, and it’s interesting to see the fallout from his encounter with the Founders, see that it may have changed his perspective, or perhaps brought an already-changed perspective into sharper focus.

The Founders’ mission — order above all else — requires a strict social hierarchy, and Odo has shown hints of the same mindset in the past, conflating justice and order. So it’s striking to see him, now, trying to impart the lesson that being a changeling “doesn’t make me better, just different” and that “no one on this station is better than anyone else; we are all equal.” He’s…actually talking like a Federation officer.

Even more striking is this exchange:

Kira: But can you trust [the Jem’Hadar]? How long do you think you’re going to be able to control him?
Odo: I’m not trying to control anybody! I’m just trying to give him some choices other than becoming a laboratory specimen or a Jem’Hadar soldier.
Kira: I never thought I would say this to you, Odo, but you are listening to your heart, not your head.

Sisko, too, asked earlier whether Odo could “control him”; though he didn’t react quite as strongly to the notion then, he didn’t seem totally comfortable with that framing then, either, responding only that the Jem’Hadar has “shown a certain deference to me”. About halfway through season two, I noted that the main examples of Odo appearing truly uncomfortable, even anxious or upset, came when he was in situations with people over whom he had no control — Dr. Mora, Lwaxana Troi, and his initial encounter with Dukat. Though no one ever explicitly states that his lack of control over those people was the reason for his unease, it still seems worth noting that now, following his encounter with the Founders, having learned that their credo is “what you can control can’t hurt you”, he explicitly pushes back on the idea of controlling someone. Indeed, he finds the fact that the Jem’Hadar have been genetically programmed to submit to changeling control abhorrent.

I also found the implications of his having requested quarters of his own really interesting, particularly after he went to Sisko’s dinner party in “Equilibrium”. He’s starting to think of himself as a part of the crew as well, it seems, rather than someone separate. I really do like the story of his becoming more a part of the crew (and the fact that finding his planet of origin and finding his home do not turn out to be the same thing), I just have more trouble with each rewatch putting aside my primary criticism of it (i.e. that the show takes it for granted that his outsider status somehow negates any responsibility for his part in the Occupation). It’s also a lovely follow-up to Sisko and Jake’s discussion, in “The Search”, about how they’ve started to think of the station as home, and to treat it as such — Odo, too, has begun to think of himself as having a home, a family.

I also found it interesting that he and Bashir ended up on the same side — the two of them seem, at first glance, very different, but also have a bit of a…I wouldn’t say a naivete, exactly, in the context of Odo, but he has a black-and-white worldview that isn’t entirely dissimilar from Bashir’s naivete, maybe.

Also, the moment when he tries to teach the Jem’Hadar to smile is amazing. Talk about the blind leading the blind, oh my stars.

Horniness rankings

  1. Quark’s horniness for the freighter captain is such that he doesn’t even care about wasting latinum buying junk from her!
  2. The general stationwide horniness for gossip is manifested in Kira, who openly admits that everyone’s curious about Odo’s quarters.

One thought on “3.06: “The Abandoned”

  1. Another great episode… season 3 really killed it early on, I’d forgotten that. What I love most about this one is that they found a way to convey tons of important and foundational knowledge about the Jem’Hadar and the Founders’ relationship with their military in an inventive way – by having the crew discover it for themselves through the initial mystery of “what is this odd alien child?” A more typical Trek move would have been for some character to dump this knowledge on the characters as exposition at some point. This was much better, and we get several key concepts on record – the Jem’Hadar’s rapid growth to maturity, their addiction* to the enzyme, and their innate, programmed deference to the Changelings and belief in their superiority.

    [* – “Addiction” probably ought to be in quotes, and I am not crazy about how the series usually refers to the Jem’Hadar dependence on “the white” as an “addiction.” For one thing, Bashir says in this episode it’s an enzyme critical to the individual Jem’Hadar’s survival that was purposely clipped out of their DNA by the Founders, so to me it’s more like a situation where a human body is supposed to produce insulin but doesn’t and has to receive infusions of it from the outside or the person dies. No one should say that person is “addicted” to insulin. Maybe this was a changed concept? In a later season, I remember there’s a breakaway squad of Jem’Hadar who try to “break their addiction” to the white, and I think that’s treated as possible – which it shouldn’t be, if this episode is to be believed, because it’s not a non-vital substance they’ve become dependent on, it’s a key part of their biology. I think this is kind of important because the theme of “breaking your programming” applies differently when you’re talking about stopping a habit that became an addiction than it does to repairing a part of your body that your creators deliberately broke.]

    Speaking of breaking programming, the episode made interesting use of Odo on that theme here in a way that I liked. Although, I sat up and booed when he told Kira: “I was programmed to be a Founder; you were trained to be a terrorist” as though these things were equivalent to one another. Kira became a terrorist out of necessity (which the series shows us repeatedly that she struggles with and grows into an acceptance of) – no one genetically programmed her to be one. It’s a bad comparison. (Plus Odo was a collaborator, so shut the hell up, Odo.) It was interesting that Kira had the role of cautioning Odo that she didn’t think the Jem’Hadar would be able to become anything other than a “killing machine.” I couldn’t decide whether I thought it made sense for her to hold that view. On the one hand, yes, it’s the pragmatic viewpoint I’d expect a soldier with a lot of combat under her belt to default to. But on the other hand, Kira would have said the same thing about Cardassians once but had that viewpoint challenged several times throughout the series up to this point (“Duet,” and, hell, the very last episode, “Second Skin”). So it’s a little disappointing that she’s made to speak the “he can only ever be X, he could never be Y” lines. (Would have been more believable from O’Brien.) I also think about this in the context that we learn later that Bajoran society had a caste system before the Occupation that would have stuck Kira in a role for which she was ill-suited, although I guess that wasn’t part of the backstory yet.

    And on the third hand, Kira’s civilization was to some degree influenced and guided by the Prophets/Wormhole Aliens, in a different way than the Dominion influenced the less capable species it encountered, of course, but – well, there are some interesting parallels, or there could be. (I can’t really remember if the show ever touched on this – maybe in later episodes.)

    The Mardah storyline – I agree with your take, although I’d be surprised if the writers originally had that in mind when they wrote the scene. My big takeaway besides that was admiring Avery Brooks’ comic timing in the way he delivered “You write poetry?” “You play dom-jat?!” And the lovely summation at the end of the scene: “Tell me more about my poet, hustler son.”

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