In the fourth episode of the first season of Deep Space Nine, the space station deals with intolerance and suspicion when a popular war hero is murdered. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
I FIGURED IT OUT. I KNOW WHAT MAKES THIS SHOW FEEL SO DIFFERENT.
It is willing to portray the future as flawed.
There are a number of moments you can see in the video for “A Man Alone” where I’m very certain a specific thing is gonna happen, and then NOPE. The opposite does. At one point, I thought Sisko was looking at Kira in admiration, when the truth was that he was amused by the fact that she seemed to be skirting around the obvious. I am so used to the optimism and general sense of camaraderie from The Original Series and The Next Generation that my brain has to reconsider character dynamics when watching Deep Space Nine. On this show? People loudly and frequently disagree with each other. There’s not an automatic sense of trust and loyalty present like we saw in the previous two shows; how can there be? These characters were all thrust into this situation in a matter of days. Most of them don’t know one another, and some of them aren’t in the Federation at all.
It makes sense, then, that the show would need to explore something like this early on in its run. The Deep Space Nine station is an experiment of sorts, and that means there are going to be problems along the way. Here, though, the show takes us to a deeply unnerving place, one that suggests that perhaps the future isn’t so utopian as we thought it was. Granted, it’s mostly Bajorans here who turn against Odo, but it’s still explored through a Star Trek show in a way that feels so unlike the other entities. I’ll admit that the metaphoric representation of otherness is about as subtle as a brick, but it’s something every Star Trek show has had. From Spock to Data, there’s always one character that’s designed to stand out from the rest. I’d argue that Deep Space Nine subverts that by having nearly every character as some sort of outlier, but that is another essay for another day. There’s no other member of Odo’s shape-shifting species anywhere on Deep Space Nine, and once Ibudan dies mysteriously it becomes far too easy to blame Odo. Sure, they had history, but this is about so much more than the mob’s suspicion. It’s about recognizing the obviously different features and morality a person possesses and turning it against them.
It’s a story about bigotry, and it’s also one about the cultural anxieties that people have in the midst of chaos. The recent inclusion of the Federation in the lives of the Bajorans still hangs over everything. I can’t ignore it! That’s not to suggest that I approve or condone of what they do here, especially since it’s clear that the writers meant this as a commentary on a very specific kind of behavior. I think that as Deep Space Nine deals with the complicated situation aboard their station, issues like this will crop up. That’s not to minimize what happens to Odo, but merely to explain the atmosphere here. The Bajorans are understandably suspicious of everyone, and given Ibudan’s status as a hero to most Bajorans, it makes sense that they’d seek out someone to blame.
Unfortunately, this is where it leads them. It’s a dark place, full of this world’s version of a racial slur and plenty of jumping to conclusions. Everyone is certain Odo murdered Ibudan, unaware that the man had been deceiving them all for years. They trash his quarters. They might as well have been given pitchforks and torches in that scene towards the end. Granted, not really the most subtle representation imaginable, but it got the point across. The most damning aspect of it all?
Sisko’s voiceover, which states that none of these people ever apologized to Odo for nearly killing him.
There is a beacon of hope within this episode, though, and it’s entirely because of Keiko O’Brien. I feel like she’s got more time in “A Man Alone” than all of her appearances in The Next Generation, and I AM SO HAPPY FOR IT. Her story here is one that seems to hint at what Deep Space Nine can do with people: give them stationary plots. What I mean by that is that this setting doesn’t change. The Deep Space Nine station is probably going to remain in one spot, and that means that these people need to figure out a way to build some sort of life here. Part of that problem includes what the population aboard the station is going to do with their children. Thus, Keiko takes it upon herself to find out if she can open some sort of school on the grounds.
I thought it was clever and admirable that Keiko faced resistance based on the fact that others were worried that their children would be getting a Federation-style education. Unlike the other shows in the Star Trek canon, there’s a significant population of characters that aren’t in the Federation and view it with suspicion. It makes the dynamic of this show all the more interesting, especially since we get to experience the Federation in a different light. There are multiple cultures ready to clash here, and I view “A Man Alone” as an example of that kind of friction. However, that conflict can give rise to something wonderful, and I really do hope that Deep Space Nine finds a future for Keiko. She’s an awesome character, and I want her to have the space to grow.
The video for “A Man Alone” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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