In the twelfth episode of the fifth season of Deep Space Nine, I am personally harmed by this episode. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of consent and nonconsensual medical procedures/experimentation.
This episode is an accomplishment. I remarked on video that for the most part, Odo is speaking to a pile of goo, one that cannot largely speak back to him, and somehow, Rene Auberjonois makes that into a spectacle. He is so spectacular throughout this episode, and his work to portray Odo as a “father” is both entertaining and gut-wrenching. WHY MUST THIS EPISODE HURT ME IN THIS WAY.
So, baby Changeling, y’all. This episode does wonders for worldbuilding and character building, and I think it’s the closest we’ll ever get to understanding what it was like for Odo to be discovered on Bajor. Without a single flashback, René Echevarria’s script manages to tell us so much about Odo’s experience at the hands of Dr. Mora. Through the Changeling child that Odo was sold by Quark, we’re able to get to stories unfolding at once. (Is no one going to comment on how unethical it is to sell a person? This episode completely glossed over that.) We watch Odo try to gently coax the Changeling into shape-shifting, and we watch Odo definitively confront Dr. Mora for what he did to him.
And this script is absolutely brutal in that regard, and I believe it had to be. As Odo works through the various ways in which he’ll believe the Changeling will respond, Dr. Mora pokes and prods him emotionally, mirroring the same behavior from years prior. It’s a frustrating thing to watch because Dr. Mora is so goddamn stubborn. He refuses to admit he did anything wrong; he takes credit for Odo’s existence; he insults Odo for attempting to make an emotional connection with the Changeling baby. But it becomes clear that he resents Odo because he himself never bothered to treat Odo as a person worthy of respect, adoration, or affection. Then, when the Changeling responds very personally and emotionally to Odo, he comes to understand how badly he messed this up.
I always have a worry that stories that deal with these kind of power imbalances will ultimately end in unsatisfying ways. And given how forceful Dr. Mora was that Odo was terrible for leaving him, I really didn’t want “Alter Ego” to end with Odo agreeing that Dr. Mora was right in treating Odo so badly. Instead, there’s a fascinating middle ground found here, and the impetus for that is Dr. Mora genuinely apologizing to Odo. Odo needed that, and this show needed that. How could we ever get past that? Thus, this is natural progression for the story. Odo gets to be honest about his treatment and demonstrate to Dr. Mora why he should have been treated differently. Dr. Mora comes to empathize in a way he never could have without this new experience. And even Odo expresses his appreciation for what Dr. Mora did right, which is something that he could not do before, either.
They all benefit from this episode, and I appreciate the respect given to both of these characters in the script. Of course, there’s a bittersweet conclusion to “Alter Ego.” Echevarria brilliantly ties the two plots of this episode together, showing us that Kira’s birth of the O’Brien’s child is a parallel journey to Odo’s. Both of them flirted with parenthood, and both of them “lost” the child they thought they might raise. Granted, the details aren’t the same, but there’s still loss here. In Odo’s case, it’s hinted at that the dying Changeling child gave Odo his shape-shifting power back out of love and appreciation. (WHICH DESTROYS ME, OH MY GOD.) And what of Kira? She never wanted children until she brought Keiko’s child to term. Now what? How does she deal with that emptiness?
God, Deep Space Nine continues to blow me away, y’all. I love this show so much.
The video for “The Begotten” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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