In the fourteenth episode of the seventh season of Deep Space Nine, THIS DESTROYED ME. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of bigotry/oppression, racism, terrorism, and war.
Holy shit, this episode was INCREDIBLE. RenÃ© Echevarria’s script is dense, layered, and complicated, and it’s incredible that I can find a new layer to it every time I re-think it. This episode doesn’t settle on a single narrative and instead spills forth the entire messy affair between humanoids and Changelings. The willingness to portray these characters with nuance, despite how uncomfortable it is, is why this story hits so goddamn hard. LET’S TALK.
For a good portion of this episode, the script focuses on the unreal discovery of Laas, WHO I DIDN’T EVEN RECOGNIZE AS J.G. HERTZLER. NO WONDER MARTOK WASN’T IN THIS EPISODE. I had honestly forgotten that the Founders had sent 100 Changeling out into the galaxy hundreds of years earlier. And what a time for Laas to come into Odo’s life! That’s what the episode turns into, of course, but at the start Odo familiarizes himself with a Changeling who has been “alive” and sentient for 170 years longer than him. Much of this helps to set the scene for later conflicts, such as the way literally everyone reacts to another Changeling onboard Deep Space Nine.
Odo, however, sees a chance in Laas: to explore his nature. To introduce someone else to the Link. To learn about the kind of experiences Laas has had out in the world. It’s a treat watching the two of them interact… up to a point.
But a difficult conflict arises from this: is there a point at which the differences between members of a community work against the interests or happiness of others? There were times in this episode where Laas infuriated me. He was obstinate, rude, and insulting, so certain he knew exactly how all of Odo’s friends thought of him. That scene in Quark’s bar was just so ridiculous! He didn’t even try to get along with anyone else! He jumped straight to cutting remarks and criticisms.
And yet, I couldn’t deny what he pointed out: these people are terrified of Changelings. Granted, there’s a context here that Laas didn’t quite grasp, and that was the fear that came from the Founders and their insidious ways of sowing fear and terror within the Federation and their allies. They’re terrorists and they support genocide, so some suspicion on their part seemed justified to me. However, it always went beyond that, didn’t it? Quark confirmed Laas’s suspicions, and Laas’s little fog experiment showed Odo that people really didn’t feel comfortable with him expressing himself in a natural state. That’s further complicated by the fact that Laas provoked his fight with that Klingon and then STABBED ONE OF THEM THROUGH THE CHEST, despite that he could have shifted into any other arrangement to defend himself without killing the perpetrator. But then that is complicated when we learn that the Klingons suddenly care about the rule of law and holding Laas legally accountable? Or are they acting out of prejudice towards another shapeshifter?
This is where Echevarria’s script succeeds so fully. I don’t want this to be easily categorically. I don’t want this to be comfortable. I think exploring these characters’ disinclination towards Changelings is way more powerful than sweeping it under the rug. Are they unfairly biased? Even if they didn’t intend to, have they created an atmosphere where Odo doesn’t feel safe or comfortable enough to celebrate what makes him different?
Ultimately… yeah, they kinda did, didn’t they? Safety doesn’t just happen, for the record. We have to go out of our way to make people feel comfortable, and I’m real tired of the idea that if we just invite people to be a part of groups they’ve been historically denied membership in or haven’t been included in, then that’s all we have to do! Automatic diversity! Everyone wins!
Except that’s not the case. The Dominion War absolutely plays a part in this, and I know that makes this more challenging, but Laas still helped Odo realize that there was a value in him pursuing freedom. By that, I mean the freedom to be himself. His true self! Odo’s rejection of Laas was painful to watch because it was clear he did find the idea of traveling to find the other 98 Changelings alluring, but Odo found something Laas did not. A HUMANOID WHO LOVED HIM AND WAS WILLING TO LET HIM GO IN ORDER TO DEMONSTRATE THAT LOVE. My god, Kira’s actions here are the supreme irony: Laas did not believe any humanoids could understand him, yet it was a humanoid who understood the importance of the Link that freed him.
I HONESTLY GOT SO SCARED THAT ODO WAS GOING TO BREAK UP WITH KIRA AND I WAS GOING TO BE FURIOUS. Instead, we get one of the most magical scenes in the entire series: Odo transforms into a burst of light and surrounds the woman he loves, and she accepts him for it. She accepts him as he is, even if his nature is so wholly different from her own. That’s love, y’all.
The video for “Chimera” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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