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Retro Review: A Man Alone

Posted by Michelle - 28/10/11 at 02:10 pm


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 01 Episode: 03 (s01e03)

Original US airdate: 01/17/1993

When a Bajoran is killed in a holosuite, Odo becomes the prime suspect, though Kira believes that he was framed.

Plot Summary: While observing an argument between Keiko and Miles O’Brien about her lack of career options on the station, Odo spots Ibudan, a Bajoran criminal. He demands that the murderer leave the station, but Sisko insists that if the Bajoran government freed Ibudan, then he must be permitted to stay. Not long afterward, Ibudan is stabbed to death in a holosuite, and circumstantial evidence – such as the fact that the murderer entered undetected – points to Odo. Bajorans already suspicious of the onetime Cardassian security agent vandalize Odo’s office and call for his blood, but Kira is certain that Odo is innocent and investigates with Bashir and Dax, who find organic traces that turn out to be cloned DNA. Meanwhile Jake and Nog get in trouble for playing pranks, giving Keiko the idea of opening a school to teach children from the different cultures on the station about each other. Bashir discovers that the murdered man was not Ibudan, but a clone whom the real Ibudan murdered for the joint purposes of framing Odo and establishing a new identity for his crimes. Though Odo is able the arrest the criminal, the Bajorans on the station never apologize for their mistreatment of the shapeshifter.

Analysis: When I reviewed “A Man Alone” shortly after it aired, I complained that it reminded me too much of two Next Gen episodes, one in which Crusher discovered that a scientist had faked his death to take another’s work, one in which LaForge discovered that a shapeshifting murderer at work. I suppose that that’s still a valid complaint, but my perspective has shifted so much that I didn’t even notice the similarities, let alone remember that they had bothered me before. It’s too soon in the series’ run for a new audience to have much invested in Odo as a character, so it’s interesting that the writers are willing to risk making him seem both very alien and very unpleasant. Most of the aliens to whom we got “close” on TNG were humanoid in appearance and outlook – among the regulars, Troi and Worf were partially human and Data wanted to be. On DS9, both Kira and Quark have a healthy distrust of human meddling, Dax is all too aware of how different she is from Bashir and Sisko, and Odo is very much a man alone…as the title suggests, though it also may be referring to Ibudan seeming to be alone in a holosuite when he was killed, to the Raymond Burr movie in which an innocent man is accused of committing the crime to which he is the sole witness, or to the Frank Sinatra song of the same name (“…love is seldom what it seems/Just other people’s dreams”).

We know from “Past Prologue” that Odo and Kira have a bond that is both deep and seemingly irrational, given that he used to work for the Cardassians and she used to be a Bajoran rebel. We don’t learn anything new here about how it began, but we see that Kira will trust Odo’s word and the integrity behind it even over the declarations of several dozen Bajorans. This is true although or perhaps because she knows, as Sisko learns, that Odo considers integrity something separate from whatever legal system is in operation: “Laws change depending on who’s making them – Cardassians one day, Federation the next – but justice is justice.” It helps that it seems pretty obvious to viewers that Odo was framed by the lurking guy in the black hood, but we don’t really know anything about Odo yet, just like Sisko, as Odo points out. Regenerating in a bucket that no one present has ever seen sounds like a pretty thin alibi. What we do know about Odo is that he doesn’t put much stock in intimate bonds. He isn’t surprised that the O’Briens are squabbling, because to him, all coupling is about excessive compromise, trying to make someone else happy at the expense of one’s individuality. Given that he has to pretend in all aspects of his life to be something he isn’t – a humanoid – perhaps it’s unsurprising that he doesn’t want to keep up the facade in private, but it suggests that he has little invested in whether people feel any affection toward him.

I thought during the first season that Odo was being set up to be the Spock-Data unemotional non-human character on DS9, but it’s already clear that his background and psychology are messier than theirs, and he doesn’t even try to pretend that he doesn’t have feelings. The connection to Kira clearly matters a great deal to him though he seems to regard her more paternally than romantically at this stage. Quark tells a Bajoran that because Quark is Odo’s worst enemy, that also makes Quark the closest thing Odo has to a friend, and he’s not entirely wrong; for all of Quark’s faults, among which we’ve already observed greed, lust, arrogance, and the characteristic selfishness of the Ferengi, he’s not in the least prejudiced against beings who are very unlike himself. He’s equally comfortable around the lumbering, silent Morn, the shapeshifting Odo, and the lovely Jadzia who happens to have an ancient slug inside her. Bashir, who is superficially attracted to Jadzia – who in turn treats him like a teenager with a crush – is somewhat thrown at the thought of the thought of the Dax symbiont, while Sisko seems determined to treat Jadzia as he always treated his old friend and mentor Curzon, which Jadzia knows isn’t quite working. Yet Quark isn’t bothered by the Trill physiology and he only worries about Odo’s shapeshifting because it gives Odo an advantage in investigating Quark’s illegal activities.

The writers seem determined to make clear that Jake Sisko is no Wesley Crusher, considering that the first thing he does on the station is to get in trouble with Nog. And Keiko’s unhappiness at her transplant from the comfortable, safe environment of the Enterprise to this dark station where her skills as a botanist are useless feels very contemporary, though how depressing that the options for women in three centuries will have changed so little; she accepts turning into a schoolmarm and taking care of the children since she accepts that her husband has the more important career. Though Kira will eventually carry a baby for Keiko and Miles, I can’t think of a single substantial conversation all series between Keiko and Jadzia, and that’s really a shame, because Dax has been through many relationships and genders and probably has quite a bit of insight. I’ve always been a bit sorry that the inherent androgyny of both Dax and Odo never got explored in any detail; we get teased with the notion of Dax’s bisexuality when she encounters a past spouse in the body of another woman, but the Founders’ sexuality is much more complicated than “bi.” We never learn in canon how they pair off and reproduce, but it seems as if the compromises of coupling must be mitigated by being a part of the Great Link.

“A Man Alone” may not be entirely successful as a dramatic mystery and may borrow much of its science fiction from previous Star Trek episodes, but rewatching it, my interest is primarily on the details it tosses out which the writers will eventually work back into the larger narrative of DS9. I appreciate how complicated Bajoran culture is, that for every hero like Kira or Ro there’s a person of questionable morals or means to be dealt with, that the government gets bogged down in politics and pettiness, that this isn’t the idealized Federation. I know there was no grand scheme, no multi-year Dominion War arc in anyone’s mind during the early seasons, so what I find extraordinary is how many of the isolated facts and incidents become relevant later on. This is particularly true of things we learn about the characters. In the series finale, Dax (in a new body) will still be trying to work out her feelings for Bashir, the O’Briens will still be trying to decide the best place for their family to live, and Odo will still be questioning whether humanoid intimacy is possible or desirable for him. There’s a lot of messiness and wrong turns along the way, but real life is like that, too.

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  • Guest

    Worf isn’t “partially human.” He was merely raised by humans.

    I never thought Founders “pair off,” and suspect they don’t exist individually except for specific interactions with the outside universe.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NHC3OFBCSE3LWZ4G2ZENZAPR6I Mike DeLaney

    I generally like your reviews, but so far with the DS9 stuff I feel like you are providing too much of an overview of the series with touches of the episode, whereas the balance should be mostly the episode with some touches on the wider series… a minor complaint, but I hope you focus more intently on the actual happenings within each episode going forward.

  • Brett Schuitema

    They really were masterful in shaping the themes of the series into a consistent whole so early on as the first season… whereas TNG and TOS did not have a consistent theme for the series apart from incredibly solid morality plays and the evolved nature of the Federation and Starfleet.

    Guest: I read “partiallly human” in Worf as his being raised in human culture, but having romanticized and attempting to embrace Klingon philosophy.

  • ldude

    I understand your comment, but part of the nature of DS9 as a series is its continuity and development. Each episode stands on its own but is also a chapter in a longer story and is more interesting when viewed in that context.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NHC3OFBCSE3LWZ4G2ZENZAPR6I Mike DeLaney

    I agree, I just don’t think that during the examination of the greater whole that we should lose sight of the individual episode entirely. It’s just a balance question, which has been tipped ever so slightly out of whack, I think… not a big thing, just hoping for a tiny bit more balance.

  • Anonymous

    There was a line, quite small, but that I always liked with this episode. And it’s the one where Sisko says he believes him (or something to that affect) and Odo says “why would you” and in typical Odo style lays down how Sisko’s words are empty.

    I loved it becuase it’s a very Star Trek thing that people on your crew are your crew… always beyond reproach. If something goes wrong, you know they’re in the right and they’ll fix it in the end.

    Sisko started to take that line… but DS9 is different, and Odo summed it up brilliantly.