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Retro Review: The Forsaken

Posted by Michelle - 03/02/12 at 09:02 am


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 01 Episode: 16 (s01e16)

Original US airdate: 05/23/1993

While an alien entity wreaks havoc with the station’s computer, Lwaxana Troi becomes romantically interested in Odo.

Plot Summary: A group of Federation ambassadors comes to Deep Space Nine to see the wormhole for themselves, but they all have complaints, ranging from the uncomfortable Cardassian beds on the station to the fact that Sisko has asked Bashir to look after the guests while he is busy in Ops. When Odo recovers Lwaxana Troi’s latinum brooch from a thief, the Betazoid ambassador becomes intrigued with the shapeshifter, whom she says is the first man she doesn’t have to mold and shape herself. Odo tries to avoid her. The ambassadors watch as the wormhole opens and an alien probe passes near the station, but when O’Brien and Dax try to download its data, the series of minor computer malfunctions that has been plaguing the station grows exponentially worse. Lights fail on the Promenade, the transporters refuse to work though there is no apparent malfunction, and Odo is trapped in a turbolift with Lwaxana shortly before he needs to regenerate. O’Brien finds that the computer is now more cooperative when he gives it orders yet it refuses to accept commands that would allow him to leave it running on its own, as if it had developed the personality of an eager-to-please child. He and Dax theorize that they may have downloaded an intelligent entity from the probe. Though Odo is at first annoyed to have to listen to Lwaxana’s nonstop chatter, he is relieved to find her sympathetic when he can no longer hold his shape. O’Brien tries to return the entity to the probe, but it resists, causing explosions and trapping Bashir with several ambassadors in a burning corridor. Guessing that the entity wishes to stay, O’Brien designs a subroutine to contain it and restores power to the station. The ambassadors consider Bashir a hero for protecting them during the fire and Lwaxana accepts Odo’s thanks for her discretion about his change of form, suggesting that she would like to see him again. Sisko is a bit alarmed to learn that O’Brien has adopted the alien entity in the computer but O’Brien assures him that it will be busy with his subroutines from now on.

Analysis: I’m of an entirely split mind about “The Forsaken.” It’s really not a good episode: the stories are disjointed and never really mesh, the Bashir plot feels entirely contrived to improve our opinion of him and smells a bit like a Wesley Crusher drama, and Sisko and Kira seem to have little to do despite the fact that there are ambassadors visiting their station and an alien entity controlling the computer. It’s rather boring and not very memorable. On the other hand, as far as I’m concerned, the final scenes with Lwaxana and Odo make up for pretty much all the rest – not only in this installment, in fact, but for a number of misdeeds committed by the writers against Lwaxana Troi, both before and after. The writers (of both DS9 and TNG) seem to believe that there is something innately hilarious about a middle-aged woman who believes that she’s attractive, has no inhibitions about expressing her sexuality, and expects men to be as interested in her as she is in them. They set Lwaxana up as the butt of jokes over and over, and the only saving grace is that Majel Barrett plays her as utterly unconcerned with what anyone thinks of her. As far as Lwaxana is concerned, the fact that she’s the Daughter of the Fifth House, Holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx, Heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed – oh, and apparently an accomplished Federation ambassador, though it’s all too rare that we actually get to see her in that capacity – should far outweigh anyone’s prejudices about her age and flamboyant behavior. I keep expecting her to burst out singing “I Am What I Am” from Jerry Herman’s musical version of La Cage Aux Folles.

As Lwaxana demonstrates when she pulls off her wig to show Odo, she isn’t afraid of her age, being perceived as outrageous in her manner of dress (which Deanna has suggested is extreme for a Betazoid), nor the fact that even colleagues are put off by her pushiness. She loves being different. She doesn’t care if most of the people she encounters would find it absurd for a woman of her stature to be girlishly flirting with a security professional and she doesn’t seem to consider that for someone as different from herself as Odo, her behavior might border on harassment, which I might find more troubling if we didn’t have so many examples in Trek of male aliens assuming their advances will be welcomed by every physically compatible female in the galaxy. She claims that her interest in Odo is based on the erotic possibilities of being with a shapeshifter, along with a misguided guess that a man who can change his form must have a perspective on life’s joys that’s as flexible as her own, but she often seems as lonely as he does – her ongoing efforts to find a mate, whether it be Jean-Luc Picard or Minister Campio or the scientist Timicin, make it obvious that she’s not as self-sufficient as she likes to claim. We’ve seen her pull stunts that aren’t that different from the rambunctiousness of the alien who gets into the station’s computer, creating inadvertent jeopardy when all she wants is a little attention and fun.

It’s not a strong enough connection to make the episode gel – I suppose “The Forsaken” is supposed to refer to Odo, Lwaxana, and the probe entity, though it doesn’t really apply to any of the above – but it keeps the episode from being entirely forgettable or annoying. I like what character development we get for Odo; we already knew that he protested too much about humanoid romantic connections, though he’s quite funny he doesn’t get what cut flowers and bad poetry have to do with procreation, but to see how different and self-conscious he feels about his need to revert to a vulnerable liquid form is very moving (and it’s rather erotic when he literally melts into Lwaxana’s lap). Sisko seems a bit amused at first that Odo won’t even try humanoid romance, laughing about the fact that Odo is more comfortable around thieves and killers than a woman, but when Odo uses the phrase “diplomatic incident” it brings Sisko to his senses. Interesting that Lwaxana has such calm recollections of being kidnapped with Deanna aboard a Ferengi cargo ship and that Sisko can recall wryly how he once hit an ambassador who was annoying him…I guess diplomacy isn’t what I thought it was. No wonder humanoid behavior confounds Odo. I’m also surprised that he goes to Sisko rather than Kira for help with Lwaxana, both because Kira is a better friend and because, since Sisko’s preoccupation is the reason the Federation ambassadors have been dropped onto the rest of the senior officers, I would think she’d be in a better position to get Odo off Lwaxana Watch. My personal theory is that, whatever he may claim, Odo already knows that he has romantic feelings for Kira and is therefore already buying into humanoid binary gender expectations, though sadly we will never really learn how reproduction works for the Founders, let alone sexual desire. Again, no wonder Odo is confused.

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  • TB2

    I agree the two plot lines of the story seem disjointed, but in this case (this is IS season 1 of DS9 after all) it works well.
    It is not necessary for two plot lines to have to connect overall, and in this case we can see the Ambassadors are more an excuse for Lwaxanna’s first DS9 appearance.
    The scenes between Mrs Barrett-Roddenberry and Rene Oberjonious are wonderfully executed. We know Lwaxanna is outgoing and exuberant – here we see the sensitive and caring woman who has a heart of gold under the smiles and bravado. Its a touching moment, and Odo has found someone he realises he can let his guard down with in private, a close friend. – Its one of those two character sequences that DS9 excels at out of all of Trek.
    The Bashir sub plot is trite by comparison, but it has fun moments, and although the alien probe is a little underwhelming in itself, it makes a sharp contrast to what WILL be coming through the Wormhole in the future.

    The Forsaken was the one TNG connected episode that made keep watching DS9 in those early days when I did not get it, because it was not TNG. It was narratively slower, no ship (at this point) and seemed to not know where it was going as a concept. Seeing Mrs Troi with Odo made me relaisde what DS9 did have to offer. – Which was some of the best long term character development in televised Sci Fi.

  • Lost in the computer

    I somewhat remember this episode, though it’s been a long time. Was the “entity in the computer” ever mentioned again, or is it still a dangling possibility to be brought forward in a book? (Maybe it could hook up with Moriarty!)

  • Seventhbeacon

    I remember this was the episode that made me reconsider my opinion of Lwaxana Troi as a character and plot device. I used to be incredibly annoyed by her but I agree that this episode shows a rare glimpse of her true character in a way that’s far more identifiable than her confessions in previous TNG episodes. In retrospect her character is now one of my favorites in the entire franchise, and it’s entirely through the lens of this episode that makes that possible.

    Thanks for another great review; I enjoy reading all of them!

  • DS9 Forever

    “Pup” was later used by the crew in the 1995 novel “Valhalla”.