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Retro Review: Necessary Evil

Posted by Michelle - 20/04/12 at 07:04 pm


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 02 Episode: 08 (s02e08)

Original US airdate: 11/14/1993

When Quark is attacked, Odo must reopen a murder case, begun when the station was under Cardassian control, for which Kira was a prime suspect.

Plot Summary: Longtime acquaintance Pallra summons Quark to Bajor to ask him to retrieve a box her dead husband Vaatrick hid on Deep Space Nine while it was still Terok Nor. Rom helps Quark find the box, but when Quark looks at the contents, he is attacked, robbed, and left for dead. While Bashir works to save Quark, Odo learns from Rom that Vaatrick’s box contained nothing but a list of names. Years before, Gul Dukat had asked Odo to investigate the murder of Vaatrick, a Bajoran shopkeeper; at the time, Pallra had told Odo that her husband was having an affair with Kira Nerys. Rom can only half-remember one name from the list, Chesso, whom Pallra denies knowing yet whom Kira is quickly able to identify as a Bajoran named Chessaro. But Chessaro is murdered before Odo can question him, leaving Odo certain that Pallra is involved. He learns from Bajoran authorities that she has been receiving money from people she hadn’t spoken to for years. Now Odo can guess that Pallra has been blackmailing the people on the stolen list, all of whom were Bajorans who secretly collaborated with the Cardassians. Odo recalls that when he had confronted Kira about the murder, she had confessed that, as a member of the Bajoran resistance, she had more important things to do than kill Vaatrick; she had come to the station to sabotage an ore processor. Believing her innocent of murder, Odo had exonerated her. While preparing to arrest Pallra for blackmail, Odo learns that her henchman has tried to finish Quark off, though Rom managed to save him. Arriving to be charged, Pallra tells Odo that she did not kill her husband, which Odo already knows; he has guessed that Kira killed Vaatrick. Kira explains that the shopkeeper caught her looking for the list of his fellow collaborators, so she had no choice, but Odo can’t promise her that this won’t affect their friendship.

Analysis: Along with “Duet” and “In the Pale Moonlight,” “Necessary Evil” makes the case for why I think Deep Space Nine is the best of the Star Trek series. For the most part, when the previous two series tried to do a genre episode, we got a muddled story like “Spectre of the Gun” or “A Matter of Perspective,” where either the story tropes were rendered silly by the setting or the characters were almost unrecognizable to fit into assigned conventional roles. “Necessary Evil” is not only a superbly told detective story, it is the pivotal episode for understanding Kira and Odo’s relationship throughout the series, shedding light on their past as well as hinting at their future – it’s certainly the episode that made me realize I wasn’t the only one who thought Odo was in love with Kira. The gritty detective mystery conventions are perfectly used and never overwhelm the sense that this is a DS9 episode, full of Ferengi humor and inter-species politics as well as a story Sam Spade would recognize, in which an unwilling hero with a dark past must doggedly solve a mystery only to have to live with the recognition that the criminal is none other than the woman he loves, and that she played him to protect herself. The ambiguity of the ending is heartbreaking, because it’s obvious that Kira didn’t want to lie to Odo but she knew all along that his sense of betrayal might overwhelm his friendship and respect for her, and it’s equally obvious that as much as he wants to forgive and forget, to do so would go against his sense of justice, the very sense he identifies as being a racial memory from his people. Over and over, Odo will realize that choosing Kira means choosing not to live fully as as a shapeshifter.

This is not only one of the best written but one of the best directed episode of the series, moving between Pallra’s colorful rooms on Bajor, the efficiently industrial look of Deep Space Nine, and the gray darkness of Terok Nor, which is the perfect setting for a film noir story. The segue as Odo opens the door to the past, quite literally, when he goes to check the storeroom is beautifully filmed. There’s another lovely segue later as Kira’s voice speaking his name literally calls him back to the present. Her long red hair is the only spot of brightness in the bleak world run by the Cardassians; it’s no wonder that the first words Odo ever speaks to her, “A pretty girl like you shouldn’t be eating alone,” are a cliched pick-up line. Though we never see the sabotaged ore processor, the station looks like a prison and Dukat radiates menace; he’s never violent because he doesn’t have to be, but his rough treatment of Kira contains the same threat as his words to Odo, “If you are lying to me, shapeshifter…” He and Pallra are both aware of their physical magnetism and use it to cajole and to intimidate. It’s obvious that the collaborator’s wife is even more loyal to Dukat than to the husband for whom she never grieves; it’s the Cardassian, after all, who provides the comfortable rooms and nice clothes she enjoys even during the Occupation.

The script is tensely paced, yet very funny; Quark and Rom make invaluable contributions to this story in which they are merely pawns, though despite Zek’s recent visit and the rift nearly caused in the family by Pel, they seem closer than ever. (One of many favorite moments in the episode: Odo questioning Rom about the attempt on Quark’s life, saying that Rom isn’t as stupid as he looks, to which Rom responds, “I am too!”) The resignation with which Quark takes a bullet after looking at the list surprises me – I’d expect him to run away screaming for help, especially after turning down what seems to be an offer of sex from Pallra – but it’s no surprise at all that Rom keeps saving his brother even though he stands to inherit the bar if Quark dies. I love that when Odo approaches Sisko and Dax and Sisko observes that Odo looks like he just lost his best friend, Dax assumes it means Quark won’t make it – whether she’s projecting her own feelings or she knows Odo doesn’t dislike Quark as much as he pretends, it’s sweet, and all the more poignant since of course it’s Kira whom Odo is really mourning, but he can’t tell anyone that he’s just figured out that the only person he adores has lied to him since they day they met. He can finally admit his feelings for Kira – loyalty and friendship and love, in his own words – but they bring him no pleasure, since he now must acknowledge that they might lead him to betray everything he stands for. It no longer matters who killed Vaatrick, since Dukat is no longer in charge and Sisko is aware that his second-in-command didn’t come out of the Bajoran Resistance with her hands entirely clean, but Odo now must think about what he’d do if he did have to make a choice between his feelings for Kira and his sense of justice.

I love this episode as a Kira story, certainly the most meaty we’ve had since “Duet” and in some ways the toughest since “Progress.” Sometimes the series seems inclined to wash over her past, letting us believe she wasn’t personally responsible for any bloodshed; I find it much more realistic when we see the Kira of “Duet” and this episode, who isn’t proud of what she had to do but is proud enough of having survived and triumphed that she has no problem living with the guilt. She has more trouble with any sense that she’s let down people she cares about, and as she tells Odo, his opinion of her matters to her a great deal. The expression on Nana Visitor’s face when Kira overhears Odo telling Pallra that he knows she didn’t kill her husband is magnificent – shocked, guilty, horrified, and relieved all at once. Kira doesn’t often make herself vulnerable, yet she’s completely at Odo’s mercy here, and Odo knows it. And it’s Odo’s face in the final moments that haunts me, after Kira has asked whether he’ll ever be able to trust her again and Odo can’t answer. (I’ve always thought it was not because he feared disappointing her by saying no, but because he knew the answer was yes and the power that meant she had over him scared him even more.) It’s a shame the writers don’t keep up the notion that Sisko makes Odo keep a daily log, because I’d love to hear much more of it, particularly once the Founders show up.

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  • http://twitter.com/robtclements Robert Clements

    Necessary Evil set the template for the mature DS9: it was morally messy, it was literate, it didn’t end with a neat & lazy resolution. The past wasn’t distant – it wasn’t even past (i love how the end of Necessary Evil is reversed in season 5′s Times Past – the writers knew what they were doing, even if the broader audience didn’t). No-one is unquestionably a villain (not even Dukat); but all are capable of villainous behaviour (even Odo, if one is honest). One has to wonder: what went wrong in the system that allowed a show – & a series – like this to survive as long as it did?

  • Landru’s cousin, Dandru

    It’s a great story, I agree. It’s a shame Nana Visitor’s scenery-chewing over-acting often got in the way, as was usually the case. I consider her the weakest link in an otherwise stellar cast.

  • Bobby

    Yep, this episode is pure DS9 bliss. Good review.

    I always considered Visitor the best actress on DS9. The main cast was quite mediocre otherwise.

  • Seventhbeacon

    I find it amusing that Bobby and Dandru have the exact opposite opinions regarding the actors. Personally, I think the DS9 cast was a superior ensemble to all the other shows. There’s no denying individual talents like Patrick Stewart and Leonard Nimoy, but as a whole the primary DS9 players were better off. They also had the benefit of a stellar recurring guest star cast with amazing talents like Marc Alaimo, JG Hertzler, Louise Fletcher, and Andrew Robinson.

    Thanks, Michelle. I really think you hit all the crucial notes of this episode with the analysis. I remember seeing this the first time and re-evaluating Kira once more. She is easily the character with the best series arc.

  • http://twitter.com/robtclements Robert Clements

    The divided opinion on the quality of the DS9 cast (& Mr Brooks & Ms Visitor in particular) is pretty commonplace. The Niners adore them; & everyone else doesn’t. Their loss….

    Part of the problem is something that as become a (possibly) unintended cliche in modern film & TV: DS9 is a show which isn’t particularly interested in making the main characters likable. The writers – & one assumes the actors, too – seem to assume that audiences will sympathise with them because of their individual situations; but apart from with the Ferengi (a choice which borders on the bizaare in this context), there’s oddly little effort put into making them attractive in any conventional way. The faults of Sisko, Kira, etc, are brought further into the foreground than would ever have been allowed on TNG (or Voyager, for that matter); & the traditional honours are destressed

    It was a fresh approach back then & – if you got with the programme – worked wonderfully with this hard-edged, basically unglamorous cast; but it does rather make a rod for the show’s back. If the audience doesn’t care, they won’t watch

    Alphas mark II, please note….

    (Mind you, it didn’t help that the most conventionally sexy actors in the cast – Siddig & Terry – appeared to playing the other’s character during the first season of DS9. By Necessary Evil, of course, the writers had changed Julian & Jadxia to fit the actors rather better…)

  • Seventhbeacon

    It may indeed speak more to my tastes as a consumer of television. I also liked Lost’s group of imperfect people, Boston Legal (with the deliciously flawed Alan Shore)… as much as I enjoyed TNG (neither Voyager or Enterprise, with their mundane scripts and rehash on TNG eps, held my interest for long), I found all of these characters being Paragons of Virtue to be less interesting. Sure, they had their flaws, but I still found most of the DS9 characters likeable. It may be that they were more identifiable because of their imperfections, which has more resonance.

    I was pleased that it was such a distinct departure from TNG and TOS… perhaps they were trying too hard to create a different brand with the show, and I can see how that would alienate long-time Trek fans, who wanted something closer to the original premise.

  • http://twitter.com/robtclements Robert Clements

    Oddly, i think it was with Lost that the approach became a cliche in drama (it was Seinfeld with comedy). It was purely a situation drama; & you cared about the characters in the situation or you didn’t (i didn’t). Very useful for the writers – they can keep changing the situation because the great fear nowadays is repeating yourself. At a certain point, the characters stop being flawed people – as with the people of DS9 – & become cyphers, puppets ripe for manipulation, as on Lost

    BL is a little different. Sure the characters are flawed; but Kelley was too smart not to sell them to the audience. Character-based humour – not gags & pratfalls – was a big part of that process, as it later became on DS9. Frankly, i wish that he’d been given the ST reboot, rather than the current talentless troika

  • Bobby

    I loved DS9 and I eventually grew to like the characters. The main cast on that show was kind of a weak link, so it took a while to warm up to the show for most people. They made up for it with awesome, incredible writing and character development. They gave the actors a lot to work with and eventually most of the characters shined and things worked out okay.

    But for that first season or so, the acting of the main cast was something you had to kind of get past to like the show. The guest acting on DS9 was another story altogether. The “extended cast” (including people like Dukat, Garak, and other frequently recurring guest stars) were better than the main cast on any other trek before or since. I don’t know how they managed to find such amazing talent.

    Brooks seemed to take the longest to warm to his role. I thought he was “wooden” and odd for the first few seasons, even though eventually Sisko became one of my favorite Trek captains.

    Visitor is one of the few cast members I liked instantly. I’m *quite* aware most people didn’t. I watched it in a large group college dorm setting, and she was by far the most disliked character that first season (too “bitchy”). I guess that’s kind of what I liked about her, she was a good actress but a genuinely unlikeable character. That was something pretty new for Star Trek. And then she (and the writers) MADE you like her and made you understand her.

    I don’t always see eye to eye with Michelle (WAY too much feminism) but I get why she likes Kira so much because I like her too, for a lot of the same reasons. I think its why I’m really enjoying her DS9 reviews. We both love the show, and for a lot of similar reasons.

    It isn’t just DS9. I always thought the acting was uneven on TNG as well, particularly at first. Stewart was FANTASTIC and I think that is a big part of what made the show work, especially on season 1, where the rest of the cast bordered on cheese most of the time. I love TNG almost as much as I love DS9, but I can admit the acting was at times cringe-worthy, especially Wesley and Geordi.

    The show with the best cast, in my opinion, was Voyager. I really liked it, particularly that first season or so. I think that’s why I am often so down on the show overall. So much wasted potential, crushed by mediocrity in the writing room. I’m rewatching it now, I’m currently on season 6. It’s better than I remembered, but still quite flawed. The likeability of the characters and cast is, in my opinion, what kept it watchable and made it work, all things considered. Despite the drivel they were often given to work with.

  • Seventhbeacon

    I finally forced myself to watch Voyager last year, all the way through. It was a pain (I would typically watch early episodes in 2-3 sittings per episode, if I didn’t just skip them altogether), and didn’t seem to hit its stride until sometime in season 5. I agree with you that the actors were wasted potential, as were their character concepts. A lot of people, for some reason, disliked Janeway, and I thought, as much as I hated the show, she was a redeeming factor. You weren’t always supposed to like her decisions, but they felt real… as she strained to live up to Federation ideals when their very survival hinged on it. Sadly, the writing on that series was just terrible until those last few seasons.

    Also, yeah, first three seasons of TNG, despite individual episodes, were just cringe-worthy. The only three main actors I ever liked in that series were Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, and Diana Muldaur. I was never impressed with the rest (though they did improve along with the show’s overall scripting), even Michael Dorn, who could do Worf okay, but otherwise just seemed completely silly in his delivery and expressions. (This includes DS9, though by then he was very polished at playing Worf. I still remember him from the 1940′s episode though *cringe*.) Good thing Woof was so stoic!

  • Bobby

    Actually the first two seasons of TNG were cringe-worthy. Season 3, at least to me, was the best year of trek ever. The acting, the production values, and particularly the writing became far better almost overnight. I don’t know exactly what happened (they hired Michael Piller for one), but I suspect Berman deserves more credit than he gets for the transformation. :)

    That’s also the year TNG went from niche show to being generally popular, when all my non-nerd friends and acquaintances started watching. It’s the first year of “modern trek” and established the mold that all the other shows would follow.

    At first I really disliked Data (what is he a mime?) but he eventually won me over and was my favorite character; he was great. Worf was my other favorite, actually – I loved his deep voice and stoic little one liners. :) He was very funny.

    He was perfect for DS9 and a great addition to the cast. The earliest internet rumors about DS9 said that O’Brien, Ro, and Worf would be joining the new cast. Ro ended up leaving altogether instead, and Worf didn’t end up moving. Which was probably good for TNG. So when Worf finally ended up on DS9, my reaction was “finally” – it just seemed right.

    He had better material on DS9 than on TNG anyhow; some of the “Troi and Alexander” melodrama in those last few seasons was pretty lame.

  • Seventhbeacon

    I do remember it getting better, but it’s been so long… I’m hoping to get the blu rays, so I’ll definitely go with what you’re saying. I could easily be remembering it wrong, because it’s been many years since I’ve seen the show on DVD!

  • hostile_17

    Truly a great DS9 ep.. and one where the show really comes of age. When you compare this to the episodes like “The Storyteller” in season one it shows you how fast the show grew up.

  • http://twitter.com/robtclements Robert Clements

    I agree with some of your comments on Voyager, by the way. Not sure the cast was better – though the casting certainly was – & it seemed that the writers had learnt from the mistakes in the early seasons of TNG & DS9, but they then made their own, new mistakes. Most of the cast was wasted. Suppose that happens when you let market research define what the show should be