Retro Review: Shadowplay


Odo and Dax visit a planet whose inhabitants are mysteriously disappearing. Meanwhile, Quark tries to hide a criminal scheme from Kira.

Plot Summary: While investigating an unusual particle field in the Gamma Quadrant, Dax and Odo find a powerful generator on a nearby planet. When the residents see them studying it, they are questioned by local leader Colyus, who explains that 22 people have vanished – most recently the mother of a girl named Taya, whom Odo questions. Taya’s grandfather, Rurigan, isn’t pleased about the Starfleet officers meddling but allows Odo to establish a rapport with Taya, though he warns Odo that there is no point in searching outside the valley because no one ever leaves it. Odo and Dax soon discover why: the village and its people are holographic. Dax believes the missing have vanished because the reactor is breaking down; she offers to try to fix it, though to do so, she must turn it off. The villagers agree, but when Dax shuts the holographic generator, she and Odo are astonished to see Rurigan still there. He explains that the Dominion took over his home, so he recreated the civilization holographically on a new planet, though that that life is now over. Odo insists that if the people of the village have developed feelings and sentience, they should be allowed to survive, and Rurigan agrees to let them turn the reactor back on, restoring his missing daughter and the others. Back on the station, Sisko suggests that Jake get a job in preparation to apply to Starfleet Academy, but Jake confesses first to O’Brien, then to his father, that he has no interest in joining Starfleet. Meanwhile, Quark – who plans to sell stolen goods acquired by his cousin – tries to distract Kira – who has taken on Odo’s duties during Odo’s absence – by inviting Bareil to Deep Space Nine, but although Bareil and Kira start a romance, she guesses Quark’s scheme and has his cousin arrested.

Analysis: “Shadowplay” is a more enjoyable episode than I had remembered, though it remains disjointed and unevenly scripted, as if the writers felt they had to give air time to characters they’d been neglecting so they threw together three story fragments to give everyone something to do. A lot of groundwork is established for future developments – Kira and Bareil’s love affair, the Dominion’s aggression, Jake’s avoidance of serving in Starfleet, Odo’s acceptance of holographic life forms as deserving of the same rights as changelings – but the storytelling seems choppy and arbitrary even when one knows what’s coming in later seasons, and the idea of “shadow play” doesn’t hang together well for the subplots. What I like best are the character interactions, though Quark’s walk on the criminal side is pretty shameless even for him, and the two characters we’re supposed to believe are falling in love actually have the least chemistry.

Oddly, considering that she’s caught him flagrantly disrespecting her authority, Kira generates more sparks with Quark than with Bareil. It isn’t just the fact that she and Bareil seem far more comfortable talking than kissing – in fact, they keep interrupting their first kiss to gossip uncomfortably – it’s that Kira seems so out of character shying away from a lively theological argument just to avoid irritating Bareil. Since when does she back down from a challenge? I have trouble watching her do so in the name of love, let alone believing she’d want a man who agrees to chat about springball rather than risk a heated debate about something as important to them both as their religion. If they’d spent two hours shouting about the interpretation of prophecy and then kissed, I’d be more inclined to think they were a great couple. The fact that she tells him she’s honored rather than delighted to see him is very telling, because I think she does have a certain degree of awed reverence that she never quite loses for Bareil, even after she knows many of his secrets; as with Shakaar, I can’t imagine that would have been good for a long-term relationship, though sadly the two won’t be together for enough time to find out.

The storyline with Jake is very nearly a throwaway, which wouldn’t matter so much except that it concerns an enormous turning point in his life, something about which I’d expect not only his father but everyone else involved in his life to offer advice and make suggestions, for better or worse. I agree with O’Brien that Benjamin Sisko seems unlikely to be seriously upset at having a son who chooses a path other than Starfleet, but I can’t believe Sisko doesn’t suggest that Jake at least keep all his options open at such a young age in case he changes his mind or decides he wants to do something for which a background in Starfleet might be advantageous (like, you know, reporting on an intergalactic war for which Starfleet connections would prove invaluable). I’d also think that O’Brien himself would have some perspective about civilian life as an outsider among Starfleet officers, since his wife has occupied that position for many years. And I’d think Sisko might suggest that Jake talk to Dax, who’s a family friend and who has a broad perspective on many different careers. The rapid movement from disgruntled teenager not wanting an apprenticeship to independent young man whose father instantly accepts his decisions happens much too rapidly for belief.

The lengthiest plot, at least, is much better constructed. Dax and Odo have lovely chemistry, since Dax is an old soul in the body of a giddy young woman while Odo often seems old before his time, distrustful and irritated where Dax is enthusiastic about people and their foibles. I really thought she was trying to find out whether he was interested in Kira, whom he cites as his one female intimate, though she suggests that he notice a female officer who visits the security office may have her eye on him as well. Odo’s relationship with Taya reminds me of the Next Generation episodes where Data bonds with little girls, but Odo’s vulnerability makes this one more touching; whereas Data can’t really be wounded emotionally, Odo reveals more about his own scars than about Taya’s suffering over her mother’s disappearance in the course of his questioning. Rurigan, too, is sympathetic and believable, a dying man facing the end not only of his own life but of the dream-world he’s created that has taken on a life of its own. It’s interesting that Dax and Odo both treat him not like a Barclay, whom the Enterprise crew usually talked to like a stunted child who couldn’t cope with the real world, but like a leader who didn’t know the value of his own life’s work.

The episode has the good sense not to try to explain the technology behind the endlessly running holographic projector, nor to guess how a man whose civilization was decimated by the Dominion had the resources to flee with such a powerful tool. Ultimately, this storyline has the least consequence for the series as a whole – we will never see this planet again, and Odo won’t interact so closely with a hologram until Vic Fontaine appears – yet it’s the most memorable, and Odo’s questions about the independent lives of holograms, whom he considers life forms whether they’re made up of cells or omicron particles, resonate with things the EMH says on Voyager when his own “humanity” is called into question. I’m sorry we don’t get a bit more philosophy and a bit less unenthusiastic kissing.

What do you think? Chat with other fans in the Star Trek: Deep Space nine forum at The Trek BBS.

Michelle Erica Green


Michelle Erica Green

Writer, mother, reader, traveler, teacher, partner, photographer, activist, friend, fangirl, student, critic, citizen, environmentalist, feminist, vegetarian, enthusiast. TrekToday staffer for many years, former news reporter, current retro reviewer.

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  • Sabrecliff28

    I thought the B-story (Kira vs. Quark) was the weakest of the three in this episode. It was easy to tell that Quark had something to do with Bariel’s presence on DS9 (when you see that very smug look on his face when the couple walk out of their first scene together). Add the fact we don’t really see anything (Quark’s cousin is never actually seen nor is Kira’s apprehension of the criminal). All we have here is an exchange of dialogue with Kira rubbing it in on Quark at the end. There’s another Kira vs. Quark B-story In the following season episode “Meridian”, but that was just as weak and predicable as this one. Thankfully, that was the last of them.

  • In other words, Bareil – or the actor playing him – was a drip; & the writers had no idea how to write for Jake when he wasn’t just being his father’s moppet….

    Have always enjoyed this episode; but its curious how the A-story is the only one which sticks in your mind. The best A- & B-story writing (whether on DS9, MASH or the A N Other show) usually gives the second story enough room to leave some traces; but if you hadn’t reminded me of it, i wouldn’t have remembered anything which happened off the holographic world. There’s no doubt that strength of Shadowplay is way you see the transformation of the old, grouchy Odo into his mature Pierrot le Fou. Both are on duty in this episode – Pierrot with Taya (& Dax at times), Dirty Odo with Rurigan – & it reminds you how far Rene & the writers have taken this character since Emissary… & foreshadows how far they will take it before they get to What You Leave Behind


  • I love the writing on DS9 but the writers had some odd blindspots. The chemistry between Kira & Quark is always great – i wonder if that will translate to the project Michael Dorn is putting together with Nana & Armin? – so why are the stories which pit them against each other so bad? Is there a Ferengi rule of acquisition stating that satisfaction is not guaranteed?

  • Guest

    “If they’d spent two hours shouting about the interpretation of prophecy and then kissed, I’d be more inclined to think they were a great couple.”

    I’m glad you weren’t writing for television.

  • hostile_17

    You know, I had the exact same thing… I remembered the holograms, nothing else. I guess the ‘else’ could have happened at any time.

  • Maybe. Later on, the DS9 writers would create some classic A- & B- episodes wherein the parallel stories mirrored each other (think of the twin definitions of Explorers, Heart of Stone & [Treachery,] Faith & the Great River) but they did plenty of episodes – before & afterwards – following the traditional approach of simply cross-cutting between two unrelated stories. Mostly i can remember them – the quest for the Cardassian voles in Playing God, for eg – but not this one

    Perhaps it simply isn’t very good. Not all stories are gems

  • Seventhbeacon

    Loved this episode! Thank you for the review. I’m pretty much in agreement with it and the comments too! This is one of those that I appreciated more in repeated viewings than when it originally aired. Granted, I was in my Freshman year of high school at the time?

  • BBerry

    I have to disagree about Kira’s backing down about her opinions. She is quite forthright that she “passionately disagrees” with the content of Bareil’s speech, and HE is the one who immediately suggests that they change the subject. My take on this is that Bareil doesn’t think that Kira’s beliefs are wrong; as a moderate, he is trying to open the minds of the more orthodox Bajorans to the possibility that another interpretation COULD be right. So although I would have loved to hear more meaningful interchanges between them, I really don’t think HE would spend a lot of time arguing. And Kira already benefited by having her orthodox views loosened up a bit, as we saw in “In the Hands of the Prophets.”