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Retro Review: Whispers

Posted by Michelle - 01/06/12 at 07:06 pm


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 02 Episode: 14 (s02e14)

Original US airdate: 02/06/1994

When O’Brien returns from an away mission, he finds that the entire crew is treating him strangely, including his wife and daughter.

Plot Summary: O’Brien returns from a mission to the Paradas system to prepare for peace talks on the station, only to find that his engineering crew and the senior officers – plus Keiko and Molly – are being distant and secretive. While Keiko meets in private with Sisko, who lies to O’Brien about Jake’s grades, an engineer named DeCurtis is put in charge of security for the Paradas visit. Bashir insists on giving O’Brien a full physical yet his joviality is so forced that O’Brien fears he may have a disease, yet Bashir insists that his health is fine. When O’Brien searches station logs for a clue that anything might have gone amiss while he was on Paradas, he finds that his security clearance has been revoked. He asks Odo, who has been absent from the station on a trip to Bajor, for help investigating, but Odo soon demonstrates his loyalty to Sisko and the others. Now certain that there is a conspiracy among the senior officers, O’Brien creates a weapon, reprograms the computer so he can steal a runabout, and tries to flee to a starbase, but the admiral with whom he makes contact orders him to return to the station. Suspecting that the Paradas must be the source of the conspiracy, O’Brien heads back to that system, only to learn that several Starfleet officers have arrived and beamed down to Parada II. On the surface, O’Brien discovers that Sisko and Kira are meeting with a Paradas rebel leader and tries to shoot the alien, but he is in turn shot by a guard. As he falls, dying, he sees another O’Brien come into the room with Bashir and learns that this O’Brien was taken hostage on Paradas, while he himself is a perfectly manufactured replica designed to assassinate the delegation at the peace talks. Still unable to accept that he is not the real O’Brien, the dying man asks his original to tell Keiko he loves her.

Analysis: Poor Miles O’Brien appears in more episodes of anyone in the next generation of Star Trek besides Worf, yet he often gets little to do besides align power couplings and repair phase emitters – and when he isn’t spouting technobabble, he’s a solid family man whose principal diversions, racquetball and recreating famous battles, happen largely in enclosed rooms with Bashir where we never get to hear the dialogue. There are only a handful of episodes out of the more than two hundred in which he is featured where we get a glimpse beyond the superficial. My favorite of those is The Next Generation‘s “The Wounded,” in which O’Brien must talk a beloved captain out of starting a war with the Cardassians who murdered his family, since we see exactly what it means to O’Brien to be a Starfleet officer and an Irishman, but “Whispers” is a close second, made all the more powerful when we realize it isn’t really O’Brien we’ve been watching but a replicant programmed to be an assassin. Structurally, it’s not my favorite DS9 story – the voice-overs slow it down and the early scenes with Keiko acting oddly toward Miles go on too long when the scenes with his crewmates lying to him are so much creepier, and at the end the chase with the force fields and phaser fights seems very choppy. In order for a story like this to work, we must feel that we know all the major players well enough to see, as O’Brien does, that they’re not acting like themselves…but we’ve seen Keiko be cranky and cold quite often since arriving at DS9, we’ve seen Bashir overly enthusiastic about medical tests, we’ve seen Kira harbor secret agendas, we’ve seen Sisko paranoid with justification about station takeovers. It seems possible not that something is really off but just that these are all the regulars on a really cranky day.

It’s odd that “Whispers” was chosen as a follow-up to “Armageddon Game” since the latter ends with Keiko – whose belief that she knows her husband inside and out saves his life – learning that she doesn’t even really know his coffee-drinking habits. When she’s so icy to him at the start of “Whispers,” it seems possible that we’re just being shown more evidence that they’re growing apart, and Molly’s refusal to kiss him, while upsetting to watch, seems like pretty normal behavior from a little girl upset that her daddy often isn’t around when she wants him to be – did she know that he’d been reported dead? That would explain her pushing him away right there. O’Brien is pretty expressive when his feelings are hurt, so we get to see him going from annoyance when DeCurtis goes over his head to distress at Sisko’s apparent lack of trust to anger when he realizes that the other officers are involved in whatever they’re not telling him. I think it’s preposterous that they let him walk around the station unsupervised without ever telling him what’s going on – if he’s such a perfect copy of O’Brien that they can’t tell medically or in terms of his skill set that he’s not the real thing, O’Brien is a loyal enough Starfleet officer and family man to be trusted with the information that they believe he himself may have been compromised and needs to be confined for the protection of his loved ones and the safety of the station. It would detract from the suspense if he spent more of the episode in a holding cell, but particularly with Odo off the station, it would be so much more believable than seeing Sisko let him loose around sensitive equipment and small children.

It really has to be O’Brien who’s the victim in this story because his characterization has been so consistent across two Star Trek shows. We know that Kira is suspicious to the point of paranoia (with good reason) that the Cardassians are always trying to sabotage the station in general and herself in particular; we know that Dax falls under the influence of the beliefs and attitudes of various hosts; we know that Bashir is young and brash, that Odo is defensive and resentful, that Quark only sees interstellar peace conferences in terms of how they affect himself and his profits. O’Brien, though, is affable, generous, sympathetic, devoted to Starfleet and his family…someone we can’t imagine any other main character could have a good reason for distrusting or mistreating. The steps he takes first to uncover the conspiracy then to protect himself and his reputation seem entirely reasonable, even arming himself and turning the station’s force fields against the rest of the crew. And since we’re watching from his point of view, we’re rooting for him, so the ending is a whammy even though it’s been projected for half the episode. I wish Colm Meaney got more to do on this series.

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  • AirElephant

    One of my favorite DS9 episodes. Heck, I’d watch Colm read the newspaper and be happy about it. Everything about this episode just clicked for me. Maybe it wasn’t perfect, but it did a nice job of setting up the twist at the end. For most of the episode, I was convinced something had happened to the crew, not O’brien, which of course was the point.

  • Bobby

    Same here. I’ve always been a fan of Miles and Keiko.

    This was my favorite episode of DS9 for a really long time. The great thing about the twist was that they didn’t cheat. Once I learned the secret, I immediately had to go back and watch it a second time, just to see if they cheated. But nope, once you know what’s going on, everything makes sense and everyone is in character. They just know something the viewer doesn’t.

    The one flaw I’d say in this episode is, you can only watch it for the first time once. It was fantastic the first time, and great the second time. But after that it just isn’t that much fun to watch again and again. Some of the other good DS9 episodes, like “Necessary Evil” or “In the Pale Moonlight” really are fun in repeated viewings. I just never get tired of watching them. “Whispers” isn’t quite as good, in that sense.

  • AirElephant

    I have difficulty when I attempt to approach DS9 eposodes individually. I see the series as a whole and can pick out moments, rather than episodes, that I love.
    Unlike many of the other series, DS9 has wonderful, overlapping character arcs. You actually see Odo, Lira, Bashir, and especially Dismount change in response to their circumstances.
    Compare that to TNG, TOS, or Voyager, where Kim, Chakotay, Torres, Geordi, Dr Crusher, McCoy, Kirk, etc. stop developing after the first season.
    So even if “WHISPERS” has its flaws, it’s one more chisel mark the writers made as they crafted the wonderful character O’Brien became. He was an appendix in TNG, but I’d argue that by the end he became a far more developed character than his boss Geordi.
    Sent from my Kindle Fire

    _____________________________________________

  • AntonyF

    This is the episode that made me a DS9 fan. No exaggeration.

    Until this point I’d gone from hating DS9 because it wasn’t TNG, to sort of finding it okay. But I was just renting them, whereas with TNG I owned everything.

    It was with Whispers that the light bulb went off… I loved the episode so much (and still do) that I bought the video, then started buying the ones I missed.

  • Bobby

    True. Even the minor guest characters in DS9 were more developed than the regulars on a lot of the other shows.

    I love what your autocorrect (I assume?) did to the character names, but I am especially curious who “Dismount” is supposed to be. :-)

  • AirElephant

    LOL god I hate having to micromanage the autocorrect on the Kindle! Half the time I catch the errors, but half the time I sound like some newbie who wandered, drunkenly, onto the website determined to participate even though I have only the vaguest notion of who any of the characters are. “You know, that Spork guy was pretty cool and all, but I’ll always prefer Captain T.J. Hooker! Yeah, I loved that one where they saved the whales and blew up god!”

    In my defense, my long trail of credit card receipts for every Trek VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray tells the sad tale of my Trek obsession.

  • fainodraino

    I have to disagree with your (and others’ too) argument that tng and voyager characters didn’t develop after season one…it just isn’t true, and usually is said by ds9 fanboys…don’t know if that’s you or not, but I still say the argument is silly.

    As far as this episode, I remember being fooled nearly til the end. It’s just downright creepy the way the crewmembers were acting! I think it’s one of the better earlier season eps.

    As far as being right after Armageddon Game (as the reviewer pointed out), I think that’s totally irrelevant. Remember, DS9 hadn’t really gone full-force one-story-arc-all-the-time yet, so it’s fine with me. Even when they did that later on, some of the best episodes were the ones that were NOT part of the main story arc (who mourns for morn, it’s only a paper moon, take me out to the holosuite, etc.)

    While I liked the story arc thing (which has kind of taken over most shows today), I do miss the days when one could miss an episode, catch the next one, and not miss a beat.

  • AirElephant

    I guess we’ll agree to disagree ;) I do resent, a bit, the moniker “fanboy” as a dismissive term. It implies that we’re all closed-minded and will argue on behalf of our chosen series against proof to the opposite. I drew specific examples of characters from the other series that I felt really didn’t develop over time. By that, I mean that while we may have learned more about each character’s backstory throughout the series, the characters themselves didn’t seem to change much. You’ll note, though, that I left off many characters from other shows that I felt DID change, sometimes dramatically, from the beginning, such as Data (humanized), Picard (much more personable in s7 from s1), Torres (much less of a one-note character), Worf (from ancillary character to comic foil).

    I think it’s BECAUSE DS9 embraced the multi-episode arcs that they were able to credibly change the characters. There is a need for consistency in the serialized approach followed by TOS and TNG especially that means that the writers simply can’t rely upon viewers to have seen prior events to understand why Character X in one episode is so different from the same character in a later episode. You might prefer it, but I find it limiting.
    I look at other series I like just as much as DS9, including Bab5 and BSG (well, until the final episode), and you appreciate the characters much more at the end because you’ve seen them change, substantially, as characters. Could Adama, Sheridan, Rosyln, or any of the others have been as complex had each episode been treated as a separate story? In my
    opinion, the answer is a definite ‘no’.

    I think episodic television remains THE predominant story format simply
    because of syndication. But it makes folks like me more appreciative of
    the series that reward an audience for following a story from episode one
    until the final one. In this day and age of on-demand, it seems to me that
    episodic television is a dinosaur.

  • fainodraino

    I’m not saying that I prefer it, I just miss it with certain shows. and you have to admit, some of DS9′s best eps were ones that were not directly related to the main storyline!

    BTW, you mentioned Torres as being an underdeveloped character in your first post, and then as a developed character in your last one.

    In regards to developing characters, I think we can excuse TOS…they just really didn’t develop characters very much back in the day…you pretty know what the character is like in the first episode, and mostly they stayed the same.

    TNG I will also excuse to a degree…most shows on in that day were still episodic. I do think Picard, Data, Riker, Troi, and Worf were the most developed of the show. Geordi was somewhat developed, and Dr. Crusher just didn’t much airtime.

    Voyager was very good, IMO, at developing MOST of its characters. The only character that I think didn’t get much attention was Kim, as you mentioned. I thought they did a good job with everyone else, even Kes, even though I think they couldn’t really develop her anymore…part of the reason she was written out.

    DS9 certainly developed the majority of their characters, except Quark and O’Brien. Quark is pretty much exactly the same at the beginning as he is in the end…but I think that’s actually a good thing, because it fits. His relationship with Odo changed, but that’s about it. O’Brien was developed some, but they could have done more.

    And that brings me to part of my beef with the show in general. I think it’s amazing that they were able to develop so many minor characters…I mean, it really is amazing. However, I think they did so at the expense of the some of the other characters, like Quark and O’Brien, or even Jake. I think that adding an iconic character like Worf hindered that to an extent (granted, I generally liked what they did with Worf)

    I guess it doesn’t help that I’m not overly fond of Jadzia. She’s probably my least favorite character of the show. I liked her, just didn’t love her. I always felt like the writers weren’t always sure what to do with her. I really think they didn’t get her right until they put her with Worf. They fit so well together, and I feel like before they got together, I was never sure who she was (as she didn’t really know either). But when she got together with Worf, I felt like I knew exactly who she was.

    Some might say that was on purpose, but I would disagree. i’d say it’s coincidence.

    Anyway, i’ve rambled too much.

  • AirElephant

    Hehe good catch on Torres. I hemmed and hawed about her, and I still do. She’s still essentially a strong-willed woman at war with her own nature at the beginning, and she remains so until the end. However, you’d have to watch the series to realize that her family roots, and her dual-race nature, were something that she had to overcome to be a mother late in the series. All the same, she’s still much the same determined, volcanic person she was at the beginning.

    Odo was gruff, too, from beginning to end, but he went from a pure loner to someone who put so much importance on friendship and family that he turned back and rejoined his people at the end of the series. Kira went from someone who was angry and resentful to become a softer, more controlled person by the end. You couldn’t imagine the Kira from Season One running the station, and yet there she was at the end of the series. It’s that type of development that I appreciated about DS9. I’m not saying the other series were underwritten, but rather that the “vision” they had for DS9 had a significant influence on how much the characters were perceived to have developed.

    And you know what? I agree with many of your points. I agree that TOS was often a victim of its time, though the characters DID change, somewhat, especially in the movies. (That Picard could evince an Ahab complex gave us unexpected insight into the emotional depths of the character.) I agree with how you felt about Quark, Jadzia, O’Brien, and the unmentioned
    Ezri. Some characters never grew on me, either. Sadly, in any series,
    there just isn’t enough time. After all, imagine how many billions of
    lifelong stories exist out there on our planet, and what a miniscule
    glimpse we get into any of them.

    Also, if you’re going to ramble this seems like as good a place as any to
    do it. I like Trek Today, but sometimes it feels a little like a ghost
    town in the comments section. :)

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

    The thing about Kes is Berman had decreed that Voyager couldn’t just add a character as DS9 had added Worf so someone had to be chopped; & its widely believed that the chronically under-written Kim was going to be that character – until Garrett Wang’s choice as one of the 50 Beautiful People of that year. This gave the Voyager writers four more years to demonstrate they didn’t have a clue what to write for Harry Kim, not to the show’s advantage

    Speaking as a Niner, the thing which frustrates me about Voyager is that what i like about DS9 – the character-based storytelling – always threatens to break out in the show… then the writers hit the reset button; & everything of consequence literally disappears. It isn’t that its a bad show, its just smegging frustrating. Something like this effects Niners when they try & review early DS9 shows – you know what the show became; & watching what it was can be odd

    Personally, i think Whispers is a rare example of a really good DS9 episode which could have been (with different characters), a really good episode in any of the other shows. It doesn’t have the distinctive storytelling approaches of classic DS9 but doesn’t feel like a strange chimera, either

  • Nobody

    The DS9 writing staff gave Colm Meaney plenty of meaty work in terms of the yearly “torture O’Brien” episodes, which “Whispers” inaugurates (“Destiny,” “Hard Time,” “The Assignment,” “Honor Among Thieves” etc). It’s a shame, however, that these episodes often come off as one-man shows with only a fitful relationship to the rest of the show.

  • Bobby

    Yeah, I thought that was an odd comment in the review. O’Brien had plenty to do in DS9. :-)

  • Nobody

    I meant “Visionary,” not “Destiny” (in which O’Brien has a comic subplot).

  • fainodraino

    I just disagree about everything “disappearing.” With the exception of Kim, I think that EVERY Voyager character had much growth. I won’t bore you with a long list of character growth, but one could be made!