Sisko, Odo, Dax, and Garak find themselves on Terok Nor, mysteriously placed in the roles of a group of Bajorans condemned to execution years earlier.
Plot Summary: While returning from a conference about the Bajoran Occupation, Sisko, Dax, Garak, and Odo are overwhelmed by neural energy and taken to the station, where Bashir is unable to revive them. The four crewmembers find themselves on Terok Nor, where they are recognized by others as three individuals from Rakantha Province. Odo’s predecessor as head of security, a Cardassian named Thrax, questions Quark about a Romulan whose name Garak recognizes, though the Romulan didn’t come to Terok Nor until after Odo had replaced Thrax. When Dax is seized by Dukat’s guards and Garak tries to bargain for her safety, one of them punches him, making the unconscious Garak in the infirmary bleed. While Dukat tries to ingratiate himself with Dax, whom he believes is a simple Bajoran girl, Odo tells Sisko and Garak that they must leave the station, since they are occupying the bodies of three innocent Bajorans unjustly executed for trying to assassinate Dukat. Quark offers them latinum to work as a cleanup crew, so they are in proximity to Dukat when an explosive goes off. Sisko rushes to help Dax and is arrested as a suspect, along with Odo and Garak who have the same cleaning materials on their clothing as were found in the bomb. Odo presents Thrax with evidence that the real bombers are elsewhere, but Thrax refuses to investigate. Dax knocks out Dukat and helps her friends escape, but they are recaptured by Thrax, who turns out to be a shapeshifter. Realizing that all these events focus on Odo, Sisko asks for an explanation and finds himself on Terok Nor’s Promenade with the others. Odo watches as Sisko, Dax, and Garak are prepared for execution and tries to intervene, but the scene shifts so that the Starfleet crewmembers are watching the executions of the original convicted Bajorans, with Odo in Thrax’s place. Odo confesses that he, not Thrax, was responsible for the execution of the innocent Bajorans, something that had been troubling him on the runabout from Bajor. When the group wakes in the infirmary, Bashir explains that enzymes triggered by a plasma storm caused Odo’s mind to try to create a Great Link with his colleagues, forcing him to share his guilt with them.
Analysis: DS9’s fifth season is wildly uneven, veering from horrible episodes like the atrocious “Let He Who Is Without Sin” to masterpieces like “Things Past.” When I first saw it, I wasn’t entirely certain it was a worthy successor to “Necessary Evil” and I didn’t like seeing Dax used gratuitously as Dukat’s concubine during a season in which she’d already been defined primarily as Worf’s girlfriend, but given the things we will later learned about Dukat and Bajoran women, the latter really makes sense, and given the complicated development of Kira and Odo’s relationship, I’ve come to the conclusion that a story like this is crucial to how they ultimately understand and forgive one another for all the choices they’ve made that hurt one another and their respective values. It’s so wonderful to see that the real Odo still exists, and I don’t mean Odo the shapeshifter (though we do get hints here that the Founders couldn’t take all the changeling out of Odo any more than Odo could eradicate his longing to return to the Great Link). I mean Odo the conflicted being who relies on order and justice as the only absolutes in his universe, who’s nearly as lost when he finds himself in a legal gray area as is Javert in Les Miserables when he finds death less scary than life in a world without authority and moral certainty. I’m not sure I find it plausible that Odo has been repressing something as monumental as his failure here for so many years; it means that, when he wasn’t sure he could trust Kira again after the events of “Necessary Evil” revealed her to have been an assassin, he was hiding from her his own betrayal of three Bajorans who’d done no more wrong than be in the wrong place at the wrong time, something he apparently never put into the Cardassian or Bajoran records so that their families and friends could understand the reason for their deaths. It’s easier to forgive Kira for a murder committed to protect herself and the Resistance than it is to forgive Odo for never stepping up to admit to such a colossal miscarriage of justice and the deaths of three innocent people.
We see in “Things Past” that Odo is still very much a man alone, though his colleagues are friendly to him on the runabout at the beginning and we’re told that the Bajorans respected him as a fair man while they treated Garak with thinly-veiled resentment. Almost from the moment they arrive on Terok Nor, Odo can guess the incident that coincides with their visit, but he refuses to tell Sisko what he knows even in the most general terms, though he could pretend to know about the assassination attempt from security files or some other means. He wants to work through the problem alone, demanding to see Thrax without the others present, even when his own limited skills of persuasion don’t have the effect he wants though a trained diplomat like Sisko or a trained spy like Garak might be better at negotiating. After the fact, we know and Odo knows that he was really arguing with himself – he, not Thrax, is the implacable shapeshifter sitting in judgment – but if we’re to assume that he sees Thrax because he’s not ready to admit that to himself early on, then his behavior as a humanoid remains as isolated and distrustful even of his friends as it was when he was a shapeshifter. His most intense scenes in the episode are with Thrax, the predecessor we’re not even certain that he met, so it makes complete sense that Thrax is really his own younger self. Even without knowing the hows and whys of the story, which for once don’t get explained midway through, it’s apparent that some big psychological event is happening to Odo, that it’s probably connected to the fact that he was celebrated on Bajor while Garak was insulted (and may I just take a moment to admire Garak’s ongoing willingness to put himself in that position, even if his agenda is to gather information useful to an exile and a spy rather than truly to make amends or come to an understanding with Bajorans). We can also see Sisko’s growing suspicions that this is somehow all about Odo and not about Bajor; it’s interesting to me when he does and does not think like the Emissary, that after several days at a conference where he was undoubtedly lauded and praised not only as a Starfleet leader but as a servant of the Prophets, he doesn’t wonder whether this glimpse into the past might be intended for him.
Brooks, Auberjonois, and Robinson can always be counted on to give nuanced performances even when delivering flat, unsophisticated dialogue, so the amount of emotion they can pack into a solid character story like this one is always remarkable. I’m not crazy about the jumps-in-time aspect, which I suppose are necessary to condense the time frame but cut across the building emotion and make it start to seem contrived, and I don’t love the medical scenes – it hardly matters whether the unconscious crewmembers can actually be hurt in the psychological projection or not, since we all know they’re going to be fine and back to business as usual next week (and how does a telepathic connection to Odo make Garak’s nose bleed? We’ve never seen any indication that an injury to one changeling causes pain to them all, that changelings never harm one another because physically it’s like harming oneself). The directing goes a long way to compensate for these disruptions in the end, when the execution scene shifts from the one we expect, with Sisko, Dax, and Garak in the roles of the Bajorans – we know they won’t stay dead – to the people actually killed because of Odo’s investigation. I think it would have been more effective to have a solid flashback sequence even with the time jumps than to keep flashing to Worf demanding that Bashir figure out what’s going on, but I forgive everything first when we see the close up of Odo’s face after he wakes up, then during the scene in which Kira confronts Odo in a mirror of the scene from the end of “Necessary Evil” when we realize that the single biggest influence on Odo’s evolving sense of justice has been Kira – and Odo realizes it, too. Kira doesn’t just feel betrayed here as a Bajoran, she feels betrayed as someone who once felt that her best friend was judging her, and once again they both must wonder how well they really know one another. As painful as it may be for Odo to relive this incident, it ought to be comforting to discover the good as well as the bad remains from his life as a changeling. Even more than forgiveness, he craves intimacy, and since he can’t have the Great Link, he’s going to have to learn to use words to find it.