While Kira gives birth to the O’Briens’ baby, Odo tries to raise an infant Changeling.
Plot Summary: As Odo laments to Bashir that his humanoid body is paining him, Quark arrives to make a deal, for the Ferengi has purchased a dead Changeling from an Yridian dealer. Odo agrees to buy it and finds that the Changeling is not dead, but is only an infant that’s been exposed to radiation. Though Bashir is on call because Kira has gone into labor, the doctor treats the Changeling and Odo sets out to raise it himself, determined not to make the mistakes that Dr. Mora made while trying to communicate with Odo. Still, word gets out to both Mora, who comes to the station to see if he can help, and Starfleet, which plans to take the young Founder away if Odo can’t communicate with it quickly. Although Odo resents Mora’s prodding and scanning, trying instead to bond with the baby by talking to it and encouraging it to try to shapeshift, he eventually realizes that he must make the small Changeling uncomfortable or it will have no reason to attempt to alter its shape. Meanwhile, Kira finds herself unable to relax enough to give birth, since Shakaar arrives late and immediately begins quarreling with Miles over his participation in the Bajoran birthing ceremony. Eventually Keiko backs up Kira in asking the men to leave. Using electric shocks, Odo is able to encourage the baby Changeling to take a few shapes, then is delighted when it tries to mimic Odo’s humanoid face. He begins to understand why Mora always pushed him and took pride in his accomplishments. But while Odo is celebrating, first with Mora, then with Quark, the little shapeshifter becomes ill again and Bashir is unable to reverse the radiation damage. Though the young Changeling dies, it merges its morphogenic matrix into Odo, turning him into a shapeshifter again. A more relaxed Kira gives birth to the O’Briens’ child and the happy family throws a party, but she feels as bereft of the child she has given up as Odo does of the one he has lost, so they take a walk together instead.
Analysis: The first time I saw “The Begotten,” I said that it was one of the best and worst DS9 episodes rolled into one. I’m feeling a tiny bit more charitable about the banal, badly written Kira storyline now, though it’s for the petty reason that at least it’s the men who look like idiots while the women come across much more strongly – how many movies have we been subjected to in the interim in which a man comes across as smart, strong, and sensitive during a birthing scene while the woman is reduced to a screaming, panicking object whose purpose for existing is reduced to bringing the man’s child into the world? In any event, the Human-Bajoran baby storyline does not in any way diminish the Changeling baby storyline, which is beautifully written and superbly acted by Rene Auberjonois and James Sloyan in what seems at first like a unique father-son type relationship but reveals itself to be an archetypal one instead. The fact that each of these actors can perform with what looks like yellow and blue Jell-O and convince us that it’s not only a life form but a beloved and sentient life form is remarkable; what a shame it is that James Sloyan never became a regular on any of the Star Trek shows in which he guest-starred. We have seen Mora only briefly in one previous episode, “The Alternate,” so it’s a tribute to Sloyan that the character is already so memorable. There, he was Odo’s mentor who showed little sense that he had a lot to learn from Odo; here, he’s discovering how to be a grandfather while Odo is discovering how to be a father, so the dynamic is changed. Before taking on parental responsibility, Odo has no conception of the fact that sometimes it’s necessary to urge a child into unpleasant situations for them to learn, and Mora doesn’t understand how deep Odo’s scars run. The resolution remains understated – though Odo agrees that he should have remained in touch with Mora, there are no grandiose proclamations of understanding or forgiveness. Sisko gets only a single joke about how Odo might like to have Mora around to help change the diapers, but he could learn from this father-son dynamic to deal with his own adolescent.
I’m able to forgive the cobbled-together Kira pregnancy storyline, which is not the writers’ fault – she’s too important a character to have hidden behind desks, that would have infuriated me, and the way she defends herself and her friends while pregnant in “The Darkness and the Light” is pretty inspiring. It’s harder to overlook how little the writers researched the issues of childbirth, surrogacy, and giving up an infant. Instead of really delving into what this moment means to Kira, who says herself that she never wanted a baby and probably never gave any thought to Bajoran birth rituals, or to Keiko, who had expected to give birth to this child with her husband after the chaos of Molly’s delivery by Worf, the focus shifts to cliches about expectant fathers and men resentful of their women being pregnant with other men’s babies. The First Minister of Bajor throws an indefensible tantrum, telling Miles to “leave my girlfriend out” of Miles’ future reproductive plans, as if Kira’s body is Shakaar’s rather than Kira’s to control and as if Miles is to blame for the accident that led to Keiko’s health crisis and Kira’s choice to save the fetus. I might be able to forgive this if Shakaar’s concern was for Kira’s suffering – if she were experiencing human labor pains or expressing grief that she would not be able to keep the child she carried – but it’s entirely about Shakaar’s macho ego, just like his childish demand that Miles not watch the delivery because he’d get to see Kira’s sex organs (anyone who thinks a man is likely to be leering at a woman pushing out a baby has never seen a delivery room photo). The writers knew for months that Nana Visitor was going to have a baby, and they’d already decided that Keiko should have another child; they had lots of time to do at least a tiny bit of research about the realities of pregnancy and parental feeling, but it took Visitor demanding a rewrite to include any introspection at all. Though it’s nice to know that Bajoran women give birth without straining themselves and that there’s a woman-led ritual at the core of the experience, the only thing I really like about the birth story is that it looks like Kira and Shakaar probably won’t last as a couple.
Both endings leave a lot of questions unresolved, and unfortunately many of them never get resolved, though I had hopes that things would be different when I first saw “The Begotten.” So far as Kira’s concerned, I’m mostly troubled by the insensitivity of the O’Briens, who apparently throw Kira out of their quarters and their family life as soon as they have their precious bundle of joy. Did the O’Briens do any investigation into Bajoran post-natal practices, or did they celebrate no longer having to worry about Bajoran traditions on top of their Irish and Japanese traditions? Did any of them consider that it might be better for birth mother and infant both if she breastfed or at least had some snuggle time with a newborn who knows her voice better than its biological parents? Women seem to do very little work bearing or raising kids on Star Trek — Naomi Wildman is born via transporter, Kirayoshi via a pain-free Bajoran ritual, and I’ve lost count of the number of motherless children or children at the center of storylines whose mothers we only see in passing. As tired as I get of all the father-son bonding without much serious consideration of mothers apart from Beverly Crusher, the scene where the little Changeling is dying in Odo’s hands is terribly sad, and the subsequent scene, in which motherless child Odo realizes that he has quite literally been given wings as a parting gift from his brief foray into parenthood, is equally moving. It could so easily be over-the-top to see Odo soaring over the Promenade after just beginning to get used to being a solid. I know that there are people who feel that it was a cop-out to turn him back so swiftly and painlessly into a shapeshifter, but like the much-maligned scene with Bobby Ewing in the shower on Dallas, I think it’s one of the best reversals of a terrible decision ever shown on television. Odo is diminished in every way when he becomes human, no more flexible in his physical abilities than any of the many humanoid aliens in the franchise, unable to serve as a link (no pun intended) with the Founders. As sad as the end of “The Begotten” is, it marks the return of the Odo and Kira I loved from the early seasons, and that makes me very happy.