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Retro Review: A Simple Investigation

Posted by Michelle - 13/12/13 at 08:12 pm


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 05 Episode: 17 (s05e17)

Original US airdate: 03/31/1997

Odo falls for a woman connected to a crime ring who has been threatened with murder.

Plot Summary: Following a murder that sets off no station alarms, Odo meets a mysterious woman in whom Quark seems interested until Odo rescues her from his attentions. Odo grows more intrigued by Arissa when he catches the woman trying to hack into the station’s computer using her dataport. She claims that she was waiting at Quark’s for an Idanian named Tauvid Rem, but when the man failed to appear, she started to hunt for him, since he has news about the daughter she gave up for adoption many years earlier. When Odo takes her to Tauvid’s quarters, they find evidence that he was quietly murdered. Later, Odo finds Arissa sneaking away from Tauvid’s valuables locker, from which she has taken a data crystal. She confesses that she doesn’t really have a daughter and needed to meet with Tauvid because he may have information that will help her escape from the Orion Syndicate, where she has been working for a criminal named Draim. To keep her safe, Odo hides Arissa in his quarters and has Dax and O’Brien try to decipher the data crystal. When Arissa describes her life working for Draim and Odo urges her to testify against him in exchange for immunity, the two slowly grow close and end up becoming lovers. Arissa sends a message to Draim offering to give him the crystal if he will leave her alone, to which Draim agrees, then contacts the assassins who killed Tauvid to get the crystal and kill her immediately. While she goes to meet with them, Odo learns from another Idanian that Arissa is actually an Idanian agent who went undercover to infiltrate the Orion Syndicate. Because Draim has telepaths working for him, her true memories have been erased and are saved in the crystal. Odo arrives just in time to save Arissa from the assassins, but when her memories are restored, she learns that she is married and returns somewhat regretfully to her previous life.

Analysis: When I first saw “A Simple Investigation,” I thought it was a despicable travesty. I still think it’s pretty terrible, but for different, less emotional, reasons – in fact, the things I really loathed about it don’t bother me as much, but since I’m no longer so distracted by those feelings, I have a new set of intellectual complaints that start right at the beginning, when a weapon fires and disintegrates a humanoid without setting off any alarms. It’s obvious that the writers have watched too much film noir, except instead of absorbing what made those movies compelling in their era – independent heroines who are frequently also the villains because it’s the only way to survive in their situations, lone investigators who prefer their lives that way until someone extraordinary breaks through their defenses – they’ve tried to force Star Trek to fit those conventions and the pairing not only isn’t successful, it does some damage to the characters being manipulated. Just about the only thing that’s fully successful is the mood lighting. Odo seems so out of character that I’d suspect he’d been replaced by a Changeling, except he’s already a Changeling. When Odo tells Kira in the flashback in “Necessary Evil” that a pretty girl like her shouldn’t eat alone, the line works because it’s meant to demonstrate just how much Odo has to learn in his new role as Dukat’s spy. Instead of saying something that might convince a suspected Bajoran terrorist to see him as a sympathetic ear, he tries a phrase that would have been a cliche even in an old movie. In that context, it’s a great thing for him to say – we see how awkward and out of place he feels, and we never for a moment believe that he’s actually interested in Kira the way Kira immediately concludes as she slaps him down. So why would Odo, who’s now Deep Space Nine’s uncontested chief of security and a newly restored shapeshifter, approach a suspicious woman with a line like, “What’s a nice girl like you doing with a dataport?”

In a nutshell, he wouldn’t…not unless the writers were trying to force him into a Sam Spade mold, which fits him more poorly now than it did when they first tried it several seasons back. I have no trouble believing that Odo is still desperately lonely and craving intimacy, and though it pissed me off no end that he’d give up on Kira so abruptly when “A Simple Investigation” first aired, I can even buy that he might succumb to a brief erotic infatuation even though he no longer has the biological drive of a human male. The episode would have worked so much better if it had been set before the infant Changeling restored Odo’s ability to shapeshift, something he really doesn’t need for this storyline except to knock out one of the killers, which he could have done with a phaser – he’d been thinking about humanoid relationships and testing the few good points of his new physiology, like the ability to enjoy alcohol and, eventually, sexual pleasure, something he’d always described as distasteful when he was a shapeshifter. It was annoying enough when he found out that Kira was sleeping with Shakaar and had a very humanoid temper tantrum. This seems like an extension of that…thinking with an organ other than his brain, except presumably he only has that organ when he wants to and it doesn’t react like a human male’s would, seeking satisfaction from an attractive woman. I’m perfectly willing to buy that his wish for intimacy is much more emotional than physical, but then I’d expect him to choose a woman he cares for the way he initially cared for Kira, someone he respects and admires. Whether he genuinely believes Arissa to be a damsel in distress or he never quite buys her story, the way he falls head over heels for her rings false; it implies either that he’s looking for a woman who’s not really an equal but in need of his protection, or he’s just as susceptible as a stereotypical human male to a sexy, dangerous woman whom deep down he knows will break his heart.

And as much as I’ve been complaining about the noir tropes being dumped into DS9, the episode would have worked better in the end if the writers had had the courage of their setup and gone for the expected movie ending in which the love interest invariably ends up betraying the hero or dying for him. It would have shown real strength of character had Arissa demonstrated that she was willing to play a man she hardly knew to improve her situation in life, and though the cliche of women willing to die for love often plays out as the worst sort of misogyny, it would have shown that the encounter really meant something to her, which despite her pretty words is hard to believe at the end. She hardly knew Odo well enough to love him, but he didn’t know her at all; he had to face the fact not that he had fallen for a criminal or a liar, but that he had fallen for someone who didn’t even exist. He isn’t even allowed to be angry with her, since her motives are declared to be entirely pure; she is an agent of justice just as he is, doing what’s necessary to bring down the Orion Syndicate. Since we get the standard Star Trek romance wrap-up, the events have just as little impact on Odo as his brief engagement to an equally desperate Lwaxana Troi, and soon enough he’s back to mooning over Kira again – which makes me very happy, and I’m willing to forgive in hindsight all the blocks in their road to coming together, but this one just isn’t very well constructed. There’s an instant when it looks like it might be, when Odo shapeshifts to show her what touching him is really like, but the scene shifts and we’re never even told if he shapeshifted his clothes out of existence just to show Arissa exactly who he is after kissing her like a human.

I’m not sorry that the glorious alien lovemaking gets saved for Kira, during my favorite TV love scene of all time in “Chimera,” but it means that there’s nothing in “A Simple Investigation” to make sense of the fact that of all the amazing women Odo encounters regularly on DS9, this is the one to whom he opens the Changeling equivalent of his heart. He’s so involved that he offers to take a leave of absence from his job to protect her, yet every aspect of Arissa that doesn’t come across as an old movie trope, like the formal repetition of dialogue and a courtship based on literally uncovered secrets, seems to be swiped from the Net Girls of William Gibson and his ilk. Ironically, it’s the other literary theft – Bashir’s spy holonovels – that infuses some energy into the episode, as Bashir tries to start a romance with a fictional character and O’Brien bursts in to protest. I won’t even get started on the notion that Odo would go to Bashir for flirting advice – given the current state of Rom and Leeta’s passion, he might as well have asked a Ferengi – but I am curious about the decision to have him talk about the situation to Kira, when he’s only just met Arissa and has absolutely no reason to like or trust her. Does Odo dive in headfirst only because the woman he really loves suggests that he try it? We get hints that Kira is jealous, though she may just be as irritated as Worf that Dax would rather gossip than work. I can’t decide if I prefer the idea that Odo wanted to gain some sexual experience in the hope that one day it might serve his interests with Kira to thinking that he believes Arissa when she purrs that she couldn’t tell he’d been a virgin. It figures the latter would appeal to a writing staff that has now given every single character, even this unlikely one, an Alien of the Week. I wish they’d done the math and realized how many times they’d written scenarios in which such a romance depended on one of the participants being out of his or her right mind, from the first (“This Side of Paradise”) through this generation (“Sub Rosa”) to this series (“Second Sight”).

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  • Ward3

    Given how Odo felt about Shakaar being involved with Kira, and then a few episodes after this one, what 200 years later Odo does on Children of Time, it really does stretch the imagination to believe he would just dump his feelings for Kira so quickly. That part just doesn’t ring all that true at all. I do believe it would have been more effective earlier in the season when he was still in his human form.

  • Enterprise1981

    This episode seemed a reflection of everyone not being on the same page. It’s all addressed in the Memory Alpha article…

    http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/A_Simple_Investigation_%28episode%29#Background_information

    As Ron Moore put it: “I wish we’d done the show while Odo was still human. If he had been human, the relationship with this woman would have carried a little more weight.”