Retro Review: Whispers

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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logs for a clue that anything might have gone amiss while he was on Paradas, he finds that his security clearance has been revoked.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.

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

Michelle Erica Green

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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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