Odo has two pretty fascinating hooks right off the bat. The first is that he’s a shapeshifter, already shown at several points transforming into a shimmering, reddish-gold liquid before assuming other forms. In the pilot, he’s a rat, in this one, he’s a chair. And, as long as he’s mimicking a non-human, he’s a perfect match for it. The real reason for this is that it’s easier on the FX budget, but making it make sense in-universe prompts some interesting questions. Odo has trouble with faces. (He’ll say as much in a later episode.) Why? He’s an effective police officer, so the chances that he suffers from a form of face-blindness are low. I have a hypothesis, but now’s not the time. Suffice to say that Odo is a unique entity found out by the (at that time undiscovered) wormhole, with no memory of who or what he is.
The second hook is that Odo served as Chief of Security under the station during the Cardassian Occupation and somehow managed to keep his job when Bajor won its independence. That’s a pretty impressive feat. I don’t want to invoke Godwin’s Law or anything (I think the series does that enough for me, considering how sharply they draw the links between the Occupation and the Holocaust.), but this would be like the guy who the Germans made Chief of Police in Warsaw staying on after the war. “Oh, the Nazis were d---s, but Chief Mxyzptlk is some ethnicity we’ve never heard of and he never slapped anyone around without cause.” It’s that quote at the opening of this piece that kept Odo his job. Laws are irrelevant. Justice matters.
The nice part about “A Man Alone” is that it establishes the paradox of Odo’s multiple masters and instantly holds it up for examination. An old nemesis of Odo’s shows up on the station. This man, Ibudan, is refreshingly complex. He’s not some sneering Cardassian bent on fighting old wars; he’s a Bajoran war profiteer who many in the Resistance regarded as a hero. Odo, however, saw the man’s dark side. When Ibudan murdered a Cardassian, Odo busted him. Only now, killing a Cardassian has been decriminalized, mostly because if it weren’t, half of Bajor would be making toilet wine and manufacturing makeshift knives in one of the planet’s many correctional facilities. Odo confronts Ibudan very publicly, giving him 26 hours to get off the station, and, an hour later, the Bajoran war profiteer has been stabbed to death in one of Quark’s holosuites.
It’s a locked-room mystery, one of the cornerstones of detective fiction. There’s no trace of DNA in the room besides Ibudan’s, and the door only opened twice -- presumably once to let Ibudan in and once to let the killer out. So, either this killer was waiting inside, say, disguised as a chair or a rat, or turned into a liquid and seeped through the cracks, or came in with the guy he intended to murder. Odo has means, motive, and opportunity. The circumstantial evidence and the court of public opinion are damning enough that Sisko has to remove Odo from the investigation, though, sadly, he doesn’t do it like a Shane Black movie with a lot of yelling, cursing, and confiscating of badges. Eventually, an angry mob goes after Odo, and, considering their taunt of choice is “shapeshifter,” it’s pretty clear they’re more mad about him being different than him being a killer. Put a pin in that, folks, it’ll lend some credence to what would otherwise be insane rambling in a couple seasons.
Dr. Bashir, of all people, is the one who solves the case. The victim was a clone, which Bashir figures out after using some anomalous DNA left in Ibudan’s quarters to grow another one. I’m impressed Bashir had any time at all, since he spends the majority of the episode stalking Dax, but hey, the guy knows how to schedule. One of the odder parts of the episode is that this clone Bashir grows is allowed to live, and even gets a little post-script that he’s going to be joining Bajoran society. That’s got to be weird, right? I mean, how do you come to terms with that? Hearing “when mommies and daddies love each other, they do some special hugging” is strange enough, but how about “I was grown in an aquarium, because I was evidence in a murder investigation?” On the upside, I have the plot of my next book.
Dax has a bit of parallel character development. Not because she was grown to prove this Ibudan guy is a little too shiv-happy, but because she’s being thrust into a strange, new life, much like the clone will be in a couple days. She’s a Trill, and Trill are two-part entities. There’s the humanoid body (identifiable by the decorative spots) which has a standard humanoid lifespan. Then, there’s the worm-slug-beetle thing that’s in their abdomens that lives for many, many centuries. The Dax symbiont is in its third century of life and has had (Sisko believes) six other hosts, of which Jadzia is the latest. The previous host, Curzon Dax, sounds f---ing incredible. This is a guy who probably pissed gunpowder. He’s described like a combination of Rhett Butler, Ernest Hemingway, that crazy Russian guy who hangs off buildings by his fingers, and a live bull shark. Curzon was Sisko’s mentor, so it’s taking a little time for Sisko to get used to the fact that his mentor’s memories and half his personality are living on inside the body of a gorgeous woman who is also his subordinate. “I suggest you allow yourself to be comfortable with your discomfort. Time will do the rest,” Dax advises.
This episode also marks the beginning of the friendship between Jake Sisko and Nog, Quark’s nephew. Jake Sisko, at first, seems like an extraneous character, but he’s at the center of two of the most realistic relationships in not only DS9, but in the entire franchise. Ben and Jake are the perfect father/son team, and this verisimilitude works to ground Sisko’s character, who would otherwise be a Federation superhero. Cirroc Lofton, who plays Jake, draws out some of Avery Brooks’ best acting, as well. Contrast this to a scene with Terry Farrell’s Dax -- Brooks attempts a laugh that is positively bone-chilling. As for Jake and Nog, they’re best friends. Visually, they’re a wonderful odd couple, as Cirroc Lofton hits puberty like it owes him money and grows several feet taller than everyone. Aron Eisenberg, who plays Nog, is short, even for a Ferengi. They’re very different people and throughout the show behave like real friends. In the beginning, it’s a friendship born of necessity; they’re the only two around the same age on the station, and right now neither Sisko nor Nog’s father Rom approve of the the relationship.
A note on Rom: those who are familiar with the Rom we will get to know over seven seasons might be surprised by the Rom in this episode (and his brief appearance as “Ferengi Pit Boss” in the pilot). He’s using a more traditional “Ferengi” voice -- weaselly and nasal -- rather than the sweetly dim and deep tone that belongs to Rom. He’s a typical Ferengi here, wanting Nog to be thrown into the deep end of commerce, which is . . . not Rom. Not at all. They didn’t have the character down yet, so it’s a little jarring to see the first draft.
Anyway, the point of Jake and Nog is that they’re getting into trouble. Why? There’s nothing else to do on the station. Keiko O’Brien, former botanist on the Enterprise, is feeling useless on the station, and by chance she spots the two boys getting into trouble. Her solution is a good one: a school, providing some structure for the various kids on DS9. It also helps establish the Promenade as what it really is: a frontier western town, complete with the sheriff’s station, the doctor’s office, a bar and gaming hall, and now a one-room schoolhouse. Keiko ends the episode feeling fulfilled, but it will be short-lived. Keiko’s discontent on the station will be a running theme, especially in the show’s early going. On the upside, Molly, her and Chief O’Brien’s daughter, is super cute.
The episode, as a whole, is a bit of a mess. There’s a lot going on, and the creators are still establishing characters and figuring out what kinds of stories can be told in a static environment. DS9 once again turns a substantial portion of its running time (and pretty much the entire B-plot) over to a reoccurring character in Keiko O’Brien. They already know that establishing a deep, in every sense of the word, supporting cast is going to be the key to distinguishing DS9 and the way forward.
Next up: Only Quark speaks the universal language: greed.