The sad part is, this is a very good episode overall, and even the bad prop doesn’t sink it. It’s sort of the price of admission with Star Trek. You’re going to get a lot of good stuff, but you’re also getting some cheesy props, a dash of hammy acting, and the occasional episode that makes you think the writers’ room has a slow gas leak. But, when the character work is so good, when hidden depths that end up making perfect sense are revealed, and when the final lines in each plot are perfect, heartbreaking capstones, it makes it all worthwhile.
The episode opens with Kira and Odo on the runabout, Mekong, coming back from Prophet’s Landing, the Bajoran colony closest to the Cardassian border. Odo is in a snit ostensibly over a social slight, but it’s really because he’s stewing over his feelings for Kira. Bear in mind, he’s never come right out and said it, but it was apparent in “The Collaborator,” “Meridian” (ugh), and “Fascination.” On the way home, they catch a Maquis ship attacking a Leseppian freighter, which they pursue into the Badlands -- that plasma stormy place where sensors and transporters don’t work, because you need a place like that in SF writing.
They pursue the single person in the ship into some seismically unstable caverns and split up to find this guy so they can go home. Kira almost immediately gets her foot caught in a crystal which has the unpleasant effect of growing, periodically engulfing more of her body. Odo works to free her, but it’s pretty apparent that nothing’s working. Even a harmonic device that should be able to shatter it is about as useful as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. This is what I love about DS9 versus other flavors of Trek. Here, reversing the polarity of the tachyon field is part of the plot, but it’s ultimately useless. The conflict will only be resolved through the interactions of the characters, and for Odo to do his awesome Sherlock thing.
Meanwhile, back on the station, Nog makes an indecent proposal to Sisko. He comes into the office with a big bundle of latinum . . . and tries to bribe him. Ferengi males, upon finishing the Ferengi Attainment Ceremony, have to purchase an apprenticeship from a suitable role model. Nog has decided on Sisko and wants to be the first Ferengi in Starfleet. Sisko’s values are definitely in the crucible here -- if the utopian ideals of the Federation mean anything, they have to apply to former foes with some antiquated ideas about gender equality, too.
Jake assumes it’s a prank, Sisko and Dax are baffled, and as far as we know, Rom and Quark haven’t heard a thing about it. What is unclear is what Nog really wants. Sisko throws a test his way: do inventory on a cargo bay stuffed with expensive items. Nog passes with flying colors. Sisko still isn’t convinced. He wants to know why Nog wants to join, and here we get maybe Nog’s best scene in the series, and certainly his best so far.
After Sisko pushes him, Nog breaks, admitting he doesn’t want to end up like his father. The 18th Rule of Acquisition states that “A Ferengi without profit is no Ferengi at all.” Nog doesn’t have the lobes for profit, and neither does Rom. He is just as gifted an engineer as his old man, though, something that’s been floating around since the second season when they decided Rom had some hidden depths. It’s an excellent illustration of how a culture can value something that isn’t intrinsically valuable and denigrate something that is. In our own culture, you could compare professional athletes and investment bankers on one end, and teachers and soldiers on another. We pay one group handsomely for very little actual value, and pay the other a pittance for real, concrete service. After Nog comes clean, Sisko agrees to write a letter of recommendation (necessary as Nog is not a citizen of the Federation), and Nog’s journey is truly begun.
With Kira being slowly crushed by the crystal, Odo tries to keep her spirits up with stories. The first is about Chief O’Brien’s love of kayaking and his tendency to sing sea chanteys while doing it. (His favorite is apparently “Louie, Louie,” and it’s hard to find fault there.) She also asks about his name, which was a Cardassian word meaning “Nothing,” that was Bajoranized into a name: Odo Ital, and shortened to Odo. Odo was “nothing,” and he thought of himself that way, until he made real friends. First Kira, then the rest of the crew. The best part is that we’ve seen this growing affection in him, masked by his gruff exterior, but it is there. Also, “Nothing” is an unconscionably badass name for a noir detective.
Soon, though, the cave collapsing around them, she orders Odo to get out of there. He refuses, and it’s a nice parallel to the scene of Sisko pushing Nog to come clean. In this case, Odo admits he loves Kira and crumbles in despair after making the revelation. Kira, however, comes back with her own declaration of love, and that’s when things unravel.
Something had been bothering Odo from the beginning. Remember: he’s good at his job. There were too many weird coincidences, and as a wise man once said, “I believe in coincidences. Coincidences happen every day. But, I don’t trust coincidences.” The phaser burn on the wall, supposedly caused by the Maquis fugitive during a short shootout when Odo was at the runabout, would have gone right through Kira. The sonic resonator should have worked. But, most damning, and most heartrending, is that Odo knows Kira doesn’t love him back. He can read people better than that.
He’s right, too. It’s the Female Changeling, trying to figure out what could be keeping Odo away from the Great Link. The best part of this is that it’s only part of the story. Way back in the otherwise pretty terrible episode “Playing God,” Odo angrily informed Kira that he doesn’t step on ants. Would a man like that really join the murderous regime of the Dominion? Kira does give them a convenient excuse to avoid confronting their own evil, and she might be Odo’s biggest reason, but hardly his only one.
The Female Changeling gives up Kira’s location (in a stasis pod), and the two of them get out of there. Upon returning to the station, Kira asks Odo what it was that the Female Changeling said that betrayed her. “Just a slip of the tongue,” he says. “Nothing important.”
Next up: We’ve got Cardassians all up in the wormhole.