It was probably inevitable. Even in the darkest days of the show, before it struggled through the metamorphosis that turned it into Trek’s best, any interaction between Odo and Quark always stood out. These brief scenes inevitably took on a much larger import in the minds of the fans, as the chemistry between the two actors was never short of incandescent. Rene Auberjonois and Armin Shimerman could be the best performers in a cast absolutely stuffed with ringers, and both managed the difficult task of subtly emoting through pounds of latex. What might surprise viewers who have followed along with the series until now is that they never really had an entire A-plot to themselves.
At the core of these two characters is a rivalry spanning ten years. Odo is an excellent investigator, something the show takes care to consistently point out, but the one man he could never put away is this Ferengi bartender. Quark is outright stated to have his fingers in the local black markets, so this implies that as good as Odo might be, Quark is better. Yet this skill comes at cost. If Quark were to leave the station, he might make more profit, but then he’d be without his friends.
When you’re looking at friends in the traditional sense, you have to turn to Jake and Nog. That relationship spans all seven seasons and is one of the most rewarding and realistic friendships in television. This episode takes the step of turning everything on its head. Jake used to be the good son, while Nog was the borderline criminal. But now, a year at Starfleet Academy, Nog has transformed into a military tight-ass, and a year of being a writer has turned Jake into, well, a writer. Look, some of the stereotypes are true. We are a slovenly bunch. I’m writing this whole review covered in old banana peels.
Nog is home as part of field studies, which is just a convenient way to get a good character back on the show. He and Jake are moving in with each other, which just makes sense at this point. Problem is, it’s an odd couple situation as Nog wants the discipline he grew to love at the Academy, and Jake wants to write while stewing in his own filth. When the two of them inevitably reach their breaking point, they have to rely on their fathers.
In my favorite scene of this plot, Rom sits down with Sisko and both of them lament the qualities in each other’s sons they wish were in their own. This is the one area where Rom and Sisko are equals, as fathers of their boys’ best friends. It’s a strange relationship, to be sure, but Sisko is respectful of Rom and proud of Nog. It calls to mind the first season, before Rom had coalesced into the sweetly daft engineer we now know and love, when he vocally objected to Nog hanging out with a human. Sisko felt much the same way, and now these two men want to figure out a way to repair a relationship they once fought tooth and nail against.
The resolution is pretty hand-wavy, but I chalk that up to Jake and Nog’s long history of friendship. It’s hardly the first fight they’ve had, so it’s a small wonder the two of them should be able to forgive and forget.
Far more difficult is the relationship between Odo and Quark. While Nog and Jake proudly call one another their best friends, Odo and Quark can’t even admit to holding any sort of affection for one another. So, naturally, the best way to provoke any kind of catharsis between the characters is to push them to the absolute breaking point.
When Quark has to appear before a Federation grand jury, Odo, assuming Quark is being indicted, insists on escorting him. It turns out Quark is to be a witness against the shadowy Orion Syndicate, DS9’s version of the mafia. It should come as no surprise, then, when they find a bomb on the ship. The bomb goes off, forcing them to crash land on a very pleasant-looking deathworld. The planet is freezing, there’s no animal life to speak of (Quark laments the lack of tasty beetles or slugs.), and all the plants are poisonous. The bulk of their survival equipment was destroyed in the crash, too, leaving them a single ration pack each and only one cold weather suit, which they compromise by taking turns wearing the jacket and the pants. Their only hope for rescue is to haul the transmitter up a mountain to where the atmosphere is thinner and get out a distress beacon.
The real irony is that were Odo still a shapeshifter, this wouldn’t be a problem at all. It’s only in his new, weaker solid form that he’s trapped. Quark points out that solidity has a lot to offer - eating, drinking, sex - but Odo insists on living like a Changeling monk. Odo is too wrapped up in himself, in the identity he has painstakingly constructed, to reinvent himself even slightly. Odo has always been trapped, even when his shape was fluid.
Odo and Quark have the kind of blowout that’s inevitable in stories like these. It’s Odo who is injured, further underscoring his uncomfortable new mortality, suffering a broken leg. Quark first drags him along on a sledge (as emergency rations, he’s quick to point out), then is forced to abandon him out of exhaustion. Quark does make it, and the Defiant shows up right as Odo is in the middle of his final log entry, outlining what he’d like done with his remains (cremation, put him in his bucket, shoot him through the wormhole).
What makes the episode work, fundamentally, is the final scene. The two adversaries are side by side in hospital beds. They bring up what they said in anger on the planet . . . and reaffirm they meant every last word of it. Both break into broad grins and chuckle, secure once again in the most important relationship in their lives.
Next up: Sisko chooses Rapture.