There’s a strong argument to be made that Odo is the true protagonist of DS9, supplanting even the Emissary himself, and as such, his family gets looked at in detail. There’s the obvious, that the Founders themselves form an extended family group. I’ve always looked at Changeling reproduction (based on the “ocean becomes a drop, drop becomes an ocean” line from season three) as transcendental in nature. The Great Link pinches off a small bit of goo, and that’s a new Changeling. Odo was one such being, flung out into the stars to make his own way without any knowledge or memories of who or what he was. When Sisko expresses wonder that the Founders would send such a helpless creature into space, Odo points out that a great way to judge another species is seeing how they treat the weak.
This episode opens with Odo still getting used to being a solid. He has a pinched nerve in his back and judging by the dialogue, a touch of constipation, as well. Quark wanders into the infirmary (I guess doctor/patient confidentiality isn’t a thing in the future.) and sells Odo a sick baby Changeling he happened across. The organism is in the same phase of development as Odo was when he was found, which is to say it’s little more than goo. Bashir is able to nurse it back to health with some whatever technology, and Odo gets to attempt to communicate.
Odo desperately wants to raise this Changeling right. Odo’s “father,” the Bajoran scientist Dr. Mora Pol, didn’t know what he had when he was handed Odo. Later in the episode, he points out that he wasn’t even sure Odo was alive, let alone sentient. Some of his tests were cruel, and in fact the first communication between the two beings (as established in Dr. Mora’s first appearance, the second season episode “The Alternate”) was Odo forming a tentacle to slap Mora’s hand away from a console that would electrocute him. Not exactly the most promising first interaction.
While Odo attempts to commune with the Changeling, speaking to it in soothing tones and getting it used to shapes by pouring them from one vessel to another, he’s not making any progress. Mora arrives partway through this attempt and quickly grows impatient. From the beginning, it’s obvious that while Mora regrets some of what he did to Odo, he believes that a stern hand is necessary here to actually get the Changeling to shapeshift and begin exploring its world. In essence, Mora is the stern father, while Odo is the nurturing mother. It’s rewarding to see such a gruff, forbidding character as Odo behaving in a sweeter, softer manner and a good reminder that while Odo might identify and present as male (hence the use of such pronouns to describe him), the Changelings are biologically genderless entities.
The relationship between Odo and Mora unfolds against the backdrop of attempting to communicate with this new Changeling. It’s a testament both to Rene Auberjonois and guest star James Sloyan that they manage to inject years of meaning, of affection and resentment, into their performances. Mora desperately wants a relationship with his surrogate son Odo, but he also wants to be recognized for some of the hard decisions he made while raising him. Odo doesn’t know how to reach out to other people, partly because the first person he knew routinely electrocuted him. He wants love and acceptance, but has no idea how to get it. While their reality is heightened, what with being a pair of aliens who met in a lab, it’s easy to recognize an authentic father/son dynamic within.
The breakthrough occurs when the Changeling forms a tentacle, not to slap Odo’s hand (despite them using a few of Mora’s less awful methods), but to re-enact the water tentacle scene from The Abyss. Mora, bursting with pride, notes that Odo’s technique is working. The Changeling was curious about him, not hostile. Mora, in essence, gets the great joy of a father watching his son going to greater heights than he could dream. Unfortunately though, the Changeling was not cured from its sickness, and it quickly spirals down the drain. Its final act is to merge with Odo, returning his shapeshifting abilities to him, though it dies in the process.
Odo and Mora part with a hug, and both promise to keep in touch. I believe them, despite the fact that this is Mora’s final appearance on the show. I like to imagine that this is because the relationship is “resolved” in television terms. While there might be some tension, it will never reach the heights it did, and thus there’s no need to depict it.
Also making his final appearance is Duncan Regehr as Shakaar. Matching with the theme of parenthood, Kira is finally delivering the O’Briens’ baby. Bajoran women require absolute relaxation to deliver (and to Keiko’s credit, she’s all about supporting Kira in her choice to have a traditional Bajoran birth), while O’Brien and Shakaar butt heads in the delivery room.
The important part of the story is when Kira finally delivers little Kirayoshi; she finds she’s bonded with him more than she believed she would. She and Odo meet at the shuttle bay doors, seeing off their respective loved ones to Bajor, both of them in the grips of powerful mixed emotions. For Odo, he has at once the joy of becoming a shapeshifter again, but at the terrible cost of the baby Changeling’s death. For Kira, it’s the pleasure of bringing a life into the world, but the emptiness of then not being allowed to care for that life. The two of them go on a walk together, finding support with each other. Their closest friends.
Next up: The return of Michael Eddington.