Insanity is culturally determined. While a raging killer would be locked up in modern America, in classical Greece (to cite one of many, many examples), he would be held up as the very pinnacle of virtue. DS9 has explored this concept before, when Grand Nagus Zek was altered by the Prophets and became a philanthropist. To the fanatically acquisitive Ferengi, he might as well have become Jeffrey Dahmer. Insanity, as a concept, generally means to believe and do things that are contrary to the prevailing culture’s norms.
So, what happens when the culture is a totalitarian regime that believes in genocide for all those who resist? The insane man might be the one person who has a problem with that; in essence, marking compassion and empathy as mental disorders. That’s the paradox at heart of this week’s episode, the grandly-named “Treachery, Faith and the Great River.”
Odo receives a message to meet with his most reliable Cardassian informant, Gul Russol, who Odo had assumed had been put to death with the Dominion coup. While never outright stated, it’s reasonable to assume Russol is the silhouette Odo meets with way back in season three’s “Improbable Cause.” Though Odo acknowledges this summons could be a Dominion trap, he owes it to Russol to find out. When he arrives, he finds not his loyal Cardassian informant, but Weyoun. This isn’t a trap, however. Weyoun is defecting.
Odo quickly learns that this Weyoun is the sixth in his clone family, and the Weyoun we know best was the fifth. Occasionally, clones develop glitches, and this Weyoun has one of those. Specifically, he believes the war is a horrific waste of life and that the Founders need to learn to live in harmony with the solids, as Odo has done. All of his inborn Vorta loyalty has been transferred to Odo, the one Changeling living a righteous life. Odo is troubled by Weyoun’s insistence that the Founders (and most specifically he) are gods. He points out that Weyoun is only devoted because the Founders engineered him to be. “Of course,” Weyoun says, blissfully faithful, “that’s what gods do.”
Faith of an entirely different stripe is on display back at the station. Though Kira is the most overtly religious of the major characters, she’s not the only one, but in some cases, it would be hard to recognize these beliefs as specifically religion. When Chief O’Brien gets an impossible repair command from Captain Sisko, he turns to Nog for help, who reassures him that he can get the part, even though it doesn’t appear that the spare is available anywhere in the Alpha Quadrant on the time frame Sisko needs it.
Some of Nog’s tactics to obtain said part are common sense to us today. Want something from a supplier? Develop a personal relationship with them. Some of his tactics are a little stranger, as O’Brien notes when Nog makes a series of apparently unrelated trades with the aim of eventually getting the gravity stabilizer they need. Then, things begin to go missing, including most troublingly Sisko’s desk and a shipment of bloodwine from Martok’s gorgon of a wife. Through all of O’Brien’s steadily escalating panic, Nog assures him that the Great Material Continuum will provide. Nog believes goods travel from have to want along an imaginary river -- he would have gotten along well with Adam Smith -- and that to get what you want, you have to navigate this river with skill and grace. Nog returns the desk (with a fresh polish) and gets a new case of bloodwine for the General (of a better vintage). Martok offers the ensign a nod in greeting, a holdover from the respect Nog gained when he stood up to the Klingons on the Promenade. Nog may be tiny, but he is a brave man, and now he’s one with a good bloodwine hookup.
This fun sideplot is a great way to show how valuable diversity truly is. Nog is part of a culture that the mainstream, post-scarcity utopia of the Federation regards as slightly insane. Yet he has a skill at getting things, and instead of using them for ephemeral material gain, Nog uses them in the service of Starfleet. Nog has tried to navigate the Great Material Continuum twice before, with varying degrees of success. In season one’s “Progress,” it was for selfish ends, and he failed spectacularly. In season five’s “In the Cards,” it was to obtain a baseball card for his captain, and he succeeded, albeit almost getting executed by the Dominion. Here, he has become comfortable in his role as a Starfleet Officer, and now the Continuum is an old friend.
These plots have always been favorites of mine, partly because they echo Catch-22, a novel that ranks near or at the top of my greatest all time list. Though Milo Minderbinder was a soulless capitalist who once had his own bomber group bomb itself (you know, for profit), Nog has developed a stronger moral center.
The “Great River” of the title refers not just to the Continuum, but the runabout Odo and Weyoun escape on, the Rio Grande (which literally means “Great River”). Through the show, DS9 goes through a truly harrowing number of runabouts, and only the Rio Grande, of the original complement, remains by the end. The last time we saw her, she had crashed in season four’s “The Ascent,” but here it’s confirmed she’s been salvaged and repaired. As they escape from the rendezvous site, the Dominion is already aware of Weyoun’s attempted defection and has sent Jem’Hadar fighters after them. While it would normally be a problem that Jem’Hadar would never fire on a Changeling, command back home gets around this by simply not telling the Jem’Hadar Odo is on board and jamming all communications to the pursuit vessels.
Command, as personified by Damar and Weyoun, is far from united on this issue. Damar shows the first inkling of Cardassian patriotism when he rants about the sacrifices his people have already made in this destructive war, sacrifices that might be undone by the Vorta’s defection. It’s also heavily implied that Damar was complicit in, or at least aware of, the transporter “accident” that killed Weyoun Five. Eventually, the Female Changeling arrives to sort out their bickering, and she does not look good. Her skin appears dry and drawn, looking a bit like Odo did at the very beginning of his torture at the hands of Garak in season three’s “The Die is Cast.” This is an extremely important plot thread that goes up through the end of the series, but at the moment, it is a tiny moment in the larger fraying tapestry that is the alliance at the heart of the Dominion.
The “defective” Weyoun provides some much-needed nuance for his own character, his species, and the Dominion at large. His faith in Odo never once wavers, and it is entirely pure. In a nice bit of depth, this doesn’t mean he’s turned his back on the Dominion. In fact, this Weyoun grieves when they’re forced to kill Jem’Hadar in the escape (the first time any Vorta has cared about their disposable shock troops), and his goal is to start a new Dominion, one built on cooperation and tolerance, with Odo at the head. He tells Odo the origin story of the Vorta, that they were timid, tree-dwelling presentient primates when a family of them sheltered an injured and frightened Changeling. As a reward, the Vorta were uplifted into a race that, while subservient, is undeniably powerful. Odo sees, for the first time, that his people are capable of gratitude.
So complete is the Vorta’s faith, Weyoun chooses to die rather than let Odo come to harm. When it becomes obvious that the Dominion won’t give up their pursuit and will kill Odo to get to him, Weyoun activates a kill switch in his own head. While Damar grouses about what secrets Weyoun Six might have given up, Seven’s faith is similarly complete. “That’s a risk we’ll have to take,” he says, calling off the attack.
Six dies in Odo’s arms, begging his god for a blessing. Initially, Odo can’t. He’s not a god. Eventually, his compassion wins out, and he blesses the dying Vorta, who fades away peacefully. Back on the station, Odo has to unpack it all with Kira, really the best person for it, and she explains. Weyoun died in the arms of his god, to Kira, he’s a lucky man. The thing is, Odo is a god. All it takes is belief that this is so, and multiple species believe it to be true. Star Trek has always been occupied with the subject of divinity, from the third episode ever aired. Here, it makes the case that what truly matters is belief. Is Odo truly divine? Weyoun certainly thinks so, and Odo was able to ease a painful passing with only a few words.
With the offering of this blessing, Odo took the first steps toward behaving as a god. He doesn’t believe it, not yet, but there will be a part of him that does. A tiny, insistent part. After all, if wormhole aliens can be elevated to the lofty status of Prophets, who’s to say a simple security officer can’t also be divine?
Next up: Kor’s curtain call.