That’s not to say that the show doesn’t occasionally pull off something truly weird. Beyond the ones I’ve mentioned, there are also great truly alien-aliens like Tholians, Q, the Tin Man, and Species 8472. DS9 did it the best, with two of the most alien-aliens Star Trek has ever done baked right into the fabric of the show. The Prophets often go a long while without being utilized, but they are there, and are so alien they never actually appear in their true forms. They not only don’t perceive time in the same way as we do, they barely understand how that perception could be at all valuable.
We often forget since Odo is a main character, but when you get down to it, the guy is alien. He isn’t a humanoid, but only appears as such out of convenience. He’s not even the same state of matter, existing more comfortably as a gelatinous liquid. Though his shapeshifting is hardly perfect (It’s repeatedly stated that Odo is a young Changeling and his abilities are not practiced.), he’s capable of performing feats that are basically magic. His people spend most of their time as a giant amber ocean just kind of... chilling, or something. They have no physical sexes as we understand them, though some will take a gender identity. But how alien are they really? We don’t know, partly because Odo doesn’t know. He’s an outcast from his species throughout the series, though the reasons change.
Well, in this hour, we finally get some answers. The Female Changeling, who might as well be the leader of the Dominion (I don’t think that’s quite accurate, for reasons we’ll get into.), shows up on the station. Her reasons? She was trapped on this side of the wormhole by the minefield, and she wants to be with her own. She can barely fathom why Odo has mixed feelings about her presence. After all, his crime was in the past (Remember, he’s the first Changeling ever to harm another.), he was punished, he’s okay now, so why is he bringing up old shit?
While Odo is standoffish in the beginning, quickly his curiosity about his people takes over, and through his eager questioning, we learn a ton of fun facts. The first is her name: he’d like to know it. She doesn’t have one. “How do you differentiate yourself from others of your kind?” “I don’t,” she says simply. It makes a certain amount of sense when she talks about how individual (flawed word, but go with me) Changelings are made -- “the ocean becomes the drop.” The reverse (“the drop becomes the ocean”) is how they’re reabsorbed. This is a transcendental (in the Emerson use of the word) existence, with identity an entirely fluid concept. Literally. The “Female Changeling” as we know her is really just the avatar of the Great Link itself. That individual collection of goo isn’t the leader of the Dominion: the Link is.
While Odo pumps her for information, she presses him to link with her. After all, it’s a much easier way to talk. Words are imprecise, as a solid language would have no need for concepts that, to Changelings, would be as natural as breathing. Odo is reluctant because he promised Kira he wouldn’t. You know, because he’s technically part of the Resistance. Eventually, though, she seduces him into the link, and things start going pear shaped.
This episode switches up the structure of the others, where the A-plot was whatever the people away fighting the war was and the B-plot is the station. This appropriately gives Odo the lion’s share of the screentime, putting Sisko into an interesting, but comparatively quiet, plot. Sisko is, of course, awesome at war. He has a ritual where, after a mission during an after party (for which the ever-resourceful Nog has supplied Saurian brandy), O’Brien brings out the spent power cell for the phaser array. That’s right, the Defiant uses all of that when kicking ass. Sisko gives a little speech and places it with the others in the mess hall as evidence that this group will keep fighting until they physically can’t anymore.
But then reality intervenes. Sisko is so good at his job that Admiral Ross wants him as an adjutant, helping with the strategy of the war at large rather than the individual tactical disposition of the Defiant. It’s a rough transfer for Sisko, who was used to being at the front. Dax gets command of the Defiant, and that’s a hell of a choice. We sadly never get to see her in action, but it’s easy to picture an almost eerie serenity from 300 years of experience. In the end of the episode, Dax gives the same speech about the phaser power cell, but with a different tone. While Sisko’s was martial and, well, defiant, Dax’s is softer, prouder. Sisko sounded like he was pleased at the hurt the Defiant dished out. Dax sounds like she’s relieved that everyone is still standing.
Back on the station, the Resistance has been playing the Cardassians off the Jem’Hadar. Both races despise one another, and it’s pretty clear that the alliance is a shaky one. Damar throws gasoline on the fire when he writes a memo suggesting that, since there’s a shortage of white (Remember, the good guys blew up the big storehouse.), they should poison the final ration to avoid having the Jem’Hadar run amok. It’s not a terrible idea, but when Rom swipes the memo and plants it in front of a Jem’Hadar barracks, it starts a fight.
Damar is in the doghouse but rapidly gets out of it, even getting promoted to gul. Quark gets the reasons out of him in a scene that subtly foreshadows Damar’s later alcoholism. Damar is a Cardassian patriot, so he’s having a bit of trouble with the “alliance” (really a takeover) by the Dominion. He hits the kanar pretty hard, and a drunk Quark later turns up at Resistance HQ with some bad news: Damar has figured out a way to take down the minefield.
The Resistance needs to sabotage the station, and the plan hinges on Odo running a security diagnostic at the right time, which will disable the alarms for Rom. Odo, though, ends up losing track of things while linking with the Female Changeling. He doesn’t even forget about what he was supposed to do. He just didn’t see the point.
The emotional core of the episode is set up earlier, when Odo discusses his feelings about Kira with the Female Changeling. He’s distressed that even a minor reaction from Kira has so much power over him. He wishes he could pull the feelings right out of him, and let’s just say, at the time I first watched this, I kind of identified with Odo here. A lot. Later, when Kira reads him the riot act about letting them down and getting Rom arrested, something Odo said earlier would have cut him deeply, he’s unconcerned. Kira storms out, and the Female Changeling comes in from the other room, asking if Kira upset him.
No, Odo tells her. It seems that he managed to tear the feelings out of himself after all.
Next up: Sisko has to retake the station.