“You think the whole galaxy is plotting around you, don’t you? Paranoia must run in your species, Odo. Maybe that’s why no one has ever seen another shapeshifter. They’re all hiding!” — Quark
It’s pretty easy to see why Odo was the first breakout character of the show. It’s like they took a checklist of all the things guaranteed to connect with an audience and applied it to him. Loner with a mysterious past? Check. Only one of his kind? Check. Cool powers? Check. Gruff exterior masking a deep inner pain only curable with the love of a good woman? You better believe that’s a check. It’s a wonder that more people didn’t grow up nursing an impossible Odo crush or wander around conventions wearing Team Odo shirts. “Vortex,” the eleventh episode of the first season, once again turns the spotlight on our favorite grouchy ball of amber protoplasm, but instead of focusing solely on Odo’s preoccupation with justice, it tests that against the great unanswered question of his origin.
It all starts with a visitor from the Gamma Quadrant. Croden is an alien with a messed-up forehead (because Star Trek) who came through the wormhole and now lurks at Quark’s bar. At this point, Sisko has got to be pretty pissed off at the aliens over there. That means that 66% of the aliens from the Gamma Quadrant came over to hang out at a dive bar, and the other 33% hunt sentients like the Zodiac Killer. Odo’s suspicious of the new guy because that’s Odo’s natural state, but he’s more concerned about the arrival of a Miradorn ship. Miradorns are basically z-grade Klingons, making their living as interstellar bandits, and Odo is concerned that they’re coming to the station to sell Quark some stolen goods.
As it turns out, Odo is correct, and what they’re selling is some kind of Fabergé egg. The deal goes south when Croden robs the exchange and kills one of the Miradorn. Odo turns out to be one of the glasses Rom brought up and arrests Croden, the surviving Miradorn, and Quark. The glasses trick is pretty cool, since an earlier shot shows Rom loading a tray with four glasses, the camera pans away, and suddenly there are five. Granted, it makes no sense in terms of weight, but it was well done both in the context of character (“Five glasses for four people?” Quark sneers at Rom.), as well as how it was accomplished practically.
Odo is convinced (correctly, as usual) this whole thing was set up by Quark to avoid paying for the egg and so questions Croden about it. Croden is more interested in talking about Odo. He’s “never heard of a Changeling with [Odo’s] versatility.” Just like that, we have a name for Odo’s species, one that will be used throughout the rest of the series. Croden instantly shows a capacity for deceit, but he also has a strange pendant with a shapeshifting stone which he claims is from a colony of shapeshifters. Dr. Bashir analyzes it and determines that it’s the closest thing to Odo he’s ever seen. Croden continues to tell Odo all the things he wants to hear, though as Odo probes, he discovers the places Croden smoothed the truth over. He claims that there were shapeshifters on his homeworld, Rakhar, but it was centuries ago. They were persecuted and driven out, echoing Quark’s quote at the top of the article, a remarkably prescient statement for the Ferengi bartender.
The Rakharian government is entirely uninterested in contact with Starfleet, but they would like their citizen back. As it turns out, Croden is a fugitive from Rakhar, which is a terrifying totalitarian state that isn’t the biggest fan of trials. Croden would rather be returned to the titular Vortex, a nebula he often used as a hideout, and where he claims the colony of Odo’s people is located and where he is unlikely to be executed. He tries to drum up sympathy with Odo by relating the details of his crime, which he claims was the murder of two police officers who had just killed his wives, but it’s not clear if the Rakharian is telling the truth or not. Based on what we learn of the Gamma Quadrant later, I tend to believe the man at least to an extent.
While Odo transports Croden back to Rakhar, the surviving Miradorn (Remember him?) pursues in order to exact vengeance. Odo is forced to duck into the Vortex, and Croden’s knowledge of the local hazards, specifically an exploding gas that will in no way be used as a Hail Mary to take out the more powerful Miradorn ship, is the first indicator that he might be telling the truth about something. As it turns out, it’s not the Changeling colony. No, the asteroid in question holds a stasis pod with his young daughter. Croden has heard stories of Changelings, but until he saw Odo, he always assumed they were myths. Anyway, they rescue the girl, but right as they’re leaving, the Miradorn ship shows up and starts with the bombardment. Odo gets knocked out with a falling rock, and that’s just wrong. How does head trauma work on someone that doesn’t have a head? And, even if it did, it’s been established that it takes effort for Odo to maintain a solid shape, so he should have turned to goo. I know the real reason is budget, but come on, people. That was silly.
Croden saves Odo and, in return, Odo does the same for Croden and his daughter, resolving to tell everyone the Miradorn killed him. While this could seem to be a betrayal of justice, as Odo is letting a fugitive go free, it’s actually a stronger commitment to the concept. Odo observed Croden — saw that the man knew the Vortex, met his daughter who was very happy to see the guy, didn’t see any moms, knew Rakhar was a weird totalitarian nightmare — and added it up. Besides, Croden saved him, so justice would demand that Odo do the same. Justice is not the same thing as honesty, and Odo will always be about action over words. That’s another box Odo just checked off. Man, now I feel like I need a shirt.
The episode gives us some tantalizing hints to the larger story: Changelings are known in the Gamma Quadrant, if only as myths, and there are forms of pseudolife scattered around over there with a resemblance to our Constable. The mystery of the Changelings will be solved in the coming seasons, and the show is doing a good job at pacing themselves for the revelation.
Next up: The wormhole is a terrible place to smuggle meth.