“In this job, there is no unfinished business.”
— Constable Odo
I have a bit of a passion for noir. While both of my fans will probably give a theatrical eyeroll and a muttered, “No duh,” it’s pertinent to this week’s episode. Of my eight books, five and a half are noir, and a good deal of my recreational reading is consumed by mugs and dames, bullets and betrayals. My personal take has always been the layering of another genre on top of the noir, whether it’s science fiction with Nerve Zero, zombie survival horror with Undead on Arrival, or comic conspiracy thrillers with Mr. Blank. I can trace the flashpoint of this obsession to a single moment. To settle me down before a flight, my mother bought me the classic Isaac Asimov novel The Caves of Steel in an airport bookstore. Now, leaving aside that I was the kind of child who could be mollified by a book written in the ‘50s, this was the first time I had seen two genres — mystery and science fiction — melded into one and became a building block in my understanding of genre. This week’s episode, “Necessary Evil,” owes a debt to The Caves of Steel and is almost as much of an influence on my present aesthetic. As a self-conscious celebration of noir fiction, it explored the dark days of the station, when it was still the Cardassian ore refinery Terok Nor, and the partial origin story of a certain faceless detective.
The episode opens during a thunderstorm on Bajor, with a beautiful woman hiring Quark to bring her something from the station, hidden behind one of the bulkheads. Quark agrees, but when he and Rom retrieve the strongbox — and find it’s just a list of Bajoran names — a Bajoran assassin appears, shoots Quark, and makes off with the list. Dr. Bashir manages to save Quark’s life, but the Ferengi spends the rest of the episode unconscious in the infirmary. The location of the crime sparks a flashback in Odo (All good noir anti-heroes have moderate to severe flashback addictions.) to his first case. The station is much darker, for the comfort of its Cardassian masters, the pooling shadows a perfect celebration of the genre. Gul Dukat brings Odo into the Chemist Shop, where much later the list of names would be found, and charges him to investigate the murder of the proprietor, a Bajoran named Vaatrik. Dukat explains that Odo, whose outsider status has allowed him to adjudicate disputes between Bajorans, is the perfect person to investigate. “My superiors would have me solve this by rounding up ten Bajorans at random and executing them,” Dukat says. “Give me a better alternative.” While it sounds altruistic, anyone who knows noir or Dukat knows there is an ulterior motive behind Odo’s selection.
The victim’s wife, Pallra, who is the same woman who would years later hire Quark to retrieve the mysterious list of names, has not cried since her husband was killed. She denies murdering him and points Odo at the likely culprit: the woman she claims her husband was having an affair with. We know this suspect better as Major Kira Nerys, here in full grimy, badass refugee mode. In the present, Kira and Odo talk about this first case, and it establishes the source of their friendship: Odo didn’t have Kira executed for the crime, because she was innocent. The terrifying thing is that this basic level of integrity marks Odo as a good guy in the dystopian nightmare that was the Cardassian Occupation.
Odo coaxes a name, or perhaps a fragment of one, from Rom’s reluctant memory. From there, he assembles the rest of the names from Vaatrik Pallra’s communications records. She contacted eight people recently, and each one of them forked over a good deal of money. Blackmail. As for the crime, it’s obvious. Anyone with the kind of money to spend on blackmail got it during the Occupation as a collaborator. “Not even a Ferengi would do that,” Odo sneers.
In the past, Odo interrogates Kira, breaking her alibi (purchased from Quark) and getting her to cop to sabotage. In both meetings, Kira tells Odo he has to choose a side, and he stubbornly refuses to. This is the perfect line for Odo’s entire character: he doesn’t have a side. He’s the consummate outsider, a member of a species no one has ever seen, one so dissimilar he doesn’t need to eat or drink. He is not like the Bajorans or the Cardassians or even the rainbow quilt of the Federation. He is Odo. Yet, in this scene, he does choose a side. Dukat comes in and demands to know if Kira is the murderer. Odo says no, even though he has her on a charge of sabotage. He chose. Exactly what he chose: justice, mercy, or even Kira herself, is open to debate.
In the present, Odo captures both the assassin, who returns to finish the job on Quark, and Vaatrik Pallra. Though there’s not much she can say about the blackmail, she continues to deny her role in the murder of her husband. Odo knows. No, the culprit was Kira, and like the best mysteries, it was all there from the beginning. Who would kill a collaborator? A member of the Underground. Kira lays it out — she was there for the list of names and Vaatrik surprised her. She killed him. All of the friendship the two of them forged during the Occupation has just been tossed in the fire. Kira asks him if he will ever be able to trust her, he’s silent, and that is where the episode ends.
Even beyond the perfectly constructed mystery at the heart, this hour does some wonderful things with continuity. When Kira demands that Odo pick a side, she might as well be pointing at the ghetto fences that bisect the Promenade, with the reptilian Cardassians on one side, and the starving Bajorans on the other. She is the first to call him “Constable” too, a mocking reference to his attempt to impose justice where there can be none. Odo’s security logs, used here as the familiar Captain’s log trope as well as doubling for the hard-boiled first-person narration that defines noir, make frequent references to justice. He believes it’s a racial memory, something gained from his unknown forebears. He also believes that justice has no room for friendship or love, though his growing, if gruff, affection for his coworkers belies that.
Odo occupies an interesting place in the “outsider” character common to every incarnation of Star Trek. Unlike Spock, Data, or Seven of Nine, Odo steers clear of science. Though he has a deep respect for logic, he also has emotions and even embraces them. Odo is an observer of humanoid nature but has a much deeper understanding of it than the others. Only Kira is successfully able to deceive him, and that, combined with Odo’s comment about her attractiveness, foreshadows the eventual important character arc for the protoplasmic detective.
Though I’ve barely mentioned him, Rom has a sizable role in the proceedings. He spends most of the episode pleased that he stands to get Quark’s bar in the event of the latter’s death. (Wives serve, brothers inherit — Rule of Acquisition #139) There are hints of the black sheep Ferengi he will become (and a great throwaway line hinting at Nog’s potential, as well): when breaking into the shop and later the wall, Rom shows ingenuity that no one, least of all Quark, thought he possessed. Odo snarls, “You’re not as dumb as you look.” “Yes, I am,” Rom squeals, but it’s clear he is intelligent, albeit in a different way than most Ferengi.
It’s a fascinating critique of capitalism coming from the USA, the most powerful capitalist culture in human history. The fact that Rom has talents but they are not being nurtured, used, or even exploited underlines an essential problem with capitalism. It’s taken as an article of faith that pure capitalism will value every talent, skill, or ability proportional to how useful it is to the greatest number of people, or how rare it is. This helps determine price, though the economic voodoo of supply and demand. It’s a great concept in theory, but it doesn’t hold under scrutiny. Look at how much investment bankers make versus, say, garbage collectors, and now imagine which one you would be more comfortable living without. One crashed the global economy for no concrete gain, while the other is currently making sure you don’t die of typhus. Both Rom and Nog continue to provide glimpses into this subtle satire of American consumer culture as they steadily grow in importance to both the show and the Ferengi Alliance at large.
Next up: Sisko gets in on the stalking.