“I’ve spent most of my life bringing people to justice. Now that it’s my turn, how can I run away?”
— Constable Odo
When viewed as a whole, season four is a definite oddball in the tapestry of DS9. The reason for this is as simple as it is dreaded: executive meddling. Stressed over poor ratings and their flagship program going off the air, the brass at Paramount made some demands of the DS9 writing staff. While Behr and company wanted to bridge seasons three and four with the story of the Dominion coming to Earth (what became the two-parter nestled in the middle of season four’s “Homefront” and “Paradise Lost”), executives didn’t want a cliffhanger. They also wanted something big to “shake things up.”
That became the introduction of Worf and the Klingon menace. The writers, while they integrated both quite well, wanted to get back to what was uniquely theirs, namely, the Dominion. Season four ends up being a bit of water-treading in the eventual build-up to the Dominion War, which dominates the final three seasons of the show. This week’s episode, “Broken Link,” is the writers moving the narrative back onto the track they wanted, with Worf firmly ensconced as an integral part of the cast.
Odo comes down with some kind of bizarre disease or infection that causes him to lose control of his shape. Bashir points out that, for all he knows, this could be a normal part of the Changeling life cycle akin to puberty or menopause. This leads them both to the only real solution: seeking out the Founders and getting their help. As it turns out, the disease was engineered to summon Odo home to be judged. In the finale of season three, Odo became the first Changeling to ever harm another. This is a pretty big deal, and now it’s time to pay the piper.
After being led back to the new Changeling homeworld — they pulled up stakes after the Tal Shiar/Obsidian Order attack — Odo goes for a swim in the Great Link. When they spit him back out, they have somehow managed to turn him into a solid. In their minds, this is an O. Henry level of irony. Odo loves the solids so much, let him exist as one. His face, however, remains the same, so that he will always be marked as an outsider. It is a pretty fiendishly inventive way to punish a wayward son.
It’s an odd way to wrap a season that started with such sound and fury. This is fundamentally a character episode, and though it focuses on one of the consistently most popular characters of the series, it relegates the ostensible lead of the show to supporting status and features not a single thing blowing up. The only thing that marks it as a season finale is the final revelation as Odo remembers something from the Great Link. Watching Chancellor Gowron threaten the Alpha Quadrant with open war, Odo remembers a fact the other Changelings were trying desperately to hide: Gowron is a Changeling himself.
It’s a pretty elegant way to clean up the narrative mess that is the Klingon War. This folds it into the series conflict well and puts the Klingons back where they were as uneasy allies. Assuming Starfleet can do anything about it. There’s another layer here, but that will be addressed next week. In the meantime, this is just me appreciating good, longform writing when I see it.
Worf is, sadly, chiefly famous in geek circles for getting beat up. It’s true. There’s even a page on TV Tropes called the Worf Effect, which details the phenomenon of having a bad guy beat up the strongest member of the cast in an effort to show how dangerous he is. Done too much, and this results in the “strongest member of the cast” losing far more fights than he ever wins. Worf has spawned meme after meme of all the things he’s lost fights against, including Ferengi, Counselor Troi, and railings.
DS9 does what it can to rehabilitate this image, turning Worf into the badass he was always intended to be. He’s been steadily winning fights, but here he gets his first title match. Garak accompanied the crew on the mission to look into the possibility of survivors. Remember, his mentor Enabran Tain, who Garak has some complex feelings for, was one of the leaders of the task force. When the Female Changeling sneers that everyone who attacked was dead, Garak smiles, but those eyes go flinty. Worf catches him later trying to take control of the Defiant’s weapon systems and reduce the Changeling homeworld to ash. Garak acknowledges that they’ll all die in the attempt, but isn’t that worth heading off an inevitable war? The two have it out, and Worf wins, though he compliments Garak, saying, “You fight well for a tailor.”
Garak’s presence is justified through his friendship with Odo, forged during the same episodes Tain was lost. Garak pledges to keep Odo occupied with a series of lies, and it’s a pleasure watching the two of them banter back and forth. Andrew Robinson and Rene Auberjonois are polar opposites, down to Robinson’s light, lilting tone, and Auberjonois’ gravelly grunting, and it pays in dividends here in their short scenes together.
We also get the final appearance of an extremely minor character. The same smuggler who brought Quark Li Nalas’s earring and the baby Jem’Hadar shows up for what amounts to a cameo. It’s a nice bit of continuity to underline that DS9 is a port, and ports have regulars.
The most important character to return is the Female Changeling who will remain the visible head of the Dominion until the end of the show. While part of me wishes she had a proper name, I kind of like that she doesn’t. After all, the Changeling experience is most akin to the philosophy of transcendentalism. Whenever a Changeling joins the Great Link, there is no guarantee that the Changeling that returns is, technically speaking, entirely the same being. She has no name because she not only has no identity, she doesn’t need one. An identity is a concept for the solids. For her, there is only the sublime connection of the Great Link, where Changelings exist as a single living sea.
It’s what makes Odo so baffling to them. And, so fascinating.
Next up: The crew goes to handle that Changeling situation.