“I do enjoy my work. But I’m afraid I’ve used it as an excuse to avoid the rest of my life.”
— Constable Odo
Today, “shipping” is such a vital part of fandom that it hardly needs to be explained. There are huge communities dedicated to imagining two of their favorite characters in a romantic relationship. Clothing companies can sell a t-shirt with the simple idea that one day Sherlock Holmes and Watson might kiss. For a period about ten years ago, Team Edward and Team Jacob nearly tore this country apart. The vocal shipping fandom in Supernatural is partly responsible for that show’s troubling habit of stuffing its female characters into fridges.
Yet, back in the ‘90s, this term wasn’t in widespread use. That’s not to say we didn’t do it. Television’s preoccupation with will-they-or-won’t-they relationships, arguably the high-octane fuel for shipping, hit a new gear in that decade with pairings like Ross and Rachel, Mulder and Scully, and Niles and Daphne. While I shipped all of these couples to an extent (though without the vocabulary to describe what I was feeling), there was one couple I shipped above all others: Odo and Kira.
Let me tell you, that was a lonely ship. Keep in mind that, at the time, I knew only two other regular viewers of DS9 and one of them was my mother. The Odo/Kira ship (We never even got a good name.) was pretty much just me and the bilge rats. The other diehard Niner I knew vocally rejected the idea of an Odo and Kira relationship, accurately pointing out that, if she reached for him in the middle of the night, she’d be sticking her hand into goo. To which I respond, some relationships face stranger challenges than others.
But for me, a young guy who was nerdy enough to ship couples from Star Trek spinoffs, the idea of the emotionally wounded outsider getting the badass revolutionary pixie of his dreams was undeniably attractive. Odo and Kira were my two non-Garak favorite characters on my favorite show. Them being together just made a kind of sense. Besides, the writers had been teasing it off and on since season two’s “The Collaborator.” Several episodes had been devoted to Odo’s devotion to his best friend, and DS9 had already shown me that they would follow up on their plot threads. I had hope.
At this point in the show, Ira Steven Behr already had Odo’s ending in mind. While I won’t spoil it for those watching week to week, it should be fairly easy to guess, as it’s the only ending that makes any dramatic sense. Kira has always been Odo’s link (No pun intended.) to the world of the solids. It was his love for her that kept him from betraying the Alpha Quadrant to the Founders. Here, in the tail end of the second-to-last season, if the writers were going to put Odo and Kira together, they had to do it soon. They were rapidly running out of time.
The problem is, how does one get the most emotionally closed-off characters in all of Trek to, well, express his emotions? Odo would need a mentor, a cupid, someone to teach him how to talk to Kira and how to finally stand before her as a potential romantic partner. In the language of the show, the trickster mentor has always been Dax, but her close relationship to Kira would make her a problematic choice for Odo.
Instead, the show created one of my favorite side characters, Vic Fontaine. Vic is a swingin’ ‘60s lounge lizard hologram in the mold of Frank and Dean, but he’s also a self-aware student of human nature. While Vic starts life as one of Dr. Bashir’s programs, he quickly grows beyond that, becoming a vibrant part of the show’s fabric. It’s come to my attention recently that there are some fans of the show who don’t like Vic. I honestly don’t get it. I mean, I personally love that kind of music, so when the show stops for a song (as it does four times this week), I’m more than entertained. There’s no way I’m going to get impatient with actor James Darren’s silky-smooth rendition of “Come Fly With Me.”
He’s also a subtle nod to DS9’s humanist roots. Unlike the self-aware holograms on the ostensibly lighter shows like TNG or Voyager, Vic is a fundamentally benevolent being. Quite capable of hacking the computers, commandeering the comm system, and moving through holosuites, he only does it to help out his friends. DS9 is saying that if we program our AIs to be good and moral, we have nothing to fear from them. Vic is an enormously comforting look at an artificial person in a genre that too often focuses on genocidal murderbots.
Odo enlists Vic to help him woo Kira. Vic’s first goal is to teach Odo to loosen up a little, which he does by introducing him to the concept of fun. It’s rewarding to watch Odo allow himself to enjoy things like music and good company. In one of the quietest and best scenes of the hour, Odo finds himself singing “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” while Sisko peruses the latest crime report. When Sisko points this out with some amusement, Odo apologizes, but Sisko brushes it off. Then, the two men, united by mutual respect but never really friendship, quietly sing this classic tune with each other.
Vic’s second step is to convince Odo that he has a chance. His advice is remarkably non-horrifying for what amounts to a romantic comedy in the ‘90s. Vic tells Odo that Kira already likes him, and so he’s halfway there. He just needs to give her a reason to see him as a potential romantic interest. None of that is about changing who he is or who she is, but discovering and revealing a new side of himself. Most importantly, Vic councils Odo not to worry about Shakaar or any other man. Worry about yourself first.
While the episode is full of music (including two full songs by Darren), the defining musical number belongs to Nana Visitor. She started her career on Broadway, but never demonstrated her stage skills on the show before now. Here, they put her in a body-hugging cocktail gown and have her croon the classic torch song “Fever.” While the Cramps cover will always be the defining version to me, my love affair with it started here. Visitor’s rendition is smoldering as she slides her way through the slinky tune. It manages to be both fun and sexy, and Visitor has a lovely set of pipes.
Major Kira would never do something like this — she wouldn’t even know about earthling torch songs. This is a hologram, one Vic notes he got from one of Dr. Bashir’s programs (“It took me an hour to get rid of the Russian accent,” he laments), designed to help Odo get over his shyness.
Odo isn’t having it, so Vic steps up his game, doing the aforementioned holosuite-hopping, finding Kira meditating in a holographic shrine to ask her out on behalf of Odo. She agrees, despite her nervousness. To Odo, Vic tells him that he improved the hologram to be more like Kira, so that any practice Odo puts in will actually be helpful. This frees Odo up to be perfectly honest with the love of his life. He can dance — and here, Kira is the one adorably stiff, as she was a freedom fighter, not a dancer. It isn’t until a misunderstanding causes the ruse to crash down. She’s not a hologram. She’s the real thing. Odo practically calcifies in fear and shame, retreating from her by putting up layers of formality in the form of her name. First, she’s “Nerys,” then “Kira,” and finally “Major.”
What elevates this episode beyond standard rom-com fare is the final scene. Kira walks along the Promenade to be joined by Dax. Here, she does serve as a trickster-mentor, confirming to Kira that moments of total clarity are so rare, she’s only had one or two over seven lifetimes. Kira spots Odo emerging from his office and asks him out, showing that she wants this as much as he does. After all, he put in the time to improve himself; he put himself out there. He asked for the chance and finds that Kira is only too happy to give him one. It ends, appropriately with a big kiss on the Promenade.
I absolutely love this episode for any number of reasons. As a fan, I loved seeing my preferred couple earn a happy moment. As a writer, I’m in awe of creating such a light script that is undeniably satisfying and fills deeper character moments established over the course of years. And of course, I love that crazy ‘60s sound.
Next up: It’s time for a prophecy.