One of the weird effects of going back to watch Deep Space 9 in retrospect, as I’m doing, is that I’m far more conscious of the technical aspects of the series.
For instance, I’m much more aware than usual that the early episodes are building-block episodes, designed to introduce the cast to the audience. The Pilot sets up the situation and gives you an introduction to the people, and the early episodes then building stories around each of the cast in turn, grounding them in our understanding and laying a basis upon which, in the latter half of the season and in later years, the producers can then build developments.
‘A Man Alone’ teased to begin with about who would be its principal character. First, we get the naive, puppyish Doctor Bashir trying to get off with Jardzia Dax and running up against her plain lack of interest in him (not that the Doctor is anywhere near recognising that yet: he’s so inexperienced he sees Commander Sisko as a rival for Terry Farrell’s body.
Simultaneously, we see the O’Briens having a quarrel over being on DS9 to begin with. Keiko doesn’t like it: she’s a botanist, she has no role here, which frustrates as she’s someone who needs to have a purpose, and she especially doesn’t like it as a place for Molly, their daughter, to grow up.
This theme is amplified via Jake Sisko, who has no-one to play with. He makes friends with Nog, son of Rom, a Ferengi (no mention is as yet made of Rom and Nog’s relationship with anyone else on the station, though we do get a first insight into Ferengi business culture, which will eventually lead us to see Quark as other than a crook). Naturally, the two boys get into mischief, are separated by their fathers, and, in a merger of the two strands, wind up not sitting next to each other at the new school opened by Keiko.
But this isn’t what the episode is about, and the true subject of the episode is buried among this early tangle of story-threads. At the bar, whilst the O’Briens argue in obscurity, Odo, the Constable, the Shapeshifter, grumbles with Quark about ‘coupling’. It’s something he doesn’t understand, and there’s a definite misogynist strain to his grumbles about Compromise between couples, which apparently consists of doing what she wants, every time there’s a difference of wishes.
Let’s be charitable and, at this stage, write it down to Odo’s general grumpiness, and also write that stiff-neckedness down to his being the Man Alone, one of a race, daily defying his nature by adopting alien form, with no-one who understands his innermost thoughts and instincts.
Odo’s aloneness is brought into focus by the return to the station of Ibu Dan, a Bajoran smuggler of particularly callous reputation, and a former prison inmate, now released because killing a Cardassian officer is no longer so much of a crime. Odo wants him off the station, orders him off in public, but is overruled by Sisko, as Ibu Dan has done nothing illegal yet.
The next thing to happen is Ibu Dan’s murder in a holodeck suite in conditions that make it impossible for him to have been killed. Except, of course, by a Shapeshifter.
Though even Quark admits that Odo is incorruptible and no killer, the fact of the investigation being headed by its prime suspect arouses a mob. Even Sisko accepts it’s not on, and temporarily suspends Odo, opening up an avenue for the mob to incite itself towards lynch justice.
Of course Odo is not the killer, and it’s Julian Bashir that comes through with the proof. It isn’t even Ibu Dan that’s dead, but it is his clone: specially grown to be killed in a manner that frames Odo, by none other than Ibu Dan himself. Who is taken in for murder, not for the first time, by the Constable.
All’s well that ends well, and we see ourselves out with the first day of School, but not until Sisko’s log observes that though the mob has dispersed, no-one has apologised to Odo. (We are left to assume that Sisko has, but that’s not shown and it would have been better to have done so).
Although in strict accuracy, this is wholly inapplicable to Odo, the episode sets in motion constructing a skeleton for his character, ready to accept flesh over succeeding weeks.
Major Kira last week, Odo today: who will I start to learn about next week on Deep Space Nine Tuesday?