An odd, primarily personal, and gently endearing episode, whose main point is that it features as guest star – guest? the woman practically takes over – Majel Barratt, widow of Gene Roddenberry, and the only actor to be involved with every version of Star Trek there’s been.
Barratt is, of course, recreating her role as Ambassador Lwaxana Troi, mother of Deanna, originating on Next Generation. Watching this season of Deep Space Nine now, it’s only too easy to forget that it was running contemporaneously with TNG, and that it was very much the lesser half of any double bill, both in setting and especially audience. Bringing in a TNG character was, as with Q, very much a sensible commercial move.
The set-up is that Lwaxana is part of a four-Ambassador delegation to DS9, studying the wormhole. The naive and inexperienced Doctor Bashir is assigned to escort duties, explicitly translated as keep-them-away-from-Sisko, at which he’s pretty naff as usual. Except when he’s doing his doctoring, our Julian is frankly hapless the series long.
Three of these Ambassadors are one-note A-grade complainers. Lwaxana, the fourth, is considerably more complex, as we can see from the way she keeps well clear of the other three (and Julian) all episode. No, the flamboyant, sexually-aggressive Troi has her mature sights set on Odo.
It’s an interesting, if initially stereotyped, story. Odo, who is not humanoid nor, despite his appearance, remotely humanoid in personality, taste and especially sexuality, is embarrassed by being blatantly pursued by a somewhat-aged but not unattractive woman who’s (comically) determined not to take no for an answer. I say comically, because I did detect, in Lwaxana’s OTT portrayal, a whiff of poking fun. That may be me rather than the writers, but the played for laughs aspect of this approach smacked a little more of Lwaxana as a slightly ridiculous, over-sexed fantasy than a mature determined woman dealing with her urges without fear or shame.
In order to provide a dramatic structure for the episode, a mysterious object materialises out of the wormhole. It’s not a spaceship, it has no life-forms on it and Sisko is properly cautious about what it is. But from the moment the station computers interface with it, and download its programmes to analyse, an increasing number of small things start happening.
O’Brien’s worried that the Cardassian computer has stopped talking back to him and started co-operating perfectly, but every time he takes a break, something breaks down, forcing him back to the Bridge. O’Brien theorises some kind of mechanical lifeform that’s eager for attention. It gets categorised – and treated – as a lost puppy, and the ultimate solution is to divert it into a harless sub-programme in which, without interfering with the computer’s functions, it can be involved and kept amused.
It’s an oddball idea that I did like, but which I still felt let down by. The ‘puppy’ symbolism was cute, but it didn’t disguise the fact that the probe/lifeform was completely unexplained. The writers didn’t have an idea what, or more importantly why, this lifeform was (other than the McGuffin for this episode) and never closed the gap of logic that justified the lifeform being.
The purpose of the McGuffin was to engineer a situation where Odo is trapped, in a turbo-lift, in a remote part of the station, with Lwaxana, for a very long time. Her determined perkiness/pursuit made it even longer for Odo, though the serious point was to demonstrate the sheer isolation of the Constable. We’ve seen it from the outside, but the inner aspects of it were laid out here, even down to Odo’s hair-style having been copied from the Bajoran scientist who’d studied him and, more or less, trained him to be pseudo-human.
The empathetic Lwaxana (who curiously did not use her telepathy on Odo at all in this episode) assisted us to recognise that Odo never had anything resembling a childhood, and has never been in the least socialised, but as the hour of his regeneration cycle, his liquification and potential death by dispersal approached, she became a mature, accepting and stabilising presence, removing her wig to demonstrate to the Constable that solids too embrace change, and offering her skirts as a makeshift pail to hold him.
There was a far less satisfactory conclusion to the Doctor’s sub-plot. O’Brien’s effort to decant the puppy result in systems breakdowns that trap Bashir and the three Comedy Complainers in danger from a fire, but Bashir’s calm efficiency in face of a crisis not only preserves their safety but has all three singing his praises and calling him Julian. Not that we see any of this process (very lazy writing this), it’s just presented as a fait accompli, achieved offscreen and thus completely unconvincing.
Still, like last week, an enjoyable episode, though still with obvious flaws that are the result of short-cut writing. Odo/Lwaxana was Show, the rest of it very much Tell. The difference was very apparent.