I’ve now reached the midpoint of season 2. As my regular commenter, Astrozac, has said, the consensus of opinion is that DS9 only really started to get good in season 3, after it was released from the shadow of Next Generation, contemporaneously enjoying its last season. Episodes like ‘The Alternate’, however, demonstrate that the programme was already capable of excellence, and on an increasingly regular basis.
This episode is another of the ‘focus’ episodes, where one of the cast is central to events to a degree that enables us to focus upon their position and character, in ways we previously have not been able to do so. In order not to blur a very serious episode, Quark’s presence is contained entirely within the open, in a routine confrontation with Odo that is interrupted by the unwelcome arrival of Dr Mora Pol.
Mora is the Bajoran scientist who was assigned to study the newly-discovered gelatinous substance that became Odo, the shapeshifter. He is the one who has taught Odo to be what he is in his humanoid form. In short, in everything except genetics, he is Odo’s father, and as such there is an oedipal conflict between them.
Not in the sense of Odo wishing to sleep with Mrs Dr Mora, which is the common notion that springs into everyone’s mind whenever you mention old Oedipus, but in the true meaning of the complex, which is the primal urge to overthrow and destroy the father, and replace him.
Mora is the archetypal proud father, assuming complete responsibility for the creation of Odo as he is, and demonstrating his pride in what Odo has become in exactly the same way an artist expresses pride in his painting. Odo, who left the lab because he needed to break free, to become his own person, to escape being shaped by another, is resentful and suspicious, and not without reason since Mora has always assumed Odo would not be adequate at maintaining a role in the outer world and would one day return, defeated, to the lab of his own volition, placing himself once more under the control of a loving father.
This is the story, and it is one of realisation and recognition on both parts, but most especially that of Mora, who recognises the errors and assumptions of his own position and who freely renounces ‘parental jurisdiction’ over Odo, asking only for the permission, or gift, of playing a small part in Odo’s life henceforth: as a friend and an equal, not as a father.
The realisation of this psychological journey is standard Star Trek stuff. Mora is on DS9 because Bajoran scientists have discovered DNA patterns on a planet six light years into the Gamma Quadrant that closely resemble those of Odo. With Dax and Mora’s assistant, Odo takes Mora to the planet where they discover a metamorphosing lifeform that looks like a patch of red moss. They also discover a pillar carved with mysterious hieroglyphics that they beam aboard to study.
Doing so sets of an instant earthquake and eruptions of volcanic gas that overcome everyone except Odo, because he doesn’t have a respiratory system. But the earthquake and the pillar are red herrings, false trails designed to deflect the audience along paths of speculations that the story avoids.
As is the slightly unusual behaviour of Dax, who’s confined to the medical bay at first, until she turns up unexpectedly after the lifeform seemingly escapes from containment and busts up the lab. This and a couple of other moments – a very mild flirtation back at Doctor Bashir, the strange change in position of the pillar in Dax’s lab (it was in my way so I had it moved) are designed to keep the audience on its toes about whether a second shapeshifter has been found and is impersonating Dax.
In the end, the story’s actions are driven by a less than stellar cheat. Though the lifeform itself is soon discovered to be dead, the station is affected by a shapeshifting monster, making attacks at certain intervals. Mora, still fixed upon driving Odo back to his lab, correctly identifies this monster as being Odo himself, enabling a trap to beset up, which in turn leads to Mora’s damascene conversion. To explain, or rather excuse, Odo’s uncharacteristic violence, the show cheaply resorts to his having been affected by the volcanic gas, even though they’ve already ruled out the gas affecting Odo because he doesn’t breathe.
It’s the one moment of sloppy, rushed thinking in the script, but it’s still par for the weekly drama series course as we’ve seen so often already.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t greatly spoil an episode that hooked onto its powerful themes and played them to great effect. James Sloyan was excellent as Dr Mora, and the show was very clever in selecting an actor with a similar height and facial shape to Odo, and equipping him with the same brushed-severely-back hairstyle, bringing the father-son relationship forward in visual form.
And it was even cleverer by not having Quark point this out for the hard-of-thinking.