Wow! That was… underwhelming.
Having ended season 4 on a cliffhanger that exposed Klingon Empire Chancellor Gowron as a Changeling, intent on fomenting war in the Alpha Quadrant and weakening the sector in anticipation of a Dominion Invasion, Deep Space Nine set to tackling the new reality under which we were all going to live by disposing of it in the opening episode. I rather expected more.
Actually, I had mistakenly discovered a few things about the outcome of this development ahead of time, so for once I was aware of the background to this decision, which was to get rid of the Klingons as a menace in general, to enable the series to get back to its primary preoccupation with the Cardassians and the Empire (the Klingons are so Original Series). But the speed with which the baby was thrown out with the bathwater was disappointing, and good in itself as this episode may have been, the naked desire to get rid of an unwanted plot made it a very unsuccessful season opener, and cast an unwanted shadow back over a lot of season 4, by declaring the Klingon development to be a false direction.
In terms of plot, this was relatively straightforward. Sisko and Dax return from Starfleet HQ with the former ordered to infiltrate the Klingon Empire and expose Gowron. In order to do so, Sisko has himself, Chief O’Brien and Odo transformed into Klingons (a very good make-up job for which the episode won awards) and, under training from Worf in how to think, act and behave like a Klingon, get delivered by Gul Dukat in his captured Warbird to Ty’Gokor, the military HQ.
There, they will plant four devices that will create a radioactive field inside which any Changeling will revert to its natural gelatinous state. Unfortunately, they are identified, captured and their equipment destroyed by Gowron’s second-in-command, General Martok, who, it appears, already suspects Gowron. Martok frees them to expose Gowron/Shapeshifter by killing him…
The other aspect of the episode is the Redemption of Odo. Having been changed into a solid, Odo has experienced a crisis of confidence. He’s lost who he is, as well as what he does, and with it all commitment to his duty. He’s taken to eating and drinking like a duck to water, after some initial, unportrayed disgust at the whole idea, but he’s missing some of the point as he’d rather listen to the bubbles in what looks like a glass of lager than actually drink it, silly sausage.
Odo thinks of himself as dead weight. Because he can’t do what he used to do, he believes he can do nothing. He’s reluctant to join the mission, nervous and self-effacing on it (Worf calls him out on this during Be-a-Klingon training and it’s a really clever piece of writing).
But, in the tradition of such things, it is Odo who spots the flaw. Worf challenges Gowron to a duel and the Chancellor’s honour requires him to fight, his bodyguard ordered not to intervene. Martok has already refused to make an honourable challenge, wanting the Federation team to simply shoot Gowron down. Odo’s people have no concept of personal honour…
So it is that Odo realises that the Changeling is not Gowron but Martok, who is slain. Sisko’s band are thanked, with typical reluctance, though not Worf who is merely threatened, and the War gets switched off, rather offstage.Odo’s redemption is completed when, back in the surgery and being restored to his original form, Bashir volunteers to give the Constable any face he wants but he prefers to have his old one back.
Press the reset button…
The main problem with this episode is that it would have been perfectly fine anywhere from, say, four to six episodes in, ending a phase during which the Klingon threat was a palpable presence. Up front, and in my case coming only a week since the revelation about Gowron (a clever misdirection by the Great Link), it was a throwaway, too openly getting rid of a storyline seen as an error and an embarrassment. Must do better next week: it is, after all, the 100th episode.