And thus another season comes to rest, with what, for most of its length, seemed an oddly personal tale, bereft of any status quo-shifting cliffhanger. In that assumption, I was to be wrong, yet again, setting things up nicely for season 5 (otherwise known as next Tuesday).
There were two completely contrasting elements that topped and tailed this story. First, we have Odo being summoned, in the open, to Garak’s shop for thesole purpose of being set up with the lovely Aroya, proprietress of the new Bajoran restaurant, who sees Odo patrol by at 9.37 precisely, every day, and would like him to come inside (that is a considered, not unfortunate, choice of words). Odo, being a shapeshifter, blows her off, leading to some righteous berating from Garak, because the fair Aroya, being played by Jill Jacobson, is an absolute doll.
Then, after the credits, the senior staff gather to listen to a sabre-rattling message from Chancellor Gowron, threatening the annexation of the Archanis sector. These are threatening times, though Archanis is far from DS9 and little to be done.
In between these little tasters, Odo collapses in agony after fits, and is taken to the infirmary. The diagnosis is simple though a cure is anything but: Odo’s changeling body is destabilising, its molecular density both fluctuating and diminishing. he is losing the ability to shapeshift, to maintain a cohesive shape as a solid. It doesn’t take long to realise that the Federation has no cure, and that only the Founders may be able to help.
The desperately weakened Odo, who is clearly dying, is taken on the Defiant into the Gamma Quadrant, where a beacon broadcasts an appeal for help that brings the Female Changeling, with a Jem’Hadar guard. Odo must become part of the Great Link if his abilities are to be restored. But privately she tells Odo that he is to be judged. A full season ago, in ‘The Adversary’, the finale to season 3, Odo broke the Changeling’s most fundamental law: he killed another Changeling, did harm to him. No Changeling has ever harmed another before. Odo, who has spent his life enforcing justice, insists he must undergo justice.
With Sisko and Bashir as completely passive observers, Odo liquefies and joins the Great Link. It is massive: an entire planetary surface covered by an apparent ocean, with nothing but a single, tiny, rock upthrust on which the two humans wait.
Above, Garak tries to take action. He’s on the mission to keep Odo’s mind active with innuendo about his ‘past’ as a spy and assassin, but his own motive is to seek information as to potential Cardassian survivors of the battle earlier in the season. He is told that they are dead, that he is dead, the entire Cardassian Empire is dead, for attacking the Founders. His response is a abotage attack, intending to fire on and destroy the entire Founders’ planet, and all the Founders with it, ending the threat to the Alpha Quadrant decisively. True, Sisko, Bashir and Odo will also be killed, and the Jem’Hadar will slaughter everyone on the Defiant, including Garak, but their lives are a small price to pay for the security of a whole Quadrant.
It’s a familiar moral quandary, here given little debate and all of it by Garak as he and Worf engage in combat (Worf’s only response in rejection is that he is a warrior, and this is only murder. Garak finds him a great disappointment.) Actually, I was on Garak’s side here: sometimes, sacrifice is worth making.
The outcome of the judgement is unexpected. Odo is returned, naked and alive, with hairy arms and legs. He has been stripped of his shapeshifting abilities. he is now a solid, a human. He is one of them. Only his face remains unchanged, as a reminder of what he was, what he’s lost. And Odo feels that loss, keenly, from the need to wear a uniform now, whose wool itches, the feeling of hunger for the first time, and a reappearance by Aroya, offering… well, we all know what it is she’s offering, and Odo seems a touch more responsive.
(Aroya was intended to be a season 5 recurring character, as Odo’s love-interest, but between seasons it was decided that she wasn’t suitable for him, so this was Ms Jacobson’s only appearance. A great shame: as I said, she was gorgeous.)
For Odo, it is like being in prison (which is Garak’s fate for the next six months). He is no longer what he is meant to be. He cannot change shape. He is in the prison of a single, immutable form.
It’s a sober, serious episode, and there is much for Odo to learn in his new role, but there is still a sting in the tail to come. There is another message from Gowron, this one giving the Federation ten days to get out of Dodge City, or rather the Arachnis system. It is a declaration of war in all but name, and DS9 goes on combat status.
But there is something more. Odo recalls flashes from the Great Link,things that were being concealed from him. One was an image of Gowron. This is not Gowron delivering this message. Gowron has been replaced, by a Changeling…