One where the real payoff doesn’t happen for another year-and-a-half.
The mind…she boggles!
I need a moment…
I remember seeing this episode first-run many, many moons ago. I never caught it in reruns at all, so I’m watching it via the magic of DVD for the first time in *mumble mumble* years.
I remember that at the time I watched it I thought it was a pretty boring and pointless episode. Even the not-very-exciting chase scene in the middle of the episode couldn’t disguise the fact that nothing really happens.
Imagine my delight that, upon re-watching it, I realized that I was dead wrong. It’s not pointless. In fact, it’s so entirely pointy that it physically hurts.
Episode 11: Vortex
The surface story is pretty straightforward. Gamma Quadrant alien is rescued by an Alpha Quadrant ship on his side of the wormhole and brought to Deep Space Nine. Unfortunately for our eager Federation officers (who are batting exactly zero on the welcome mat duties so far), Gamma Quadrant alien isn’t all that interested in making new friends of the upright kind.
All you need to know is that our Gamma Quadrant alien manages to run afoul of the law (read: shapeshifter Constable Odo) when he attempts to rob a pair of, well, space pirates doing business with Quark and kills one of them in self-defense.
Needless to say, this gets him tossed into a cell to await trial. The space pirate leader, who’s the surviving twin of the man who was killed, wants blood. Meanwhile, the Federation officers start to wonder if they’re ever going to get this “Welcome to the Alpha Quadrant” deal right. As Dax notes, showing up on the doorstep of someone’s homeworld and telling his government, “Hello, we’re holding one of your citizens because he murdered one of our citizens” is not exactly good First Contact protocol.
In the end, Dax and Sisko decide to do just that, while Odo tries to get the visiting alien to implicate Quark in the robbery-gone-wrong and prevent the pirates from killing his prisoner.
The alien, meanwhile, starts spinning the strange tale of “the changelings” in the Gamma Quadrant. He tells Odo “the changelings” were a proud people who refused to take humanoid form and remained in a liquid state. As a result, they were persecuted and violently driven from his homeworld. However, the alien claims he knows where the last remaining colony of changelings is. As it so happens, it’s in a very dangerous area of the Gamma Quadrant — a spacial anomaly called a vortex.
When Odo calls bullshit, our visiting alien gives Odo a stone that — surprise, surprise — shapeshifts.
Cat? Meet cat nip. Enjoy your high.
Not that Odo is so easily swayed from his sense of duty and justice. Not even Bashir’s confirmation that the stone contains organic material similar to Odo’s is enough to convince Odo to set the alien free and follow him into the space vortex where the changeling colony supposedly exists.
Sisko and Dax eventually return with news (following a highly disconcerting conversation with a representative of the isolationist and possibly psychotically paranoid government) that the alien’s homeworld can’t wait to get him back so they can punish him for crimes he allegedly committed there. Odo is assigned the task of transporting the alien back home where, it’s pretty clear, he’ll be sentenced to death.
You can see where this is going already, can’t you?
To make a long story short, Odo and his prisoner do end up going into the vortex, not because the prisoner tempted him into it, but because the pirates bent on revenge chase their runabout into it. It’s then, and only then, that Odo finds out the real reason why our guest alien of the week was so desperate to get to the vortex.
And so, when the episode comes to a close, Odo is pretty much convinced that he’s come up goose egg on his search for his origin, his homeplanet, and his species.
It just so happens that he’s completely wrong about that.
The fantastic points about this episode lie in the details:
- Quark’s resident barfly (an overweight alien with a mournful face that’s been hanging around in the background in almost every episode so far this season) finally gets a name: Morn. And if you’re thinking that Morn is an anagram of Norm, you’re dead on. Turns out the writers of DS9 were big Cheers fans, so they gave in to their inner fanboys and plopped their ode to Norm right in the middle of DS9. Morn even had his own running joke. According to all the other characters, Morn is gregarious, funny, a ladies man, and never shuts up. Yet we the audience don’t hear Morn utter a single word for seven whole years.
- It’s the first instance of Odo being referred to as a “changeling” (everyone else on station calls him a shapeshifter and always have). The fact that the Gamma Quadrant alien is the first to call him changeling and does so consistently is far more significant that you might suppose if you’re watching this episode with no notion of what happens later on in the series.
- The details that Gamma Quadrant alien shares about "the changelings" are also highly significant as well. I had a good ol' time bingo-ing everything that was said because I know what's true and what's a lie.
- The writers keep you guessing right up to the very end on whether our Gamma Quadrant alien is telling the truth, telling only part of the truth, or lying his alien butt off. There’s a nice slight of hand at the beginning of the episode where Quark and Odo get into an argument and Quark loudly accuses Odo of being paranoid, suspicious, obsessive, and inflexible. Naturally, our Gamma Quadrant alien hears this. So it’s no big surprise when he repeats these traits (along with a sense of fairness and justice which is a ploy to butter up the unbutter-upable Quark) as being “typical” of Odo’s species.
- Even though Odo is tempted to a certain extent by the stories, he doesn’t ever take the bait. The only reason why he ends up in the vortex where the “changeling colony” supposedly exists is because he’s forced into it by a third party. The only reason why he steps foot on the rock-like planet is because the runabout is forced to land there. Not only that, he immediately calls his prisoner on lying as soon as they’re in a cavern on the planet’s surface. In short, the plot manages to get Odo in that position in a way that’s completely believable for his character.
- The Gamma Quadrant alien does admit in the end that he based much of what he said to Odo are based on “legends” he heard on his homeworld about changelings, going so far as to say that until he met Odo, he never believed they were real. He also hints that the story of them being violently driven away are part of those legends. Again, this bit of information turns out to be a lot more significant than you’d think if you were watching this series with no notion of how it ends.
- Yet more evidence that life in the Gamma Quadrant isn’t a bed of roses. The homeworld the Gamma Quadrant alien comes from is presented as inhospitable and isolationist. The punishment meted out to “criminals” occurs without a trial and is horrific in its violence. In the end, you get a sense of why Odo’s prisoner was desperate enough to get drawn into a planned robbery.
- They’re finally starting to get the Odo make-up right (although Rene Auberjonois still looks a bit puffy in the cheek area). Before this episode, “Odo” definitely had lines on his face (a bit of a no-no). Now it’s that smooth-skinned look that he sports through the run of the series.
As I said: If you watch the episode of no knowledge of what’s to come, it’s a bit of a “meh.” But, if you’ve seen the whole series through, you’ll be jumping up and down with the sheer joy of watching it.