“Broken Link” (season four, episode 25; originally aired 6/17/1996)
In which Odo has a change of heart…
You could say be careful what you wish for, but that wouldn’t be exactly fair, would it. Because as much as Odo wanted to belong with the solids, I never got the impression that he wanted to be one. Maybe when he was younger; maybe during some of the early years on Deep Space Nine, he might have wished he didn’t have to worry about the bucket every night, or that he could eat food like everyone else. But the thing about Odo is, he knows who he is. In order to face a life as a seemingly unique organism, a creature who had to concentrate at all times to fit in with the people around him, Odo developed an ironclad sense of himself, a devotion to order, rules, and discipline. Then he finally found his own people, and the rules became less clear. I don’t think the Founders were being intentionally cruel when they encouraged Odo to explore his abilities as a Changeling; they were simply trying to remind him of who they thought he was, and to give him more of a reason to come home. But Odo made his choice, and that choice eventually led to him breaking the one law his people had, and that led to the end of “Broken Link”: Odo is no longer a Changeling. In retrospect, all those speeches about textures and birds and new forms seem cruel. Just as he was getting a sense of his potential, he loses it.
After a season spent mostly in the shadows, the finale finds the Founders machinations once more at center stage when Odo is suddenly struck by a terrible disease. One minute he’s in Garak’s shop, meeting a Bajoran named Chalan who’s is crushing on him hardcore (and quite lovely to boot), the next he’s half-melting and shuddering on the floor. Bashir is baffled; all he can say for sure is that Odo’s molecular stability is in flux, and the worse it gets, the more difficult it will be for Odo to stay in his solid form. Eventually, he’ll revert back to liquid and stay there, which creates something of a ticking clock for the other characters. And they have their own problems. Gowron has decided to up the ante in Klingon/Federation relations, threatening outright hostilities if the Federation doesn’t remove itself from the Archanis system, once disputed territory that the Klingons had supposedly given up a hundred years ago. But that’s for the future. Odo’s problems are more pressing, and if a solution isn’t found soon, he’s doomed.
This leads to the expected, though still disturbing, decision that he has to go back to the Founders and beg for a cure. Sisko proposes taking the Defiant into the Gamma Quadrant, where they’ll send out a message and hope to eventually be picked up by a Jem’Hadar ship; after all, nobody knows where the Founder homeworld is after the Obsidian Order and Romulan attack on their previous planet. A large part of the episode is finding ways to kill time before the Odo returns to the Great Link, but at this point in the show’s run, the writers know how to fill in the gaps, and they have enough established character relationships that what otherwise might have looked like padding or basic expository conversations have a certain weight and resonance. Like Kira making sure to check on Odo when he’s in the Infirmary, even going against Sisko’s wishes to do so, and bringing the constable a report of the day’s criminal activities. Given what we know about their relationship, and how much time they’ve spent together going over their reports, it’s a sweet, sad little moment. Likewise, Quark’s goodbye Odo when he leaves the station (at this point, poor Odo is half-melting everywhere, a simple makeup effect that nonetheless looks great; it does make you wonder why no one on the station thought to bring a gurney to make the transport easier, but maybe Odo was determined to walk) is well handled. As ever, their mutual antagonism is the closest thing either character really has to a long-term connection, and both of them realize it. Quark’s insistence that Odo is coming back is awfully sweet, too.
Then there’s Garak, who insists on coming along for the trip because he wants to find out if there were any survivors from the attack on the Founders’ homeworld. We’ve had something of a drought of great Garak stories in recent weeks, and while his arc isn’t the main focus of this episode, it does show him in fine, ambiguous form. Well, “ambiguous” isn’t quite the right word, as there’s no real question what Garak wants by the end of the hour (at least what he wants right now). But he is someone with his own perspective, a perspective which is often at odds with the show’s heroes, but one which doesn’t make him an outright villain. Here, it’s clear he has some fondness for Odo (hence his attempts to set the constable up with Chalan in the cold open), but his main interest is in determining the fate of the Order. When he confronts the Female Shapeshifter (played by Salome Jens; has she ever been given a specific character name? It’s the woman Odo met the first time he visited the Founders) he learns there were no survivors from the attack. Worse, the Founders hold grudges; they consider Garak and the entire Cardassian race to be already dead, for the temerity of daring to attack.
It’s a quick, verbally brutal scene that pivots well off the Female Shapeshifter’s more empathetic (if still stern) exchange with Odo, and it drives Garak out of his mind. Garak unhinged is a rare sight for the show, and we don’t see the real impact of the Shapeshifter’s threat on the tailor until Worf finds him in the Defiant’s engines, working feverishly to hack into the weapons’ system so that he can fire all phasers and torpedoes on the planet below. Odo is with the Great Link on the planet’s surface, and Sisko and Bashir are waiting for him, but Garak doesn’t care; nor does he care that the nearby Jem’Hadar ships will surely attack and destroy the Defiant, killing everyone onboard, if Garak succeeds. There’s a hard logic to his intentions, belied only slightly by his frenetic behavior—a handful of lives weighed against the potential millions of casualties from an all out war with the Dominion doesn’t seem like much of a price to pay. Worf disagrees, and proceeds to kick Garak’s ass when the Cardassian refuses to stand down. It’s a good fight, claustrophobic and intense, between two sympathetic characters who clearly don’t much like each other. (Well, I doubt Worf likes Garak. It can be hard to tell who Garak likes.)
The heart of the hour, though, lies with Odo, and his journey from pariah to (apparently permanent) exile. Interestingly, the most important dramatic transition happens near the end of the episode, giving little time to examine the repercussions. Odo joins the Great Link—a terrific image, so-so 1990s CGI and all, of an island of stone surrounded by a sea of liquid Changeling—where he is judged by his supposed peers, and they decide his sentence: they make him human. He keeps his old face, to remind him of what he lost, but every ounce of metamorphic ability is stripped clean. While it’s a shock that the Founders would even be capable of such an action (it’s not like we can turn people into horses… yet), the decision makes sense; it’s unfortunate that the writers will lose Odo’s shape-changing abilities, but in retrospect, those were never all that crucial to the character. His outsider status was what defined him, and now he’s even more of an outsider than he was before, an inhuman human, a frozen Shapeshifter, an outcast in any culture. And yet in the episode’s last scene he seems almost hopeful, almost accepting. To the Founders, locking a Changeling into a solid’s form must be an almost unimaginably harsh sentence; given their closed-off culture and contempt for outsiders, this is akin to an execution, minus the mercy of the blade. But to Odo? We’ll have to wait and see what next season has in store. but I think there’s hope left. Bucket or no, he’s a self-made man.
- Garak gets six months for that stunt on the Defiant. I hadn’t even expected him to do time, but it’s a smart choice; there have to be some consequences, after all. I wonder if the writers will use this in season five? (Given the cliffhanger ending, I’m doubting there’s going to be a time jump.)
- The scene of Kira sneezing, and Dax, Sisko, and Worf trying to guess how many times she’ll sneeze before she stops, is pretty adorable. While I realize the plotline was more a matter of behind-the-scenes biology than creative intent, I’m surprised it’s stretching over to the next season.
- Sisko allows Garak to come along on the trip to see the Founders so Odo will have someone to distract him with innuendo and conspiracy hints. That’s brilliant. (And I love that we actually see a bit of the conversations between Garak and Odo, with Garak delivering on what he promised.)
- All the dudes feel naked without the Defiant’s cloaking device on, which amuses Dax to no end.
- “You fight well. For a tailor.”—Worf, finally getting to put the burn on someone.
- Speaking of tailors and nudity, a scene near the end has Garak fitting Odo for his first suit of clothes, right before Odo escorts him to jail. As always, Garak’s ability to risk everyone’s life in one breath, and sincerely wish Odo happiness in the next, is one of his most likeable qualities, and reminding us of all the things Odo will get to experience now (including, maybe, dating) helps to keep the episode from ending on a completely sour note.
- “My job is the only thing I have left.” Be honest, Odo: that’s not much of a status change.
- And, of course, the Gowron reveal. A big shock, and a bold move by the writers. I’m not quite sure yet how I feel about it. On the one hand, I’m glad the show is raising the stakes again; on the other, Gowron has been around since Star Trek: The Next Generation, so how long has he been a Changeling? It’s also odd to see a character at the forefront of the action revealed to be an impostor; up until now, the Changelings had been more interested in keeping to the background. (Sure, there was Leland Orser’s faux Romulan back in “The Die Is Cast,” but even then, Tain was the one who thought he was pulling the strings.)
- I lied about having things to say about the season. Sorry! It was good. The show has maintained the step up in quality of the third season, and found ways to deepen the Dominion conflict, as well as exploring character relationships, etc. Yup, I got nothing. On to season five!
Next week: Sisko and the others have to deal with the Gowron situation in “Apocalypse Rising,” and take a ride on a Jem’Hadar ship in “The Ship.”