“A Man Alone”
Review Originally printed in ORACLE
Newsletter July 2010
Review written by Mary Shaver
Mr. Odo, you’re not going to take the law into your own hands…
The law? Commander, laws change, depending on who’s making them. Cardassians one day, Federation the next . . . but justice . . . is justice . . . and as long as I’m in charge of Security . . .
If you can’t work within the rules, I’ll find someone who can.
Odo learns that ostracism and censure are not strictly the purview of the Cardassians as he faces the same racial bigotry under Federation control of DS9.
A Bajoran man Odo had imprisoned for the murder of a Cardassian turns up on DS9, pardoned by the Bajoran Provisional government. Over Odo’s strenuous objections, he is allowed to remain. When he turns up dead, Odo is the prime suspect and is relieved of duty. Suspicion and prejudice sweep through the station and Odo finds himself facing a lynch mob intent on carrying out vigilante justice on the ‘shapeshifting freak.’
“A Man Alone” was actually the second episode shot after the series premiere “Emissary,” although it aired a week after “Past Prologue.” Still in its infancy, Deep Space Nine was just beginning to introduce the audience to the station’s residents and their relationships with each other. “A Man Alone” is not only a character study of Odo, it is also a commentary on the dangers of being ‘different.’
Some of Odo’s backstory was supplied in “Emissary” with his speech to Kira.
“Major, I was found in the Denorios Belt. I don’t know where I came from . . . no idea if there are any others like me. All my life, I’ve been forced to pass myself off as one of you . . . always wondering who I really am. The answers to a lot of my questions may be somewhere on the other side of that Wormhole.”
Odo is not only a possibly one-of-a-kind being, he is also Chief of Security on the station, a position he held during the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor and one he retained after the Cardassian departure. He is a commissioned officer in the Bajoran militia, and he has Major Kira’s trust and respect. It can be inferred that he also has the trust of the Bajoran Provisional Government which is meaningful given the still-fresh wounds inflicted by the Cardassians. After fifty years of Occupation, emotions are running high amoung the Bajoran people toward their recently ousted oppressors. The Bajorans weren’t willing to cut anyone any slack that might have collaborated or even sympathized with the Cardassians. The Ilvian Proclamation, drawn up after the Bajorans regained their freedom, was a document listing every Bajoran who worked for the Cardassian-controlled Occupational government. Odo’s name wasn’t on that list, despite the fact that he worked under Gul Dukat maintaining security on the Promenade when the station was run by the Cardassians. This can only mean that, far from being a collaborator, Bajorans on the station were the beneficiaries of Odo’s presence and position on Terek Nor.
In these early episodes, Odo is portrayed as very much the hard bitten cop whose first reaction is to use physical force to subdue a suspect (the later Odo takes a much more subtle approach, using violence only as a last resort), and who is as jaded and cynical as they come. He eschews romantic entanglements because of his unwillingness to compromise (a first nod to the ‘fluid in form, rigid in thought’ personality trait that is more deeply developed as the series progresses), and his sarcastic reply to Quark’s observation that Keiko O’Brien doesn’t like it on DS9 (“who does?”) reveals a man who’s seen it all and for whom life holds no surprises.
Odo is a loner, an outsider who lives on the fringes of a world he doesn’t belong to. He makes no effort to integrate into society. Whether this is by choice or the result of previous rebuffs is unknown at this point. What drives Odo’s life is his unrelenting pursuit of justice. The presence of Ibuidan on the station is an affront to all Odo stands for. He can barely contain his disdain as he orders Ibuidan off DS9. Sisko intervenes and breaks up the brawl that has ensued between Odo and Ibuidan.
Odo’s explanation to Sisko provides a rationale for his actions. Ibuidan was a black market trader during the Occupation whose greed outweighed his compassion. Odo had him arrested and convicted for murdering a Cardassian, but justice was perverted when the Bajoran Government pardoned him. Odo lays out his core values to Sisko about justice trumping law, and is clearly startled by Sisko’s response. Odo’s reaction to Sisko (“If you can’t play by the rules, I’ll find someone who can.”) is indicative of a couple of things. First, it would appear as if his former boss (Dukat) was willing to play fast and loose with the law as long as it served his own purposes. This gave Odo a lot of latitude which he used to shield any number of Bajorans from the Cardassian penal system.
Odo didn’t do it because he was particularly sympathetic, but because using his moral compass, it was ‘right.’ Secondly, Odo and Sisko are near strangers. Odo has managed to carve out an existence and a career amoung humanoids due to his powers of observation. Having spent his entire sentient life in the midst of Bajorans and Cardassians, and he can read them like a book. Until now, however, he hasn’t run across any humans, so his ability to interpret their facial expressions and body language is limited. Also, he is almost certainly suspicious of the motivations of the Federation in offering their services to Bajor (a suspicion fed by Kira’s rather vocal mistrust of Star Fleet). And yet here’s Sisko insisting that he‘toe the line’ and follow the rules.
Odo finds himself in a shaky position. While Sisko requested a Bajoran First Officer as part of Star Fleet’s takeover of the station, he is here at the pleasure of the Bajoran Provisional Government, a tottering and unstable collection of politicians. A word from Sisko, and he could be gone. Proud and independent as Odo is, the last thing he wants is to appear weak, groveling for his job. So he has no choice but to brazen it out. If Sisko wants him to play by the rules, he will – or he will give a reasonable imitation of it. Odo also knows he is ‘different.’ Different in form, different in thought, different in disposition. Perhaps it is his own hyper-awareness of his singularity that causes others to view him that way as well. And being different can be hazardous when you are nothing like a homogonous group of humanoids, whatever their species.
The obvious enmity between Odo and Ibuidan takes a perilous turn when the Bajoran turns up dead in a massage parlor holosuite with a knife in his back. Odo begins a homicide investigation but it’s clear this isn’t going to be routine. For starters, the evidence suggests no one but Ibuidan was in the holosuite, begging the question of how the murderer gained access. As Bashir collects forensic samples for analysis, the first seeds of suspicion regarding Odo are planted. Kira is called into Sisko’s office, where a friend of Ibuidan’s, a Bajoran named Zayra, relays a conversation he had with Ibuidan wherein Ibuidan confessed that he was frightened that Odo would kill him. The conversation took place an hour before his murder. Zayra retells the story with heartfelt sincerity, prompting entirely different reactions from his audience. While Sisko admits that he finds the story ‘disturbing,’ Kira leaps to Odo’s defence, saying “there isn’t a more honorable man on the station than the Constable.” Throughout this exchange, Zayra comes across as understandably concerned though reasonable. His words however have had the intended effect.