By Robert Ring, Mon, 10/04/2010 – 21:31
I realized while watching “A Man Alone” that there’s something fundamental about Deep Space Nine that appeals to me. Sure, I like this series, and I’ve given reasons for that in my write-ups for the two episodes I’ve watched so far, but this one comes along and its plot does nothing special. It’s a murder mystery. However, it still had me more engaged than 90% of the Star Trek I’ve watched so far. I think the reason for this is that DS9 is so character-centric. The other series have great characters, for sure, but their stories have thus far seemed mostly to revolve around ideas (although TOS seems to be gradually moving in the direction of its characters now that I’m nearing the end of its first season). So, this episode did not have much of a great overarching impact, but the details here and there and the ideas brought up are both relatable and involving, because they are attached to the characters.
Odo is the focus here. An evil smuggler, named Ibudan, is on DS9, and Odo wants to kick him off, but Sisko won’t allow it, saying he hasn’t broken any laws. Soon Ibudan is murdered, and while Sisko claims he doesn’t believe Odo had anything to do with his death, he orders him off the case. In the meantime, word gets around about Odo’s conjectured involvement in the crime, and soon it seems everyone visiting the station has it out for him. Eventually, after Odo experience some persecution and a near beat-down at the hands of a mob, Julian Bashir solves the murder. It was actually Ibudan murdering a clone of himself so as to frame Odo. Hey, Odo told us this guy was mean.
See? This is why I like DS9 so much. The plot is just about as basic as you will find in an episode of a Star Trek series, but it’s what they do with the characters within the plot that makes it enjoyable. Primarily, it tests Odo’s judicial philosophy. When arguing that Ibudan should be kicked off the space station (because the guy truly has done some deplorable things), he touts the virtue of upholding justice over the law, saying, “Laws change, depending on who is making them. But justice is justice.” It reminds me of the faux super-conservative newspaper article at the end of Chapter X of Watchmen, where the writer asks, “[I]s it not more noble to follow the course of right and justice; to serve the spirit of the law rather than its every dot and comma?” Both Odo and this fake columnist have a point, but the problem, I believe, is that when you step outside the law, anything can happen. So, societies make laws and agree to adhere to them, almost as a compromise. We know they’re imperfect, and we try to adjust and fix them as we go along, but it’s the best way we have of assuring that everyone is treated fairly and equally.
Now, apply this to The Next Generation’s “Justice,” of course, and you get a different perspective on the matter. But I don’t have the time or energy to go there right now.
Odo gets to see the other side of his philosophy when the mob comes after him. As a clearly frightened Odo locks himself in his room, the others stand outside waiting for him until finally Sisko and DS9 security come to break them up. One individual in the mob uses the same term — justice — when Sisko asks what they are after. And justice truly is what they want, but their anger has blinded them to the dangers of a society in which justice is not arrived at through a previously agreed-upon system. I’m hoping that at some point in the season this experience will be shown to have become a part of Odo, an experience that has allowed him to view his own mindset from a different angle. Either way, though, for the time being we get a perfect thesis/antithesis scenario.
It’s the meditation ball game!
Jadzia Dax suddenly becomes extremely interesting in this episode. “She” is, of course, a Trill in a woman’s body, but at this point it seems the character is more fundamentally a sexless Trill than anything else, despite Jadzia’s physical body. It’s great how they set her up to be a former (male) friend of Sisko’s and also a current potential romantic interest of Bashir. This subplot really calls into question the concepts of friendship and romantic love as they relate to gender. Through both Sisko’s disinterest in Jadzia as an attractive female and Bashir’s interest in her despite her formerly inhabiting a male’s body, the very nature of the character suggests that romantic love in its most basic form should not be dependent upon gender. However, just as it is easy to see why Sisko has no desire for a romantic relationship with his old buddy in a woman’s body, it is also easy to see why Bashir’s knowledge of her gender temporality does not affect his attraction to her. So, maybe this is actually proof that romantic love is inherently and inevitably influenced by one’s physical characteristics — Bashir cannot ignore the woman’s attractiveness, and Sisko cannot ignore the fact that she used to be a guy. I suppose the question that remains is whether this predilection for attraction to a specific sex (and romantic revulsion from the other) is the result of society or biology (homosexuality, I should note, would be equally applicable to this question, as that, too, could be the result of the same societal or biological influences playing on different genetic/psychological make-ups).
A few more, miscellaneous thoughts on this episode:
- When Odo is being chased by the mob, he looks way too scared as he keeps glancing behind him. Since he’s the station’s constable, I would have expected him to act a little more John Wayne about it all. Run for cover, sure, but don’t cower and keeping looking over your shoulder like an old lady.
- When Odo explains to the Ferengi (I forget which one specifically) why he chooses not to enter into romantic relationships, he says, “There’re too many compromises,” with a pretty defensive tone. Then he goes into a surprisingly prolonged and detailed explanation of why these compromises are too much. Sounds to me like he’s had a bad personal experience with this.
- The kids on Deep Space Nine, especially Sisko’s son, dress even dorkier than Wesley Crusher.
- The facemask pull-off at the end of the episode is incredibly lame. Anything that reminds viewers specifically of Scooby Doo probably doesn’t belong in Star Trek.
- Bashir looks and sounds a lot like a young Gaius Baltar. That amuses me.
I gotta wrap this one up, but I’ll end by restating that this episode demonstrates what I view as a superior style of storytelling over The Original Series and TNG. The plots almost – almost — don’t matter. It’s what we learn about the characters that is the most rewarding. Since the focus in this series is so much more heavily swayed to the characters and their personal dilemmas than to plot, we get, in my opinion, a vastly more engaging show.