the story: Dax and Odo investigate a colony in the Gamma Quadrant whose inhabitants are disappearing.
what it's all about: Concerning the pettiness of fans watching Enterprise a decade later as they viewed the similar episode "Oasis" (which happened to feature Rene Auberjonois, who portrayed Odo in Deep Space Nine), it's worth noting the extremely myopic view they'd developed at that point, saying it was a rip-off of "Shadowplay." But if you want to be that reductive, "Shadowplay" is basically a rip-off of Next Generation's "The Survivors."
Consider this an object lesson in storytelling. Stories that are similar to each other cannot otherwise be exactly the same. It's always worth at least trying to consider each version on its own merits, because the truth is, there really aren't any new stories, only new versions. If you've found what you think are new stories, you've merely failed to understand them. Look deeper.
The deepest and most relevant level of "Shadowplay" actually harkens back to the original series, "The Galileo Seven," in which Spock elicits new levels of sympathy from his peers and perhaps fans alike (he didn't truly gain equal status with Kirk until the second season). To this point in Deep Space Nine, Odo's gruff exterior and heaviness of his stories (such as "Necessary Evil" a few episodes earlier) probably made it hard to appreciate him, and yet his relationship with a charming little girl in "Shadowplay" helps break the ice considerably. That's the heart of the story right there.
What's great about this is that it reveals Odo to be ultimately more approachable, given the right circumstances, than another Star Trek character with similar problems, Picard, who despite several chances never had an experience like this. In a lot of ways, this led to Odo's relationship with Kira (it's ironic that the subplot of "Shadowplay" actually features her onetime lover, Vedek Bareil). The heart of the series blossomed into having arguably the biggest heart of the whole franchise, and this is the first time fans really get to see it.
That's what happens when you look beyond the surface details of a story. It's also worth noting how essential the charismatic child actor Noley Thornton is to the success of the episode. She'd previously appeared in Next Generation's "Imaginary Friend," but her role is more substantive and endearing in "Shadowplay." She helps make Odo approachable just by showing how easy it can be.
- franchise - A lot of episodes are technically similar to this one.
- series - But this one proves itself pretty series-specific.
- character - It's a key breakthrough in the depiction of Odo.
essential- I won't, however, call it a classic, so this building block episode should be understood in its proper context as a good but not great experience.
Philip Anglim (Bareil)