the story: Odo finds himself in possession of an infant Founder.
what it's all about: Every time a character gives birth in a TV show, it's big news, one of the biggest events of the whole series. And yet, when Kira finally gives birth to O'Brien and Keiko's baby (it's sci-fi, not your traditional surrogate route), the event is completely overshadowed by the summary I just gave above, and this is a very, very good thing.
Tangentially it solves the needless problem of Odo having lost his shapeshifting ability at the end of the previous season as a punishment from his fellow Founders. Without comment it also reflects a story thread about the Founders, that they sent off hundreds of infants into the galaxy long ago to explore space and find out what the "solids" were like again (Odo himself was one of these infants, and he meets another in the seventh season's "Chimera").
But it's really about Odo finally finding some peace in his life, a sense of closure that finally allows his relationship with Kira to move forward (she herself becomes open to the idea in part because of the aforesaid birth, which presents a void in her life Odo is able to fill, which the end of the episode subtly reflects).
This is achieved by his second reunion with Dr. Mora, the Bajoran scientist we first met in "The Alternate." Mora was responsible for studying Odo when he, too, was merely a lump of indeterminate matter, which the infant Founder seems to be without having learned anything about its nature on its own. In fact, Quark is once again the agent of discovery (he was with a Jem'Hadar infant, too, in "The Abandoned"), handing off to Odo what seems to all intents and purposes already a lost cause. Odo refuses to give up, but he makes very little progress until Mora shows up offering his advice.
Yet Odo remains extremely bitter about his treatment under Mora's care, regardless of the results. Despite the fact that he retains the general appearance of Mora to this day (notably, the hairstyle), Odo's resentment at being considered a science experiment, with all the implied indignities, has never abated, and their prior reunion certainly did nothing to change his mind.
This is a season of remarkable change, however, perhaps most symbolic in "Begotten" itself. A war was about to be shown in Star Trek for the first time ever, and this necessitated bold storytelling in order to justify, with all the safety nets frequency imposed in the franchise removed. For the first time, there would be acknowledgment that even something a character thought was an immutable wrong had in fact been a good thing. This is the very antithesis of Gene Roddenberry's original vision, and yet it shines boldly on the core of that vision, which is the search for humanity at all costs, the shattering of all illusions.
Anyway, this one always struck me as one of the defining moments of the series, even before I had properly experienced Odo and Mora's previous encounter in "Alternate." It's hard not to be choked up when the infant Founder mimics Odo's face, or when the poor little dude dies. It's a true cathartic moment. You'd never think a face thickly covered in prosthetics could be so expressive, and yet this is one of Rene Auberjonois's best such feats. For that matter, although James Sloyan (Mora) appears a number of times in the franchise with a variety of faces, this is his best performance.
Shakaar makes one final appearance, but unlike Bareil before him Kira finds it relatively easy to say goodbye, and that's another indication that everything is about to change...
- franchise - Come for the birth, stay for the miracle.
- series - One time everyone loves changelings in this thing!
- character - One of Odo's defining moments.
- essential - As I mentioned above, this is a true catharsis.
James Sloyan (Mora)
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)
Duncan Regehr (Shakaar)