Friday, February 3, 2017

Deep Space Nine 5x8 "Things Past"

rating: **

the story: Odo and several colleagues relive one of his investigations while the station was still under Cardassian control.

what it's all about: This is something of a curious clunker.  One the one hand it was always nice to revisit Terok Nor, the station's name under the Cardassians, because the Cardassians were always ridiculously compelling in this series.  On the other "Things Past" seems like an unnecessary duplication of the second season classic "Necessary Evil."

One gets the sense that the producers were struggling to rediscover the tone of the series, and so they revisited a point at which everything clicked into place so compellingly.  But the timing is extremely curious.  Odo is four episodes away from regaining his shapeshifting abilities, one away from finally receiving a spotlight at all relevant to their absence ("The Ascent").  The big question: why now, for a story like this?  What does it say about him now?  Except as a vivid example of his uncertainty, the newfound doubt introduced by his fellow Founders, it has nothing at all to do with his present circumstances.  Still further along in the season, "A Simple Investigation" reads like a hugely lost opportunity, Odo doing, well, an investigation, which would've been a hugely compelling lead story at a time when he couldn't use his shapeshifting tricks, but instead comes off equally trackless...

In a lot of ways, the Dominion War brought badly needed focus to the series, and you can see it in the ways the fourth and fifth seasons so often didn't know what they should be doing to advance a plot that had been disrupted by the studio, that had built to such a crescendo in the third...The producers were told they needed to broaden their scope.  But it only introduced, well, doubt.  And episodes like "Things Past" happened as a result.

This is not a bad episode.  But it's brought down considerably by the certain knowledge that it could've easily been better.  Even Deep Space Nine wasn't at a point where setting an episode, with no gimmicks, in the past could've been possible. Enterprise later helped lead such storytelling innovation with "In a Mirror, Darkly," a two-part romp set entirely in the Mirror Universe, while Lost would deliver several episodes offering self-contained narratives.  The episodic mindset is a hard thing to shake, the fear of alienating viewers who might have no idea what's going on if they sample a random episode and find something that's not at all what they expected.

The idea would be revisited again in the sixth season ("Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night"), this time with Kira in the lead, and while I don't think that one hits the high notes of "Necessary Evil" either, at least it has a fresh perspective and something to say about a character, directly rather than obliquely.

Still, as I said, Cardassians!  Cardassians everywhere!  Regardless of their moral caliber, always fascinating to watch, especially when they think they're in control of a situation...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Not a good episode to sample randomly.
  • series - Fits into the general framework of Deep Space Nine.
  • character - A sort of allegorical look at Odo.
  • essential - Still, an unnecessary duplication of previous material, and otherwise ill-placed.
notable guest-stars:
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Kurtwood Smith

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