Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

[DS9] Jammer's Review: "Chimera"

Expand Messages
  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for the episode Chimera. If you haven t seen the show yet, beware. Nutshell: A tour de force of heartfelt
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 24, 1999
    • 0 Attachment
      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for the episode
      "Chimera." If you haven't seen the show yet, beware.


      Nutshell: A tour de force of heartfelt choices and matters of identity.

      Plot description: A shapeshifter, one of "the hundred" sent from the Link
      centuries ago to explore the galaxy, tries to convince Odo to abandon his
      life as a humanoid in favor of a grander quest.

      -----
      Star Trek: Deep Space Nine -- "Chimera"

      Airdate: 2/15/1999 (USA)
      Written by Rene Echevarria
      Directed by Steve Posey

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: ****

      "What's he doing?"
      "Being fog. What's it look like?"
      -- Bashir and Odo on Laas' shapeshifting on the promenade
      -----

      Ah, how wonderful, complex, and deeply involving Rene Echevarria's stories
      can be, all the while being so extremely straightforward and honest in
      plot. Even though his episodes earlier this season ("Afterimage,"
      "Chrysalis," "Covenant") haven't quite clicked for me, I almost always
      appreciate what Echevarria tries to do on a character level. He also seems
      to have been the force behind the most substantive of the Odo/Kira stories,
      including fifth season's "Children of Time"--one of the series' best
      installments--and last season's "Behind the Lines," a compelling view
      lessened only by what came after it.

      Now we have "Chimera," a textured, gripping story full of issues and
      choices and relationships and feelings; it's incredible material, yet in an
      understated sort of way. It doesn't resort to gimmicks; it simply faces up
      to its characters' histories, decisions, and identities from the first
      scene to the last. It's a character episode that will reward those who have
      watched the series and come to understand Odo's angst. It also charts some
      new territory, even though the primary conflict is something Odo has faced
      before.

      I didn't loathe "His Way" from last season the way a lot of people did, but
      I didn't really like it, either. While I found it entertaining, it seemed
      too superficial and trivial given the complexity of the Odo/Kira
      relationship, and I feared that certain story opportunities were never
      going to be available again. Sure, there was the opportunity to create new
      problems within the new relationship, but the question was whether that
      would actually happen, or if we'd simply get contrived soapish stuff like
      what, unfortunately, characterized stretches of the Worf/Dax relationship.
      "Chimera" answers the question, and I very much like the answer.

      Romance on Trek has a shaky track record. Too frequently we receive the
      single-episode pair-up-with-random-guest treatment, which more often than
      not feels forced for the sake of fulfilling some quota ("Second Sight,"
      "Meridian," or this season's "Chrysalis" as DS9 examples; "Unforgettable"
      or even the recent "Gravity" as Voyager examples). Sometimes it comes
      across reasonably, but rarely does it really, really work.

      In "Chimera," it really, really works. For once I could *feel* the
      connection between Odo and Kira in a way that no episode before has been
      able to approach. A big part of that is simply because Echevarria treats
      the characters intelligently, with dialog that makes a great amount sense.
      The rest of the credit goes to performance: Nana Visitor and Rene
      Auberjonois sell the material so well that the Odo/Kira scenes reach a
      poignancy that's never been matched by two lovers on any Star Trek story I
      can remember.

      Frankly, I didn't expect that. Odo/Kira has been an interesting
      relationship, and even after "His Way" it has been watchable. But I've
      never really been moved by their romantic scenes the way I was here. The
      writing usually keeps their relationship as a backdrop to an issue of plot.
      Here it was integral to the plot in an extremely urgent, powerful, and
      affecting way.

      Yet this story is only partially about love; it's equally, if not more so,
      about identity. Namely, Odo's identity, which has always been in a state of
      self-doubt. Since his relationship with Kira became more intimate, he has
      found happy times--"the happiest of [his] life," in fact. He believes he
      has found where he belongs--with humanoids and, more specifically, with
      Kira. But In "Chimera," Odo's self-doubt is brought back to the forefront
      with the appearance of Laas, a shapeshifter who was one of "the hundred"
      like Odo--sent away from the Great Link centuries ago to make contact with
      other life in the galaxy--and not part of the Founders' more recent,
      insidious agenda to control everything in their reach.

      Laas is an intriguing individual--one of the most interesting guest
      characters in recent memory, simply because he's allowed to exist as a
      believable entity whose actions and dialog grow out of the character,
      rather than some need to fulfill a plot element. The plot of "Chimera"
      *grows out of* characters, and that's perhaps why it's so simple and so
      effective.

      Of course, it also helps that Laas is exceptionally well performed. Laas is
      played by Garman Hertzler, a.k.a. J.G. Hertzler, who is so convincing as
      Laas that I didn't even realize Garman and J.G. were one and the same until
      after I'd seen the entire show. Hertzler displays quite an acting range
      between Laas and Martok (who doesn't appear in "Chimera"); with that gruff
      voice, Hertzler often chews the scenery as Martok, and here that voice is
      so different and controlled that it rarely can be distinguished as the same.

      But even more important is Echevarria's idea of who Laas is. Like Odo, Laas
      has been in search of other shapeshifters, though he doesn't know about his
      people in the Gamma Quadrant and the Great Link. Unlike Odo, his tolerance
      for humanoids has surpassed the breaking point. You see, Laas became
      sentient long before Odo had, and lived a longer life among humanoids
      before abandoning it. In that time he established plenty of
      opinions--opinions that he isn't afraid to voice to Odo and Odo's friends.

      Laas' opinions are interesting because they challenge basic humanoid
      existence in a pointed, unexpected way. In one scene, where Laas meets
      Odo's friends, he unleashes a calm, quiet, but unmistakably unhappy monolog
      on why he dislikes humanoids: They expand and consume, displacing other
      life forms from their natural habitats, and covering worlds with farms,
      cities, and automation. They refuse to exist as they naturally are, instead
      striving for artificial advances. And they aren't tolerant of non-humanoids.

      Even more: Laas tells Odo that his ability to fit in with humanoids is a
      denial of his true existence. With a sentiment that could send any
      reasonable person into an identity crisis, Laas informs Odo that he has
      been assimilated by humanoids to the point that he knows nothing more. And
      Odo isn't sure; maybe Laas is right. Odo has been so enraptured in his
      relationship with Kira that he hasn't thought about being a Changeling in
      some time.

      What's fascinating about these arguments is that the story looks at them
      from different perspectives. Through the other regular characters we see
      doubt and disagreement with Laas, but through Odo we see understanding. The
      weight of Laas' point of view and his understandable distrust for humanoids
      might have been lessened if the story had supplemented his opinions with
      unnecessary "evil intentions" or other silly plot devices. But it doesn't
      do that; it delivers the dialog and points of view and puts Odo right in
      the middle. Then it puts Laas in the center of a situation where we can see
      injustice toward a shapeshifter unfolding.

      That situation involves two Klingons attacking Laas, essentially because he
      annoyed them. They insult him and label him a "Founder." By the time the
      brief skirmish is over, one of the Klingons has died at Laas' hand. (Minor
      complaint #1: I didn't care for the portrayals of the Klingon officers, who
      are badly performed and written as needlessly stupid and hostile.)

      What happens next is exactly what we expect. The Klingons want someone to
      answer for the death of one of their officers, and they plan to do anything
      they can to bring this Changeling to "justice." The distrust is more than
      obvious. Laas has been singled out by the Klingons because of what he is
      more than because of what he has done. It's also interesting that Laas' own
      attitudes don't help matters, but therein lies the problem--Laas has his
      prejudices, but so does everyone else.

      Demonstrating this issue are a number of excellent performances from the
      supporting characters. Even before the death of the Klingon, Colm Meaney
      brings a subtle distrust to his scenes in a way that is so perfectly
      "O'Brien"--with subtle sarcasm that isn't anything approaching hatred, but
      definitely reveals a distrust for Laas that is partially based upon a
      prejudice. It's telling in an understated way, because it proves there's
      some truth behind what Laas believes (even if Laas is unwilling to work to
      make the situation better), yet the point is made in a way that doesn't
      place blame or make indictments, but simply reveals a sad fact.

      And Sisko's pragmatic skepticism, and later annoyance--which comes when Odo
      voices one too many opinions about the way shapeshifters have suddenly and
      covertly become targets of injustice--is a notion that is realistic, and
      perfectly conveyed by Avery Brooks. Odo goes just a little too far in his
      insinuations, and Sisko lets him know. It's a bad situation all around, but
      it has to be dealt with, and Sisko handles it the best he can. Meanwhile,
      Michael Dorn and the director, Steve Posey, make an interesting statement
      with the casual reactions of Worf; as Odo describes the events leading up
      to the Klingon's death (including the absurdity of the two Klingons being
      "menaced by fog"), Worf is quietly disappointed with how the Klingons
      handled the situation, and the ridiculous overreaction of their government.
      The number of levels that this works on is fascinating.

      Then, of course, there's Quark, who manages to get in a pointed speech
      that's at least as challenging as his speech about the human capacity for
      violence in "The Siege of AR-558." This time he informs Odo that the
      humanoid fear of Changelings and other differences stems from natural,
      genetic self-preservation. I've heard this argument before, in real life,
      and I've never bought it as a defense for prejudice, because prejudice is
      learned. But I appreciated Quark's blunt honesty, and that he doesn't
      excuse what the Klingons' did, but merely explains *why* it happened.

      Issues of war also arise; the fact that the Alpha Quadrant is at war with
      Odo and Laas' people is one of the driving forces of tension, meaning that
      unjust consequences are all but guaranteed in Laas' future. The tension is
      understandable given the deceptive abilities of Changelings, but there's a
      point where the line must be drawn, otherwise any shapeshifter would be
      subject to the kind of persecution and internment that, say,
      Japanese-Americans found themselves victim of during World War II. In
      short, Quark's assertion that "this is no time for a Changeling pride
      demonstration on the promenade" is both practical and realistic. It's just
      unfortunate that such a situation has to exist in the first place.

      The fact this story can work in so many implicit issues without turning
      preachy or melodramatic and sticking solely with the truth of the
      characters is, well, pretty amazing.

      And all through this, Odo is torn between love and identity in a way that
      is excruciatingly vivid. Who is Odo, *really*? Is he just pretending to be
      a humanoid? How does he cope with not knowing where he belongs? Does Kira's
      love go beyond the bounds of Odo's familiar humanoid form? I would say the
      answer to the last question is yes, but I would also say that a great deal
      of how others perceive us is based partially on the expectations of our
      physical existence. What happens when that existence could be anything? Odo
      has struggled with such questions his entire life, and Laas serves to
      remind him of where he could go--to exist with others like him in a link
      separate from the Great Link. (And I have a feeling this isn't the last
      time Odo will face having to make this choice.)

      Odo isn't the only person torn. So is Kira when she realizes Odo's search
      for himself might require leaving her behind. She realizes Odo must be
      permitted to find his path--his *right* path--and makes a particularly
      difficult decision when releasing Laas from his holding cell so he can
      escape the station. (Minor complaint #2: I'm skeptical that Kira could so
      easily release Laas from confinement, leaving no evidence of her
      intervention and no suspicions from Sisko.) She can't bear to see Odo stuck
      where he doesn't belong, and she loves him enough to let him choose his
      path, even if that means joining Laas and abandoning his life as a humanoid.

      "Love conquers all," as Laas puts it, may seem like a trite statement, but
      here it shows a huge difference between Laas' philosophy and Odo's. Laas
      faces humanoids with a cynicism that's understandable. And one could argue
      that Odo faces humanoids with a naivete that's equally understandable
      simply because his interactions haven't yet become jaded over a long period
      of time. Or perhaps it's simply that Odo got the luckier draw compared to
      Laas, whose experience with humanoids simply didn't work. (It's a telling
      sign that Laas once had a humanoid lover, but that the relationship fell
      apart.) Echevarria approaches each situation with great insight; even
      scenes that could've been cliche are instead full of probing dialog and
      ideas. (Interesting perspectives like Laas' belief that humanoids are
      tragically trapped in their static forms make all the difference.)

      "Chimera" is a great story--the season's best so far. It's an intelligent
      and emotional outing, solidifying the Odo/Kira relationship in a way that,
      in its final scene, is exceptionally moving because it vies to capture our
      imaginations and emotions and senses all at once.

      So many tantalizing questions, so many honest answers. This is why I watch
      Star Trek. At its best, like with "Chimera," it transcends plot and ends up
      *meaning* something. This episode looks at uncertainty in the universe and
      finds out what it means to the people involved. In the process, we discover
      their feelings and reflect upon them, hopefully while reflecting upon our own.

      --
      Next week: Mobster's take over Vic's lounge--badda-bing, badda-bang.

      -----
      Copyright (c) 1999 by Jamahl Epsicokhan, all rights reserved. Unauthorized
      reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

      Star Trek: Hypertext - http://www.epsico.com/st-hypertext/
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.