Review: DS9 – Emissary

(or how we came to meet Odo)

by OdoGoddess
(Review originally printed in ORACLE newsletter, July 2003)

(To clarify, my review only covers Odo, and is not meant as a review of the entire cast or episode.)

Our first view of the constable is flat and slightly distorted. This is because the view is of his face on a flat-image screen in Ops. Even so, three observations can quickly be made from this brief introduction.

1) Odo trusts Kira implicitly–if she says a crime is taking place, then it is. With the station equipment in shambles and only partially functioning, many others might have asked if she was sure of her facts, questioned the veracity of the readings due to the uncertainty of the equipment. Odo takes her at her word.

2) We can see that Odo and Kira have worked together long enough that they intuit each others’ desires. In this case, Kira knows Odo would wish to be informed of the transgression taking place and Odo understands Kira’s unspoken request to be the one to take care of the situation personally and not just assign some deputies to it.

3) Odo has almost soulful blue eyes. It is said that eyes are the window to the soul. In Odo’s character’s case, this is almost literally true. Thanks to layers of makeup, René often had to convey the constable’s emotions through his eyes and body posture. In this simple scene, he manages to convey both frustration at the state of the station as well as a willing eagerness to engage in a fray. No deskbound officer this, but a hands-on cop who relishes a chance to deal with wrongdoers.

Often, policemen who relish their work are overzealous in the undertaking of their duties. Their job becomes their life, and outside of their job they are at a loss. Sometimes, policemen who enjoy capturing lawbreakers feel they are bringing a much-needed sense of balance, of order, to their sphere of influence. When watching “Emissary” for the first time, we did not know which type of cop Odo might be, or whether, perhaps he is some combination of both. Either way, this brief introduction is extremely effective. When a simple scene like this tells one so much about a character, you know this is going to be a show worth watching!

Which leads to Kira. It is interesting to note that it is through Kira that we are introduced to Odo and, in this scene, we quickly recognize his importance to her. She relies on him, she turns to him, she trusts him. She also sizes up a situation rapidly and my impression of her contacting Odo to let him know of the break-in was that she hoped to let Sisko see the constable in action. The possibility exists that Starfleet might wish to install their own security chief, after all. Kira takes action to forestall this by allowing Sisko the chance to see for himself just how useful Odo is.

The next scene with Odo establishes his shapeshifting nature, his irascibility, and his loyalty (and presumably the other Bajoran personnel’s loyalty) to Kira. Aside from the novelty of having a shapeshifter as a security chief, the morphing sequence is not as integral to the character of Odo as is his emotional nature. For those who look at his masked features and ask “what emotions?” or for those who feel that the only interesting aspect of his character is his ability to morph, such subtleties are lost. For the rest of us, they are delightful clues to a fascinating character.

His first words to Sisko are memorable: “Who the hell are you?” His very tone is a refreshing change for the Trek universe, filled with indignance, not only at Sisko’s presumption to use a weapon on his Promenade, but also daring to demand just who has the right to interrupt him at what he sees as his primary duty: apprehending a criminal and restoring order.

This question establishes how very different a Trek this series was to be. Gone is the automatic reverence and deference to a Starfleet officer. The Bajorans aren’t given to buying into the platitudes Starfleet personnel are prone to. They are suspicious, mistrusting, uncertain and territorial. Having been raised on Bajor (as we come to learn), Odo is no exception. They don’t give in, they don’t give way or even feel relief that the 24th century version of the cavalry has arrived to their war-torn area.

“Who the hell are you?” An apt question indeed.

Many die-hard Next Generation fans found this scene, and Kira’s barely held-back belligerence toward Sisko, a turn-off. However, just as many fans who were tired of the improbably thornless roses to be found in Federation benevolence cheered inside. Finally, a series that wouldn’t kowtow to the Prime Directive or tout the unquestioned truthfulness of Starfleet officers and posit that the idyllic life within the Federation was superior to others. While many find thornless roses pleasing, to others roses without thorns aren’t worthwhile. It is through the handling of the “thorns” that we learn how to deal with difficult situations in life…and come to fully appreciate the beauty of the rose, the beauty of life. Needless to say, this viewer appreciated the thorns, the imperfections if you will, presented in Deep Space Nine.

“Who the hell are you?” We will come to learn the answer, and Sisko will come to earn Odo’s trust. But first, even after hearing the answer, Odo merely looks to Kira for guidance. Her he trusts. Through this wordless exchange, we come to see the deep loyalty Odo holds for Kira. Given that he is the Security Chief, we can also assume that as Kira goes, so go the station’s Bajoran officers. Sisko recognizes this. He allows Odo to handle the situation, and in so doing, learns something about the nature of the station’s community.

Odo later proves his unique usefulness by sabotaging a Cardassian ship for the new station commander and, again, his nod of gratitude after being beamed back to the station is to Kira. But the risks he’ll take for her are not without reciprocation.

Later, when Kira decides she must investigate the strange phenomenon of a wormhole in the Denorios Belt, Odo strides to overtake her chosen away team. First he declares the situation is a security matter and therefore requires his presence, but when Kira asks him to remain behind, he drops all pretense and reveals his true reason for trying to join the away team: he was found in the Denorios Belt, he’s been raised among Bajorans and forced to emulate them all his life, he hopes to find answers on the other side of the wormhole.

Ah, Odo, be careful what you wish for!

At first airing, we knew as much as Odo did about the wormhole or the Gamma Quadrant. Re-watching this episode, his innocence is almost painful to witness. Not that I would have chosen to keep him ignorant, but indeed, one can’t help but wonder what would have happened if his people had never been found. Such a fragile and wonderful “what-if.” Hindsight is not always kind.

Kira allows him to accompany the team, fruitlessly as it turns out, but it establishes that the trust and loyalty between them truly swings both ways.

The final scenes in this episode with Odo involve him and Bashir, struggling to save the life of an injured woman on the Promenade. His reluctance to help could be construed as squeamishness, but this viewer felt his reluctance stemmed from personal experience among the Bajorans. How many times, I wondered, had he reached out to touch, tried to help, only to be rebuffed because of his difference? In the end, of course, he controls his squeamishness (if squeamishness it was) and helps Bashir save the woman. And we knew he would.

Whatever his background or declared feelings–above all, Odo wants to help. He wants to feel necessary, useful, wanted. Don’t we all?

Screen capture from