Review: DS9 – Heart of Stone

by Mary S. Shaver, Talia Myres, and Marguerite Krause
(Reviews originally printed in ORACLE newsletter, April 2009)

A Difficult Episode

by Mary S. Shaver

This is a difficult episode to review. While on a purely emotional level, the episode resonates with Odo’s overwhelming angst over his feelings for Kira, the viewer is ultimately left unsatisfied when the clever plot twist at the end nullifies the events witnessed. In terms of the Odo/Kira dynamic, this story breaks no new ground and does nothing to forward their relationship. In the end, the viewer comes away with the sense that they have spent an hour on an emotional treadmill—expending lots of emotional energy but not managing to get anywhere.

Episode Overview

Returning from a conference on an outlying Bajoran colony, Odo and Kira run across a rogue Maquis attacking a freighter. They give chase, winding up on a seismically unstable moon in the Badlands. Following their quarry on foot into the moon’s caverns, Kira finds herself trapped by a strange crystal that slowly envelopes her. The oddly unstable properties of the moon render Star Fleet technology useless to aid her escape, and all Odo’s attempts at improvising a way to free her fail. Her demise now a certainty, Kira orders Odo to leave and save himself. He refuses and in a sort of reverse deathbed confession, finally admits to Kira that he is in love with her. But things are not as they appear, forcing Odo to confront love, loss and his ultimate destiny.

Episode Analysis

Capitalizing on Kira’s new freedom from romantic attachments (the wooden-headed Vedek Bariel having been conveniently killed off in the previous episode), the DS9 writers waste no time in presenting her with a new love interest. While Bariel had few fans, it does seem a little cold (not to mention obvious and contrived) to air “Heart of Stone” on the heels of Bariel’s death. While Kira’s choice of men doesn’t say much about her taste, her feelings for Bariel were genuine and heart-felt. Given that, it’s a little unseemly to throw “Heart of Stone” at the viewers a week later. It belittles Kira’s feelings, making her appear shallow and flighty—which she definitely isn’t.

The opening teaser shows Odo and Kira in a runabout, returning to DS9 from a conference on Prophet’s Landing, a Bajoran colony close to Cardassia Prime. A decidedly petulant Odo bickers with Kira over her unilateral decision to decline a dinner invitation. This little vignette offers some insight into the nature of Odo’s and Kira’s relationship. It shows that their friendship is solid and stable enough that they can quarrel and squabble with each other without risk to their friendship. It also demonstrates the reversal of the traditional male and female roles in a relationship. When Kira declines the dinner invitation on both her and Odo’s behalf, she isn’t doing it in her role as his superior officer. She’s doing it because she plays the role of the “alpha male” in their relationship. When Odo peevishly retorts that he would like to have been consulted before she made her decision, Kira laughs at him. It is interesting that Odo, who is somewhat of a control freak in the rest of his life, finds himself on the wrong side of the power curve when it comes to his relationship with Kira, but is content to remain in the subordinate role (we see Odo as the wall at Kira’s back, always supporting but seldom leading, in numerous situations throughout the series).

This mildly amusing opening is in jarring contrast to the rest of the episode, but it should be noted that this is a choppy, poorly edited episode overall, stemming from the decision to include a “B” plot with Nog trying to get into Star Fleet Academy. The viewer is bounced from an emotionally devastated Odo fighting desperately to save Kira’s life, to the semi-comedic Nog attempting to convince Captain Sisko that—Ferengi or not—he really is Starfleet Academy material. Thank the Prophets for DVDs, where we can easily toggle past the “B” plot and concentrate of the Odo/Kira storyline.

We know in hindsight that the writers latched onto the idea that Odo was in love with Kira from the closing scene in season 2’s “Necessary Evil.” The audience was given its first subtle clue about Odo’s feelings later on in season 2 with Odo’s reaction to Kira’s confession that she was in love with Bariel (“The Collaborator”). This was all confirmed in season 3 when Lwaxana Troi throws herself unsuccessfully at Odo, then reveals to him she is aware of his feelings for Kira (“Fascination”).

Kira, however, remains happily ignorant about Odo’s feelings for her. “Heart of Stone” was seemingly the episode that would redress her ignorance.

When Odo and Kira land on the Badlands moon, they have no reason to think this is anything more than an attempt to capture the Maquis raider. They descend into the moon’s caves and given the seismic instability of the moon, decide to split up to cover more ground. Within minutes, however, Kira is on the comm to Odo, requesting assistance. He finds her, more irritated than distressed at her plight. Her foot has become trapped in some sort of rock structure. As Odo takes a closer look, the rock enlarges, further encasing her foot. Unable to shatter the rock, Kira decides to use her phaser on it, but the crystal appears to feed off the energy and shoots further up her leg.

With the situation now becoming serious, Odo tries to beam them out, but the moon’s atmosphere is interfering with the runabout’s transporters. Reluctantly, Odo leaves Kira to return to the ship and attempt to achieve a transporter lock from there. That, and every other option he tries, proves unsuccessful, including the ability to send out a distress signal. Odo’s anxiety grows exponentially as he realizes Starfleet technology isn’t going to help him. The only thing he can do is launch a communications probe, and that will take two days to reach DS9. By then, it will be too late to save Kira.

The tension is further ratcheted up as Odo hears phaser fire as he’s making his way back through the caves to Kira. It seems the Maquis raider made an appearance, but both he and Kira missed their targets. By now the crystal has grown to envelope Kira up to her waist, and Odo is becoming more frustrated and suspicious as he lists off all the technology that conveniently doesn’t work in the moon’s environment. He suspects something is amiss, but he can’t put his finger on it. Remembering an item from Starfleet’s Criminal Activities report, Odo builds a generator designed to emit a vibration that will shatter the crystal—the key will be to find the right wave length, which he admits could take hours to achieve.

Up until now, Odo and Kira have been concentrating on ways to free her from the crystal, but now there is really nothing they can do but wait on the progression of the generator. In an attempt to reassure her, Odo promises Kira that he will get her back to the station—after all, he has a semi-standing date with Chief O’Brien in the holosuites to share his kayaking program. Kira is understandably astonished that her stoic, anti-social Chief of Security actually enjoys some “down time,” even if his choice of entertainment seems a bit odd. Reluctantly at first, then with a measure of enthusiasm, Odo admits to finding the activity a pleasant diversion. We are even treated to one of Odo’s humanoid observations, as he tells Kira, “It’s been my observation that you humanoids have a hard time giving up the things you love, no matter how much they might hurt you” (on the surface, the “hurt” mentioned refers to O’Brien’s having dislocated his shoulder numerous times in his attempts to run the rapids, but Odo’s statement hints at a much deeper meaning). His words evidently strike a chord with Kira. In obvious distress over her situation, she offers a tight-lipped but affectionate “I’m glad you’re here, Odo,” to which he responds with a warm “I’m glad I’m here, too.”

Things go from bad to worse, as a violent tremor shakes the cave. To protect her from the falling debris, Odo morphs into his natural form and spreads himself over her, deflecting the falling rocks. When the trembler subsides, he returns to his humanoid form. In a feeble, but heartfelt attempt to lighten the oppressive tension and fear, Odo takes a line from the detective novels he reads (courtesy of Chief O’Brien)—”We’ve been in worse situations than this one and come out all right.” Kira’s response (“Name three”) confuses him, because it’s not the way the characters in the books respond. This is followed up by another emotionally charged exchange in which Odo says he wishes he knew of some humanoid platitude to cheer her up, and Kira responds that she isn’t one for platitudes, but would rather face the situation honestly and head on. When Odo agrees that he feels the same way, Kira reaffirms their friendship by acknowledging that their shared values are one of the reasons they get along so well.

The harmonic generator has run through its cycle and has failed to find the frequency that will shatter the crystal. Pacing in agitated frustration, Odo voices his growing suspicion that things just aren’t right. He wonders aloud if the crystal itself isn’t changing it’s structure to prevent them from finding the correct frequency. Things have reached a critical point, as the crystal has continued to grow and now only Kira’s head is free. The crystal pressing in on her lungs makes it difficult for her to speak, but she urges Odo to keep talking to her—tell her a story—anything to distract her from her seemingly hopeless situation. When Odo appears at a loss to come up with something, she suggests he tell her how he got his name. Without a drop of self-pity, Odo explains how Dr. Mora’s labeling of him as an ‘unknown sample’ was translated into Cardassian as odoital, which literally means “nothing.” Even after the Bajoran scientists became aware that he was a sentient, intelligent being, they continued to apply the name odoital to him. As a rather cruel joke, they split it into two words, like a Bajoran name—Odo Ital.

This small vignette is just one more example of where DS9 deviated from its Star Trek siblings in refusing to settle for cardboard cutout, two-dimensional characters. In this case, it was the Bajorans who exhibited a level of brutality and cruelty toward Odo, not the Cardassians. This is also further evidence of why Odo would be ambivalent in his loyalties (“Necessary Evil”).

The following is worth repeating verbatim from the episode, because even without the pathos René gives to the dialogue and the scene as a whole, this is just so revealing of the nature of Odo and the depths of this rich, complicated character.

                “The thing is, for the longest time whenever anyone would use my name the first thing I would think of was what it meant—nothing. What better way to describe me. I had no family, no friends, no place where I belonged. I thought it was the most appropriate name anyone could give me. And then I met you (long beat)—and the others. Sisko, Dax, even Quark. And now when I hear one of you call me ‘Odo,’ I no longer think of myself as nothing—I think of myself as me.”

It is difficult to contemplate the extent of this man’s sorrow and isolation. There are a few hints of his backstory (mostly coming from the two Mora-centric episodes “The Alternate” and “The Begotten”), but I don’t think any of us can fully appreciate the sort of life he must have led before finally fleeing from Mora and the lab. While it is easy to view Odo’s life on the station as one that lacks fulfillment by our standards, from his point of view it must have been like emerging from the wilderness. He enjoys trust and respect from his co-workers, he is doing an important and useful job, is regarded as the best at what he does, and, if he lacks some of the social interaction the rest of us take for granted, he has friends and colleagues whose company he shares and enjoys.

The other notable thing about this speech is the obvious importance of Kira to his life. Throwing out the names of the others was merely an attempt to conceal the true nature of his feelings. In Odo’s mind, it was meeting Kira that transformed his life. Meeting and knowing Kira made him believe he was more than “nothing.” Because Kira valued him, Odo was at last able to value himself and, in doing so, was able to become the being he is.

Moved by his story, Kira lets loose a flood of tears (see note at end of this review). It also marks a shift, as both Odo and Kira become resigned to Kira’s ultimate fate, although Odo once again reiterates his belief that something isn’t right. Recognizing that she is doomed, Kira tells Odo to leave and save himself. They argue back and forth on this as Odo becomes increasingly agitated, proclaiming that he refuses to abandon her and that he simply can’t leave her. When she asks why, he appears to shrink in on himself, finally saying the words he’s felt for who knows how long: “Because I’m in love with you.” And with that, he collapses against the stone wall in a heap of shame and humiliation. He is the very image of a broken man—devastated not only by his inability to save her from her soon-to-be death, but also by it taking that death to finally loosen his tongue.

So, imagine his surprise when, without hesitation, Kira responds that she’s in love with him as well. Forgetting for the moment his own shame and self-loathing, Odo turns and gives her a look of astonished disbelief.

Her words seem to galvanize Odo into a re-examination of the events that led them to this point. When they next converse (after an hour of silence), it isn’t the brokenhearted lover speaking, but the cool, steely investigator. He peppers her with questions about the Maquis who shot at her. When her answers don’t add up, he accuses her of lying to him—twice. First about the Maquis. Then about claiming she’s in love with him. It’s heartwrenching to watch and listen to Odo as he quite dispassionately dismantles her assertion that she’s in love with him. “I wish you did (love me), but you don’t.” He goes on, informing her of his prowess in observing human nature and how, in his observation of her over the course of three years, he never saw anything to indicate she thought of him in a romantic way. “You like me—you think of me as a close friend. But love—I’m afraid not.”

The web of deception further unravels for Kira when she says she told him she loved him in order to make him feel better. Odo’s response to this statement tells us a great deal about his determination to see things as they really are rather than the way he’d perhaps like for them to be. It is also a testament to the depths of his relationship with Kira. “You’re lying again. The Kira I know has far too much regard for our friendship to lie to me, even for the best of reasons.” And with this, he levels his phaser at her and demands to know who she is and what she’s done with the real Kira.

And now for the plot twist that invalidates all that we’ve witnessed to this point. Giving him a serene smile, “Kira” and the crystal encasing her morph into the form of the Female Founder we were introduced to when Odo found his people in “The Search.”

The mistress of manipulation, the Founder complements Odo on his skill as an investigator in uncovering her deception, and then in her next sentence she subtly undermines his skills as a Changeling.

It turns out the whole series of events, beginning with the Maquis, was nothing more than an elaborate ruse on the part of the Founder to discover why Odo would choose to live among the Solids rather than his own people. She evidently suspected Odo’s feelings for Kira (a bit of a stretch, given her ill-concealed jealousy of Kira on the Founder’s homeworld). By making Odo believe Kira had died, she hoped to convince him to break his link with the Solids and join the Founders. Again rejecting her offer, Odo demands to know Kira’s whereabouts. With the familiar maddening serenity the Founder again taunts Odo with the mantra of “no founder has ever harmed another.” With his phaser still aimed at her, Odo responds that there’s always a first time. The Founder reveals Kira’s location and then proclaims with a smug certainty that shakes Odo to his very core—”She (Kira) is never going to love you. How could she? You are a Changeling.” Beaming away, the Founder leaves Odo to collect the broken pieces of his life.

No doubt viewers were shocked and surprised by the plot twist when they first watched “Heart of Stone.” While certainly clever, the fact is it nullified all the interactions between Odo and Kira, since the “real” Kira wasn’t a part of the proceedings. And any notion that Odo would reveal any of the more intimate and personal moments is put to rest by that devastating last scene, when Kira asks Odo what made him realize she was an imposter. Odo’s response is like a knife in our hearts.

Odo: She (the Founder) finally made a mistake. She said something I know you would never say.
Kira: What was that?
Odo: Just a slip of the tongue. Nothing important.

What I come away with from this episode is just how much personal and private information Odo inadvertently revealed to the Founder while she was impersonating Kira. Now it is possible she was already privy to this from their previous links, but I suspect not, especially if we are to believe she felt it necessary to go to these lengths to discover Odo’s true feelings for Kira. This only puts the Founder in a more powerful position vis-à-vis Odo, armed with much more ammunition to use against him as she seeks to finagle him into her Changeling clutches.

Additionally, far from moving Odo and Kira forward in terms of their relationship, what happened in “Heart of Stone” almost certainly was a major setback. Knowing what it cost him to say those fateful words, it is highly unlikely that Odo is going to want to go through that again. He is far more likely to further shore up his defensive barriers and be even more remote and more protective of his feelings.

Many fans find this a particularly difficult episode to view. Watching Odo break apart before our eyes is rather like watching an automobile accident in progress. We are helpless to do anything to prevent it, and we can only clutch our stomachs and fight the wave of nausea that accompanies witnessing such a horrific event. For me what makes it worse is that Odo suffered all that emotional angst for nothing. And there’s Kira, blissfully unaware of the terrible torments suffered by her friend. This episode leaves the viewer with a sense of bleakness. The prospect of a romantic future for Odo and Kira is certainly bleak. And the motives of the Founders with respect to Odo are becoming more clear. As powerful and amoral as they are, and with their sights set on Odo, he doesn’t seem to stand much of a chance against them. Troubled waters lie ahead for our wayward Changeling.

Episode Notes and Trivia

  •     For the one or two of you out there who haven’t heard her, when asked about her worst episode, Nana Visitor doesn’t hesitate to say that this is her least favorite. Not so much because of the content but, being claustrophobic, she struggled with being encased in that fake rock for literally hours and hours on end.
  •     At the end of the scene when Odo tells the story of the origins of his name, the Founder imposter of Kira cries. This should put to rest the notion that Changelings can’t cry.
  •     To maintain the secrecy of the plot twist at the end, Salome Jens, the actress who portrayed the Female Founder, agreed to have her name withheld from the list of guest stars that appears as part of the opening credits.
  •     The DS9 producers were not happy with this episode. Specifically, they were underwhelmed with the quality of the special effects. The crystal that encased Kira lacked realism, and in some ways it hearkened back to the styrofoam “rocks” that frequently appeared on TOS—the effects were far less than “special.”

Compelling Acting in “Heart of Stone”

by Talia Myres

This was probably only my fourth or fifth time ever to watch “Heart of Stone,” and it’s been a long interval in between viewings, so I thought that, rather than try to do a review, which would most likely come across as inept, I’d focus on a few things here and there that caught my attention.

First off, the teaser scene at the beginning was done quite well. It immediately establishes the characters of both Odo and Kira and the tone of their relationship. It’s particularly amusing to watch as Odo reacts to what he perceives as a slight by Kira when she doesn’t consult him about a dinner invitation. Equally amusing is Kira’s reaction to Odo’s displeasure. She knows he doesn’t care for social interactions with strangers so, in her mind, she was merely avoiding the issue for him and thereby helping him to save face. But Odo, with his history of being perceived as existing merely to serve another’s purpose—Dr. Mora and later the Cardassians—sees this as a personal affront. It never crosses his mind that Kira is actually looking out for him.

However, also quite telling in this little exchange is Kira’s , shall we say, obtuse bluntness, as evidenced by her very narrow assessment of, “Odo, you don’t eat,” thus equating that statement with her conclusion that, because of it, he won’t want to participate in a group social setting. Her lack of awareness regarding Odo’s feelings, his perception of how he is viewed by others and the isolation he feels, is quite evident when she says this.

But even though it is an argument of sorts, it mostly serves to show the level of comfort between these two characters. The bickering, amused banter, and slight sarcasm—mostly on Kira’s part—readily indicates an established relationship that is clearly deeper than a casual friendship. These are two people who have enough confidence in their history with one another to be able to argue and know that it’s not going to change their friendship. One could go even farther and say that they argue like an old married couple, but I don’t really think that’s the tone the writers were trying to set here, merely that of a solid friendship.

Moving on…

I realize it’s only an hour episode, and I understand that the something has to happen to Kira in order to eventually force Odo’s hand, but I felt that the whole setup was a bit rushed. Odo and Kira separate. Moments later, she calls him on comm and he rushes to find her, only to discover that she’s trapped in some sort of crystal encasing. It’s rather melodramatic and somewhat clichéd, especially when Odo looks up at her with a grave expression and intones, “And from the looks of things, the crystal is spreading.” Cue dramatic music. I realize I’m probably being Star Trek sacrilegious, but it’s just a bit over the top for my taste.

But aside from that, the storyline following Odo’s attempts to free Kira is believable. Perhaps what makes it so compelling is his increasing frustration as he realizes nothing he does is working and, unless something dramatically changes, he is going to lose Kira. That realization is perfectly conveyed not so much through Odo’s words as through his expressions, which is a testament to the great acting in this episode.

In the end, the most powerful image of the entire episode is directly after Odo confesses his love for Kira. It’s such an emotional confession and one he wasn’t willing to easily part with. It’s almost as if revealing his hidden secret drains him, and that is communicated perfectly as Odo physically crumples into himself and slowly slides down to the floor. That physical gesture, coupled with the words, “Now you know” is an extremely evocative and vulnerable moment. Through it, you realize the magnitude of what it cost Odo to utter the words, “Because I’m in love with you.” It’s quite moving and is probably the most powerful moment of this well-crafted episode.

What I Like About “Heart of Stone”

by Marguerite Krause

I like “Heart of Stone”!

I liked it when I saw it the first time it aired, and I’ve continued to like it each time I’ve watched it again since then.

I know this may mark me as a bit weird. I’ve heard, and even understand, many of the reasons that people are disappointed by this episode, or actively dislike it. But the story worked for me, from beginning to end, and here’s why.

The opening scene, with Odo being annoyed with Kira, perfectly captured a situation that I think most (all?) people find themselves in at one time or another with a family member or loved one. Poor Kira thought she was being sensitive to her friend’s preferences, and instead Odo takes affront at what he perceives as a lack of respect because she didn’t bother to ask his opinion. How many of us have been on one or both sides of that sort of argument with someone we care about? Kira and Odo’s bickering, so obviously fueled by true affection on both sides, rang delightfully true to life, and I still remember my enjoyment at seeing this evidence of their deep and sincere friendship.

I was also quite content with the presentation and evolution of the story’s major problem: Kira being stuck in the alien crystal and Odo’s increasingly urgent attempts to free her. I’ve heard lots of criticisms of this episode’s “fake rock” setting, and the “obviously styrofoam” construction of the alien crystal and surrounding cave rooms. Maybe I’m just fortunate that I’ve been a sci-fi fan for literally as along as I can remember, and losing myself in a story comes as naturally to me as breathing. If there’s an interesting plot to follow and characters that matter to me, the quality of set design or special effects make no impression whatsoever. In retrospect—especially if I end up dissatisfied by a story overall—I can certainly go back and nitpick technical details with the best of ’em. But with “Heart of Stone,” as the story unfolded before me for the first time, I was completely caught up in fear for Kira and sympathy for Odo’s ever-growing desperation to save the life of the woman he loved while striving to maintain his professionalism and not admit the true nature of his feelings to her, or to himself.

By the climax of the story, I felt my heart breaking for Odo as he finally admitted his love for Kira and collapsed to the floor. And I still remember literally catching my breath in shock at Kira’s reply that she loved him, too. Because I knew at once, just as Odo did, that this was not true, and therefore something was very wrong and everything I’d thought I’d understood up to this point had to be called into question.

When we next see Odo, he is coming to grips with the fact that he has been deceived. For me, that final scene in the cave provided an excellent demonstration of the core of Odo’s character: his passionate emotion existing side by side with his sharp intelligence and ability to be brutally honest. Watching him put together the clues and solve the mystery left me completely satisfied. I was also pleased with the idea that the whole thing had been a scheme of the Female Changeling, and thought this upped the stakes nicely regarding the threat posed by the Founders.

Finally, I loved the return to the station and Odo’s iron determination to resume his normal life. His answer to Kira’s question about what the Female Changeling had said, that it was “Nothing important,” delivered with the most casual indifference that Odo is capable of, was absolutely perfect in its devastating poignancy. It seemed to me exactly the way Odo would respond to that specific question, given the situation. He’d been deeply wounded by his experience in the cave, and would have been feeling nothing but relief that no one else had witnessed his weakness and failure. Especially not Kira.

I do understand the argument that events in this episode did nothing to advance the progress of Odo and Kira’s relationship, and possibly even set it back, because Kira herself wasn’t really present for any of it, and the painfulness of the experience would have reinforced Odo’s existing reticence when it came to revealing his true feelings to Kira. But none of that bothered me at the time, because I held no specific expectations for the evolution of Odo and Kira’s friendship. I loved the pure romance of Odo’s devotion to Kira, thought they were wonderful together, and hoped to see their friendship develop and deepen over time. But my speculative conversations with friends and my enjoyment of fanfiction (and talented people were writing a lot of excellent Odo/Kira fanfiction!) were always a separate experience from my enjoyment of the series “canon,” the episodes themselves. Therefore, watching “Heart of Stone” didn’t make me unhappy because of any of the other ways the story could have gone or “should” have gone.

Most importantly, I felt that this episode provided some wonderful revelations about Odo, and I found René’s performance to be strikingly effective throughout. The story made use of so many facets of Odo’s complex personality: we saw him be stubborn, proud, uncertain, determined, shy, heroic, selfless, and tragic. Even the title is perfect in its irony because Odo, of all people, is anything but stone-hearted. He has an achingly sensitive soul, which this episode laid bare for all to see.

I do like “Heart of Stone.” And maybe that’s not so weird after all.

Screen capture from