Review: DS9 – The Ascent

review by Donna Munro

At long last, fans of the Odo/Quark relationship (rather, their mutual dislike of one another) were treated to one episode that enabled both characters to display more of why they feel the way they do about each other. Odo and Quark talk, argue, bicker, and even physically fight, but with drastic consequences.

“The Ascent” puts Odo and Quark in a test of determination and strength, while testing their patience with each other. Each feels they have the upper hand: Odo is delighted to escort Quark to stand in front of the Federation Grand Jury, and Quark, at first, is confused about what the big deal is, until he learns that Odo suspects he is in the Orion Syndicate. Much to Quark’s chagrin, he isn’t deemed good enough to get in—he is merely testifying.

The runabout, it seems, is not big enough for Odo and Quark as they are forced to spend days together in the small, confining space. Odo is distracting himself by reading a dataPADD, which Quark snatches and reads aloud—it is a romance novel! Quark delights in this discovery, offering Odo a chance at a lewd holosuite program. Defensively, Odo explains that it is a part of work, a way to delve into the criminal mind as most homicides, he cites, are motivated by romantic obsession.

A bomb is discovered during one of their many verbal spats. The runabout crash lands on a barely inhabitable planet. Lack of food and transportation, along with severe cold, make for a big obstacle as the two must, grudgingly, work together to bring a transmitter to the top of a mountain.

Not only are they stranded together, but they are freezing and starving. It is their inability to move beyond their antagonism that makes things even worse—they finally come to blows, with the end result being a broken leg for Odo. By giving into their petty frustrations, they have now halved the odds of being rescued. Odo may die, and Quark is left to carry the transmitter alone. Quark manages to splint Odo’s leg, explaining bluntly that Odo will now serve as emergency rations—if Odo dies, Quark will eat him. Of course, it seems that Quark is merely trying to ignite Odo’s will to survive. When Quark is about to give up in exhaustion, Odo—while suffering excruciating pain—decides to push the transmitter up the mountain himself.

What motivates Quark to leave Odo behind and do it himself? Not heroism. Greed. He simply doesn’t want Rom to inherit the bar, or for his own remains to stay here on the planet and freeze instead of being sold, as is Ferengi tradition.

Time passes, and Odo gives up on Quark, thinking him dead. Resigned, he makes a final recording of his last wishesÉonly to find himself being beamed aboard the Defiant. Quark is there, too, as Jadzia explains to Odo that the Ferengi saved both of their lives.

“I was afraid you’d say that,” Odo murmurs before collapsing. Later on, as both are recovering in the safety of Sickbay, Quark asks Odo if he remembers what happened earlier, where they both told the other they hated them. “I meant every word of it.”

“So did I,” Odo replies.

Both laugh, yet there is a silent understanding between the two. For all their verbal spats in this episode, they are both brutally honest with the other, pointing out failures and doubts, picking at wounds and vulnerabilities.

At the end, both men are firmly aware of where they stand. It is refreshing to see that they have not resolved all their differences just because they were stranded together—they will always see things different ways. René and Armin did a splendid job in this episode—it was a treat to watch it again!

review by Mary Shaver

Episode Overview

A 24th-Century treatment of the 1958 classic, The Defiant Ones

Episode Summary

Quark receives a subpoena to appear before the Federation Grand Jury at Inferna Prime, an eight-day journey via runabout. Odo accompanies Quark, believing him to be guilty of a Federation crime and about to be prosecuted. Unbeknownst to Odo, however, Quark is to appear as a witness against the infamous Orion Syndicate. Partway through their journey, they discover the runabout is booby trapped. The bomb explodes, terminally damaging the runabout. They crash land on a Class L planet. Without food, provisions, or supplies, the only way they can survive is to remove the communication transmitter from the ship and send a signal from the highest point on the planet where atmospheric conditions won’t render it useless.

Their ascent up the mountain is marked by arguing and bickering, punctuated by a physical fight that results in Odo breaking his leg. After trying to haul both Odo and the transmitter up the mountain, Quark ultimately leaves Odo. As Odo is recording his last and (seemingly) dying log entry, he is beamed up to the Defiant. Quark has managed to scale the mountain and send a distress signal. The last scene shows Odo and Quark in the ship’s infirmary, still proclaiming their hatred for each other as they dissolve into rueful chuckles.

Episode Analysis

The relationship between Odo and Quark has been a fan favorite since the series’s first episode. Their verbal sparring, insult hurling, and gamesmanship marked these two as not-so-friendly rivals. While never crossing the line into open warfare, Odo and Quark spent years baiting each other and pouncing on every misstep or weakness of the other.

We are introduced to Odo and Quark and the nature of their “relationship” in the series premier when Odo calls Quark a liar and a thief, to which Quark responds “If I am [a thief], you haven’t been able to prove it in four years.”

Yet, in the third episode, “A Man Alone,” Odo makes the confession to Quark that he has never entered into a sexual relationship. And later, when Odo is falsely accused of the killing a Bajoran blackmailer, Quark comes to his active defense, saying “…he’s an ill tempered, over-bearing crosspatch. But he was no Cardassian collaborator. And he’s no killer.” When the Bajoran says he can’t believe Quark is defending Odo and that Odo is his worst enemy, Quark says, “Guess that the closest thing he has to a friend.”

The mutual baiting and taunting continues over the years, and viewers are drawn into this unique association. Scattered into this antagonism, there are also moments of friendship and compassion. For example, in “Civil Defense,” when Quark and Odo are locked into Odo’s office and in a perilous position, Odo grudgingly acknowledges that “although some [Ferengis] have been more wealthy, I’ve never met one more devious [than you].”

Similarly, in the devastating episode “Crossfire,” Quark is the first person to see that Odo is in love with Kira and that he is terrified he is losing her to Shakaar. When Odo sees the evidence of this and destroys his quarters in a fit of agony and despair, it is Quark who forces his way into Odo’s rooms and offers his own singular form of support and help. Quark tells Odo about the “manhunt pool” he runs where betters wager on how long it will take Odo to apprehend criminals. By playing to Odo’s most vital sense of self-identity, Quark (while acting his part as the slimy little troll) reminds Odo of his worth and helps him reestablish himself.

By the time “The Ascent” airs, viewers are aware of all these years of history and understand the sometimes friendly, sometimes bitter animosity that exists between the two.

The episode opens with Odo coming into Quark’s quarters, practically bursting with smugness and self-satisfaction. He gleefully (well, as gleeful as Odo can get) announces to Quark that the Federation has subpoenaed Quark to appear before the Grand Jury on Inferna Prime. Quark acts like he has no idea why is being called, and Odo acts like he knows exactly why. Odo also informs Quark that he will be accompanying him on the eight-day journey, smirking that he’s waited ten years for Quark to get his comeuppance and that he wouldn’t miss it for anything.

We next see these two ensconced in the runabout, partway through their eight-day journey. Odo, who is still human at this point, has his feet up on the console, reading a dataPADD. Quark is trying to tempt him into playing a card game, which Odo rather scornfully ignores and then refuses. At this point, Quark makes an astute observation. He says he used to think Odo had such a miserable disposition because he was a Changeling and could never fit in to the humanoid world. (“You couldn’t eat, you couldn’t drink, you couldn’t sleep, you couldn’t make love.”) But now that he was a humanoid, he was just like the rest of his comrades and life was his for the taking. Yet he continued to isolate himself and refused to avail himself of the pleasures of life. Quark concludes that, “solid or Changeling, you’re still a miserable, self-hating misanthrope.” Odo’s comeback to this brutally honest evaluation of himself is a superior, “I’m still not playing cards with you.”

When Quark grabs the dataPADD out of his hands, Odo looks first embarrassed and then irritated as Quark begins to read aloud from what can only be described as a bodice-ripper romance novel. Surely Odo would have preferred Quark not to discover this secret vice, but now that it’s out in the open, Odo can only brazen it out. His half-hearted rationalization that he only reads these things to give him insight into the criminal mind rings as false to him as it does to Quark.

To regain the upper hand, Odo reminds Quark that he can taunt and annoy him all he wants, but in the end Odo will have won, since Quark will be spending the rest of his life in a Federation penal colony.

There ensues some gamesmanship over who knows what about the nature of the subpoena, with Quark feigning ignorance and Odo feigning knowledge.

The next scene opens some time later in the trip. Cramped together alone in the tight quarters of the runabout, Odo and Quark are definitely getting on each other’s nerves. They are bored and beyond irritated with each other. Quark complains about Odo smacking his lips while eating; Odo complains about Quark’s constant complaining; Quark complains about all the irritating noises on the runabout; Odo complains about Quark’s messing with the temperature controls. When Quark grumbles again about the noises, Odo teases him by making exaggerated lip smacking and buzzing sounds.

When the noise changes and Odo can hear it too, they uncover a panel in the floor and discover a bomb. Odo attempts to transport the bomb off the ship, but it explodes partway through transport. The ship is badly damaged, but they find a Class L planet on long-range scanners. As they try and navigate the crippled ship to the planet, it comes out that it was the Orion Syndicate that planted the bomb, and that the Federation subpoenaed Quark to testify against them. Odo is shocked to hear this, and then it all comes out that their verbal sparring added up to neither of them knowing what they pretended to know. In their mutual efforts to keep the other in the dark, preventative measures to ensure their safety had been ignored.

There’s a notable bit in this scene, where Odo and Quark are seated at the console, attempting to keep the ship on course to the planet, while at the same time arguing over what each didn’t tell the other. Quark reaches toward the control panel and Odo contemptuously slaps his hand away. That one little action sums up how Odo feels about Quark.

Needless to say, they survive the crash landing, for what it’s worth. The Class L planet is freezing cold and contains nothing edible, and all the ship’s systems they need have been destroyed, including the comm system and the replicator. All they have to eat between them are two ration packets. They scavenge the ship in an attempt to find something useful. Quark hauls out a piece of equipment from the back of the ship that turns out to the sub-space transmitter. The signal booster is shot, which means they can’t transmit though a planetary atmosphere. After more bickering and rolling of eyes, Quark explains that the only way to send a distress signal is to get the transmitter to high enough ground that the thinner atmosphere won’t prevent the sending of a signal, pointing to the summit of a huge mountain in the distance. The only way to achieve this nearly insurmountable goal is for these two adversaries to work together. Instead, they start as they mean to go on, fighting over the single survival suit that has been salvaged from the wrecked ship.

The squabbling continues as they traverse the treacherous terrain, with each feeling ill used by the other. When Odo grouses over his human condition and that if only he were still a Changeling, he could have morphed into a pterodactyl and flown the transmitter to the summit, Quark retorts that he always wanted to be a solid. He taunts Odo with his perceived envy over solids eating, gambling, and flirting, and then delivers the real zinger—Odo’s relationship, or lack thereof, with a “certain Bajoran major.”

Despite the barbs hurled at him, when Quark takes a tumble Odo rushes toward him in concern, carefully concealed as worry over the condition of the transmitter Quark is carrying.

After two days of climbing and more quarreling, they think they are within hours of their objective, only to discover, upon reaching the top of a ridge, that their goal is more like six days away. Dejected, they take their anger and disappointment out on each other. Quark says this ordeal will all be worthwhile when he sees the look on Odo’s face when the Federation Grand Jury lets him go. When Odo harrumphs in disbelief, Quark spells it out for him—namely that Quark is not a suspect, but a witness. If he was involved with the Orion Syndicate, they wouldn’t have tried to kill him. He drives home his remarks with a final jab at Odo—”And you call yourself a detective?”

That’s a blow to Odo’s most valued sense of himself, and he’s not taking that smear lying down. He jabs back at Quark by hitting him in his most vulnerable spot—his lack of wealth. The only reason Quark isn’t a member of the Syndicate is because he couldn’t afford to join. All the years Quark spent “scheming and lying and cheating” and he still couldn’t amass enough money to join the big boys.

Quark gets in the last blow of the round by admitting that while he may not have been the most successful businessman, Odo spent the last ten years trying to catch him, a nobody, and with very little success. With a real sense of acrimony, he sends Odo reeling with, “So you tell me, which one of us is the bigger failure.” Odo’s expression of stunned astonishment is profound as he grapples with Quark’s words. From anyone else, this statement would have been devastating for our ex-Changeling with a self-esteem problem. From Quark, however, Odo is able to shake it off, dismissing it, since Quark is, after all, a perennial liar.

The next morning Odo displays concern for Quark when he is unable to rouse him from sleep. Worry often expresses itself in anger, and in an effort to wake him up, Odo begins beating Quark about the head. When Quark awakes, he immediately begins carping about everything. Even Odo’s offering him his ration packet doesn’t mollify Quark, who is convinced he’s dying. In frustration, Odo threatens to leave him and Quark starts whining about being left behind. Eventually, Odo is able to light a fire under Quark and get him moving, but these two have reached the boiling point. Tired and cold and hungry, with survival looking more and more bleak, and nerves frayed from their physical conditions and increasingly irritating presence of the other, it soon becomes too much for them. Their continual bickering becomes more bitter and angry and personal. Their shouting match about how much they hate each other inevitably dissolves into a physical confrontation. They shove and tangle with each other while calling each other terrible and vile names. The fight ends as they tumble down the mountain slope, and to make a bad situation even worse, Odo suffers a broken leg.

Despite his squeamishness over what looks like a compound fracture, Quark manages to rig up a splint for Odo’s leg, as well as a litter, intending to drag Odo and the transmitter up the mountain. Odo, without a hint of martyrdom, says it’s folly for Quark to take him. In perhaps the best bit of dialog in this witty, scathing episode, Quark’s reply is just so classic Quark.

Odo: “Quark, there’s no way you’ll be able to drag me up that mountain.”
Quark: “Just watch me.”
Odo: “Stop trying to be a hero. You’ll get to the top faster if you leave me behind.”
Quark: “Don’t you get it? I’m not trying to rescue you. I’m taking you along as emergency rations. If you die, I’m going to eat you.”
Odo: “You’re joking!”
Quark: “Waste not, want not.”

Of course, we know Quark doesn’t mean any of this. It’s just another example of the convoluted language we’ve seen between these two to imply what can’t ever be openly said. In spite of all the anger and hostility and rancor between them, they genuinely care for each other. Quark is probably more aware of this than Odo, who would never acknowledge the possibility of such a thing, even subconsciously.

The ordeal becomes much more grim with every upward step. Odo is in agony with his broken leg, and Quark is beyond exhaustion. An attempt to send a distress signal fails, which means more climbing. Utterly spent, Quark falls to the ground and proclaims failure. Knowing that their only hope is for Quark to keep going, Odo tries to rally him by invoking the names of Sisko and Worf and Dax. They wouldn’t quit. But Quark isn’t buying. In a last ditch effort, Odo begins to push the transmitter and himself up the slope, hoping to shame Quark into action. It doesn’t work, but as Quark is contemplating his inevitable demise, he reflects that Rom will take over his bar, Nog will be “corrupted” by the Federation, and his bones will lay on that desolate planet, “unsold and unmourned.” Turns out this is just the motivation he needs as he recovers the transmitter from Odo and makes his way up the mountain alone. Without a glance into each other’s eyes, and without a word spoken, except for a whisper of “good luck” from Odo, you somehow know these two have just said a great deal to each other. It is a rather haunting moment.

Some indeterminate amount of time later, we see Quark struggling up the mountain, willing himself to continue to crawl, each inch of progress an exercise in agony. The scene shifts to Odo who is calling out for Quark. When he doesn’t receive a response, he taps his communicator and announces that this will be his final log entry. It is ironic, given their recent mutual anger and bitterness, that the first thing Odo records is Quark’s general location and a recommendation that his bones be desiccated and sold according to Ferengi tradition. While Odo would never admit it, this concern and thoughtfulness has become the bedrock of his relationship with Quark, regardless of the sediment of annoyance and irritation and dislike that is layered above.

For himself, Odo instructs the eventual finders of his body to “cremate me, stick my ashes in my bucket, and shoot me though the wormhole. I might as well end up where I began.” This self obituary is made so poignant by the fact that, even as a Solid, Odo is just as isolated and solitary and alone as he was as a Changeling.

Of course our heroes can’t die on that prophet-forsaken mountain, so, as Odo is closing his log entry, he is whisked off the planet in the haze of a transporter beam, ending up in the infirmary of the Defiant with Bashir hovering over him. His hopeful “I’m alive?” evaporates as Dax explains that Quark is also alive and managed to get out the distress signal, thus saving both their lives.

The last scene shows Odo and Quark lying side by side on hospital beds. The nature of their complicated friend/adversary relationship is exemplified when Quark recalls their last bitter argument, when they both declared their hatred for each other. He tells Odo he meant every word of it, and Odo responds, “So did I.” The words are barely out of his mouth before he begins to chuckle at the absurdity of it all, and Quark joins in. A very satisfying conclusion to an entertaining and enlightening story.

Screen capture from