August 3, 2014

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Vortex"

Odo attempts to crack a stolen goods case, but for his trouble he gets a murdered Miradorn, a vengeful surviving brother, and an alien prisoner from the Gamma Quadrant - who seems to hold the secret to Odo's past.

It's not a surprise that, halfway through the first season, the series has already turned towards a second episode based on Constable Odo. Of the Deep Space Nine regular cast he's one of the most interesting, and his elusive origins - not even he knows from where he came - are ripe for exploration. "Vortex" offers little more than a tease in that regard, but it's a damned good tease, and one that the series picks up and runs with brilliantly by the beginning of Season 3.

Rene Auberjonois certainly rises to the challenge in this episode, delivering a version of Odo that's surly, confrontational, confused and conflicted, suspicion and - in the episode's beautiful final moments - actively happy. We see him smile.

Cliff DeYoung plays Croden, the alien criminal who claims to know where Odo can find his fellow changelings. I recognised him from Edward Zwick's excellent film Glory, although his character there and here are poles apart. Croden is great: dodgy enough to clear be lying about half of what he's talking about, but sincere enough that you can't help but join Odo in wondering if maybe this time he's telling the truth.

The episode introduces the Miradorn, another bumpy-headed species of alien that 1990s Star Trek seemed to revel in. They get name-checked and cameo a few more times into the future, but really there's not a lot to them. Here they act as a plot cypher. Randy Oglesby plays the twin brothers competently, but there's not a lot for him to do but shout, glower and make threatening demands.

Something I did find interesting was that not only does the plot of this episode broadly replicate the 1953 western The Naked Spur, but that one of the writers of that film - Sam Rolfe - was hired to write this episode's teleplay because of it. Now that's show business at its classiest.

While elements of this episode feel a little under-cooked and by-the-numbers, it's Auberjonois' performance that pulls us through. He's one of the show's best assets. Seven good episodes out of 11 brings the season's quality ratio up to 64%.

While we're here though, I always found a few things a little odd about Odo. He's a shapeshifter, and can faultlessly replicate all manner of animals and objects (including a glass tumbler in this episode), yet can't successfully pull off a human face. That would be fine, except he can clearly pull off the appearance of clothing down to individual stitches, and can perfectly replicate humanoids hands - even though every artist knows that the hardest part of a person to draw is the hands. And yeah, the shapeshifting clothes thing: every shot you see of Odo in all those episodes - totally freeballing it. Touching things, sitting on chairs. Absolutely buck naked. Disgraceful. And awkward.

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