December 4, 2014
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "The Abandoned"
Quark purchases the wreckage of a starship found in the Gamma Quadrant for scrap parts, only to find an alien infant left onboard. The child matures at an alarming rate, until it becomes apparent that he is a Jem'Hadar. While Starfleet demands that Sisko send the child to a Federation laboratory for observation and research, Odo objects - and takes the rapidly growing youth into his own care.
"The Abandoned" presents a fairly complex moral dilemma, and if it isn't entirely resolved in a satisfactory manner it's simply because it's too big an issue to tease out over the course of one 42-minute episode. It also continues the series' developing Dominion story arc, as we learn more about the Jem'Hadar than we have in all three of their previous appearances combined. All up, it's an impressively written and performed episode put together with intelligence and sensitivity.
So here's the dilemma at the heart of "The Abandoned". Starfleet is at a detente with the Dominion and need every advantage they get in case their cold war goes hot. As a result, any information learned about the Jem'Hadar - the Dominion's shock troops - could be vital. On the other hand, the Jem'Hadar boy is a sentient life form with inalienable rights under Federation law, and deserves better than to be treated like a laboratory specimen. Odo feels this keenly, because that's exactly what was done to him.
It's not that simple, however, because it turns out that the Jem'Hadar have been extensively modified by the Founders of the Dominion at the genetic level. The boy is hard-wired to be excessively brutal and violent - all he wants to do is fight and kill people. He is born addicted to a liquid narcotic. He automatically acts in deference to Odo because he has been engineered to obey all Founders. When he demands that he be freed to return to his people in the Gamma Quadrant and potentially be free to attack and kill Federation citizens, what is Commander Sisko to do?
This kind of complex "no-win" scenario is what makes Deep Space Nine such a distinctive part of the Star Trek canon. It also allows the writers to play up Odo's ambivalent relationship with his own people, and Rene Auberjonois performs the part brilliantly. He makes - even temporarily - for a very good parent, and it's a side we rarely get to see in him.
Speaking of parenting, the episode also includes a brief but excellent subplot in which Sisko disapproves of his son Jake's new girlfriend, a 20 year-old Bajoran dabo girl (basically a sexed-up croupier). I appreciate any subplot involving Benjamin and Jake, because it's always written in such a warm and realistic fashion and both Avery Brooks and Cirroc Lofton play their parts wonderfully. I know I'm not the only viewer who found their relationship one of the series' best elements.
So we're now six episodes into the season, and five of them - including "The Abandoned" - have been good. That means a quality ratio of 83%.