WARNING: Whether you're feeling like a dragon, a lion, or a goat, you may rest assured that spoilers for DS9's "Chimera" lie below.

In brief: Gripping, powerful, and even romantic; one of the season's best.

Brief summary: Another "lost" Changeling finds Odo, causing him to question his own attempts to fit in on DS9.

Last week, I expressed a hope that the second half of DS9's final season would prove stronger than its first. If "Chimera" is any indication, that hope may well be borne out; this episode managed to get across Odo's true "alien-ness" better than just about anything which has come before, and told a compelling story in the bargain.

Some of the credit here definitely has to go to writer Rene Echevarria. Echevarria penned the last temptation-of-Odo story, last season's "Behind the Lines," and has created something equally powerful here. For a change, however, Echevarria finally got this type of story away from "the female Changeling arrives to tell Odo that he doesn't belong," which was getting a bit old; after all, there are only so many ways Odo can listen to that selfsame argument without having a response already planned.

This time, we meet a Changeling who has nothing to do with the Dominion; instead, he's "one of the Hundred," meaning that he, like Odo, was sent out as an infant to explore the galaxy. Bringing in a Changeling who is much more like Odo has some real potential; since Laas (the Changeling in question) has actually done all of the things Odo's tried to do, including live among humanoids, he can speak with a voice of experience, and can seem a much more sympathetic figure, both to Odo and to the audience. That extra sympathy muddies the waters enough that the argument may not have a "right" answer any more, which makes for a far more interesting story.

Laas' main point, which he makes compellingly in various ways, is that Odo has never really been accepted by his friends and comrades; he is merely tolerated by them, and that only because he's imitating them. As Laas puts it, "What higher form of flattery is there? 'I, who can be anything, choose to be like you?'" The more Odo reminds them that he's different, Laas argues, the less they will trust him -- and Odo's romance with Kira is bound to fail, just as Laas' own relationship with a humanoid did hundreds of years earlier.

Laas' arguments about humanoid failings are often "grand generalizations," as Odo correctly points out, but Laas makes them well, both because of Garman Hertzler's performance and because we can tell Laas has actually experienced these problems himself. Past Changeling laments have dealt more with history, with "what humanoids have done to our people"; when Laas talks about humanoids ruining habitats of the very herds he was running with, you can tell he knows what he's talking about. He may alienate Odo's friends in the bargain, but the fact that he could personally relate things made his arguments far more interesting than the standard "solids aren't to be trusted" idea expressed by the Founders.

Hertzler's performance is worthy of note in several other ways. Despite the fact that Laas has had more contact with humanoids than any Changeling we've seen apart from Odo, he actually seemed to be the most convincingly alien of the lot. His emotional state was still recognizable (as it would probably have to be for the audience to relate to him), but all of his inflections, the manner in which he expressed himself, continually reiterated the point that he thought and felt very differently from humanoids. (Also, "Garman Hertzler" is apparently an alternate stage name for J.G. Hertzler, alias General Martok. Hertzler changed his voice so thoroughly from Martok to Laas that it's difficult to realize they're the same most of the time even if you know they're played by the same actor.)

The other way in which this "temptation of Odo" story plays out so differently is that the manner of temptation is clearly different. I said way back when we first met the Founders that making Odo's people Bad Guys [TM] made his choice too easy; if you find out that your estranged family is actually the Manson family, it's not that tough a call to stay where you are. Laas' offer is different; his suggestion that Odo join him in searching for the rest of the Hundred and forming a new Link has all the strengths of the Founders' offer without the morally questionable war in the process. Thus, this really is a case of Odo wrestling with his nature rather than simply "oh, they're the villains; I'd like to be with them, but they're bad people."

As the story plays out, the failings of both sides are apparent. Laas' overgeneralizations, even if they contain a grain of truth, are clearly so overblown that Odo does (and should) have trouble taking them too seriously. (Besides, some of them are right, particularly his point about how humanoid "differences" are not all that extreme compared to those between human and Changeling.) On the other hand, seeing everyone else's uncomfortable reactions to Laas lets Odo view himself and his friends in an entirely new light; his friends may like him, but they clearly don't trust someone who "can disguise [himself] as whatever [he] wants," nor do they feel at all comfortable with Laas lounging around the Promenade existing as fog. (O'Brien's discomfort is particularly strong and particularly notable, since O'Brien is usually such an easygoing sort of fellow.)

The other big conflict is between Odo and Kira, and it's here that the story also takes on some new shadings. We've often seen the Link depicted as something vaguely sexual; certainly there seemed to be a romantic component when Odo first linked with the female Changeling in "The Search," and her sly "do you want me to stop?" in "Behind the Lines" made the analogy plain as well. This time, Odo links with Laas without much of a second thought; despite the fact that it's something Odo finds as natural as talking, Kira's discomfort with it is pretty plain. Her quiet "it's a little ... more personal than talking, isn't it?" speaks volumes by its very presence; although the Link is never held up as explicitly sexual, there are a lot of reasonably subtle analogies here that make other points. (In particular, there's the fact that Odo doesn't want to link with Laas in public, calling attention to his true nature, and Quark's line about "We're at war with your people; this is no time for a Changeling Pride demonstration on the Promenade" is fascinating on a whole host of levels. This may be the first time Trek has addressed the issue of homosexuality in this nuanced a way; it's certainly the first time they've done something with it this well!)

Things come to a head, naturally, when Laas winds up killing someone. Firstly, this is interesting in that the argument between Sisko and Odo about placing blame may not have an obvious resolution. Were the Klingons unjustifiably threatening and violent? Almost certainly. Were they correct in their later legal posturing, that Laas should have known he was in no danger? Very possibly. The issue of whether Laas' action is murder or self-defense is an interesting one, and Odo's point that the argument would be very different were Laas not a Changeling is probably on target. (I found this scene particularly interesting because my wife and I disagreed over whether Laas' claim of self-defense was justified. For the record, I sided with Laas, Lisa with the Klingons.)

This also gives Quark the chance to say rather emphatically how little Odo is truly accepted (albeit in a sympathetic way), and sets up a good Odo/Kira argument right afterwards. While it was a given that the two of them would eventually argue over Odo's path, the fact that they're essentially arguing over his very identity gives the scene some added power. I particularly liked Kira's point that "this is what you have always chosen to be: a man, a good and honest man ... the man I fell in love with." Her subsequent "Are you trying to tell me that he never really existed?" tugs right at the heartstrings if you have any sympathy for their relationship at all.

The ending, where Kira helps Laas escape, proving the depths of her love for Odo in the bargain, falls ever so slightly flat in places, but not really enough to hurt the episode in any serious way. Laas' inability to believe that someone could care for Odo that deeply is the main point, and Odo's final serenity once he's figured out where he belongs is actually a very strong moment. His final scene, where he returns to Kira, is positively beautiful; again, we get a sense of the intimacy inherent in the Link, and that final scene gave me a far better and far more overwhelming sense of this couple's shared love than virtually anything we've seen up to this point (certainly more so than "His Way," where they got together). It's rare that I think of DS9 scenes as having any sort of romantic beauty, but I think this one did, more than once.

Other points:

-- While seeing Laas' more exotic forms (the Space Fish, fire, and fog) was interesting, I do have a few small quibbles about two of them. In the case of the fish ... what's with the moving fins? What's there to push against? In the case of fire, I have difficulty with the idea that a Changeling can assume the form of an ongoing reaction. The fog, on the other hand, was just cool. :-)

-- I also liked the contrast between Odo and O'Brien in the teaser. Odo still has the sensibilities of young love, the "I've been away a day -- let me shower my love with gifts!" attitude, while O'Brien is a bit less likely to think of that after a nearly decade-long relationship.

-- So Laas was essentially named "changeable," while Odo was named "unknown sample." Fair enough.

-- I loved seeing Quark come in with the steak just when Laas finishes talking about human depredations. Bad timing. :-)

-- Odo positively swaggers when he leaves Sisko's office after Laas' escape. Kira's right; he didn't hide it at all well.

All in all, "Chimera" is a definite winner. Does it tie in directly to the war? Not really, though I think it does so indirectly in terms of humanoids' initial distrust of Changelings. Regardless, however, it is an absolutely beautiful character piece for Odo (and Kira), and makes me feel far more interested in Changelings than I've been in a long while. Here's hoping this is the start of a 13-hour winning streak.

Wrapping up:

Writing: A lot of good characterization of all parties, plus a lot of well-made points both overt and covert.

Directing: No complaints.

Acting: Auberjonois and Hertzler should work together more often; they're a superb team. Visitor shone as well.

OVERALL: 10; damned near perfect. Nice job!


DS9 hits Vegas. Vegas hits back. [...with all due apologies to Lois McMaster Bujold]

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept. <*>

"Watch your step, Odo. We're at war with your people; this is no time for a Changeling Pride demonstration on the Promenade." -- Quark

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