WARNING: Many spoilers for DS9's "Shadowplay" are lurking in the shadowy corners of this article. Play if you must, but only with caution.
In brief: Almost two plots out of three, with one of them the main plot. Hardly perfect, but not bad.
First, a quick "humph!" to whoever decided to put not two, but three unconnected plots into the same show. That tends not to work unless the show is a lot more serialized than Trek has ever been, and "Shadowplay" suffered the consequences for certain. One of the two subplots worked all right, in part because it was led into; the other one, though, came out of nowhere and was annoying in way too many ways.
First, the main story: I liked it. A lot. We did catch on that the village was a holo-village before Odo and Dax did, but not by much. (We guessed that Rurigan was real long before they did, though.) The story was fairly
straightforward, but there were a lot of points around the edges that made it worthwhile.
First and foremost, I found the point of Odo's about Taya to Rurigan very telling. Given that she is younger than the original program he ran, is she in a sense a completely independent lifeform in every way but physicality? We didn't get an answer (at least not outright), but we got the question -- and that's all I want. I liked that a great deal.
I also thought that every single bit of Odo's character relevant to his relationship with Taya was used about as effectively as it ever could have been. The parallelism with Odo's missing parents, the return of the "changeling" reference, his response to her statement about making friends through shapeshifting -- every single one of them is the sort of thing that demanded to be said to keep faith with the character, and every single one of them was said in exactly the way I think it should've been. Robert Hewitt Wolfe had a remarkable sense of character history with Odo, and used it well.
I shouldn't overlook the other half of the Odo/Taya scenes, though. Noley Thornton was one of the few good things about TNG's "Imaginary Friend" three years ago, and with "Shadowplay" is now on my list of favorite child guest stars. Both she and Odo were written well, to be sure, but it's far too easy for kids to end up acting cuter than written. Thornton didn't -- she nailed every single emotion that I think was called for, and stayed away from everything that could have caused problems. I was really moved by some of their scenes -- enough so that there was a lump in my throat as Odo did shift for her right before leaving. I want to see her back again in some other guest role -- she's way too good to waste.
Both Rurigan and Colyus were written and played well, as well. I will confess that I kept flashing back to Kenneth Mars's character in "Young Frankenstein" [the inspector with all the artificial limbs] whenever Colyus
was on screen, but that's my own fault. :-) Colyus seemed to me like what a usually relaxed, now befuddled and slightly desperate protector really should be, and although Rurigan's role was a little stereotypical, Kenneth
Tobey did a good job with it. Good job to everyone there, too. [Incidentally, having Odo prove their good intentions by abruptly leaving and returning via transporting was a smart bit of thinking on his and Hewitt Wolfe's part.]
In fact, there's very little about the main storyline that I disliked at all. About the only objection I have is this: I'd have thought the sensible person to bring when inspecting the outskirts of the village would be Colyus, not Taya. I could see Taya deciding to take them on impulse, but not Odo deliberately deciding to bring her along. That didn't ring true, really. Everything else, however, did.
I only wish I could say the same for the primary subplot, that being the Kira/Bareil plot. The main story did virtually everything right; this one did virtually everything wrong. It started off on a bad foot, by having Kira and Quark seem far more at odds than they have been aside from in "Invasive Procedures" [which Hewitt Wolfe also wrote] -- but from there it got worse. Much worse.
Kira was fairly off for most of the show, but what absolutely annoyed me to no end about this subplot was that it effectively ruined the promise of the Kira/Bareil vision back in "The Circle". That vision was meaningful, it was eerie, and it was wondrous. It said "there's some kind of very strong bond between these two -- we will see more of it." I interpreted that to mean it might do so gradually.
What was the message we got from this subplot? I think it can be boiled down pretty well to "Bareil's in heat." This is a disservice to Philip Anglim, who until now managed to make Bareil one of my favorite recurring DS9
characters; and it's a major, major disservice to Bareil. Had he been motivated by other visions to seek Kira out now rather than later, that might be one thing; but as it is, he just seemed horny. That's not Bareil; or, at least, it shouldn't be. Ugh.
Lastly, there's the Jake subplot. I have a feeling it will rub lots of people wrong as being too "cute", but I rather liked most of it. Part of that is probably because I see parental pressure and the idea of conforming to expectations all the time as a teacher, and have felt healthy doses of it in my time as well. (Let's just say I encountered some initial ...skepticism when I elected to leave grad school for a teaching career.) It made a great deal of sense for me to have Sisko want and expect Jake to go to the academy, and also that Jake might not be comfortable with the idea. I liked that, and I liked the continuity both in O'Brien's stories and in the fact that we saw Sisko ask O'Brien about this earlier.
The place where it fell down a bit for me was at the end. For a second I thought I'd slipped dimensions and crossed DS9 with "The Cosby Show" when Sisko proved that accepting of Jake's decision. Again, some of this is my own personal history talking in all likelihood, but from what I've seen I'd have expected anyone, especially someone with a temper like Sisko's, to have some resistance to the idea before eventually being the Perfect Father. Given how well the plot was set up beforehand, it would have been nice to resolve it more slowly as well. Oh, well.
So, the main plot was a big win; the main subplot, a big loss; and the secondary subplot, a minor win. Not too bad, I must say. I think "Shadowplay" will probably appeal to most people, except for the Kira/Bareil bits, which I'd be happy to consign to the trash heap.
So, a few short takes and I'm off.
-- Kira's final exchange with Quark wasn't too bad, but I wish we'd ended just with Kira's finding Bareil "diverting" rather than having Quark pound the real meaning of the word into our heads the line afterwards. Thanks, guys, but we did get it the first time.
-- One disappointment I had in the Odo plotline was that he referred explicitly to Kira as a friend. I was hoping we'd see more fallout from "Necessary Evil" before we got back to this stage. That's hardly the fault of "Shadowplay", but it's too bad.
-- "Garak has been lecturing me on surveillance techniques." Something tells me Bashir is in way over his head. :-)
That about covers it. So, to wrap up:
Plot: Basically fine. The Odo one was very tight, and the others were fine in terms of plot...
Plot Handling: Excellent. The Kira/Bareil scenes were a waste of space, but the planetside scenes were expertly done and the Jake scenes were fine.
Characterization: Utterly fantastic for Odo's plot, good Jake, iffy Sisko, and rather nausea-inducing for Kira and Bareil.
OVERALL: A 7.5 -- it would've been at least a point higher if the Kira/Bareil bits had been excised.
Worlds within worlds...
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"That's a rather personal question."
"Sorry, but after seven lifetimes, the impersonal questions aren't much fun any more."
-- Odo and Dax