WARNING: Abandon all hope of avoiding spoilers for DS9's "The Abandoned" ere ye enter this article.
In brief: When Odo gets preachy, it's gonna be a long ride.
Brief summary: When a young Jem'Hadar soldier comes to the station with no knowledge of his people, Odo tries to persuade him that there are alternatives to a life of violence.
"A long ride" might be an apt description of "The Abandoned", too -- while it tried to do some of the things that TNG's "I, Borg" did a few years ago, it didn't have nearly the power nor the point that the latter had, from where I sat.
The biggest bright spot of the show had to be Odo's reasons for helping the Jem'Hadar youth: not necessarily the guilt over what the Founders had done (though that certainly makes sense), but the fact that he'd been a lab specimen himself and didn't want to subject anyone to that fate. As soon as Sisko said that Starfleet was going to take the boy away for study, I thought "uh-oh; hello, Odo's hot button." That's a far better justification for Odo than simply "I want to make up for my race's atrocities", I think -- and the combination of the two made his position compelling.
I also liked most of the Sisko-meets-Mardah plot, even if it did play out to be a little Cosbyesque. Part of its appeal was probably that Avery Brooks has always been a pleasure to watch in the Sisko/Jake scenes, and this subplot lent itself to some beauts. Watching first Sisko, then Jake, get completely thrown by the turn of the dinner conversation seemed very reminiscent of a few such conversations I've had, which made things seem even more real. (I also loved O'Brien's line: "Sixteen years old and dating a Dabo girl ... godspeed, Jake." Seems to sum it up pretty nicely in some ways, yes. :-) )
So, so far things are true to form for the characters. Unfortunately, there are also some downsides to all this.
The first one, though small, is the continuing Kira/Odo proto-romance. I'm sorry, but the whole thing is screaming "artificial!" and "shoehorned!" at me on a regular basis, and at no time was it more so than here. Yes, Kira and Odo have been close friends and should remain such -- but I can't see Odo as much for romantic love, and Kira's got a Vedek hanging offscreen. So suddenly she's bringing Odo flowers and making big puppy-dog eyes at him when she sees his new quarters. No, thank you. It's been grating on me for a while, and came to a head here.
Odo's description of and use for his new quarters themselves, on the other hand, was excellent. This is the sort of fallout from "The Search" that I want to see; Odo trying to explore himself more and trying to take away the
good from his people without falling into the bad. A very positive sign, this.
On the other hand, I thought a great deal of the main plot itself needed help. While I was behind a lot of Odo's ideals in this, Odo got both very stupid and very preachy in his efforts. The stupid side cropped up in his quarters; when you have someone violent with you who's only being held back by a built-in belief that you can do no wrong, the last thing you want to do is immediately begin undermining that belief. Sheesh, no wonder the kid caused problems. Start by letting him learn to deal with others -- THEN break down your own reputation. Odo was basically inviting disaster.
Secondly, Odo's actions in the holosuite were not at all sensible. (Granted, at least Kira referred to this a bit, which is a help.) One, Odo turned into more of a stultifyingly preachy speechmaker than most any other character I can think of (even on a bad week); and two, he went almost immediately to saying "okay, go ahead and be violent, but only here", rather than even considering eliminating the violent side entirely. Yes, it might not have worked -- but it needs to be tried, or else you're only going half measures on this.
Given those flaws, the rest of the episode was ... okay. Not thrilling, but not appalling either. I'm not enchanted with the ending message, though: the Jem'Hadar are now simultaneously victims of genetics and villains you can kill by the score because they're beyond redemption. While some people got annoyed at "I, Borg" because it rehabilitated the Borg somewhat, at least it did something; all this one did was reaffirm the "they're thugs and will always be such" idea we already had of the Jem'Hadar.
The Technobabble Virus also appears to be infecting DS9, alas. Most of Bashir's lines could have been trimmed to a third their length and complexity and been just fine. And what's more, there were lots of glitches in the premise or in the dialogue that in aggregate tend to grate. For instance:
-- Bashir's giving him this drug at 3 cc's per minute? That's a HUGE amount of material. Forget his health; he'll start bulging at the neck in short order. :-) (He originally said milligrams, which is a bit more reasonable,
but the two aren't even measuring the same thing, much less interchangeable units.)
-- The premise of "their bodies were engineered without this enzyme, so they're addicted to it" was SillyScience [tm]. Engineering them without something vital (a la a similar step in Jurassic Park the novel) is fine, and is a sensible way to control a populace; but it doesn't mean you've created an addiction, just a flaw. The addiction by itself is fine, and the natural lack of the enzyme by itself is fine; together they're silly.
That seems to about cover it. "The Abandoned", aka "Founder Knows Best", wasn't particularly bad by any means, but it mostly just sat there. Something needs to give this season a jolt of electricity, because so far,
while not *bad*, it's been rather listless as far as I'm concerned -- and given the strength of the characters and the situations surrounding them, that's a shame.
So, some smaller points and then a wrapup. Small points first:
-- One very interesting, and chilling, point we saw here was that the cloaking ability of a Jem'Hadar is natural. Brr.
-- I wasn't enchanted with Bumper Robinson, but I can't really tell if that's the acting at fault or the generally thuggish writing of the character. (I did like a couple of his lines, particularly the "I don't THINK so" when asked if there was anything else he thought about beyond killing.)
-- We've now established that there are still runabouts at the station. Great. That removes one possible justification for why Sisko's taking the Defiant out at the drop of a hat; now we really need to see some.
That's it. So, in sum:
Plot: Some premise problems, but nothing remarkably good or bad.
Plot Handling: Clunky in many places; the Jake subplot was mostly an exception.
Characterization: Generally okay, except when Odo turns preachy.
OVERALL: 5. (Yes, I gave the same to "Second Skin" last week, which was undeniably better; I've reconsidered that one and now consider it in the 6-7 range.)
Gul Dukat, Garak, and exploding panels. Never a dull moment...
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Is that all you can think about? Killing? Isn't there anything else you think about?"
"I don't think so."
-- Odo and the Jem'Hadar