WARNING: This article contains spoiler information regarding DS9's "The Alternate". Those not wishing to have spoilers revealed to them (or, alternately, those who wish to remain spoiler-free) should remain clear.
In brief: sigh. Good direction, with a fifth act that makes up for many problems, but still missing a certain something.
A significant part of that "something" that's missing is intelligent reasons for the characters to behave the way they do. Several of the scenes here, at least one of which was necessary to make the story work, involve extremely stupid actions on the part of the characters.
The broadest of these, hands down, is when Odo, Mora, Dax, and Dr. Weld are exploring the planet searching for clues. They find a fairly significant-looking and mysterious pylon there, with inscriptions they can't immediately decipher, but which is positioned to suggest that it's extremely important. Rather than do anything sensible like take a few visual records of the glyphs and bring that home, what do they do? They decide to essentially go graverobbing, and take the whole pylon with them. It's in bad taste to do such a thing, fairly poor scientific method (after all, maybe the position was important to the deciphering), and extremely stupid. I had a lot of problems getting too deep into the show after that point.
The second-dumbest move was O'Brien choosing to wander through a conduit, making himself completely helpless, to track a lifeform which is supposed to be dangerous and difficult to track with sensors. I'm not as worried about this one, because he at least acknowledged that he was being incredibly dumb, but I have to wonder what the point of the scene was aside from an attempt at shock value. (The parallels to a scene from "Alien" were noted and chuckled at, as well. :-) )
Beyond the stupidity required to make the jeopardy exist in the first place, however, much of "The Alternate" was well done. In particular, I think casting James Sloyan as Dr. Mora was an amazingly good move. Based on his work in "The Defector" for TNG, I expected a good performance from him, and I wasn't disappointed. I don't quite think he was up to the level he was in "The Defector", but it's a tough call either way -- he was excellent. I could see very easily both his feelings on the situation and all those elements which would build up resentment in Odo. In some cases, that's because it was shown rather obviously -- but in others, it was just an overall sense I was getting from Sloyan's performance. In any event, I thought he and Rene Auberjonois worked together very well. [It didn't hurt that they have some resemblance to each other physically, as well.]
On other issues, I have no problem with the "clue to Odo's origins" turning out to be mostly a red herring (I say "mostly" only because they might, as Mora put it, be distant cousins), because that wasn't the focus of the show. I do, however, have a serious problem with the issue of the pylon. Taking it off the planet was dumb enough, but the show continued by focusing on the pylon very heavily at times, complete with odd camera angles and serious-minded music to point out that it was Significant. Well, aside from their idiocy in taking it, the pylon seemed to have absolutely nothing to do with the show. I wouldn't mind if it became a followup point, but given past history I have my doubts about that. In any event, the pylon became a fairly large plot issue that not only wasn't resolved, but never got a single scrap of actual progress devoted to it. Given that, just what was the point?
The interplay and the undercurrents of resentment Odo felt towards Mora, however, seemed to me to be exploited very well. In fact, it led to a fifth act that was much stronger than anything that had gone before (something of an exception, really). The entire first scene there, where Mora confronts Odo about his attack on Bashir, had me utterly riveted. Part of me almost wishes that the scene hadn't had the added visual cues of Odo slowly losing control over his shape, because it was so well done anyway that I'd almost prefer just to watch it happening on an emotional level -- but I don't think the visuals detracted, either. It was a brutal scene, and easily the showpiece of the episode. My compliments.
There was one and only one place where I thought David Carson dropped the ball, direction-wise. When Bashir wanders through the infirmary before being attacked, we should have seen him visibly feel warm. We weren't meant to be surprised by the creature's appearance, since it was shown coming in -- but by showing Bashir with no apparent feeling of excess warmth, Odo's badgering him about it later looks suspiciously like putting words into his mouth; and that's not Odo's style, even given the circumstances.
One comment on the very end, however -- how was Bashir able to get the molecule out of Odo? I assume Mora must have contributed a lot of understanding of his physiology, because otherwise we're left with the
conclusion that Bashir didn't think to do it as soon as they came back from the planet. That would be pretty dumb.
Basically, I liked a lot of "The Alternate" in terms of the emotional issues we saw played out, but I think most of the physical causes that brought it all up were pretty nonsensical. We have the stupid decision to take the pylon, which releases the volcanic gas that produces the dreaded Handwaving Effect on all of the people on the planet, which leads into the real story. So, good ideas with a lousy backup. (That statement can describe a
distressingly large amount of recent DS9 shows -- there hasn't been anything since "Necessary Evil" that has been really strong. I hope "Armageddon Game" in three weeks manages it...)
Some short takes, then, and I'll be on my way:
-- Another fairly dumb idea: no one checked beforehand to see if "Odo Jr." would be able to survive in their environment? Isn't that a bit unethical, particularly if you suspect it has signs of intelligence?
-- I liked the teaser bits with Quark selling off pieces of the not-quite-so "late, great Pleg". I wonder whose corpse he is selling. Hmm -- we didn't see anything of Rom this week...:-)
-- The Sisko/Jake scene was one of their best in recent memory, too. Avery Brooks does so well in scenes like this that I think we need more of them -- his talents are really being underused.
-- A writing note: Jim Trombetta's name looked familiar in a very sensible way: he also wrote "The Forsaken", which had a lot of the backstory to this show. However, the teleplay and second draft story were written by one Bill Dial. If I'm remembering right, Bill Dial was somehow involved with the old "WKRP in Cincinnati" series. Is this the same one? If so, it's a weird leap. Just an observation...
That's about it. So, to sum up:
Plot: The justification for it was nonexistent, but the emotional plotline itself was nice.
Plot Handling/Direction: Generally good, except for the one previously mentioned goof with Bashir's attack.
Characterization: Mostly good, with occasional attacks of being replaced by pod people doing incredibly dumb things.
OVERALL: Let's say a 7. Flawed in many ways, but fundamentally intriguing.
NEXT WEEK: A rerun of "Invasive Procedures". See you in three weeks.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Humanoid death rituals are an interest of mine."
"Everybody needs a hobby."
-- Odo and Quark