WARNING: And lo, TOS begat TNG, and TNG begat DS9, and DS9 begat spoilers for the recent episode "The Begotten".
In brief: The A-story: mostly predictable, but very well done. The B-story: bleah.
Brief summary: Odo finds an infant Changeling and is determined to help raise it without the heavy-handed methods of his mentor, Dr. Mora Pol.
Before I get too deeply into this review, I should really confess something: namely, that DS9 was something akin to an afterthought with me this week. Given that new "Babylon 5" episodes started up for the first time in nine weeks, and (more crucially) that "Star Wars" came back to the big screen for the first time in years (giving me the opportunity to see it at Mann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood with two or three thousand of my closest friends :-) ), I more or less expected well in advance that DS9 would take a semi-distant third place in my mind. I'm trying not to let that impact this review, but I'd like to make sure everyone knows, so that at least I have a clear conscience.
So, on to the show. Considering that much of the time I've been less than keen on the Founders, and that the last time we had a show with Odo trying to raise someone (season 3's "The Abandoned") it turned out middling at best, I had some qualms about "Odo plays daddy to a Changeling" as the premise to "The Begotten". In this, I found myself pleasantly surprised.
The reason I was surprised, and that the show worked as well as it did, is that the focus unexpectedly wound up very different from what I expected. The baby Changeling was an intrinsic part of the show, but the show centered on Odo's attitudes and particularly on his approach to "parenthood" as contrasted with the "childhood" he experienced at Dr. Mora's hands. That emphasis on parenthood has served Rene Echevarria well in many Sisko/Jake stories he's written, and it tended to play out well here also.
Given that the parenting issue was the strength of the plot, it's perhaps not surprising that the first segment of the show failed to get much of a reaction out of me. Rene Auberjonois was certainly game, and did his best, but the bottom line is that it's awfully tough to provoke an emotional reaction when you're playing opposite a glass full of half-finished Jello. The early scenes, although appreciated, didn't quite manage to get over that hurdle, at least for me.
For the most part, that changed as soon as Dr. Mora showed up. The most negative thing I have to say about the A-story from that point on is that bits of it were easy to predict in advance. It was a cinch, for instance, that Odo's lenient technique was going to prove too lenient in terms of making any progress, and that Odo was going to wind up appreciating Dr. Mora's position more than he had before. That's not really much of an indictment, however; it's hard to write a story that's impossible to predict and simultaneously makes sense, and unless the execution is pedestrian a fairly predictable story can still work quite well.
Thanks to some nice direction, nice characterization, and particularly nice performances from Auberjonois and from James Sloyan, the execution was far from pedestrian. There were certainly times when I thought one character or the other was being a little too hard-hearted or a little too rigid, but that's the sort of thing that usually helps make the characters seem real; the odds of these two people being completely rational with each other under the circumstances are pretty darned small.
In particular, I liked the way their relationship took two paths, each of which reached its own crescendo. We started off with Odo being downright hostile, which eventually reached its peak when Mora realized they were making no progress. The level of rhetoric went up and up ("what ridiculous thing you're going to try"? "Dr. Mora's Chamber of Horrors"?), and then had to come back down due to Sisko's quiet pressure. After that emotion had run its course, the rapprochement began, which effectively reached its peak during the celebration in Odo's office. (It didn't come down very much after that, but it became calmer, which is why I'd call the celebration the climactic moment.)
One surprising thing "The Begotten" did manage, however, was to evoke something of a sense of wonder at "Changeling-ness" again -- and not once, but twice. Odo's statements did their best, but shapeshifting is such a visual concept that the wonder almost has to come from the visuals, and in this case, it did. When the infant Changeling reached out to mimic Odo, I was just as flabbergasted and delighted as Odo and Mora were -- and when Odo, in the biggest surprise of them all, realized he'd regained his abilities due to the death of the infant, I understood his exhilaration ... and very nearly shared it. Shapeshifting has become such a common thing, both in Trek and in genre fiction in general (film and television especially), that it's not all that easy for me to get caught up in it; I'm pretty impressed, therefore, that "The Begotten" managed it so easily.
And now, a word about Odo regaining his powers: interesting.
And now, a few more words about Odo regaining his powers. :-) While I think we all pretty much expected he'd get them back somehow, I liked the fact that he didn't get them back by facing down the Founders or having them take mercy on him. As it is, he's gotten back what was physically taken from him in "Broken Link", but the rejection is still there and hopefully ever will be. The fact that he got his powers back only through a sacrifice he didn't want to be made for him should make him feel more than a little guilty, to boot -- at the end of this episode, he does, but I'd like to see some other impact as well.
That covers most of the main story, which leaves the B-story: the end of Kira's pregnancy and the birth of the O'Briens' son. The main thing I can say here is "at least it's over." The pregnancy was put to good use exactly once, in "The Darkness and the Light". The rest of the time, it's mostly made Kira look weak or foolish, and I like neither. This time, it didn't really make Kira look that foolish -- just everyone else. Although it's a staple of giving-birth television situations to have every male in a two-mile vicinity immediately drop down to an IQ of about room temperature (on the Celsius scale), I think it's overdone and overrated. (To those saying "that's because you haven't been in that situation" ... true, I haven't, but I doubt it would change my mind much.) What's more, I have to comment on Shakaar. If the issue were simply that Shakaar showed up here to play the jealous boyfriend, and that he was really no more interesting here than he was in "Crossfire" last season, I'd be annoyed enough. However, the political and personal implications of the last two shows ("Rapture", where Bajor was invited to join the Federation, and "The Darkness and the Light", where members of Shakaar's own resistance cell were being killed off) were ones that demanded Shakaar's appearance; given that, the lack of Shakaar there combined with his presence here and the lack of mention of the last few weeks' events is enough to make me want to spit. Shakaar, as was mentioned in a throwaway line of Keiko's, is not just Kira's Ken-doll boyfriend. He is the First Minister of Bajor, and needs to be treated as such. I'd prefer to see Shakaar written out entirely than continue to be used in this fashion; it's really intolerable. That sharply increased my already high distaste for the B-story, so on the whole ... the less said about this end of it, the better.
There, is, however, one exception. The last scene of the show, where both Kira and Odo muse on their recent losses, did a very effective job of bringing the thematic link between the stories into focus. That doesn't, alas, change the fact that the B-story was close to unwatchable -- but it does make me appreciate the fact that it wasn't just thrown in here to pad out the hour. Echevarria was trying to do something here; it didn't work well, at least from my viewpoint, but I can see and appreciate the intent.
That about covers things, really. So, a few short takes:
-- I was greatly amused by the initial Odo/Bashir scene. "You have to learn to relax." "That's what you said last week." "And?" "And it helped ... along with the prune juice." Note to writers who've been hung up on the "waste extraction" references this season: a little discretion can be a lot funnier.
-- The technobabble level coming from Bashir was higher than usual this time.
-- While most of Odo's talking about shapes came off well, I had to bristle a little bit when he referred to a pyramid as "one of nature's most mysterious forms". Excuse me? Did I accidentally turn to the "All 'In Search Of...'" network in the middle of the program? There's nothing mysterious about a pyramid.
-- I really liked Sisko's reaction when he walked in on Odo and Mora shouting at each other. No shouting, no histrionics ... just a little quiet discipline pointing out the seriousness of the situation. Very good.
That should do it. So, wrapping up:
Writing: Strong work on the main story, if a little bit bumpy here and there. The subplot: no thanks.
Directing: No complaints on this end; not on the level of the last couple of shows, but quite solid.
Acting: Definitely no complaints, except perhaps about Duncan Regehr -- that may be due to the blandness of the character,
OVERALL: A 7.5, I think -- we'll see how it ages. Not terrific, but well worth a look.
Sisko and Eddington, the grudge match.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"I am happy, Quark. Can't you just accept it?"
"No. It doesn't fit. If you're happy, there's something very wrong in the world."
-- Odo and Quark