WARNING: This article contains heavy spoiler information for "Vortex", the most recent DS9 episode. Continue at your own risk.
"Vortex" was a rarity among DS9 episodes to date; it didn't inspire much of a reaction at *all* in me. There was a lot of promise here, with only a fraction of it borne out -- but unlike, say, "Q-Less", there also wasn't much here that was wrong. There just ... wasn't much here at all, I suppose.
That doesn't mean there weren't things I liked, of course -- there certainly were. The strongest plus the show had was the character and portrayal of Croden. The setup surrounding him (bad guy who's really a good guy whose crime was to disobey a totalitarian government) was hardly new; in fact, "hackneyed" is probably the word that first comes to mind. However, Croden's matter-of-fact acceptance of his fate was at least a somewhat new spin on things, and Cliff De Young's portrayal was surprisingly low-key. The usual "good-guy terrorists" are a bit over-the-top for me, and De Young seemed *extremely* laid back in nearly everything he did. That was interesting, particularly considering how jumpy the only other adult Rakharian was.
I also thought that _at times_, Rene Auberjonois did some wonderful work. Odo's been a pretty rigid guy so far in nearly every respect, and it was intriguing to see that bend on more than one occasion and in more than one
The first major difference was Odo's obsession in checking Croden's story. It made perfect sense, but the most compelling part of it came when he harassed Quark into telling him what he knew. Quark thought the whole time that Odo was after *him*, as usual -- and I'm not entirely sure he even realized otherwise after Odo left. Here, it wasn't so much Odo's new behavior as the effect it caused that was worth watching.
Then, there's the ending. Although I have some difficulty believing Odo would turn _that_ compassionate, particularly when Croden really had turned out to be lying through his teeth, Auberjonois's ability to get that across in both words and body language was terrific. Acting through that much latex can't be easy, particularly when it's designed to deliberately be impassive and unexpressive as it is for Odo -- but he managed it. Look at his eyes right after he's let Croden and Yareth go, and at his very small smile at "Yes, I suppose I am [a changeling]." Marvelous.
The only other thing that really struck me as positive was the story itself that Croden dreamed up to talk to Odo about. Although I was willing to bet it wasn't true, that was primarily because I doubted we'd see more of Odo's
race this early in the show's existence, not because of Croden's tale itself. The tale had the ring of truth to it, particularly when it came to the persecution and pride of the changelings. I think we'd be well served if aspects of the story, completely unknown to Croden, really _did_ turn out to be true in the end.
Now to the rest. As I said at the start, there's not very much that felt wrong about "Vortex", but there's a lot that felt uninspired or pointless. The entire subplot with Ah-Kel was an example. The initial concept of a "twinned" species was intriguing, particularly when it seemed that Ah-Kel was physically damaged by his brother's death. However, after that initial scene where Ah-Kel swears revenge, that's dropped, and it turns into one long "Ah swore Ah'd git the man who killed my brudder" revenge riff. Sorry, not interested. I didn't particularly care about it when they had to find a way off the station around him, and I didn't particularly care when he threatened Quark.
In fact, the "threat" posed by Ah-Kel's singlemindedness on the station brings up something that does feel rather wrong. The security on the station was _appalling_ if one guy can make that much of a threat. I mean, really -- if you can't trust him enough not to make attempts on Croden, then do as Odo threatened and lock the guy up until Croden's gone. End of problem. And barring that, why didn't anyone try using a tractor beam to stop Ah-Kel's ship when he went off after them? He didn't seem the type who'd just back down after being talked to sternly. Yeesh.
There were also many cases where the dialogue seemed to have turned into stock phrases or just plain wasn't delivered well. An example of this would have to be Odo's discussion with Bashir about his "cousin". While most of it was among the more interesting scenes in "Vortex", Odo's last line about "Unfortunately, the only person who can tell me is less reliable than Quark" was a line I could see coming from a long way off, and didn't do anything to make the trip worthwhile.
To make up for that, of course, there were a few clever bits of dialogue. Quark's taunt about "why no one's ever seen another shapeshifter -- they're all hiding!" was very well placed. It felt true to Quark, and did a nice job of setting up the rest of the show to boot. Somewhat more amusing had to be the exchange between Quark, Odo and Rom when Odo first "suggests" that Quark set up the robbery. Odo was right back in "Babel" -- Rom really *is* an idiot who probably couldn't fix a straw. :-)
There's very little else to say about the characters, because aside from Odo and Quark, the regulars pretty much were just walk-ons this time. The story, alas, doesn't have much to talk about either.
I mentioned earlier that the "Croden's crime" plot was rather worn-out. Unfortunately, so is the "how does it feel not to fit in?" issue that Croden kept trying to use on Odo. More specifically, when done in this very straightforward "I'm not like the others here and thus feel alone", it's *very* old -- we've had three regulars on TOS and TNG who had that situation on a periodic basis. There are much better ways to do it with Odo. For
instance, it's been pointed out more than once that Odo's abilities invite a great deal of paranoia on the part of anyone who _isn't_ Odo, and some feelings of aloneness based on no one trusting him would work far better.
As testament to how ... unobtrusive an episode this was, some of the best elements to the story I can think are the pitfalls it managed to *avoid*. For instance, it did _not_ actually have Quark helping Croden escape -- nor, for that matter, did Croden ever try. It also did *not* have a great deal of suspicion on the regulars' part about Odo's loyalty, which is a plot device that tends to get overused. I suppose there are better things one can say about a show than "it didn't make any mistakes", but there are also much worse ones.
I think that's about it. So, some short points:
-- The Ganges computer has had an overhaul, apparently; now it's deliberately talking in a confusing way. You'd think someone would have figured out that it could just say "a photon torpedo blast" instead of the two-line gobbledygook we got.
-- As an unfortunate juxtaposition, I read the DS9 novel _The Siege_, in which Odo is "revealed" to always keep the same mass, in the same 48-hour period when I saw "Vortex", which clearly invalidated that idea. Ah, well--
back to the drawing board. :-) (The morphing from the broken glass, however, was visually VERY impressive.)
-- Cliff De Young looked and sounded familiar to me, but I can't place him. Anyone know?
-- Odo's strategizing to get away from Ah-Kel seemed to come right out of pulp SF stories, but it was definitely entertaining in its own way. It's probably one of the most subtle things Odo's ever done, too.
That's about it. "Vortex" wasn't something to get angry at or about, but it wasn't something that enraptured me, either. After several weeks of reruns, this new addition to DS9 was just ... there.
So, the numbers:
Plot: 5. Competent but uninspired.
Plot Handling: 5. See above.
Characterization/Acting: 6. Croden was generally good, but Odo and Quark were both very uneven, and Ah-Kel was a raging bore.
TOTAL: 5.5. Neither good nor bad.
Some of the regulars are trapped on the planet housing the Gorge of Eternal
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Don't thank me, I already regret it."
-- Croden, then Odo