WARNING: Rumors are running high that this article contains spoilers for DS9's "Whispers". Just between you and me, if you haven't seen the show yet you'd be better off skipping the article for now...
Well, now I remember what I watch DS9 for. Episodes like this.
My heavens, this was lovely. "Whispers" is definitely the best thing DS9 has done since "Necessary Evil" in the fall, and is among the best shows they've done to date. Virtually everything about it clicked, and the show managed to keep me guessing right up until the end.
The O'Brien voiceover, film noir style, used the same sort of approach as TNG's "Suspicions" from last year, which featured similar narrations. However, this time it worked. I suppose that in part, it worked because one will talk to oneself (as O'Brien was basically doing here) very differently from how one would tell a story to someone else (a la "Suspicions"), but part of it also worked because "Whispers" had real suspense involved, and "Suspicions" had virtually none.
O'Brien's narration not only kept me interested during the course of the show, but also served to make it vastly more difficult to even guess the final surprise of the show, namely that the O'Brien we saw all episode was a
replicant and not the real thing. The reactions, the expressions, even the core thoughts expressed during the voice-overs were all so perfectly in character that I'd be surprised if more than a slight handful of people without prior knowledge actually guessed he was an impostor. I surely didn't.
"Whispers" is the sort of show that needs to be seen not only once, but twice. I've done so, and many of the scenes resonate on a very different level once you're aware of what's really happening. For instance, Jake's
"conversion" into one of "them" seemed extremely sinister first time around; I mean, my god, even a kid? In retrospect, though, all that happened is that Sisko realized Jake was hanging out with the replicant too much, and needed to be brought in the loop on what had happened.
Similarly, Bashir's apparent memory lapse during the physical at first seemed very disturbing, as though whoever had taken over Bashir hadn't quite gotten every detail right. Later, though, it becomes obvious that the lapse was invented and used to test O'Brien's memory, and O'Brien passing that was a further complication to the rest of the station.
Basically, "Whispers" is a giant paranoia-fest, and the best-working one since "Frame of Mind" last year. Colm Meaney, who generally gets underused, has had two terrific weeks in a row with this and "Armageddon Game". Both his initial attitudes and his growing suspicions were handled about as well as they ever have, and there's not much more to say beyond "good job".
Watching the show a second time, as I said, gives a very different perspective -- but two scenes don't work very well for me with that interpretation (actually, one didn't work either way). First, there's the dinner sequence, where O'Brien gets suspicious of the stew. So am I, because unless there really was something wrong with the stew, I don't know why Keiko would want to put him on edge by making something she wouldn't want to
eat herself. Given that there's nothing wrong with her -- she's just wary of him, with good reason -- why put him on his guard? [The idea that came to my mind is that maybe she was testing him again to see if he'd remember she didn't like that stew, but it feels like a reach to me.]
The other problem came during O'Brien's otherwise superb escape from the station (even down to the music, which was some of the best work I've heard from McCarthy in a while). Exactly why was O'Brien's trick of putting up every force-field effective? From there, the easy thing to do from Sisko's POV would be to beam O'Brien into the brig, beam Odo into the same section of corridor as O'Brien, gas O'Brien, or something else. Once he's subdued, then drop the force-fields; but why do it initially and give him the extra room to maneuver?
(Another minor problem is that I'd have waited a few seconds longer to open the ventilation panel to escape through if I'd been O'Brien; with Jake still in the area and on everyone else's side, it would be way too easy for Jake to see him and tip Odo off. That's a nitpick, though.)
To a point, also, the death of the replicant O'Brien seemed a little too convenient for me. Granted, they've broken with tradition by keeping doubles around before (Tom Riker, for instance), and this one might be dangerous in ways they hadn't realized yet, but even so it seemed to be a case of "oh, he wasn't real, so let's kill him." It was only vaguely disquieting, but it was a little disquieting.
Apart from those fairly small problems, though, the show was perfect. Everyone but Meaney acted in such a way as to make both the initial "something's wrong with them" conclusion easy to reach and to make the later
"they're trying to find out about him" conclusion easy to reach afterwards. That's a difficult layering to write, to direct, and to perform -- and all parties involved should be proud.
A few shorter points, then, and I'm off:
-- The new runabout is named the Mekong. Not bad, but I'm still holding out for a Thames one of these days.
-- I wasn't surprised to hear Keiko say she was up at 5:30, and nor should O'Brien be; for many teachers, 5:30 is almost a late start, not an early one. (No, I'm not enchanted by this particular fact. :-) )
-- O'Brien's search through the system for anomalies made sense -- I think he covered virtually all the bases we've seen in televised SF for "the crew's acting weird" for the last two decades.
-- When O'Brien asked "Had someone or something started to infiltrate all of Starfleet?" after talking to the Admiral, I shivered a bit. My first thought, thinking way back to early TNG, was "check for a bluegill, Miles!"
'Course, it was a pipe dream, but the idea was pleasant to think about for a few minutes, anyway.
That about takes care of it. "Whispers", as I said at the start, is one of those shows that reminds me why I watch DS9. It was riveting from start to finish, and stylistically different from most DS9 to date. Nice job.
To sum up, then:
Plot: Almost (if not quite) airtight, and a nice choice of storytelling.
Plot Handling: Top-notch, from pacing to camera-work.
Characterization: Almost beyond compare. Superb.
OVERALL: A 9.5. Damn near perfect; nice work.
Sisko and O'Brien trapped by a cult of primitivism. Hmm...
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"No, they did, they got to you..."