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Review: Love & individuality in Star Trek: Deep Space 9 ‘Chimera’

27/8/03

I just watched ‘Chimera’* tonight and found it to be one of the best modern expositions of love and individuality I’ve seen.

Odo and Chief O’Brien are returning from an away mission when they encounter a changeling propelling itself through space in the form of a squid-like space vessel. The changeling, named Laas, boards their shuttle. O’Brien is suspicious that the changeling is a Founder trying to trick Odo, but back at the station Captain Sisko releases Laas into Odo’s custody. Laas is considerably practiced in shapeshifting, able to take many forms. At one point he surprises Odo by being a flame, at another he lends an idyllic calm to the Promenade by being a low, swirling cloud of mist. Unfortunately, General Mortok and a Klingon subordinate are not impressed by the mist demonstration and confront Laas, believing him to be a Founder. This culminates in Laas killing the subordinate, most likely in self defence as the subordinate may have been reaching for his disruptor gun.

Odo introduces Laas to ‘linking’, the ability of changelings to link together with each other in body, thought and idea—something which Odo picked up from the Founders. Laas has been hitherto unaware he possessed this ability—Odo is the only other changeling he’s ever met—and is highly taken with it.

Laas tries to convince Odo that he is not being true to himself: Odo’s restrained use of his ability to shapeshift is seen by Laas as a cowardice, a fear of being himself. Odo, though, constrains himself mostly to humanoid form out of consideration for the sensibilities and insecurities of the humanoids on DS9. Laas has had only bad experiences with humanoids, it seems, including a failed love affair. His name derives from the native word for ‘changeling’ on the world he was discovered. He learns from ‘linking’ with Odo that Odo remains on DS9 because of his love for Kira. This strikes him again as weakness. His attempt at a loving relationship failed and this has tarnished his view of it: now to him love is no more than a tragic attempt by humanoids to achieve what is achieved so naturally for changelings through ‘linking’.

Laas plans to continue to search the galaxy for ‘the hundred’, the one-hundred changelings that were sent out as ‘infants’ some time ago from the changelings’ home to grow up with other species. Laas intends to form a new link with the members of ‘the hundred’ he eventually hopes to locate. Laas has had form for considerably longer than Odo—Odo apparently drifted through space formless 170 years after Laas was ‘discovered’. He regards Odo as something of a naive youngster, although in reality Laas is something of a jaded old man.

The Klingons take the unusual step of making a formal accusation of murder against Laas over the death on the Promenade. Typically, the Klingons’ honour code precludes any sort of quibbling after a death. Wholesale revenge by bloody slaughter is more their style. Odo suspects, most likely correctly, that the Klingons are bringing the charge because of their prejudice against changelings. Captain Sisko declines to intervene, and a magistrate is sent for to decide whether Laas will be extradited to the Klingons for trial. The Klingons’ charges are grossly overinflated, and all expect such a trial would inevitably lead to Laas’ execution, regardless of the facts.

Kira and Odo discuss Laas’ plan to find others of ‘the hundred’. Kira doesn’t want Odo to stay with her on DS9 solely out of a feeling of obligation. She secretly releases Laas, directing him to a rendez-vous point. Laas’ departure is taken by the rest of the station as an escape. Before Laas leaves he asks Kira why she is releasing him. Kira replies ‘Because I love him.’ She informs Odo of Laas’ location. Odo travels to where Laas is, expresses his hope that he too will understand the humanoid concept of love somday, and wishes the other changeling well on him mission. Laas’ leaves, apparently none the wiser about Odo’s motivations. On Odo’s return, Kira tells him ‘I’m sorry if I don’t let you be yourself.’ Odo changes into a rainbow mist of energy and swirls around her, and she is awed.

Rene Echevarria here has written a fully modern love story, well realised under Steve Posey’s direction. Here is illustrated one of the best qualities we possess: to be prepared to lose someone from our lives because of, not in spite of, our love for them. While a typical Hollywood movie-ending involves two mutually-attracted protagonists finding fulfilment only by gaining each other, achieving co-possession only after thwarting other people’s interference in their lives, usually through a series of romantic, high-action hijinx, here Kira is prepared to find fulfilment through losing Odo, knowing that she fully supported his quest to be himself, even if that would take him from her forever. This classic story cannot be told too many times in my view. With regard to this plotline the episode’s writing, the acting and the direction, with the exception of an early scene between Odo and Kira which resorts to the old ‘back turned to the camera while we have an argument’ cliche, is excellent.

Odo’s ability to physically become any form is a neat metaphor for an aspect of modern social living that many of us perhaps take for granted without realising it. Most of us nowadays are not constrained to one form of work, a particular lifestyle, or a limited set of goals. Instead, our possibilities are broad. We can become just about anything we want and live just about anyhow we please if we work intelligently towards our goals. This flexibility presents a challenge to us about how we regard those around us: do we love them for what they appear to be (their job, likes & dislikes, social status, appealing looks, etc) or do we love them in a deeper way so that such impermanent properties don’t matter? When a person about us start to change, through will or simply the passing of time, how should we react? Can we overcome the expectations that have arisen in us from our knowledge of his old properties? Can we alter habitual forms of behaviour to accomodate him? Do we reject him in his new form? Can we, in some cases, accept that our friend has changed so much that his path no longer lies with us and part ways from him with love? Even if our friend is not changing greatly and has no plan to do so, can we love him as an indefinable individual, making our relationship with him a safe and encouraging space for him to explore his potential? Or do we selfishly restrict ourselves to simply going along with him because he has properties which are pleasing to us?

The crew and residents of DS9 first appreciated Odo for his usefulness. His ability to disguise himself as ubiquitous objects, his near-invulnerable hardiness, his intelligence and his level-headedness made him the ideal person to maintain a safe community upon the station. A few people have become his close friends: Kira’s regard for Odo completely transcends limited self-interest. She is fully prepared to do without the pleasure she derives from his company for Odo’s benefit. In doing so, she would find a deeper, more satisfying fulfilment in knowing that she encouraged another’s. Fortunately, Odo’s love of Kira is a stronger motivator for him that his curiosity about his bretheren, and he returns to her after only a short while.

Kudos for the creative people at Paramount for this one.

*Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, episode 564 ‘Chimera’, broadcast 14th in season 7, written by Rene Echevarria, directed by Steve Posey, with Rene Auberjonois as Odo, Nana Visitor as Kira Nerys, J.G. Hertzler as Laas and Armin Shimerman as Quark. See www.startrek.com/startrek/view/series/DS9/episode/104685.html.

Sean Vickery.