Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch: “Vortex”

“Vortex”
Written by Sam Rolfe
Directed by Winrich Kolbe
Season 1, Episode 11
Production episode 40511-412
Original air date: April 18, 1993
Stardate: unknown

Station log: Odo goes to Quark’s to see if Quark plans to do business with the Miradorn raider that just docked. Quark insists that he has no business with them. There’s also a gentleman from the Gamma Quadrant named Croden, who was brought through the wormhole by a Klingon ship. He wasn’t very forthcoming with Sisko and the others from Starfleet, but he’s had many drinks at the bar. Quark claims he was scared by Starfleet, which makes Odo wonder what he’s scared of.

A set of Miradorn twins, Ah-Kel and Ro-Kel, enter and nod to Quark, which makes Odo suspicious, but Quark insists they’re just nodding at the guy behind the bar, then storms off.

Rom brings a tray of drinks to a back room where Quark is (surprise!) negotiating with the Miradorn to purchase a jeweled egg. The tray includes four glasses that Rom put there, plus Odo disguised as a fifth glass. Quark’s buyer is concerned that it’s stolen. As they talk, Croden enters with a Ferengi phaser and asks for the egg. A fight ensues—in the time it take Odo to retake humanoid form, Croden shoots Ro-Kel, killing him. Odo takes all of them into custody.

Ah-Kel explains that Miradorn twins are two halves of the same self and he swears he’ll kill Croden for devastating him like this. Sisko cuts off Odo’s interrogation of Ah-Kel, but also makes it clear that the law will deal with Croden. Odo reluctantly lets Quark and Rom go—Quark himself did express concern over the egg’s provenance, which helps justify his claim of innocent bystander-hood—though he suspects Quark of setting up the whole thing.

Odo and Sisko then talk to Croden, who indicates that Odo is not the first shapeshifter—or “changeling,” as he calls them—he’s met, that he’s seen several in the Gamma Quadrant. Odo is skeptical, to say the least. He also learns that Quark and Croden had several in-depth conversations, and Odo questions Quark thoroughly, both about their business dealings and about anything Croden might have said about his homeworld. Quark, however, says nothing.

Ah-Kel and his crew gather outside Odo’s office, wanting revenge on Croden. Odo makes it clear that if he doesn’t go back to his ship and stay there, Odo will lock him up, too. Odo then queries Croden, who says that there were changelings on Rakhar centuries earlier, but they were persecuted and driven out. Croden offers to take Odo to the place where he believes some have re-settled, and to prove that he’s not lying, he shows Odo the inside of his pendant, which has a small amount of material that changes shape the same way Odo does.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Vortex

Sisko and Dax take the Rio Grande to Rakhar. They speak with an exarch who insists that Croden be returned to them immediately. He has been declared guilty in absentia of dozens of crimes. The exarch is insistent and Sisko agrees to repatriate him.

Bashir examines Croden’s pendant, and reveals that it’s part organic, part inorganic, but somewhat resembles Odo’s own biological structure. Croden admits to finding it in a nebula near a vortex that’s uncharted. He claims there’s a changeling colony there.

Sisko orders Odo to return Croden to Rakhar. That is complicated by Ah-Kel, who is screening every ship that leaves the station, and his ship is faster than a runabout. Odo hides the runabout in the lee of a Rigellian freighter, which does the trick of hiding them from Miradorn sensors.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Vortex

While en route to Rakhar, Croden tells a skeptical Odo that he’s a political prisoner—he spoke out against the government once too often, and the government in exchange killed his family. He escaped, killing the two guards who killed his wives, and has been on the run from his own people since.

Under threat of extreme violence, Quark and Rom tell Ah-Kel where Odo has gone. Despite the fact that Deep Space 9 is equipped with tractor beams and that the Miradorn ship is clamped to the station via the docking pylon, Sisko is inexplicably unable to stop Ah-Kel from going through the wormhole.

The Miradorn catch up with Odo’s runabout at the vortex where Croden claims the changeling colony is—and which is also filled with volatile gas pockets, so Croden proceeds gingerly. After Ah-Kel opens fire, Odo reluctantly unbinds Croden and lets him fly the ship, since Odo has no training as a combat pilot. Croden contrives an excuse to land, which Odo sees through pretty quickly. The stories he’s told about changelings aren’t recent, but millennia-old legends that he didn’t believe until he met Odo, and the stone is a common item sold by Rakhari merchants. He wanted to bring Odo to the vortex and this asteroid because that’s where he’s hidden the stasis chamber containing his daughter, the only member of his family he was able to save. (The shapechanging stone is the key to open the chamber.) He asks Odo to take his daughter to asylum on DS9 while he plans to turn himself in to the Rakhari to answer for his crimes.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Vortex

But Ah-Kel has found them, and starts firing on the cave. There’s a rockslide that somehow renders Odo unconscious—how a being without a real cranium can suffer cranial trauma is left as an exercise for the viewer—and, after a moment’s hesitation, Croden carries him to the runabout.

Odo wakes up and takes control, navigating toward a gas pocket and then shutting the runabout down in order to lure the Miradorn in. Then Odo goes to full impulse just as Ah-Kel is about to fire—his firing photon torpedoes triggers an explosion that destroys the Miradorn ship.

A Vulcan ship that was exploring the area detected the explosion. Odo claims that Croden and his daughter are the only survivors of the explosion, whom he rescued, and asks the Vulcan captain for asylum for both of them. He says he’ll tell the Rakhari that Ah-Kel killed him when he torpedoed the asteroid.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity?: Whatever you do, do not fire weapons in a toh-maire gas field. It would be bad.

Don’t ask my opinion next time: Kira is amused by the way Sisko, Dax, and O’Brien fret about the fact that their first contact with the Rakhari will be via returning a homicide suspect—she’s the only one who thinks they’ll be grateful. (As it happens, they’re not, but she’s still closer to the reality of the situation than the others.)

Rules of Acquisition: Quark again is able to hack station security as he did in “Babel,” this time to determine Odo’s flight plan.

Preservation of mass and energy is for wimps: Odo disguises himself as a glass and places himself on a tray that Rom then carries with ease. Odo also does this without anybody in the very crowded bar noticing.

Keep your ears open: “Don’t thank me, I already regret it.”

Croden to Odo after the latter wakes up in the runabout, and then again by Odo to Croden after deciding to let them go with the Vulcans.

Welcome aboard: Randy Oglesby plays both Ah-Kel and Ro-Kel. He previously played one of Riva’s chorus in TNG’s “Loud as a Whisper,” and will return to play Silaran Prin in “The Darkness and the Light,” as well as Kir in Voyager’s “Counterpoint” and Trena’L in Enterprise’s “Unexpected.” He’ll also have the recurring role of the Xindi-Primate scientist Degra in Enterprise’s third season.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Vortex

Cliff DeYoung, former lead singer of Clear Light and longtime character actor, plays Croden, while Kathleen Garrett and Leslie Engelberg play the Vulcan captain and Croden’s daughter, respectively.

Finally, our Robert Knepper moment is Gordon Clapp as the Rakhari exarch. Best known as Detective Medavoy on NYPD Blue, I had totally forgotten that Clapp ever even appeared on Star Trek….

Trivial matters: This episode contains the first real hints that Odo is truly from the Gamma Quadrant, as Croden tells stories he’s heard about changelings and changeling colonies. Much of it is lies, though there are grains of truth—the stories he’s heard are millennia rather than centuries old, and we’ll eventually learn that the changelings (which is really what they call themselves) did decide to live in a hidden world in a nebula, just not the one Croden took Odo to.

The Miradorn aren’t seen again onscreen, though they’ll be mentioned again in “Call to Arms.” Their homeworld is seen in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers eBook The Cleanup by Robert T. Jeschonek (collected in the trade paperback Out of the Cocoon). The Rakhari are also never again seen onscreen, nor even mentioned beyond a single reference in the novel Plagues of Night by David R. George III.

Morn is named for the first time in this episode, and the running gag about how talkative he is (when the character never ever speaks on screen) also starts here. The name is an anagram of “Norm,” the name of George Wendt’s character from Cheers who never seemed to ever leave the bar.

The basic idea of the episode from Peter Allan Fields was a riff on the film The Naked Spur, and so he hired Sam Rolfe, that movie’s scriptwriter, to do the teleplay. Fields and Rolfe worked together on The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which Rolfe created, and Rolfe previously wrote “The Vengeance Factor” for TNG. It turned out to be Rolfe’s last screen credit, as he died of a heart attack later in 1993.

Walk with the Prophets: “Five glasses for four people?” This is certainly an interesting episode. It teases us for some revelations about Odo, and while we get less than Croden promised, we get more than we had before. I love yet another disappointing first contact, as the Rakhari exarch greets Sisko with all the enthusiasm I gave to the Jehovah’s Witness who rang my doorbell this morning, and makes it clear that they want Croden back and then they can leave Rakhar alone, thanks. Cliff DeYoung does a nice job with Croden, who’s chatty and vaguely charming and totally awful at being a master criminal (the whole thing starts because he really sucks at being a thief). I especially like that he spends the entire episode talking too much, and we eventually find out that he’s on the outs with the government that killed most of his family because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut.

Still, I feel like I have to grasp at straws for reasons to like the episode, as I came away from it with an overwhelming sense of meh. The Miradorn are an interesting alien species, and Ah-Kel’s motives for going after Croden are much more believable than just going with “he’s a bastard,” but nothing significant is done with them because the episode spends most of its time on the Rakhari and the changelings. Ah-Kel gets away from DS9 way too easily for someone who’s supposed to be staying on the station due to his involvement in a homicide investigation. “Babel” established that ships need ops to disengage docking clamps before leaving, so how did Ah-Kel leave? And the tractor beam worked fine on Tandro’s ship in “Dax,” so why couldn’t they use it here? Why is Kira issuing them a stern “stop, or I’ll say stop again!” warning all they can do?

And while I’m willing to suspend my disbelief regarding Odo’s near-magical shapeshifting abilities most of the time, my disbelief’s air supply is cut off in this one. First he turns into a glass that weighs as much as a regular glass, since Rom doesn’t notice the extra weight on the tray, then later in the same episode, Croden bitches that Odo’s heavier than he looks. Of course, Croden only has to carry Odo because he’s knocked unconscious by a rock hitting him on his head—except it’s not a head, it’s solidified liquid matter. How, exactly, is he rendered unconscious? His nonexistent brain sloshed against his nonexistent skull?

If the episode had more to hang itself on, I’d be willing to overlook these flaws, but the story’s just not engaging enough to care. Rene Auberjonois does a very nice job with Odo’s curiosity warring with his dedication to duty, Armin Shimerman nicely plays Quark as someone who was just doing a simple business deal that went into the waste extractor, and Randy Oglesby’s deep voice makes for a dandy villain, but it only serves to bring the episode up to average.

 

Warp factor rating: 5


Keith R.A. DeCandido reminds everyone that his newest book, the short story collection Tales from Dragon Precinct, is now on sale.

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