Tue
Aug 27 2013 2:00pm

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch: “Whispers”

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Whispers“Whispers”
Written by Paul Robert Coyle
Directed by Les Landau
Season 2, Episode 14
Production episode 40512-434
Original air date: February 6, 1994
Stardate: 47581.2

Station log: O’Brien, not wearing a combadge, takes the Rio Grande through the wormhole, on course for the Parada system. The Mekong is following him, but both runabouts are at maximum speed, so the other runabout won’t catch up to him until he drops out of warp.

He records a log entry to “set the record straight” about the last couple of days. He first noticed something was wrong the first morning after he got back to the station following a week-long mission to Parada where he was being trained in their security procedures for their peace talks, which will be held on Deep Space 9. He wakes up at 5.30am to discover the bed empty, Keiko claiming to be up early to catch up on schoolwork. Molly doesn’t want to talk to O’Brien, and Keiko nervously takes their daughter with her to school.

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

Then O’Brien is surprised to find DeCurtis, one of his people, doing work on the security systems for the selfsame peace talks. O’Brien thinks DeCurtis should wait for Odo to return from Bajor to start working, but DeCurtis says he’s on orders directly from Sisko. O’Brien, annoyed at being kept out of the loop regarding the allocation of his personnel, goes to talk to the commander, only to find him having an intense conversation with Keiko outside the school.

When O’Brien arrives in Ops, Bashir is insistent that O’Brien take his physical, reinforced by Sisko. After querying O’Brien about the Paradas, Sisko informs him that the upper pylons have failed, so he’ll have to be busy with that while the engineering crews handle the security arrangements. Sisko also says that he was talking with Keiko about Jake’s poor grades.

Bashir’s physical takes a very long time, so much so that O’Brien fears that he’s got some kind of fatal disease, but after poking and prodding and giving him a more thorough physical than he’s ever had before, Bashir gives him a clean bill of health.

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

On his way back to work, O’Brien bumps into Jake, who reveals that he’s having no issues at school whatsoever. But Sisko was telling the truth about the upper pylons: they’re a mess. He takes a break to check on DeCurtis, and wants to check out the arrangements, but DeCurtis says that only Kira has the access codes to the room. When O’Brien contacts Kira to get them, Sisko jumps in and tells O’Brien to get back to the upper pylons, as they need to be fixed posthaste. After he leaves, O’Brien looks back from around the corner to see that DeCurtis has access to the room also. The actual problem with the pylon itself was so deep in the system that O’Brien suspects it was sabotaged.

He arrives home to find that Molly’s staying with friends, but his hope that this might mean a romantic evening alone with his wife is quickly dashed by Keiko. Their dinner is awkward, and O’Brien is convinced that this isn’t his wife. After Keiko goes to sleep, O’Brien does a sensor sweep, checks records, tries to figure out what’s going on. He listens to all the official logs of everyone on the station—until he reaches the date he got back to the station from Parada, at which point access is denied to all log entries, even after he enters his security code. He uses his mad engineer skillz to get past the lockout to discover that there were massive concerns about Paradan security, and deep examination of O’Brien’s reports and his personal logs.

When Odo returns from Bajor, O’Brien grabs him as soon as he disembarks from his transport and shares his suspicions. Odo tells O’Brien to go about his business normally while he looks into it. Later, Odo calls O’Brien to his office and starts asking questions about the Paradans, which gets O’Brien’s hackles up. Sisko, Kira, and Bashir then enter Odo’s office, weapons raised, but O’Brien is prepared for that, and tosses a flash grenade and escapes to the corridors. Tossing his combadge, he manages to evade every security measure using some more of his mad engineering skillz, finally using a cargo transporter to beam himself to the Rio Grande, having already unmoored the runabout and disabled the station’s tractor beam. The station fires on the runabout, to no avail, but O’Brien contacts Admiral Rollman only for her to tell him to return to the station.

We’ve now caught up to the framing sequence, and the Rio Grande arrives at Parada. O’Brien loses the Mekong using some trickery involving a moon’s magnetic pole, then tracks the other runabout to Parada II. O’Brien follows them there and finds Sisko, Kira, and two Paradan rebels. One Paradan shoots O’Brien, and then we discover that Bashir is there also—treating another O’Brien.

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

It turns out that the O’Brien we’ve been in the POV of this whole episode isn’t O’Brien, but rather a replicant, a perfect duplicate of O’Brien sent to the station to sabotage the peace talks. Once the peace talks started, a trigger in Fake O’Brien would activate and perform the necessary sabotage. Sisko and the others kept Fake O’Brien busy on the station until the rebels could locate the real O’Brien, but when the real one was rescued, the replicant had already buggered off in the Rio Grande.

Fake O’Brien dies of his phaser wound, his last words a request to tell Keiko that he loves her.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The Paradans can create replicants that are perfect duplicates, including reading of memories and such (Fake O’Brien knows everything the real one does; the real O’Brien mentions a mess of wires in his head during his captivity).

The Sisko is of Bajor: Sisko does a very nice job of setting Fake O’Brien at ease, being friendly and self-deprecating, and pumping Fake O’Brien for info under the guise of a superior asking for a report.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Fake O’Brien tries to kiss Keiko when he thinks they have the cabin to themselves, and Keiko’s wide-eyed frightened response to that kiss is devastating, ratcheting up the tension in the room a hundredfold.

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

Rules of Acquisition: We get a Rule that Quark says is “one of the high numbers,” he thinks #194: “It’s always good to know about new customers before they walk in your door.”

Keep your ears open: “Well, your sense of humor seems normal enough.”

“I don’t have a sense of humor.”

“Cough. How’s the sex life?”

“I don’t have a sense of humor.”

Bashir and the Fake O’Brien during the latter’s physical.

Welcome aboard: Hey, look, it’s two weeks in a row of Rosalind Chao as Keiko! This time, Hana Hatae is back as Molly. Susan Bay is also back as Admiral Rollman, having previously played the role in “Past Prologue.” Todd Waring plays DeCurtis; he’ll be back as a Cardassian in “Change of Heart.”

Trivial matters: Quark mentions a rematch of the racquetball game between O’Brien and Bashir to make up for the one that was left unfinished in “Rivals.”

O’Brien’s father recently remarried, his mother having died two years ago. This, by the way, means that when O’Brien’s father visited him on the Enterprise and was chasing nurses, as mentioned in TNG’s “Family,” he was still married. For what that’s worth.

DeCurtis is used in the Starship Creator video game, and his Mirror Universe counterpart shows up in David Mack’s MU novel Rise Like Lions.

The plot of the episode is partly inspired by the 1974 film The Parallax View, and partly by the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Walk with the Prophets: “He was just trying to be a hero.” This is an episode that is actually less fun to rewatch precisely because it’s more fun when you don’t know the ending. Especially with the focal point being O’Brien—the character on DS9 that we’ve known the longest by virtue of his time as a recurring character on TNG, and also one of the most solid, reliable characters—you go along with Fake O’Brien’s notion that it’s some kind of weird conspiracy, that everyone else is being strange and/or altered. So the revelation at the end that the person we’ve been following around all episode isn’t even the real O’Brien is a magnificently played gut-punch. The reveal of what actually happened is accomplished quickly and efficiently (honestly, the script did a more concise job of summing it up than I did in the last paragraph of the “Station log” section above), mostly because the whys and wherefores are less important except as last-minute house-cleaning—kind of like the real explanation for the events of “Frame of Mind” on TNG.

It’s really difficult to do single-person POV on screen, but this episode manages it, aided by the framing sequence on the Rio Grande and Les Landau’s deliberately claustrophobic directing, using lots of closeups and tight shots.

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

Rewatching this one is less rewarding—unlike, say, The Usual Suspects where you can find all the hints that you missed the first time through—because the what’s-going-on tension is lessened when you know it’s not really O’Brien, and you don’t have the same Manchurian Candidate vibe when the sabotage trigger kicks in (like we got in the Manchurian-esque “The Mind’s Eye” on TNG, which also had a strong role for O’Brien) to see if he’ll carry out his orders, because we never get that far. In fact, we never even find out what Fake O’Brien’s orders are.

The one element of rewatching it that is rewarding is the excellent performance given by Rosalind Chao. On first viewing, Keiko’s behavior is just one of many people acting weird, but when you know what’s coming, you really feel for the poor woman, who has to pretend that everything’s perfectly normal because they have no proof that this isn’t O’Brien (Bashir’s physical turns up nothing untoward), and they can’t risk setting off whatever the trigger might be. Sisko can just dummy up a tech crisis, and Bashir can contrive a physical, but Keiko has to live with this thing and pretend it’s her husband. Her wide-eyed horror at having to kiss him takes on a whole different flavor when you know the ending. She doesn’t fake normalcy as well as the others, but she really can’t, especially given that they have a little girl in the cabin (and she gets rid of Molly as fast as she can).

 

Warp factor rating: 7


Keith R.A. DeCandido will be at Dragon Con 2013 this weekend. He’ll be doing a Writer Q&A on the Star Trek Track on Saturday at 5.30pm, a reading Friday at 4pm, an autographing Sunday at 2.30, and a bunch of other things including a self-defense workshop Friday at 1pm and a meetup for The Chronic Rift podcast Sunday night in the Hilton Bar. His full schedule is here.

23 comments
Robert Dickinson
1. ChocolateRob
When I first saw it I recognised it as a somewhat depressing Philip K Dick short story. I forget the name but the story was pretty much the same up until the ending where he finds his twin and we discover the phrase that will make him explode. Interestingly it is a phrase that he says, not one said to him -

- "So I'm not really *****?" -

Cue an earth shattering kaboom right where it was planned to be. Clever security feature if you think about it but not a happy ending.
Matt Hamilton
2. MattHamilton
I believe you're thinking of Imposter, and that's what this episode reminded me of too. It was pretty cool and when the ending unfolded it was like, "Wait...what...who?" It was done well and the acting was pretty good. And the writers had to have known that there were other episodes of TNG and stuff where the crew was replaced or taken over or something like that so that's what we as the audience would expect. To find out that we were the ones following the person who had been replaced really was clever.
Luis Milan
3. LuisMilan
Ah, Imposter. Very interesting story, but a disappointing film.
Matt Hamilton
4. MattHamilton
Yeah, the film did leave something to be desired but given that it was based on a short story, I thought they did alright. Then again, Minority Report was also based on a short short story and I actually liked that one (to an extent). But that's how this episode goes--pretty good, based on some things and made pretty well. Can't judge it too harshly for not being as good on a second watch based on the fact that you already know the outcome, but I pretty much agree with everything KRAD said.
Matt Stoumbaugh
5. LazerWulf
I'm not generally a fan of "paranoia" episodes, so I'll admit I was watching this one half-heartedly. I'll also admit that I was half-expecting that O'Brian was captured, but I was thinking more along the lines that he was in a computer simulation where the enemy aliens were trying to extract information from him (like in Season 5 of Eureka), so the "Faux'Brian" (sound it out) ending kinda threw me. On further retrospection, it does make more sense than the idea I had.

Props to Colm Meaney for this one, as I truly never suspected Faux'Brian to be a replicant.

This was the first time I saw this episode, so I couldn't really tell you how well I think it holds up to rewatch, but considering how easily I was able to reconcile my retrospections, (and, again, how much I dislike "paranoia" episodes), I would tend to agree with you, but such is the nature of "twist ending" episodes. I loved "Ocean's Twelve" the first time I saw it, but not so much the second time, because the suspense is gone. *Ocean's Twelve spoiler*When they're being captured one-by-one, the first time, you think that everything has gone wrong and, oh no how are they gonna get out of this? The second time, once you know it was all part of they're master plan to get captured to make the villain think he had one, it's not so thrilling.*/spoiler*
Christopher Bennett
6. ChristopherLBennett
Yeah, this was a terrific one. Great twist. And I don't think it's that badly diminished on rewatching, because you do see the clues in a whole different light.

I'll never get why the ending of The Usual Suspects keeps getting held up as an example of a brilliant twist. I saw it coming a mile away.
Matt Hamilton
7. MattHamilton
@6, not everybody saw it coming but also remember it was in the age when not every movie had a "SHOCK ENDING" and they didn't tell you about it to try and see the movie. They did The Sixth Sense right too but everything after that flat out tells you that it had a shock ending that will leave you breathless for weeks.

Can you imagine if they did that with the preview for this episode? "Something is wrong with the people on Deep Space Nine and only O'Brian notices. Watch for a shock ending that will leave you speechless!"
Keith DeCandido
8. krad
Christopher: I wasn't holding up The Usual Suspects as an example of a brilliant twist, I was simply pointing out that it works well when rewatched.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
David Levinson
9. DemetriosX
Overall pretty well done, though IIRC when I saw it the first time I thought there was something wrong with O'Brien from the beginning. Not that he wasn't the real thing, but that he had been compromised in some way.

Possibly the biggest problem with the episode is not with the episode itself, but where it fell in the rotation. This is our second O'Brien centric episode in a row (with another to immediately follow). The other two parts of the triptych mitigate this somewhat by involving Bashir and Sisko respectively, but it's still a lot of the Chief. And we're definitely into a stretch that shows why some of us suggested a Luck of the Irish section for the rewatches.
Munich_Man
10. Munich_Man
@1 AFter a rather awkward moment during a discussion of short stories and films, I have made it my personal policy, when saying that xxxx is one of my favorite Dick stories, to ALWAYS include the Phillip K.
Joseph Applegate
11. zabeus
This is a great suspense episode, and one of my favorites. Yeah, it loses the gut-punch on subsequent viewings, but it's fun to try and figure out what the other characters might be thinking in each scene.

It's not mentioned in the references, but what I was most reminded while watching this was the Twilight Zone episode 'The Lateness of the Hour' about a girl who finds out that she's a robot. Of course "replicant" is a direct allusion to Bladerunner too.

If they hadn't caught him, I wonder what would've happened. Would he have been sent to Parada to be destroyed? Sent to a starfleet institute for further study? Or would they try to disable the sabotage programming and let him go? In these kinds of stories, there sadly seems to be a trope where the clone cannot be allowed to live once he's been revealed. There can be only one! There are exceptions though like Thomas Riker, and part of me wishes Miles? could have lived on. (despite the unfortunate ramifications)
Munich_Man
12. Andy Holman
@5: "Faux'Brien" for the win. ;)

-Andy
Munich_Man
13. MJSS
Overall pretty well done, though IIRC when I saw it the first time I thought there was something wrong with O'Brien from the beginning. Not that he wasn't the real thing, but that he had been compromised in some way.

I'm pretty sure this is the only episode where he orders his coffee "Jamaican blend, double strong" (his standard order is "black, double sweet"). I've always thought that was intended as a clue that something was wrong with him (though maybe it's just that he's trying to stay awake for a really long time).

Which makes this not just the second episode in a row featuring O'Brien suffering, but the second episode in a row with an ambiguous coffee-related clue about O'Brien's suffering...
Munich_Man
14. Edgar Governo
I didn't pick up on the actual twist the first time I watched this episode...because I thought the twist was going to be that this was a surprise sequel to TNG's "Conspiracy," and I thought that was awesome.

Oh well.
Munich_Man
15. RichF
One nitpick (about the episode, not about the review!) is that the Rule of Acquisition quoted "one of the high ones" but clearly the total number of rules hasn't been established at this point. Later on we find that there are 285 rules. 190 is only 68% up there.
Munich_Man
16. LeftoverBeefcake
@13 MJSS: I just watched this episode on Netflix, and his order to the replicator is "Jamaican blend, double strong, double sweet". I've turned into somewhat of a coffee snob over the years so this bit stood out for me ;) I'd like to try a Jamaican blend to see if it keeps me any more alert than the Colombian stuff I normally drink...
Charles Olney
17. CharlesO
Hmmm, I enjoyed this one a lot, right up until the twist at the end. It felt VERY tenuous and hastily imagined. And it left me feeling kind of ripped off, honestly.

It seemed pretty clear that there was something wrong with O'Brien, but I was hoping the payoff would be a little bit more fulfilling. As it is he cleverly gets himself to the system and then...randomly ends up getting shot and then seeing himself. Meh.

That said, I really loved the buildup, and the way it pushes you to see all the weird behavior through O'Brien's eyes while still giving you just enough weirdness to make you wonder about him, too. So a 7 seems perfectly fair.
Joseph Newton
18. crzydroid
Apparently it's easier to make a perfect replica of O'Brien with all of his memories and program a trigger into it than to program a trigger into the real O'Brien.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
19. Lisamarie
Thanks to me shooting my mouth off, I had an inkling this one involved clones, which definitely made it an interesting viewing experience. I figured either he was on some cloned DS9, or that he himself was the clone (after all, he certainly drank a lot of coffee, and not just in the morning!). I'm not sure what I would have thought with no preconceptions at all, but it is the kind of wacky thing I'd predict (perhaps just in jest), so who knows. Anyway, I love these types of vaguely creepy something's-not-quite-right stories.

Although I do think there are some logistical issues. What makes them so quick to believe the rebels that O'Brien was captured and that they really have a clone on board? Maybe THEIR O'BRIEN IS THE REAL CLONE and this was all a big setup to get him on board and kill the real O'Brien. And this seems to be yet another case of totally amazing technology that should have huge implications but we'll probably never hear about again.

Also, not sure how I feel, ethically, about them killing the clone. Yeah, he was a clone made without consent, but at that point he was his own person, and not only that, was trying to do the right thing! I feel bad for him though - how rough would it be though to be told that actually, that life you THINK you remember isn't actually your life and no, you don't get to be with your wife and kid, sorry. But I still think it's better than getting shot - although I guess it's a similar issue like the Riker clone from Second Chances.
Munich_Man
20. Jaialaiter Ryan
I'm watching DS9 for the first time on Netflix, and this was the first episode that made me groan all the way through. I groaned when I couldn't figure out what was going on, and I groaned when the trick was revealed. To me, it felt more frustrating than suspenseful.

I felt like you didn't really learn new about any of the characters (except for Keiko's pluck, you were right-on about that) and it was just such a sad ending because it seemed like Fake O'Brien wasn't going to follow his hidden orders if he went back to Paradas. I agree with you 100% about this tecnhology. It's so overpowered for a one-off ep.
Munich_Man
21. Jaialaiter Ryan
For the previous comment, I meant I agreed with KRAD about Keiko and with #19 Lisamarie about the technology.
Roger Dalton
22. RogerDalton
I'm going to agree with Jaialaiter. As a first time watcher, this one was not very good. I think the build up would have been effective if I had thought they were going to have a satisfying ending. But I was fully expecting it not to be satisfying and so was pretty much just bored throughout, because I was waiting for the ending to pay out with something weak. The ending was slightly better than what I was expecting (it was all a dream! I mean, er, a holodeck or something), but it was only JUST better. My second most likely idea was that he had been infected with a mind control virus of some sort that the DS9 crew knew about, and that one was actually pretty close.

In addition to some of the complaints mentioned above, if they believed he was a clone, why didn't they just put him on the brig as soon as he landed? It was inevitable he would find out that he had been locked out, and as it was shown, O'Brien is smart enough to overcome nearly any technical obstacle they could throw his way anyway, so the idea that they could figure out what his mission is seems super risky.
Christopher Bennett
23. ChristopherLBennett
@22: They had no proof that he wasn't a clone. You don't arrest someone without evidence. Besides, it might've tipped the bad guys off and provoked them to employ a different plan that our guys would've had no way to stop.

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