Written by Paul Robert Coyle
Directed by Les Landau
Season 2, Episode 14
Production episode 40512-434
Original air date: February 6, 1994
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.