[Rewatcher’s note: Sorry for the delay in getting this one up, but getting home from Dragon Con 2013 proved problematic. If you want to know the whole sordid tale, read about it here, here, and here. At least DC13 itself was fantastic. Anyhow, we’ll be back on track with “Playing God” on Friday.]
Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by Robert Scheerer
Season 2, Episode 16
Production episode 40512-436
Original air date: February 20, 1994
Station log: Dax is investigating a strange particle field in the Gamma Quadrant near the wormhole. Odo is going along as part of his ongoing search to find out more about where he comes from. Their gossiping—well, okay, Dax’s gossiping and Odo’s snotty commentary on same—is interrupted by the field itself, which is made of omicron particles, which are extremely rare. They’re focused on one small valley on a planet. Odo isn’t picking up lifesigns, but the field could be masking them, so they beam down.
They find a city, at the center of which is a plaza that contains a large device that seems to be the source of the particles. However, Dax’s examination is cut short by being held at phaserpoint by a man named Colyus, who is the protector of the village.
On the station, Kira informs Quark that his expected meeting with his cousin Kono won’t be happening. Kono is wanted for robbing a museum on Cardassia V, though Quark insists there’s no proof that he was coming to the station so Quark could help him sell the stolen merchandise. Kira makes it abundantly clear that Odo being off-station does not mean an easy week for Quark.
Sisko tells Jake that it’s time he got a job. Jake talks about asking Nog for a job at Quark’s, but Sisko would prefer he work for O’Brien (as he and O’Brien already agreed to last time), as it’ll look so very good on his Starfleet Academy application. Jake very very very reluctantly agrees. The next day, Jake reports for work, with Sisko giving the boy his very own combadge. What Sisko doesn’t know is that Jake doesn’t actually want to go to Starfleet Academy.
Colyus interrogates Odo and Dax rather clumsily. Odo proves that their intentions are good by beaming up to the runabout, and then back down again. Colyus admits that he was hoping they were bad guys because 22 people have disappeared from the city, starting last fall, the most recent six hours ago, and he has no idea how or why or anything. There’s been no crime in the village worse than petty theft, but these kidnappings have him stumped. He accepts Odo’s offer of help.
Odo and Dax meet Rurigan, the oldest person in the village, whose daughter is the latest victim. Dax scans the place where she disappeared while Odo talks to last person to see her, Rurigan’s granddaughter Taya. However, Taya is scared of Odo because of his scary face, and she’s not very forthcoming at first. But as they talk, she becomes less scared; he explains the difficulties of being a shapechanger. Taya also informs Odo that nobody ever leaves the valley, which surprises him. He also promises to do everything he can to find her mother.
Bareil makes a surprise visit to the station. Ostensibly it’s to speak at the station shrine, an invitation extended to him by Prylar Rhit, but it was mostly an excuse to visit Kira. She attends his speech at the shrine and disagrees with everything he says. Kira is then surprised to learn that Bareil not only follows springball (“Religiously, if you’ll pardon the expression”) but plays it. They go off to play a game in a holosuite.
Odo questions Rurigan, who reveals that he’s dying. Odo also wants to know why nobody has ever left the valley, what’s more that it never even occurred to Colyus to search outside the valley. Taya takes Odo and Dax out of the village to a tree, which is the farthest anyone has ever gone away from the village, all the while telling her stories she’s heard about changelings. Dax is using Colyus’s scanner, but once they pass a certain point, the scanner just disappears. Taya picks some berries and moves to hand them to Odo and Dax, but her hand and the berries also disappear at the same point where Dax’s scanner did.
Dax examines the device in the center of town, and confirms that it’s a holographic projector. The town is entirely made up of holograms. One of the components is failing, however, and that’s why people have been disappearing. Colyus is devastated, and more than a little skeptical, but Odo and Dax are able to prove it to him, and eventually the rest of the village.
Kira totally kicks Bareil’s ass at springball. She reveals that she and her brothers played at the Singha Refugee Camp. They had nothing better to do. After a post-game meal, they smooch. Between liplocks, Kira jokes that she has to thank Rhit for inviting him, and Bareil reveals that it’s probably his last act as a prylar, as the vedek assembly is not happy about the debts he’s accrued playing dabo. Kira cuts off the smoochery when she realizes that the person who invited Bareil to the station owes a big gambling debt to Quark, and runs off. She catches Kono trying to return to the station, and they find him holding bones from the Cardassia V museum. Kira also thanks Quark for getting Rhit to invite Bareil to the station—she’s found his presence diverting. After she goes off with him, Quark mutters that it wasn’t diverting enough.
The only way for Dax to fix the holographic generator is to shut it all down. The villagers are scared and angry, but they come around to the notion that people are going to keep disappearing until the system fails, and then there’ll be nothing left. If they shut it down, then there’s at least a chance that Dax can restore the system to full use and all the “missing” villagers will return. Taya says she can’t wait to see her mother again, and also admits to Odo that his face isn’t so scary once you get used to it.
No one objects, so Dax turns it off. The people disappear, the village disappears—but Rurigan is still there. He’s a refugee from a world that was conquered; he came to this world and re-created his home village. Rurigan thinks the whole thing is over now, but Odo convinces him that the village and the villagers are just as real as he is.
Jake comes home and admits that he likes working for O’Brien—and then finally drops the bomb that he doesn’t want to join Starfleet, and he never has. Sisko, to Jake’s relief, is completely okay with it as long as he finds something he loves and sticks with it. However, Jake will continue to apprentice with O’Brien.
Dax fixes it. Because she’s just that awesome. Rurigan asks that the villagers not know that Rurigan is different from them. Dax turns it back on, and the entire village is reconstructed, complete with the 22 missing people. Taya is very happy to have her mother back. Before they depart, Odo turns into a top for Taya.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The holographic generator Rurigan used is pretty powerful, but it’s obvious it hasn’t been maintained, hence the breakdown leading to disappearances. Dax manages to make it better, faster, stronger.
The Sisko is of Bajor: Jake finally admits to his Dad that he just doesn’t want to join Starfleet, thus continuing the de-Wesley-Crusher-ification of the character. Sisko, to his credit, is fine with this.
Don’t ask my opinion next time: Kira has a good day: she messes with Quark not once, but twice, and she gets to go all kissy-face with Bareil after owning him at springball and loudly disagreeing with his speech.
The slug in your belly: Pairing Dax with Odo is comedy gold in the teaser, as her tendency to gossip about folks on the station is met with the brick wall of Odo’s utter lack of interest in foolishness.
Rules of Acquisition: Quark makes an excellent matchmaker, but fails to close his deal with his cousin Kono. (Said cousin will never be heard from again, though we will meet another of Quark’s cousins, Gaila, in due course.)
Plain, simple: Garak has apparently been lecturing Bashir on interrogation techniques, which he eagerly looks forward to implementing when Kira asks him to keep an eye on Quark.
Preservation of matter and energy is for wimps: After twice asking Odo to shapechange for her, Taya in the final moments of the episode at last gets her wish and sees Odo change into a replica of the top she was playing with earlier in the episode.
What happens on the holosuite stays on the holosuite: Kira and Bareil play springball on the holosuite. Which isn’t a euphemism. Entirely.
Victory is life: Rurigan’s world was conquered by the Dominion, the second time (after “Sanctuary”) we’ve met people who were so conquered, and the third (after “Rules of Acquisition”) reference to this Gamma Quadrant power.
Keep your ears open: “I liked everything about it except the content.”
Kira’s review of Bareil’s speech.
Welcome aboard: Philip Anglim is back as Bareil, veteran comedic actor Kenneth Mars plays Colyus, and the late Kenneth Tobey, whom executive producer Ira Steven Behr has said is one of his favorite actors of all-time, plays Rurigan. Noley Thornton, last seen being incredibly cute as Clara Sutter on TNG’s “Imaginary Friend,” comes back to be incredibly cute as Taya.
Trivial matters: This is the second time Odo has heard tell of legends of changelings told in the Gamma Quadrant, the first being in “Vortex.”
The original title for this episode was “Persistence of Vision,” a title that would eventually be used for a second-season Voyager episode.
O’Brien mentions that his father wanted him to be a cellist, getting him into a prestigious music academy and everything. We saw him play the cello in the TNG episode “The Ensigns of Command.”
Kira mentions that she has brothers. They’ll be seen as little kids and given the names Pohl and Reon in the flashback portions of “Wrongs Darker than Death or Night.”
Rene Auberjonois will guest star on an episode of Enterprise in its first season, “Oasis,” with a similar theme, with Auberjonois this time in the Rurigan role.
Walk with the Prophets: “Why should it matter to you if a hologram cries?” This is a really magnificently constructed episode. The A, B, and C stories are all thematically linked, all on the subject of deception, of subverted expectations, of things being not what they seem.
Odo and Dax, both people whose appearances mask what they actually are—for Odo, he’s always deceptive, because his true shape is a puddle of goo; for Dax she is far more than the young woman she appears to be—find themselves in a village full of people who don’t know that they’re not flesh-and-blood.
O’Brien bonding with Jake over their mutual fear of disappointing their fathers, with O’Brien assuring Jake that his father will be proud of him no matter what. More fundamentally, though, is the assumption that Jake will of course go to Starfleet Academy, spoken of by Sisko as a fait accompli until Jake finally works up the courage to tell him the truth. Sisko’s “since when?” upon Jake’s revelation reveals that he had no idea, but also that Jake hid the truth because he thought it might disappoint his father—just as Rurigan hid the truth from those around him, and initially from Odo and Dax.
And Quark, the master of deception, trying to get Kira off his back by distracting her with a pretty face. More revelations here—that Kira returns the attraction to Bareil (up until now, it was only clear that he had the hots for her, not the other way ’round), that Bareil plays springball, and that Kira isn’t very easily distracted. (Okay, that last one isn’t really a surprise or a revelation.)
Everything is so well played here, from Kenneth Tobey’s quiet fatalism as the dying Rurigan to Kira’s and Bareil’s growing attraction that is magnificently played by Nana Visitor and Philip Anglim to Cirroc Lofton’s beautifully played anguish at the prospect of Jake disappointing his father to Avery Brooks’s casual portrayal of Sisko’s love for his son that he transitions from surprise to disappointment to support in the blink of an eye to Kenneth Mars’s delightful turn as Colyus.
But the episode’s spine is Rene Auberjonois and Noley Thornton. Odo’s bond with Taya grows organically and impressively, with Odo never losing his trademark gruffness and cynicism, but still winning Taya over. In particular, I love the scene where Taya says that if she could shape-change she’s have tons of friends, and Odo quietly disabuses her of that notion, explaining that he used to shape-change for people who only pretended to be his friends. (One suspects this is a particular dig at Dr. Mora…) And the speech at the end that Odo gives to Rurigan is magnificent, espousing the very Trekkish notion that life doesn’t have to be traditional to be real, that all that matters is if someone else loves them and cares for them and wants them to be safe. It’s a particularly compelling speech coming from an animated puddle of goo living among humanoids, and Auberjonois beautifully sells it.
Warp factor rating: 8
Keith R.A. DeCandido doesn’t believe that anybody ever reads the bio. If you do, say so in the comments, please.