Written by D. Thomas Maio & Steve Warnek
Directed by Avery Brooks
Season 3, Episode 6
Production episode 40512-452
Original air date: October 31, 1994
Station log: In Quark’s, Mardah gets a high roller to play one more round of dabo before walking away with his winnings—only to have him lose it all on that next turn. She then takes a break to tell Jake how happy she is that she’s coming to dinner with him and his father—something Jake didn’t realize was happening. He’d kinda hoped Sisko had forgotten about agreeing to have Mardah over for dinner way back in “Playing God.”
Rionoj approaches Quark, wanting to sell him salvage—perfectly legal, for a change, from a ship that crashed in the Gamma Quadrant. It’s mostly junk, but amidst the wreckage, inside a sealed container, he finds a crying infant. Quark immediately brings him to the infirmary, where Bashir declares him healthy, though he’s not sure which species he is, and the baby has a phenomenally developed metabolism.
Sisko is taken with the infant, and he confides to Dax that he misses taking care of Jake when he was a baby. When he goes home, Jake is sullen, mildly cranky that Sisko invited Mardah to dinner without warning him first, but he gets over it eventually. (What Sisko doesn’t tell Jake is that he’s not at all happy about his 16-year-old son dating a 20-year-old dabo girl, and he’s invited her to dinner so he can “see what I’m up against.”)
The next day, the infant is a pre-adolescent. Bashir is stunned by the rapid growth. The boy can talk, and says he needs food, and that he wants to learn. His intellect indicates that he may be part of an experiment in genetic engineering. His cognitive abilities are increasing without any significant external stimulus.
O’Brien reports that the chamber Quark found the infant in is a damaged stasis chamber—probably the boy wasn’t supposed to mature until the ship reached its destination. The rest of the wreckage appears to be junk.
Bashir discusses the boy with Dax: he’s definitely genetically engineered, but he’s also missing an isogenic enzyme that he can’t survive without. Bashir finds it an odd thing to program into someone, and he still doesn’t know if this is normal for his species or if he’s a special experiment.
The answer to that last question comes when the boy breaks out of the infirmary, his face having developed into that of a Jem’Hadar. He runs wild until Odo changes shape in front of him, at which point he defers to the changeling.
Sisko has been ordered to ready the Jem’Hadar for transport to a starbase where he’ll be studied. Dax and Kira are on board with this notion—Bashir and Odo, not so much. The former says this isn’t a biological sample, it’s a life form, and Odo has definite opinions about strange lifeforms being studied by scientists. The constable offers to take responsibility for the boy and try to learn more about him, using the deference for changelings that has apparently been programmed into him, and hoping to undo some of the damage the Founders have done to him.
Odo gets the boy to agree to let Bashir run more tests on him so he can manufacture the enzyme the boy needs to survive. All the boy wishes to do is fight, but he doesn’t know who or why.
O’Brien finds a case that contains what may be the enzyme the boy needs. There’s a tube that fits right into his carotid artery, and the enzyme is fed directly into his blood. It’s the perfect way to control your super-soldiers. Bashir finds the right dosage, and the boy insists on staying with Odo.
The boy insists that Odo is a changeling, and is therefore superior to all. He also insists that he’s inferior to Odo—but superior to everyone else. Odo counter-insists that everyone is equal, and that he’s not infallible, both concepts the boy has trouble with. He also wants to know more about his people, so Odo shows him footage of the Jem’Hadar boarding the Defiant at the end of “The Search, Part I.” The boy is very taken with the combat he sees, so Odo takes him to the holosuite to let out his aggression against a holographic foe.
Kira cautions Odo that he’s on a fool’s errand, and his attempts to show the boy that there’s more to life than killing fall on deaf ears. When Sisko explains that Starfleet is sending the Constellation to take him to a lab, the boy decloaks in Sisko’s office and takes Odo with him to a runabout pad so he can go to the Gamma Quadrant and be with his people. Sisko lets them go on foot, but he beams to the pad with a security detail. However, Odo convinces him to let the boy go. If he boards the Constellation he’ll either kill everyone or be killed himself. Odo takes him to the GQ, with Sisko’s blessing. The boy is gleeful at the fear he saw in Sisko’s eyes.
When he returns, Odo admits to Kira that she was right about the boy.
The Sisko is of Bajor: Sisko has Mardah over to dinner with the express purpose of, as O’Brien puts it, lowering the boom on her relationship with Jake, but as dinner progresses he learns quite a bit. As expected, he learns more about Mardah—that she’s an orphan, that she’s a budding writer—and she also has some pointed remarks about people who judge her solely on the basis of her job. (Sisko briefly looks chastised when she says that.) As not expected, Sisko also learns many things about Jake, including that he writes poetry and that he hustles dom-jot.
Preservation of mass and energy is for wimps: After his experiences on the Founder homeworld in “The Search, Part II,” Odo has decided to take quarters on the station and has abandoned his bucket. Now when he regenerates, he explores his new cabin (filled with monkey-bars-like accessories) in his gelatinous form, trying the lessons he learned from the other shapechangers.
He also learned what bastards his people are, so he spends the episode trying and failing to undo their genetic programming of the Jem’Hadar.
Rules of Acquisition: Sisko angrily asks Quark if there’s a Rule about inspecting the merchandise before you buy it, and Quark admits that there is and that he usually follows it.
Victory is life: The Jem’Hadar are bred to have an absurdly fast metabolism, growing to full size in a matter of days, and with spectacular cognitive ability. They also are born knowing how to fight—without ever having held a weapon in his short life, the boy is able to make short work of a holographic opponent—and have an addiction-like dependeny on an isogenic enzyme (which will be identified in “Hippocratic Oath” in the fourth season as ketracel-white).
What happens on the holosuite stays on the holosuite: Odo apparently has a program very similar to the one Yar demonstrated way back in TNG’s “Code of Honor” where you can face a single holographic opponent.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Kira brings Odo a plant to decorate his new quarters. He puts it in his no-longer-in-use bucket, which she deems perfect. It’s an adorable, but very friendly and mature scene.
Meanwhile, Jake and Mardah are totally smitten with each other, and it’s even more adorable. Considerably less adorable is how easily Quark gets taken in by Rionoj when she plays with his ears, selling him junk for three bars of latinum, which he winds up just giving to Starfleet. He insists it was worth it at first—she really was playing with his ears a lot.
Keep your ears open: “Actually, I got to know Jake a little better. Have you ever played dom-jot with him?”
Sisko telling O’Brien what he’s learned about his son.
Welcome aboard: Leslie Bevis returns for her annual appearance as Rionoj, having previously appeared in the second season’s “The Homecoming”; she’ll be back in the fourth season’s “Broken Link.” After being discussed in “Sanctuary” and “Playing God,” Jake’s love interest Mardah actually appears, played by Jill Sayre in her only onscreen appearance. Hassan Nichols and Bumper Robinson play the Jem’Hadar boy at various ages.
Trivial matters: Sisko finally fulfills his promise to Jake made back in “Playing God” to have Mardah over for dinner. This is the only time we see her onscreen. She’ll be mentioned again in “Fascination,” which is when the relationship will end.
It’s not clear when Mardah attended Keiko’s school, since Keiko said in “The House of Quark” that Jake and Nog were her only students because all the other kids left the station—but Mardah’s obviously still there, so why didn’t she get listed?
The role of Mardah was originally going to go to Chase Masterson, but it was decided that she was too old to play Jake’s girlfriend (Masterson is 15 years older than Cirroc Lofton, where Jill Sayre is only two years older). Masterson will get cast later this season in “Explorers” as a different dabo girl, Leeta, which will become a recurring role.
This is the first episode to indicate that Jake has any interest in being a writer, which will be his eventual career path. It’s also the first indication that he plays dom-jot, the pool/pinball mashup that we first saw in TNG’s “Tapestry.”
This is the first of three episodes that star Avery Brooks will direct this season. He’ll also direct “Fascination” and “Improbable Cause.”
Although Natalija Nogulich doesn’t appear, Admiral Nechayev is name checked by Sisko toward the end of the episode.
Walk with the Prophets: “Tell me more about my poet-hustler son.” This is one of those episodes that is perfect to use if you want to show the difference between TNG and DS9. When TNG did this story in “I, Borg,” there was a message of hope embedded in it. Picard and Guinan’s insistence that this was a Borg and nothing could change that was wrong, and the lesson learned in the episode was that nurture could trump nature.
On DS9, that cuts the other way, and does a tremendous amount to make the Dominion in their own way scarier than the Borg, because Borg implants can be overcome, but the Founders’ genetic programming can’t. Kira takes on the role that Picard and Guinan had in the TNG episode, with Odo in the La Forge role, but the last scene is Odo admitting that Kira was right. The boy can’t possibly be anything other than a Jem’Hadar. (Tellingly, he doesn’t get a cutesy nickname the way Hugh does.)
Still this plot feels irritatingly first-drafty. At first it seems to be about Quark, both in his checking up on Mardah to make sure she properly fleeces the customers and his buying the salvage off Rionoj—but after he hands off the kid to Bashir, we don’t see him again in the episode (too bad, as I’d be curious to see what he thinks about his dabo girl dating the station commander’s son). Sisko gets the big grin on as he holds the infant version of the kid, and he waxes nostalgic about when Jake was a baby—but that proves to be foreshadowing of the B-plot and has nothing to do with the child. Then maybe it’s a Bashir story as he tries to learn more about the kid—but as soon as his face fills out as a Jem’Hadar, it becomes Odo’s story.
The emotional beats for Odo work nicely, especially as it’s coupled with the revelation that he’s abandoned his trusty-wusty bucket for a cabin with a jungle gym. It’s a fascinating evolution for Odo, as he’s taken on a great deal from meeting his people, from joy at what they can accomplish as shapechagers to revulsion at what they’ve done as sentient beings. Even as he embraces being a changeling, he rejects being a Founder. Unfortunately, in the end, so does the Jem’Hadar.
The B-plot is far more compelling, mostly due to the sheer happiness that bursts from the faces of both Cirroc Lofton and Jill Sayre. These are two people who enjoy each other’s company. And Avery Brooks directs himself beautifully, as Sisko’s intentions for the dinner go completely and delightfully sideways.
And what’s nice is that, even as the episode tells us there’s no hope for the Jem’Hadar, it also reminds us that it’s not a universal truth. What you are doesn’t have to be who you are—Odo says that to Kira, and Mardah demonstrates it by being more than the vapid hot chick that everyone assumes her to be because of her job. What makes the Dominion such a threat is that they take away the choice from the Jem’Hadar—the boy can’t do what Kira did when she stopped being a terrorist or what Mardah does when she tries her hand at writing or what Odo does when he tries and fails to undo the work his people have done.
Warp factor rating: 7
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be at Philcon 2013 this weekend in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, doing panels, a reading, an autographing, and a self-defense workshop. His full schedule is here.