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August 9, 2013

Star Trek: DS9 - Ep 31 - The Alternate

For children who have fled a bad childhood, it is always awkward when a parent shows up out of the blue, wanting to be a part of their lives again. We find ourselves acting differently around them, differently then the way we react around everybody else. Sometimes, if the problems between parent and child are not resolved, the child lashes out, even unconsciously. We get a bit of this in the Deep Space Nine episode "The Alternate," which is ostensibly about another step in the quest to find out Odo's (Rene Auberjonois) past. While it's an interesting look, little bits of the episode keep it from being outstanding.

Dr. Mora (James Sloyan), the scientist who was assigned to Odo when he was found all those years ago, has returned to Odo's life, year's after Odo left him. It seems that a Bajoran scan of a planet in the Gamma Quadrant has found traces of DNA that are similar in structure to Odo, and Dr. Mora would like to explore them. Sisko (Avery Brooks) send Dax (Terry Farrell) along with them, as well as another Bajoran scientist (Matt McKenzie). They find a pillar with strange writing on it, as well as what looks like a small silicon-based life-form, both of which they decide to take back to the station for analysis (both of which sound dangerous to me, but I'm not a Starfleet officer, so what do I know?).

As the pillar is beamed aboard the runabout, the planet (described as volcanic in nature) picks this opportune moment to start erupting, making all of the actors try their hardest to look like they're on shaking ground (can you tell I thought this was a silly scene)? When they get back to the station, all hell breaks loose, as the creature somehow gets away (or is freed?) and the crew have to figure out how to stop it. What is its purpose? And why does it seem to want to kill Dr. Mora?

"The Alternate" is yet another "Odo-tease" in the first two seasons, where we think we're going to find out more about him, but ultimately don't really know anything as the episode decides to be about something else. The father-son dynamic between Odo and Mora is good (Auberjonois is always good, and Sloyan is one of the most dependable Trek guest actors), though I found their final confrontation in the security office to be a bit over-played and ultimately leading nowhere.

Probably my favourite scene was the first one, where Mora first shows up as Odo and Quark are having one of their better scenes. Quark is all over Mora, as he knows it will irritate Odo, but Mora doesn't know Quark and thinks that Odo's reaction is because he still hasn't succeeded in social integration. It's the perfect way of setting up the "parent who hasn't seen the child in a long time and thinks they still know best" idea.

The rest of the characters are ok, but they don't have a lot to do. O'Brien (Colm Meaney) gets to give a lot of technobabble (including reversing the polarity of something, for you Dr. Who fans), but he does have a wonderful scene in a conduit as he's searching for the creature ("If you see my wife, don't tell her I did this"). Sisko and his son (Cirroc Lofton) have a good scene too, highlighting the father/son dynamic of the show.

Farrell, however doesn't do as good of a job. She's very uneven in this one, with some good and some really off scenes. And then there's Matt McKenzie as the Bajoran scientist, who is along for the ride with no reason given other than to make it look like a legitimate scientific party, is injured in the eruption, and then disappears (though at least he's acknowledged). Given the few lines he has, it would be hard to do anything with them, and he doesn't.

In addition to the more familial elements of the story, it occasionally has some horror elements too, some of which are quite effective (O'Brien's conduit scene being one of them). However, there were too many plot elements dropped. What was the purpose of the pillar? They worked so hard to bring it home, and it's dismissed with a "the computer hasn't had any luck with that either?"

The episode makes it look like the transporting of the pillar away from the planet caused the eruptions, since they begin as soon as it transports away. But there's no indication that they ever considered if there might be a connection. And why have the scene where Odo ominously says "wasn't the pillar over here before?" when it all boils down to Dax saying "It was in my way"? Basically, way too much time was spent on the stupid pillar for it to be a sly misdirection on the part of the writer.

All in all, "The Alternate" wasn't exactly what I was expecting, but it was pretty good. I'm getting tired of the Odo's origin head-fakes, and the pillar made me shake my head (and don't get me started again on the planet scene, or I'll start dancing, I mean shaking, very badly), but it was an effective episode overall. It helps that the two main characters of the episode were played quite well by the actors. Considering the whole episode was about them, that's a plus. It's a shame that the scene in security was poorly done, or it would have even been superlative. Unfortunately, that scene was quite important, so instead it was just a very good episode.

Memorable Quotes:
"Humanoid death rituals are an interest of mine." Odo
"Death rituals?" Quark
"Everybody needs a hobby." Odo

4 Stars


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