Armageddon Game). This is easily one of the best of the year, in a different way than the excellent episodes at the beginning of the season.
Chief O'Brien is returning from the Paradas system in the Gamma Quadrant, after consulting with the government on security protocols for the upcoming peace conference to end the planet's 12-year civil war (one of the only problems with this episode is that there's really no explanation for why Odo (Rene Auberjonois) wasn't involved in this, when he clearly should have been). Actually, the episode opens with O'Brien in a runabout, on the run, opening a personal log and explaining when things first seemed wrong. His wife, Keiko (Rosalind Chao), is acting strangely around him, waking up at 5:30 and taking their young child into school with her. Then, he's removed from setting up the security procedures on the station, because the upper pylons of the station aren't working, despite him having fixed them last week.
As time goes on, stranger and stranger things start happening, and everybody seems like they're hiding something from him. Bashir (Siddig El Fadil) calls him in for a very thorough physical (producing the wonderful line at the bottom of this review) and he finds himself locked out of security files that he should have access to. When things start to really go wrong, he manages to steal a runabout and the episode reaches the point where it began. Will O'Brien be able to figure out what is going on before it's too late for the peace talks?
"Whispers" is an excellent episode that really rewards a repeated viewing. In fact, even having seen it numerous times, I still feel the palpable tension throughout the episode, despite knowing what's really happening (some of which I'll discuss in the spoiler section below). Between the camerawork and Meaney's acting, every scene is laced with menace as things start to get claustrophobic for O'Brien. Weird looks between the other characters, alternating extreme close-ups, and tension-inducing music all add together to make this an extremely watchable episode. In fact, this is a Meaney tour-de-force, with all of the other actors being sidelined for the most part, though all play an intricate role in ratcheting up the feeling of unease that the episode produces. But this is Meaney's episode, and he runs with it. In fact, this is one of the first "put O'Brien through hell" episodes that litter the series until the very end, and I'm sure they became quite common because Meaney is so good.
Especially nice were some of the little touches. When O'Brien is going through the personal logs on the station, he does this by listening to them, so we hear little snippets of them. When we get to one of Kira's, she's extremely angry at something the provisional government asked her to do, which is very close to her character. I had to laugh at it. Also great were touches like the difference between Odo before and after he talks to O'Brien about what is going on. Even the guest acting wasn't too bad, which was probably helped by the fact that there wasn't much of it. Probably the worst, for me anyway, was Chao, but the way she acted can partially be explained (and will be in the spoiler section).
*HUGE SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING AND WHAT WAS REALLY GOING ON*
I especially liked the twist at the end, and it holds together even upon re-watching the episode. The fact that O'Brien was the one that was "wrong" and the others were trying to keep the replicant who thought he was O'Brien from sabotaging the peace talks (via a trigger once the peace talks began, most likely, that would set him into "assassin mode") was a great twist, turning the "everybody's out to get me" motif on its ear. Everybody *was* trying to get him, but that was because he was the problem. The other actors deserve kudos for their limited scenes, when they were obviously acting "off" but that was because they didn't want the replicant to succeed in his mission. The only minor problem with this was Chao, who was *way* too obvious in her "playing it cagey" mode, but that can be partially explained by the fact that 1) She's not a military officer and certainly doesn't have any experience in trying to hide something like this, especially from her husband, and 2) it's her husband who's involved, which I'm sure would have been emotionally taxing on her, especially when fear for her child is present too.
This is why the episode really should be watched twice. When you finally know what's going on, it's really nice to watch it again and see how everything is playing out from the other officers' points of view. It's still tense, despite knowing what's going on, and it really holds together under scrutiny.
*END OF SPOILER SECTION*
Some last small items that I really liked:
I found it hilarious how often O'Brien was ordering coffee, considering last week's coffee-centric plot.
It was nice to see that, while Starfleet Security still can't stop a fugitive from doing what he wants to do, it was mainly because O'Brien is so good, rather than the fact that they are incompetent.
There may have been some minor problems in this episode (why Odo wasn't at the conference is the main one), but none of them do anything to detract from the quality of it. This is a standout, and deserves to be watched again and again. Outstanding episode.
"Are you nearly finished? I believe you've poked into every orifice in my body. *And* created a few new ones." Chief O'Brien undergoes one of the most thorough medical exams in human history.