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September 6, 2013

Star Trek: DS9 - Ep 35 - Shadowplay

What is the definition of life? Of sentience? Star Trek has asked that question many times in its time, and "Shadowplay" kind of asks it again. This question isn't the main point of the episode (or maybe it is, but it's not highlighted very much), but it does sit within the episode and is at the heart of the climax. I'm of two minds about the episode, and those two minds are a bit at war with each other.

The side of my mind that loved it found the Odo (Rene Auberjonois) story incredibly touching and well-performed, the Jake Sisko (Cirroc Lofton) and Ben (Avery Brooks) story very good too, and the Kira (Nana Visitor) one not so much. The side of my mind that didn't like it points to the fact that there are three stories in this one, and none of them are given a lot of time to work. The fact that two of them *do* work despite that problem speaks well of Robert Hewitt Wolfe's writing, and the acting involved.

Thus, I have to say that ultimately, I loved the thing to pieces.

Dax (Terry Farrell) and Odo are on a mission to chart an unknown particle field on the Gamma Quadrant side of the wormhole. They discover that the field is made of omicron particles, some of the rarest particles around, and the field seems centered on a planet, so they go down to investigate. There, the natives initially think that our heroes are involved with the multiple disappearances taking place within the village. Soon, though, Odo is helping them with their investigation, while becoming very attached to a young child, Taya (Noley Thornton, who became much more prominent on the Voyager series). Her mother has disappeared, and she hopes that Odo can help find her.

Meanwhile, back on the station, Ben insists that Jake get a job, and has already arranged for Jake to be an apprentice to Chief O'Brien (Colm Meaney). This storyline actually began in "Paradise". Unfortunately, Jake doesn't want to join Starfleet, but is reluctant to tell his father. Finally, with Odo gone from the station, Quark (Armin Shimmerman) seems to think he can get his cousin on board to smuggle some stolen artifacts, but Kira's on the case. That is, until Vedek Bareil (Philip Anglim) arrives on the station to distract her. Convenient, eh?

Wow, that's a lot to pack into an episode. Not only does it not all work, but even the two good storylines (Odo and the Siskos) feel like they've been given short shrift. I'll start with the lesser of those plots, first.

Jake's story could be quite poignant, with him reluctantly taking the apprenticeship job, trying and failing at it for a while, all the while secretly bemoaning what he's doing. Instead, it's all wrapped up in a few scenes with none of the tension that would have made it an even better story. Only the fact that Brooks and Lofton (not to mention Meaney, as the mentor figure) are so good in these scenes even comes close to saving it. I still say that Ben and Jake are the best father/son pair on television, and certainly the best family unit on any Star Trek series. Those two actors just play off of each other so well.

Then there is the Odo story. This is incredibly moving, mostly through the acting of Auberjonois and Thornton. It's about time that Trek got a child actor who could actually act. Thornton was a godsend, and it's no wonder that she was a multiple returnee (she was also in the Next Generation episode "Imaginary Friend" as well as a recurring role on Voyager). These two make a wonderful duo as we see a softer side of Odo. We even see a little smile at the end!

It's a wonderful story, and Farrell does a great job of just hanging back, doing what she needs to do, and letting these two go for it. She has some technobabble, and the opening scene was amusing (especially Odo's reaction to Dax's gossip about the romantic problems of various crewmembers). Especially well done is Odo's strident speech to the head of the village, Rurigan (Kenneth Tobey), which unfortunately I can't detail because of spoilers. However, it does reflect back to the "what is life" question, so maybe you can guess.

Dax's gossip brings me to the third plot, which was not as stellar. It's funny that Dax's opening scene was about romance, which made me think this was another episode entirely, where Dax falls in love. Instead, it's Kira's turn. This is also a continuing storyline from earlier in the season, where Kira and Bareil first demonstrated a mutual attraction. The existence of those early episodes to set this up is the *only* thing that makes this even remotely believable, and if this is your first episode, then their romance would really come out of left field.

Yes, there is sexual tension during every one of their conversations, but the uninformed viewer would have to be wondering who this guy is and why he comes onto the station already having the hots for Kira. Thus, we have the same problem as the other two stories of it being way too short. Unfortunately, Visitor and Anglim can't save this one. It's trite, and the involvement of Quark in it just makes it worse.

We even have a wasted scene where Kira asks Dr. Bashir (Siddig El Fadil) to spy on Quark for her (which he enthusiastically agrees to, since Garak has been giving him pointers). This scene is wasted because we never see or hear Bashir again and Kira ends up solving the problem anyway. What was the point? At least El Fadil doesn't have heavy makeup to sit through for this. This whole plotline went nowhere, other than to set up Kira and Bareil's relationship, and thus it seemed wasted in this episode.

This episode has continuity running through it, from the Sisko and Kira plots (all of which will continue through subsequent episodes) as well as it being the third mention of the horrible Dominion that has inflicted horror on various Gamma Quadrant planets. Even at the time, the viewer had to know that something was up, but having seen the whole series already, it's interesting to see all the little hints that came up beforehand. Rurigan mentions that they're the reason he left his home planet, after what the Dominion did to it.

I did love this episode, despite my complaining about the shortness of each plot. I would have liked to have seen more scenes between Odo and Taya, but what can you do? The acting in the episode is very good all around, with even the guest stars doing quite well (though what was with the beads in the hair of all the males on that planet?). Thornton was a treasure, bringing out the best in Auberjonois, and Meaney was great in his couple of scenes with Jake. The ending brought a tear to my eye, and the final scene is just priceless, showing Odo has been really touched by Taya. It was nice to see a bit more "human" Odo. "Shadowplay" pushed all of the right buttons for me, and it should for you too.

Memorable Quote:
"Find something you love, then do it the best you can." Ben Sisko, with some good advice for all kids



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