Recent Posts

      RECENT REVIEWS
   
 SGA 1-01: Rising 
 
 DS9 2-04: Invasive Procedures 
 
 B5 2-09: The Coming of Shadows 
 
 The Orville 1-02 

Monday, 24 October 2016

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 1-12: Vortex

Episode:12|Writer:Sam Rolfe|Air Date:18-Apr-1993

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm going through Vortex, the 11th episode of... Deep Space Nine? Really? With that title I thought it was a Voyager episode.

It'd be nice if there was an easy rule to tell what series of Trek an episode belongs to just from its names, but they all have their share of dull one-word titles. All the spin-offs anyway; old school Trek writers generally put a little more effort in (one title even goes to eleven!)

But I've noticed that if the title on screen is something short and weird like Cathexis, Parturition or Tsunkatse, then you're likely watching Voyager or Enterprise (or X-Files). If it begins with 'The' then chances are you're watching an episode from one of the first three series. And if it's something half-way poetic with four or more words in it then it's got to be DS9 or classic Star Trek. Or Babylon 5.

Right, I'm going to spoil the hell out of Vortex now and likely a few of the episodes leading up to it too, but I assure you there'll be no SPOILERS for anything that comes afterwards.



Vortex opens with its Quark and Odo scene, so it's all going to be downhill from here then. Quark whines that Odo keeps coming to his bar but never drinks anything (literally) and Odo does his 'I'm watching you' thing, where he points out an opportunity for Quark to indulge in a bit of crime just to make it clear that he'll catch him if he tries anything.

This time they're talking about a Miradorn raider that's just docked, but Quark assures him that he's been staying well clear of them.

They also talk about this alien down the bar called Croden. Seems he just arrived from the Gamma Quadrant but didn't want anything to do with Sisko when he came to greet him at the airlock. Figures; no one ever wants to tell Sisko anything about the other side of the wormhole or do any fun first contact procedures with him.

So Odo's suspicious about Quark, the Miradorn and Croden now, and Quark's had enough of it, telling him that paranoia must run in his species and guessing that the other shape-shifters like him must all be in hiding. Well it's as good a theory as any so far! Of course Quark is up to something, so when he tells Odo to get out and stop harassing his customers it's mostly so that he can get on with some underhanded dealings with a pair of Miradorn twins that just went up to a holosuite.

By the way, see that glass Croden's drinking out of? The prop is actually a candle holder turned upside down. Rom puts four of them on a tray to bring up to the holosuite and Odo sees his chance to secretly shape-shift into a fifth. Well it's a secret to Rom anyway, as he transformed in plain sight of everyone else in the bar. Maybe one of them saw what happened to his metal communicator badge.


ACT ONE.


These two with the weird neckbands that thread under their skin are the Miradorn twins that Quark's definitely not doing business with right now. The first time I watched this I just assumed that they cast twins in the role and if it was any other series they probably would've. When Xander has an doppelgänger show up in an episode of Buffy, that's the actor's twin on screen with him. Whenever anyone's imitated in Terminator 2 they cast an actor with a twin (even Linda Hamilton). But Star Trek just has to show off, so this is the same actor in both roles and he's even casting a shadow on himself at times! The effect's not 100% perfect, but it had me fooled.

They're played by Randy Oglesby by the way, who ended up portraying five other characters across four of the Star Trek series, including the Xindi weapon designer Degra in Enterprise.

Anyway, it turns out that Quark's meant to be buying a Fabergé-looking egg, or at least arranging its sale. But he informs them that his buyer's pulled out of the deal due to it being obviously stolen, and their meeting's getting a little heated.

Suddenly Croden invites himself in, armed with... a phaser maybe?

One thing I love about DS9 being right next to a wormhole is that everything on the other side is so strange and exotic, and the aliens we meet aren't just humans with some latex glued to their forehead, dressed in Jake Sisko's pyjamas. Well some of them aren't anyway, Tosk in Captive Pursuit wasn't. Speaking of Captive Pursuit, the episode showed that the Promenade has security scanners to stop people bringing energy weapons in, and Quark's bar is on the Promenade, so if this is a gun it should've been detected. Oh wait this is DS9, the scanners are probably broken this week.

Croden's got balls trying to steal from a pair of pirates, but they give him what he's asking for... a table to the face. Quark's nice glasses are sent flying as well, which is a concern as one of them is Odo.

He shattered Odo... but he's okay!

So we've learned here that being broken into a thousand tiny fragments isn't enough to kill the guy, which is good as that'd be an embarrassing way to go out.

Croden manages to kill one of the Miradorn twins in a beautiful shower of sparks, but Odo single-handedly puts an end to their conflict with a rare display of fighting competence.

Hey Odo's got his combadge back! I guess it can't be real then. Funny how he can apparently shape-shift some of himself into a functioning communicator but he can't manage a proper nose.

The surviving Miradon's a bit upset about his brother's death and makes it clear that his only purpose in life is to see Croden dead, but Sisko decides to let him go. Sure he brought a weapon onto the Promenade and was selling stolen merchandise, but his brother just died and he's had a hard day. They suspect that Quark hired Croden to steal the merchandise, but they can't prove it so he's free to go as well.

Croden on the other hand is 100% spending time in the cells for murder, and there's no point calling his homeworld to get him an advocate as they don't have trials where he's from.

But he manages to switch the subject to Odo and his amazing shape-shifting skills. He calls him a 'Changeling' and that immediately earns him the Constable's undivided attention. Of course Odo's not an idiot, and he knows that Croden overheard that whole conversation he had with Quark earlier about his people being a mystery to him. Croden admits he 'dissembles' sometimes, but he claims he can tell Odo where he met another being just like him. The 'Odo's people' arc is finally starting!

Hang on though, I need to quickly check something in the dictionary.
dissemble
verb
      conceal or disguise one's true feelings or beliefs.
Right, I knew that. I was just... confirming it.


ACT TWO.


Sisko believes they'll have to contact Croden's people, which means they have to find his planet (they've been doing a terrible job of exploring the Gamma Quadrant so far). So Sisko and Dax are going off in a runabout, leaving Odo with the job of making sure the Miradorn doesn't kill their prisoner before they get back. Seems a bit strange having the station commander go out for a job like this, but then it is a first contact situation.

Odo goes to speak with Quark, who admits he was chatting with Croden before he tried to steal the egg, but claims he was just trying to be friendly. Or as he puts it: "You attribute odious motives to my every charitable act".

The script's a bit unnaturally verbose at times this week I've noticed and it's gotten me curious who wrote the episode. So I looked it up and it's by a guy called Sam Rolfe, who sadly died the same year it aired. He wasn't a young man at the time though, in fact he'd been in television long enough to create Have Gun - Will Travel back in the 50s (which featured episodes written by Gene Roddenberry) and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in the 60s (which didn't). He also wrote a western called The Naked Spur which was the inspiration for this story.

Odo believes that Quark hired Croden to steal the merchandise in exchange for passage back to the Gamma Quadrant, and Quark believes that if Odo doesn't keep his voice down an angry Miradorn's going to come and shoot him.

Speaking of the Miradorn, he's brought his crew to blockade Odo's office. His existence has become unbearable without his twin and he'd really like to kill Croden as soon as possible.

Odo gets rid of him again, then pays Croden another visit for more tales of the shape-shifters. Seems that they used to live on his homeworld until they were persecuted and driven out. But he knows a place where there's still some left... and he can take him there.

The Constable believes he's full of bullshit, but Croden's actually got some small evidence to back up his claims:

That locket he's wearing can shape-shift too!


ACT THREE.


Sisko and Dax finally arrive at Croden's homeworld, their first ever contact with a civilization in the Gamma Quadrant, only to find that it's a planet of angry fascist assholes. Turns out that Croden's a wanted man and the official they contact makes it clear that they will transport him to the surface immediately. They can't do that because he's not on board, but they're pretty much obliged to go back and get him now.

Meanwhile Odo returns to Croden's cell after getting the locket checked out by Bashir. Seems like there could be some relation. Croden tells him that it came from a nebula that's also an asteroid field, called the Chamra Vortex, and he knows the way back to it. He could take Odo to the Changeling colony there right now... but he has to let him out first.

But before Odo has to make a tough decision Sisko comes back from his trip from Fascistworld and tells him that it's his turn next. The Bajorans have agreed to give Croden up to his people, so Odo's to escort him back home in a runabout. Alone. With no one else around to stop him from checking out a certain Vortex along the way.

It's perhaps too convenient, but the fact that the Miradorn raider's still hanging around isn't. They'll have to sneak Croden off the station using a freighter for cover.


ACT FOUR.


The runabout's makes it to the Gamma Quadrant, but Odo's not given in to temptation just yet. Croden tells him a sad story of how the police broke into his home and murdered both his wives. The punishment for being an enemy of the people on his world is the death of your family, though he never did learn why he was being punished. But he certainly knows why the government wants him back now, seeing as he killed the security officers in retaliation.

Odo is approximately 5% moved by this tale, as he believes it's 95% bullshit.

Back on DS9, the Miradorn finally goes after Quark, believing that he's sheltering the missing Croden. Fearing for his life, Quark reluctantly opens his secret stash of security rods and accesses the station logs to reveal Odo's location. But it's no good, the info just isn't clear! The Miradorn can plainly read the co-ordinates off the screen though, so he storms off to get on with the sole purpose of his miserable twin-less existence. Rom's worried that he'll learn that they really were working with Croden to rip him off, but Quark's clearly more concerned that the guy's going to blow up his closest frenemy.

The Miradorn raider heads for the wormhole and the crew in Ops do an absolutely terrible job of stopping him. No docking clamps, no tractor beam, Kirk just politely asks him to wait a minute and it doesn't work. The ship's going after the runabout and she's fast enough to catch him.

Meanwhile back on the runabout, Croden's trying to convince Odo that the Vortex would be a great shortcut, but the Constable's just trying to tune him out at this point. I know how he feels, as I'm getting a bit tired of the episode too. Kind of dozing off a little here to be honest.

These are fantastic nebula effects though. The Chamra Vortex looks just as good as ILM's Mutara Nebula in Star Trek II.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
In fact I'd go as far as saying that it's exactly the same footage, just flipped over and with less stars shining through.

Suddenly their runabout comes under attack from the Miradorn raider!

Odo doesn't know what to do ("I'm a security chief, not a combat pilot"), but Croden does. Or at least he claims he does; the man does tend to dissemble. All Odo has to do is untie him and he'll take them into the safety of the Vortex!

So Odo gets the cuffs off him and Croden finally gets to visit that Vortex he's been so desperate to get back to. For some reason the computer also begins to accept voice commands from him now, so I guess they were computer access restricting cuffs as well.

Hey you can see them through the windows. Wait, that's not them! It looks like a pair of Lt. Commander Datas.

Unfortunately they're not safe in the Vortex either, as the Miradorn's crazy enough to follow them in. This is bad for a number of reasons, such as the fact that they're flying through pockets of explosive gas. It's no good, Croden's going to have to land them on the asteroid he wanted to get back to all along. You know, the one with the Changeling colony on it that he got his shape-shifting necklace from.


ACT FIVE.


Oh damn, they actually built a little model cave set to park their model runabout in! No wonder they had no money left for Move Along Home if they had this in pre-production.

This is a proper Deep Space Nine milestone event, as it's the first time anyone in the crew has set foot on a planet in the Gamma Quadrant. Well, technically it's an asteroid with gravity comparable to Earth and an inexplicably breathable atmosphere, but I'm calling that a planet. Funnily enough Odo was the first person we've seen visit a planet outside of Bajor in the Alpha Quadrant too (back in Dax), so he's been doing more travelling than the Starfleet explorers.

Croden moves ahead into the caves, eager to get to the 'Changeling colony' which clearly isn't here, but Odo grabs him and throws him against a wall. He's furious now he knows for sure that it was all bullshit and Croden's being lying his ass off the whole time. Croden admits that yeah, Changelings are mythological creatures to his people, and no one's ever actually seen one. He bought the stone from an off-world trader as a key to something that he's hidden inside this cavern.

So they reach a box and open it up to find...

...Croden has hidden his daughter here! It's the old 'girl in a box' sci-fi trope.

She's the only member of his family he could save from his oppressive government. Why he went to the trouble of leaving her on an asteroid inside a stasis chamber is a mystery, but it won't be an asteroid for long the way the Mirodorn raider outside is blasting it.

Then suddenly rocks fall and knock Odo out.

He was literally shattered into pieces a few hours ago and it barely slowed him down, but a smack on the shoulder has knocked him unconscious? What? This does give Croden a chance to show his true nature though, or at least his true nature when his daughter's watching him, as he (eventually) rescues Odo and gets them all back to the runabout, even though it means going home to his death.

Odo wakes up in the runabout and realises he had Croden figured out wrong. He may be annoying and a liar, but he really is a decent man being persecuted by an oppressive shouty government. And now it's time for the Constable to take the controls as there's only five minutes of the episode left and he needs to resolve this with an ingenious manoeuvre that didn't occur to him earlier.

He's going to lure the Miradorn raider into a pocket of explosive vortex gas and somehow the characters manage to make this sound incredibly dull. Empire Strikes Back this ain't.

The Miradorn twin takes the bait, opens fire, ignites the gas, and blows his own damn ship up.

Boom!

These cloud effects are actually fantastic for 90s television, when they're in action anyway. DS9 hasn't been all that ambitious with its space scenes lately, but the effects in this episode are blowing away anything I've seen from Babylon 5 lately.

Anyway, Croden's been to his damn Vortex now, so he can cross that off his list of things to do. Next up is a trip back to his evil homeworld to get executed. He's given up on talking Odo into letting him go, he knows the man's obsession with justice is way too strong for that to ever happen, though he at least wants him to look after his daughter.

But just then they're contacted by a kind Vulcan standing in front of the most interesting wall she could find on her ship.

Odo tells the passing Vulcan ship that he's rescued a pair of survivors and he'd appreciate it if they could take them both off his hands. Turns out it's Croden who learned the most about Changelings today! And now he's going to learn the true torment of what it's like to live on a planet with no one but Vulcans to talk to. Can you imagine what Vulcan TV is like? 

And Odo gives Croden's daughter a little smile before she leaves. It's not the best smile in the world, but to be fair he's probably never smiled before. Then the two of them happily beam away to spend their lives on a world where emotions are banned. The end.


CONCLUSION

The moral of the story is: if your daughter's trapped in a stasis pod, go ask Sisko for help instead of the shifty bartender and maybe less people will explode. But it does make perfect sense why Croden didn't run straight to the folks in uniforms considering how things were for him back home. You'd think he would've at least tried telling the truth as a last resort during his runabout trip though once it became clear that Odo really wasn't going to give in to temptation.

With a title like Vortex this seems like it's going to be a throwaway standalone episode with an anomaly of the week to deal with, but it turns out to be the first episode to delve into Odo's origins! It stars season one's best character, has him playing off against a shifty Garak-like criminal who hides glimmers of truth inside his lies, and ends in an expensive looking space battle in a pretty nebula! And yet I was so bored that I spent half the episode sketching all over my notepad. I'm checking my notes right now for things to write here but the page is covered in little pictures I drew instead.

I don't think it's necessarily a terrible episode, but it's all about mysteries I already knew the answer to, so it had to keep my attention with the characters and action alone, and it failed at that. It's kind of interesting to see DS9 go full western (with a runabout instead of horses), but I found it to be a lacklustre episode with no tension and barely any drama. Plus the story revolves around Croden the Generic-looking Space Fugitive and I wasn't dying to spend more time with the guy. He's not the most charismatic character the series has created and that dorky jumpsuit wasn't helping.

Another thing that doesn't help is that the episode teases information about Odo's past and then gives approximately nothing away. Quark suspects they're paranoid, Croden's heard myths about Changelings, but nothing is confirmed. We're still no closer to knowing a thing about where Odo comes from. Though we do at least get the first mention of the word 'Changeling' and I don't think it's a huge spoiler to say that it sticks. Incidentally the word also turned up in Babylon 5, in an episode that aired months before this. Is it coincidence that both writers took a word meaning 'a fairy child left in place of a kidnapped human child' and applied it instead to a shape-shifter? I'm thinking... probably!

I'm surprised by this, but I have to put this episode right down at the very bottom of my rankings so far. Vortex is now my least favourite episode of the season, below Q-Less and Move Alone Home. This may have been less dumb and had fewer scenes of crew members walking around with their tricorders held out, but at least the earlier episode held my attention... kind of.

ODO'S MORPH OF THE WEEK:

The fifth glass.


Deep Space Nine will return with Battle Lines. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures I'll be rewatching Babylon 5's Signs and Portents.

Leave a comment if you feel like it.

2 comments:

  1. I don't remember most of these early episodes, but I do remember that shapeshifting locket thing. Did it appear in later episodes or do I just have a weirdly specific memory?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Weirdly specific memory. Well, I don't remember it showing up again anyway. Nog's tooth sharpener shows up in more episodes and has more influence on the overall story.

      Delete