At this point in its run, DS9 is still very much a “monster of the week” show. Sure, it may not be a monster that they’re fighting or dealing with, but there is some kind of weekly MacGuffin. They spend the whole episode dealing with it, there are a few little side notes for flavor, and the whole thing is wrapped up by the end of the hour, minus commercial time. At the end of each episode, the environment the show “exists” in will largely return to the status quo that the episode started with.
This is neither a good thing or a bad thing. It is merely the type of show that it is/was, and like all things, there are pros and cons to it. There are many shows that have this format, and a fair number of those shows have been wildly successful.
The strengths of this type of show tend to be longevity and audience forgiveness. If any portion of your audience misses an episode, for example, it doesn’t matter too much. They can be right back in the swing of things next week when they catch the next one and won’t feel like they have lost the plot. And because things stay more or less in stasis, you can enjoy your favorite characters in your favorite setting more-or-less forever. The show is always in the same emotional space, the same physical space, etc. The kids are always in school (probably even the same grades), the bridge officers on the Enterprise are all the same folks, etc.
There are minor little plot arcs that occur and do affect things from one show to another, but they are always background details. They may color the plot, they may add flavor, but they never drive the plot. Red may have lost his job at the plant, another red-shirt may have died on an away-mission, a popular guest-star may return for a few episodes for a small arc like when Bruce Willis was on a few episodes of Friends and became an oppositional figure for Ross.
But in the end, things stay more or less the same.
These shows can work, and work well. They can have extremely devoted fan bases who tune in for every episode, and remain loyal for many, many seasons. These kinds of shows aren’t seen that much anymore, as everyone binge-watches everything these days. Even if they don’t subscribe to a streaming service, they are still going to have a DVR or other provided device/utility to time shift viewing. Missing an episode isn’t a thing anymore, and more interesting, more detailed plots can develop and affect things from episode to episode. A TV show became less of a series of self-contained mini-movies just starring the same characters, and instead became extended, massive, uber-movies with plots stretching through dozens of hours.
Still, at this point in the DS9 run, it mainly exists with the universe reset at the end of every episode, starting more-or-less in the same place at the beginning of each one.
In order to make those meaningful connections with the audience, the primary attachment has to be with the characters. If the plot gets reset at the end of every episode, then it is the characters themselves that must provide the primary source of meaning in the show. The audience attachment is greatest with the characters. They can love the plot, they can appreciate a well-written episode, but they tune in for the characters.
Are there exceptions? Of course. But even in those exception shows, the greatest emotional investment of the audience still tends to be with the characters, and it doesn’t particularly matter if the show is a drama or a comedy.
So, in this kind of recurring, resetting, MacGuffin-of-the-week show, what is the one thing you cannot do in your show? You cannot make all of your characters’ actions arbitrary. You cannot break the emotional attachment with the audience by having everything your characters do be undone at the end of the show. The exploration of the characters, their character development, their behavior in plot situations, their hopes and dreams from the future, their past that colors their present, these are the most vital resources a serialized show has. They cannot be dismissed, handled poorly, or casually thrown away without destroying a large portion of what makes the show work.
Some kind of alien being, ephemeral in nature, and telepathic in execution, invades all of the DS9 crew (except Odo—we’ll get to that) after a MacGuffin mishap with a Klingon ship that doesn’t matter. This alien being turns all of the crew against each other, leading to conflict, hostility, and an attempted mutiny.
Except none of it matters. At the end of the episode, the alien being is ejected out of the airlock and the situation is resolved. Sisko wonders why he made some weird art. That’s it.
Very nearly the entire episode is a complete waste of everyone’s time. None of the drama matters. None of the character actions matter. Nothing matters at all.
Well, almost nothing.
There is one scene, just one, that has any worth in this episode. Blink, and you’ll miss it. But this one scene is a true diamond in the rough, and once again it is brought to you by the only characters on this show that are actually worth the investment in watching: Quark and Odo.
Yes, those two again. The two characters with the fewest possible facial expressions that always seem to give the camera the perfect glance, the meaningful (and natural) pause, the statement loaded with meaning. The two that overact when the character requires it, but never when it doesn’t.
If you want to enjoy this very enjoyable scene yourself and skip all of the detritus and excrement that make up the rest of this episode, I can help with that. The scene starts at about 7:55 into the episode, and Odo is confronting Quark in his bar about his interactions with Klingons. Quark catches on that Odo is looking to make a point and he pushes back, trying to turn the situation to one of profit for him.
These two are masters of their craft. Body language is perfect. The flow of the conversation is perfect. The intonation is perfect. For whatever reason, these two actors simply embody their characters on DS9 better than anyone else, and they have amazing chemistry when working together.
Anyway, Odo is attacked by the being that is taking over everyone else. Somehow it doesn’t work. In fact, Odo is the only one who is unaffected by this thing, and he spends the rest of the episode trying to navigate the pointless minefields of intrigue and plotting that everyone else is doing. It is an interesting puzzle that he must overcome, if you don’t care about the puzzle and just throw it out once you’ve partially put it together. Actually, that’s not perfectly true. It is also a puzzle made of meaningless technobabble, that you throw out. If it were something interesting, like a whodunit murder mystery, perhaps, you’d at least have the fun of figuring things out. Instead, well, you get this.
I’m getting off subject. Odo is attacked. He resists it due to his naturally obscure and un-humanoid anatomy/physiology. However, the attack does a number on him, briefly turning his head inside out and causing him to collapse on the floor.
Quark reacts with immediate concern. “Odo,” he says, a quaver in his voice. Then he rushes over to the man who is constantly a thorn in his side, checking to see if he might possible be alright. Finding he isn’t, he takes off running, screaming for medical assistance for his adversary, his nemesis, his friend.
It last for all of two-and-a-half minutes. Just five-and-a-half percent of this 45.5-minute episode. But it makes this whole episode worth watching.
Final Grade: D
This one scene took the episode from a straight F from me to a flat D. That’s up two notches, rising past D- on the strength of this one scene, and this one scene really is worth the time and effort to watch it alone. There’s no easy way to watch it. You’ll have to queue up the episode and fast forward on Amazon Prime (a flaky option at best) or sit through more of the show than you may care to.
I’ve said before that any episode that is worth watching is worth at least a C on the grading scale. This may be the exception. Hopefully it proves the rule. The rest of the episode isn’t horrible. It starts off not very good, you think it might be going somewhere (that Odo/Quark scene really gets you sucked in and invested) only to throw it all away later, having wasted your time.
But man… that scene. If you’re at all familiar with the two characters and their history of interactions, that scene is worth the price of admission. It will grab you and make you pay attention.