From the beginning on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” Odo is the show’s most mysterious character. The pilot episode hinted at the constable’s unknown origins, and his shape-shifting abilities have, thus far in the series, been considered unique in the universe. In Episode 11 (“Vortex”), we dig a little deeper into that question with the help of an imperfectly truthful visitor from the Gamma Quadrant.
The episode begins, as several have already, with shady dealings on the station. Quark, as expected, is at the center of it, trading in stolen goods with two brothers of the Miradorn people. The deal goes bad when another man, Croden (played by Cliff DeYoung), bursts in to rob the thieves. Odo, hidden in the room disguised as a drink glass, emerges to stop the heist, but not before Croden kills one of the Miradorns and is arrested.
The Miradorns were more than brothers, they were twins, which in their species makes for an intense bond. When one dies, life is agony for the survivor. The living brother, Ah-Kel (both played by Randy Oglesby,) demands vengeance against the prisoner, but Odo insists on the rule of law and a trial, showing how much the former Cardassian employee has acclimated himself to Federation mores. After Ah-Kel departs, Croden talks to Odo, referring to him as a Changeling.
That’s the first time we hear this word on DS9, but not the last. As they talk further, Croden, a native of the Gamma Quadrant, claims there are more like Odo on the other side of the wormhole and that he has even met some of them. He claims some even lived on his home planet once, but that they were persecuted and harried into exile.
Odo is suspicious of the smooth-talking criminal, but when Croden produces a piece of jewelry with a shape-shifting component, Odo is intrigued. Bashir examines the piece and pronounces it similar to Odo’s own cells.
Wild Goose Chase
Sisko and Dax travel to Croden’s home world, Rakhar, in the Gamma Quadrant to let his government know he has been arrested, and they are glad to hear it. Far from the diplomatic breach Sisko worried about from the new neighbors, the Rakhari only want him back so that they can execute him first—without trial. Sisko engages in the usual hand-wringing about the harsh justice of non-Federation worlds, but ultimately agrees.
Odo is ordered to take Croden back to his homeworld, and they sneak off the station in a runabout before Ah-Kel notices they are gone. Immediately, the prisoner works to convince the constable that they should detour to the colony of the Changelings, located in a secret location only he knows.
Again, Odo finds the tale dubious, but when Ah-Kel’s ship catches up with them and opens fire, he lets Croden take the wheel. They fly into a nebula full of explosive gases, which—according to Croden—just happens to be the home of the Changelings.
Setting the craft down on an asteroid (asteroids all have suspiciously Earth-like gravity on television), Croden demands they enter a cavern. Odo presses him for the truth of his tale, but Croden moves on into the cave. There he uses the Changeling-esque jewelry to open a stasis chamber, where his daughter lies hidden. He admits that retrieving his last surviving family member was his goal all along, and that he has never met a Changeling, only heard folk tales about them as a child.
The Miradorn ship begins shelling the planet, and Croden, after some hesitation, saves Odo from a rock collapse. They depart and manage to trick Ah-Kel into maneuvering his ship into one of the nebula’s gas pockets and blow it up.
Croden seems to accept his pending execution on Rakhar, but implores Odo to take care of his daughter. Odo, for the first time, shows mercy to a criminal and instead transfers him and his daughter to a passing Vulcan science vessel. He returns to DS9 alone, and no wiser about his origins.
Those origins will become clearer and will form a major plot point in subsequent seasons as the Dominion, a massive empire ruled by a paranoid Changeling collective that looks down on all non-changelings, becomes a major focus of the show. In the meantime, Odo returns to his role as the series outcast. Like Data on “The Next Generation,” Odo is a sui generis loner, seeking to understand the humanoids surrounding him but always feeling left out.
Compared to what will come later, when he discovers he is a member of a race determined to dominate the galaxy, this is not so bad. Until then, though, this episode serves to explore Odo’s character and his overwhelming sense of loneliness. In a fictional universe teeming with sentient, spacefaring species, nearly everyone has a home and a group of people to live there with. Odo’s isolation makes him suspicious of outsiders and the object of suspicion himself.
These traits make him a good sheriff for “Deep Space Nine’s” 24th-century wild-west environment, but also make for a hard life. The isolation of command is a common theme in shows like this, but it is usually seen through the eyes of the captain or commander, not a subordinate officer. But Odo’s unknown origins, collaboration with the Cardassians, and innate stubbornness make a shell equally difficult for anyone to penetrate.