The Thing casts a long and tentacular shadow over genre fiction. Considering DS9 features an alien shapeshifter, it’s a wonder it took them until the finale of the third season to get to a direct homage. No, Odo doesn’t turn into a dog monster or anything like that. The show just seemed to realize, “Hey, we have bad guys who can look like anything or anyone we want. Be a shame not to use it.” The homage in question is a blood-testing scene similar (though less gory) than the one in The Thing. As MacReady says, “When a man bleeds, it’s just tissue, but blood from one of you things won’t obey when it’s attacked.” Odo makes a similar assertion, noting that “blood” from a Changeling will revert to its amberish, gelatinous shape when separated from the central mass.
This comes during what should be a relatively routine mission. An ambassador shows up to the station with a story of a coup on the Tzenkethi homeworld. To keep the new Tzenkethi government (whatever that ends up being) from getting any ideas, Starfleet wants to send the Defiant out to show the flag. Presumably, this is a flag with a giant middle finger and the motto “Come Get Some” in Latin. Chief O’Brien keeps hearing odd banging sounds in the conduits but never finds anyone, other than a weirdly smug Dr. Bashir putting those engineering extension courses to good use. Then, the Defiant turns on the cloaking device, heads toward a Tzenkethi planet, and powers up weapons. As King Ad-Rock would point out in a similar situation, the problem appears to be sabotage.
Based on where the ship was sabotaged (easily trackable due to a growing nest of tubes installed by the villain), Dax and O’Brien realize the saboteur would still have trace amounts of radiation on them. O’Brien is understandably worried he’ll find it on Bashir, and is visibly relieved when the doctor tests negative. The rest of the conversation between the two men is in the background, and you can just make out Bashir denying he ever was in the conduits at all. At that point, they test the ambassador, and wouldn’t you know it, he’s a Changeling. He goes jelly ball on everyone and hops into a conduit.
The crew then has to comb the ship (and use the buddy system) and flush the Changeling from hiding. The most interesting pairing by far is Odo and Eddington. Odo frets about harming another one of his people, once again invoking the Changeling motto: “No Changeling has ever harmed another.” He also reiterates his opposition to weapons: “I’ve been a security officer most of my humanoid existence, and in all that time, I’ve never found it necessary to fire a weapon or take a life.” Contrast that with the usual hyper-violent, cowboy cop characters in pop culture, from Serpico to Jack Bauer. Odo’s aversion to violence is not his most human trait -- humans are much more prone to lashing out -- but something the Great Link could so desperately use. His irritated line to Major Kira, “I don’t step on ants, Major,” once again echoes here.
Eddington remains a fascinating and enigmatic presence. The creators noticed the intensity and menace actor Kenneth Marshall brought to the role and used him as a red herring. Especially effective since he has a documented history of sabotaging the Defiant. The internet, which was just becoming a thing when this episode aired, was alive with speculation that Eddington had to be a Changeling, and in a fun move, this cemented Behr’s desire to never make that the case.
The episode comes down to a tense confrontation in the engine room. While Chief frantically tries to restore control of the ship before the self destruct goes (That’s right; Sisko is totally willing to die rather than risk a Quadrant-destabilizing war with the Tzenkethi.), two Odos arrive. They make a go at a “no, shoot him!” Chief hilariously is not going to play that game, leaving the two of them to sort it out. He has two minutes to keep Molly from growing up without a father.
The two Changelings fight, and it’s weird. First, the other one attempts to get Odo to turn. I’ve always liked this element of the struggle. The idea that the Changelings are utterly inimical to the Alpha Quadrant’s way of life, but they just cannot bring themselves to harm their wayward son. The physical confrontation has the two of them morphing together, which . . . that’s sex. I mean, it’s not precisely sex, but it’s as close as Changelings get amongst their own people. They merge thoughts, feelings, and sensations with one other, and it’s likely the other initiated this to make his arguments on a cellular level. But, since Odo’s not really into it, are we witnessing a sexual assault? Then, Odo does it to this other Changeling . . . I’m overthinking it, and I’m going to stop. I probably already inspired a whole genre of slash, and I am deeply sorry to all of you.
The fight ends when Odo throws the other Changeling into the exposed warp core. He dies, but before he crumbles to black volcanic dust in a cool effect, he whispers the episode quote to Odo. It’s a fantastically dark end to the season. Behr said this was the first time they really were edging toward full serialization. While this a big reason I love the show more than any of the others, it was expressly forbidden by Trek’s brass. Fortunately, they were more concerned with the inferior Voyager. The lunatics were running the asylum.
The episode also features something else long overdue (remarked upon by both O’Brien and Eddington): Sisko’s promotion to Captain. It was a bit of an embarrassment that the only black Star Trek commanding officer had not achieved the money rank, and it was rectified here. This also means that Sisko manages to be the best Trek captain in history -- not a debate -- in a mere four years. He’s just that good.
Next up: Neck deep in Klingons.