|Odo bonds with an infant Changeling.|
The time has come for Kira to give birth to the O'Brien's baby. She has opted for a traditional Bajoran birth, with Miles and Keiko at her bedside. The birth is complicated by the delayed arrival of the final guest: Shakaar (Duncan Regehr), whose duties as First Minister to Bajor have interefered with his ability to be there for Kira. Once Shakaar finally arrives, the delivery is further complicated by the increasing competition between Shakaar and O'Brien, each of whom is territorial about his place at Kira's side.
Meanwhile, Odo receives an unexpected delivery: An ornate container Quark obtained from a Yridian dealer. Its contents? An infant Changeling. Odo obtains permission to work with the child, to try to teach it how to shapeshift and establish communication with it. But when Odo's progress is too slow, Dr. Mora (James Sloyan), the Bajoran scientist who unlocked his own shapeshifting skills, arrives to push him to deliver results - bringing with him all of Odo's old resentments about being used as a test subject.
Capt. Sisko: Initially willing to leave the Changeling child in Odo's care. Still, when Stafleet becomes impatient over the lack of progress, he's the one who delivers the message that Starfleet will take over if Odo gets no results. I'd tend to suspect that Sisko is the one who alerted Dr. Mora to the situation with the new changeling, as well.
Major Kira: The episode's "B" plot is mostly played for comedy, with the competition between Miles and Shakaar allowing for some amusing broad moments. But the subplot also parallels the main plot, as is made evident when Kira meets up with Odo at the episode's closing. She talks about how she never wanted a child, echoing Odo's own words to Quark earlier in the show, but how much carrying the O'Brien's child meant to her and how she wishes now that she could just hold the baby one more time. As ever, when these two characters are on screen, it's a wonderful moment - a perfect note on which to send this show off to credits.
Odo: Instantly entranced by the infant Changeling. He is parental as he talks to it, assuring it (like many parents before) that he will "not make the same mistakes" that were made by Dr. Mora in raising him. But it isn't long before, as it has for many parents before, reality shatters Odo's ideals about being the perfect parent out of necessity for simply raising the child. Odo's bond with the young Changeling brings out a new facet in Rene Auberjonois' performance, and Odo's emotional journey throughout the episode rings true at every point.
Dr. Mora: James Sloyan returns as Odo's discoverer/surrogate father for the first time since Season Two's The Alternate. Sloyan remains excellent, and Rene Echevarria's script balances Mora's roles as scientist and parent. As a scientist who successfully prompted a Changeling to grow, he is impatient with Odo's overly gentle tactics. As a parent, he is proud when Odo's efforts finally bear fruit. Despite his protestations to Odo, he does feel some guilt at his harsh tactics, and when Odo finally acknowledges that Mora's efforts made his life possible, the scientist's relief at hearing this is evident.
Shakaar: Returns to watch Kira give birth to the O'Briens' child. I question the priorities of using the character here and not in the previous episode. Here, it would have been easy to have redrafted the Shakaar subplot so that he was too busy to come, while the last episode seemed to cry out for his participation. In any case, while there's some mild amusement in his rivalry with the protective O'Brien, there really isn't much interest, and I find myself mainly waiting for the producers to realize how substantially the Kira/Shakaar romance has failed so that it can be cut off.
The Begotten is another excellent episode in a season that's already met its quota for excellent episodes. Odo's story is pushed further along. We see him experiencing what it is to be a Changeling again by working with this young Changeling. The end result might have felt like a cheat... but it doesn't, in part because it's been foreshadowed in earlier episodes, but mainly because that result comes with a real emotional cost.
Speaking of emotion, I'm going to veer into discussing another, lesser Trek series for a moment. A few weeks ago, I reviewed the Voyager episode Real Life. That episode has some superficial similarities with this one, as it showed the holographic doctor experiencing what it was like to have a family. The endings to the two episodes are particularly similar.
Real Life had Voyager's strongest regular responding emotionally to a quite decent child actress. The Begotten has one of DS9's strongest regulars responding emotionally to a lump of gelatin. And yet the emotion in this episode is so much more genuine and compelling than it was in the Voyager episode, it becomes ridiculous to seriously compare the two. This one is clearly on another level, because the way Odo and Mora react to that lump of gelatin convinces in a way that the saccharine manipulations of Real Life never did.
Rene Echevarria's script focuses on Odo's reactions in a way that is authentic to his character. The scene in which he is truly happy and shares that happiness with - of all people - Quark is a gem. Of course Odo would bring his joy to his nemesis, his unspoken friend, and of course Quark would react with suspicion to this strange behavior. When it becomes clear why Odo is happy, Quark drops his pretense and is genuinely happy for him. For a second, they are genuinely friends - Until a security alert tears the rug out from underneath Odo.
The Begotten ends with a major event for Odo, but to the episode's credit that event is actually less memorable than Odo fretting over the Changeling child. It's achievement is that its standalone story resonates. Excellent writing and acting fuse to make for another excellent episode.
Overall Rating: 9/10.
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