HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
I’d forgotten just how weak DS9’s first season really is, and “A Man Alone” reminded me of it with a vengeance. There are some solid elements in the story—mostly between Odo and Quark, but overall, “A Man Alone” struggles with what I can only imagine is a profound misunderstanding of the capabilities possessed by DS9’s cast. As a result, the interesting and nuanced performances we saw in “Emissary” are simply gone, and the story reduces the characters to caricatures of themselves. Thus, “A Man Alone” becomes an incredibly dull episode peopled almost exclusively by even duller characters made worse by a double helping of misogyny. While I doubt that “A Man Alone” constitutes the series’ nadir, it’s probably not far off from that point.
Dr. Bashir interrupts Dax while she’s in the holosuite, working on a brain teaser, to flirt and ask her to supper. She declines, citing a prior engagement that turns out to be with Commander Sisko. At a table at Quark’s, Sisko and Dax discuss his feelings of awkwardness regarding Dax having a new host. They look up in time to see Keiko and Mile’s O’Brien having a very public argument on the upper level. At the bar, Quark and Odo observe the same argument, and Odo makes several horrible observations regarding his preference to remain single before noticing a familiar and unwelcome face at the Dabo table. Odo walks over and threatens the man, eventually resorting to violence. Commander Sisko forcibly separates them, and Odo informs Ibudan that he has 26 hours to leave the station.
Meanwhile Jake meets up with Nog and talks him into hanging out. The two head off, clearly up to no good. Oblivious to this development, Sisko listens to Odo as he explains that Ibudan was a black market smuggler he sent up for murder who has now been released as his victim was a Cardassian officer. Sisko orders Odo to obey the law, meaning that he cannot run Ibudan off the station simply because he doesn’t like him. Odo acquiesces and returns to his office and his bucket to observe his regeneration cycle. In a holosuite, Ibudan receives a remarkably friendly massage only to be stabbed by a mysterious gloved arm.
Back on the promenade, Jake and Quark play a prank on a dining couple and are apprehended by a security officer while Odo, Sisko, Bashir, and Kira investigate Ibudan’s corpse in the deactivated holosuite. The evidence indicates that the holosuite door opened only twice, and later, Bashir will confirm that the only DNA evidence located in the holosuite belongs to Ibudan, the victim, and the four officers investigating the murder. Odo investigates Ibudan’s berth aboard the ship on which he arrived and discovers that Ibudan booked a double rather than a single accommodation. In Ops, Zayra, the Transit Aid Station Operator, informs Sisko and Kira that Ibudan confessed to him that he feared Odo would kill him, shifting suspicion onto Odo, which is farther reinforced by Bashir’s findings. In Quark’s bar, Zayra and a group of other Bajorans speculate as to whether Odo murdered Ibudan, which Quark not only overhears but refutes.
Emboldened, Zayra leads a group of Bajorans to Ops to demand answers as to why Odo remains chief of security. Convinced, Sisko relieves Odo of duty temporarily, in order to avoid the implication of impropriety. Odo returns to his office but stops by the infirmary, where Bashir is analyzing a biological sample on which Ibudan appears to have been running some sort of experiment, which is strange, as Ibudan had no scientific background. He leaves Bashir to continue on his way to his office only to find it vandalized. Shocked, Odo attempts to restore the space to rights only to have Quark visit, seemingly to gloat. However, Quark does mention that Ibudan had kept company with Bajoran dissidents when he was in prison, y’know, in the event that Odo wanted to look into that sort of thing.
Keiko, having watched Jake and Nog get into trouble, concludes the station needs a school, and she lobbies Sisko for the resources to start one. An overjoyed Sisko agrees and offers her whatever she might need. Keiko, who has chafed at lacking a role on the station, proceeds to design a curriculum and begins drumming up support. She even goes to Rom to ask that Nog be allowed to come to school, explaining that Nog will learn about how other cultures do business, putting him ahead of other Ferengi. Rom seems unconvinced.
Sisko goes to the Infirmary to check on Dr. Bashir’s progress, and Bashir proudly shows Sisko a…thing…in a tank. None of them quite knows what it is, but Bashir did grow it from the biological sample found in Ibudan’s quarters. Sisko invites Dax to lunch, and Dr. Bashir obliviously accepts. Dax demurs, leaving the two men to discuss which one of them is interested in Dax. Hint: it’s Bashir. In the schoolhouse, Keiko tells her husband that while the classroom is ready, she isn’t certain there will be any students. O’Brien tries to be supportive, but he’s interrupted by a screaming mob that has congregated outside Odo’s office as Odo has barricaded himself inside it.
O’Brien calls for security and Commander Sisko, who all head down to defuse the situation. Zayra demands justice, and Sisko dresses the mob members down for their poor behavior. Dr. Bashir runs out to tell Sisko he’s figured out the mystery, and they proceed back into the Infirmary where Bashir explains that the victim was not Ibudan.
The scene shifts to shipboard quarters, where a mysterious elderly Bajoran man removes his hood. A chair morphs into Odo, who unmasks the man as the real Ibudan who had murdered his clone in order to frame Odo. He apparently wanted revenge? Maybe? Ibudan goes to jail. The clone Bashir grew in the Infirmary grows up. Students show up at Keiko’s school, and life returns to what passes for normal aboard DS9.
“A Man Alone” actually aired as the fourth episode, despite being filmed immediately after “Emissary.” Netflix, on which I am watching DS9, apparently opted to group the episodes by production rather than airing order, so rather than getting Garak’s first episode, we get this.
“A Man Alone” tries to be about Odo and how easily the Bajoran public turns on him. Odo is the solitary man in the title, but despite the episode’s attempt at telling a story about Odo’s isolation, romantic and otherwise, that story never quite lands. “A Man Alone” is just as much about the women on the station and how the various issues impact them as it is about Odo. The episode opens with Jadzia Dax politely rebuffing Dr. Bashir when he interrupts her time in the holosuite. There’s no indication that she invited him to join her or even told him where she would be. We know this because Dr. Bashir seems surprised that she can recognize him without seeing him. Nothing about Bashir’s actions here is okay. He’s barging in on her private time, attempting to monopolize her attention and time, and he fails to recognize that he’s being incredibly rude. I don’t know if this scene was supposed to be cute in 1993, but in 2021, Bashir exudes a stalker vibe.
Bashir isn’t the only character who comes off as vaguely creepy either. We’re treated to a truly awkward scene in which Sisko and Bashir casually discuss whether Bashir and Sisko will be rivals for Dax’s attention. What’s fascinating about this particular exchange is that at no point does it occur to either of them that perhaps pursuing a relationship with a co-worker who is manifestly uninterested might be inappropriate. As his commanding officer, Sisko should tell Bashir to cool his jets, but instead, he wanders down memory lane and finds his mentor and a pair of twins. That’s probably not the sort of story Sisko should be sharing with an officer under his direct command. Furthermore, the implication of that story is that Sisko and Curzon were attempting to pick up dates together, and while that idea doesn’t quite rise to the ick factor from “Sub Rosa” of Dr. Crusher reading her grandmother’s sex journal, it’s still uncomfortable. The expression on Siddig El Fadil’s face doesn’t particularly help alleviate the creep-factor here either.
Odo comes off even less well. He shares a deeply misogynist rant with Quark about why he has never sought out a “coupling.” His reasons mostly come down to women nag too much, ruining their partners’ lives. I suspect that the original purpose of this scene is to highlight Odo’s isolation. The overall aggression of his rant is meant to serve as a cover for his embarrassment at his own inexperience and loneliness, but it fails, largely because Odo has yet to have enough screen time for viewers to know much about him or have enough investment in his character to read between the lines here. Throughout the episode, Major Kira is one of two characters to state explicitly that Odo could not be guilty. Her belief in Odo is unshakable enough that she goes so far as to fight Sisko to keep Odo on the investigation. In light of that, Odo’s rant doesn’t even age well over the course of the episode.
Then, there’s the issue of Keiko O’Brien and her school. DS9 really puts Keiko in an awkward position. The episode makes clear that the O’Brien’s have moved to the station because O’Brien has received a promotion, but unlike on the Enterprise, this station doesn’t need a botanist. As a result, Keiko suddenly finds herself without an independent purpose. She can’t exactly leave the station to go to Bajor quite yet as Bajor remains a touch hostile, and while she’d clearly love to go on one of the survey missions in the Gamma Quadrant, she isn’t. The episode doesn’t make clear why she doesn’t, but I suspect it’s due to Molly. Molly is young enough that leaving her for months at a time isn’t really a great idea, though I truly suspect the writing team didn’t think of it in those terms.
In any event, there’s a great deal of solid material for character development in this situation as Miles and Keiko try to navigate the pressure this inequitable situation puts on their marriage. Both Colm Meany and Rosalind Chao are strong enough actors that they could tap into that, given enough room to do so by the script. Unfortunately, that’s not what happens. Instead, we get stilted dialogue and the world’s weirdest solution. After observing Jake and Nog pulling pranks on the station, Keiko decides that the station’s children need something to do and that the something should be going to school. Moreover, she’s in charge of designing a curriculum and running the school despite having no background in education. First, I fail to understand why neither Starfleet nor the Bajoran Provisional Government planned for children, and secondly, I question why the lack of a school didn’t occur to Sisko earlier than this moment. Those questions notwithstanding, the decision to set up Keiko as teacher and sole administrator seems a little too pat and a little too “women are good at teaching, let’s have her do that.” It’s not a good look for the show.
The episode isn’t entirely without its merits, few though they may be. Armin Shimmerman’s Quark steals ever scene he’s in, especially when he slips information to Odo. Miles O’Brien manages to come across as a decent husband who’s also caught between his promotion and his wife’s happiness, and Dax demonstrates that she’s exceptionally adept at avoiding Dr. Bashir’s advances. Terry Farrell gives us a coolly competent Dax from the jump who has enough emotional intelligence to navigate Sisko’s discomfort. Unfortunately, none of that saves this episode from itself.
One baseball and an out at first base
Stray Thoughts from the Couch:
- Eagle-eyed viewers will note that Ibudan’s point of original departure was Alderaan Spaceport. That’s a reference to that other Star franchise.
- Rom is really weird in this episode. Max Grodenchik will settle into the role fairly quickly, so this is an outlier.
- Apparently, the clone Bashir grows gets sent to Bajor to be on his way? There’s no discussion about Starfleet taking responsibility or dealing with the clone in any way, and that’s kind of horrifying.
- Speaking of clones, the less said about the resolution to this mystery the better. It’s just awful, and there’s absolutely nothing redeeming about having Odo rip Ibudan’s mask off. Seriously, why? Just why?