Necessary Evil (original airdate: November 15, 1993)
Written by Pete Allan Fields
Directed by James L. Conway
In the early seasons of Deep Space Nine, writers got a lot out of the Bajoran/Cardassian conflict, and this episode is no exception. Tonally, Necessary Evil presents itself as a noir centered around Odo as the gumshoe. A woman whose husband used to run a business on Deep Space Nine pays Quark to retrieve a lockbox hidden inside the walls. A stranger shoots Quark during his job and leaves the Ferengi comatose. Odo is on the scene and starts interviewing people who were on the station back during the Cardassian occupation to discover what was in the box and how it ties into his own past under Cardassian rule.
Necessary Evil is the sort of episode you would never see on previous iterations of Star Trek. Because the setting has a rich history, we can explore that. Additionally, Starfleet and the Federation are inconsequential in the story. The audience gets to explore an alien culture and a war unfamiliar to us. On top of that, the central protagonist is an alien being who, at this point, existed as one of a kind. Odo was always a tricky character on DS9, and I love how his search for identity became one of the recurring plots in the series.
The intent of the episode was just to give the origins of how Odo and Kira met, but so much grew out of that. This was an early opportunity to showcase Odo as an investigator, someone who has a dogged drive to suss out the truth in a place where lies pile up so quickly. To that end, Odo learns he and Kira’s friendship began on a lie and has to process what that means. The series showrunner Michael Piller cites this as “as close to a perfect episode as we could get,” loving the performances given by series regulars and guests. It is a very tightly written and plotted episode with a great payoff.
Whispers (original airdate: February 6, 1994)
Written by Paul Robert Coyle
Directed by Les Landau
While Necessary Evil feels like something unique to DS9, Whispers hearkens back to classic Trek tales. Miles O’Brien is piloting a stolen shuttle and takes a trip through the wormhole. As he gets closer to his destination, he records a log of what has happened to him in the last couple of days. After returning to the station from work on setting up a negotiation between two warring races, Miles finds his family and crew treating him oddly. Miles eventually checks ship logs and finds chunks of his time on the station missing. As his suspicions grow, Miles becomes convinced that the entire population of DS9 is now who they seem to be.
Whispers is a fun episode, and I honestly didn’t know how it was going to end. The conclusion seems a bit rushed, but it’s the sort of third act explanation you typically get from these mindbending sorts of Trek episodes. Actor Colm Meaney does a fantastic job playing an increasingly paranoid O’Brien and can carry the weight of a story that sits firmly on his shoulders.
The episode feels very much in the same vein as classic Twilight Zone. You have the story told from the perspective of a narrator who may or may not be unreliable. We don’t really know until the end because the full details are kept from us. Characters we think we know are behaving in bizarre ways, and it disorients us just as it does the same to O’Brien. A fun if inconsequential episode.
Second Skin (original airdate: October 24, 1994)
Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by David Bell
It’s another Major Kira and the Cardassians episode. They seemed to have a lot of these early on before the Dominion was introduced. Kira receives a communication from a Bajoran school studying a Cardassian prisoner, and she wants to ask the major some questions. Kira is happy to help but states she was never at that prison during the occupation; however, the scholar provides her with records of her imprisonment. Kira boards a ship to go meet the scholar but disappears on the way. She wakes up on Cardassia and finds she one of them, being told she’s the daughter of the head of the Obsidian Order, an elite intelligence force. Now Kira must deal with the idea that her entire history is a lie, and she is actually one of the people she hates.
The writer of this episode, Robert Hewitt Wolfe, has said he was inspired by the work of Phillip K. Dick, and it shows. The whole concept of a falsified reality coming to the surface, but then the protagonist question if the revelation is actually a ruse is very Dick-ian. Think of work like Total Recall. It feels obvious that Kira is being told a lie though because she’s a regular character on DS9, so I spent most of the episode waiting for the twist that revealed what the Cardassians were actually up to. I think it would have worked better with a side character. Initially, the writers did float the idea of having Bashir unable to confirm which race Kira was to leave some doubt, but that was cut.
This episode is also the first in my viewing series to have Garak in it. Garak is a snarky Cardassian tailor and former Black Obsidian agent who works on the station. Because he was in the agency, he proves to be a crucial part of unfurling the mystery of what is happening to Kira. He is also one of the best additions to the series and added some needed mystery to the show. I almost see Garak as like Dr. Smith from Lost in Space, a sometimes antagonist but ultimately not very harmful.