Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"The Alternate"


Air date: 1/10/1994
Teleplay by Bill Dial
Story by Jim Trombetta and Bill Dial
Directed by David Carson

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Dr. Mora (James Sloyan), the scientist who helped Odo develop his shapeshifting abilities, and also a father-like figure to the rogue Changeling, comes to DS9 to reconnect old bonds which have grown apart since Odo left Bajor in search of something better than being a "science project." Meanwhile, an Unknown Lifeform [TM] that Mora and Odo have brought back from the Gamma Quadrant (which, by the way, may be a clue to Odo's mysterious origins—or not) roams the station and attacks people, in a plot akin to a B monster movie.

If ever there were an episode with a split personality, "The Alternate" is it. There are two ideas here that the writers must've been set on jamming together into one, never mind that they really shouldn't have had the slightest reason for coexisting. Nevertheless, "The Alternate" manages to be a riveting show on some levels, even if it's the epitome of mediocrity on others. The Odo/Mora scenes are fantastic, opening the backstory to how Odo became who and what he is, even how his personality came to be. Sloyan is superb as Dr. Mora, and Auberjonois' turn as Odo is a highlight that exhibits attitudes that are far more "personal" than the character typically takes on.

Then there's the lifeform plot, which is filled with long stretches of dull scientific exposition, technobabble, bizarre red herrings, and even a few suspense scenes (some of which actually work). The episode's twist is that the lifeform is actually Odo in an uncontrollable shapeshifting state, who chases after Dr. Mora because of gas particles that have been absorbed into his (Odo's, that is) cellular structure. As implausible as it probably is in plot terms, this explanation somehow manages to have some moving emotional implications in the Odo/Mora storyline, driving home a bond the two realize they need to reopen and reevaluate. But couldn't this have been done without so much mundane (and unlikely) underlying subplotting?

Note: If you watch this episode again, you'll notice a blatant change in character backstory. There's a dialog scene here that strongly suggests (more like flat-out says) that Sisko's father had died years ago. Look at the scene where Sisko offers words of wisdom to an Odo concerned about Mora's condition after encountering the toxic gas: "In the end there was nothing [my father] could do, and nothing I could do." This is contrary to "Homefront," in which we learn Sisko's father is still quite alive.

Previous episode: Rivals
Next episode: Armageddon Game

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17 comments on this review

Jayson - Tue, Feb 19, 2008 - 4:34pm (USA Central)
For some reason I've always remembered what Sisco said about his father in this one and it really doesn't bother me too much in terms of continunity. Its easy to forgive since Joseph Brock played such a great character and his additional only added to the Sisco family dynamic.
John - Wed, May 23, 2012 - 10:29am (USA Central)
I actually think this one is a little better than 2.5. I think the atmosphere generated during the 'monster b movie' sections are quite well played for the most part and not overdone. Sure, it's an ott way of ramming the point home but it makes for a more entertaining episode.
Paul York - Wed, Jun 6, 2012 - 9:31am (USA Central)
This story serves as a vehicle for the troubled father-son relationship of Mora and Odo, which is a recurring them. It also exhibits a strength of the show -- how it depicts parenthood: unconditional love, but complicated by real-life issues and hard choices, whether Jake, Nog, Molly, Dukat's daughter, or Alexander are involved - or the Cardassian boy in "Cardassians." In a later episode, Odo feels parental love and through that learns to forgive Mora. Here, he is "acting out" his subconscious aversion to him, which is repressed in his conscious self. So it is really a psychological story, as well as a relationship story. As with many DS9 episodes, the sci-fi storyline is a pretext or vehicle for an essentially human story, or more precisely sentient-being story -- about dealing with the complexities of life.
gmlcgond - Mon, Oct 14, 2013 - 11:32pm (USA Central)
I had difficulty believing that Dr. Bashir, emotions and compassionate manner would be pushed aside to have Odo placed in a zoo. Julian's friendship and time on DS9. ,make Nora's claim very hilarious and anti- the good doctor's patience ie Garrison.
Kotas - Tue, Oct 22, 2013 - 3:45pm (USA Central)

Odo episodes aren't that interesting until they discover the founders.

Yanks - Fri, Jun 27, 2014 - 11:54am (USA Central)
I enjoyed this episode. It was good to learn more about Odo's past and I agree, did a wonderful job playing Dr. Mora.

3 of 4 stars.
McDowell - Wed, Aug 20, 2014 - 8:36pm (USA Central)
Capturing the Odo-monster at the end of the episode seems like an homage to the end of the classic Forbidden Planet. And like Forbidden Planet this is also a story about psychology. It's a thrilling and emotional scene.
Dusty - Mon, Nov 3, 2014 - 9:27pm (USA Central)
A pretty cool episode. Dr. Mora was well played and his interactions with Odo were pretty fascinating. I didn't see the plot twist coming until a few seconds before Mora revealed it. Maybe the contrast Jammer pointed out between the Mora/Odo part and the monster part was intentional: presenting them as two different things to hide that they were part of the same story. If so, I'd say that's some very good writing. I'll come back to this one again.
MsV - Tue, Apr 7, 2015 - 2:47am (USA Central)
I have never been able to understand how Odo could be so hard and rude to Dr. Mora. If Odo worked with him, he had to realize that Dr. Mora did the best he could. He didn't know what Odo was and would never do anything to harm him deliberately. I think this is one of Odo's selfish moments, which we have found he can be very self serving. "Children of Time" and "Behind the Lines" to just name two major incidents. I can understand Odo not wanting to go the lab for more testing, but he was real mean to Dr. Mora who obviously cares about Odo.
William B - Sat, Aug 1, 2015 - 7:57pm (USA Central)
Enter Dr. Mora Pol. The Mora/Odo relationship is the focus of this episode, including what initially appears to be an unrelated monster movie B-plot but turns out to be explicitly about Odo's feelings about Dr. Mora. The plot itself is nothing much to speak of, and it is indeed pretty weak. However, while both this and, say, "Armageddon Game" have weak plotting elements and good character development, I ultimately prefer this because the plot really is integrated into the character work, making the stakes high in ways specific to the characters rather than as a purely external device. "Alien gas has weird effects" is a dumb idea, but fundamentally the problem is created because of deeply buried feelings Odo has, and the problem is resolved through Mora's familiarity with Odo and his opening his mind to what he does *not* know.

James Sloyan -- excellent in all his various Trek roles -- is wonderful in his interactions with Auberjonois, and creates a portrait of a man who has just the right set of contradictions. He sees Odo as a son and a science project; he knows Odo better than anyone in some respects and is blind to some of the most obvious signals Odo gives off; his words of encouragement have the natural effect of pushing Odo back into his shell. I love how Mora correctly recognizes more clearly than Odo does that Odo sets himself apart from others because he feels he has to and only retroactively justifies it as "what he wants", and yet at the same time is totally unable to see how his needling Odo about this just makes Odo grind his heels more. I think that one of the most telling moments in the episode for where Odo's distrust of others (and himself?) comes from is toward the end, when Mora secretly informs Odo that Mora knows that Odo is his sample, and then makes the argument that Odo's friends on the station would *never* accept him knowing this. In many ways this is an exaggeration of a particularly anxious parent's response -- "I want to protect you by poisoning your ability to trust others, because I know that none of them can love you as I do" -- which has the secondary effect of ensuring that the child comes back with them. Mora, who was a scientist during the Occupation and very likely had to work hard to keep Odo out of the Cardassians' hands (I wonder if part of the reason he insisted on Odo doing the Cardassian Neck Trick was a recognition that being a lovable clown is the best way to reassure the Cardassians that Odo was neither a threat, nor a creature they can [ab]use for their own purposes), distrusts everyone but himself when it comes to Odo, while also criticizing Odo for failing to open up to others. His desire to see Odo blossom makes him critical -- or, worse, surprised at every indication of Odo's success; his desire to see Odo safe makes him try to make Odo afraid. And he is completely unaware of these behaviours.

Mora's little speech on the similarities between scientists and lawmen also serves to highlight the ways in which Odo, overall, takes after Mora. Despite his frustrations, we know that Odo values Mora because he patterned his physical appearance after him (though he couldn't get the ears right!) and shrinks in Mora's presence. Mora's cluelessness about how his "friendly" advice about what is best for Odo would actually affect Odo comes down, in part of course, to being a parent, but also in part to being a *scientist*. Just as Odo falls into the trap of believing that his desire for JUSTICE gives him some sort of superpower of objectivity (which he even attributes, in the "Necessary Evil" logs, to perhaps his species), Mora's training as a scientist makes him see himself primarily as an observer, and an objective and dispassionate one at that. He is not quite depicted as the type of scientist like, say, Bashir, who lacks social skills altogether, but Mora's background of viewing himself as an investigator into Odo's nature makes him unable to turn the microscope back on himself and recognize how many of Odo's "flaws" are the result of his own behaviour -- his own stubbornness and certainty of his own objectivity and infallibility -- as *well* as to what extent their mutual desire for the truth and their dedication to hard work means that Odo has learned some of his surrogate father's best traits as well.

While we don't actually get much information about Odo's origins here -- a bit of a disappointment, though people who have watched ahead know what's coming -- I do think the idea that Odo would subconsciously desperately want to destroy the lab very cool. Odo's inability to get through to Mora exactly how traumatic his upbringing was, and (more to the point) how lonely he still felt even around Mora, culminates when the id-Odo essentially tries to murder Mora. Mora's recognition that Odo *wants him*, and his rejection of "RF power"-type tech solutions in favour of the personal, emotional one also signals Mora's full willingness to regard Odo as a person as well as, well, an "unknown sample" to be treated scientifically; and his willingness to risk his life so that Odo can be trapped (and hopefully not killed) is real proof of his feelings for Odo which Odo can actually see and understand. And I like the idea that once Odo expresses his anger the only way that is possible -- through alien gas, ha -- there is the possibility open for real communication between these two.

That Odo actually does turn out to be the killer monster and is still forgiven also helps address one of Odo's big fears -- that he will, if he steps too far afield of what the solids approve of, be destroyed. Mora's fears, which he somewhat projected onto Odo, are wrong -- at least with the station personnel. Odo is regarded as a sick, lonely person affected by alien material, rather than an evil maniac/monster to be destroyed. And in a lot of ways I think that it's good for Odo's rigid moral code for him to find out that he has some destructive urges that he didn't quite recognize. I think Odo knew he was angry at Mora, but I don't think he fully knew *how* angry, and his guilt over having hurt Mora, and Mora's *forgiveness* of Odo, probably help Odo along in understanding that there are grey areas in "justice."

The monster stuff is indeed a bit silly and has a B-movie quality, but it doesn't take up much of the episode, and it is used to good effect to spur a change in the relationship between Odo and Mora, which also helps move Odo along further on his series long arc. 3 stars.
William B - Sat, Aug 1, 2015 - 7:59pm (USA Central)
Re: Sisko's father:

This reminds me of a joke on "Frasier." On "Cheers," Frasier had told Sam that his father was dead, long before the idea of Frasier starring in his own spin-off had come up. When his spin-off did happen, Frasier's father was introduced as a living cast member. So when Sam visited Frasier on his own series and was introduced to his father, he immediately said that he thought Frasier had said that his father was dead. Martin (Frasier's father): "You said I was dead?" Frasier: "I was mad at you!" A good way to turn a continuity error into a joke by confronting it directly. (Somewhat similar to the famous "we do not discuss it with outsiders" joke from "Trials and Tribble-ations.")
Robert - Mon, Aug 3, 2015 - 8:16am (USA Central)
@William - That's awesome. I remember him telling Sam that he was dead, but I missed the episode of Frasier where Sam visited.

Honestly I always thought Trek should have just hired a Trekkie nitpicker to let them know everything that was wrong with a script. I mean, I respect if you need to ignore continuity (A LITTLE BIT) for the sake of a story... I mean, I really liked Sisko's dad, and I'm not sorry they did it.

But it would still have been good to have somebody letting the writer's know every time they screwed up.
Leif - Fri, Sep 4, 2015 - 3:23am (USA Central)
Thanks for the review Jammer, as always. I had a question that I would really like an answer to, though. What becomes of the pillar/artifact they discover and take back to the station. It supposedly had clues to Odo's people/origins. Did they ever follow up on this? I thought a stone artifact that could have clues to Odo's origins was a pretty neat idea..Can anyone tell me if it was ever followed up on? Thanks!
MsV - Tue, Sep 15, 2015 - 4:08am (USA Central)
@Lief, No. But a similar one showed up on the Founders home planet.(The Search II) Still no one mentioned it.

And to Dear William B thanks for helping me understand Odo's anger and resentment at Dr. Mora.
Leif - Thu, Sep 17, 2015 - 9:53pm (USA Central)
@MsV thanks for the answer..I'll be sure to look out for it when I rewatch that episode.
Elliott - Sat, Sep 26, 2015 - 5:08pm (USA Central)
Teaser : ***.5, 5%

Open on Quark auctioning off a bit of a deceased Ferengi (at bargain rates). Odo manages to sabotage the deal, taking particular zeal in telling Quark how much he's looking forward to his death. It turns out Plaig (the dead Ferengi) is not dead at all and Quark has either been duped or trying to dupe. It's the Capitalists' way.

Enter Dr Mora, who immediately starts scrutinising Odo's appearance. Mora is of course the scientist who was assigned to Odo after he was found. Quark pounces on the opportunity to embarrass Odo, recognising Odo's discomfort.

Particularly pleasurable is Sloyan's ability to match Auberjonois' gruff cantankerousness with nonplussed wit and self-confidence. The wit they share in common. Odo has the authority, Mora has the confidence. It mirrors in some ways the dynamic between Odo and Quark except that Mora seems to actually make Odo feel vulnerable. He knows that Odo still yearns desperately to understand himself and his origins (as does the audience), and he's counting on that truth to bridge the gap of trust between them. A great setup.

Act 1 : ***, 17%

Time for a bit of DBI, where we get one of those clichéd father-son conversations between Jake and Ben. [wretch]

Thankfully, Odo ends this crap and asks Sisko for runabout on his and Mora's behalf. Mora wants to investigate some lifeform readings in the Gamma Quadrant which could explain Odo's origins.

There's an amazing amount of information conveyed just by the performances from the more interesting father-son pairing of Mora and Odo. While on the runabout, Mora manages to continuously interrupt and speak for Odo to Dax, all while singing both their praises. It's clear that Mora gets carried away by his excitement and his pride (as many parents do), but also remarkable that this man's ego manages to shut Odo of all people down to nought but rolling his eyes in frustration.

The scientists and Odo beam down to a volcanic planet, which is covered in ruins. They find a pillar and a silicate lifeform which they beam back. This triggers a volcanic eruption which nearly kills them. The set may be cheap, but they manage to squeeze a great deal of drama out of the discovery and subsequent harrowing escape.

Act 2 : **.5, 17%

The Bajorans are critically injured by their experience. While Bashir treats them, Odo observes Dr Mora curiously, as one would a scientific sample, and quite likely they way Mora observed Odo many times during their time together.

Sisko shares the story about how his father almost died but didn't with Odo. This naturally triggers Ben to reflect on his own relationship with Jake and....oh wait, no that would make sense. Nevermind.

Later that evening, the lifeform that they brought back seems to have escaped from its containment field. Duhn duhn duhn...

Act 3 : ***, 17%

They deduce that the lifeform escaped through the ventilation shaft (isn't that always the way?) just in time for Dax to make an entrance. Turns out Bashir hid her clothes from her so she had to sneak out of the infirmary. I'm sure that had no ulterior motivations.

In the infirmary, Mora and Odo share a good scene. Mora called him in to ask to be of use. Odo assures him that the situation is under control. They discuss the metamorphic abilities of the lifeform, but what the scene is really about is what William B described above as “just the right set of contradictions.” In the same breath, we can become angry with Mora for being so single-minded in his scientific pursuit, but stilled moved by his genuine and unprompted concern for those around him. Likewise, Odo's feigned indifference is clearly betrayed by a sense of loyalty and affection for Mora, especially in his injured state.

Jammer complains about the dry, technical exposition during the hunt for the lifeform, but I vehemently disagree. While the actual dialogue is indeed dry, director David Carson is able to create a simmering sense of quiet dread. A very refreshing change from similar scenes in season 1. I find it quite effective. This is achieved primary by having the camera close to Miles so that he takes up most of the frame as he moves through the corridors (can we call them Jeffries Tubes?). As for the claim that this horror-movie stuff doesn't belong in a character study, I don't quite get that either. I mean this is really a horror movie populated by strong characters (Odo and Mora), so fleshing out their relationship is a necessary and welcome *addition* to the plot. O'Brien eventually discovers the now-dead life form in a startling moment which is undercut only slightly by the goofy sight of snot dripping onto the floor.

Even the Dax/Bashir flirting scene is palatable, giving way to a classic sneak-up-from-behind monster-movie bit. Is it a little corny? Yeah, but I think it's about as effective as it could be given the limitations present. A genuinely good effort.

Act 4 : ***.5, 17%

MORA : Constable?
ODO : It's a nickname I barely tolerate.
MORA : It's an expression of affection that you find difficult to accept.

Boom. Mora's dichotomy is on display again. While he pontificates (a little arrogantly) about the similarities between the scientific and police methods, one can attribute his enthusiasm to either grating egoism or an attempt to bridge the gulf between himself and Odo (which is probably even more grating to the Constable).

The script wisely takes every opportunity to flesh out Mora's motivations wherever there's a lull (like during his and Dax' analysis of the DNA residues).

Mora confronts Odo and reveals that he has deduced (secretly) that the monster is actually Odo. It says a lot about the man that, while he may partly still see Odo as a science project, the first person he tells about his discovery is Odo himself, out of respect for his personhood.

Act 5 : **.5, 17%

Odo's panic at the news is telling. He's not horrified by the idea of being a monster, but of being a *criminal*. This harkens back to my reflections on “Necessary Evil”: “[T]he story is given this noire veneer in order to accentuate the theme of semblance. Here, Odo's persona as the neutral observer, cold investigator and un-relatable alien is cracked open.” Another crack is forming. While in NE, Odo's persona as a lawman is what held him together, here the idea that he could be acting *illegally* cuts right into that veneer.

The only objection I have to this scene is, while Odo is visibly transforming under the stress of Mora's (understandably) angry reaction to Odo's rejection of his trustworthiness, the observing scientist fails to notice the heaping, sweating pile of goo Odo is becoming. Then again, I suspect Mora is purposefully antagonising Odo in order to test his theory.

After Odo transforms, Mora informs the senior staff about whom they're tracking and suggest using himself as bait to catch him.

Okay, so here's the bigger problem: Sisko decides, yeah sure, let's use this civilian as bait to catch the creature! Are you seriously telling me there aren't gasses they could use to render Odo unconscious? Or energy fields? Odo isn't a telepath, why not use a hologram of Mora to bait Odo? Talk about a needlessly reckless command decision. Likewise, the whole “set phasers to kill” fake-drama is ridiculous. Odo-as-The-Creature has not killed or even wounded anybody. Sure he's dangerous, but come on!

The other bad news is that the CGI creature bits which follow look terrible. Off-camera, Mora and Bashir rid Odo of the particles which turned his resentment into monster-mash. This is exactly how I prefer Trek deal with its sci-fi elements. The plot serves the purpose of creating the analogy which allows the writers to explore the “human” condition of the characters. Dwelling on the specifics is a waste of time, so I'm glad they don't.

Mora and Odo say their goodbyes, having developed a better understanding of one another and their relationship.

Episode as Functionary : ***.5, 10%

For not the first time, Commander Thinks-With-His-Dick sabotages an otherwise strong story, but at least not too badly as he's not the focus. The Mora-Odo material is very strong and plays well against the precedent set by “Necessary Evil.” Sloyan is a rock star in all his appearances on Trek and Auberjonois is typically strong. While I can understand the objections to the monster-movie bits in theory, they are mostly executed very well (save that last scene) and are integrated seamlessly into the fabric of the story, so I don't mind them. This feels for me like one of the few times DS9 attempted a real Star Trek story and succeeded. William B. gives an excellent analysis above of the Mora/Odo relationship and I have nothing else to add, so I won't. A refreshing change of pace from the last several episodes.

Final Score : ***
Diamond Dave - Fri, Nov 13, 2015 - 1:06pm (USA Central)
A definite game of two halves. The Mora/Odo scenes are strong - not least of which because Mora's manipulative behaviour and Odo's conflict are clearly apparent.

Everything else is pretty much a disaster. There are scenes which seem like they are from another episode (eg the Klingon opera), the monster story never really works, the special effects at the end are laughable, the dialogue gets increasingly ropy ("My God, what have I done?") and worst of all, it's actually boring.

You'd think you couldn't go wrong with some Odo backstory, but I guess not. 2 stars.

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