Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Whispers"

****

Air date: 2/7/1994
Written by Paul Robert Coyle
Directed by Les Landau

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

O'Brien returns from a security briefing to find everyone on the station acting strangely toward him. Before long, O'Brien suspects a far-reaching conspiracy that encompasses everyone on DS9 and possibly into Starfleet Command. His suspicions continue to mount as he discovers his activities constantly being monitored, his orders changed without his notification, and station security measures consistently shutting him out of the loop with no explanation or apparent reason.

"Whispers" is an original take on the paranoid thriller, with expert scripting by Paul Robert Coyle, who creates unexpected twists, turns, and revelations that manage to plausibly build a sense that O'Brien is the only remaining individual who hasn't been "gotten to." The first-rate direction by Les Landau evokes a sense of altered reality in every scene, where characters seem to be only slightly different from what they should be, but different enough to seem threatening and to arouse our suspicions alongside O'Brien's.

Told in flashback, the carefully constructed narrative relates the crew's inexplicable half-truths and cover-ups strictly through O'Brien's point of view. In one eerily photographed scene, O'Brien finds himself convinced that food his own wife prepared may be poisoned. Colm Meaney brings his usual credibility to the role, with a textured performance that highlights the character's ability to plan ahead, think on his feet, and attempt to set things right—even in the face of such bleak odds. Once O'Brien escapes the station, he finds what promises to unravel the mystery for us, which is when the story drops the unexpected twist on us: O'Brien is the conspirator—unwittingly—a clone who honestly thinks he's O'Brien but has been programmed as an assassin by an alien government.

The uncovering and death of the clone is unexpectedly tragic and moving—the irony of the old adage that "perhaps it's not everyone else who is wrong, but just you" couldn't be more clear. Other than the slightly dialog-heavy final scene, which feels a bit too much like it was written for the audience's benefit, this is a superbly envisioned episode that ranks among the most deftly constructed mysteries on Trek. The way the clues play toward the two different perspectives (both the false O'Brien's and the rest of the crew's) is brilliant.

Previous episode: Armageddon Game
Next episode: Paradise

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18 comments on this review

Jason Keon - Sun, Nov 15, 2009 - 7:03am (USA Central)
Jammer: How could you give "Whispers" 4 stars. Sure it has some interesting scenes, especially the one where O'Brien thinks that Keiko might have poisoned his dinner, but there's no payoff, and the clone's death was hardly moving. I'd give it 2 stars; at best 2 1/2.
Elliott - Sun, Dec 5, 2010 - 6:15pm (USA Central)
I don't understand how you can complain in numerous Voyager reviews that the shows offer no lasting character development and give "Whispers" four stars. I'm not arguing whether it was a good show or about Voyager or DS9 at all, I just can't see the consistency. It seems that you're willing to give DS9 every benefit of the doubt even to give your highest rating to a show which, based on your VOY reviews, violates one of your most fundamental tenants of writing.
Stubb - Thu, May 19, 2011 - 8:36am (USA Central)
As a kid who grew up obsessed with Body Snatchers (both versions) and other 50s-60s Cold War paranoia, the beauty of "Whispers" stems from how deftly the episode turns the classic 'Paranoid Conspiracy' on its head. Given a lifetime of THEY'RE OUT TO GET YOU! reinforcement, I admit that I didn't see the end coming until the very last minute. Of course it was a conspiracy! Of course O'Brien was the normal one! Oops, guess not. Brilliant.
John - Fri, Jun 29, 2012 - 11:01am (USA Central)
Elliott, I don't think Jammer has ever said that an episode must have lasting character development to be compelling. Nor that every single episode in a series must be dedicated to that development in order to be effective.

Throwing in the occasional curve ball can indeed pay off.

In this case I would say it does.

But not as much as Jammer does. 3 or 3.5 for me.
Peremensoe - Sat, Jul 14, 2012 - 9:38pm (USA Central)
I think this one was a good character-developer for O'Brien--or a character-illuminator, at least.

Though the protagonist, in the end, isn't really O'Brien, he's an accurate-enough copy that both he and we think he is. He *is* acting as O'Brien would under the circumstances (presumably the difference he was made for awaits a trigger that never comes). The end should be moving; in some sense, we *have* seen the man we knew harried to a baffling death as he tried to do the right thing. The nature of his last moments' realization is his only "independent" life, and it only adds to the pathos.

From then on in the series, when "our" O'Brien appears, we know he's the man who *would* have done that...
Mister P - Sat, Jul 28, 2012 - 1:11am (USA Central)
Can someone explain to me why Quark didn't know his Rules of Acquisition? Even if he knew O'Brien was a clone, why would he bother pretending that he wasn't sure what the rule was?
Steve - Tue, Aug 7, 2012 - 11:33pm (USA Central)
Solid episode. My only complaint is the final line where O'Brien's clone mutter's something about his love for Keiko right before he died. It just wasn't well executed. (Also, killing him in the first place seems a bit harsh. Do these aliens not have a stun setting?) But good hour of television over all.

I also agree that not every episode needs to have lasting character development. DS9 was clearly better on this issue than Voyager, but it doesn't need to happen every episode.

Mister P, Quark sensed that O'Brien was mocking him and didn't want to just play into his joke by directly answering him. I probably would have reacted similar if I were Quark.
LastDawnOfMan - Thu, Aug 9, 2012 - 6:57pm (USA Central)
Was a promising episode that had me very interested at first. Though by the end you realize 99% of the drama could have been avoided by the characters exercising even the slightest common sense (such as, lock the suspected O'Brien up, and explain to him explicitly what was going on until they figured things out) but didn't so that the episode could be exciting.
Richard Berndt - Sat, Oct 6, 2012 - 12:15pm (USA Central)
Wow! Great episode, nicely set up, with the twist out of nowhere. It was also great to see a focus on "O'Brien," the episode does a very good job showing how he uses his expertise in a variety of ways.
ProgHead777 - Thu, Jul 11, 2013 - 1:51am (USA Central)
Mister P: I believe it's been shown already that Quark does not have all of the Rules of Acquisition committed to memory. Maybe he knew the rule, he just couldn't recall exactly which number it was. Or maybe he just made the rule up to justify the questions he was asking O'Brien about the Parada.
nic - Sat, Aug 3, 2013 - 8:05pm (USA Central)
Full marks??? I think that's a bit generous considering other episodes from DS9 that have received this score, not to mention episodes from other series. I would say 2.5 - 3.
Riprake - Sat, Aug 31, 2013 - 5:11pm (USA Central)
It was a rather well-done mystery, though given some of what we saw in other episodes, it occurred to me from the start that Sisko might well have good reasons for trying to put something over on O'Brien. After seeing some of Sisko's underhanded dealing with Starfleet and how cleverly he could subvert the spirit of his orders while following them to the letter, that he might arrange some distractions to keep O'Brien busy and out of the loop was entirely believable and consistent with his character.

I do agree that last scene seemed a bit odd. It's tragic enough that O'Brien is dying for basically doing what he believed to be the right thing; having him send his last regards to Keiko seemed a bit strained and over the top, especially considering what would have to be his lingering doubts that she really was the Keiko he knew and loved.

The whole plot, incidentally, is very similar to Philip K. Dick's short story "Imposter" in which it turned out the unwitting imposter's realization that he was an imposter was also the trigger for his hostile programming (which instantly detonated a nuclear explosion on Earth so enormous that the last line of the story says it could be seen all the way to Arcturus). If Sisko or anyone on his staff had ever read that story, it makes sense that everyone would try to avoid tipping the duplicate O'Brien off to his condition until they had him either completely subdued or safely away from the station.
Kotas - Tue, Oct 22, 2013 - 4:41pm (USA Central)

An odd episode. Pretty good but not great.

6/10
JJ - Sat, Mar 8, 2014 - 3:06pm (USA Central)
I am in complete agreement with Jammer on this one. There are some minor flaws, but overall I would say this is one of if not the best stand alone episodes. Direction and acting are superb and the twist is excellent. The exposition scene at the end does seem unnecessarily dialogue heavy (we don't need everything spelled out to us), but that doesn't overshadow the rest.
Elliott - Sun, Mar 9, 2014 - 1:47am (USA Central)
I wish to rob of this installment nothing of its greatness, but, having recently revisited Batman: TAS, this episode owes a lot to the episode "Perchance to Dream".
Shane - Wed, Mar 12, 2014 - 4:38pm (USA Central)
Of DS9, I've only seen mostly up to this episode, and while it's not perfect (some logical fallacies do come into play, such as why they didn't just jail him if they knew), it offers something that most of DS9 so far, meaning S1 and S2 episodes for me, don't in that the plot is actually interesting. There have only been a few other episodes so far with a really gripping narrative ("Duet" comes to mind), so "Whispers" was appreciated in that regard. One of the more standout episodes so far.
Shane - Wed, Mar 12, 2014 - 4:47pm (USA Central)
You might be able to enjoy the episode more if you put yourself in pseudo-O'Brien's shoes at the end and think about how he feels upon discovering what he is. Because for all intents and purposes, that was O'Brien, just his consciousness duplicated in another body, and he died there.
Dusty - Wed, Mar 19, 2014 - 2:01pm (USA Central)
It's going to take me a while to wrap my head around this, especially the ending, which I did not see coming at all. I'm not even sure if it works. But it was an engrossing mystery all the way. Shane is correct--aside from the mental programming, the duplicate WAS O'Brien. The whole feel of 'Whispers' is a lot like 'Dramatis Personae', in that there's one sympathetic character who knows something is very wrong on the station and must figure out alone how to fix it.

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