Nutshell: Pick an adjective: Cute. Shallow. Amusing. Contrived. Pleasant. Inconsequential. Lightweight.
"His Way" is a troublemaker for criticism. I feel as if there are two opposite forces pulling at me, and now I have to find the fair middle ground. I hope I can find it before the feeling becomes one of being drawn and quartered (though I suppose that would require four forces rather than two).
When I said "pick an adjective" above, I meant that you can go one of two ways: You can elect to see this as an hour of pleasant, amusing, inconsequential fluff—or you can see this as a foray into shallow sitcom territory. In a way, the second option also brings with it many characteristics of the first; I often like to see the comic ingenuity that sitcom absurdity can bring along with it. The flip side is that, Ferengi episodes notwithstanding, DS9 is not a series I normally equate with sitcom silliness. Especially when dealing with situations that have long been serious and even weighty issues in the context of some stories, reducing those issues to sitcom stature seems just a little bit wrong.
In this week's case, that would, of course, be Odo and Kira and the years of buildup surrounding their relationship. This buildup, ultimately, has come down to one brief, over-glorified moment (read: kiss) in "His Way." We know Odo has had deep feelings for Kira since as early as second season's "The Collaborator," and whether or not they'd eventually pair up has gone back and forth for literally years (to the point that, a few times, I'd thought it had been permanently put to rest).
Well, now we have the new answer, but it's an answer that leaves many other questions unanswered (or unasked), because the episode that gives us the answer is mostly an exercise in superficialities. Personally, I was never all that compelled by the question "would they pair up?"; I've always been more interested in the historic bond shared between them. These are two characters who saw some really ugly things throughout the Occupation, and their sibling-like bond and mutual understanding was one of the most interesting things about them, making shows like "Necessary Evil" possible.
Now, I'm not fundamentally against them falling in love, but my hesitation is that romantic relationships on DS9 very often lose their subtlety and become as transparent as on many other TV shows. I guess what I liked about that sibling-like bond was that it seemed more sincere, complex, and original, whereas any chump TV show can do simple romance.
So throughout "His Way" I felt the duality of the enjoyable sitcom at odds with the possibilities of complex characterization.
On one hand, there's quite a bit to like here. The cuteness factor is about as high as they come without being overly trite or annoying. Something about the episode's attitude really clicks, and it kept a silly grin pasted on my face while I was watching. The comic timing is good, and watching curmudgeon Odo lighten up some was pretty entertaining and refreshing.
On the other hand, coming off the heels of the intriguing "Inquisition" and tremendous "In the Pale Moonlight"—one of the heaviest stories in the entire series' run—a fluff piece like "His Way" also serves to be a significant break in the momentum. This episode probably would've been more aptly placed in the lineup before "Inquisition." At this point in the season, I'm ready for meat and potatoes.
But fluff we have, so fluff I will analyze.
Most fluff stories have some sort of gimmick, and the big gimmick of "His Way" is the holographic lounge lizard Vic Fontaine (James Darren). Vic is not your ordinary hologram. He's completely self-aware that he's actually a program, and he's very good with people and an expert at improvising. In fact, I wondered at times if perhaps he was just a little too real. But given the previously established character of Minuet way back in TNG's "11001001" (not to mention Voyager's Doctor) the idea of Vic didn't really strike me as implausible if one considers there are probably expert holo-programmers out there somewhere.
Vic is an interesting character, and James Darren's performance is a delight, bringing an amiable aura of seasoned knowledge to the realm of romantic advice. Odo and Vic make good foils for one other—Odo always socially conservative and reserved, Vic always outgoing and outspoken. Auberjonois and Darren work exceptionally well together, and without getting into endless samples of dialog, I'll just say that most every scene between them is a pleasure to watch.
There were some other moments that worked well. I got a kick out of the scene where Odo starts quietly singing in Sisko's office, and then Sisko, unable to resist, joins in. It was very nicely done—understated and amiable. Of course, there's quite a bit of that sort of amicability in this episode.
Vic's advice to Odo is essentially that he needs to relax and have some fun, and not be such an "icicle." Odo's problem, Vic concludes, is a textbook example of "man has buried feelings for woman but woman sees herself and man as friends"—meanwhile, Odo can't stop worrying about Shakaar. Does Kira still have feelings for him?
Some of this discussion begins to turn shallower than I cared for. I for one thought we were done with the whole Shakaar issue a year ago, and I found the pretense that it was a potential problem for Odo's confidence to be forced and derivative. Another hesitation I have is the way the dialog is almost too "human." I know, I know; Trek is really about looking at human issues through different story devices—but the way it happens here (even knowing that Vic was specifically intended as a 1960s persona), I still couldn't help but get the feeling I was grounded in 20th-century romance, rather than 24th.
Those are relatively small complaints. My bigger problems with "His Way" stems from the fact that, in the end, underneath all the good performances, slick production design, and good music by Jay Chattaway, this is really a sitcom that doesn't try to be anything more than an hour of fluff. That wouldn't necessarily be a problem in many cases (especially considering how nicely executed this hour of fluff is), but the fact of the matter is this is the payoff of years of Odo/Kira buildup, and there were serious issues that could've been brought into the light.
Unfortunately, like a sitcom, this whole episode is based upon a series of contrivances, right up to the trick that Vic plays on Kira and Odo so that they meet in the holosuite, and Odo is led to believe she's a holographic simulation on which to "practice" his dating skills. As humbly and humorously carried out as the whole holosuite "date" was, and as much as I enjoyed it while it was happening, and as much as Odo's embarrassment made sense after the plan blew up in Vic's face, the end result still didn't ring true when I stopped to think about it. The reason: because it was all based on a trick rather than a truth. Some truths can be packaged in tricks, but this was done with total disregard to seriousness because it was simply too busy having fun.
And I'll totally come clean by saying that I thought it was fun. But fun only goes so far, and the final act, alas, was just a little to shallow for my tastes. The spontaneity of The Big Kiss seemed a little too much in the realm of sitcom mentality—both in the lead-up dialog and in Allan Kroeker's glorified direction over the event—though both Quark's and Dax's (especially Dax's) reactions were priceless. Kira makes an allusion to a "moment of clarity," in which she apparently realizes that she and Odo were meant to fall in love, but it seems a little more canned for the purposes of entertainment than it does for the purposes of natural character growth.
In the process, some interesting subtleties are lost. For starters, I can finally abandon my few clinging hopes that Odo's betrayal in "Behind the Lines" will add up to mean something in the scheme of the Odo/Kira relationship. And I can also stop wondering if Kira's distress over the alternate-timeline Odo's actions in "Children of Time" will come back into play. In short, I can stop wondering about all the little mysteries concerning Odo and Kira, because they're now a part of the past—a chapter in a book that I feel has been put on the shelf for good. I'm not saying that this book was a must-read to understand DS9 or even Odo/Kira, but it does seem a shame that the writers think it's worthy of stashing away to collect dust. On the other hand, maybe the book hasn't been closed, and Kira/Odo's new direction will still look back on some of these chapters. I wonder, though. It just seems that, based on the simplistic way this pivotal episode in their relationship transpired, we're not likely to turn back and look at these unresolved issues again, which feels quite unfortunate.
Perhaps I'm prejudging, but I'm not sure what else to do at this point. I hope more serious issues will be examined in the context of this new, "official" relationship; I guess we'll just have to wait and see. In any case, I can recommend a bulk of this episode for anyone who likes enjoyable, well-played fluff and comedy. As for more serious aspects, holding one's breath until next week may be the most appropriate course of action.
Next week: Sisko must answer to higher powers.