Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Abandoned   Rewatch 
October 19, 2015 10:10 AM - Season 3, Episode 6 - Subscribe

Quark finds a baby in a pile of junk, then things get weird. Who's your daddy?

Trivia (avec Memory Alpha):

- Ira Steven Behr commented "We wanted to keep the Jem'Hadar alive in the series but not do another battle show. The trouble with coming up with a villain is they lose their ability to strike fear in your heart if you're able to kick their ass too quickly."

- Director Avery Brooks saw this episode as something of a metaphorical study of racial tension and gang culture. According to Brooks, "for me, it was very much a story about young brown men, and, to some extent, a story about a society that is responsible for the creation of a generation of young men who are feared, who are addicted, who are potential killers."

- This episode marks the first time that we see Ketracel-white, even though it is only referred to as the "missing enzyme" that the Jem'Hadar are "addicted" to.

- This is the first episode to refer to Jake's literary talents, foreshadowing his later decision to become a writer/journalist.

"Sixteen years old, and dating a dabo girl. Godspeed, Jake." - O'Brien, to himself
posted by Halloween Jack (15 comments total)
 
I'd love to watch a Star Trek with Avery Brooks as the head writer. What a smart guy! And I do feel like what he says about this episode really highlights its limits--because there aren't many, if any, human being whose destinies are as set in stone as the Jem'Hadar's are. So Kira turns out to be right to be prejudiced against them and to assume there's no way for them to change.

I love how quickly Sisko turns around on Jake's girlfriend (who is waaay too old for him, yikes).
posted by chaiminda at 11:31 AM on October 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


I still feel like this episode wasn't about how there was no hope for the Jem'Hadar - to me, it highlighted how flawed Starfleet's approach to the situation was.

The Jem'Hadar aren't the victims of fate, they're the subjects of intense genetic engineering. (They are presumably related to Tosk in some way.) It could be fixed by the same sort of technology that caused the problem in the first place. I mean, they're not a natural race at all - they have more in common with Khan and the Augments than any other race we've seen, (including the Vorta, who seem to have at least a little free reign).

Unfortunately, that's a massive cultural taboo in the Federation... so Starfleet was going to approach it with what amounted to talk therapy. (Not that therapy wasn't also needed, it was just never going to be enough.)

The Jem'Hadar are tragic because *everybody* failed them, including the good guys, IMO.
posted by mordax at 12:33 PM on October 19, 2015 [8 favorites]


So Kira turns out to be right to be prejudiced against them and to assume there's no way for them to change.

I'm not so sure that Kira's right that there's no way for them to change. In this instance, Odo doesn't know much about his people or the Jem'Hadar, and he has only a few days to work against a system of genetic programming that took thousands of years of development. My interpretation is that trying to solve the problems the Founders created on an individual level (the young Jem'Hadar here, and in later episodes, the defector Weyoun, and Laas) isn't something Odo can do. The change needs to start at the top level (which is what happens at the end of the series if I'm feeling optimistic. When I'm not, I figure poor Odo got swallowed up in the Link and didn't make a difference).

On a much more lightweight subject, I really love the way Sisko reacted to the infant Jem'Hadar, and would totally watch a series called Sisko Hangs Out with Babies.
posted by creepygirl at 12:39 PM on October 19, 2015 [8 favorites]


I like those interpretations better! And it's true that we do later see some Jem'Hadar who have a little more variety in their personalities.

It would have been interesting if Bashir had been confronted with the idea of genetically modifying the Jem'Hadar, given his background. Or Odo, to remove his genetic desire to be with his (horrible) people.
posted by chaiminda at 12:42 PM on October 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not so sure that Kira's right that there's no way for them to change. In this instance, Odo doesn't know much about his people or the Jem'Hadar, and he has only a few days to work against a system of genetic programming that took thousands of years of development.

The very existence of Ketracel-white is proof that the Founders thought their genetic indoctrination could fail -- which is to say, that the Jem'Hadar could change. Likewise, we later find out that some Jem'Hadar are born without a dependency on Ketracel-white (or rather: that they can produce their own, though that amounts to the same thing in practice). Kira's statement is right as to the outcome (Odo can't give this particular Jem'Hadar a choice), but is wrong on the reasoning and evidence (in that this failure says nothing about the Jem'Hadar in general). She's generalizing, out of prejudice, a small set of interactions onto the entire group.

And the Federation, out of prejudice and fear, refuses to research the science of genetic engineering that could help. A neatly constructed episode, on the whole. We get a whole variety of people showing off personal growth and surprising people -- Jake, to Sisko; Odo, to Kira; and then the Jem'Hadar, made tragic by the expectation that they he should grow and change.

I'd also add that the Jem'Hadar suffer, as O'Brien suffers, from the writers: reading the behind-the-scenes notes from this and other episodes, one gets the sense that they were actively trying to avoid humanizing them too much or making them anything less than terrifying. Here, in particular, they didn't want to copy the I, Borg model of personal redemption. They exist, then, as much as a counter-point to the enemies of past seasons and shows (and the writers of those shows) as they do a race in their own right. I think that Ira Steven Behr quote is telling: it's extremely hard to set up multiple stories with the same villain and have them remain menacing while also not actually kill off any of your protagonists -- if the protagonists keep winning, them they're not menacing; if the protagonists die, well, there goes your show.

This is a really nice example of writing around that constraint: was Odo right in trusting the Jem'Hadar? No one died, in the end. But did Odo really give him a choice, or was he only giving himself the illusion of giving the Jem'Hadar a choice? Did he have enough information to make an informed decision? Did anyone?
posted by cjelli at 1:46 PM on October 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


What a cool discussion! I was a few episodes ahead of FanFare in my DS9 watching, so I watched some TOS, which I very rarely do. I watched "The Balance of Terror," which is the first appearance of the Romulans and an episode that broaches the topic of bigotry as the crew suspects Spock of being a collaborator.

So, when I think of this episode I think of how Trek has a certain self-regard when it comes to racism. Avery Brooks' comments echo this - "well metaphorically we can deal with how people think of people of other 'races' in real life." And when I use self-regard I don't mean it as a criticism; I just think it is in Trek's DNA to explore topics of racism.

I certainly read this episode of DS9 as dealing with racism in part since the actors playing the Jem Hadar through all of his age stages, including as a teenager (Bumper Robinson), are black. Robinson's performance, even under makeup was arguably coded black, considering both his subtle speech patterns and his body language. I couldn't help but compare it to the way that Klingons are frequently portrayed by black actors and thus have a certain amount of black coding in Star Trek, as well. As I write this and consider this, I'm wondering if there have been any academic papers dealing with this...

I also read the episode as operating on both sociological and psychological levels. On the sociological level is the question of racism. On the psychological level, I saw the episode as dealing with the problem of evil. I came away more thinking that Odo was grappling with how you try to reach someone who seems unreachable and hellbent on destruction. Odo and the Jem Hadar seemed to be arguing about internal motivation as much or more as how others see and frame our actions. There didn't seem to be any lever by which Odo could personally reframe the choices the Jem Hadar teen was making.

A cool bit of trivia I discovered looking up Bumper Robinson (the Jem Hadar teenager) : he is the cartoon voice of both the Falcon and Cyborg, which are Marvel and DC's most prominent black superheroes.
posted by Slothrop at 2:31 PM on October 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


I can't buy the Jake/Mardah relationship. She seems so much older than him -- even though the actors are only 2 years apart in their actual ages -- that it just feels like I'm watching some DS9 writer/producer self-insert fanfic.

Great Odo episode otherwise though.
posted by oh yeah! at 7:56 PM on October 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


The very existence of Ketracel-white is proof that the Founders thought their genetic indoctrination could fail -- which is to say, that the Jem'Hadar could change.

That happens often enough over the course of DS9 that it's pretty clearly a valid concern - we see Jem'Hadar willing to buck the Dominion on at least two really dangerous occasions. It's part of why I wouldn't write them off, personally. (I'm not even counting tales of Jem'Hadar fragging their Vorta - I feel like the Founders left tension between those two races in a deliberate effort to prevent them from joining forces too closely.)

Something else this thread got me thinking about, especially the fascinating discussion of race above:

I wonder if maybe the truly cynical types in Starfleet - the Section 31 types, evil Admirals and so on - didn't even want the Jem'Hadar free. If they're under Dominion control, they have several key strategic vulnerabilities, particularly that Ketracel White facilities can be taken out, (as happens). Minus those weaknesses, the Jem'Hadar are a warrior race with superior technology, numerous biological advantages over non-genetically augmented races and an actual commitment to warrior discipline. They're basically super-Klingons.

I mean, Section 31 had the resources to almost wipe out the Founders via bioweapons - they clearly had some game, here.

Here, in particular, they didn't want to copy the I, Borg model of personal redemption.

I'm glad they not only gave that a pass, but had a good reason for it: being assimilated was always portrayed as body horror, while being a Jem'Hadar was clearly an adrenaline rush.

I really love the way Sisko reacted to the infant Jem'Hadar, and would totally watch a series called Sisko Hangs Out with Babies.

... man, now I want that show too.
posted by mordax at 9:29 PM on October 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Good comments, everyone. I threw in "who's your daddy?" in the preview because there's so much to this story that relates to adoption, and the things that you can change about yourself regardless of your background and the things you can't. In the literal sense, the Jem'Hadar doesn't have a father, but Odo wants very much to be one (figuratively if not literally, at least in the legal sense), and his failure is still illuminative of how far he's willing to go to fulfill that promise--near the end, he seems to be ready to leave DS9 behind for good. Odo is in no small way still finding himself as a person; an early scene in the episode has him redecorating his quarters to be a rough miniature parallel to the changeling "garden" in "The Search, Part II", and decides that he doesn't need to go into the bucket while he regenerates, although he doesn't get rid of it, either. (Which makes me wonder where he got it in the first place.) However, he's still insisting that he's not like the Founders, something he'll echo later in the episode. He's also very determined that the child will not be treated the way he was by Dr. Pol, who's not mentioned by name but it's very clear that Odo is still quite angry at him. (Pol will reappear in a later season, in a story with some striking parallels to this one.) In fact, when Kira insists that it's the Jem'Hadar's destiny to be violent, Odo turns that around on her by noting that not only do people see him as inevitably dangerous as one of the Founders' race, but some people see her that way, as a former terrorist. As someone who is usually the advocate for law and order, not the one for the troublemakers, he's eloquent and passionate in his defense of the child.

None of which really matters in the end, of course. The kid is born not only with certain physical tendencies and deficiencies, but with a number of behavioral tendencies hard-wired in. (One of the interesting things, though, for me, is how when they had a couple of shots from his POV, some of the station crew seemed to recognize him--even though the Jem'Hadar had not yet actually been on the station, and had been seen by only a few of the crew, it's logical that the station population would have been alerted to the possibility of an attempted takeover of the station by the Dominion and their general appearances given--which makes you wonder how much of the kid's aggression was prompted by their initial hostility toward him.) The more he finds out about his "birth society", the more he seems to dig it, and rejects Odo's attempts to integrate him into Federation/Bajoran society. There is a lot of coding for race, which leads to the allegories for interracial/international adoption, and also the practice of giving adopted children information about their birth parents and societies of origin, as well as other factors: pre-existing medical conditions (the need to give the kid ketracel white is a bit problematic in that it sort of codes for the now-discredited theories about crack babies; it might have made for a different view of the Jem'Hadar if ketracel white were something that the Founders got them permanently hooked on later in their development, which would actually have disturbing parallels to Earth soldiers being given/forced to use drugs during World War III, as seen aaaaall the way back in TNG's "Encounter at Farpoint") as well as behavioral problems often seen in children adopted from orphanages such as attachment disorder (hard-coded in this case).

WRT the B story, it forms a parallel to the main story, with Sisko wanting to remain a part of his son's life, but also not wanting to smother Jake, and coming to grips with how much of Jake's life now doesn't involve him directly all the time. Relevant to Brooks' quoted comments above regarding the racial aspects of the Jem'Hadar, he's talked at other times how important it was to him that Sisko have an active and loving role in his son's life and development (in remarkable contrast to what seems like the majority of Trek main characters who have had absent and/or problem parents, at least the ones that we know of).
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:30 PM on October 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


Good comments, everyone.

You too. (This thread is exactly the sort of thing I was hoping for when they rolled out Fanfare.)
posted by mordax at 9:41 PM on October 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Good comments, everyone.

You too. (This thread is exactly the sort of thing I was hoping for when they rolled out Fanfare.)


Yes! Agreement. There's a lot here, and in the earlier DS9 posts, that I did not (and would not) have picked up on or thought about absent the collective commentary here. A big thanks to Halloween Jack, Solomon, and zarq for posting the episode summaries, too.

I can't buy the Jake/Mardah relationship.

I can't quite buy it either but I'm glad it's in the episode. Mostly because of how it parallels the main story and frames the entire episode in terms of parenthood and coming to terms to children reaching adulthood -- as Halloween Jack notes, so I'll leave it at that. Also because Sisko being happily surprised by Mardah, and then by Jake, and then by Mardah again, is exactly how that setup tends to not go on TV ('We'll just invite her over for dinner -- what could go wrong? *cut audience laughter*'). Especially:
Sisko: "Poetry? You - you write poetry?"
Jake: "Well, sort of."
As has been mentioned before, Jake not going into Starfleet, and Sisko's presumption that he will, is itself an interesting decision in light of Every Other Star Trek Show, so it's nice to see Jake start in on a road to doing something else, rather than simply not joining Starfleet.

But the other reason I'm glad that Mardah is in the episode is because I like how the opening scene frames the rest of the episode. We're at Quark's; someone's gambling -- and winning. As he's about to leave with his profits, Mardah urges him to keep playing. He does; he loses.
Jake: You are evil.
Mardah: Who, me?
Jake: He was going to walk away a winner!
Mardah: First rule of dabo is, watch the wheel, not the girl.
There are many parallels here. Mardah is doing exactly what she was hired to do, exactly what her job requires, and gets called 'evil' for that -- shades of the Jem'Hadar, that, right down to the incredulity that someone else could question it. And Jake commits the same frame-of-reference-error that plagues Odo, and Kira, with the Jem'Hadar: he sees Mardah's job as outside the realm of gambling, and sees gambling as set of formal rules -- 'he was going to walk away a winner' because he said, in the moment, that he would walk away. But Mardah sees gambling as a set of formal and informal rules, and the ability to not be distracted is part of the structure of the game: he was never going to walk away, because Mardah was always going to distract him. He wasn't a winner until he left the bar; the system wouldn't let him win, and would do everything within it's legal power to stop him from winning. The Jem'Hadar has, in principle, thanks to Odo, a choice, but the Founders have not so much stacked the deck as made him think they have: he has a choice, but he (in the moment) cannot conceive of making a different one.

You could draw a similar parallel to Odo and that might actually hold up better under scrutiny: Odo has to fight for the chance to help the Jem'Hadar, but he can't 'win': the system -- of both the Federation and the Dominion -- is against him. Every individual victory, every moment where Odo wins over Kira, or Sisko, doesn't actually move Odo any closer to giving the Jem'Hadar the kind of choice that Odo himself had. That progress, as in dabo, is illusory.

(Which is why he has to join the Great Link much, much later on in the show to effect real change. That is hypothetical canon I am totally on board with.)
posted by cjelli at 7:28 AM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Re: Mardah - I agree with everyone on the reasons it works thematically in the episode. I think the show could have cut down on the ick factor if they'd shown a more dramatic difference in Mardah's work-look and off-duty-look. Instead of just having her show less skin in her dinner outfit, what if she'd had no make-up? What if her dabo-girl up-do is mostly a wig and her natural hair is something simple and basic? I suppose that could have a creep-factor in the end too, if she'd shown up looking like a teenager then it would seem gross that Quark's was hiring her to work the dabo table. But Star Trek, like most shows/movies, has never been willing to show women without perfect hair & make-up, and realism is forever sacrificed on the altar of "they gotta look pretty."
posted by oh yeah! at 8:38 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is the best, when you think, "oh, I love that episode; I should leave a comment" and then check in and see that there's a fantastic thread already happening.
posted by thetortoise at 8:56 AM on October 20, 2015


oh yeah!, that over-made-up aesthetic of the 80s/early 90s was definitely A Thing but it was pretty much that way on every show on TV at the time. And the more "natural" looks we have now are, of course, not really that natural anyway, considering the demands of TV lighting/cameras. They couldn't do any outside shots, of course, except on a holodeck or rare planet visit; the station design was always underlit and gloomy.
posted by emjaybee at 8:07 PM on October 23, 2015


oh yeah!, that over-made-up aesthetic of the 80s/early 90s was definitely A Thing but it was pretty much that way on every show on TV at the time.

It's not that I think Trek was the worst about it in comparison to other 80's/90's shows, or sci-fi shows in general, just that it's a shame they couldn't be better about it. I do think DS9 fares better than TNG on this issue, so far anyway.

And the more "natural" looks we have now are, of course, not really that natural anyway, considering the demands of TV lighting/cameras.

That's the thing though, isn't it? There is nobody on camera in shows/movies who hasn't been through the hair & make-up trailer, but the men's make-up is rarely meant to be visible. I find the effect is most prominent in period pieces (was flipping channels one day and landed on a scene of Charles Laughton as the Hunchback of Notre Dame in the 1939 movie, and burst out laughing when the shot switched to Maureen O'Hara as Esmerelda - even aside from the whitewashing, her hair and make-up was just so of its time). And sci-fi is sort of like an imaginary period piece, where the modern trappings of that imagined future don't become apparent until the audience has traveled on from the present. While the standards of beauty/fashion for men do change through the decades, it doesn't change in ways that date a movie/show as strongly as women's appearances.
posted by oh yeah! at 11:52 AM on October 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


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