May 24 2024


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Retro Review: Behind the Lines

7 min read

Starfleet asks Sisko to take a desk job, leaving Dax to command the Defiant, while Kira plots against the Dominion and Odo reunites with a Founder.

Plot Summary: With losses mounting and no way to recapture Terok Nor, Admiral Ross asks Sisko to take a command position at a starbase while sending the Defiant under Dax’s command to destroy a secret Dominion communications relay. Meanwhile, on the station, Kira recruits Rom to help trigger a fight between Damar’s soldiers and the Jem’Hadar patrolling Quark’s bar. Believing she has succeeded in disgracing Damar, Kira is appalled to learn from a spying Quark that Damar has instead been promoted because he has a viable plan to bring down the minefield blocking Dominion ships from entering the wormhole. Kira has also angered Odo, who has been trying to keep peace and order by cooperating with Damar, Dukat and Weyoun. Though Dax successfully destroys the Dominion relay, the female Founder arrives on the station, having been trapped in the Alpha Quadrant and longing to spend time with another shapeshifter. Curious about his own people and devastated by his hopeless love for Kira, Odo agrees to link with her. When Kira finds out, she is very upset, in no small part because she needs Odo’s help to sabotage the station’s deflector array, which Damar plans to use to destroy the minefield so he can bring thousands of Dominion reinforcements through the wormhole. Though Odo promises to turn off the alarms so that Rom can bypass security, he is engaged in a link with the Founder at the moment Rom opens the access hatch. Rom is arrested before he can sabotage the deflector, and when Kira furiously asks Odo why he forgot, he tells her that now that he has shared in the Great Link, the struggles of solids seem very unimportant to him.

Analysis: “Behind the Lines” is a truly great episode – wonderful performances, terrific pacing, unpredictable plotting, nail-biting suspense – yet it’s one of my least favorite of the entire series. When I first saw it, I was so spitting mad that I could hardly see to review it afterward. While I understood for dramatic reasons why this was a good moment for Odo to decide to explore his changeling side, it felt all wrong for him as a character and substantially weakened viewer investment in the character and in his relationship with Kira, which – as is so often the case with relationships on Star Trek – already had her behaving out of character, too. Now it’s obvious that this is one of the pivotal episodes in their lives, and in some ways epitomizes their bond in a nutshell…both the things that will bring them together and the things that will ultimately drive them apart. When it first aired, I took it as a signal that the writers were never going to have the courage to pair them up at all, which really pissed me off, given the mediocre beginnings to the Dax-Worf and Torres-Paris romances then in play and the puerile dithering where Crusher-Picard and Janeway-Chakotay were concerned. So I was angry, but the truth is that even if I knew we’d eventually get the glorious unfolding of Kira and Odo’s romance later in the series, “Behind the Lines” still would (and still does) make me sad, because one can see the seeds of its undoing right here, as both characters acknowledge the gulf in their natures that in some ways is too vast to cross no matter how much they may care for and love each other.

As with “Sons and Daughters” the previous week, “Behind the Lines” has surprisingly little action for a war story. The biggest combat event of the episode, Dax and crew’s successful raid on the Dominion communications array, takes place offscreen, while the threat posed by Damar’s plan to bring down the minefield exists for now only in words. Yet once again we see how the war devastates the personal and professional lives of those involved, in this case Sisko, Kira, and Odo. Sisko doesn’t get a lot of air time, but we can see him slowly losing himself, accepting a promotion which makes him feel as uncomfortable as Kirk did when he became an admiral – stuck in a desk job, unable to command a mission involving the people he’s led for five years, unable to make contact with his son and his friends still on the station. It’s a tough position, but not nearly as tough as Kira’s, trying to stir up resistance that will damage the Cardassian-Dominion alliance without triggering repercussions against her own people, or Odo’s, trying to maintain peace between the Bajorans on the station and the occupation force while supporting the woman he loves whom he believes will never love him in return. For Kira, who’s used to locking and loading when threatened, it’s very hard to pretend to cooperate even enough to maintain the position that lets her plot revolution. She knows full well that it’s only Dukat’s interest in her that keeps her where she is, yet Dukat’s interest revolts her. She’d love to punch Damar in his smug face – especially once she realizes he isn’t as stupid as she’d hoped, when Rom tells her that Damar’s plan to bring down the minefield makes sense – but she has no choice but to pretend to work with him instead.

It’s been Odo keeping her sane through all this, but Odo, whose self-control often seems to have no limits, is at the end of his resources. He blows up at Kira when she goes ahead with the plan to set the Cardassians and Jem’Hadar in opposition even though the resulting chaos is largely insular, affecting only Dominion combatants and damaging the station only in cosmetic ways; from any standpoint but that of someone who demands order, it’s an unmitigated success. He doesn’t trust the female Founder who (as Kira points out) has lied to him, tricked him, and stood in judgement over him, yet his desire to understand the emotions tugging at him proves to be stronger than his doubts. He believes he’ll be able to tell if she’s trying to manipulate him within the link, but it doesn’t seem to occur to him that she is manipulating him merely with the link, though he readily admits that it overwhelms him. From a dramatic perspective, this is a fine time to have Odo explore his situation as a shapeshifter, which by definition means also exploring what it means to be one of the Founders. But oh, does it make it hard not to hate him as much as Kira does when she walks out of his quarters because at that moment he just doesn’t care what happens to Rom, or to her. In retrospect, this has to happen before Odo and Kira can understand one another enough to come together; she has to suffer the same sort of devastation at the thought of losing him that he suffers constantly because she doesn’t love him. And from his perspective, she doesn’t want him trying to grow as a shapeshifter, either; Kira wants him to sacrifice the closest thing he has to a family for her people, though she won’t listen to him about the best way to keep those people safe.

How must it feel for Odo to know that a future version of himself would destroy an entire colony for her, yet still she doesn’t want him? Even though she’s trying very hard to be careful with his feelings, not to do anything like what Dukat is doing to her, offering to trade intimacy for the promise of safety for Bajor, it would be understandable if Odo felt as manipulated by Kira as by the Founder, and he has so much less invested personally in the latter. He feels more vulnerable to Kira than to what she describes as an intergalactic despot. He’s not at risk of falling in love with the individual, but with the link. Of course, in hindsight, it’s impossible to forget that Odo’s link with the Founder will set much more in motion than a personal relationship: as we watch them come together, we are watching him unwittingly poison his species, though he doesn’t know that and I still struggle with the idea that a division of the Federation, which fought fairly against Klingons and Romulans and Borg, will try to commit genocide. If war is hell now for Sisko, Odo, and Kira, it’s going to get much worse, and all my beliefs about their integrity and convictions will be tested in much greater ways. “Behind the Lines” is upsetting because it’s a harbinger of things to come…great storytelling, sure, but a lot of suffering for these characters we’ve come to care about, and a major shift in a universe where it’s become clear that optimism and negotiation aren’t always enough.

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1 thought on “Retro Review: Behind the Lines

  1. Oh the seduction of the link! Poor Odo can’t resist, though you can tell he wants to, while he doesn’t want to. His look, his tone of voice as the Founder says “Do you want me to stop…”, whoa, reminds me of irresistible seductions I have experienced (once or twice, but that’s over Seven lifetimes …). This episode is very good, for the story very good, though it’s difficult to watch the struggles that each of our main characters endure in this episode, and for some a couple more to follow. I love this arc so very much, though it’s not always easy.

    Poor Sisko looks as comfy as an adjutant as Curzon thought he would as an admiral.

    This is the start of the best of the darker DS9. I love the darker tone of the show from here on out, though I don’t like Federation genocide. I don’t much like evil Houdini mines that become usable for the right cause. How about the sacrifice of one criminal, one Romulan senator (and I assume his unmentioned staff of 4) and the self-respect of one Federation officer?

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