From a mechanical perspective, The Begotten is very much about clearing up the leftover pieces from the first half of the season before the second half can really begin.
Watching the fifth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with the benefit of hindsight demonstrates just how carefully the production team have paced the season. The fifth season clearly turns on a number of different points, pivoting over In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light in the middle of the year. However, a lot of the first half of the season can be seen as a build to that two-parter. The production team are very consciously lining up the remaining dominoes for that big plot development.
The most obvious example is the prophecy of Rapture, which foreshadows the events of both By Inferno’s Light and A Call to Arms while keeping Bajor neutral for what is to come. But there are others. Apocalypse Rising folds the Klingon War into the looming battle with the Dominion. The Ship and … Nor the Battle to the Strong are proofs of concept for a Star Trek series about war. Things Past and The Darkness and the Light keep the Cardassian Occupation fresh in the viewers’ mind. The Ascent is a story that could only work while Odo is humanoid.
There is a clear purpose to most of the storytelling decisions made during this stretch of the season, designed to streamline what is to come. The Begotten takes care of two rather major plot points that need to be addressed; Odo’s status as a humanoid following Broken Link and Kira’s surrogate pregnancy from Body Parts. Sure, For the Uniform sits between this episode and the big mid-season twist, providing the opportunity to do one last Maquis story before the political board is reset. But that feels almost like an afterthought.
The Begotten dedicates itself to wrapping up the two biggest plot elements hanging over from the end of the fourth season, closing that chapter of the show before a new one is opened. There is a certain functional quality to The Begotten, a utilitarian approach to plotting. It would be very easy for The Begotten to feel stale or trite, contrived or obligatory. It is to the credit of writer René Echevarria that The Begotten never feels forced. The subplot focusing on Kira’s birth has a number of very serious issues, but the primary plot driven by Odo is genuinely affecting.
It is a testament to the writers working on Deep Space Nine that even the act of decluttering the long-form narrative can lead to affecting television.
The fifth season runs parallel to the third season of Star Trek: Voyager. The two shows very rarely intersect or overlap, with Deep Space Nine airing in syndication and Voyager airing on UPN. There are occasional points of intersection like Doctor Bashir, I Presume, but they largely work independent of one another. Voyager might make a few allusions to the Dominion War in later episodes like Message in a Bottle or Extreme Risk, but it telling the the crew never bothers to update their uniforms to remain in step with Starfleet as featured on Deep Space Nine.
Nevertheless, the two shows do inform one another. It is often interesting to contrast what is happening on Deep Space Nine with what is happening on Voyager. For example, the rejected suggestion that the Voyager production team kick the crew off the ship for a few episodes between Basics, Part I and Basics, Part II is interesting when compared to the arc that the Deep Space Nine writers execute between A Call to Arms and Sacrifice of Angels. As celebrating the thirtieth anniversary goes, it is interesting to compare Trials and Tribble-ations to Flashback.
Both Deep Space Nine and Voyager are undergoing a period of transition at this point. On Voyager, producer Jeri Taylor is still mapping out her vision for the show, but episodes like Fair Trade and Coda suggest a desire to make a clean break with what came before. Similarly, Deep Space Nine will never be the same after In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light. For fans watching Star Trek in early 1997, these were interesting times. However, the differences are as telling as the similarities.
Deep Space Nine tended to follow through on its ideas while Voyager feel back upon the comforts of familiarity. No sooner has Voyager entered the Nekrit Expanse than it is discovering dead Borg drones in Blood Fever. In contrast, Deep Space Nine completely does away with the long-standing threat of the Maquis between the events of For the Uniform and Blaze of Glory. In a way, perhaps this reflects the disparate settings of the show. Deep Space Nine is set on a station next to a gateway to unexplored territory. Voyager is about a ship the just wants to go home.
However, there were points at which Deep Space Nine favoured the illusion of change over material change. Deep Space Nine very rarely rolled back upon (or completely ignored) radical change in the same way that Voyager did at the end of episodes like The Swarm or Fair Trade, but it would play a slightly longer game. For example, the conflict of the Klingons that began with The Way of the Warrior and ended with Apocalypse Rising was something of a narrative cul-de-sac. Odo lost his powers in Broken Link and regains them half-a-year later in The Begotten.
To be fair, Deep Space Nine certainly explored these ideas far more interestingly than Voyager would. Odo’s exile from the Great Link might be relatively short, but it still leads to interesting character beats in Apocalypse Rising and … Nor the Battle to the Strong, along with a brilliant character-driven story in The Ascent. The Klingon conflict served as something of a table-setting for the Dominion War and provided an excuse to put Worf on the station. So even if the characters moved in shapes that looked roughly like circles, it still felt like organic progression.
In fact, it does seem rather strange to give Odo back his powers so soon after Broken Link. It feels like Odo has not really had the opportunity to adapt to humanoid life, and the show has never really focused on his isolation and loneliness barring those short scenes in Apocalypse Rising and … Nor the Battle to the Strong. Actor Rene Auberjonois seemed to agree with this sentiment:
Yeah, you know, they never really did focus on that, much. They took away the powers. In the show The Link where they took away the powers, he has a very moving speech to Sisko, and then they never really dealt with it, because they had other things on their mind, they were telling other stories, and so it’s hard to sort of jam in feelings and things about what you’re thinking about your character if they’re really focused on something else, so, you know, I guess I would have liked it if they had done an episode… they make passing reference to it, you know, he hurts himself because he forgets he’s not a solid any more, and jumps off the stairs, and he’s not a solid so he bangs down. And when he’s with… he breaks his leg when he’s with Quark on the mountain, and things like that, but they never really focused on that.
It does seem like a bit of a wasted opportunity to revert to that status quo so quickly, even if it is set up by a stray line of dialogue in Things Past. Certainly, A Simple Investigation might have worked a lot better while Odo was trapped in a humanoid form, affording the character the opportunities to enjoy the pleasures and the weaknesses of the flesh. Because Odo has only really been in focus during The Ascent, it seems as if no time has passed at all.
To be fair, it is clear that Odo is affected by this experience. His desperation to be accepted by the Great Link only increases following his brief flirtation with life as a solid, with his eager embrace of the Female Changeling in Behind the Lines perhaps informed by memories of what was to live a life disconnected from all that. Odo’s time as a humanoid is not completely forgotten, even if it is only mentioned fleetingly in the seasons that follow. Still, the decision to give Odo back his powers in The Begotten feels very much like an attempt to roll back on Broken Link.
At the same time, The Begotten earns its happy ending. Odo’s powers are restored, but through a very emotionally affecting story in which they are bestowed as one final gift from a dying changeling. The Begotten builds very carefully and very precisely towards that ending, tying the death of the young changeling into the metaphorical rebirth of Odo. There are points at which the primary plot of The Begotten might seem a little cloying or manipulative, but René Echevarria’s script and Rene Auberjonois’ performance anchor the story’s emotional beats.
Here, again, it is interesting to compare Deep Space Nine and Voyager. As Voyager tries to define its identity over its third season, it has fallen into the habit of recycling old Star Trek standards. In fact, the show has a clear affinity for Star Trek: The Next Generation, with The Q and the Grey feeling like a rehash of Q Pid, Macrocosm riffing on Genesis, and Alter Ego playing upon Ship in a Bottle. However, Voyager also borrows liberally from Deep Space Nine. It could be argued that Warlord is very like The Assignment and that Rise mirrors The Ascent.
This of itself is not a massive problem. By this point in the run, there were almost four-hundred-and-fifty episodes of Star Trek in the can. There was bound to be some measure of repetition. The problem was not that Voyager was ripping off its elder siblings. The problem was that Voyager was offering inferior cover versions of Star Trek standards. Once again, it is useful to compare Voyager with Deep Space Nine. Once again, The Begotten seems to be the perfect place for such a comparison.
The Begotten is not a particular original episode. In fact, it could arguably be considered a bit of self-plagiarism from writer René Echevarria, whose first successful sale to the franchise was his story idea for The Offspring. Echevarria wrote a few drafts of the script and, although it was heavily revised by writers Michael Piller and Melinda Snodgrass before it went to air, Echevarria retained the credit on the broadcast episode. Echevarria would pay that particular favour forward, allowing Michael Taylor to retain credit following his rewrite of The Visitor.
The Begotten shares a lot of its premise with The Offspring. As with The Offspring, the series’ “outsider” character (in that case, Data; in this case, Odo) finds themselves tasked with taking care of a young child of their own species. As with The Offspring, there is a none-too-subtle threat that Starfleet might take that child away from their parent. When Sisko suggests that “Starfleet is going to want to take over the project” and that Odo “file daily reports for their review”, it is hard not to imagine Vice Admiral Anthony Haftel waiting eagerly.
These are superficial similarities, but they are not that far removed from the similarities between episodes of Voyager and various episodes of The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine; a similar premise, albeit with key words swapped out and a different emphasis. However, while The Q and the Grey felt like a lifeless imitation of Q Less and Alter Ego felt like a stale rehash of Ship in a Bottle, the plot of The Begotten is developed in a number of interesting ways that are unique to this character in this setting.
Most notably, The Begotten uses the baby changeling as an excuse to reintroduce the character of Doctor Mora Pol, Odo’s surrogate father who had been introduced in The Alternate. That earlier episode had explored how Odo resented the scientist for his treatment of the young changeling discovered floating through the Denorios Belt. The Alternate hinted at a warming relationship between the two characters, suggesting that Odo had come to a newfound appreciation for the Bajoran scientist, although was still a long way off accepting him. The Begotten builds on that.
The Begotten is also very much a Deep Space Nine episode in terms of theme and perspective. As with a lot of the big Deep Space Nine stories, The Begotten is a tale of compromise. Deep Space Nine is fascinated with the process of negotiation and compromise that is necessary to live within a multicultural society. Repeatedly over the course of the show’s run, characters are forced to compromise their own ideals. Often, the stakes are high. Quark has to break a contract to save his life in Body Parts. Sisko is an accomplice to murder to save the Quadrant in In the Pale Moonlight.
However, The Begotten demonstrates that such compromises do not always involve apocalyptic stakes. Odo initially adopts a principled position that he will not employ the same methods against the baby changeling that Doctor Mora used to force him to shapeshift. Odo aspires to be a better parent than his own father figure. “I promise I’ll never treat you the way I was treated,” he vows. “Never.” It is an understandable promise for Odo to make. However, Odo comes to understand that it is not a promise that can be easily kept.
Writing in The Human Frontier, Duncan and Michèle Barrett point to the episode as an example of how Deep Space Nine encourages compromise and nuance even in this smaller interaction:
In the examples we have looked at above, it is the war setting of Deep Space Nine that allows it to explore such dark territory, but a preoccupation with moral grey areas runs through the programme even outside this context, as characters re-evaluate their dearly held black-and-white convictions. In The Begotten, Odo received a visit from his Bajoran ‘father’, the scientist who was assigned to investigate him after he was discovered floating adrift in space fifteen years earlier. A previous episode, The Alternate, showed us how strained the relationship between these two men is, perhaps not surprisingly since it began with Odo as little more than a science experiment; here the tension is explored in more detail.
Odo comes to understand that there are other forces at play when Sisko reports Starfleet’s threat to take the matter in hand if progress is not made. “Now you understand the kind of pressure I was going through.”
This process of compromise is important, because it distinguishes Deep Space Nine from The Next Generation and Voyager. On The Next Generation, the crew very rarely needed to compromise with one another. Worf was the only character who did not integrate smoothly, and generated tension in episodes like The Enemy or Ethics. In contrast, Voyager should have had a lot more tension between the Maquis and the Starfleet crews. However, the show generally shied away from any negotiation of compromise or acceptance. Voyager was a Starfleet ship. End of conversation.
(Again, it is perhaps useful to directly compare this by reference to two episodes that were broadcast around the same time. The Begotten is an episode which forces Odo to compromised with (and understand) his old mentor Doctor Mora, realising that it is not simply enough to want for things to be a certain way. In contrast, Fair Trade finds Neelix facing a tough moral decision after reuniting with his old friend Wixiban. Ultimately, Neelix never compromises or comes to acknowledge Wix’s perspective. Instead, Wix finally comes to agree entirely with Neelix.)
The Begotten works in a large part due to Rene Auberjonois’ central performance as Odo. Upon purchasing the sickly young changeling from Odo, he commits himself to being a good father figure to it. This affords Auberjonois a chance to play to Odo’s childlike wonder, and suggest the innocence buried beneath Odo’s gruff exterior. Odo is so used to presenting himself as cynical and jaded, but Deep Space Nine has repeatedly suggested that he has an emotional age somewhere in his teens. As such, it is thrilling to watch Odo embrace a happier side of himself.
The performance is remarkable, especially given that the bulk of The Begotten involves Rene Auberjonois playing off a glass full of goo. Auberjonois really sells Odo’s vulnerability. “You have no idea of the marvels that are in store for you,” he tells the young changeling. “Do you know what you are? You’re a changeling. A shape-shifter. You can be anything. A Tarkalean hawk soaring through the sky, or a Filian python burrowing deep beneath the ground. It’s all yours for the taking.”
There is something surprisingly affecting about the candor with which Odo opens up to the young shapeshifter. He would certainly never talk to any of his colleagues the same way. Perhaps it is a verbal approximation of the intimacy and honesty of the Great Link. “I was never a very good shape-shifter,” Odo confesses. “If you could see the face I’m stuck with, you’d know what I mean, but I think I can be a good teacher. You’ll be better than I ever was.” There is something heartbreaking in all of this, even before the episode’s climax.
After all, the return of Odo’s rebirth as a shapeshifter is a pretty huge emotional beat. It is a lot of narrative weight to put on what appears like a litre of jelly. However, the script and the performance find a way to make the death of the changeling surprisingly affecting. This is an alien species that does not have a voice, and which only fleetingly adopts an approximation of Odo’s face. It is impossible to overstate just how much of the success of this episode comes down to the combined work of René Echevarria and Rene Auberjonois.
(Indeed, the eventual transformation sequence is a thing of beauty. Stumbling out of the Infirmary, Odo lurches on to the Promenade and casts off his uniform to take the shade of a “Tarkalean hawk.” It is a beautiful expression of how liberating it must be for Odo to be able to transform once again. It is also a nice piece of continuity, a reference not only to Odo’s speech to the baby changeling but also to little references to flying seeded explicitly in … Nor the Battle to the Strong and implicitly in The Ascent.)
The Begotten has a phenomenally strong primary plot, hinging on one of the strongest performers in the ensemble. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the episode’s secondary plot. To be fair, René Echevarria does carefully thread the two stories together. There is something quite appropriate about having Odo discover a young changeling in the same episode that Kira finally gives birth. When Bashir conveys this information to Odo, he reflects, “I guess you have your own baby to think about.”
Indeed, The Begotten parallels the birth of Kirayoshi with the death of the baby changeling. It is not the most elegant of juxtapositions, with life and death naturally standing in opposition. Nevertheless, it prevents the death of the young changeling from seeming too much like a tragedy and ties in nicely with the idea of Odo’s rebirth as a shapeshifter. It also provides a nice moment between Odo and Kira at the end of the episode, suggesting that two have had a comparable life experience; they were both afforded a young child by circumstance, only to lose it.
While these parallels might seem overly simplistic at times, they serve as a reminder of how reliable the Deep Space Nine writers are when it comes to small matters like structure and flow. It demonstrates an attention to detail that is often lacking from Voyager scripts. The intertwining of the Odo and Kira narratives in The Begotten might seem a little heavyhanded in places, but it is much more effective than the way that Alter Ego tries to thread a Harry Kim story through a Tuvok story.
While the subplot works as a parallel with the episode’s primary plot thread, it struggles in other regards. Most notably, the episode about Kira giving birth is not actually about Kira giving birth. It is about Shakaar and O’Brien posturing about their role in the ceremony, Shakaar butting into the birth of the O’Brien’s child and O’Brien acting like this situation affords him some sort of control over what Kira can and cannot do. Kira is very much a bystander in all of this, while Keiko is reduced to shooting angry looks at her husband.
It is a very frustrating development, particularly considering how well Deep Space Nine had handled the pregnancy plot thread to this point. It was all a massive piece of science-fiction contrivance, but it was written to ensure that Nana Visitor could remain a part of the show during her pregnancy. Neither the character nor the actor was benched, and Nana Visitor was not reduced to the indignity of hiding behind boxes or desks to conceal her visibly swollen belly. As ridiculous as the plot might have been, the production team had their heart in the right place.
More than that, the writers took the opportunity to do some interesting material with Kira. As stupid as the subplot involving O’Brien and Kira might have been in Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places, feeling like a retread of the cliché that men and women cannot spend time together without feeling a sexual attraction, it allowed Kira to retain her sexual agency during her pregnancy; it did not reduce Kira to an asexual pregnant woman, like much of contemporary pop culture would have done in its place.
Nana Visitor left the show briefly between The Assignment and Let He Who Is Without Sin to give birth to her child, conveniently missing out on the two weakest episodes of the season. However, the fact that Visitor had given birth and Kira was still pregnant allowed the production team to have a very pregnant Kira play action hero in The Darkness and the Light, an episode that hinged heavily upon her pregnancy. In many ways, the portrayal of Kira Nerys as a sexual and physical pregnant woman was genuinely transgressive for nineties television.
All of which makes the subplot in The Begotten even more disappointing. This is an episode about Kira giving birth to somebody else’s baby. There’s a lot of dramatic material there, as Nana Visitor argued in Crew Dossier: Kira Nerys:
That’s something I wish we’d have been able to delve into more; the complications, and what that actually feels like. I had just given birth, I mean, the whole storyline was designed to help me, to allow me to be pregnant while we were shooting, and not have to hide behind tables every second, and having just given birth myself, it’s got to be very complicated emotionally for women who do this, who give up children. But, you know, that’s another series!
There are shades of that in Kira’s final exchange with Odo. “I never wanted a baby,” she confesses. “But now? I just wish I could hold him in my arms and never let him go.”
In an interview following the end of the show, Visitor suggested that the show’s clumsy handling of the baby plot line might have been down to the fact that the Deep Space Nine writing staff was exclusively male:
“I did find, here and there, there would be natural gaps in their understanding of female-specific responses. When Kira had a baby, and it’s Keiko’s baby she’s having, and she hands the baby over, they had written that she was ‘okay, glad that’s over, goodbye.’ No matter whose baby you’re carrying, women know that your hormones respond in such a way that it would a difficult process, no matter what. There’d be some kind of difficulty, some kind of cross-wires about the whole thing, which of course makes it so much more interesting and complex.
It is certainly a fair point to make. The small little scene between Odo and Kira at thee end of the episode touches upon it, as does a short conversation with Dax in In Purgatory’s Shadow. However, it is never developed.
As such, the episode never earns that affecting emotional exchange between Kira and Odo, because it never really explores what all of this actually means to Kira. Instead, the episode focuses on Miles O’Brien and Shakaar Edon squaring off against one another. The Begotten marks the last appearance of Shakaar Edon in the series, following on from his introduction in Shakaar and his guest appearance in Crossfire. Following this, the character is shuffled quietly off-screen. Kira and Shakaar break up before the teaser to Children of Time.
In some ways, this is rather frustrating. After all, Shakaar is the First Minister of Bajor. He should be a major player in the world of Deep Space Nine, akin to Dukat or Gowran or Winn. Given the premise of the show, Shakaar should have a greater sense of agency. Part of the character’s low profile is undoubtedly down to the fact that Bajor is being shuffled into the background of the show, but there is more to it than that. Certainly, it seems strange that the character is not a party to the Bajor-centric story threads of Rapture or In the Cards.
To be fair, the production team had considered incorporating Shakaar into stories like Rapture and The Darkness and the Light, but had to trim him for “budgetary reasons.” It is debatable whether those stories lost anything by cutting the character. Kai Winn worked very well as a representative of the Bajoran government in Rapture, while Furel and Lupaza provided the necessary sense of continuity for The Darkness and the Light. There is something to be said for the law of conservation of narrative, as nice as it would be to have Shakaar for the sake of completion.
Indeed, there is something quite interesting in the way that Deep Space Nine tends to reduce Shakaar down to little more than Kira’s love interest, despite his seemingly prominent role in the larger arcs of the show. In many ways, the treatment of Shakaar in episodes like Crossfire and The Begotten feels like a cheeky inversion of the way that many films and television shows feet female characters, depriving them of agency in favour of treating them as the extension of a more prominent male character. So there is something cheeky about using Shakaar in this way.
However, this does not excuse the poor choices made with the subplot in The Begotten, treating the birth of Kirayoshi as an excuse to put Miles O’Brien and Shakaar Edon in competition with one another while Kira is in labour. It is reductive, denying Kira a significant role in the story and drawing attention away from the more interesting emotional story to be told. It also presents particularly unflattering and clichéd versions of the male characters in question, indulging in some rather unfortunately stereotypical masculinity for the sake of cheap comedy.
Still, in spite of this misstep, The Begotten largely works. It is an emotional and effective hour of television, anchored in a strong primarily plot built around one of the ensemble’s strongest performers.