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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – His Way (Review)

His Way doesn’t so much straddle the line between sweet and creepy as play hopscotch across it.

There is a lot to like about His Way. There is a palpable enthusiasm to the episode, a charm and energy that excuses the indulgence. After all, His Way uses the holosuite to create facsimile of sixties Las Vegas populated by a self-aware crooner who spends a solid chunk of the episode hitting swing band classics. It is a ridiculous set-up, yet one entirely in keeping with the interests of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Suited to the task…

Deep Space Nine never felt like it belonged in the nineties. It felt a much stronger connection to Star Trek than to Star Trek: The Next Generation, as evidenced by episodes like Crossover and Blood Oath. It built entire episodes around a classic Hollywood aesthetic, from the broad noir pastiche of Necessary Evil to the more specific plot references of Profit and Loss or Meridian. This is a television show that made repeated and extended references to Julian Bashir’s affection for James Bond in episodes like Our Man Bashir or A Simple Investigation.

There is a genuine warmth and affection that shines through His Way, something at radiates through the episode from Jay Chattaway’s lounge-tinged ambient soundtrack through to James Darren’s giddy performance. There is a sense that everybody involved in the episode is having such a good time that it would be churlish to begrudge them this small diversion. After all, Deep Space Nine is much closer to the end than to the beginning, and the production team have accomplished so much that they deserve an indulgence.

The hands-on approach.

At the same time, His Way has not aged particularly well. It is the episode that eventually gets Odo and Kira together, but it suffers from the problem affecting many of the episodes leading into the relationship. His Way is told almost exclusively from Odo’s perspective, reducing Kira to an object of fascination or desire. His Way invests a lot of energy in the idea that Odo can “win” Kira, but it never affords Kira any agency. This was okay in Crossfire, an episode explicitly about how unhealthy Odo’s unrequited and unexpressed obsession was. It works less well in His Way.

His Way plays almost like an episode about a pick-up artist, about that creepy subculture in which insecure and nerdy men effectively try to trick women into sleeping with them through a complicated series of performance pieces and psychological warfare. Rene Auberjonois and James Darren make a charming enough duo that the episode doesn’t tank outright, but His Way still feels decidedly creepy in its approach to the question of courtship.

Vic’s story is life.

His Way is notable for a number of reasons. Most immediately, it introduces the character of Vic Fontaine, the self-aware holographic lounge lizard who becomes a fixture of the final forty episodes of Deep Space Nine. Fontaine is remarkably prolific as a guest character, appearing repeatedly across the remainder of the show. Thanks to small appearances in episodes like The Siege of AR-558 or The Emperor’s New Cloak, Vic appears as many times as Bareil Antos does over the course of the run. (He appears more frequently on Deep Space Nine than Gowron.)

That is no small accomplishment. Vic appears in one in every four episodes between His Way and What You Leave Behind, inclusive. That is a fairly impressive list of appearances for a character who was introduced so late in the game and who exists so far outside the aesthetic of the series. Vic is a character tied to a single set, which is itself a single holosuite programme. He is an incredible presence in this final stretch of episodes, and plays several important roles in the over-arching mythology of Deep Space Nine.

Now we’re swingin’…

The production team had repeated approached James Darren about the role. He had to be offered the part several times, and was even reluctant to read for the character. Darren recalls how he came to be cast as the self-aware “light bulb”:

They said I was going to be playing a singer and I said, “No, that’s too much on the nose. I want to pass.” That’s what I told my agent. Then, my agent called me again and I passed again. I passed three times. Finally, my agent said, “Why don’t you at least read the script? If you read the script you may love it.” Of course, I did read the script and, of course, I did love it. It was just a great role. Vic Fontaine was like – what can I say? – it was a dream come true for me. It was one of the most enjoyable roles for me to have played. Then, when I went in to see (executive producer) Ira Behr and a whole group of people, maybe eight or nine of them, men and women, they wanted me to read. I hate doing cold readings. I’m not up to that, nor am I good at that. So what I’d done is I’d read the script, oh, probably 10 times, and I knew it backwards and forwards, and when I went in, I just started saying things that Vic would say, things Vic was saying in the script. Ira would say, “Man, it’s funny, I wrote a line just like that for Vic.” I said, “Really?” I did that a few times, only because I did not want to read. And then Ira caught on and said, “Pretty clever. You’re pretty clever. You don’t want to read, so you’re just throwing it in the conversation.” I wasn’t told I got the job then. I left, said goodbye to everyone after a wonderful meeting, and no sooner did I get into the house than the phone rang. It was my agent saying, “They want you do Vic Fontaine.”

To be fair, Darren owns the part. He does great work in the role, presenting a relaxed smooth-talking twentieth-century entertainer who provides a nice contrast to the more formal aesthetic expected from a Star Trek show.

James Darren’s got it all tied-ied away…

The character of Vic Fontaine is absurd, on the face of things. Even ignoring the challenge of introducing a self-aware holographic guest star with so little time left, Vic makes very little sense. Vic is redundant, in many ways. Star Trek: Voyager already has a sentient self-aware holographic character in the EMH, whose character arc is one of the most compelling aspects of the show. Vic is not only starting almost four years behind the EMH, he also has a sizable handicap; Robert Picardo is a series regular, while James Darren is a recurring guest star.

Even within the context of Deep Space Nine, Vic takes up narrative functions that are probably best left to other members of the cast. Deep Space Nine already has a bar and a bar staff. Quark has been a fixture of Deep Space Nine since Emissary, so it is surreal to introduce another bar into the series at this late point. More than that, Vic works at a bar within a bar. In purely practical terms, one wonders whether Quark charges for the drinks and entertainment provided at the lounge, on top of his usual holodeck fee?

Hollow man.

There is also the looming arrival of Ezri Dax. By this point, the production team are making peace with the fact that Terry Farrell will not be returning for the final season, and are trying to figure out how best to replace Jadzia within the ensemble. They hit upon the idea of Ezri, who is a fascinating character in many ways. One of the shrewder aspects of Ezri is the decision to make her a counsellor. That role feels important in the context of the Dominion War, providing her with a much clearer mandate than Deanna Troi ever had on The Next Generation.

However, Ezri Dax is preemptively usurped by Vic Fontaine, a fact explicitly acknowledged by the script to It’s Only a Paper Moon. Much like Guinan rendered Troi largely redundant on The Next Generation, Vic Fontaine provides a much friendlier (and lighter) way for characters to talk about their feelings and to work through their stress. Even His Way presents Vic Fontaine as something like a self-help coach, helping Odo to deal with his anxiety in the same way that Troi tries to help Barclay through his self-doubt on The Next Generation.

The light bulb goes off.

So Vic Fontaine is a character who quite pointedly exists for no better reason than because Ira Steven Behr wants him to exist. Behr acknowledged as much while discussing the long-gestating origin of the character in The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion:

During season four, I decided I wanted to bring a character onto the series played by Frank Sinatra Jr. to be a guy like Yoda who would show up periodically. Not in every episode, obviously, but occasionally like in the teaser or something, where we’d find one of characters coming to this Vegas nightclub in the early 1960’s and asking for advice about life, love and the opposite sex. He would be dispensing this advice, and we would be wondering, ‘Who is this guy and how does he know so much? So Robert Wolfe and I wrote a scene. Now Frank Sinatra, Jr. is a big fan of Star Trek, so Ron Surma got in touch with him and we sent him the scene. When I spoke to Frank, he thought it was very funny, but he said that he did not want to play a singer, he wanted to play an alien. And so it did not happen. The following year while we were writing A Simple Investigation, Rene Echevarria said, ‘Let’s put the scene with the night-club singer in here. And I said, ‘We’re not gonna get Frank Sinatra, Jr. but maybe we can get Steve Lawrence or someone. So Rene wrote a scene, and that’s when the character became Vic Fontaine. But the show was too long and we heard that Steve Lawrence wasn’t available, so it never really made it beyond the first draft. And that was the end of that. Until one day. Then one day I was driving in my car. You know, it’s not a very long trip between my office and home, but I do tend to think a lot in the car. And I suddenly realized that we were in the midst of year six. And that in terms of Deep Space Nine more had gone behind us than was in front of us. I thought, ‘Time’s running out!’. And I said to myself, ‘I want to do everything that I ever wanted to do on this show! We’re doing Vegas baby, and we’re not doing one lousy freakin’ scene of it, we’re doing the whole show about it. And we’re going to have music! And we’re going to have song! And we are going to consummate the relationship between Odo and Kira! That’s what the show going to be about.”

It is certainly hard to begrudge Behr this indulgence, even in a sixth season that is already populated with any number of “lighter” and “tangential” episodes like You Are Cordially Invited…, The Magnificent Ferengi or Who Mourns for Morn?

Fever dream.

Of course, it is also worth acknowledging the cliche of science-fiction featuring characters from the far future who harbour an affection for twentieth century pop culture. Again, Deep Space Nine is hardly the only offender in the Star Trek franchise; Voyager introduced Tom Paris’ “grease monkey” programme in Vis à Vis, and Night will feature his take on a retro fifties black-and-white space serial. Even Star Trek and Star Trek Beyond fall back on the old gag of having science-fiction characters identify roughly contemporary music (the Beastie Boys) as “classical.”

There are logical reasons for this, of course. It is unreasonable to expect science-fiction writers to predict future trends or events. Having Bashir and O’Brien fixate upon the Eugenics Wars rather than the Alamo or the Battle of Britain would only draw attention to the fact that the nineties did not see the rise of an army of genetically engineered supermen. (It would also be a somewhat terrible character beat for Bashir, given his own genetic engineering.) It seems fair for writers to work by referencing things that have actually happened, to build some sense of verisimilitude.

“What happens in where stays in where?”

More than that, having these futuristic characters express an interest in activities familiar to contemporary audiences helps avoid an extra layer of confusion or exposition. The Next Generation had a tendency to invent futuristic sports, like Parrises Squares in 11001001 or Anbo-Jitsu in The Icarus Factor. Characters have been playing three-dimensional chess since Where No Man Has Gone Before. However, the level of explanation required for such sports would make it impossible to do a story like Take Me Out to the Holosuite about Anbo-Jitsu.

At the same time, there is something surreal in the attention that Star Trek lavishes on the twentieth century, as if it is the single most important chapter in human history by virtue of the fact that it happens to be the era with which audiences and writers are most familiar. Picard’s interest in Shakespeare and Janeway’s affection for Leonardo da Vinci cut past that a little but, but it is still jarring when an alien like Odo becomes so invested in swing band music. It recalls Data consulting with Joe Piscopo in The Outrageous Okona.

A holosuite deal…

As with Take Me Out to the Holosuite, the script of His Way remains light enough that this is never a big issue. The teaser makes sure to contextualise Vic as another hologram programmed by Felix, the designer responsible for the spy programme in A Simple Investigation. A nineteen sixties Las Vegas programme is perfectly in keeping with the interests shared by Felix and Bashir, to the point that it might seem organic to consider Vic something of a spin-off character who broke out of whatever Felix’s version of Diamonds Are Forever might have been.

His Way does acknowledge that sixties Las Vegas is at the very least an esoteric reference for most of the characters. Kira and Odo ponder “French”, while even O’Brien seems confused to be labelled a “square.” One of the nicer recurring gags of the episode has Worf repeatedly assert the superiority of Klingon opera as an artform, however difficult it is to imagine Odo receiving tuition from a burly Klingon tenor who sang during the Second Dynasty. These little touches acknowledge the absurdity of using so specific a cultural reference on Deep Space Nine.

Why can’t we all just sing along?

Vic’s self-awareness also helps matters a great deal. Vic is aware of the nature of his existence, harbouring no delusions about his own place in the grand scheme of things. “I know what you’re thinking,” he assures the cast. “He has pretty sweet pipes for a light bulb.” He continues, “That’s what I am, right? A collection of photons and forcefields. You know, your basic heuristic, fully interactive hologram.” He elaborates, “If you’re going to work Vegas in the sixties, you’d better know the score. Otherwise, you’re going to look like a Clyde.”

Vic’s self-awareness seems like a winking acknowledgement of his own status as a distraction or tangent. Vic understands that he is not there for any grand purpose or to fulfil any essential role. Vic is there to be the centre of an entertaining story or two, and to add a dash of character to the crew’s off-hours. It is probably the smartest way to approach a character like Vic Fontaine, to deal with his inessentiality up front. It is a creative decision that plays well, allowing His Way to be relatively up-front with the audience.

Odo is his ivory tower.

However, Vic Fontaine is not the only important addition that His Way makes to the mythos. His Way is the episode that finally gets Kira and Odo together as a couple, writing the pair into a relationship that will last until What You Leave Behind. In a sense, this has been a long time coming. Emissary confirmed that Kira and Odo had a tighter bond than most of the remainder of the cast, both having lived through the Cardassian Occupation. Necessary Evil suggested that Odo had an unrequited crush on Kira. Heart of Stone confirmed it.

On the other hand, there is also a sense that the romance never needed to be developed. Kira was involved in a couple of long-term relationships across the run of Deep Space Nine, whether with Bareil Antos or Shakaar Edon. Crossfire was largely an episode about how Odo needed to stop pining for Kira and just get on with his life, with A Simple Investigation even allowing Odo the opportunity for a “love interest of the week” plot. There was a time in the late fourth and early fifth seasons where it looked like the Odo’s unrequited love for Kira might remain unfulfilled.

Tux in.

There is something to be said for this approach to an unreciprocated crush, particular given the way that popular culture tends to treat such romances. Film and television romances tend to treat persistence as a virtue, suggesting that (typically) male characters obsessing over their attraction to (typically) female characters are likely to win the object of their affection if they simply wait long enough and try hard enough. As Julie Beck argues:

In love stories, the ends justify the means. The couple ends up together, they kiss, they get married, they ride off into the sunset, whatever. So obviously it all worked out for the best. Even the Love Actually guy (who was stalking his best friend’s wife) got a little smooch for his efforts.

“This is absolutely supported by social cognitive theory,” Lippman says, “where the reinforcements that are at play, these are going to shape how we ultimately view actions and values. We’re going to be more likely to adopt whatever behaviors or values are communicated if they seem to lead to a positive outcome. And what could be a more positive outcome than getting to be with the woman of your dreams?”

Deep Space Nine is hardly the worst offender in this regard, but it is a persistent offender. Rom reveals a crush on Leeta in Bar Association, and Leeta coincidentally acknowledges a reciprical crush in Let He Who Is Without Sin… Julian Bashir spent most of the first season aggressively pursuing Jadzia Dax in episodes like Dax and If Wishes Were Horses…, only to end up hooking up with Ezri Dax in The Dogs of War right before the end of the seven-year run.

Get it together.

It is worth noting that most of the major female characters on Deep Space Nine end up paired off at the end of the series. Even Winn ends up hooking up with Dukat. In contrast, several major male characters end the series single; Worf, Quark, Jake, Garak. This is most likely due to the gender imbalance among the cast, rather than anything more sinister. Even Kira and Odo remain together until the last possible moment, and Kassidy can hold out hope for a reunion with Sisko upon his return from the wormhole at some unspecified date.

In some ways, this focus upon romantic and interpersonal relationships reflects what differentiates Deep Space Nine from the other Star Trek shows. The characters on Deep Space Nine were allowed to develop a complex web of interpersonal relationships, and allowed to develop those relationships over time. The crew dynamics on Deep Space Nine are much more compelling and engaging than the dynamics on the other Star Trek shows, which perhaps explains why the series tended towards romantic relationships for its characters.

Mediation at meditation.

However, there is something slightly disappointing in the recurring suggestion that it is impossible for male and female characters to work really closely together without becoming romantically involved. Nana Visitor acknowledged that frustration in talking about the episode:

Well, you know – honestly – I was disappointed. I thought it was so great to have a deep friendship between people who worked together that wasn’t romantic. I thought “Oh, here we go, the moonlighting thing – everyone always has to end up in a romance.” But then I had a very deep friendship with Alexander Siddig that ended up with a baby, so I had to go “Well, you know what? This is truthful! It happens!”

Arguably the only truly deep male-female friendship on Deep Space Nine that does not develop into (or threaten to develop into) a romantic relationship is the bond between Sisko and Dax. Even then, that is framed in terms of gender; Sisko calls Dax “Old Man” as a reminder that they first met when Dax was male.

Whether Nerys or Far…

Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places goes so far as to insist that this is purely situational. When Kira and O’Brien find themselves spending more time together, and when Kira moves into O’Brien’s quarters, the two characters develop a strange sexual attraction. While that attraction arguably makes some degree of sense given their shared backgrounds and arcs, there is something uncomfortable about the suggestion that men and women cannot spend time together without developing an attraction.

The development of the relationship between Odo and Kira is frustrating for several reasons, particularly as a missed opportunity to subvert that narrative. Undercutting those expectations and forcing Odo to learn to live with his feelings, and to move on with his life, would have been a charming reversal of a stock trope. Crossfire was fascinating for its willingness to tease that cheeky non-resolution to their romance. His Way feels like something all the more standard and conventional.

Vic’ll be dining out on this story for years.

Of course, there are other issues with how His Way approaches the relationship. The show insists that the only barrier between Odo and a relationship with Kira is not her consent or her interest, but his own confidence. The only reason that Odo has never hooked up with Kira has little to do with her potential lack of interest and more to do with the fact that he has never forcefully asserted that he wants a relationship with her. All Odo has to do is find the confidence to tell her how he feels, and they can start making out on the Promenade.

Deep Space Nine has made a number of convincing arguments regarding Odo’s attraction to Kira. Episodes like The Alternate and The Begotten suggest that Odo has the emotional maturity of a teenager, so it makes sense that he would imprint so completely upon the first woman with whom he spent a lot of time. More than that, Odo tends to fetishise the idea of “justice”, a concept that episodes like Things Past suggest that Odo is prone to confuse with “order.” However, Kira has a much stronger and uncompromising sense of “justice”, which would appeal to Odo.

Crooning and swooning.

There is never any consideration of how Kira feels about all this. Kira has little-to-no agency in the grand scheme of things. Leaving aside the creepier aspects of Vic’s impromptu “school of seduction”, the truth is that Deep Space Nine never really explains why Kira would be interested in Odo beyond the fact that he is interested in her. What would draw Kira towards Odo? What would lead her to even consider a romantic relationship with Odo? Their friendship feels organic and comfortable, but Deep Space Nine never makes a convincing case for why Kira would love Odo.

After all, Odo is a collaborator. The fifth and sixth seasons make a conscious point to deconstruct the idea that Odo somehow sat above the Cardassian Occupation at a remove from the horror. Things Past makes this explicit, revealing his complicity in the murder of a set of innocent Bajorans. However, Behind the Lines makes for an even more damning criticism of Odo as a character. Odo allows himself to be seduced by the lure of the Great Link, and almost allows the Cardassians to execute Rom and the Dominon to seize the Alpha Quadrant.

What a player.

The characters on Deep Space Nine forgive Odo quite readily. Certainly, Sisko and Starfleet never broach the issue directly with Odo, despite the fact that it would seem to validate all of the concerns expressed by Odo in episodes like The Passenger or The Search, Part I. Kira actually talks the issue out with Odo, although the conversation is carefully shuffled off-screen in You Are Cordially Invited… There is a sense that Kira is able to forgive Odo for his betrayal, which is a very optimistic and humanist story beat. It suggests Kira has become more compassionate in her time on Deep Space Nine.

At the same time, it feels too much for Kira to forgive Odo so much that she would enter into a relationship with him. As recently as The Darkness and the Light, Kira refused to apologise for any collateral damage incurred during her efforts to free Bajor from Cardassian oppression. Even more recently, Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night confronted Kira with the possibility that her mother had been a collaborator. Kira’s compassion for the woman who gave birth to her only extended as far as declining to kill her outright. As such, Odo seems an unlikely partner.

A gas man.

This is leaving aside the creepiness of Odo’s behaviour towards her. In Children of Time, Kira discovers that Odo has feelings for her. However, the episode ends when future!Odo sabotages the Defiant so that Kira might live. In doing so, future!Odo wipes eight thousand people out of existence. This act of temporal mass-murder is contrary to Kira’s explicit wishes. While it would be unreasonable to blame Odo for the actions taken by a potential future version of himself, the possibility that Odo would let thousands of people die to save Kira is (and should be) terrifying.

Odo’s attraction to Kira is very much a one-sided romantic love. There is nothing wrong with that. Love is complicated. It is not always mutual or matched. It does not always neatly resolve itself in a tidy fashion. Odo’s attraction to Kira feels like a logical character beat for the shapeshifter, its intensity and his insecurity reflecting the fact that Odo is (emotionally at least) still a teenager at heart. However, there is little to suggest that the attraction is (or should be) mutual.

A Fontaine of Knowledge.

Rene Auberjonois would agree with this assessment, conceding before the episode was even conceived that Odo and Kira should not be together just because Odo wants them to be:

I’ve never felt that Kira and Odo… if I were writing the scripts, I’ve never felt that they should get together, or that it would be possible, that it would be anything that would be dramatically feasible in terms of doing a television series. And I’ve never thought that they were really meant for each other. I mean, Odo thinks that, but I’ve never really thought – looking at it – that they were really meant for each other.

Auberjonois has a fair point, acknowledging that Crossfire might have been the best place to leave the relationship. After all, life is not a romantic comedy. Sometimes, unrequited love remains unrequited.

Working it out.

His Way treats Kira as a prize that is to be won by Odo, a trophy resting at the end of an extended journey towards self-confidence. It is a familiar fantasy, but one that feels very crass and very outdated. Deep Space Nine often looked to the mid-twentieth century for inspiration, but its gender politics were frequently better than that. Unfortunately, the production team occasionally miscalculated. His Way seems positively feminist when compared to Profit and Lace.

There is very much a sense that the production team is lining things up as they head into the final season. The Next Generation had lasted seven seasons, and most of the cast of Deep Space Nine had signed a one-year extension to their contracts by this stretch of the sixth season. The production team knew that the end was approaching, and His Way feels very much like an effort to get all the pieces moved to where they need to be in order to deliver a satisfying pay-off.

Quark: Relationship Counselor.

Unfortunately, this only compounds the idea that Kira is a prize to be won. In The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, Ira Steven Behr acknowledged that he wrote His Way in order to set up a plot beat that would pay-off in What You Leave Behind:

I already knew that at the end of the series Odo would be going back to the Founders to become goo. And even though I didn’t know the title What You Leave Behind yet, I knew that Odo had to leave something behind of real value. And it just seemed to me that Kira was that value.

Again, that is a storytelling choice that reflects Kira’s lack of agency as a character in this narrative. The sad separation at the end of What You Leave Behind was conceived in terms of Odo’s loss, rather than her own feelings.

Light music.

That said, there are a number of things to like about the Odo and Kira romance, once Deep Space Nine gets past trying to force them together. There is something beautiful in the fact that they do not stay together at the end of the series. While Odo’s unrequited love for Kira is validated, Deep Space Nine makes sure that it is not all-consuming or exclusive. Both Kira and Odo retain their lives beyond the relationship, and their time together is in no way reduced or diminished by the fact that it comes to an end. They have separate lives, overlapping only for a short while.

More than that, there is something genuine and sweet about the relationship as it is portrayed. Their relationship is built of small and meaningful moments, little touches that suggest a reservoir of emotion that runs much deeper than a few swing band standards; Odo supporting Kira on the bridge in Shadows and Symbols, Odo wanting to understand Kira’s faith in Covenant, Kira’s willingness to let Odo leave if it means that he will be happy in Chimera, Kira’s understanding that Odo has to return home in What You Leave Behind.

Leaving out some key details.

These are all very nice touches, suggesting that the writers on Deep Space Nine are much better at writing relationships than they are at plotting courtships. His Way is a case in a point, an episode that struggles very much with tone as it tries to wed a story about Odo’s self-image to his blossoming relationship with Kira. It is a strange structural choice, one that has not aged well. His Way tries to present the relationship between Vic and Odo in a charming and endearing manner, but there is something uncomfortable simmering beneath the surface.

There are a lot of heartwarming moments in His Way, a lot of very sincere and well-meaning reflections on being socially awkward and the importance of self-confidence. Most notably, Vic is completely and utterly disinterested in Shakaar as a romantic rival to Odo. Odo’s courtship of Kira is not presented as a competition, despite Odo’s attempts to frame it that way. “I don’t care if he’s JFK,” Vic admonishes Odo. “It’s not the other guy you have to worry about, it’s you.” There is nothing outwardly cynical about the courtship.

Find somebody who can look at you like Sisko looks at you the episode directly after he is complicit in the assassination of a Romulan Senator.

Similarly, there is a warmth to the surrounding episode. Everybody on the station seems genuinely and undeniably happy for Odo. Every member of the cast wishes him well and supports his journey towards self-confidence. Quark keeps a secret for him, while Sisko starts clicking in rhythm with and eventually sings along to They Can’t Take That Away From Me in a genuinely joyful little aside. His Way is full of characters who care about Odo, frequently cutting to warm smiles from the rest of the cast, recognising Odo coming out of his shell.

There is even something endearing about Vic’s weird persistence, the ease with which he seems to navigate the station. He pops from one holosuite to another “between sets” and he talks to Odo “on the comm line.” A lot of this comes from the charm of James Darren’s performance, but there is a sense that Vic is adept at navigating the world around him. His Way makes a fairly compelling case that Vic knows what he is talking about. Given that he is a holographic representation of a sixties crooner, that is no mean feat.

Holding a candle for a Kira.

However, there are also aspects of Vic’s relationship with Odo that recall the “pick-up artist” community and certain brands of toxic masculinity. Although it was much less of an issue when His Way was broadcast, the twenty-first century has seen an explosion of cynical and predatory schemes aimed at attracting young socially-awkward young men with promises of sex and romance. Zack Handlen touches on the overlap in his own review:

As light and basically harmless as so much of this episode is, too much of it comes from the same mindset that gives us “pick-up artists” as an actual term; people (men) who think romantic relationships aren’t about communication, trust, and mutual attraction, but a series of tricks designed to manipulate your “target” into f&%king you. Vic’s approach is nowhere near this crude or overtly misogynistic, but the angle of the episode misses the heart of its own story, so that the moments of honesty and legitimate connection are few and far between.

It is a fair criticism, one all the more pointed in this day and age. In May 2014, Elliot Rodgers went on a shooting spree in the University of California largely driven by his inability to use these techniques to sleep with women. The “pick-up artist” community has fed directly into the world of “men’s rights activists”, which has fed into the emergence of a racist and misogynistic “alt-right.” This arguably helped shape the United Presidential Election in November 2016.

“Who the hell are Sam and Diane?”

Vic is undoubtedly more benign than most “pick-up artists.” He does not advocate that Odo treat Kira like crap, or that he behave like an “alpha” or that he “neg” the object of his affection. Vic genuinely argues that Odo’s ability to win Kira’s affection must come from within Odo rather than through overt manipulation. Of course, this is somewhat undercut by the climax of the episode. While Vic never suggests that Odo manipulate Kira, he instead manipulates Kira himself.

There are some light shades of this early on, with Vic making a number of allusions to how Kira sees Odo as a friend rather than a potential romantic partner. “It’s the oldest story in the book,” Vic tells Odo. “She thinks of you as a friend.” Later, he insists, “The girl already likes you. That means you’re halfway home.” It does recall the terminology of the “friendzone”, the argument that platonic friendship is a trap from which the would-be romancer must escape or a staging post from which they might launch a campaign. To be fair, it is fairly innocuous of itself.

Lola. L-O-L-A. Lola.

However, things get decidedly creepy when Vic introduces Odo to “Lola.” Lola is a sultry holographic singer, one designed to make Odo comfortable with flirtation and romance. There is just one fairly sizable issue. “Lola” is modelled on Kira. Vic even boasts about how much effort he put into creating the facsimile. “Do you know how difficult it was for me to get a holographic image of Major Kira?” Vic wonders. “Lucky for you, Julian used her image in one of his spy programmes, though it did take me an hour to get rid of the Russian accent.”

Creating a holographic representation of a real person without their consent, particularly to play out a personal fantasy, is deeply creepy. In fact, Star Trek has acknowledged this on more than one occasion; it was a major plot point in Hollow Pursuits. Kira was herself subjected to a creepy attempt to steal her holographic image in Meridian, and Odo was involved enough with that particular subplot that he should remember how much a violation it was. If the audience has to remember Meridian, so should Odo.

Swing when you’re winning.

There is a moment when it seems like Odo recognises how creepy this whole situation is. “I can’t do this,” Odo confesses after flirting with Lola for a bit. It seems like Odo understands why this might be intrusive and creepy. However, it turns out that Odo’s response is that Lola is simply not creepy enough. He protests, “She’s nothing like Kira.” Indeed, Vic is then able to trick Odo into going on a date with the real version of Kira by claiming that she is simply an even more advanced version of Lola.

Interestingly, His Way makes it clear that Lola is aware of her existence as a hologram. When Odo storms out, she asks, “You’re a hologram too?” It is hard to know whether this makes the whole experience better or worse. “You programmed her to find me irresistible,” Odo protests. “I could read her a criminal activities report, she’d think it was poetry.” So is Lola aware of the fact that she has been programmed to find Odo irresistible? Is she cognisant of the fact that any attraction she feels has been written into her base code?

Holo pursuit.

Although it is very much a stock romantic comedy plot element, the last act confusion leading to a heated disagreement that leads to a romantic embrace, the date in the final act is also creepy. Vic lures Odo into the holodeck under the pretense of dating a more advanced version of the holographic Lola. However, Vic has ensured that Odo will instead be sitting with the real Kira. This inevitably leads to a misunderstanding. However, it also sets up a dynamic where Odo behaves in a really condescending manner to Kira.

When Odo wonders how Kira could know that he enjoys his work, she replies, “You told me yourself.” Odo mutters under his breath, “Well done, Vic.” The obvious idea of the scene is that Odo is relaxed because he thinks that he is interacting with a holographic representation of Kira, but asides like that almost make Odo seem dismissive of Kira and disengaged from the conversation that is actually taking place. Kira’s willingness to go along with the farce feels rather surreal, and it seems strange that it should be Odo outraged by the deception.

Near kiss…

Still, His Way is charming enough that these unsettling aspects never completely overwhelm the episode. They sit in the background, niggling concerns buried deep in the mix of three minutes spent listening to James Darren croon Come Fly With Me or watching Nana Visitor perform Fever. These issues hold His Way back from greatness, casting a long shadow over an episode that is generally quite fun and sincere in its affection for both Odo and the setting into which he throws himself.

His Way is a mess of an episode, one that swaggers and stumbles in equal measure.

You might be interested in our reviews of the sixth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:

10 Responses

  1. >Having Bashir and O’Brien fixate upon the Eugenics Wars rather than the Alaimo or the Battle of Britain

    But don’t we all fixate on the Alaimo? :p

    >Their relationship is built of small and meaningful moments, little touches that suggest a reservoir of emotion that runs much deeper than a few swing band standards

    To your list I’ll add Kira’s understanding handling of his disease in season 7’s best episode, ‘Tacking into the Wind.’

    >Hover, there are also aspects of Vic’s relationship with Odo

    I tried to hover but it didn’t end well.

  2. I think your enjoyment of His Way depends on how invested you are in Odo and Kira’s burgeoning relationship. There are times when the writers are fully aware what a dark season this is and after the savage eviscerations of Inquisition and In the Pale Moonlight, His Way is another opportunity to lighten the load while at the same time, further complexifying DS9’s universe.

    The will they/won’t they relationship is a common staple of TV and sitcoms in particular, from Ross and Rachel to Niles and Daphne and Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd in Moonlighting. We watch in anticipation wondering whether or not these characters will ever get together, and then when they do, audiences begin to switch off.

    In the case of Odo and Kira, because they’re not the stars of DS9, it may be possible to get them together without robbing the show of its audience, unlike Frasier and Moonlighting. Those shows torpedoed themselves after Niles and Daphne and David and Maddy finally made it.

    His Way is a breezy episode, and although we’ve had a few of those this year, there’s nothing wrong with a little light to go with the shade. Usually, comedic episodes of DS9 opt for the former to the exclusion of all else and when they do, the results veer between cringeworthy and horrifying. His Way manages a satisfying balance of the two.

    Almost six years down the line, the writers must have realised that if they can’t get Odo and Kira together before S7, they may as well not bother so His Way is the episode that finally settles the matter once and for all. That may be the reason why they brought in a new character to engineer this development.

    I’ve always been a fan of James Darren since The Time Tunnel, and bringing him in at this late stage to play Vic Fontaine, a holographic lounge singer from the 60s, is another one of those gambles that when DS9 took them, it really paid off.

    Perfectly cast as Vic, it’s fun watching him play matchmaker between Odo and Kira. Yes, it does have some creepy connotations like Odo and Lola, but I don’t think it crosses the line in the same way Booby Trap did with Geordi and Dr Brahms. It wasn’t until Galaxy’s Child and he was confronted with the real Dr Brahms that he realised how grossly inappropriate his infatuation with her was. It’s to Odo’s credit that he pulls away from Lola as soon as he knows he’s about to cross that line (something that never crossed Geordi’s mind).

    There are some inevitable misunderstandings along the way, like when Vic sets up Odo and the real Kira on a date, but Odo thinks he’s on a date with a new and improved Kira hologram until the truth comes out and it looks like Odo’s hopes for a relationship with her are completely dashed, until Kira takes the initiative and that results in a passionate kiss on the Promenade.

    Audience reaction to they’re relationship tends to divide people, but I think Odo and Kira make a likeable couple (I also like that His Way takes the opportunity to diss Shakaar every chance it gets). They don’t go on to live happily ever after, which is certainly true to life, and maybe that’s why they’re relationship for the last year and a bit manages to work without taking DS9 down with it (as these screen relationships are often wont to do).

    • This episode is very split for me. I like that Kira and Odo finally get together. I don’t like the way it’s done-with an out-of-place character and entirely from Odo’s perspective. I like the light, warm tone, but I don’t like how it complete shatters the dramatic momentum built up by the past two stellar episodes and further contributes to the tonal whiplash that characterizes DS9’s sixth season. The war seemed to be snapping back into focus with “Inquisition” and “In the Pale Moonlight”. There’d been more than enough fluff episodes at this point. What the series needed was a final big push to the finish line-instead, the season fizzles. I like that it makes us root for Odo, but I don’t like how creepy it is in places. It’s a very mixed episode overall.

      • It really is. I mean, I love how much everybody just wants Odo to succeed and be happy, and how they care about him. But it’s strange how passive Kira is for most of the episode.

      • I think Kira becomes a more active part in her relationship with Odo in future, like freeing Laas from the holding cell in Chimera, and just like in What You Leave Behind, she was there prepared to let Odo go, if that’s what he really wants.

    • Interestingly, I really like Odo and Kira as a couple, especially in – say- Shadows and Symbols, Covenant and Chimera.

      But I am still really uncomfortable with this episode. I think it stays just about on the right side of the line into “creepy”, but it hews awfully close.

      • I’d agree with that. I also like their banter from “Treachery, Faith, and the Great River”. I wonder if Kira worked on her backhand.

      • Ha! Yeah, the pair work very well as a no-frills, minimal-drama couple. Two adults in a consensual relationship where they support and encourage one another. His Way may be the worst thing about the relationship.

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