Episode 2.16: Shadowplay

Documenting my thoughts on the show in this manner really demonstrates to me how often these early episodes with spectacular themes came up.  Shadowplay is another episode that I recalled that communicated a fantastic social commentary, but didn’t realize that it occurred so early in the series.  The last four episodes (since Armageddon Game (Ep. 2.13)) all stood out in my memory as great episodes, and they all appear in sequence here in the middle of Season 2.  It really enhances my opinion of Season 2; there are some exquisite episodes here.  Like Whispers (Ep 2.14), this episode forces us to think about what it means to be alive.  Rather than copying an already existent sentient being, life is created here from a complex computer and holographic simulation.

They take painstaking care to set up a very real relationship between Odo and Taya.  She is hesitant to talk to him at first, and he allows her to open up slowly regarding her mother’s disappearance.  Odo also holds back his own shapeshifting abilities until the end; these are vulnerable moments for him.  He cares for her deeply enough that he will shapeshift for her delight.  She has made him feel loved, and he’s not a circus act to be ogled.  By the end, Taya both loves Odo and is loved by Odo.

I found the conversation with Rurigan while the generator was off brilliant.  Odo frames the challenge to the nature of life as a question of love.  The interactions Odo has with the townspeople demonstrates rather strongly that these people are completely sentient.  They are intelligent and can reason; they care deeply for each other and are concerned for the collective well-being; and they cling to the hope of survival that Dax offers them.  Despite all that though, it is love that convinces Rurigan.  His love for the town (and in particular his family) is what proves to him they are real; I don’t think the implication is that Rurigan’s love is what makes them real.  Taya was created 20 years after the simulation started by being created organically (so to speak), and Rurigan loves her perhaps most deeply of all.

The element that sentient life here is created by a computer is challenging, but I think one that most of us readily accept is possible (perhaps a bit more so nowadays than back when this DS9 episode first aired in 1994).  It is the capacity to love and be loved that truly makes these creatures alive and sentient.  I think that says something profound about the nature of sentience and soulish creatures.  One fundamental nature about humans that transcends any divide (be it race, sexual identity, political party, Mac vs PC, etc) is the desire for two things: to love and to be loved.  Taya (and the others) have these capacities.  Not because they were scripted to do so; these creatures are much more than any sort of script.  The other capacities of sentience, like being able to reason or engage with cognitive dissonance, we often see as easily imitated by a computer.  Reason, for example, can be simulated through machine learning; simple logic is even easier than that.  But emotion…that takes something unique.  That’s something most of us wouldn’t ever see a computer being able to experience.  If that happens, what we’ve created is something far beyond any other human creation.

This episode features both a secondary and tertiary story; the third story is fairly rare.  There’s a nice bit of writing here.  All three arcs are tied together by some element of each arc not being what it appears to be.  Kira and Quark are a playful diversion.  Quark nearly gets away with his scheme, and I think Kira gains a respect for the job Odo does.  Quark distracted her in just the right way (and is immensely clever in pulling it off through a 4th party), and incidentally plays a crucial role in getting Kira and Bareil together.  Jake’s journey toward manhood takes another significant step.  I believe that a step in boys becoming men is them having a mentor-like figure (particularly in the teens) that is specifically not their father.  The father usually has to be shown their boys have become men; usually they can’t usher it in themselves because they’ve seen the boy for too many years and won’t recognize the man.  The non-father mentor (in this case, it is O’Brien as Jake will stay apprenticed to him into later seasons) treats the boy as a man and ushers a transition.  He can be confided in, and he isn’t blind in the way a father usually is.  For Jake, the first major moment is his rejection of a Starfleet career to find his own path.

Random Thoughts:  1) The actor for Bareil has an impressive resume.  He was Macbeth on Broadway which earned him a Tony nomination.  I think he’s a great love interest for Kira.  He’s deeply spiritual, like she is, and he’s an active sort of monk.  Just the sort of character that she’s fall for.  He is her Mr. Right, and it ends tragically.  2) In a related note, there’s a bit of foreshadowing during Dax and Odo’s banter over romance.  Dax asks him about any “female friends” that Odo has.  In his obliviousness, he mentions Major Kira as a “female friend.”  Not what he meant, but totally what she meant!  3) The other side characters aren’t stand out actors, but they have varied resumes of support roles.  4) Kira has a sharp disagreement with Bareil over theology.  Further shows she is a deeply spiritual person with strongly held passions and beliefs over her faith.  5) I’m grateful they kept Rurigan’s clothes on, even after they turned off the holographic projector…  6) Kira calls Quark a collaborator.  While this may be technically true, it’s also very not true.  Quark smuggled Bajorans off Terok Nor.  Any business he did with the Cardassians was for profit.  Does that really make him a collaborator?  Or just greedy?  7) Odo uses the transporter in ways we all expect but rarely see; he just beams out when things get hairy!  8) Odo whips out the Columbo moves again, with Rurigan.  Just one more thing.  9) Bajorans eat on the floor.  This is done to conjure the peaceful and serene nature of the Bajorans.  This is absolutely something they lost during the Occupation.  10) Yet another small mention of the Dominion.  I think this is the last before formal contact at the end of the season.

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~ by Joshua Black on July 31, 2016.

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