Quark purchases some salvage from a Boslian trader and is surprised to discover a baby of unknown origin hidden in the wreckage. Bashir's examination of the baby turns up a number of unusual readings, most significantly that the child has an abnormally high metabolic rate. Within hours, the baby has grown into a child of 8 or 10 years. Not only is this mysterious child growing at an alarming rate; he also seems to have remarkable cognitive abilities. Without any external stimuli, he has learned language and speech and has the capacity for reasoning and understanding. Bashir concludes that this child is the product of genetic engineering that is advanced far beyond anything seen in the Federation. To add to the mystery, the child is missing a key enzyme and, without a synthetic substitute, he will die. A culture that is capable of this level of technology surely wouldn't have overlooked something so basic; it must have been a deliberate omission. Bashir is stymied.
"The Abandoned" is the first Odo-centric episode since the devastating events of "The Search." Despite whatever internal conflicts he might be experiencing after finding his people and learning that they are the Founders of the Dominion, Odo is soldering on in the humanoid world. And while he found no common ground with his people as to their philosophy of the universe, Odo did take away some positive things from his encounter with the Great Link, and is beginning to embrace his Changeling heritage.
While Dr. Bashir is searching to understand the anatomy of the orphaned child in the Infirmary, Odo, searching for a better understanding of himself, is beginning a journey of self-discovery. The first step in this journey is his decision to move out of the stifling little closet at the back of his Security office that has been his make-shift home since the days of Terok Nor, and take regular crew quarters.
We learn this as Kira arrives with a gift for his new quarters-a house plant. Odo answers the door chime and very deliberately chooses to greet her outside his quarters, in the corridor. Unabashedly interested about the configuration of his quarters, Kira at first peers over Odo's shoulder, trying to get a peek inside the room and, when he closes and locks the door, she confesses her curiosity-and she apparently isn't alone. According to her, "everyone" is curious to see his quarters. For a painful moment Odo seems to be reliving the sort of curiosity he used to excite while a lab specimen. Kira is blissfully ignorant that her words and actions have caused the Constable some consternation, but Odo quickly recovers and invites Kira in. She looks in wonder at the strange collection of items that populate the room and seem to be scattered everywhere. Somewhat apologetically, Odo explains that he hasn't finished organizing everything. From his expression, Odo appears to be looking for her approval. When he then goes on to clarify the purpose for the objects-to practice and explore his shapeshifting gifts-Odo is acknowledging the next step in his journey. Shapeshifting is no longer something he does simply as part of his job when the need calls for it. His reluctance until now to change shapes arguably has its roots in the things he was forced to do when confined to Mora's lab and when he was taken out "on parade" for the entertainment of the Cardassians. Meeting his people and learning at the feet of the Female Changeling has altered his thinking, and now Odo is beginning to understand what it means to be a shapeshifter. He has discovered that the ability to mimic various shapes, forms, textures, and surfaces can be a joyful and pleasurable experience. For a man who has seen so little joy in his life, this has to be something of an epiphany to Odo.
Odo's explanation confirms Kira's suspicions about the purpose of the objects. "I thought it was something like that. After all, you don't need an entire set of quarters just to sit in your bucket."
"I don't use the bucket anymore," Odo answers, shyly proud. This statement alone is a huge step for Odo. The bucket represents the smallness of the world Odo chose to live in. By discarding the bucket, Odo is throwing off many of his self-made shackles. He is no longer constricted-and no longer constricting himself. Odo has kept the bucket as a reminder of how he used to be, and it turns out to be the perfect receptacle for Kira's gift of the house plant. Kira gazes fondly at Odo as he repurposes his bucket. It is a touching moment, made even more poignant by our knowledge of what is to come in "What You Leave Behind," and its flashback scene, when Odo presents that bucket to Kira as a precursor to his leaving her for the Great Link.
In the Infirmary, the orphaned child has grown into an adolescent, and a dangerous one at that. Escaping the confines of the Infirmary, he threatens and intimidates the patrons on the Promenade, including felling Bashir with a single blow. Dax, who was with Bashir, realizes their patient is a young Jem'Hadar, and calls for security. Odo bolts out of his office to apprehend the disturber of the peace. He orders the Jem'Hadar to stop. Instead, the boy comes at Odo. As he prepares to attack, Odo liquefies his form and the Jem'Hadar flies right though him. As Odo resolidifies, the boy, rather than pressing the attack, bows down reverentially. Odo is surprised by this behavior, but determines that the Founders, who created the Jem'Hadar, have implanted in their genetic code a moral imperative to worship their creators. The Jem'Hadar that Odo and Kira battled on board the Defiant didn't display this reverence for Odo. Perhaps it was Odo's shifting shapes here that triggered this Jem'Hadar's submissive deference.
Once the boy has been identified as a Jem'Hadar, Star Fleet is extremely eager to get their hands on him. Sisko assembles the Senior Staff in the wardroom and announces that Star Fleet is sending a ship to DS9 to transfer him to Star Base 201, where he will be turned over to a team of specialists. Odo, standing apart from the rest of the staff, who are seated at the table, is already looking troubled. When Sisko details Star Fleet's plan for the boy, Odo inquires, in a suspicious tone of voice, exactly what type of "specialists" they would be. Odo is pretty sure he already knows the answer to his question and Sisko confirms that a group of scientists have been assembled who intend to "study" the boy. Direct and blunt as always, Odo cuts to the chase-"So he'll be studied . . . like a laboratory specimen?" Sisko's weak retort that he will be well treated earns him a sarcastic, "So…he'll be a well-treated specimen." When Bashir agrees with Odo that the Jem'Hadar is a sentient being and not a biological sample, a spirited discussion ensues. Dax argues that, while sentient, the Founders might well have removed the Jem'Hadar's free will, leaving only a genetically programmed killing machine. Kira chimes in and agrees with Dax. The Jem'Hadar is dangerous and she doesn't want him on the station.
Recognizing what the Jem'Hadar will have to look forward to if Star Fleet takes possession of him, Odo speaks up and volunteers to work with the boy to get the answers everyone is seeking. Odo assures Sisko that the genetically implanted deference the boy shows toward Odo will allow him to keep the boy from harming anyone.
A concerned Sisko dismisses the rest of the staff in order to talk to Odo alone. He wants to understand what has motivated Odo to make this offer, but guesses that Odo is seeking to atone for what the Founders have done to the Jem'Hadar.
Sisko's speculation is completely in keeping with Odo's character. Yes, intellectually Odo knows he is not personally responsible for the reprehensible actions of his people. That doesn't stop him from feeling an obligation to try and undo the damage they've done, at least with this one Jem'Hadar. Added to that is the fact that Odo has first-hand knowledge of exactly what it's like to be a lab specimen. Even now, years after fleeing the clutches of Dr. Mora, Odo continues to harbor a deep and abiding resentment and bitterness over his treatment by the Bajoran scientist. It is understandable, then, that he would be distressed by the probability that this Jem'Hadar will undergo the same sort of treatment, and want to save the boy from that fate.
Odo's impassioned plea to Sisko-to let him find out if the Jem'Hadar will be forever chained by his genetic programming, or if he can grow beyond his nature-is a reflection of Odo's own recent revelation about himself. Having begun to push back the boundaries in his own life, Odo is uniquely qualified to encourage and assist the Jem'Hadar to do the same.
Sisko has reservations, but agrees to Odo's plan, and assures Odo that he will find a way to delay Star Fleet.
The Jem'Hadar boy, now confined in a holding cell, is becoming more anxious and agitated with every passing minute. He begins hurling himself against the force field in a desperate attempt to escape. On the other side of the force field, Bashir tells him his condition is the result of the enzyme that is missing from his system. The boy is belligerent and argumentative with Bashir until Odo arrives. It is interesting that the boy denies to Bashir that there is anything wrong with him but, when Odo releases him from the holding cell and inquires about his health, the Jem'Hadar admits there is something wrong with him and catalogues his symptoms to Odo.
Bashir needs to run more tests to help him replicate the missing enzyme. The boy resists until Odo says he should agree. At once he becomes compliant and cooperative. Bashir leaves to retrieve the equipment he will need and Odo makes some friendly overtures to the boy. When he offers to show him around the station, the Jem'Hadar defers to whatever Odo wishes. This isn't what Odo wants-he wants to know the boy's wishes and desires, and is somewhat startled when the boy jumps out of his chair, gets right in Odo's face, and announces that what he wants is to fight. Not Odo, but everyone else. He asks Odo if that is wrong and, rather that criticize the boy's choice, Odo suggests they find other interests. He then tries to get the Jem'Hadar to relax and even encourages him to smile-something Odo himself hardly ever does. Perhaps, in this instance, the Constable should take his own advice!
Chief O'Brien thinks he may have found a supply of the drug needed by the Jem'Hadar to replace the enzyme missing from his system. Odo joins him in the salvage ship to examine the container. O'Brien wonders aloud why the Founders would engineer the Jem'Hadar to be addicted. Odo's explanation illustrates the stark difference between him and his people. What better way to ensure total control over the Jem'Hadar, as well as guarantee their loyalty, than to addict them to a drug that can't be replicated and that only the Founders can provide? Odo understands all too well what it is like to be controlled by others and now vehemently opposes the idea of exercising control over anybody (well, except perhaps Quark!). When O'Brien comments that it seems like a cold-blooded thing to do, Odo responds with a hint of sadness in his voice: "My people don't have blood." And this, perhaps, is as good an explanation as any for why the Founders have no compunction about enslaving others. Is Odo wondering whether the basic and fundamental differences between his people and the Solids prevent his people from having any feelings of compassion for beings who are different from them?
The drug found in the salvage ship works and introduces into canon the vial of what will become known as Ketracel White, and the tygon feeder tube that delivers the drug into the Jem'Hadar's carotid artery. Revived and at full strength, the Jem'Hadar now poses a huge potential danger to the station's inhabitants. When the boy requests, and then insists, that he stay with Odo in his quarters, Odo is initially uncomfortable with the idea but then sees the value in having the Jem'Hadar with him. Not only will it give him a chance to work with the boy and help him move beyond the limitations of his programming but it will also assure a measure of safety to DS9's personnel.
In Odo's quarters, the Jem'Hadar is enthralled by Odo's Changeling abilities. When Odo points out that some shapes are more difficult to master, like the humanoid face, the Jem'Hadar challenges him to explain why he would want to look like a humanoid since he (Odo) is better than them. Odo's explanation that being different is not the same as being better confuses the boy, who admits he instinctively knows that he is inferior to Odo but superior to everyone else. Odo attempts to re-wire the boys "hard-wiring" by telling him that they are all equal and that he needs to ignore his instincts because they are wrong. Rather than accept Odo's words, however, the boy instead concludes that he must be defective because he also knows that Odo can never be wrong. Odo stubbornly persists, insisting that he is not infallible and urging the boy to begin to think for himself. Odo might be realizing that he's in for an uphill battle, but he isn't about to give up. He asks the boy what he wants, not what he thinks Odo wants. After a moment's reflection, the Jem'Hadar says he wants to know more about his people-who he is and where he came from, something Odo can certainly relate to. Odo shares with the boy his own history of being orphaned, found and raised by aliens, and their common connection of not knowing who his people were or what they were like.
Odo gives the Jem'Hadar what he's asked for and shows him a recording of the hand-to-hand combat of his people and the bridge crew on the Defiant (from "The Search, Part 1"). The boy is mesmerized, and moves closer and closer to the screen. Odo might think he has made a connection, but whereas Odo was disillusioned by who his people turned out to be, this boy appears enthralled. Seeing what seems to be a burgeoning hero-worship of his people, Odo describes the Jem'Hadar as a race of brutal warriors and reminds him that he needn't follow their path. He can choose to channel his feelings of aggression in other ways and move forward, past his instincts.
Odo offers the Jem'Hadar a way to release his violent aggression: he will allow the boy to slaughter as many holograms as he likes in a holoprogram Odo has developed for just this purpose. But there are ground rules. The Jem'Hadar can indulge his aggressive, warrior instincts to his heart's content here in the holosuite. However, outside he must learn restraint and to coexist peacefully with others. The boy barely hears Odo, so fixated is he on the holographic enemy he wants to battle. As soon as Odo starts the program, the boy dispatches his opponent and then begs Odo to do it again, only with a stronger foe, and then a stronger one still. As the violence progresses, the viewer can see that this is more than a yen or a craving or even an obsession. The Jem'Hadar desire to fight and kill is an all-encompassing, overwhelming need. It is unsettling to watch the boy throw himself into battle with more and more powerful opponents.
Kira walks into the holosuite and is both alarmed and disturbed by what she sees. She takes Odo outside to talk to him. The boy, totally focused on the fight, doesn't even notice.
As soon as they are alone, Kira rounds on Odo, jumping down his throat about letting the Jem'Hadar move into his quarters. This puts Odo immediately on the defensive. Despite what he's just witnessed in the holosuite, Odo is convinced he has formed a real connection with the boy, who also trusts him. Kira isn't buying it. How can Odo trust the boy and how long will he be able to control him? Odo counters that he isn't trying to control anybody (an affirmation that he is decidedly different from the Founders, who want to control everything) and that he's just trying to give the boy more options than being an lab specimen or a Jem'Hadar soldier. For a man with a reputation for being cynical, pessimistic, and lacking emotions, Odo displays an idealistic side to his nature that we always suspected was there, lurking just beneath the surface. Kira doesn't miss this, either. "I never thought I would say this to you Odo, but you are listening to your heart, not your head." She rightly asserts that this boy's mind, body, and instincts were programmed for one thing-to kill. But both Odo and Kira have grown beyond their natures and, despite all the evidence before him, Odo refuses to believe that this boy cannot do the same, and wants to explore every possible avenue to give him the same chances they had.
Kira reluctantly agrees, but cautions Odo to be careful. She is under no illusions about the danger this Jem'Hadar poses and she wants to remind Odo of that.
Kira's warning must surely be ringing in Odo's ears as he returns to the holosuite only to find the boy fully engaged in fighting and killing his holographic enemies. When Odo abruptly ends the program, it looks for just an instant as if the Jem'Hadar will turn on Odo. In Odo's expression of doubt and dismay, it seems he, too, is beginning to wonder how successful he will be.
The Jem'Hadar's confidence in his abilities and strength are growing rapidly. After leaving the holosuite, he and Odo walk along the Promenade and the boy proclaims that everyone is afraid of him and that he could kill any one of them. He seems to grow visibly more menacing and intimidating by the moment. He is also becoming much more self-aware and certain of his place and purpose in the universe. He admits to Odo that he doesn't think he cares about anything else besides killing and is unmoved by Odo's assertion that there is so much more to life than that (contrast this to an earlier conversation, when the boy confessed to wanting to fight and then asked Odo if that was wrong. Now he has no such doubts or reservations).
Their talk is interrupted by the chirping of Odo's comm badge. Sisko want to see him. Odo instructs the boy to return to his quarters and then goes to Ops. As soon as Odo walks into Sisko's office he knows something is wrong. It turns out Star Fleet didn't buy Sisko's delaying tactic and a ship is en route to DS9 to collect the Jem'Hadar. Odo feels understandably betrayed. He's heard the "orders are orders" line before. It does nothing to ease Odo's mind when Sisko reveals that Star Fleet considers the boy to be a "top priority." The Jem'Hadar is in jeopardy and Odo feels responsible for his desperate position.
Breaking into the conversation is the Jem'Hadar, who has matured to the point where he can now shroud himself. He has acquired a phaser and he demands a runabout. Exuding confidence, the boy has become a full-fledged Jem'Hadar soldier. He is even giving orders to Odo. He doesn't belong on the station and neither does Odo, so they are leaving together. Sensing the danger, Odo gives Sisko a long look while assuring the Jem'Hadar that no one will interfere with them. From the way the boy is waving that phaser around, Odo is rightly concerned that someone will get killed if the Jem'Hadar doesn't get what he wants.
Odo discovers the Jem'Hadar's plan as they make their way to the runabout. He is returning both of them to the Gamma Quadrant, where their people are and where they belong. Odo protests that neither of them belong there, but it falls on deaf ears. In a last-ditch effort to save the Jem'Hadar from himself, Odo makes the extraordinary offer to accompany him anywhere in unexplored space where no one will bother them. Odo has become so invested in the future of this boy that he is willing to sacrifice the only life he's ever known. Is he making this offer solely for the sake of the Jem'Hadar, in the hopes that he will learn about himself and grow independent of his programmed heritage? Or is he doing this in an effort to assuage his own guilt for the actions of his people? Perhaps a little bit of both. Whatever Odo's motivation, his offer is rejected outright and, worse still, the Jem'Hadar accuses Odo of allowing his mind to be twisted by the humanoids. He already knows exactly who he is and where he wants to be-with his fellow Jem'Hadar. And then he says something that surely cuts Odo to the quick. "I don't know what these other Changelings are like. But I know they're not like you."
"No, they're not," Odo replies unhappily. If the Founders were more like Odo, a race like the Jem'Hadar would never have been created, the Dominion wouldn't exist, and such brutal taskmasters wouldn't control millions of people. On the other hand, if Odo were more like the Founders, he could rejoin the Great Link with a clear conscious and have the feelings of belonging and acceptance that have been so elusive for him here in the world of the Solids. The sad reality is, Odo is not like the Founders and nothing can change that.
Odo looks at the boy and realizes that the gulf that separates them is much too wide to bridge. Sisko hasn't heeded Odo's earlier unspoken warning and has placed teams of Star Fleet security personnel around the airlock leading to the runabout. When Odo and the Jem'Hadar reach the airlock, Odo realizes that nothing good can come from this standoff. He entreats Sisko to let them go. He will deliver the Jem'Hadar to the Gamma Quadrant and then return in the runabout. Sisko is concerned about Odo's safety but Odo assures him the Jem'Hadar "couldn't" harm him because of his genetic programming. The boy bows his head in silent acknowledgement, but the Captain remains unconvinced that this is a wise course of action. At this point, Odo has no choice but to give Sisko the brutal truth. If they put the boy on the Star Fleet vessel, he will kill a lot of innocent people and wind up being killed himself long before they ever reach their destination. Odo's argument tips the scales for Sisko and he agrees to let them go, although it does seem as if he capitulates a little too quickly. Not only is this decision likely to get him in hot water with Star Fleet, but the Captain Sisko we've come to know would exhaust every option before admitting defeat. What about putting him in stasis until arrival at Star Base 201, or keeping him sedated, or pulling out the feeding tube to weaken him? The fact that Sisko was so willing to release the Jem'Hadar suggests that he, too, was terribly uncomfortable with the prospect of turning him into a lab specimen.
In response to Sisko's largess, the Jem'Hadar displays behavior typical of his race. Rather than being thankful that the Captain was doing right by him and trying to be his friend, he announces proudly to Odo that Sisko was afraid of him. He then goes on to assert that not only is Sisko his enemy, but everyone except his own people are his enemies. "Does that include me?" Odo gravely asks. He receives no response. The gulf between them has become an abyss. While the Jem'Hadar can't harm him, it is clear to Odo that he has become another enemy.
So, despite all Odo's best efforts, he couldn't overcome the genetic encoding his people implanted in the Jem'Hadar. If Odo hoped to ease his own guilt over what the Founders did to the Jem'Hadar, this failure did nothing to ease his conscience. In fact, this encounter with a member of a race created by the Founders for the express purpose of implementing the Dominion's ideology of total control must have further complicated Odo's conflicted feelings about his people. The very existence of the Jem'Hadar and their genetically designed drug addiction make the Founders even more repugnant. And yet, deep in his core, Odo still holds a secret longing to be part of the Great Link. It is a perfect recipe for fueling Odo's sense of shame and self-hate.
Finally, whatever idealistic tendencies Odo might have, he is first and foremost a realist and a pragmatist. In the final scene, Odo approaches Kira in the replimat. Taking a seat opposite her, Odo acknowledges the validity of her warnings in his usual simple and direct way. "Major, about the boy. You were right." While this is a painful admission, it is also another important step in Odo's personal journey of self-discovery.