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René on Television: A Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"The Begotten"


review by Sharon Kirkland

"There is no excellent beauty that
hath not some strangeness in the proportion"

Francis Bacon, Of Beauty

"The Begotten" is my favourite DS9 episode. It is one of the most joyous, most nourishing pieces of television I've ever seen, but because I love it so much it also drives me bonkers. For me at least there's little to be said about the secondary storyline (Kira goes into labour and delivers of the O'Brien's child) which obtains its sole "riff" when Odo and Kira go for a walk at the end of the episode. In essence, "The Begotten" is Rene Echevarria writing for René Auberjonois, and what we get is beautiful and lasting television.

As my friend Plum pointed out to recent and general astonishment (since it should have occurred to the rest of us RAFLers yonks ago), René Auberjonois was born to play Silas Marner. In a sense this is what we see anyway as we rejoice in Odo's parenting of the baby changeling. As for the "mystery to be unravelled," watching René at work is akin to viewing one of (the other) Francis Bacon's paintings: if we look for long enough we think we're given clues as to what he sees and how he does it. As Odo, René can alter us at the level of the moral: recall us to who we are and what we might become.

From the moment Odo is given care of the infant, what we witness is a study in love, attention, wonderment. Odo makes vows to the little one and the charge in his expression is so great that it almost bounces off the screen at you. His eyes have never seemed more blue than when he frees the changeling from its jar and tells it of the wonders it has in store.

Still, what grieves and wearies me about "The Begotten" is the writer's insistence that there are of necessity two sides to every story. There are not. Given what we know of Odo's treatment in the lab, it is ridiculous, almost obscene, that Mora's grievances should be given equal billing. I borrow from Edward Said when he said (apropos of colonialism) that when you insist there are two sides to every story, all you're doing is forgiving ignorance -- and we should never forgive the look on Mora's face when he knows for certain that Odo will resort to Mora's own favoured (and reactionary) methodologies in respect of the baby changeling. We may say (after Paul Schilder) that since, in his natural form, Odo is an undifferentiated mass (he does not feel his limbs as distinct from the space that surrounds them, for example), then he has no "unified body image" (see Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies, IUP, 1994) with all that this implies for sense of self. Seen in this light, Mora's behaviour is not just arrogant but brutal, since he is prepared (quite literally) to shock Odo into likeness.

What Mora demonstrates is that the quest for knowledge has never been morally neutral, and to pretend otherwise is an act of bad faith. (Witness Mora's disgusting bout of power-tripping in "The Alternate.") The body makes of its own morals, and science itself is by turns presumptuous and gleeful. Why else does Odo trash the lab in the same episode? He starts out by being the body unjustly policed and, through his own experience and sufferings, becomes the just and good policeman of other folk in other bodies just the same.

Even as so much is made of Odo's lasting commitment to justice, that he is the wounded outsider and so on, still, for me, it's an energy which is the key to Odo's gentleness. And René is able to access this precisely because, whether he knows it or not (it's a rare genius who can readily articulate what it is they're doing), time and again René will locate the importance of mercy in revelation. What I mean is that René takes what he's found, he transmutes it, and then presents it back to us unflinchingly and without a trace of ego. Vanessa Redgrave, Gena Rowlands, René Auberjonois. We're very very lucky that they're here on this same planet and at the same time.

(With thanks to Plum, Tracy Hemenover, and Ina Rae Hark.)

Sharon Kirkland is an accomplished poet and former Labour Party and disability rights activist who lives in London.

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