review by Stephanie Dutchen
(Originally printed in ORACLE newsletter, January 2006)
"Chimera" episode summary
For those of you who may never have been treated to this seventh-season DS9 episode or haven't seen it in a while, "Chimera" features a Changeling, Laas (sounds like "Loz"), who comes to the station and disrupts just about everything in Odo's life before he becomes an example of How Not To Be A Changeling and is punished for breaking the Star Trek moral code.
The episode begins on a runabout as Odo and Chief O'Brien are returning from a short conference. They detect something flying alongside them before the mysterious object disappears, then reappears inside the runabout itself. It's another Changeling. Odo figures out that this Changeling is one of "the hundred" like himself who were sent out across the galaxy by the Founders years ago to gather information and return home. Laas (the Changeling, played by J.G. "Martok" Hertzler, credited as Garman Hertzler) agrees to accompany Odo back to Deep Space Nine, where he is introduced to the crew and to Odo's life as a metamorph among solids.
Odo and Laas share an immediate bond, stemming from their similar "childhoods" as aliens, alone in an unsympathetic culture. Laas, who is older than Odo, offers advice, while Odo, who has ties with their people, teaches him how to Link. Their mutual understanding deepens. Soon, Laas asks Odo to leave the station with him and find the others of their kind. Odo hesitates to accept the invitation and tells Kira, who is surprised that Odo even considered it. Odo asks Laas to stay while he thinks it over. Yet it quickly becomes clear that Laas has radically different views from the Constable regarding the value of "monoforms" (his term for non-changeling humanoids), has some pretty strong opinions on how Odo should be living his life, and disdains social niceties where Odo takes pains to observe them. Laas is distrustful of and prejudiced against monoforms, whom he considers to be inferior, destructive beings. He tells Odo that his relationship with Kira will fail when she learns that Odo can't have children or, in the best-case scenario, he will watch her grow old and die. In the course of one conversation Laas manages to alienate Kira, Ezri, O'Brien, and Bashir with his terse, tactless (if brutally honest) responses and criticisms of humanity. He revels in his ability to change forms and is happy to do so in public, even though (or perhaps because) it visibly makes others uncomfortable. Kira, meanwhile, worries that she will lose Odo to someone who can share the experience of being a Changeling with him in a way she can't.
When a pair of unnerved Klingons confronts Laas after he changes into fog on the Promenade, they fight, and Laas kills one of them. He's arrested; the Klingons press charges, and Sisko agrees to extradite him to be put on what is sure to be an unfair trial. Odo by now has started to believe that Laas' seemingly jaded opinion of "monoforms" is the correct one. But Kira helps Laas escape and tells Odo to go with him. Odo does follow Laas to his hideout but turns down his offer, explaining that Kira has shown true love in letting Odo go, and he has chosen to remain true to that. Laas scoffs at him but Odo holds firm, and Laas leaves, promising one day to send for him.
The episode ends on Odo and Kira in her quarters. Bolstered by the understanding that Kira accepts him for who and what he is, Odo morphs for her, becoming a bright golden light which envelops her as she turns around, eyes closed, smiling.
Oh, man. There's so much to talk about in this episode--one of the best in the series, if you ask me. It's fantastically well written (credit to René Echevaria, the genius behind such crucial Odo episodes as "Children of Time," "Crossfire," "The Begotten," and "A Simple Investigation") and offers a poignant and profound look at the difficult position Odo is in among people fundamentally different from himself and the choices he has to make because of that. It also boasts one of the highest percentages of Odo screen-time on the show. The temptation is to write about the depth of Kira and Odo's love and the ways in which it survives a difficult test, but I'd like to look at something else.
A little back-story. I was in high school when "Chimera" first aired and I hadn't yet been introduced to the tradition of slash, where fans eroticize the relationships between male characters on TV programs (and in books and movies, etc.), usually grounding the romance on cues from the show itself. Still, I sensed that there was something more between Odo and Laas than a surface reading suggested. When I saw "Chimera" again a few weeks ago, all the evidence clicked into place. Odo and Laas were behaving like lovers and, both being males (insofar as Changelings can be assigned a sex or gender) ostracized to various extents by mainstream society, shapeshifting in this episode serves as a metaphor for homosexuality or alternative sexualities.
I'm not saying that Odo is gay--he clearly loves Kira, and his previous romantic entanglements involved women--or that the writers intended the Odo/Laas relationship to be seen as explicitly (homo)sexual rather than merely as intimate and exciting for Odo in its novelty and intensity, considering the issues Star Trek seems to have with depicting same-sex relationships (interspecies relations occur all the time, but even they are conducted with very few exceptions between members of opposite sex). I'm also not sure what René has said on the subject, although since he was in my opinion the most talented and intuitive cast member of the series, and because he enjoyed such strong on-screen chemistry with Garman Hertzler, I believe he was not only aware of but also deliberately played up the homoerotic or homoromantic implications. Mostly I would just like to point out what I noticed and offer another way of interpreting the episode and Odo's character. So here goes.
Odo and Laas: Two Queers Among Straights
When Laas emerges in his liquid state from the air duct on the runabout and takes form, the first thing he and Odo do is stare at each other in wonder, completely ignoring Chief O'Brien beside them. They break the spell only to share their mutual amazement at finally encountering another of "their kind."
Laas: …I sensed you were here. I had to see if it was true--if I'd finally found another Metamorph.
Odo: You've never met another Shape-shifter?
Laas: I've been trying to find others of my kind for a long time.*
Laas speaks with the desperate relief of someone who has found a fellow freak after bearing his abnormality alone for a long time. "The Changeling can't believe he's finally found another of his kind," the episode script says, and René makes it clear that Odo, too, though he has encountered other Founders, is thrilled to meet the first of his fellow "hundred" Changelings (unless you count the baby Changeling in "The Begotten"). A hundred is not many, and they are spread across the galaxy much in the same way gays are scattered throughout thinly-populated rural areas of the United States. Laas was also able to somehow "sense" Odo on board the runabout with his 24th-century alien version of "gaydar."
Naturally, they share their coming-out stories next.
Laas: I didn't even know what I was at first….
Odo can't help but be drawn in by someone who shared the same experiences he did.
Odo: I was the same way.
Odo and Laas thus relate their experiences of discovering what they were and share the bond of being unlike the people around them, isolated and stigmatized. Both discovered in their youth that they were different and have had to come to terms with that. Even after they realized they weren't like those around them, it was a long time before they found out what it was they were. Now they are fascinated and delighted to meet someone else who has gone through the same trauma.
After a tense introduction to O'Brien--Laas clearly distrusts and dislikes monoforms as a rule--Odo convinces Laas to accompany them back to the station, where Captain Sisko cautiously agrees to allow him to wander free on Odo's recognizance. During a leisurely tour of the Promenade and Habitat Ring, the two Changelings learn that they have both been labeled by the people around them out of ignorance or derision. Odo, as we know, is a shortened version of the Bajoran name Odo Ital from the Cardassian phrase Odo'ital, meaning "nothing" or "unknown sample." Laas confesses that his name means "changeable" in Varalan, the language of the people who found him. Both have adopted others' names for them and made them their own, bearing the label with dignity (in Odo's case) or defiance (in Laas') as minorities have done throughout history and across cultures.
Linking as a "Deviant" Sex Act
Looking at a photo of Kira, Laas tells Odo that his long-ago relationship with a female Varalan failed because he wasn't able to give her children. It seems Changelings can't procreate (with humanoids). Though the conversation continues in another direction, the implication is that his mate would have needed a third-party "monoform" donor to get pregnant or they would have had to adopt children, the recourses available to same-sex partners today. Changelings' inability to pass on their genes to humanoid offspring mirrors the evolutionary argument that gays are genetic "dead ends." It's not even clear whether Changelings reproduce among themselves; when Laas asks about this, all Odo can say is, "It's a little more complicated than that." A poster named cuiusquemodi suggested on the Television Without Pity [TwoP] forums that Changelings might reproduce asexually, that in liquid form they are sexless.
We're never told how Changelings mate or reproduce, but we do know that they Link. Linking offers a way to completely experience another Changeling's thoughts and memories and self. It's clear from the way René portrays Linking that it's a pleasurable experience too, his facial expressions and body language conveying ecstasy. It is an enjoyable, intimate, non-procreational practice--like same-sex sexual activity.
The act of Linking had suggested sex on the show before. "[C]ertainly there seemed to be a romantic component when Odo first linked with the female Changeling in 'The Search,' and her sly 'do you want me to stop?' in 'Behind the Lines' made the analogy plain as well," Timothy W. Lynch points out in his review of "Chimera." Odo himself compared Linking to sexual intimacy in "A Simple Investigation" (Russell). When Starfleet engineers its virus to incapacitate the Founders, the pathogen becomes in essence a sexually transmitted disease passed through the promiscuous Great Link, becoming a pandemic like AIDS (though the implications of this were hardly explored). The Link can be pleasurable even when it is shared between a Changeling and a humanoid, if Kira's blissful face at the end of "Chimera" is anything to go by.
But "Chimera" is the only episode where two males Link, and bravo to the Powers That Be for not trying to downplay the full implications of that. "There's an eroticism about the Link which this episode did not shirk from, any more than it shirked from the sexual possibilities between Odo and the evidently male Laas," agrees Michele Erica Green in her review of the episode. Let's take a closer look.
Odo brings his guest to his quarters, shows him his shape-shifting playground and tells Laas he will be staying there while Odo sleeps elsewhere (meaning Kira's quarters). Alone and in private for the first time, he then shows Laas how to Link, a clearly passionate act that is conducted mostly off-screen. This is a description of the scene from the script:
ODO AND THE CHANGELING (OPTICAL)
As their bodies start to come together into A SINGLE MASS OF ROILING SHAPESHIFTER ENERGY…
DISSOLVE TO: ODO'S QUARTERS-LATER
The Changeling is standing at the window staring out at the stars. Odo watches from a discreet distance, knowing he's gone through a profound experience.
[Laas]: For the first time in my life…I understand how I was meant to exist…You've given up a great deal to stay here.
For the first time ever, Odo's met someone who can fully understand that fact.
Odo: I have. But I won't have anything to do with the Founders and their war.
The Changeling fixes him with a knowing look.
Their bodies join, looking in the final moments as if they're kissing, embracing, while a photograph of Kira sits unnoticed on a table--the scene fades for privacy and returns some indeterminate amount of time "later"--Laas is staring at the stars while Odo maintains a "discreet" distance--they reveal deeply personal information to each other--Laas now picks up on the nuances of Odo's speech and communicates with him nonverbally, fixing him with "a knowing look." The first thing we see afterwards is Laas studying his own hand in wonder, as though he felt like a new man. Odo has just performed his people's most intensely personal act with Laas, and the scene is distinctly post-coital.
The second time Odo and Laas Link, its similarity to sex grows even more explicit: when he melds with Laas, Odo's eyes close, his head tilts back and he takes a breath. Because of moments like this, I found their Linking scenes much sexier than most of the intimate encounters on the series, even the ones intended to be shocking such as the female/female kisses seen in "Rejoined," "Facets," and "The Emperor's New Cloak." As Carl Cipra puts it in his review for the Gaylaxians newsletter, "I consider Odo's on-screen Links with Laas to be some of the most overtly 'sexual' scenes in all of the Star Trek franchises. Possibly the only rival, to my mind, would be Deanna Troi's demonstration, during a ST:TNG episode, of how to eat a chocolate sundae."
The connection between Linking and intercourse, as well as kissing and other displays of affection, strengthens when Odo refuses to Link in public. He and Laas are strolling above the Promenade when Laas suddenly stops and extends his hand, wanting to Link. Odo averts his gaze and refuses, clearly self-conscious.
Laas: Enough talk. Link with me.
Laas: Why not?
Odo: I don't think that's a good idea.
Laas: You're embarrassed.
Kira, too, recognizes the potential repercussions of Linking with some uneasiness, sensing the significance of what Odo has done with Laas even if Odo doesn't (or doesn't want to admit it). Consider the conversation they have after Odo and Laas' first Link, when she notices Odo acting strangely distant and finds out why:
Kira: Are you all right?
Odo: I'm fine.
Kira: You seem…far away.
Odo: We Linked.
Kira: …I see.
Odo: There's nothing to worry about. […] The Link is part of what we are. It comes as naturally to us as talking does to humanoids.
Kira: It's a little more …personal than talking, isn't it?
Odo: I suppose…
Kira worries that, having Linked, Laas shares an intimacy with Odo she can't. When she says with unconvincing cheer, "So. Do I get to meet him?" she sounds like a jilted woman attempting light-heartedness after finding out that her partner has cheated or is very close to cheating on her with another man, wanting to be introduced to the person who's threatening their relationship.
Because Laas is, in effect, working hard to steal Odo away from her.
Throughout the episode, Laas speaks to Odo using language that can't be described in any way but romantic. From the start, he works hard to seduce Odo away from the station, Kira, and his life among solids and into a long-term journey with him instead, entreating him, "Come away with me." At the end of the episode when Odo arrives in secret to announce his decision, Laas emerges from the shadows to meet him, sounding for all the world like a rescued princess: "I knew you'd come."
Laas's main approach to tempting Odo is in convincing him that he doesn't belong with Kira, with solids, that living among them is causing him to deny or suppress his true self, much as one gay man might urge another to give up his false life with a girlfriend or wife living exclusively among heterosexuals and enter a relationship with him instead, as he was "meant" to. The female Founder twice tried a similar argument without success, but Laas's idea is not for them to join the diseased and morally corrupt Founders but instead to go out in search of the other 98 Changelings and start a new Link. He urges, "Let's leave, Odo. Let's find the others. […] Think of it. We can exist the way we were meant to. As Changelings." Not only is Laas advocating a partnership, it's as if he's suggesting gathering the other lost gays, bisexuals and others along the spectrum of alternative sexualities who might still be discovering who they are, and founding a sort of commune or safe haven outside the restrictive boundaries of mainstream society. In such a self-created paradise they can behave as they are most comfortable without fear of judgment, punishment, or pressure to conform.
Laas's language is all "us" and "we," showing that he, at least, already considers them a couple. His tactics are highly exclusionary, intended to make Odo believe that the two of them are unalterably and substantially different from--and, in Laas's opinion, superior to--everyone around them, and therefore suited to each other. Symbolically looking down on the objects of their discussion from the second-floor railing on the Promenade, they talk:
Laas: …humanoids aren't very tolerant of difference.
Odo: Some of them are.
Laas: […] they're basically alike. They're bipeds that eat, sleep and breathe. You and I are nothing like them.
Part of what makes Laas' invitation so convincing, and what makes Laas himself so appealing, for Odo is not only the idea that they alone understand each other, but also that Laas is many years older and speaks from experience. As the worldly older man, Laas regards Odo fondly, though also patronizingly, telling him in effect that when he "grows up" he'll learn to see things the way he (Laas) does. Tim Lynch points out how the Changeling's knowing attitude touches Odo in a way the female Changeling's did not:
Past Changeling laments have dealt more with history, with "what humanoids have done to our people"; when Laas talks about humanoids ruining habitats of the very herds he was running with, you can tell he knows what he's talking about. He may alienate Odo's friends in the bargain, but the fact that he could personally relate things made his arguments far more interesting than the standard "solids aren't to be trusted" idea expressed by the Founders.
It's strange to think of Odo, normally portrayed as bitter and jaded after suffering the trials of his 30 years as a sentient being among solids, as naive and optimistic. It must be terribly enthralling for him to be solicited by someone with the same background, who sees him as hopelessly young and wants to take him under his wing.
Laas's experience with shapeshifting allows him to tempt Odo with the opportunity to learn more about fulfilling his potential as a Changeling; in the episode he shape-shifts into unconventional forms such as fog and fire, forms Odo never thought to try. Laas promises that he will show Odo these and other skills (you may as well substitute the phrase "sexual positions") when they go on their galactic hunt of a honeymoon. "Once we're away from here, I'll teach you to become things you've never even dreamed of," he tells Odo, suggesting that their time together will be filled with exploration, discovery and intense pleasure.
Odo betrays the fact that he is tempted using the same sort of romantic language when he speaks of Laas to Kira. Alone with her in her quarters, Odo confesses, "The thought of the two of us going off together to explore […] as Changelings, it's very alluring." "Alluring" is a strange and highly charged word for the writers to have chosen if they were trying to avoid implications that Odo is attracted to his fellow Changeling. Odo's quickly appended "-to him" does little to convince Kira or viewers that he didn't mean himself.
It's hard to tell how much Laas is motivated by his own loneliness and how much he sincerely wants to spare Odo the heartbreak and bitterness he has had to suffer after being rejected and persecuted by humanoids. Either way, he constantly berates Odo for hiding his Changeling abilities around the closed-minded "monoforms" and never misses an opportunity to point out how much Odo has altered his behavior to fit their societal codes, whether consciously or unconsciously. He asks, already suspecting the answer:
Laas: Before I came here, when was the last time you assumed another form?
Laas: You can't even remember. You've been pretending to be a humanoid for so long, it doesn't occur to you that you can be anything else.
Much later, Laas adds that Odo is not a solid, no matter how much he might want or pretend to be one. "What you appear to be doesn't reflect what you really are," he says. "It's only a mask." In Odo, the intangible societal pressure felt by some homosexuals to hide their unacceptable preferences, wearing a "mask" of so-called normalcy, becomes literal; maintaining his unnatural humanoid form for prolonged periods of time is a strain for him. His face even looks like a mask. And his earliest caregiver and father figure, Dr. Mora Pol, once remarked that Odo's most difficult challenge growing up was social integration ("Personnel File: Odo").
Odo explains that he is happy with his life and that his dislike of shape-shifting in front of others stems from a desire not to make his companions uncomfortable. While Quark sees this as one of Odo's strengths, praising him for being "smart enough to know people don't want to be reminded that you're different," Laas doesn't like it one bit.
Laas: You don't want to do anything to remind them that you're not truly a humanoid.
Odo: I don't go out of my way to point it out, no.
Laas: Why? Are you afraid they'll reject you?
Odo: I don't want to confront people with something that might make them uncomfortable.
Laas: So you deny your true nature in order to fit in.
Laas harbors no such desire to hide what he is. The epitome of Changeling Pride, he moves with confidence, his hands clasped behind his back, head high--the script says in its first description of the character that he "carries himself with a proud bearing"--while beside him Odo looks insecure, gripping his arms in their characteristic stiff, crossed position in front of his chest. Carl Cipra remarks, "I almost expected Laas to say: 'We're Changelings; we're here; get used to it!'" He Links and changes form wherever and whenever the fancy strikes him. People's reactions never bother him, but they do affect Odo, whose hard-won, delicate position on the station is at risk. This is first addressed when Laas wants to Link on the Promenade, and is revisited during the fog incident; here Odo first defends Laas to O'Brien and Bashir, displaying Changeling solidarity, but then pulls him aside to scold him in private for being so open about his behavior, what he sees as insistence on calling attention to himself as a Changeling. Laas protests:
Laas: I was just relaxing.
Odo: If you want to "relax," do it in private.
Laas: Did I embarrass you?
(Note that in the script, the word "relax" is in quotation marks; again, there is a comparison of shapeshifting to a taboo sexual act, like an as-yet-unsocialized child caught masturbating in public.) Odo values discretion, and his warning to Laas sounds like a plea for him to stop attracting so much unnecessary attention to what they are, as a successfully "passing" homosexual might entreat a "flaming" partner to tone down a lisp, limp wrist or other stereotypical behavior that labels him--and those with him by association--as gay. Odo has taken great pains to "pass" as a solid, and living on a station "like a small town where everyone knows everybody" (Terman) puts him in a vulnerable position if Laas were to utterly estrange its inhabitants by insisting on performing acts in public that distress or disgust them. Laurie M. Russell says in her discussion of the Changeling/homosexual parallel that homosexuals, like Odo, "may feel accepted [only] as long as they don't 'flaunt' their sexuality." Laas' behavior threatens to draw attention to Odo's controversial nature, dragging him "'out of the closet' as far as his true Changeling nature goes" (Sluss).
Oblivious or unwilling to hear the other Changeling's arguments, Laas harps on the fact that his acts make Odo feel ashamed. Rather than sympathize with Odo's discomfort, Laas berates him for letting narrow-minded monoforms dictate what he should and should not feel comfortable doing. But when the monoforms Odo cares about offer him an equally confusing mix of sensible and prejudiced opinions, the Constable must face the fact that he may be damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.
Prejudice and Changelingphobia
"Watch your step, Odo. We're at war with your people. This is no time for a Changeling Pride demonstration on the Promenade."
Laas dislikes monoforms, sometimes avoiding them and other times provoking them for his own amusement. He exhibits a sort of reverse discrimination, lashing out against the people who victimized him. Laas considers his intolerance a natural and justified reaction to the intolerance he has had to deal with:
Odo: You don't much care for humanoids.
Laas: I know from experience they don't much care for Changelings.
He created his own label for the group he has rejected after they rejected him ("monoforms"), much as the more embittered gay characters on the TV show Queer as Folk derisively refer to straights as "breeders." Hatred begets hatred, and Laas ends up just as prejudiced as his supposed oppressors. Odo remarks after one comment, "You're certainly not afraid to make grand generalizations."
And, naturally, the intolerance and mistrust cuts both ways. O'Brien doesn't trust Laas from the moment they meet, and that tension escalates to aversion as the episode progresses. He and Bashir share a discomfited look when they realize they're standing in a pool of Laas-fog, clearly unnerved by the idea of this utterly alien action. Sisko, who only reluctantly allowed Laas free on his station, implies toward the end of the episode that the Changeling invited trouble by shape-shifting in front of people who were offended by it, sounding eerily like a police officer shrugging off a gay bashing incident or rape as some fault of the victim's.
Odo: Is it a crime to shape-shift on the Promenade?
Sisko: It may not be a crime, but obviously it's not a good idea.
The episode even comes complete with Klingons as antagonistic homophobes. A pair of menacing warriors approaches Laas after he re-forms from his fog state on the Promenade. When one of them spits a slur at him ("Founder") and warns him, "Don't change form in my presence again," he might as well be talking about catching two men holding hands on the street or in a shopping mall. Laas replies without missing a beat, "I change form where I please." The Klingons take exception to his mocking nonchalance and draw their daggers. A crowd of complicit bystanders gathers to witness this hate crime. Odo tries to talk Laas into walking away, but he wants none of that, taking pleasure in taunting his persecutors. One of the warriors tries to stab Laas, who goes liquid to allow the blade to pass harmlessly through him before he fatally stabs his assailant with a sword morphed out of his own hand.
Sisko tells Odo in his office afterwards that the surviving Klingon has complained to the authorities and is pressing charges, claiming that Laas started the fight by menacing them. Odo asks, incredulous, "They felt menaced? By fog?" A pair of brawny warriors--two strapping members of the most testosterone-infused race on the series--felt threatened by whatever strange things Laas might do as a Changeling, sounding like the stereotypical case of "manly men" feeling unnerved by a willowy gay youth they could clearly overcome in a physical fight. The threat both Laas and the gay man pose to the solid or homophobe is entirely Other, terrifying in its alien-ness, even if the act itself isn't malicious or even directed at those who take offense (Laas becoming fog, the man holding hands with someone else male). (See for example Tim Lynch's comment in author Peter David's blog: "the idea of homosexuality is pretty seriously alien in some deep way to those who are straight.").
It's interesting that the weapons of choice in this brawl are knives rather than disruptors or some other futuristic device. Blades are traditionally phallic symbols, made even more suggestive here because Laas' is not a true blade but in fact a part of himself, consciously created to be larger than his opponent's. The Klingon attempts to penetrate Laas as punishment for his transgression (as a group of enraged homophobes might sexually assault a gay man to "straighten" him), and Laas retaliates by penetrating the other man with a part of himself.
If the fight also seems at all like a struggle to assert one's masculinity in the face of a threat, consider this startling exchange from the script (I think this was in the aired episode, though I didn't catch it, probably because I was busy scribbling notes; if it was cut, though, it's all the more interesting because it suggests that the writers and Powers That Be thought it too explicit a reference):
The Klingon unsheathes the KNIFE hanging from his belt, brandishes it threateningly. The moment hangs in the air for a beat, then the Changeling holds up his hand and -
Laas: Mine's bigger.
Later, Laas informs Odo that the Klingons were expressing an attitude about Changelings which all solids share, even those close to him. "You saw the hatred in that Klingon's eyes," he says. "Maybe now you'll recognize it when you see it hiding in the faces of your so-called friends." And because Laas has been whispering in Odo's ear for days, because he saw his friends' mixed reactions when he introduced them at Quark's, and because he knows the Klingons are out for revenge rather than justice in their plan to put Laas on trial, the Constable starts to believe him.
Ever the surprising font of wisdom, Quark tries to explain to Odo why solids feel the way they do, citing evolutionary adaptations that make people fear difference in favor of self-preservation. Jamahl Epsicokhan remarks in his review, "I've heard this argument before, in real life, and I've never bought it as a defense for prejudice, because prejudice is learned. But I appreciated Quark's blunt honesty…." Not only are Changelings different, solids can't tell they're different just by looking at them (unless they choose to appear different or, like Odo, aren't experienced enough to mimic perfectly); hence the terror invoked by the Changeling infiltration in earlier seasons. One of the biggest threats shapeshifters pose to humanoids is their ability to take on any form they choose, looking like they fit in while still being quintessentially Other. The same can be said for homosexuals or indeed, for any minority not defined by physical appearance.
These debates could have continued until the end of the episode and even beyond. Unfortunately, Laas' s behavior (that is, the unnecessary murder, along with his total lack of remorse) dooms him; in the Trekverse, not valuing human life makes you evil. It's a shame the writers didn't leave room for ambiguity. Experienced viewers know that from this moment on, it's impossible for Odo to join him in his quest. But Odo still has to make the decision for himself.
Finding a Middle Path
Laas advocates unapologetic pride. Odo's friends advocate as normal a life as he can manage. Odo is left to try and straddle the middle. Fortunately, he finds an incredibly sympathetic partner in Kira. Earlier in the episode, Odo argues to Laas, "We're Changelings. We can be like [humanoids] when we choose." Laas replies that he chooses never to be like them, but Odo has made a profound point. He, more than any other character on the show, is ideally positioned to straddle the Changeling and solid worlds. Kira is there to help him work through his conflicting thoughts and desires. First, he struggles through an identity crisis brought on by his difficult conversations with Laas. Like anyone questioning their sexuality, Odo is forced to wonder what he is, what he wants to be, and whether his entire life until this point has been a deception.
Odo: Look at me, Nerys. What do you see?
Kira: I see you.
Odo: No. This is just a form I've borrowed. [...]
Kira: I know that. But this is what you've chosen to be. A man whose [sic] good and honorable. And who I fell in love with. Are you telling me he never existed?
Kira tries to point out that he can't define himself by his species or preferences. He's not "a Changeling" just like he isn't a solid, she says-he's Odo, and she loves him. And by the end, he realizes the depth of that love and understands that he can be himself around her, solid or Changeling or a hybrid of both.
The Uplifting Conclusion
From its inception, Star Trek has used alien races (and a futuristic setting) to address controversial social issues where censors would have balked at addressing them directly. Writer Ron Moore said in an interview with fandom.com in 2000:
Why isn't Star Trek leading the way anymore, in the social, political front? Gene always said, whether this is true or not, that he saw Star Trek as a way to explore social issues, without the networks catching on. Because it was all couched in space aliens, and ray guns, and space opera type stuff, it gave him a chance to explore social issues, without the networks catching on.
Yet despite the possibilities the alien races on Star Trek offered for exploring current societal controversies, the various remaining series began to fail to question, to imagine, to comment upon, to tackle modern injustices and debates with the zeal it had done in the '60s, particularly regarding same-sex relationships. Homosexuality became the franchise's real "final frontier." All instances of sexuality deviating from strictly male/female have involved at least one, and usually two, members of an alien race: a few Trill, Cardassians, J'Naii, Q, Changelings, and mirror-universe Bajorans (Gilmel, Stein). It seems that on this subject-apparently more sensitive than that of blacks, women, Russians, Asians, and other minorities on the original series-we have to make do only with alien-metaphors, of which Odo/Laas is the most successful. Carl Cipra, an openly gay Star Trek fan, writes:
I found "Chimera" to be a fascinating, powerful episode-a much better exploration of the "alternate sexuality" experience than ST:TNG's "The Outcast." I also think that "Chimera" addresses aspects of the gay life experience more directly than "The Outcast" does. I found "Chimera" to be a clear allegory for the opposing positions of "outwardly conforming to Straight society" versus "living the openly gay lifestyle."
Tim Lynch agrees, saying that "Chimera" is "the first time Trek has addressed the issue of homosexuality in this nuanced a way; it's certainly the first time they've done something with it this well!" Now that Enterprise is off the air and no feature films are in production for the foreseeable future, Odo/Laas may be the closest we're going to get to a male/male relationship in Trek.
Changelings defy placement in the clear-cut categorizations of gender and sexuality delineated by the more limited solids around them. Shapeshifters threaten 24th-century society's definition of what constitutes gender and permissible relationships in the same way gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered individuals threaten our dominantly dual-gendered, heterosexual society today. In this sense it doesn't matter whether we see Odo and Laas as gay (since both have adopted male forms and both are played by male actors, a difference from the producers' decision to cast a woman to play Riker's androgynous love interest in the controversial Next Generation episode "The Outcast"); as bisexual, both having also had relationships with humanoid women (and in Odo's case, an at least superficially looking female of his own kind); or as asexual (genderless) or polysexual (able to adopt any of a number of genders). Changelings, and particularly Odo and Laas, fly in the face of the strictly opposite-sex-only romantic pairings of almost all "solids" we see in the Trekverse.
Is it a perfect metaphor? No. But once I noticed the homosexual overtones in this episode I haven't been able to watch it without thinking about them. Maybe this will be the case for some of you, too. Or maybe we should take a hint from Odo's defensive statement to Laas on the Promenade: "You're reading too much into it."
Many, many thanks to Nance Hurt for custom screen-capping!
Additional screen captures from TrekCore.com
Cipra, Carl. "'Chimera'-a ST:DS9 episode." Lambda Sci Fi (DC Area Gaylaxians) newsletter, Issue #108, March 1999. p 5.
Cuiusquemodi. Thread on TwoP [Television Without Pity] forums: "Rainbow Alert: Homosexuality in Star Trek." August 14, 2004.
Echevaria, René. "Chimera (fka 'Untitled Odo')." Originally posted on Twiztv.com.
Epsicokhan, Jamahl. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Chimera." Jammer's Review.
Gilmel. Thread on TwoP forums: "Rainbow Alert: Homosexuality in Star Trek." August 14, 2004.
Green, Michele Erica. "Chimera." The Trek Nation. January 13, 2004.
Moore, Ron. Interview with fandom.com. Quoted in Gay League's "Gay Star Trek Timeline." January 2000.
Russell, Laurie M. "My Two Cents Review: 'Chimera.'" 1999.
"Personnel File: Odo." StarTrek.com.
Sluss, David E. "The Cynics Corner: DS9's 'Chimera,'" February 21, 1999
Stein, Atara. "Minding One's P's and Q's: Homoeroticism in Star Trek: The Next Generation." Genders 27 (1998).