I know this is not the best DS9 episode of the first season. (I think it's pretty universally agreed that "Duet" has that honor.) But I've always liked it nonetheless, for purely sentimental reasons. You see, this was the episode that really caused my DS9 fan-hood to blossom. Up until that point in the original run of the first season, I hadn't been paying that much attention. ('Struth!)
It's funny what will get a person's rocket lit off about a particular show. For me, it's the characters and their interaction. They are the heart of any show; forget plot, forget premise, forget gimmicks. And somehow, though I agree with many that "The Forsaken" was overall a so-so episode at best, it got me nonetheless.
As Bashir is acting as liaison/babysitter to a party of pompous Federation ambassadors on a "fact-finding mission", a probe arrives from the Gamma Quadrant. It is unmanned, with enough computer capacity to run a Galaxy-class starship, yet it doesn't seem to be trying to maintain contact with any home base or mother ship. This arouses curiosity, and Sisko has its data downloaded into the station's computers for study. Soon after that, an odd series of malfunctions begins occurring. They turn out to be caused by a nonsentient, nonbiological software entity that came from the probe, which is somewhat like a puppy eager for attention, particularly from O'Brien.
You might expect that this setup would provide an excuse for a lot of big words, and you would be right. Yet somehow there are moments that elevate the episode beyond being just another Trek technobabble-fest. Quite a few of them occur in the Bashir subplot, as the doctor struggles to maintain his patience with the cranky ambassadors. (Best Bashir line, harking back to his eager words to Kira in "Emissary": "Out here on the edge of the frontier, it's just one adventure after another." Runner-up: "They are the Ambassadors of Unhappy!")
But the Odo/Lwaxana teaming is the primary reason why I am so irrationally fond of this episode. Lwaxana's presence would seem to be just another one of the many crossovers of TNG characters that occurred during the first season (Q, Vash, Lursa, B'Etor, Picard). Yet it is interesting to note that the first season DS9 writers' bible actually mentions Lwaxana, and the intention to have her go after Odo. It even contains a version of their dialogue in which Odo tells Lwaxana he's a liquid, and she responds with, "I can swim." So obviously this pairing was on the minds of the early writing staff almost from the get-go.
Odo's dilemma occurs as a result of his competent handling of an incident in Quark's, in which Lwaxana's hair brooch was stolen. This catches her attention, and soon she is accosting him at every turn, flirting in her typically subtle Lwaxana fashion ("I've never been with a shapeshifter"). It's a totally new experience for Odo, who is so unsettled that he actually asks Sisko to tell her to leave him alone. Sisko practically laughs him out of his office. Not long after this, Lwaxana pursues Odo onto a turbolift, which, wouldn't you know it, becomes stuck.
The dialogue here really takes off, and RenÚ and Majel really do have a great rapport. I love the timing of their lines in the bit where Odo tells Lwaxana he would prefer to pass the time quietly. ("Quietly." "Quietly." "Of course." "Thank you.") Another highlight: after Kira has warned Odo not to shapeshift out because of the exposed circuitry surrounding the lift, and Lwaxana is rattling on about being abducted by Ferengis, Odo starts studying the walls. She finally asks him what he's looking at. "Oh, I was just wondering how many volts are in that exposed circuit. Go on."
Of course, as happens every time two Star Trek characters are stranded together somewhere, Odo and Lwaxana eventually end up bonding. When she finally runs out of anecdotes and starts asking about his life, he is slowly drawn out despite himself, and reveals (for the first time on the show) his lonely upbringing in a laboratory. Then, finally, Odo exceeds the limit of his 16-hour regeneration cycle, and is forced to liquefy in front of her. It's obvious here how profoundly ashamed Odo is of having to show his true form to a humanoid, though he denies it. Lwaxana then rises above her usual pushy, self-centered behavior, and treats him with true sensitivity and dignity. This was no doubt a fundamental turning point for Odo in the evolution of his self-worth.
I know that Lwaxana isn't a very popular character, but I've always liked her. So sue me. I enjoyed the arc of her genuinely falling for Odo, only to realize that he loved Kira. I felt so sorry for her at the end of "Fascination". But that's another review.
Summing up "The Forsaken": Although I acknowledge its overall mediocrity, it remains a personal sentimental favorite, with several scenes that make it well worth re-watching, at least in my book.