Best Star Trek Series Doesn’t Get Enough Credit For Franchise First

By Michileen Martin | Updated

star trek odo

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine gets a lot of credit these days and deservedly so. Among other things, it was the first series in the franchise to take a serialized storytelling approach and the first to feature a Black actor as its lead. One thing no one really talks about is how DS9 was the first Star Trek series to give us a genuine detective as one of its heroes–Odo, the station’s chief of security.

Other Trek Heroes Solved Mysteries, But Not Full Time

Of course, Star Trek heroes other than Odo liked to play detective–most memorably Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Data (as Sherlock Holmes) and Captain Picard (as the gumshoe Dixon Hill).

Spock is always adept at solving a mystery as well. But for Odo fighting crime isn’t a holodeck diversion or something he’s was forced to do occasionally because of the strangeness of the station crew’s adventures–figuring out who’s behind a crime is his 9-to-5 as well as his passion.

DS9 Needs A Detective Who Breaks The Rules

tuvok star trek

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s singular setting requires a character more like Odo than that straight-laced Starfleet officers like TNG‘s Worf or Star Trek: Voyager‘s Tuvok. It needs someone like the classic gumshoes who don’t play by the rules.

Worf is more soldier than detective. Tuvok–while facing his share of intriguing mysteries–largely deals with internal security aboard the titular ship, where the list of suspects is usually confined to the crew. He can call up near limitless information on any one of those crew members–most of whom he outranks–at a moment’s notice.

DS9’s Setting Is Much More Complex

On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Odo confronts a much more complex situation. He deals with crimes aboard a space station whose population fluctuates every time a ship departs or arrives–and they depart and arrive all the time.

Odo’s culprits could be one of the Starfleet personnel on board, one of the Bajoran Militia, one of the thousands of civilians who make a permanent home on DS9, or one of its many daily visitors.

For all the Changeling knows, every time he looks into a crime, the guilty party could be deep in the Gamma Quadrant by the time his investigation begins.

Not to mention Star Trek: Deep Space Nine saddles Odo with a unique political and legal situation. Federation’s Starfleet runs DS9, but according to the laws of Bajor. The question of whether it’s Federation or Bajoran law that rules on the station sometimes seems a little arbitrary (i.e. it depends on what works better for the story).

Hippocratic Oath

star trek odo

The Season 4 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Hippocratic Oath” perfectly illustrates why Odo needed to be the franchise’s first detective.

The third episode of Season 4 takes place shortly after the arrival of Worf as a regular cast member, who finds it impossible to let go of his security chief instincts from his time on the Enterprise.

More direct in his time as security chief than Odo, Worf has a low opinion of how the Changeling does his job.

When Worf gets wind of Quark making an illicit deal, he assumes Odo isn’t doing anything about it.

The Klingon takes matters into his own hands and unintentionally ruins the Changeling’s long-brewing sting operation.

It’s the kind of investigation Star Trek: Deep Space Nine could have Odo doing on the regular, but that you would never see on TNG or Voyager. The crew of those ships combat smuggling on board by not allowing smugglers on board. DS9 can’t afford that luxury.

Improbable Cause

star trek odo

A favorite of mine that illustrates why Star Trek: Deep Space Nine needed a more hard-nosed detective like Odo is Season 3’s “Improbable Cause.”

The first half of a two-parter, “Improbable Cause” opens with an explosion in Garak’s tailor shop. Most of the episode follows Odo’s investigation into the blast.

Hitting dead ends, Odo finally makes some headway when he has a clandestine meeting with an unnamed Cardassian–presumably a high-ranking member of either Cardassia’s military or its government.

This contact is another beautiful example of why Star Trek: Deep Space Nine needs someone more like Odo. As the security chief aboard a station at the center of one of the most politically volatile parts of the galaxy, having resources inside the Cardassian government would be invaluable to the Changeling.

Conversely, I can’t think of another Trek series in which such a secret “Deep Throat” like contact would make sense. Sure, having those kinds of clandestine buddies could have helped the heroes of Voyager navigate certain sectors of the Delta Quadrant, but by the time they could forge the kinds of relationships necessary to make those resources possible, they’re well on their way to a part of space where those contacts are useless.

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