May 27, 2020
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine “Whispers”
Welcome once again to…
This Trial of Miles occurs only one week after the last one, “Armageddon Game”, in which Miles almost died from exposure to chemical weapons. “Whispers” finds O’Brien growing increasingly desperate and paranoid in the midst of a massive conspiracy seemingly involving all of Starfleet (and it’s not brain parasites this time). The episode relies too much on its ending twist to be very rewatchable, but it benefits from an eerie atmosphere and strongly Hitchcockian direction (Colm Meany himself spends most of the episode channeling Jimmy Stewart in The Man Who Knew Too Much, as he’s not cool enough to pull off Cary Grant).
We open on on a closeup of Chief O’Brien, looking thin and haggard.
He’s in a runabout, alone, chugging double-strong coffee, and going through the wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant. He narrates a log saying the past 52 hours have been a crazy puzzle, and he doesn’t know how long he’ll be alive or who’s going to listen to this log. “They” are coming after him. He doesn’t know who “they” are. His speech cadence suggests a man in bad need of a dose of dilithium.
O’Brien flashes back to when he first noticed things were “wrong”. He gets home after a trip to the “Parada” system, a Gamma quadrant species who are in a civil war and about to hold peace talks on DS9. O’Brien was there to go over the security protocols for the talks. He’s going to say “security” lots of times, so take note. He gets back late, waking up at 0530, with Keiko and Molly already up. They’re both acting incredibly skittish and don’t want to spend any time with him. Molly tells him to go away when he asks for a kiss. Keiko scoops up Molly and hurries away, making an unconvincing excuse.
O’Brien gets to work and finds an underling calibrating some security stuff that O’Brien had previously told him to hold off on. The underling says that Commander Sisko himself countermanded the order. Going to ask Sisko what’s up, O’Brien finds Keiko engaged in furtive conversation with him.
In the present, O’Brien breaks off his log entry when he notices another runabout, the Mekong, in hot pursuit. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” he grumbles.
Back in the flashback, O’Brien gets into Ops to find Dr. Bashir waiting for him. Bashir says it’s time for O’Brien’s physical, which has been put off so long that he went to Sisko for permission to compel him. O’Brien really doesn’t want to do it today, but Bashir pulls rank and makes him. Sisko is also there for some strange reason, watching, to make sure he goes.
Sisko apologizes for leaving O’Brien out of the loop and then gets to talking about the Paradas’ security procedures. O’Brien says he wrote a report detailing everything, and Sisko asks for something that’s “not in the report”. This should be a warning sign, because Starfleet is Bureaucracy City and leaving something out of a report is against their religion.
Sisko says that O’Brien should definitely double-check all the work on the security procedures, but for now, there are three malfunctioning upper pylons that demand his attention. O’Brien moans and says he just fixed all that shit. As an afterthought, he asks Sisko why he was talking to Keiko, and Sisko says that Jake’s grades are slipping.
Now it’s time for O’Brien’s physical, and Julian’s being extra thorough and chattering like a monkey the whole time. He runs him through every single test and peppers him with questions about his sex life and his parents’ health until O’Brien flies off the handle at how long everything’s taking.
He suddenly gets the idea that there’s something very wrong with him, which is why everyone’s treating him differently—he even thinks he may be dying. As soon as he voices this idea, Julian drops the last few tests he was going to do and gives him a clean bill of health. When O’Brien walks out, Bashir stares at his medical chart bemusedly.
Jake runs into O’Brien on the promenade and asks if he can help build a subspace transceiver for Jake’s school project. O’Brien agrees, to “help get those grades up”. Jake, however, says his grades are great. Woozy, sanity-doubting music plays on the score.
After the act break, O’Brien’s working on the upper pylons, which have failed again and will need some serious work. He takes a break and checks to see what his underling’s doing with the security systems. The underling says he’s just finished re-calibrating all the whatsits. O’Brien wants to see what he’s done, but he says he’s already sealed the whoodat and can’t open it up again without an order from Major Kira. O’Brien, annoyed, calls Kira to get permission to look at the security burble, but Sisko jumps in on the call and forcefully tells O’Brien to get back to the pylons.
The problem with the pylons, when O’Brien finds it, seems to have been caused deliberately. Puzzled, O’Brien meets Jake on the promenade again, where he asks if anything unusual happened on the station while he was gone. Kira calls Jake away before he can answer.
Getting back to his quarters, O’Brien tells Keiko that Jake is coming by to work on that transceiver, but she says Sisko called and Jake isn’t feeling well enough and can’t make it. Also, Molly is spending the night at a friend’s. O’Brien tries to use the solitude to make some bacon with Keiko, but Keiko looks horrified at his embrace and tells O’Brien she’s not in the mood.
They have dinner, and it’s an Irish stew that Miles loves but that they never eat. Keiko isn’t having any.
O’Brien takes a forkful to his mouth, while Keiko watches like a hawk, so he decides against having any. “I couldn’t tell if there was anything wrong with the stew,” he tells his log. “All I could think about was that this was not my Keiko.” You see, normal Keiko still treats him like an unwelcome houseguest and rejects him physically, but never cooks food he likes.
After Keiko goes to bed, O’Brien chugs some coffee and starts frantically searching the station’s computers for anything unusual. Coming up clear on any biological, chemical, or telepathic contaminants, O’Brien decides to listen to senior officers’ logs for hours upon hours. Until, that is, he comes to the date he got back from the Parada system, after which he’s unable to listen to any logs at all. He re-enters his security code, which fails.
He does some hacking to release the hidden logs, and what he finds confirms that the other officers have been poring over his Parada security report, even going so far as to release his personal logs. Sisko speaks of secured messages from the Parada system, but doesn’t say what those messages were, almost as if he had anticipated that O’Brien might hack his log.
Odo comes back from Bajor on an unspecified errand and the Chief immediately waylays him. He has a hushed conversation about how oddly everybody’s been acting. Odo, natural paranoiac that he is, believes that something very wrong is afoot and says the scheduled Parada peace talks must not happen until this situation is straightened out. O’Brien is relieved to finally find an ally.
Later, O’Brien goes to Quark’s to drink and stare hauntedly. Quark goes over to ask him about the Paradas, saying he wants to gather information about potential customers. O’Brien flies into a paranoid rage and refuses to tell him anything. He gets a call from Odo and goes to the security office.
Odo tells O’Brien that the secret messages he noted in Sisko’s logs have been coming from the Paradan rebels. O’Brien protests that this is in violation of the security agreement they signed with the Paradan government. O’Brien says they have to cancel the peace talks now, but Odo turns him down. O’Brien smells a rat and says “they’ve got to you!” At that moment, Sisko, Kira, and Bashir show up with phasers drawn. Bashir takes out a hypo to try to sedate him, but O’Brien reaches for a device he’d hidden up his sleeve, and throws it on the ground. There’s a flashbang effect, after which O’Brien is able to grab Kira’s phaser and escape.
O’Brien tries to transport to the runabout Rio Grande, but the computer has locked him out. Scurrying down a hallway, he runs into his only ally Jake, and begs him for help. But they’ve gotten to Jake too. Jake uses a comm panel to inform security where O’Brien is, and tells O’Brien he’ll be fine if he surrenders.
O’Brien crawls down a Jeffries tube to an emergency transporter he uses to get on the Rio Grande, whose mooring clamps and tractor beams he had earlier arranged to be shut off. He taunts Sisko as he leaves, and fends off several phaser shots while flying away. He opens a channel to a random admiral at nearby Starbase 401, saying that there’s a conspiracy and the entire senior staff of Deep Space Nine has been compromised. The Admiral, to O’Brien’s surprise, tells him to turn the ship around immediately and surrender. O’Brien shuts off the call and pilots the runabout to the wormhole.
Now we’re all caught up. The Mekong is still pursing O’Brien to Parada IV, but he evades it with the help of one of those magnetic fields that conveniently disable sensor readings whenever plot needs to happen. He sees the Mekong break off pursuit and go to a different planet, which makes him curious; even curiouser, he sees that all three occupants have beamed down to the surface. He decides to go investigate.
O’Brien beams down inside the ice cave set from Empire Strikes Back. He finds Sisko, Kira, and two Paradans, and they get into an Irish standoff.
One of the Paradans gestures to a nearby door and tells him that everything he needs to know is behind it. O’Brien refuses, so the other Paradan, fed up, simply shoots him.
“Doctor, we need you!” Sisko declaims. The door opens, and behind it is Dr. Bashir… and another O’Brien. Whuuuut?
The cast takes turns breathlessly reciting the exposition behind the twist. It seems that O’Brien was kidnapped by the Paradan government and replaced by a “replicant” who’s biologically indistinguishable from the real O’Brien, and has all his knowledge, memories, and personality. Had the peace talks gone on as planned, the fake O’Brien would have been activated to assassinate the rebel delegation. The rebels found out and tipped off Starfleet, which is why everyone was acting so conspiratorially, and the Paradans did such a good job of recreating O’Brien’s personality that he attempted a foolhardy crusade to expose the conspiracy. “Maybe in a strange sort of way,” says Sisko, “he was trying to be a hero.”
The real O’Brien kneels down to get face-to-face with his replicant, who grabs him by the shoulder. “Keiko…” it says. “Tell her I love…” then it perishes. That’s how you know they did a good job; just like the real O’Brien, the replicant loves a woman who doesn’t love him back.
This marks the first, but not (spoiler!) the last time that Miles O’Brien will sort-of die on this show. I haven’t checked the figures, but he’s got to be close to the top of the most-killed characters. Be sure to read the next Trials of Miles, where he’ll again be taken hostage by aliens!