One of Odo’s old enemies turns up on Deep Space Nine. After a terse and public encounter, the guy gets murdered, leaving Odo the prime suspect. With motivation, ability, and a lame alibi, Odo has only the testimony of his two friends (Kira and Quark, a not-quite friend) to keep him free to investigate and discover who is framing him.
This show borrows from feelings left over from injustices committed in 1950s America, particularly during an angry mob’s siege on Odo’s apartment. He hadn’t been convicted yet and a group wandered over from the bar, shouting slurs, mocking him for being different, and accusing him where the law had yet to.
(Trek connection note: Rene Auberjonois had previously played Colonel West in Star Trek VI, who had conspired against Starfleet with Admiral Cartwright. Cartwright was played in both his appearances by Brock Peters, who not only later appeared as Sisko’s father on this series, but whose most enduring role is probably that of Tom Robinson in To Kill A Mockingbird. It is the persecution of Tom Robinson that most informs the treatment of Odo in this episode.)
This is a wonderful story. The tricky little murder mystery moves this right along and the echoes of racially fueled aggression place this firmly in the Trek tradition of solid social commentary. Odo’s uniqueness inspires the hatred of the mob as much, maybe more than, the mounting evidence against him. Of course, he’s innocent and discovers that the victim is actually still alive, having murdered a clone of himself specifically to ruin Odo.
The audience’s anger toward mobs like that comes from someplace else. In other words, I don’t care enough about Odo in this second episode to merit the anger I felt towards that mob. Like I said, I think it’s probably sourced in To Kill A Mockingbird or other images and recollections about the racism of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. When the mob leader sneers, “Shapeshifter!” at Odo, inspiring even greater aggression in his cohorts, we recall other slurs hurled at other innocent people. In our real world, many innocent people were tormented, harmed, even killed without ever being involved in a murder investigation like Odo and Tom Robinson were. They were tormented just for being what they were. At being called a shapeshifter, Odo could’ve shrugged and said, “Yeah, so what? I know what I am.” But the tone the word was delivered in indicated a hatred for the like. The N-word wasn’t always a pejorative. It became that way after it was pronounced with an aggressive tone for decades. The word transformed because enough hateful people said it a certain way! Hate changed our language. Isn’t that strange? It was replaced once or twice, racial distinctions now unsatisfactorily resting on the term ‘African American.’ (Unsatisfactorily, because one’s interests would hardly seem modern or diverse if they named Dave Matthews as their favorite African-American musician or Charlize Theron as their favorite African-American actor. Also many black people don’t live in America. And many black don’t come from Africa. I suppose that reveals the higher goal of not distinguishing at all.)
But this isn’t a race relations blog.
It’s about Jesus and the way we just cannot resist telling His story over and over again, even tucking inside other stories without our even knowing it.
So where is he in this one?
Jesus is the end of racism. He’s also the end of nationalism. And, I haven’t thought about it, but He’s probably the end of most -isms…
One of the first people to hear about Jesus after the Church was founded in Jerusalem was the weird kid. He probably wasn’t invited to many parties and he definitely didn’t get any dates. He’s not named in the Bible, but he’s described simply as an Ethiopian eunuch.
He worked for the Ethiopian queen, was probably made sexless to ensure her safety. That’s mildly strange, though many served in positions like that in those days.
He also walked around reading Isaiah aloud. That’s slightly stranger.
Their nation being on a very important trade route and having the past 500 years to spread out across the ancient world, Jewish customs were probably well known. How frequently these customs were practiced by those not genetically Jewish is a little harder to estimate. This man had just traveled to Jerusalem to worship, so he was likely practicing. It seems to me that he should have been with the queen at all times, though she’s not mentioned. I would also be surprised if the queen had the same religious interests. So the eunuch may have worshiped in Jerusalem while his queen was visiting for another reason, or he saved up some vacation time and used it on a pilgrimage.
Either way, he was a man alone. He was reading Isaiah aloud when Philip, one of the Jesus’ Twelve Disciples, was compelled by God to talk to him. “Do you understand what you are reading,” he asked. “How can I, unless someone guides me?” (That, by the way, is every evangelist’s dream question.) So Philip revealed to him all the ways that Christ was prophesied about in Isaiah, written 700 or so years earlier. He probably told him about how Christ was “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities.” And how the innocent Jesus “was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” How Christ has “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” And how He came “to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon.” Philip probably told this sexless, hard-working (probable slave) that Christ will “decide with equity for the meek of the earth.”
I can just picture Philip shouting, “It’s all in there! Christ’s story is hidden in the Hebrew Scriptures and now that He’s done all the work, we can find it now!”
This man was alone – no representation, no future, no hope. All he had was a copy of Isaiah and a conversation and that was enough to give him freedom!
Sisko stepped in between Odo and the mob, declaring that he would administer justice and that no man may harm or judge any who are in his crew. So did Jesus jump between the Ethiopian and whatever oppression plagued him.
This show recalls To Kill A Mockingbird‘s portrait of an intercessor. He has to jump in between the one he’s protecting and the mob that’s trying to kill him. Atticus teaches and pleads with the people before they become a mob. But shattering ignorance just is not enough. He has to park himself in front of that jailhouse and hold on to that shotgun all night to be the barrier between his protected and death. So did Sisko try to keep the peace on the space station. Then he had to jump between Odo and the mob.
That is exactly what Jesus did. Yeah, he’s a good teacher. That is not enough! Death is still coming for us! Whether we’re ignorant or informed, frivolous or serious, we are going to die. So Jesus jumped in between. He taught until death couldn’t be ignored anymore. It had to be dealt with or all of his students wouldn’t be around to make use of his lessons. So he jumped in between the ones He’s protecting and death.
There’s a huge difference between Jesus’ intercessory action and those of Atticus Finch and Commander Sisko. Finch knows that Robinson is innocent. Sisko discovers that Odo is innocent. They were just keeping their guy safe til they could be proven innocent (to varying degrees of effectiveness). We will get no such exoneration. We are guilty. Yet He stood between us anyway.
That’s a good thing.