What does it mean to truly be human?
The discovery of humanity is a reoccurring theme we see in each Star Trek Series. From Vulcans seeking to understand our lack of logic to androids who want to laugh, the writers have provided many characters who explore what it means to be human. Odo, the Changeling security officer of Deep Space Nine (DS9), may get closer to the answer than any of his predecessors.
Odo was one of 100 Changeling children released into the galaxy in order to learn about new cultures and bring their experiences back to their people. He was discovered by Bajoran scientists who did not know at first that he was a sentient being and labeled him “Unknown Sample.” Growing up in a lab, Odo eventually moves on, copying the humanoid form of those around him and becomes security chief of Terak Nor, later known as Deep Space Nine. Throughout the series, we see the transformation of Odo in his physical appearance, attitude and emotions in his quest for humanity.
"Odo’s look is greatly unfinished, as if he is constantly in a state of becoming human, though never arriving."
Once Odo is old enough to begin shapeshifting, he takes on humanoid form. His general outlook resembles a Bajoran although, as he often says, he is never able to get the nose right. Since the characteristic nose ridges are a trait which separates traditional Bajoran looks from Human, Odo looks a little more like a human. During the Cardassian occupation, Odo does security work for Gul Dukat and his minions but he is respected by the Bajorans as only being interested in justice, not in taking sides. This attitude is supported by the fact that Odo never chooses to emulate the Cardassians in physical appearance even though that may have made his life easier. When he eventually meets other Changelings, they question his decision to resemble humans but he stands by his choice, saying it allows him to live a normal life. Odo’s look is greatly unfinished, as if he is constantly in a state of becoming human, though never arriving.
Odo’s attitudes, philosophies, and even his sense of humor change with his many experiences on DS9. One of these many instances takes place in the Deep Space Nine episode “Facets”, where during the Trill zhian’tara ritual, Odo becomes joined with one of Dax’s former hosts, Curzon. Since Odo is a Changeling, he takes on not only the attitude and memories of Curzon, but also changes appearance and is like a joined Trill himself. This adventure truly begins Odo’s social life. Before this, he never ate or drank or had fun with the other officers. Being part of Curzon allowed him to experience the pleasures and joys of life which he carries with him after the experience. Another landmark experience is the time he spends on the holodeck with Vic Fontaine which will eventually lead to him confessing his feelings for Kira.
Probably the greatest change Odo manages which Spock and Data could not, is the grasp of human emotions. Odo frequently claims not to have human emotions, to not understand love or grief or greed but we get to watch him evolve throughout the series. He understands shame and remorse in “Things Past”, when he is forced to face a time when he allowed a group of innocent Bajorans to be executed on his watch. He has his first taste of love with Arissa in “A Simple Investigation”. He struggles with the concepts of parenthood as he tries to help a sick child Changeling in “The Begotten”. And of course, his true, passionate love for Kira is arguably one of the defining themes of the entire series.
Odo’s struggle to capture humanity, to change himself into something more than the sum of his parts, is a journey we can all relate to. Life isn’t about where you are born, how you start, what you look like, or even your past mistakes. It is about what we make of it. How we finish. Odo shows us it is ok to feel, be vulnerable, to stand up for your beliefs, and to sacrifice for what you love. Like Spock and Data before him and Seven of Nine to follow, he strives to become more human, to understand himself, and manages to become the most human of us all.