Star Trek Guide

Star Trek DS9: Why "Whispers" Is The Franchise's Darkest Episode

The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Whispers” is remembered as one of the franchise’s darkest episodes. It is a story rife with paranoia and fear, breaking the long-held Star Trek convention of everyone uniting behind a common, greater purpose. Instead, it shows series regular Chief Miles O’Brien confronting a station-wide conspiracy, where nothing is as it seems, and the very fate of the Federation may be at stake. There are shades of such gritty suspense thrillers as The Manchurian Candidate and The Parallax View, as the entire utopian world of the 24th century begins to unravel.

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DS9's "Whispers" begins with a beleaguered Chief Miles O’Brien in a stolen Runabout, leaving what may be his “last log entry.” The viewer is then brought into a flashback of O’Brien’s recollections of the past 52 hours and, from the moment he wakes up, it is clear something is off. His own wife and child are distant and cold; trusted crew members are evasive. Even Commander Sisko, as honor-bound as anyone in Starfleet, is caught lying. As the Chief begins to suspect a conspiracy in the highest order of Starfleet, his loyalty to the Federation and even to his family is brought into question. This is not Gene Roddenberry’s sterling view of a better humanity.

Contributing to the dark, brooding feel of "Whispers" is veteran Star Trek director Les Landau’s choice to lens the episode in a film noir style. He keeps the camera close to O’Brien, creating a claustrophobic sensation and dialing up the already gloomy, shadowy interior of the former Cardassian uridium ore refining station, DS9. The viewer is meant to feel the Chief’s fear on a visual, visceral level. But beyond how it looks, the story lacks any "B-plot" and, instead, dives into a heavy, thought-provoking story that continues to impact Star Trek to this day.

A typical DS9 episode would have the main plot (in this case, focused on O’Brien) while at the same time breaking away to discover how others are living on the station. In the case of “Whispers,” that light-hearted B-plot reprieve proved impossible. As Paul Coyle, writer for the episode, explained in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, “We had to stick entirely on O’Brien for every minute. We couldn’t cut away to any of the other characters because they’d obviously be saying, ‘We don’t think O’Brien is O’Brien.’ So we could never open the story up for the audience and get to a B-story, or even linger on two characters after O’Brien leaves the room because it’d be giving the story away.”

The episode concludes with the startling revelation that the O’Brien story has been following was a “replicant”of the real O’Brien, created by an alien race to sabotage peace talks. The replicant O’Brien never knew he wasn't the real Chief and never understood that he was the cause of the strange actions and behaviors of the crew. In the end, he dies, telling the real O’Brien to give his love to his wife, Keiko. It is a fitting introduction to the semi-annual trend known to fans as “O’Brien Must Suffer” wherein the Chief is subjected to all manner of horrors. One of the darkest episodes of one of the darkest series kicks off the darkest trend in all of Star Trek.

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