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The goo’s out of the receptacle: the major antagonists for Star Trek: Picard season 3 are Changelings! These shapeshifting antagonists from the Gamma Quadrant were first introduced in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Also known as the Founders of the Dominion, Changelings are the catalyst behind the Dominion War.
The first Changeling to whom we are introduced is DS9’s Chief of Security, Odo (René Auberjonois). While Odo is a shapeshifter, his personality is rigid and based on adherence to and enforcement of the rules. In early episodes, we discover that Odo must return to liquid form every 16 hours. During these intervals, he must rest in a receptacle.
This regeneration trait is emphasized in the DS9 season 1 episode, “The Forsaken.” In this story, Odo and Lwaxana Troi (Majel Barrett-Roddenberry) become trapped in a turbo-lift. Odo must trust Lwaxana to carry him in the folds of her dress while he is in his regenerative liquid state. However, contemporary online conversations with DS9 writers suggested that this need to regenerate every 16 hours may be unnecessary for a more experienced Changeling.
In the DS9 season 2 episode “The Alternate,” more about Odo’s origins are revealed. In this episode, Doctor Mora Pol (James Sloyan), the Bajoran scientist who served as Odo’s teacher and father figure, returns to Odo’s life. Furthermore, Dr. Mora brings the news that Odo may not be the only Changeling.
Later in DS9, the fact that Odo is a Changeling becomes an important narrative point in the ongoing Dominion War. At one point, he is infected by the Changelings, in an attempt to force his return to the Great Link (the Changeling home collective). This is because he must face the music for harming another Changeling in the name of defending his solid friends. Upon his return to the Link in DS9 season 4’s finale “Broken Link,” Odo is judged to be “guilty” by his Changeling peers. His sentence is to be turned into a solid himself.
This means that, for the first time, Odo has organs. As noted by Doctor Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig), this includes a heart and lungs. Furthermore, he now must consume food and liquid. However, Odo is left with a face that appears as it did when he was a shapeshifter. This is punishment, to remind him what he lost. A later encounter with a very young Changeling in the DS9 season 5 episode “The Begotten” restores Odo’s shapeshifting ability.
As the series progresses, more about the Changelings is revealed. Much of this information is thanks to Odo’s connection to his fellow Changelings. One key fact to remember is how important the Changelings are to one another. Very little is prioritized above the safety of another Changeling. This often includes foregoing political and military victories.
Changelings are resilient. Depending on the situation, they may be able to survive conditions that would kill most solid lifeforms. This includes traversing the vacuum of space, certain explosions and being fired upon by a phaser. However, they are not immortal. At this point, we have seen multiple Changelings dispatched. They may be especially susceptible to Klingon weapons, including disruptors.
One tactic frequently used by Changelings is to replace high-ranking officials in an organization. This allows the ersatz official to subvert the organization’s goals. A high-profile example can be found in DS9 season 5’s premiere episode, “Apocalypse Rising.” In this episode, General Martok of the House Martok (J.G. Hertzler) is replaced with a Changeling. This almost leads to disaster, particularly since Odo’s Great Link connection deceived him into believing it is actually Gowron (Robert O’Reilly) who has been replaced by a Changeling.
In another memorable instance, Bashir was replaced by a Changeling. Meanwhile, the real Bashir is captured. It is unknown how long this Changeling replaced Bashir, but it was likely more than a month. The subterfuge is revealed in DS9 season 5’s “In Purgatory’s Shadow.”
Additionally, we do not know how long a Changeling lifespan may be. However, in DS9 season 5’s “Children of Time,” it is implied that Odo could live at least two more centuries beyond his standard age on the series.
The Dominion War
In the later seasons of DS9, the Changelings served as the catalyst for the Dominion War. They lead an invasion of the Alpha Quadrant from the Gamma Quadrant, using the Bajoran Wormhole connecting the two territories. This invasion is motivated by a long history of solids displaying prejudice against shapeshifters.
One important fact to learn from this story arc: the Changelings have many solid “allies.” These include the Jem’Hedar. The Jem’Hedar are a genetically-engineered reptilian species. They are “grown” under controlled conditions and all assigned male at “birth.” In order to ensure their allegiance, all Jem’Hedar are addicted to ketracel-white. This drug is dispensed solely by Vorta overseers.
The Vorta, meanwhile, is a species that reproduces via cloning. According to their lore, the Vorta were elevated to the status of “powerful beings” by the Changeling’s genetic engineering. The individual Vorta who we get to know best is Weyoun (Jeffrey Combs). Multiple clones of Weyoun are distinguished from one another through the addition of a numeral to the end of their name (i.e., “Weyoun 8”). We are informed there are a finite number of these clones, and the supply of Weyouns is ostensibly exhausted by the conclusion of DS9.
At one point, the face of the Dominion, known as “the Female Changeling” (Salome Jens), states Weyoun is the only solid she trusts.
The multi-year Dominion War was ended in part because of the Changeling’s loyalty to Odo. However, Odo’s loyalty to his people also factored into the conclusion. It is also worth noting that a desire to return to the Great Link was implanted within Odo genetically.
Also important was an immoral attempt to overcome the Changelings initiated by Section 31. This took the form of a genetically-engineered virus that was fatal to the Changelings. Section 31 infected an unwitting Odo with this virus. He subsequently unknowingly passed it along to the entirety of the Link.
Fortunately, Bashir was able to create a cure for the virus. In the conclusive DS9 season 7 episode “What You Leave Behind,” Odo returns to the Link permanently. This is so he can build a better Dominion, and so he can pass the virus cure along to his people.
It is worth noting that some “truthers” within Starfleet do not believe the Dominion War happened at all. In the Star Trek: Lower Decks season 1 finale, “No Small Parts,” noted mansplainer Lt. Steve Levy (Fred Tatasciore) claimed, “Changelings aren’t real! The Dominion War never happened!”
Changelings in Picard
Roughly two decades after the conclusion of DS9, in Picard season 3’s “Seventeen Seconds,” Worf (Michael Dorn) reveals he has been contacted by Odo from within the Link. This demonstrates Odo’s continued existence and alliance with the Federation, even after his permanent joining with the Link. It also reveals a terrorist faction of Changelings has broken away from the Great Link.
Worf and Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) became aware of the presence of Changelings in the same episode. This was thanks to the capture and execution of a Changeling posing as the human Titus Rikka (Thomas Dekker). This is a neat bit of meta casting: Dekker appeared as one of Picard’s fake relatives inside the Nexus in Star Trek: Generations.
However, it has also been revealed that at least one Changeling was already aboard the Titan-A when Admiral Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Captain William T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes) arrived on the ship in “The Next Generation.” Posing as Transporter Chief Eli Foster (Chad Lindberg), this imposter sabotaged the Titan so as to alert Captain Vadic (Amanda Plummer) of its location.
One additional Changeling cameo took place in Star Trek: Discovery season 4’s “All In.” This confirmed Changelings continue to exist into the 32nd Century. However, the status of the Dominion is not elaborated upon.
Questions also remain concerning the Changelings in the 25th Century. Could one of our favorite characters have been replaced by a Changeling? Worse still, could it have transpired before the first episode of Picard season 3, meaning we have an imposter amongst the beloved cast? We may be only forty percent through Picard season 3, but the time for paranoia is now. What are your conspiracy theories?
New episodes of Picard season 3 are available for streaming on Paramount+ on Thursdays.
This article was originally published on 3/13/23.