I am so, so saddened by the news about Rene Aubjerjonois’ passing, at the age of 79. It’s really hit me by surprise.
I know, of course, that Auberjonois had a rich and varied acting career, as well as a rich off-screen life. But, for me, he will always be Constable Odo – the cranky, misfit detective/sheriff of Deep Space Nine, all the way out in that frontier.
Not only am I a crazy Deep Space Nine super-fan, having obsessively followed that show during my teenage years (and beyond – I just finished a full rewatch earlier this year), but Auberjonois’ character, Odo, is and was one of my three or four absolute favorite characters in all of television – and that had absolutely everything to do with the way Rene Auberjonois portrayed that character over seven years and everything he infused into the role.
If any character from modern(ish) television could be called ‘iconic’, it’s Odo.
DS9 remains perhaps my favorite television show of all time: and Odo was perhaps the heart of DS9, whether this related to his search for his place in the universe or his adversarial ‘friendship’ with Quark, the saga of his love affair with Kira, his whole wild-west-sheriff routine in keeping law and order on his turf, or the central role he played in the resolution of the entire Deep Space Nine story.
A character – brought alive week-to-week by Auberjonois – who was so much a part of my landscape and my routine that I would sometimes even have thoughts pop into my head ‘in Odo voice’. I even sometimes used to try to carry myself like Odo – with the stiff posture and straight back (but it ended up being too uncomfortable in the long term).
Growing up – and even now, to an extent – I was a loner and a bit of an oddity. I struggled socially, never really fit in and often isolated myself on purpose. I related so much to Odo on that level; and still do now. And the way Rene portrayed that ongoing sense of awkwardness and unease, isolation and the struggle to find one’s place, was truly magic.
Odo is the essential outcast and loner, socially awkward, and learning – across several years – to navigate the complexity of human interactions, relationships and dynamics. It’s a wonderfully told story about identity, belonging and learning the value of connection.
Odo was also the premise for powerful stories tackling such subjects as racism and prejudice (‘Chimera’) and, among other things, the guilt over collaborating with brutal regimes (‘Necessary Evil’ and ‘Things Past’). And, every time he was called on to re-contextualise Odo in terms of some new theme or paradigm, Auberjonois did so beautifully. It is a credit to both him as an actor and to the DS9 writers that the character and actor could shift from deadly serious situations and themes (the Trek equivalent of Nazi collaboration, for example, or of being the victim of racist lynch mobs) to light-hearted love stories and comedy interludes (taking romance lessons from a holographic Sinatra, played by James Darren, and learning to play the piano).
In fact, one of the first times I remember ever tearing up at a television show was the late DS9 episode (‘Tacking into the Wind’) in which a terminally ill Odo is trying to hide his condition from the love of his life, Kira. Shortly after that, I remember tearing up again when, in the DS9 series finale, the two of them say their final goodbye, with Odo disappearing into the sea – to return to where he came from.
The point being that I associate Auberjonois’ character with so many emotions and with so many meaningful or formative things.
That’s a hell of an effect to have been sustained by an actor who just happened to land a gig on a sci-fi show from over twenty years ago.
One of the brightest moments of my on/off again relationship with social media was three or four years ago; when I exchanged a few back-and-forth messages with Rene on Twitter (about a piece of fan-art someone had done). I was so surprised that he even bothered responding to me: and that he took time to converse with fans online. I was just so chuffed that I’d exchanged messages with Rene – with the Constable!
Auberjonois also directed some of the very best episodes of DS9, including ‘Waltz’ and ‘Strange Bedfellows’. In doing so, he helped bring out some of the very best portrayals of other characters, just as he brought so much to the portrayal of his own character.
The singular personality that Rene Auberjonois brought to Star Trek and DS9 in the form of Odo stands as one of the greatest fictional characters in television. He’s right up there with the likes of Spock, Kirk and McCoy from the sixties.
They simply don’t make characters like this anymore. Or character actors like Rene.
There’s so much more I want to say about Rene Auberjonois. But I don’t have the luxury right now of crafting out everything I’d want to say about him in a meaningful way.
Rene; you were such a big part of my life and my landscape. You will be truly missed. And though you may have been many things to many different people in many different walks of life; to me, you’ll always be the Constable.