Because the new Changeling, Laas, has no trace of the morphogenic virus afflicting the Founders, Sisko agrees to trust Odo and release him to Odo's custody. Odo and Laas tour the Promenade and get to know each other. Laas is over 200 years old and has become disinterested in fitting into "monoform" society. Odo teaches him about the Dominion and allows him to experience the Great Link, which confirms to Laas that Changelings should prefer their own company.
Odo tries to introduce Laas to his friends on the station, but the Changeling spends the whole time being rude about the flaws of monoforms. Afterward, Odo criticizes him, but Laas would prefer to continue the discussion in the link. Odo refuses to do it in public, and Laas argues that his shame over shapeshifting shows that he is not accepted in monoform society. He argues that he and Odo should leave the station and search for other members of the One Hundred so that they can create their own Great Link. The idea appeals to Odo, but he cannot imagine abandoning Kira. When Kira finds out about Laas' proposal, she begins to worry that Odo isn't happy.
Odo discovers Laas shapeshifting into fog on the Promenade, which upsets people, and convinces him to change back. Two Klingons accost Laas and pick a fight with him over his shapeshifting. After demonstrating that their knives are useless on him, Laas converts his hand into a sword and fatally stabs one of the Klingons. He's arrested, and Odo tries to argue that the killing was in self-defense, but Sisko announces that the Klingons are uncharacteristically using every legal maneuver at their disposal to get Laas extradited to them for prosecution. Further, Odo isn't allowed to oversee Laas's incarceration since he's a witness, though Odo suspects it's actually because he's a Changeling.
Odo bumps into Quark, who explains that humanoids instinctively distrust people who aren't humanoids themselves. He also points out that the Alpha Quadrant is at war with the Founders, so humanoids are especially inclined to distrust Changelings. Odo gets much the same in the brig from Laas, who continues to argue that Odo has no place in monoform society. When Odo returns to Kira, he's conflicted. Although she assures him that she loves him, shapeshifting and all, she decides that Odo needs to leave to be with his people. She frees Laas and arranges him to meet Odo on Koralis III.
As Sisko initiates a search, Kira confesses to Odo that she freed Laas and urges him to join the Changeling. They share a tearful farewell, and Odo arrives on Koralis III to meet Laas. There, he tells Laas that he's decided to remain on Deep Space Nine. Laas can't understand, but Odo states that it's because Laas has never experienced love. He offers to link with Laas one last time, but Laas refuses and leaves. Odo returns to the station to reunite with Kira, who apologizes if she's ever made him feel like he can't be himself around her. In response, Odo transforms into an aura of golden light that surrounds Kira, who smiles and dances.
This episode contains examples of:
- Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: A platonic version. Quark's rant about humanoid genes seems to stem from his genuine worry for Odo's well-being. Of course, he has to express it in the most grating way possible.
- Broken Aesop: The hostile reactions to Laas's "being fog" on the Promenade seem to stem from bigotry against shapeshifters (including internalized bigotry on Odo's part). O'Brien gives a legitimate, non-bigoted reason to object to that particular behavior: the sudden appearance of fog on the Promenade gives people the impression that there's something wrong with the environmental controls, which is a very serious problem on a space station. There's nothing wrong with being fog, and there's nothing wrong with changing form in public, but taking that particular form in the most public area of the station, without giving advance notice to anyone, is genuinely disruptive — the equivalent of shouting "fire" in a crowded theater.
- Comes Great Responsibility: Laas doesn't seem to realize that having the capability to assume forms such as fire and fog doesn't mean that he should assume them on a whim. He doesn't seem to get Odo's subtle hints that assuming certain forms can incite panic or at the very least, paranoia. Odo doesn't limit himself to one form to "fit in", he limits himself to one form to help the solids, only changing form when his work demands it.
- Cultural Rebel: Laas rebels not only against humanoids, but also unwittingly against his own people. His chaotic personality is at flat odds with their seemingly innate obsession with order.
- The Cynic: Laas has no faith whatsoever in humanoids, believing that neither he nor Odo have any place with them. He also believes that Odo and Kira's relationship is doomed to fail and fails to understand why Odo would choose to stay with her instead of leaving with him.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?:
- Switch "Changeling" with "Gay" and the metaphor writes itself. Especially Quark's "Changeling pride demonstration" line.
- As in many prior episodes, Changelings linking is fairly blatantly a metaphor for sex. Odo guiltily admits he linked with Laas to his girlfriend, Kira, and when he tries to defend it by saying it's just something that comes as naturally to Changelings as talking does to humans, Kira responds nervously "it's a lot more personal than talking, isn't it?", to which Odo uncomfortably responds by changing the subject. Odo later refuses to link with Laas in public, saying "here?" incredulously when Laas proposes it on the Promenade, causing the latter to become annoyed. Later still, Laas tells Odo that his relationship with Kira will never work out, despite his romantic love for her, because they can't link, paralleling the real-world situation of an affectionate couple with a nonexistent sex life.
- Entertainingly Wrong: Both O'Brien and later, a pair of Klingons, initially assume that Laas is a Founder, a reasonable assumption, since just about every Changeling encountered in the series other than Odo has been one.
- Establishing Character Moment: Laas responds to O'Brien's caution at his appearance by addressing Odo and requesting he tell "the monoform" to lower "its" weapon.
- Everyone Has Standards: Laas won't be winning any personality contests anytime soon, but he doesn't see any appeal in the Founders' fascist, conquering ways, albeit mainly because he prefers to avoid "monoforms" altogether.
- Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Laas isn't evil, but he doesn't have much empathy for humanoids, nor does he particularly care to. He thinks Kira released him from the brig so Odo and he can escape out into the wider universe together and is repeatedly baffled as to why Odo has any loyalty for his friends.
- Fantastic Racism: A theme of the episode. Changelings versus humanoids.
- Hypocrite: While he does make some good points about humanoids in general, Laas is ultimately just as bigoted against them as he claims they are against Changelings.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Kira is willing to set Laas free and let Odo be with him.
- "It" Is Dehumanizing: In spite of being over 200 years old, Laas still refers to monoforms as "it" due to his racism.
- Jerkass Has a Point:
- Laas' point about humanoids disrupting nature for their own needs isn't invalid; as if on cue, Quark shows up with a steak immediately after Laas' story about a herd of animals returning to their mating grounds to find it fenced off.
- The Klingons very much did provoke and attack Laas, and his reaction very much was self-defense. That Sisko had to resort to arguing that the dead Klingon was reaching for a knife instead of a disruptor speaks wonders.
- Quark points out the reason why humanoids fear the unknown. It is how they evolved, the unknown was often dangerous and recoiling from it kept them alive. When looking at Changelings shapeshifting, they see the unknown, something to fear, especially since they are at war with Changelings.
- Kick the Dog: Rather than explain that he's not affiliated with the Dominion when a Klingon accuses him of having Klingon blood on his hands, Laas callously mocks them, saying that his hands would still "stink" of it if that were the case.
- Never My Fault: Both sides of a particular issue are guilty of this:
- The Klingons act as though Laas was the sole guilty party in an officer's death, with the surviving Klingon claiming that Laas had been surrounding them "menacingly" (he'd been a cloud of fog) and try to claim that the dead man had been reaching for a knife instead of a disruptor.
- While Laas was acting in self-defense when he killed one of his attackers, he made no effort at all to de-escalate the situation, actively insulted the already hostile Klingons, and showed neither regret nor remorse for the man he killed. Despite this, he acts as though he's completely blameless in the whole thing and puts his imprisonment down entirely as anti-Changeling sentiment.
- Not Helping Your Case: Laas isn't evil, but his egotism doesn't do anything to make the humanoids want him around. This reaches its peak when a pair of Klingons say he has Klingon blood on his hands, and his only response is that his hands would stink if such a thing had happened.
- Playing the Victim Card: Laas treats just about every encounter he has with a non-Changeling as a painful chore, generally throwing in some bragging or insults, then acts as though any awkwardness or hostility resulting is due to racism on their parts. He's not totally wrong about people being uncomfortable with Changelings, but he certainly doesn't do himself any favors.
- Shipless Faster-Than-Light Travel: When the crew encounters Laas, he has transformed into a space creature capable of overtaking their runabout at Warp speed.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Laas isn't evil like the Founders, but he's just as egotistical, doing whatever he wants while bragging about how superior he is to humanoids.
- Shout-Out: Laas kills a Klingon by forming a sword in his hand and then extending it from where he's standing, a move that would make the T-1000 proud.