While Past Prologue had one main theme, loyalty, There are two primary themes in A Man Alone: relationships, and racism. The writers manage to weave together these threads while fleshing out more of the more reclusive member of the DS9 crew, Constable Odo.
Bashir and Dax
The episode opens with Doctor Bashir shamelessly flirting with Jadzia Dax, a scene which essentially repeats itself through the episode. Her response is friendly, but evasive. She explains that relationships for Trills are a little difficult, and that joined Trills attempt to "rise up" above their desires. Instead of being discouraged, Bashir, ever the optimist, decides that this means that he still has hope.
Sisko and Dax, redux
Fast on the heels of Bashir attempting to woo Dax, is a scene where Sisko and Dax share a meal, and re-establish the close friendship he had with Curzon Dax, the previous host for the Trill Dax. It's a good scene, and shows more depth to their relationship, and explores why Trills don't always reconnect with the friends of past hosts.
Odo and Quark
Odo and Quark make great foils for each other. The law man and the con man. It's all about testing boundaries. While they seem to be each other's worst enemies, there's a certain level of respect shared between the two of them. It's a constant game of cat and mouse, with Odo keeping Quark to a low level of dishonesty.
O'Brien and Keiko
As O'Brien was an established character from Star Trek: The Next Generation, he has a fairly developed back story, including his wife Keiko, a botanist, and their daughter Molly. This episode begins to explore the family tensions in place in changing careers.
This invites comparison to the other family unit on DS9, Commander Sisko and his son, Jake. With Sisko being an only parent, his decision to live on a distant space station requires less compromise than that of the O'Briens. In order for O'Brien to take his promotion, the direct downside is that Keiko's career is put on hold.
O'Brien and his wife have several arguments in public, about Keiko's role on the station, or rather, lack thereof. There's precious little need for a botanist in the iron clad corridors of Deep Space Nine, nor does it seem a proper place to raise a young child.
With a bit of handwaving, the show's writers suggest that instead of being a botanist, Keiko should become a teacher for the children of Deep Space Nine, providing structured learning in a classroom environment.
While her arguments towards an integrated classroom environment, with children from various cultures learn together is a good one, she seems completely unprepared to develop a worthwhile curriculum, which takes culturally sensitive issues in mind. This is really the weakest part of the episode, and really just comes across as a way to give Keiko something to do on the show.
This role change appears to address two holes in the plot: it gives Keiko a meaningful role on the station, and allows for an educational setting in which Jake Sisko and Nog can interact, but it really feels contrived, and not in a good way.
As socially progressive as Star Trek often attempts to be, this provides an example of how O'Brien's career has essentially relegated his wife to a traditional gender role of mother and educator. The future feels so very enlightened.
Odo and the Rule of Law
When Odo realizes that Ibudan, a former Bajoran smuggler and profiteer was on the station, he does his best to kick him off the station. His report to Sisko on the matter brings up a great piece of dialogue.
"If he hasn't done anything wrong, you can't force him to leave."
"Mr. Odo, you're not going to take the law into your own hands."
"The law? Commander, the laws change depending on whose making them. Cardassians one day, the Federation the next. But justice is justice."
What we learn about Odo here is that he has remained the chief of security on the station since sometime during the Cardassian occupation. This is one of the charges the Bajorans on the station bring against Sisko later in the episode, suggesting that somehow, Odo was a Cardassian collaborator. Here, Odo explains that his views on justice haven't been influenced by any legal requirements. His is impartial, a "disinterested" observer of the human condition. He is the man alone.
Racism on DS9
Now that we've gotten all the fun relationship issues out of the way, let's move on to the second, less savoury theme. This is far from the first time that Star Trek has dealt with issues of race, and it's far from the last time this theme will be explored in DS9, though not always for the best. As J. Emmet Winn notes in his article "Racial Issues and Star Trek's Deep Space Nine" (Kinema: A Journal for Film and Audiovisual Media, Spring 2003), the actual depiction of race, especially the Ferengi, isn't always a progressive view. Certainly, we can see evidence of xenophobia in this episode, even in Commander Sisko, who wants his son Jake to have nothing to do with "that Ferengi boy", as he sees Nog as a troublemaker.
The founding of the school, and Keiko's attempts at creating a multiracial classroom allows us to foreground issues of desegregation, as different cultures come closer together.
The most explicit racism in this episode however, is seen in the Bajoran persecution of Odo, who is framed for the murder of Ibudan. The parallels to racism in contemporary society is fairly clear: ethnic slurs are scrawled across the walls of his trashed workplace. In Odo's case, the word "SHIFTER" appears. He is hounded by an angry mob, unwilling to wait for the justice system to deliberate over the evidence. Thrown objects break storefront windows. The mob leader even asks how you put a noose around the neck of a shapeshifter.
Racial integration in the United States has been… problematic, and it's clear that the problem is ongoing. Where one person sees a kid with a hoodie and a pack of skittles, another sees a threat to their neighbourhood. How the situation is handled is what matters. A measured response allows all the evidence to come out, while a hasty decision is irreversible.
In A Man Alone, the situation is defused, although as the Captain's Log states at the end, to the best of his knowledge, Odo has not received any apologies for the actions of others during the protest. Sadly, that's often how issues of racism are dealt with in our world too.
A Man Alone first aired January 17, 1993. Teleplay by Michael Piller. Story by Gerald Sanford and Michael Piller. Directed by Paul Lynch.