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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Time’s Orphan (Review)

In some ways, Time’s Orphan provides a companion piece to Profit and Lace.

A recurring theme of the sixth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has been the suggestion that the series has reached the limits of what is possible within the context of a nineties Star Trek series, that it has really done just about everything that it is possible for a mid-nineties genre television show to do within the confines of Gene Roddenberry’s universe. After the fourth and fifth seasons crashed through boundaries, the sixth discovers new limits on the horizon.

This will not end well.

In some ways, Profit and Lace marks the end of the line for Deep Space Nine‘s Ferengi-centric episodes. It suggests that the production team have done just about everything that they can do within that framework, and that the ideas remaining are somewhat underwhelming. Time’s Orphan does something similar with the annual (or even biannual) “O’Brien must suffer!” stories. The production team have inflicted almost every horror imaginable on Chief Miles Edward O’Brien, and Time’s Orphan represents just about the last idea left.

Time’s Orphan is nowhere near as bad as Profit and Lace, although it taps into the same core problem. The writers on Deep Space Nine have taken a given story thread about as far as they can take it, which means that there is very little left to do within an established framework. Time’s Orphan manages a few moments of genuine emotion, but it also feels strained and tired. Time has caught up with the production team.

Scarred to death.

In the context of the sixth season, Profit and Lace represents the end of the line for the Ferengi-centric episodes, while Time’s Orphan exhausted the possibilities of the “O’Brien must suffer” template. There is a clear sense the writers have reached the end of this particular subgenre of episode, that they have done just about everything that can be done with that stock episode framework. Deep Space Nine had produced almost one hundred and fifty episodes of television, there are only so many variations that can be offered on a particular theme.

This sense of exhaustion is reflected in some of the creative choices made during the seventh season. Tellingly, the seventh season does not feature a single “Ferengi” or “O’Brien must suffer” episode, in the classical sense. Those elements do carry over, but they are never placed in the spotlight in the same way that they had been during earlier seasons. Instead of existing as episodes on their own terms, these recurring elements are instead incorporated into episodes that play with other dangling threads.

To be fair, it was clear from the opening shot that this episode would not end well. It was focusing on O’Brien.

The Emperor’s New Cloak combines a stock Ferengi episode with a stock mirror universe story, while The Dogs of War resolves the larger Ferengi plot as part of a larger tidy-up during the show’s penultimate episode. In some ways, Prodigal Daughter could be seen as the seventh season’s “O’Brien must suffer” episode, but it is more keenly focused on the family history of Ezri Tegan. O’Brien definitely suffers in Extreme Measures, but that episode puts a much greater emphasis on his relationship with Bashir and on tying up the Section 31 plot with Luther Sloan.

Of course, there were pragmatic reasons for combining these elements in such a way during the final season. The writers on the seventh season of Deep Space Nine were racing towards the finish line, and storytelling real estate was more valuable than it had ever been. This was particularly true given the creative decision to structure the final ten hours of the show as a single story arc. As a result, mashing these elements together was an effective way to capitalise on the limited space and time available to the staff.

When life gives you Golana melon…

However, there were also valid creative reasons to make those same decisions. These recurring elements had run their course. There were only so many things that could be done with the Ferengi, only so many ways that O’Brien could be made to suffer. Indeed, the very premise of Time’s Orphan suggests this fatigue setting in. How many ways can Miles O’Brien suffer? There are seemingly only a finite number of options, only so many ways in which the universe vent its hatred toward the working-class engineer.

Miles O’Brien has been through a lot, from being poisoned with a biological weapon in Armageddon Game to being replaced by a robot in Whispers to dying repeatedly in Visionary to having ten years of prison time (and a murder) inserted into his memory in Hard Time to having his wife possessed by a sinister alien in The Assignment to battling a serial killer in Empok Nor to having his loyalty tested in Honour Among Thieves. There are only so many different indignities that Miles O’Brien can endure before it starts to seem repetitive.

No time like the past.

There is a curious sense of obligation about Time’s Orphan, as if it is an episode that exists in large part because it satisfies a number of criteria rather than because it is particularly compelling in its own right. As Ira Steven Behr confessed to The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion:

It had been a long time since we’d done a science fiction episode, we’d wanted to do another O’Brien show, and we needed to do something that would be pretty much a bottle show.

To be fair, there are a lot of sixth season episodes that have a similar basis. One Little Ship was an idea that René Echevarria had been pitching for years, but which was finally greenlit. His Way was designed to finally Odo and Kira together because Behr wanted to break them apart in What You Leave Behind.

Bashir gets drawn in.

In fact, there are certain elements of Time’s Orphan that feel like conscious retreads. In particular, the climax of the episode harks back to Captive Pursuit from the first season. Once again, O’Brien finds himself caught at a moral crossroads when Sisko is forced to surrender an individual to the authorities. Once again, O’Brien finds himself unable to go along with this process and so decides to liberate the individual in question. Once again, O’Brien is passively enabled by a member of the station’s senior staff.

Even the characters seem to passively acknowledge that the climax of Time’s Orphan is covering old ground for Miles Edward O’Brien. “I’m disappointed in you, Chief,” Odo reflects. “If anyone could break a prisoner out of a holding cell and get them off the station, I’d have thought it would have been you.” After all, O’Brien had managed to smuggle Tosk off the station at the climax of Captive Pursuit. Odo’s disappointment is entirely justifiable. The audience certainly empathise.

“What? It was pretty good for a first season episode.”

(At the same time, this feels slightly out of character for Odo. Odo has always struggled to differentiate between justice and order. He made that miscalculation during the Cardassian Occupation, as explored in Things Past. It was suggested that he may have made the same error during the Dominion Occupation, based on early scenes in Behind the Lines. As such, Odo’s decision to break the rules to help O’Brien seems to come out of left-field, particularly given there’s an entire subplot devoted to his bending the rules to help Quark in The Sound of Her Voice.)

Still, the similarities to Captive Pursuit are telling. If Time’s Orphan is to be the last pure example of an “O’Brien must suffer” narrative, it makes sense to return to the series’ first truly O’Brien-centric narrative. Captive Pursuit was not an “O’Brien must suffer” story in the traditional sense, because the subgenre would not be properly defined until the second season. Still, it feels like an appropriate choice. In many ways, Time’s Orphan is the last episode to focus on Miles O’Brien without forcing him to share the spotlight. It makes sense to hark back to the first such story.

Feels like going home.

So Time’s Orphan goes for what low-hanging fruit remains. Miles O’Brien has suffered a lot, but what about his family? Keiko was possessed in The Assignment, but O’Brien’s family have largely been bystanders to his crises. Keiko and Molly were both clearly affected by the events of Whispers and Hard Time, but there was never a sense that O’Brien was being made to suffer through his familial relationship. Given that O’Brien has had a fairly solid family unit since Data’s Day, it seems inevitable that Deep Space Nine would eventually leverage that against him.

Time’s Orphan essentially makes O’Brien suffer by taking away his daughter. In hindsight, it is amazing that the series had the restraint to wait six seasons before telling this story, if only because there is such a strong emotional core to it. Every parent has worried about their children, every adult has nightmares about failing those to whom they owe a duty of care. The fear at play in Time’s Orphan is a very primal anxiety, the worry that a parent cannot protect their child from a chaotic and random universe.

Fruits of his labour.

To be fair, Time’s Orphan ladles on this fear with minimal subtlety. O’Brien has clearly never seen a horror movie, or contemplated the existence of dramatic irony within the universe that he inhabits. “We’re never going to be apart again,” Miles assures Molly in the teaser. “Promise?” she responds. Miles ignores the obvious perils of making such a promise in the teaser to any work of fiction, and assures her, “I promise.” Keiko reflects on the enormity of Miles’ commitment. “That was a pretty big promise you made, Miles, just a second ago.”

Naturally, because the universe actively loathes Miles Edward O’Brien, Molly immediately wanders into a cave and falls into a time portal that forces her to spend a decade separated from any human contact. It is ridiculous, and that absurdity takes its toll on the episode, but there are moments when Time’s Orphan comes close enough to working. Those moments are anchored in relatable emotions, particular Miles’ and Keiko’s fears that they have lost their daughter. No matter how off-the-wall the premise might be, it is hard not feel some empathy for these characters.

“In hindsight, I probably should have waited until after the opening credits to make that promise.”

Indeed, there is an emotional core to Time’s Orphan that is missing from some of the franchise’s weaker attempts to tell emotive stories that hinge on science-fiction high concepts. The audience feels a much closer connection to Miles and Keiko in Time’s Orphan than they do to Chakotay in Unforgettable or Dax in Meridian. As absurd as the premise might be, Time’s Orphan understands that the plot mechanics of the story are unimportant. It is more important to let the characters breath and to trust in the emotional reality of this absurd concept.

There is something very charming in the way that Time’s Orphan presents the O’Brien family. The teaser very neatly straddles the line between “cute” and “saccharine”, but suggests an interest in these relationships and dynamics that tends to be missing from other Star Trek episodes built around these sorts of emotional beats. “I know what I’m going to be when I grow up,” Molly explains. “I’m going to be an exobologist.” She hopes to study “animals from other planets.” Keiko clarifies for Miles, “Like Chester.” Like the family cat. It is a very nice little beat.

Deep Space Nine’s Golana Vacation.

There are a lot of touches in the teaser that make the O’Brien family feel like real people rather than plot devices; Keiko gently reflecting on Miles’ slight weight gain, Keiko suggesting her own dislike of the cat that Miles inherited in Honour Among Thieves, Miles wondering whether the family picnic includes sausages. None of these beats are especially innovative, but they do suggest characters who have inner lives. This is especially true when compared to attempts to establish character on Star Trek: Voyager, in teasers to episodes like Warlord or Vis á Vis.

However, Time’s Orphan eventually brushes up against the absurdity of its central premise. As both the title and the plot suggest, Time’s Orphan is in some way a spiritual successor to the sort of token “late-season high-concept science-fiction” episode that Deep Space Nine would occasionally do. In particular, Time’s Orphan feels like a riff on the superlative Children of Time from the fifth season. It even hinges on the same resolution, an individual erasing themselves from existence as a gesture of love towards another character.

Playing ball.

There are other echoes of Children of Time in the finished episodes. Time’s Orphan is in part so striking because it is the first time that the production team on Deep Space Nine have done a proper location shoot since Rocks and Shoals very early in the season. Due to the premise of the show, Deep Space Nine tends to shoot a lot on standing sets. This is especially true once the Dominion War begins. While episodes like Waltz and Change of Heart unfold in seemingly “natural” surroundings, the production team use the standing “Planet Hell” sets.

This creative decision makes a certain amount of sense in terms of the production and the tone of the later seasons of Deep Space Nine. The budget in the later seasons of Deep Space Nine was undoubtedly channeled into the large-scale spectacle of the Dominion War and to supporting an impressive supporting cast. Using standing sets (rather than location shoots) helped to keep the budget under control. Similarly, using sets to present natural environments like caves and jungles helped to create a sense of claustrophobia.

Fields of green.

At the same time, these conscious production decisions make the exceptions all the more notable. Hana Hatae remembers the shoot for Time’s Orphan because of the thrill of filming on location:

The second is Time’s Orphan because it was so much fun to film. The outdoor scene was filmed at Malibu Creek, which is one of my favorite places to hike and explore. My family and I used to go there all the time when I was growing up. There was a rattlesnake in the bushes right next to where we were filming, so we had to take a break until the park rangers came and removed the snake. The next scene, where I’m falling into the time portal, was awesome to film because I was strapped to a harness and got to swing in front of a green screen. It was pretty much like my own personal little roller coaster.

With its idyllic green fields, Time’s Orphan even looks and feels a lot like Children of Time, ignoring the similarities in plot and storytelling.

The grass is always greener in the other holosuite.

There is nothing wrong with this. More than that, there is nothing wrong with wedding this story idea to the established “O’Brien must suffer” template. Indeed, most of the “O’Brien must suffer” episodes are built around the juxtaposition of fantastic science-fiction plot elements (androids! time travel! memory implants!) with the stoic working-class relatability of Miles Edward O’Brien. What would it feel like to be a working stiff with a family in a world where every cave could potentially house an ancient (but still functional) time portal?

The problem is not with the idea of using a science-fiction plot in this way. The problem is with using this plot in this way. Put simply, the story in Time’s Orphan feels like very generic Star Trek. It is the kind of story that would have worked relatively well on any other Rick Berman show, from Star Trek: The Next Generation to Star Trek: Voyager. While that is arguably true of stories like Whispers or Visionary or Children of Time, there is something much more specific and convoluted about the plotting to Time’s Orphan.

“I could really use some technobabble right now. Maybe Voyager has some to spare?”

Part of this is a difference of degrees. Deep Space Nine‘s strongest science-fiction high concept episodes hinge on a very high concept. They rely on something very broad and archetypal, something familiar to Star Trek fans. Whispers is about android replacements of living people. Visionary is about accidental time travel. Hard Time is about implanted memories. These are fairly straightforward plot elements, to the point that they can be established quite cleanly and quickly, allowing Deep Space Nine to focus on the resulting character drama.

The issue with Time’s Orphan is that it requires a specificity. By its nature, it has to explore and explain its science-fiction premise. The time travel device is more than just something introduced in the teaser to explain the emotional arc of the episode, it is something that is explored and explained. O’Brien spends most of the first act trying to make it work, and returns to it at the climax to send Molly home. It is not just something that happens. It is something with which the crew repeatedly interact.

Maybe O’Brien can plead temporal insanity.

If this sounds like a plot element from an episode of The Next Generation or Voyager, that is because it is a product of a veteran Next Generation and Voyager writer. As Ronald D. Moore explained, the episode originated as an Alexander story that Joe Menosky pitched for The Next Generation:

Joe originally pitched this story for TNG. He wanted to do a show where Alexander fell through the time portal and was whisked off to a harsh and brutal planet for ten years. He eventually finds his way back to the portal and returns to the present. From Worf’s point of view, his son has been gone for only the blink of an eye, but his little boy is now a scarred and  troubled teenager. In that version, Alexander would’ve stayed a teenager for the rest of the series. The entire writing staff absolutely loved the story but Michael Piller absolutely hated it and refused to put it into development no matter how many times we tried to sell him on it. Years later, during a story discussion about the O’Briens, Rene brought up the old Alexander story as a possible tale for little Molly and Ira decided to go for it.

To be fair, recycling such an old Next Generation pitch reflects how desperate the production team were for an “O’Brien must suffer” episode. There no new stories to be told with O’Brien, only old stories that could be taken off the trash heap and recycled.

Picture perfect.

(Indeed, the attention paid to the time portal as a plot device only raises more questions that distract from the family drama. A working time portal should be a pretty big deal, allowing for given the frequency of time travel within the Star Trek universe. In the context of the Dominion War, a working time portal seems like a massive security risk. So it feels strange that Mile and Keiko are able to just wander back to the portal at the climax of the episode. Of course, the reason that this happens is because the plot needs it to happen, not because it makes any sense.)

The sense that Time’s Orphan is really a recycled Next Generation or Voyager premise is even reflected in the ending. At the end of Time’s Orphan, everything is miraculously reset back to the default settings. Miles and Keiko are reunited with their version of Molly, a young girl who still remembers the basics of human interactions. It is though the events of the episode never actually happened. There is no sense that any lingering scars have been left by this horrifically traumatic encounter.

They were just planning a little family escape.

In some ways, this a departure for the “O’Brien must suffer” episodes. At the end of Visionary, it is suggested that O’Brien is still acclimatising to the reality that he is living in a different universe. At the end of Hard Time, it is made clear that O’Brien has simply embarked upon a long road to emotional and psychological recovery. At the end of Honour Among Thieves, O’Brien allows Bilby to go to his dead. As a result, the O’Brien family inherits a very cute and fluffy cat.

To be fair, a lot of that trauma is left heavily implied. After Visionary, nobody ever even alludes to the fact that O’Brien came from another universe. After Hard Time, there is no discussion of O’Brien’s counselling or his psychiatric recovery. In Honour Among Thieves, Bilby was only a one-time guest star, and Chester’s only subsequent appearance is his small role in Time’s Orphan. Still, there is a sense that these characters carry that history with them. Even when Odo resets the time line in Children of Time, it still profoundly changes his relationship to Kira.

Playing along.

There was reportedly some debate on the writing staff about the ending to Time’s Orphan. Ronald D. Moore conceded that some members of the production team fought against the convenient reset button ending that would erase feral Molly from existence:

This was the subject of a long and rancorous argument both within the writing staff and with Rick and Mike. I won’t bore you with the details of who supported what and why, but I can assure you we did consider it and debated it at length.

However, the end of Time’s Orphan makes the episode feel weightless and meaningless. The version of Molly that suffered through ten years in isolation no longer exists, while Miles and Keiko have been reunited with their Molly. The only lasting effect of any of this will be the few days that Miles and Keiko were understandably stressed.

No time like the past.

This is a shame, because there is a lot of really interesting material here. In particular, there is something striking in the idea of Molly O’Brien as a feral child, as a child cut off from human contact for ten years forced to re-assimilate into society. In some ways, it is a nice parallel to her father’s journey in Hard Time, as he found himself struggling to reintegrate into a life from which he had been brutally removed and sudden reinserted. However, there is also something to be said for the image of Molly as a child living in the wild.

The feral child is a creature of myth and folklore. There are any number of examples from popular culture, dating back millennia. The twins Romulus and Remus were allegedly raised by a wolf before founding the great state of Rome. Rudyard Kipling arguably codified the archetype for modern audiences with his stories and novels about the character of Mowgli, often bunched together as The Jungle Book. These tales have been absorbed into the popular consciousness through osmosis, often filtered through the lens of the classic (and loose) Disney adaptation.

Molly is a real wild child.

There have been several stories about “real life” feral children dating back centuries. Even in the twenty-first century, stories frequently circulate about children who have been cut off from human contact and raised in the wild. In Romania, Traian Caldarar lived in the forest with wild dogs before he was found and returned to society. Sometimes these children are not abandoned in a literal sense; consider the story of Vanya Yudin, the Russian boy treated like a pet by his mother and raised in an aviary.

Of course, anthropologists and journalists tend to throw doubt on many of these tales. In January 2017, reports circulated of a young girl who had been raised by monkeys in northern India. A little research cast doubt on these claims, with many suggest that the young disabled girl had simply been abandoned by her family and left to die in the forest. Still, the legends endure. People clearly want to believe in these stories of feral children surviving cut off from the rest of mankind.

Tree of a kind.

There are various schools of thought on why people want to believe in these stories. Anthropologist Mary-Ann Ochota suggests that these stories developed as a way to explain cruelty and inhumanity directed towards the most vulnerable of children:

In order to grow up normal, we need other people to care for us, to communicate with us, to keep us safe. Across cultures and through history the way these needs are met has varied, but the fundamental needs remain. A child surviving without interaction, language or love is a child that will be damaged by an unnatural life. Humans are not designed to live like that. It’s of course possible some of these children ended up in the strange ‘wild’ situation because they were showing some level of abnormality or developmental delay in the first place. It’s a difficult idea, but raising dysfunctional or disabled children is, to some extent, a modern luxury. In communities where life is hard and resources are scarce the accepted practice may well have been to abandon babies or children with abnormalities, allowing them to die. Older children may have been confined or restrained, but if they escaped no-one would go looking for them.

She might have a point. There is some evidence to suggest that certain monster myths are an attempt to account for the horrors that people can inflict upon children, a way of processing the horror and depravity of the world through metaphor. After all, children are especially vulnerable. It is hard to explain violence towards them.

Slice of life.

In medieval Germany, Peter Strumpf was tried and executed as a werewolf; most historians accept that he was simply a serial killer. At the start of the twentieth century, the French serial killer Joseph Vacher claimed that his blood had been transformed through the bite of a rabid dog, his claim coinciding with the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It is tempting to think about the stories of feral children in that way, as an attempt to explain those children born with developmental disabilities who were abandoned by their families into the wild.

At the same time, there is also something inherently hopeful in the idea of feral children as portrayed in these stories. The Jungle Book presupposes a moral natural universe, where even animals have compassion for lost children. There is something faintly reassuring in the idea that children cut off from society might somehow find a surrogate parent in a monkey or a wolf, a creature acting on impulse. It suggests a reassuring moral order to the universe, a belief that innocence is protected.

Stars her destination.

As Samantha Hurn contends, these myths allow the audience to believe that empathy might exert some influence in an otherwise chaotic universe:

Another arresting example, documented by wildlife filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert, was the leopardess who they named Legadema, and her cub. After Legadema’s first baboon kill a small baby baboon was left attached to the dead body of its mother. Rather than killing it or ignoring it to eat her meal, Legadema picked up the infant when it reached out to her and carried it up a tree where she groomed it, carrying it higher each time it cried. The pair eventually curled up together and slept, but the baby died in the night and it was only then that Legadema returned to the mother baboon’s body to eat.

Such examples might be dismissed as the exceptions that prove the rule and we don’t know what would have happened in the long term. However, there is a clear and well documented case of inter-species adoption, by primatologists, in which a baby marmoset was taken in and cared for into adulthood by a group of wild (but provisioned) capuchins.

The ability (or even inclination) to (attempt to) raise the young of another species suggests the possibility of inter-species communication and empathy. Legadema might just have been responding to an innate maternal instinct. But the fact that she engaged with the baboon as a “baby” as opposed to a potential food source was the result of some form of mutual understanding between them; the baby reached out to her, and she responded to its request for comfort.

Time’s Orphan never suggests that Molly had any animal companions, but there is still some faint optimism to her story. A child raised in a world of replicators and transporters, she was still somehow able to survive alone in nature.

Combing through her memories.

As Miles and Keiko try to deal with Molly, the subplot in Time’s Orphan focuses on Dax and Worf. In particular, it focuses on Dax and Worf taking care of Kirayoshi as the O’Briens deal with their (now much) older child. It is a very odd subplot, particularly when contrasted with the high-concept science-fiction tragedy that drives the primary plot. The subplot in Time’s Orphan effectively amounts to “Worf versus a baby.” There is something very broad and very comic about it, from Worf’s refusal to give up through to his pride in teaching the baby “gung, gung, gung.”

As with the primary plot of the episode, there is something very familiar in this. Deep Space Nine already explored the “Worf-and-Kirayoshi” dynamic in Business as Usual, when it turned out that Worf was the only person on the station who could get Kirayoshi to fall asleep. Time’s Orphan seems to forget that little gag entirely, if only because the episode suggests that Dax and Worf have spent relatively little time with the O’Brien’s youngest child. Given the near magical sleep-inducing powers Worf demonstrated at the end of Business as Usual, that is hard to believe.

Worf is very gung-ho.

Of course, there is a sizable difference between the “Worf gets Kirayoshi asleep” gag at the end of Business as Usual and the “Worf bonds with Kirayoshi” subplot of Time’s Orphan. Most obviously, the joke in Business as Usual was clearly intended as a wry punchline. It was not the culmination of a plot centring on Worf, it was an ironic juxtaposition of Worf’s hypermasculinity with his ability to sooth a crying child, coming at the end of a subplot focusing on Miles Edward O’Brien. The subplot in Time’s Orphan is very much centred on Dax and Worf.

This sets up a major plot beat in Tears of the Prophets. The finale will try to render the inevitable departure of Jadzia Dax as especially tragic because she has just decided to have a baby with Worf. Time’s Orphan effectively foreshadows that plot point by seeding the idea that Worf and Dax have considered having children together. The subplot in Time’s Orphan is effectively about Worf auditioning for the role of father. “I have proven myself to be a worthy husband to you,” he explains, “but you are not convinced I would be a good parent to your children.”

Baby talk.

As Deep Space Nine approaches the end of its run, it is interesting to see the writing staff acknowledge that, trying to build towards endings and conclusions more than expanding stories outwards. The sixth season of Deep Space Nine was still introducing new characters and plot elements, like the promise of a war between the Prophets and the Pah-Wraiths in The Reckoning or the threat of Luther Sloan and Section 31 in Inquisition. However, there was also a sense that the writers understood that they would have to bring the show to a close in the foreseeable future.

After all, Sisko’s negotiation with the Prophets in Sacrifice of Angels sets up a twist that will pay off in What You Leave Behind. The writers only decided to pair up Kira and Odo in His Way because they planned to break them up in What You Leave Behind. By this stage of the sixth season, the writers understood that Terry Farrell would be leaving at the end of the season, even allowing her time off during the production of The Sound of Her Voice to audition for Becker. So the subplot in Time’s Orphan is consciously geared towards that.

Past the point of no-return.

Ira Steven Behr acknowledged the intentional irony of the subplot in The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion:

“It seemed like it’d be nice to show Worf and Dax talking about a future, a future that was never going to be, to demonstrate that this relationship was solid,” he says.

So Weddle and Thompson built on their “gung, gung, gung” scene and came up with “a whole runner about Dax and Worf dealing with kids, and whether Worf was going to be a worthy father as well as a worthy husband,” says Behr.

“That allowed Ira and Hans to build their storyline about Jadzia deciding that it’s time for them to have a baby, which made her loss even more poignant,” smiles Thompson.

Structurally, that is quite an impressive storytelling choice, setting up a small character beat several episodes early.

“Here comes the pseudo-science.”

Of course, there is also an incredibly cynicism to that choice. The departure of Jadzia Dax in Tears of the Prophets was handled in a very clumsy and awkward manner, but the insistence on having Jadzia decide to become a mother right before being killed off feels particularly manipulative and transparent. The decision to set up that plot beat two episodes in advance, with the specific intention of making her death more emotive, does little to enrich the decision. The production team might have very carefully set up that plot beat, but it remains a very poorly-judged plot beat.

There is also something a depressingly stereotypical in the way that Time’s Orphan approaches the issue of children on Deep Space Nine. The female characters on Deep Space Nine were the most developed and fleshed out in the franchise, but the writing staff occasionally struggled with writing them within relationships. This is most obvious in how bluntly His Way ignores Kira’s agency in Odo’s courtship. There is something very old-fashioned in how the couples in Time’s Orphan react to Kirayoshi.

On board with a baby.

While Miles and Keiko are trying to recover Molly, Kira takes care of Kirayoshi. She bounces the child on her hips and coos, a very heartwarming image. “I think I might want to have one of my own someday,” she reflects. Odo immediately and awkwardly changes the topic. While this might make sense as a character beat, given the obvious biological barriers to Kira and Odo reproducing, the thread is never developed. It comes across as the stock portrayal of a woman in a relationship wanting a baby, and the man in that relationship wanting to talk about anything else.

Similarly, a lot of the humour in the subplot comes from the ironic juxtaposition of Worf as a “hypermasculine manly man” who finds himself left to care with a baby. It is a very old-fashioned school of comedy, in which a man who prides himself on his bravery and his determination finds himself somewhat confounded by an adorable small child. To be fair, this juxtaposition was also key to the final joke in Business as Usual, another subplot predicated on the idea that the male characters on Deep Space Nine are terribly ill-equipped to be parents. (Sisko aside.)

“Gender roles, you say?”

To be fair, Worf’s difficulties caring for a child are at least consistent characterisation. “You are judging me on my fitness to be a parent,” Worf insists. “Don’t deny it, Jadzia. I can see it in your eyes.” She certainly has just cause. Time’s Orphan skirts around the fact that Worf already has a child that he barely ever sees, but the subplot acknowledges that Worf really doesn’t have the best track record as a father. When Kirayoshi takes “a little fall”, Worf laments, “I failed Alexander, I failed Kirayoshi, and I would have failed our children as well.”

Worf is being a little tough on himself with regard to Kirayoshi, given that children inevitably fall over while playing. However, he is not being unfair in his assessment of his relationship with Alexander. Sons and Daughters might not have been the strongest episode of Deep Space Nine, but it made for a fairly damning indictment of Worf’s parenting skills. As such, it makes a reasonable amount of sense that Dax should be a little skeptical of Worf’s capacity as a father. While the subplot deals with it in a rather trite manner, it is an organic character beat.

Putting the genre to rest.

Time’s Orphan is a mess of an episode, a disjointed and uneven late-season entry that blends interesting ideas and solid emotional hooks with a hokey high-concept and a jarringly cynical-yet-comedic episodic subplot. It is not as spectacular a misfire as Profit and Lace, but it is still unsatisfying. Perhaps O’Brien has suffered enough.

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  1. The reset button with young Molly being returned does seem all the more odd when only four years later ‘Angel’ pulled off a similar plotline ruthlessly straight with the protagonist’s son. I know ‘Angel’ was a darker show but it was hardly ‘Oz’ or ‘The Sopranos’.

    I’m so glad you pointed out Worf’s abyssmal parenting skills. Jadzia has even met Alexander hasn’t she?

  2. Though serialized television has its drawbacks, the run of episodes after “In the Pale Moonlight” really shows the limitations of DS9’s approach. The Romulans joining the war should be a big deal and have at least one episode devoted to it in the aftermath. Instead it is shunted to the background, and we get Frank Sinatra lounge singers, Quark as a woman, and feral children. Now I’m not saying all of those episodes are terrible, but momentum is completely stopped. I suppose this is not as a big deal when you watch it once every week, but when you watch the episodes in order, say at least one every night, then it sticks out like a sore thumb. This is why I was so relieved that the Seventh Season decided to tell the final ten episodes as one big story.

    • I have less of an issue with the sixth season’s lack of focus on the Dominion War than most people do, although I think the seventh season does a much better job striking that particular balance. Personally, I’d argue that the quality of these episodes is the real problem. Of the episodes following In the Pale Moonlight, only Valiant and The Sound of Her Voice are any good.

    • With “Inquisition” and “In the Pale Moonlight”, it seemed like the war was snapping back into focus and the season was gearing up for one last push to the finish line. Instead, something went very wrong, and the season completely fizzled. I don’t know what was happening in the writers’ room, but they seemed completely desperate and out of ideas. This phenomenon does show up in other DS9 seasons, such as 4, where the second half definitely isn’t as strong as the first. It was never as bad as it was here. Especially compared to the ending stretch of Season 5, which was possibly the best season-ending run of any Star Trek season. After “Ferengi Love Songs”, there was “Soldiers of the Empire”, a very good episode, “Children of Time”, “In the Cards, and “Call to Arms”, three classics, “Blaze of Glory”, a solid, if flawed episode, and “Empok Nor”, which was visually interesting but a bit dull. In comparison, “His Way” and “The Reckoning” are mixed at best. “Valiant” and “The Sound of Her Voice” are really good. “Profit and Lace” can make a credible argument for the worst episode of any Star Trek series ever (coming just 4 episodes after “In the Pale Moonlight”, which can make a credible claim to being the best). “Time’s Orphan” is somewhat tolerable, but not in any way good. “Tears of the Prophets” veers in quality almost on a scene-by-scene basis. If the season had done a big serialized push to the finish, it would have been the undisputed best season in all of Trek in my opinion.

      • Yep, there’s a sense watching the sixth season that the opening arc took so much out of the writing staff that they spend the rest of the seaosn playing catch up. I rank the sixth season a lot lower than most for that reason alone, to be honest.

  3. “In some ways, Time’s Orphan provides a companion piece to Profit and Lace.”

    By my calculations, that’s the second worst thing you could say about an episode of DS9. The worst thing you could say is that the episode in question IS Profit and Lace, which as you well know, is the worst thing ever to flicker across a cathode ray tube.

    • Ha! I really dislike Profit and Lace, but is it that bad? Is it comparably that much worse than, say, Alliances or Tattoo or The Emperor’s New Cloak or Extinction or any other terrible episode in the franchise’s long history of terrible episodes?

      • It might have been a bit of a hyperbole. Nevertheless, not that much of a hyperbole. It’s up there. Recently, you mentioned the IMDB list of the 10 worst Trek episodes on social media-I was quite surprised to find this one not in it. I’d rather watch Sub Rosa on repeat dozens of times than watch this again once. It’s not much worse than Tattoo, but it does fail on every single level. It’s ill-conceived, horribly executed drivel. It’s a lovely amalgamation of all of the Trek franchise’s worst qualities wrapped up in one shiny package.

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