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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Sound of Her Voice (Review)

The Sound of Her Voice is a very sweet and thoughtful little episode.

In many ways, it is the perfect penultimate episode of the sixth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It is a reminder of just how much the series has changed over the past few seasons, but also a demonstration of the things that make the show different from Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager. It is an episode that is anchored in the sort of careful character development and rich atmosphere that sets the series apart from the other Star Trek series. It is difficult to imagine this episode working as well with any other cast.

Absent friends.

However, The Sound of Her Voice is more than just a clever character-driven ensemble piece. It is a very reflective piece of television. Like Ronald D. Moore’s previous script for the sixth season, Valiant, his work on The Sound of Her Voice feels very introspective. Over the course of the episode, the characters find themselves in contact with a voice from the past. In a very direct way, The Sound of Her Voice puts the characters from Deep Space Nine in conversation with the franchise’s history.

There is a lot of maturity and consideration in The Sound of Her Voice, which feels appropriate as the sixth season draws to a close.

The window of opportunity is closing.

On a very superficial level, The Sound of Her Voice is an episode that could only ever have existed on Deep Space Nine. It is an episode that features extended scenes of the primary characters in conversation with a disembodied voice belonging to a character that is only glimpsed as a desiccated corpse. It is hard to imagine any other primary cast anchoring an episode like that. What would would Liza Cusak find to talk about with Harry Kim or Chakotay? What depths could she explore with Travis Mayweather? Even Deanna Troi would struggle to find enough to say.

However, the characters of Deep Space Nine are rich enough to support this premise. Benjamin Sisko and Kasidy Yates have a relationship that is rich enough to support the sort of subtle nuanced tension suggested in The Sound of Her Voice, without tipping over into melodrama. Julian Bashir has been developed enough that the audience can recognise a man trying to distract himself from the world around him. Miles O’Brien has endured so much that a rich inner life lurks behind his stoic exterior.

Heal thyself.

Many of the other Star Trek shows seem to be populated by archetypes, formulaic characters who might (or might not) develop into well-rounded individuals by the end of a given run. Other Star Trek shows had a tendency to reduce the players on the edge of ensemble to mere plot functions. Working on Voyager, Garrett Wang recalled that Brannon Braga refused to promote Harry Kim because “somebody’s gotta be the ensign.” Having the ensign was more important than developing the character.

This is part of what distinguishes Deep Space Nine from the other Star Trek shows. Every Star Trek show has at least one or two fully formed and multi-dimensional characters in the ensemble; James Tiberius Kirk, Spock, Leonard “Bones” McCoy, Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, Jean-Luc Picard, Data, Worf, Kathryn Janeway, the EMH, Seven of Nine, Charles “Trip” Tucker, Malcolm Reed. However, what made Deep Space Nine unique was that virtually every member of the cast was developed and fleshed out.

Miles to go before he sleeps.

Ronald D. Moore recognised this as a distinctive feature of the show from the outset:

The characters were front and center right from the pilot. Emissary was about Benjamin Sisko. You won’t find such a deeply personal journey for the lead character in pilots of TOS, TNG, or VOY.  DS9 was meant to be about our people, not our ship or our situation. 

However, that character-focused storytelling was developed and explored over the ensuing seasons.

Don’t worry, Doc. We don’t blame you for Distant Voices.

Like any other Star Trek series, there were troubled characters in the early seasons. Bashir seemed too stock a protagonist, getting saddled with generic episodes like The Passenger or Melora. The writers took a little while to tailor Jadzia Dax to the performance style of Terry Farrell, leading to Dax-as-plot-device stories like Dax.  Other Star Trek shows tended to abandon the leads who could not consistently anchor good stories, like Chakotay or Kim on Voyager or Mayweather (and to a lesser extent Sato) on Enterprise.

However, Deep Space Nine kept working on these dysfunctional individuals, getting a measure of the actors and figuring out what worked for the characters. Bashir anchored three phenomenal episodes during the fourth season, with Hippocratic Oath, Our Man Bashir and The Quickening. Jadzia was a major focus in great episodes like Rejoined or Trials and Tribble-ations, with Terry Farrell’s comedic chops helping to anchor lighter stories like Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places and You Are Cordially Invited…

Repair work.

Indeed, the script for The Sound of Her Voice actively alludes to this difference between Deep Space Nine and the other Star Trek series, the tendency to treat its characters like individuals rather than as walking plot functions. While Cusak and O’Brien are talking, they discuss the utility of the ship’s counsellor. In some ways, this is a none-too-subtle dig at The Next Generation, which often struggled with the character of Deanna Troi. In other ways, it ironically sets up the arrival of Ezri Dax in Image in the Sand.

However, it also underscores what makes Deep Space Nine unique in the canon. “There’s this assumption nowadays that only someone with a diploma can listen to your problems or give you advice,” O’Brien laments during their exchange. He seems frustrated at the idea that “person who listens to another’s problems” is a compartmentalised role within the established Star Trek franchise, that it is part of what characters like Deanna Troi or Guinan do. Cusak agrees, “Sometimes all you need are good friends.”

Putting the matter to rest.

Ira Steven Behr has talked about how he wanted to develop real friendships on Deep Space Nine between characters that transcended their roles in the organisational hierarchy. In the relationship between Bashir and O’Brien, he aspired “to explore a friendship on Star Trek that doesn’t have to do with the fact that he’s Number One or he’s a Vulcan and they’re both on the bridge all the time and there’s a chain of command.” That is Deep Space Nine in a nutshell, and not just in the dynamic between Bashir and O’Brien.

As a result of this approach to characterisation and character development, Deep Space Nine can support an episode like The Sound of Her Voice. It is a very strange piece of television, the type of story that would not work within the more plot-driven framework of Voyager. The crew pick up a distress beacon and respond to it. While there are plot complications along the way, particular once they arrive at the planet, these complications are never the focus of the story. Instead, the story unfolds in extended conversations in which the characters talk with a disembodied voice.

Power coupling.

In doing so, The Sound of Her Voice showcases how skillfully and carefully the production team have defined these characters. There is relatively little melodrama in these conversations. Nobody in the cast reveals a dark secret from their past. Nothing is turned upside down. A lot of the beats in The Sound of Her Voice are simply articulations of logical and organic character development. Of course Sisko’s relationship with Yates is feeling the strain. Of course Bashir is retreating into himself. Of course O’Brien is insisting upon a protective distance from his friends.

Still, there is power in actually articulating these developments, in actually following through on a very rational character arc for each of these characters. None of these personal situations reach critical mass. None of the characters in The Sound of Her Voice have a psychological breakdown like Garak does in Afterimage, but the lack of melodrama does not undercut the episode. There is a lot to be said for Sisko and Yates being mature enough to have a conversation about their relationship, instead of having a big fight or break-up.

Odo Tux In.

This is obvious even looking at the episode’s subplot, a cute little tangent in which Odo finally allows Quark to “win” one. It is something that it would be impossible to imagine Odo permitting earlier in the run, particularly given his tendency to confuse justice with order. Odo has historically been a character who has struggled with the idea that “justice” and “fairness” can exist outside the boundaries of a rigidly-defined set of rules. His argument with Kira in Tears of the Prophets even reinforces this idea.

As such, there is something very touching in Odo’s decision to look the other way as Quark prepares to make “his biggest profit of the year”, acknowledging the unspoken affection that underpins their acerbic relationship – even if Quark has been far more willing to acknowledge that affection than Odo. Odo’s willingness to let this one exception go demonstrates how far he has come. “Why is it every time I think I have you figured out you do something to surprise me?” Kira asks Odo. It is because he, like the other characters on Deep Space Nine, can grow.

We’ll always have Paris.
In 1922.

Central to The Sound of Her Voice is the idea that this cast can change and evolve over time, that these are not the same people who first appeared in Emissary. The script repeatedly draws attention to the passage of time. “When the fighting first broke out, I thought to myself, all right, O’Brien, you’ve done this before,” O’Brien admits. “Keep your head down, focus on the job, you’ll get through this just like you did in the last war. But this war’s different. Maybe I’m different.” The implication is that both statements can be true.

In the teaser, Yates notes that Bashir is very withdrawn and very quiet. “There was a time when you couldn’t get him to shut up,” she reflects, making a similar observation to that offered by Garak in A Time to Stand. Sisko observes, “I think I like him better this way.” Yates objects, “That’s mean.” Sisko deflects, “I was just kidding.” Yates holds her position, “No, you weren’t.” These are characters who can change and grow. Unlike Harry Kim or Travis Mayweather, they are not the same from the beginning of the show to the end.

Tabling the discussion.

Of course, time takes its toll. The Sound of Her Voice is a script that is explicitly about time. As Moore explained, the original pitch from Pam Pietroforte was even more rooted in a sense of temporal disconnect:

Pam’s pitch was that Sisko would begin a series of conversations with a woman two hundred years in the past via some subspace doo-wop.  She’s in 1950s America on a ham-radio and has no idea that she’s talking to a man in the future.  Sisko begins inventing a whole persona for himself as he talks to her — he’s a baseball player from New Orleans, etc.  I always liked the premise, but we couldn’t find a way to make it anything other than a one-man stage play.  Eventually, we developed a version of the story that expanded the conversations to other members of the crew, turned the woman into an alien (for the first draft) and then a Starfleet Captain, but in every incarnation of the tale, Lisa was always a voice from the past.

Indeed, there is something very powerful in the idea of a twenty-fourth century character picking up transmission from twentieth century Earth echoing through the void.

“We also have copies of the sixties Batman!, with the original soundtracks. Picked them up last week.”

The basic premise of The Sound of Her Voice, particularly the original pitch, is a reminder of how space is something of a time machine. Light and sound travel through the void at finite speed, trapping the past in amber and sending it hurdling into the darkness. Because television and radio signals are omnidirectional, they reach beyond the Earth itself. Mankind has been transmitting radio signals since the dawn of the twentieth century, so those signals have already travelled more than a hundred light years. It is tempting to imagine an alien world watching Star Trek.

Of course, the plot of The Sound of Her Voice demands that the communications work both ways. After all, there is only so much drama that can be mined from the characters listening in on Lisa Cusak. There might be some tension mined from her predicament, some emotional connection in the idea that her story is finally being heard. However, The Sound of Her Voice needs the characters to be able to engage with Cusak. As a result there is some technobabble rationale offered to explain what is going on.

A voice in the dark.

The Defiant arrives at the resting place of the Olympia. The atmosphere is turbulent. There are no signs of life. Sisko leads an away team down to the planet, including Bashir and O’Brien. When they arrive, they discover the remains of Lisa Cusak. Bashir reports that she has been dead for “three years and two months.” However, the crew have spent the better part of the week conversing with her, engaging with her as a contemporary. So it is unsettling to discover that Cusak has been dead from some point in the middle of the third season.

On some level, it is a clever twist. It certainly works in the context of the original pitch, capturing the sense that space is big and that it takes time for signal to travel through space. However, the ending is undercut somewhat by the changes that were made to the story, most notably through the decision to turn Cusak’s distress call into a conversation rather than a monologue. As a result, the ending of The Sound of Her Voice feels more mean-spirited than clever, a cruel joke on the cast of the Defiant.

Bashir takes a time out.

Ronald D. Moore acknowledged this issue in The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion:

“It’s ironic,” Moore says, “but when we watch the finished episode it seems to us that the twist, that she was back in time, was just thrown in to make the ending different. But that was the core concept of the pitch.”

However, the final twist does feel like more than just a plot beat unthinkingly carried over from an outdated pitch.

No time like a present.

The characters in The Sound of Her Voice are not just in conversation with another Starfleet officer. They are very pointedly in conversation with their own past. As with Valiant, Ronald D. Moore’s script for The Sound of Her Voice feels very much like a meditation on Star Trek itself, albeit one with a softer and gentler ending. As Sisko and the crew talk with Lisa Cusak, they are talking with a character who exists out of step with the modern Star Trek universe. Without realising it, they are talking to an embodiment of the franchise’s past.

Lisa Cusak is a relic from a simpler time. When the crew discover her body, she is dressed in the familiar uniform of The Next Generation, as distinct from that seen on Deep Space Nine or Voyager. Indeed, The Sound of Her Voice marks the second-to-last appearance of those older Star Trek uniforms. Those uniforms make their last appearance in the background of Tears of the Prophets, barring some establishing shots recycled in Pathfinder. Cusak truly is a relic of a bygone era.

It’s all about the Benjamin.

Cusak exists outside the framework of the sixth season of Deep Space Nine. She knows nothing of the Dominion War. She is not a soldier. She has not had to make the sorts of horrible compromises that define episodes like In the Pale Moonlight. She is an explorer. Tellingly, in the midst of the Dominion War at the start of Star Trek: Insurrection, Jean-Luc Picard laments that Starfleet are no longer explorers. However, Cusak has had the luxury of charting “a long range exploration of the Beta Quadrant.” New worlds, new civilisations.

The chronology of all this is quite interesting. The temporal distortion created a three-year-and-two-month time lag between Cusak and the Defiant. This would suggest that Cusak died at some point during the third season of Deep Space Nine, possibly around the time that Voyager launched. The third season of Deep Space Nine was the first produced after the end of The Next Generation, the year in which Ronald D. Moore joined the writing staff, and the year which really set up the Dominion as a major threat to the Alpha Quadrant. It was the year that a lot changed.

“You know, Picard wasn’t that bad.”

There is a lot of symbolic weight in killing off Lisa Cusak during that season, much like there was a lot of dramatic weight in destroying a Galaxy-class starship in The Jem’Hadar. The third season marked the point at which Deep Space Nine moved beyond the shadow of The Next Generation. The script to The Sound of Her Voice only reinforces this connection between Cusak and The Next Generation. The Olympia was returning from an eight-year mission when it crashed, meaning it would have launched around the same time as the Enterprise in Encounter at Farpoint.

Even the episode’s production design reinforces this connection. The climax of the episode finds Sisko mounting a rescue mission to the surface of the planet to recover Cusak. The surface of the planet looks like one of the stock planet surfaces from The Next Generation, a lifeless and storm-ravaged world. There are undoubtedly examples of this sort of planet surface on Deep Space Nine, in episodes like Battle Lines or Waltz. However, the way in which The Sound of Her Voice establishes the planet surface is much more in keeping with The Next Generation.

A world out of time.

The away team arrive on the planet via an impressive establishing shot, an animation that looks more like a matte backdrop than the CGI renderings that were becoming more common on Voyager at this point in the franchise’s life-cycle. The production design recalls planets like Galorndon Core from The Enemy or Alpha Onias III from Future Imperfect or the moon of Mab-Bu VI that was visited in Power Play. It contributes to the feel that Sisko is effectively mounting a rescue mission into the show’s past.

Even the story device of a lost Federation ship harks back to a classic Star Trek storytelling template. It seems like Kirk and Picard were forever investigating the mysterious disappearances of long-lost Federation ships, completing research and investigatory missions that went horribly wrong. These lost ships were a key plot point in both The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before, the two original pilots. Given their premises, Deep Space Nine and Voyager very rarely get to do these sorts of stories.

Wet work.

It is also interesting to note that The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Series Guide and Script Library confirms that the working title of The Sound of Her Voice was “A Voice in the Darkness.” This also feels like a nod to a similar episode of The Next Generation. In Pen Pals, Data inadvertently forges a long-distance relationship with an alien child who is transmitting from an endangered world. Informed of Data’s connection with the child, Picard reflected, “There is a loneliness inherent in that whisper from the darkness.” There is a definite echo there.

As such, Cusak provides a very clear connection between Deep Space Nine and the franchise’s history. There is a very interesting subtext to The Sound of Her Voice. The relationship between Deep Space Nine and The Next Generation has often seemed strained and stressed; the pettiness of blowing up the Odyssey in The Jem’Hadar, the cynicism of pulling the Thomas-Riker-switcheroo in Defiant, the cheekiness of having Miles O’Brien (of all characters) toast Sisko as the “best captain in Starfleet” in The Adversary.

Drumming up some compassion.

Deep Space Nine often seemed like a cheeky younger sibling, one tweaking the nose of its more respected elder. Deep Space Nine spent years trying to push further than The Next Generation, trying to break outside of the expectations and limitations imposed on a Star Trek series. Deep Space Nine occasionally seemed to be in a state of punkish rebellion against the more cautious franchise figures, with Ronald D. Moore boasting of how the writers tricked Rick Berman and Ira Steven Behr describing The Next Generation as “the Connecticut of Star Trek.”

However, the show mellowed somewhat in its sixth year. With the opening of the Dominion War and the sprawling six-episode opening arc, Deep Space Nine had shattered all of the expectations for a Star Trek series. Indeed, the biggest tension of the sixth season was the question of how Deep Space Nine could possibly push further. There is a strange sense of maturity to the conversations with Cusak in The Sound of Her Voice, as if Ronald D. Moore is trying to use the opportunity for a rapprochement between Deep Space Nine and The Next Generation.

Once Morn Unto the Breach.

The Sound of Her Voice is about the characters on Deep Space Nine embracing the better part of their natures, and refusing to be swallowed by the darkness and the depression around them. If Cusak is allowed to be an explorer, then Sisko is allowed to be a hero. At the end of the teaser, Sisko order O’Brien to find a way to open communications with Cusak. “And when you do, tell her, tell her her heroes are on the way.” The beauty of this penultimate episode is that it allows the crew to be heroes once again, free of the burden of moral ambiguity or compromise.

For a little while, the crew can even forget that they are soldiers. At one point, O’Brien suggests that they might be able to reach Cusak in time if they divert power from the phasers to the structural integrity field. “That would be unwise,” Worf objects. “If we empty the defence reserve, we could find ourselves at an extreme disadvantage should we encounter a Dominion ship.” Bashir insists that this mission has taken them far from the front lines. He reinterates, “She’ll die if we do not get to her faster.” In the end, Sisko chooses heroism over pragmatism.

“Damn, I had a whole ‘big damn heroes’ speech prepared.”

At the end of the episode, the characters reflect on what they learned from Lisa Cusak. Most of the characters suggest that she taught them to reconnect with who they are, not to forget themselves in this time of great strife. There is something nostalgic in this. “She was all by herself and I was surrounded by my friends, yet I felt more alone than she did,” O’Brien muses. “We’ve grown apart, the lot of us. We didn’t mean for it to happen but it did. The war changed us, pulled us apart.” Cusak embodies a simpler time, but one no less appealing for that simplicity.

In that sense, the time travel element of the plot feels like a very valid thematic point. Indeed, The Sound of Her Voice feels like a fitting companion piece to Valiant, Ronald D. Moore’s other late sixth season teleplay. Valiant was a script in which Moore blew apart many of the tropes and expectations of a classic Star Trek story. In contrast, The Sound of Her Voice is a nostalgic paean to the simplicity and harmony that defined so much of The Next Generation. The two scripts fit together like yin and yang.

Core values.

The Sound of Her Voice seems genuinely respectful of the straightforward uncomplicated optimism that drove The Next Generation, even as it takes the opportunity to mourn its passing. After all, the Star Trek franchise was inarguably in decline at this point. The revived franchise had hit the peak of its popularity at some point between the final years of The Next Generation and the release of Star Trek: First Contact to mark the thirtieth anniversary. As the nineties drew to a close, the Star Trek franchise was losing its grip on the popular imagination.

Deep Space Nine would be the last Star Trek show to broadcast in first-run syndication, with Voyager firmly anchored to the little seen UPN. Once Deep Space Nine came to an end, there would only be one Star Trek series on the air. Star Trek would find itself pushed to the fringe of popular culture, a slow and steady decline culminating in the humiliation of Star Trek: Nemesis at the box office and the cancellation of Star Trek: Enterprise after only four seasons. The Berman era had slipped out of the spotlight.

“Do you think that comes in my size?”

The Sound of Her Voice is very clearly mourning that, along with several other factors. This is the penultimate episode of the penultimate season, so the writing staff understand that their days are numbered. These characters will only be around for another twenty-seven episodes. Ira Steven Behr was not yet entirely sure how he would end the series, but he already knew that he wanted to break up the cast in What You Leave Behind. As a result, The Sound of Her Voice makes a conscious effort to bring them all together, before the final season begins.

More immediately, the episode awkwardly foreshadows the passing of Jadzia Dax. Much like the old-school Next Generation uniforms make small appearances in both The Sound of Her Voice and Tears of the Prophets, the torpedo coffin appears in both episodes as well. The set-up is far from subtle. “Someday we’re going to wake up and we’re going to find that someone is missing from this circle,” O’Brien reflects, as the camera lingers on Dax, “and on that day we’re going to mourn, and we shouldn’t have to mourn alone.”

“Someday we’re going to wake up and we’re going to find that someone is missing from this circle. Even Dax. Especially Dax.”

It is a very inelegant piece of framing and editing, one that practically screams at the audience. It also neatly prefigures a lot of the problems with the handling of Jadzia’s death in Tears of the Prophets, with the writers wanting to have it both ways; to present Dax’s death as an abrupt tragedy, and as a fond farewell. Still, there is something very affecting in that closing scene. At the very least, it nicely sets up O’Brien and Bashir helping Worf in Image in the Sand and Shadows and Symbols.

The closing scene is notable because it marks the only appearance of Dax in the episode. Dax is entirely absent from the rest of the plot, both the scenes set on the Defiant and the scenes set on Deep Space Nine. It was a gesture of goodwill from the production team, as Ronald D. Moore acknowledged, “Terry asked to be let out of most of this episode in order to audition for other projects, one of which turned out to be Becker.” There is a small irony in the writers’ willingness to accommodate Farrell, given that Farrell cited her schedule as one of her reasons for quitting.

Well-suited for a night out.

To be fair, there is a certain clumsiness to The Sound of Her Voice. The episode has a number of structural weaknesses. Most obviously, it seems strange that nobody on the Defiant bothers to actually research Lisa Cusak and the Olympia. A cursory analysis of official records would have revealed the discrepancy in the timeline. Despite the fact that Cusak claimed to embarked upon her journey eight years earlier, official records would put the launch date eleven years prior and reveal the three missing years. This is a small detail, but a distracting one.

More seriously, The Sound of Her Voice is handicapped by the need to adhere to the standard television storytelling structure, a series of acts each of which builds a crescendo before cutting to commercial. The idea is that ever act should end on a compelling storytelling hook, a detail that draws the audience into the story and which ensures that they won’t change the channel during the commercial break. This structure is reflected in the three-act structure typically employed in storytelling, but heightened by the more rigid structural demands of television broadcasting.

Bashir could use a (commercial) break.

As a result, The Sound of Her Voice has to elevate tension at several points during the story. This is quite difficult, given the structure of the story. The episode opens with the Defiant picking up a distress call. The episode closes with the crew arriving too late. However, the bulk of the episode is given over to extended conversations with a character who only appears as a corpse.This structure does not lend itself to mini-act-out-cliffhangers. The Sound of Her Voice strains awkwardly to include them.

This is most obvious during the conversation between Cusak and Bashir. Bashir is not listening to Cusak, so she fakes an animal attack in order to keep his attention. It is a very cute joke, in theory. However, because The Sound of Her Voice needs an effective act-breaking-cliffhanger, the episode commits to the bit. The music builds and the scene cuts to black as Bashir looks terrified. It is a ridiculous moment of heightened melodrama in an otherwise restrained episode, and one that distracts from the interesting material around it.

A time to act break.

The revelation that the Defiant might not reach Cusak in time is another transparent attempt to generate tension on an act break. As the act closes, Bashir deduces that the Defiant does not have as much time as they thought, a twist that feels particularly mean-spirited given the end of the episode. Indeed, the script itself only half-hearted in accounts for this escalation. “I thought she had at least a day’s worth of injections,” Sisko responds. Bashir explains, “So did I, but it apparently the last vial was tainted somehow, probably in the crash.” Sure, go with that.

The sixth season of Deep Space Nine repeatedly finds the series brushing up against the limitations of contemporary television, from having to shoehorn the bulk of the primary cast into episodes like Honour Among Thieves to being unable to kill off a regular character in the middle of a season in Change of Heart to having to work within broadcast television standards and practices in portraying the brutality of sex slavery in Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night. The structure of The Sound of Her Voice is another example.

Quark is just looking for his break.

Writer Carlton Cuse has described this dramatic act-out structure as “the nemesis of network television.” Critic Emily Nussbaum has argued that the structure is a result of how the form of American television was shaped by commercial realities:

Advertisements shaped everything about early television programs, including their length and structure, with clear acts to provide logical inlets for ads to appear. Initially, there were rules governing how many ads could run: the industry standard was six minutes per hour. (Today, on network, it’s about fourteen minutes.) But this didn’t include the vast amounts of product integration that were folded into the scripts. (Product placement, which involves props, was a given.) Viewers take for granted that this is native to the medium, but it’s unique to the U.S.; in the United Kingdom, such deals were prohibited until 2011. Even then, they were barred from the BBC, banned for alcohol and junk food, and required to be visibly declared—a “P” must appear onscreen.

Watching The Sound of Her Voice, these structural restrictions are on full display. The episode is quite pointedly written around the obligatory act breaks designed to lead into the commercial breaks, disrupting the flow of the story.

A lonely place of dying.

The Sound of Her Voice is a thoughtful and contemplative episode, one that does not need sharp jolts of tension to ensure that the audience is paying attention. Indeed, Moore seems to be cheeky mocking these structural constraints. Cusak fakes an attack to grab Bashir’s attention, perhaps a commentary on the short attention spans that television producers expect their audiences to have. When the situation escalates going into the climax, the characters just shrug their shoulders and go along with it rather than offering a meaningful explanation.

Modern prestige dramas include a lot more freedom in how they choose to structure their episodes. A lot of this is down to the fact that many of the networks associated with prestige television (like HBO, BBC, Netflix, or Showtime) do not air commercials. Given that many of these networks operate on a subscriber-based model, they do not need commercials to turn a profit. As a result, there is no need for the cheesy hooks at the end of each act. The producers are allowed a lot more freedom in plotting an episode; sometimes they can even extend the run-time.

“Computer, how many episodes of Mad Men do I have on my planner?”

Watching the sixth season of Deep Space Nine, there is a clear sense that the series exists on the cusp of the prestige television revolution, and that it yearns for the freedom and opportunities presented by that cultural shift. The Sopranos would herald this new era, debuting about midway during the final season of Deep Space Nine, between Prodigal Daughter and The Emperor’s New Cloak. The times were changing, and the sixth season of Deep Space Nine seemed aware that it was positioned at the cusp of a television revolution, unable to break through.

Indeed, Ronald D. Moore would eventually become one of the key figures in the prestige television revolution of the twenty-first century, with many colleagues arguing Battlestar Galactica originated in Moore’s work on the sixth season of Deep Space Nine. David Weddle and Bradley Thompson would point to a deleted scene from One Little Ship as the genesis of Battlestar Galactica, demonstrating that Moore was straining against the constraints of late nineties syndicated television. Michael Taylor cites Moore’s rewrite of In the Pale Moonlight.

Dust to dust.

Still, this minor structural niggle aside, The Sound of Her Voice is a very thoughtful and introspective episode of Deep Space Nine, one reflecting on how the shows (and its characters) have evolved over the past few seasons. Arriving as the penultimate episode of the sixth season, it seems like the perfect opportunity to take stock. The end is nigh. That might be more true for some characters than for others, but it is also true of the show as a whole. As such, it seems like the right time for Deep Space Nine to have a conversation with Star Trek‘s past.

4 Responses

  1. Would you recommend this episode to somebody who hasn’t seen much DS9?

    I’ve been basically curating an episode or 2 a month of DS9 for some friends, who have seen Way of the Warrior (the “2nd start” of the show in my view), Pale Moonlight, Inquisition, and The Visitor. I’d like to introduce them to some more episodes that aren’t necessarily part of the overall Dominion War storyline. I’ve been thinking to add ‘Silent Leges’, ‘Far Beyond the Stars’, and ‘Our Man Bashir’ to the list. This was one of my favorite episodes as a kid (the time difference concept blew me away), but I’m not sure how well it holds up now. What others would you suggest?

    By the way, the recent Japanese anime movie ‘Your Name’ (Kimi no Na Ha) shares some very interesting parallels with this episode (though the movie is perhaps closer to ‘The Inner Light’). I highly recommend it.

    • I don’t know about The Sound of Her Voice as a jumping on point, given it’s characters basically having extended therapy session covering their lives over the past season.

      I think you other recommendations are spot on. In particular, Silent Leges and Our Man Bashir are chronically underrated episodes of Deep Space Nine. They’d both be in my top twenty, if not my top ten.

  2. Why oh why didn’t they technobabble away the glaring hole here – that before subjecting the crew of the Defiant to danger by driving too fast and by taking three senior officers on a hazardous shuttle journey, just one character could have done some incredibly basic research about the captain or the ship? I can’t imagine what the technobabble would be, but I found the lack of it incredibly distracting.

    • Ah, I feel like the premise is strong enough that it excuses the plot hole. But I’m somebody with a fairly high suspension of disbelief.

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