WARNING: The below article contains spoilers for DS9's "Children of Time".
In brief: A reset-button episode in a few ways, but extremely powerful. Well worth a look.
Brief summary: The Defiant finds a planet populated by the crew's own descendants, and must choose whether to destroy the colony's timeline or deliberately maroon themselves in the past.
I'm rather surprised at how much I liked "Children of Time". It's not that it was a bad show; despite a few minor concerns here and there, it set up and resolved its situations very nicely indeed. No, what surprises me is that a large portion of the show was dealing with the infamous Odo/Kira relationship, the one I've decried for so long -- and I really, really liked the way it went. I think this is a sign of impending apocalypse, but I'm not sure. (Maybe ... gasp ... it's just that it was written well for a change!)
More on that later, however -- for now, I'd rather deal with the premise. "Children of Time"'s setup -- "the crew meets their own descendants!" is a seriously double-edged sword: while it's got potential for serious emotional weight, it can also seem intensely stupid if not made plausible somehow. Rather than setting up the situation in what I'd call the "conventional" way, however (namely having the Defiant travel forward in time by a few centuries), the writers decided to bring the descendants back. While an idea of "we're the descendants of you after you get tossed into the past a few days after this present" may sound a little confusing to some, it throws enough quirks into the situation to sound intriguing, and remained fairly plausible the whole time.
I rather liked the fact, come to think of it, that the story of the colony was confirmed very quickly. No major soul-searching about "are they telling the truth?" this time; rather, a quick location of the Dax symbiont and of genetic links back to O'Brien coupled with a confidential-to-Curzon story made the characters fairly convinced fairly quickly, and all the other little touches scattered throughout (such as the older Odo, the Bajoran architecture for Kira's grave, and particularly Quark's image as a math teacher) lent it a familiar-yet-not-entirely-familiar feel which was much appreciated.
After that came the inevitable complications -- in this case, the dilemma of whether to go back or not to go back. I'll deal with the outcome later; early on, it's more important that the issue be introduced naturally, and it was. A lot of information had to get to us in the first third of the show or so, and it's impressive that virtually none of it felt like exposition. After all, you really wouldn't expect Sisko et al. to know any of the colony's history, and you'd also expect them to be interested -- as such, having Miranda, Yedrin, and the children tell them about it felt right, particularly since they interjected with questions of their own. The "at first everyone had to sleep here, all forty-eight of them."/"Forty-eight?" exchange was particularly solid, in that it set up a way to break the bad news without making Yedrin and company have to bring it up out of the blue.
Yedrin's initial stated plan, to create a "quantum duplicate" of the Defiant, was also an interesting idea. At first, I was concerned, because it just seemed to be, as Kira put it, an attempt to use technology to cheat fate: while I tend to agree with O'Brien that I "wouldn't mind cheating fate all the way back to the station," I also think that "well, we found a [technobabble] way to make both options work, so everything's hunky-dory" is unlikely to make for good drama. However, as a fraud perpetrated by Yedrin it's particularly good, for several reasons. First, it seems plausible: we've seen people and ships duplicated before, most particularly in TNG's "Second Chances" and Voyager's "Deadlock", so the idea's already one that should be considered within the Trek universe. Second, had Yedrin actually managed to make the deception stick, the Defiant crew would never have known about it; they'd probably have just assumed "oh, well, I guess we're the ones who wound up in the past instead of making it home," and reconciled themselves accordingly.
As long as I'm in the early part of the show, however, there are two things that concerned me on a plot level. The first is the aforementioned technobabble; while it was limited to dealing with a plan that didn't work, I'm oversensitized to it enough that I was already feeling it was too much. The second is a more basic question that applies all too often to shows like this: why was everyone on board the Defiant? Who was running the station? I can see a few people coming along -- Sisko, Worf, Odo, and maybe one or two others -- but not everyone else. (I suppose I should count my blessings that they didn't bring Quark as well.) It's a basic plausibility question, and one that should have been dealt with somehow.
On a character level, I've one quick objection; he's named Bashir. Granted, Julian's usually been the most cheerful member of the group, but he came off as shallow, self-centered and womanizing for the vast majority of the episode -- and after shows like last season's "The Quickening" and this season's "Doctor Bashir, I Presume", it really feels like backsliding. Yuk.
Just about everything else on a character level, however, was golden. Having O'Brien be the last holdout against accepting fate is extremely in keeping with the down-to-earth family man O'Brien's been for years; O'Brien seems so straitlaced that even the very thought of having to one day give up on seeing Keiko and his children again would make him very uncomfortable, as was the case here. Incidental moments, like Dax's talk with Yedrin about her future with Worf, the fact that a love of baseball seems to have survived through the colony thanks to Sisko's initial teachings, Worf's encounter with "the sons of Mogh" (not to mention the legend that Worf could kill people by looking at them), and other such things did a lot to both establish the validity of the colony and make the regulars' reactions realistic and justified.
(Along the same lines, when Dax called Sisko away to tell him about Yedrin's faking the data, I was yelling at him to at least throw the baseball back to the kids before leaving. I was very glad to see that he listened. :-) )
The character interaction that got the most time devoted to it, however, was the one between Kira and Odo -- and given the story's usual track record, I was not anticipating greatness there. I was wrong. Kira's observation that Odo had changed a lot in two hundred years was an understatement: this Odo felt far more human and far more passionate than "our" Odo has ever felt to me. Now, granted, that was the point -- but the fact that we've seen how Odo can turn out has suddenly made me feel that the current Odo's interest in Kira is perhaps more realistic than I'd given it credit for in the past. (It doesn't change my belief that heavy Odo/Kira shows have often been melodramatic bores, but you can't have everything. :-) ) A pair of Rene's -- Echevarria on script and Auberjonois in the makeup -- made Odo's passion finally seem real to me, which was crucial if the rest of the show was to work out at all.
"Children of Time" also broke a long-standing logjam in the Odo/Kira relationship. If the issue was ever going to get beyond the "oh, I'm in love, but she can't ever know about it" stage (which was generally not working out well), Kira had to somehow find out -- and yet, it seemed an iffy proposition at best to have Odo come out and tell her. This way solved that problem, for it wasn't at all iffy to have an Odo who was 200 years older and more experienced to tell her. The only question in my mind was going to be whether the present Odo would know Kira knew -- and I'm rather glad that he does. I'm honestly curious as to where the relationship's going to go from here -- with more than a little trepidation, considering Trek's track record for romance, but curious nonetheless.
(I also had a horrible image for a short time of the trip through the barrier or Bashir's treatments of Kira's condition giving her mild amnesia, such that she wouldn't remember anything she'd been told. That would've been awful, and I'm glad they avoided it.)
That leaves the fundamental dilemma of the show: could the DS9 crew go back in time and abandon everyone they've ever known (not to mention dooming Kira to an untimely death), or avoid their upcoming accident with the full understanding that it would mean the nonexistence (I hesitate to call it "death") of thousands of people? It's a tough question -- in some ways, it's similar to the one the Enterprise-C crew faced in "Yesterday's Enterprise", except that restoring the future would lead to their deaths, and remaining would also lead to a fairly bleak fate. As such, the choice was a more difficult one in many ways, and one in which there probably is no right answer.
Given that, the best thing to do is show all sides argued, at least for starters -- and I think they managed that quite well. O'Brien, ever in the here-and-now, quite successfully made the case for the "let's go home" side of the argument despite the moral objections of others, and Kira and Worf had interesting comments about destiny and morality on their side. (I particularly liked O'Brien's jab at Worf's parenting and Worf's taunt that O'Brien feared facing his destiny; they may be friends, but that doesn't mean there aren't fundamental differences of opinion.) In the end, I think Sisko's original call was about the only one he could make, realistically, as difficult as it would be to your peaceful sleep later.
The ending left me a little uncomfortable -- but given the setup, I'm not sure there's any ending that wouldn't. O'Brien changing his mind seemed reasonable after he finally got to know his descendants, and I take it that we're meant to assume that everyone agreed with him once he came around. However, we don't actually know that for certain, and I think Sisko would still have some agonizing to do. (In particular, what happens if 48 out of 49 people want to save the colony, and one person doesn't? Can you force that one to go back with you?) I'd like to have seen that agonizing.
Once the decision was made, though, it became a question of why things wouldn't work (given that they couldn't actually go back without radically altering the series), and I have to say that I rather liked what happened here. On some level, I agree that it can feel like a writer's cheat, in that it lets the crew make the morally "right" decision while still avoiding any actual consequences of it -- but I'm not sure how much I agree with that. The fact remains that someone did assume responsibility for destroying the colony -- namely the future Odo -- and even though that Odo no longer exists, that guilt must remain somewhat in the current Odo given their link. What's more, Odo's point that his future self felt it was right to sacrifice the colony to save Kira raises some very disturbing implications about how obsessive Odo's affections could become on some level, and that's something that could prove very interesting if dealt with later on. (I'm not sure how hopeful I should be that it will be dealt with, but I'm in a good mood so I'll be optimistic about it.) For an instant, while Sisko and Dax were theorizing about who changed the flight plan, I wondered if it was going to remain "unsolved" from their point of view (it seemed pretty obvious to us, I think, but not to the crew); I'm a little disappointed that it didn't, but not surprised.
Now, some shorter points:
-- I liked Brian Everet Chandler's performance as the male "son of Mogh", but Marybeth Massett didn't do much for me as the female one. I did wonder two things about her, though: first, I'm wondering if she's related to Patrick Massett, who played Duras twice in mid-series TNG; and second, I'm wondering if anyone else thought she looked and sounded like original "Saturday Night Live" cast member Laraine Newman. :-)
-- For the record, Ethan H. Calk (who did the second draft of the story) also contributed the story for "Visionary" two years ago, which also involved some twisting around of time travel. Methinks I see a trend. (First-draft contributor Gary Holland wrote much of season 2's "The Collaborator", a strong Kira story.)
-- I appreciated hearing Kira mention Bareil as well as Shakaar while she talked to the future Odo; it's nice to know she hasn't completely forgotten about it. (It was also nice to see that Shakaar's out of the picture; while I liked him as a leader in his first appearance, it's been all downhill from there.)
-- The location shooting was quite nice, and the music during the planting sequence was far more jaunty than usual. I liked it; things are loosening up.
-- Yedrin Dax certainly didn't look part-Klingon to me, so who else did Dax have children with? (Similarly, I don't think the one "son of Mogh" with ridges had any spots...)
That about wraps it up. Overall, "Children of Time" managed to do a lot: it told an engaging story involving several characters in major roles, delve fairly deeply into several psyches (Dax's, Worf's, Odo's and Kira's in particular), and turn me around at least temporarily as regards the Odo/Kira romance. Not a bad week, all in all.
So, to close:
Writing: one or two things glossed over, but not much -- and a powerful enough story to pretty much overlook that.
Directing: Beautiful, in many ways.
Acting: Auberjonois was terrific, and there were very few weak links. Gary Frank was quite good as Yedrin Dax, as well.
OVERALL: 9.5. Good, solid work.
The return of Eddington, as he and Sisko form an uneasy alliance.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Praying over your own grave -- that's got to be a new one."
"If the Prophets were listening, they're probably very confused."
-- Kira and future-Odo