WARNING: Yea, my wandering brothers and sisters, come see these spoilers of DS9's "Prodigal Daughter" (Best I could do on short notice...)
In brief: Some interesting family dynamics in spots; good, but not a standout.
Brief summary: When Chief O'Brien goes missing, Ezri's attempt to help leads her back to her estranged family.
"Prodigal Daughter" was an odd mix; like the episode it partially follows up, last season's "Honor Among Thieves," it manages to evoke some honest emotion and to present a nicely coherent story, but at the same time leaves one feeling that it's a bit out of place given DS9's setting.
"Prodigal Daughter" launches with a nice continuity nod. Last year, we saw Miles O'Brien infiltrate the Orion Syndicate and indirectly cause the death of Syndicate member Liam Bilby. At the time, O'Brien felt quite guilty about what he had done, but ever since then there's been no mention of it apart from Bilby's cat popping up in Miles' quarters. Weddle and Thompson pick up with O'Brien's guilt, and establish that he's been keeping in touch with Bilby's widow Marika. Unfortunately, Marika has recently dropped out of sight, and unbeknownst to anyone on DS9 except Bashir, O'Brien has headed off to New Sydney to look for her. The episode actually starts when O'Brien fails to return; Bashir then decides it's time to come clean, and tells Sisko everything he knows.
As beginnings go, that's not a bad one: it gets Miles missing for a plausible reason (at least, if you can swallow his initial job for Starfleet Intelligence, the idea of him going off half-cocked to assuage some personal guilt fits his personality pretty well), and it also gets Sisko in such a bad mood that we have an excuse to spend the rest of the episode off-station. :-) Placing Ezri's family in the same system as New Sydney is a bit of a stretch, particularly since we've never seen civilian Trills living anywhere but on Trill itself ... but it's not bad.
"Prodigal Daughter" falters a bit after all that establishing material, mostly because it's just a bit jarring. With the exception of a few words of <technobabble> here and there in the Tigan family pergium mine, there's really nothing here to make "Prodigal Daughter" even remotely science-fictional. I don't mean by that that we need particularly exotic locations or effects; it's that everyone in the episode, be they human, Trill, Thadio Bokar's race, or whatever the heck the New Sydney police officer's species is, acts no differently from plain old humans you might see in any other story about a family beset by company squabbles and internal strife. "Honor Among Thieves" wasn't hugely different from a lot of mob-infiltration stories, but there were enough different mindsets and tie-ins to the Big Picture (TM) that it still felt like part of the DS9 universe. "Prodigal Daughter," in a lot of ways, feels like a detour.
The other reason that I think "Prodigal Daughter" feels jarring in some ways is that Ezri hasn't quite come together as a character yet, at least for me. I recently read an article where someone said that she felt like a pleasant guest star, but not one of the "inner circle" yet; I think that's very apt. In some cases (like "Afterimage"), I think that feeling of being an outsider was intentional, but based on the dialogue I have the impression that she's supposed to seem like "just one of the gang" to us by now. (Consider what she says at dinner to her family about Kira, or the apparent lack of awkwardness everyone has around her at Quark's.) To me, however, she hasn't quite risen above the level of an interesting ingenue; she has her moments, but she's not quite compelling enough to base an entire episode around. (The reason "Afterimage" worked as well as it did is that besides Ezri, we had Garak, who's almost always worth watching.) As a result, her confession to Bashir that her family "never quite new what to make of the old [Ezri]" falls flat; we never knew the old Ezri and scarcely know the new one.
Given all of that, "Prodigal Daughter" comes off feeling a bit like a movie-of-the-week rather than an integral part of DS9's story. Once O'Brien comes back into the picture, that feeling eases off a bit, but overall it just feels a bit odd.
Fortunately, as movies of the week go, this seems to be a fairly well-produced and well-performed one. :-) Ezri, forced home as a condition of her mother assisting in the search for O'Brien, quickly finds herself caught up in old family squabbles. Ezri's older brother Janel is handling the day-to-day operations of the family's pergium mine, her mother is your classic overbearing corporate mother, and her younger brother Norvo, a budding artist, is feeling completely inadequate after rejection by the premier Andorian Academy and unending doses of criticism from his mother and brother.
Early on, the focus seems to be purely on the Tigan family and how Ezri's return affects everyone. There are certainly hints of something more, such as references to the Orion Syndicate's interest in doing business with the company, but we spend a lot of time watching Ezri talk about her occasional confusion remembering who she is, seeing Ezri comfort Norvo with her unshaken belief in his talent, and watching Mama Tigan (apparently named Yanas, though it's never mentioned on screen) generally try to bend everyone to her considerable will. It's all reasonably standard material, but thanks to the hints of what's to come and a particularly nice performance from Kevin Rahm (Norvo), it flows reasonably well. (The weakest moments probably come from Leigh Taylor-Young, playing Ezri's mother; while Taylor-Young has done good work in the past, a lot of her phrases and gestures, such as her criticism of Ezri's hair followed by an immediate hug, seem way overplayed.)
The big change comes halfway through the episode, when Miles turns up safe and sound, but battered by the Orion Syndicate. He's found Bilby's widow -- well, what's left of her, anyway. It seems that Marika's been dead for about six weeks, and evidence points to foul play, which O'Brien naturally thinks is due to the Syndicate. From there, he's called upon to help repair one of the mining drills, and a chance encounter with a "broker" raises his suspicions that Janel is somehow being pressured to do business with the Syndicate.
It's at this point that the episode becomes substantially more interesting. Even though I more or less expected by now that Marika's death had something to do with the Syndicate, and that the killer would turn out to be someone other than Janel, elements of the show still had an impact on me. The stunned look on O'Brien's face when he discovers Marika was employed by Ezri's family is a particularly good moment; no matter how much you might anticipate his findings, seeing his entire demeanor shift in a few seconds from curious to accusatory is a treat, and his immediate demand to know whether Ezri knew about it or not is also well presented.
The revelation that Norvo killed Marika is one that could have been trite, but actually manages to carry a fair bit of pathos to it, again primarily due to Rahm's performance and some good direction. As Janel and his mother are arguing furiously, it's only Ezri who picks up on the deeper meaning behind Norvo's insistence that his brother is innocent. The slow muting of everyone else's dialogue as she gradually turns to look at him is quite a nice effect, as is Norvo's reply when she asks him what he knows: "I'm the idiot brother. How would I know?" While some of Norvo's later speech about not being weak lacked punch, the overall sense was very strong.
As for the very end, "unsettling" is probably the best word, much of which I think was intentional. The final scene with Ezri's family, where Norvo is led away, Ezri advises Janel to move on and find a new life, and Ezri's mother asks plaintively for reassurance that this wasn't her fault certainly got that point across; in solving the immediate problem of Marika's murder, Ezri and Miles more or less wrecked the entire family. The final scene, where Ezri broods that she should have gone home a long time ago, made a fair amount of sense, but felt wrong somehow as an episode-closing scene; I'm not sure why.
-- Ezri said that Jadzia ordered the gagh for Martok's birthday, but it's also been established that she's been joined for a little over six months. Did Jadzia really order all of this gagh 6+ months in advance? That seems a bit odd. (I did like Ezri mulling over how all the different varieties feel on the way down, though...)
-- Watch for yet another Alamo reference, this time in the teaser.
-- The exterior shots of the Tigan home were quite nice; there was a lot of detail packed in there. (I particularly liked the fact that we could see people moving around inside the house.)
-- One question resolved: when Trills are joined, the symbiont name replaces the "regular" family name. Not exactly surprising, but interesting.
-- While I'm glad Marika's death was solved, I seem to recall from "Honor Among Thieves" that Bilby also had at least one child. What happened to the kids?
-- Ezri's mother said that she ordered some tiles from "Andoria" for the new solarium. I could swear it was called Andor, at least once upon a time...
-- An interesting trend: a great many of the eleven episodes this season have taken place almost entirely off of the "normal" DS9 setting, particularly the recent ones. (I'm including "It's Only a Paper Moon" for that, actually, since 75% of the show takes place inside the program.) I'm not quite sure what it signifies, but it's worth noticing.
That pretty much does it. "Prodigal Daughter" seems to be a vast departure from the Trek norm into more typical television fare, but does what it's trying to do pretty well. Watch it with that in mind.
So, wrapping up:
Writing: Not a lot of twists beyond the "typical" ones for a story like this, but plausibly and crisply done. Ezri as a character is still too much of a question mark, however.
Directing: Some good work in the last two acts.
Acting: Rahm gets particular praise for this; Taylor-Young was surprisingly off the mark.
OVERALL: 6.5, for now. Respectable, but not a lot for you to remember weeks down the line.
NEXT WEEK: A rerun of "Shadows and Symbols." See you in February.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"How dare you come in here and tell me how to be a mother? What do you know about raising children?"
"Actually, I have three -- no, four -- lifetimes of memories about raising children."
-- Yanas and Ezri