WARNING: You won't hear "The Sound of Her Voice" in this article, but you'll read spoilers about it.
In brief: A silly fifth act undercuts a generally strong piece.
After many weeks away, the character-driven aspect of DS9 has returned with "The Sound of Her Voice". Those who think DS9 should be about absolutely nothing but the war will probably be left unsatisfied here, but I found the show surprisingly powerful, at least in spots: at its best, it let us get inside the heads of the characters more than we've been able to lately, and in O'Brien's case we also got a look at another effect of the war: the emotional isolation it can sometimes cause.
The initial premise is simple enough: the Defiant picks up a distress call from the lone survivor of a crash. After a time, they manage to set up a two-way communication; it turns out that a Starfleet ship returning from years away encountered disaster while scanning a mysterious planet, and they're talking to the captain, one Lisa Kuzak. With several days' travel to go, they help her the only way they can: by talking to her while she rides out the experience.
(My inner cynic spoke up shortly into act one and said, "They'll get to her too late; she'll already be dead." More on that later.)
Once the initial story was established, the meat of the episode was the characterization: what passed between Lisa and her various companions (Sisko, Bashir and O'Brien) is really what counts, and where your opinions of the show are likely to be shaped. Personally, I warmed to them quite a bit, in some cases despite myself.
The best conversations were those between Lisa and O'Brien -- somehow, that's not surprising. O'Brien is so down-to-earth that he's the most likely to feel the emotional toll of the war, particularly when separated from his family -- and he's also exactly the person who would simultaneously not want to burden his friends with his problems while decrying the very idea of a ship's counselor. I have much the same opinion of ship's counselors as O'Brien did initially, and I was very intrigued to see how neatly that argument was turned around. (What O'Brien really needs is different sets of close friends, so that he can farm the problems out to different sets as needed. It's always worked for me, at least. :-) ) In any case, O'Brien's mental distancing away from his friends is a very realistic thing to do in wartime, and something I was very glad to see addressed.
Runner-up would have to be the Lisa/Bashir conversations. Her ploy to snap Bashir away from his work was a bit obvious (and a silly place for a break; if more than one percent of the viewing audience really thought she was in danger, I'll eat my hat), but her general irreverent tone towards him and refusal to put up with his more distracted side kept me interested.
The Sisko/Lisa conversations struck me as the least interesting in many spots, mostly because they involved Kasidy Yates. That's a problem for several reasons. First, Kasidy has been so woefully underused that bringing her back here seemed very forced -- not to mention that Penny Johnson and Avery Brooks have slowly been losing whatever chemistry originally existed between them. Second, the dilemma Sisko was experiencing was one anyone should have been able to spot and to mention. With O'Brien, having an outsider's viewpoint was necessary and essential; with Sisko, it seemed superfluous, workable only because Dax magically wasn't on board for this particular excursion. (I believe that's called "pulling a Troi", after all those occasions in TNG when Troi just happened to be off- ship, since her presence would have solved the plot complication in fifteen seconds flat.) Both Debra Wilson and Brooks were game for the scenes, but I didn't really buy into them.
Unfortunately, at this point we reached the planet, and the story dissolved into technobabble. I can deal with the Mysterious Energy Barrier Thingy [TM] surrounding the planet and making the Defiant unable to get through, but everything after that wound up somewhere between annoying and silly.
One: it's an exceptionally dangerous mission to go down to the planet, with the shuttle's chances of survival given as "unlikely" -- naturally, this means Sisko takes himself, Bashir, and O'Brien down. Please.
Two: They're under incredible time pressure, yet Bashir apparently doesn't take a portable medkit down with him to provide even temporary treatment. (At least, that's how I'd interpret his claim that "we need to get her back to the ship in twenty minutes." How tough is it to bring tri-ox down?)
Three: the cheat which allowed Lisa to be dead and yet talking to them. Okay, so they avoided the cliched "arriving just as Lisa expires" ending my inner cynic initially predicted -- but they did it by claiming some selectively permeable temporal distortion which sent signals back in time if they went one direction, and forward in time if they went another. Uh-huh. Yep. Got it. Right. HUH? (You'd also think that on a six-day trip, someone could have looked up Lisa Kuzak's Starfleet record and found out that the Olympia left eleven years ago and not eight.) The latter half of this season has done far too many pointless and silly things with time travel; this was just piling on.
Some of my annoyance was improved, however, by the subsequent wake for Lisa. In it, we saw the natural fallout from all of her conversations -- the Sisko/Kasidy rapprochement, Bashir's coming out and saying he cares (in his own bullheaded way :-) ), and most particularly O'Brien's speech. While some of his speech struck me as foreshadowing for next week's finale, it also felt like something he'd honestly say. He's right -- the DS9 crew really has grown apart during the last year, and it's something that needed to be addressed. I didn't mourn Lisa's death, but I valued what her presence during the show had brought -- which isn't bad for a character I never actually saw.
Meanwhile, back on the B-plot ... we also saw Quark scheming to get Odo out of the way for an evening, under the pretense of helping Odo celebrate his one-month anniversary with Kira. I thought the story came dangerously close to bending Odo's character too much at times ... but it never actually went over that line. What's more, I liked seeing Jake hang around for character research; it's the sort of thing he's done before, and he's already shown that he doesn't have quite the same sensibilities his father does. All in all, this part would have to be considered "cute", even if I thought Odo let Quark get away a little too easily.
-- Were I Odo, I might have let Quark win this one ... but when I left the holosuite that evening, I'd have given him back the program and then said "We're even" or "You're welcome." Just to let him puzzle over it. Hey, shapeshifters are entitled to a little fun, too...
-- While the actual "rescue" trip was silly in the extreme, the visuals of the shuttlepod leaving and heading down to the planet were exceptional.
-- For anyone who hasn't heard the big spoiler news regarding the finale (both of you): there's a clue in O'Brien's final speech. Take a good look at who the camera cuts to about halfway, and what O'Brien's saying at the time.
-- For the record, Pam Pietroforte, who wrote the original story for this, also did the story for "Statistical Probabilities".
That about covers it. "The Sound of Her Voice" isn't earth-shattering, but it's the best DS9 we've had in a few episodes. Here's hoping that bodes well for the finale.
Writing: We get into characters' heads nicely in spots, but the silly rationalizations at the end hurt. (The B plot is entertaining, if fluff.) Directing: A bit sluggish in spots, particularly early on -- overall fine, though. Acting: No real complaints; Meaney is particularly strong, unsurprisingly.
OVERALL: 6; it was running substantially stronger until the last ten minutes.
Sisko takes the offensive, but at a terrible cost.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) firstname.lastname@example.org <*> "Lesson number one: no one involved in an extralegal activity thinks of himself as 'nefarious'." -- Quark Copyright 1998, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.