WARNING: Watch your step; spoilers for DS9's "Time's Orphan" lurk around every corner.
In brief: Watchable, but nothing much to speak of.
Um ... why?
That was my two-word reaction to the show once it was all over. While there's nothing particularly bad about "Time's Orphan", there's also nothing to really recommend it -- and while running in place is fine on occasion, it seems that too much of this season has been nothing else. With so many running plots still in the air, having a Random Time Problem [TM] crop up seems like a waste of time that could be better spent.
Perhaps the Random Time Problem [TM] isn't too surprising, given the genesis of the story. Many of Joe Menosky's stories can be summed up as "when really bizarre things happen to good people for no reason" -- TNG's "Masks", DS9's "Dramatis Personae" and Voyager's "The Thaw" come to mind as some of the more obvious examples. Thompson & Weddle, on the other hand, have often managed to put characters into extreme situations where they really have no way to trick the problem into resolving itself: "The Assignment" and "Business as Usual" were two such episodes last year, and both turned out better than they had any right to be. Thus, since Menosky contributed the story and Thompson & Weddle turned it into an episode, perhaps it's not surprising that the show is ... really bizarre things happening to one person, which puts two others in a fairly extreme situation.
In this particular case, the bizarre thing is a time portal on an unnamed Bajoran colony. I find it a bit too convenient that an ancient portal just happens to be in a cave two minutes' walk away from where the O'Briens decide to go on a picnic; if they've gone on picnics there before, as was strongly implied, I'm surprised it's not well enough traveled that someone's stumbled on it before now. Regardless, Molly winds up stumbling into the thing, leaving Miles and company to mount a quick, desperate effort to find her. (Given that we're dealing with a time rift, though, one would think they could take the time to work all the bugs out. Time is only a problem on their end, not Molly's.) Once the appropriate is pulled off, however, they lock onto Molly's lifesign and pull back through the portal -- a much older Molly, who's now 18 and has spent the majority of her life without any other humans for company.
As premises go, I've certainly seen less believable ones; this one seemed more arbitrary than it did absurd. The real meat of the story comes after that: given that the O'Briens now have this Molly to deal with (and won't try to get the old one again, as it would remove this one from existence), they're forced to start getting her reintegrated into society.
Despite there being little in terms of story to differentiate "Time's Orphan" from other "wild child" stories in book and in film, Molly's slow progress does tend to warm the heart a bit, thanks primarily to strong performances from Colm Meaney and Michelle Krusiec as the older Molly. Several scenes of Molly re-education are worth watching for the little details; I particularly liked the point that the "this is a ball" scene had been played out more than a dozen times before. Seeing O'Brien tell Keiko that he's got to be getting home, followed by Molly suddenly remembering and saying the word "home" also winds up being fairly powerful, despite being somewhat telegraphed.
In all too many ways, though, the story doesn't have enough of those little touches to escape its shopworn premise. There's certainly nothing implausible about Molly inadvertently stabbing someone in an effort to escape Quark's; it's certainly no surprise that she wouldn't consider her old room "home"; it's not hugely surprising that Starfleet would eventually want to keep her someplace safer than Deep Space Nine; and it came as no shock when Miles decided that Molly needed to go back to her current "home", the colony of the past. It's all perfectly salutary -- unfortunately, it was also all so perfectly clockwork that it felt a bit drab much of the time.
That's a shame, because it didn't need to be. The O'Briens already have experience trying to get someone to fit back into society -- Miles himself, back in "Hard Time", had to go through that. Had we seen some references to that show, and had we particularly gotten to see Miles applying those experiences here, "Time's Orphan" could probably have had a great deal more power; as it is, it's mostly just there.
Meanwhile, the show also has a B-story, that of Worf trying to convince Dax (and himself) that he can be a good parent by taking care of Kirayoshi O'Brien while the O'Briens are busy. This part of the story fared better than I expected it to -- given past Worf-tries- fatherhood stories like TNG's "New Ground", I was fearing really bad sitcom-style parenting moments. Instead, we had middle-of-the- road parenting moments; Worf's earnestness to prove himself to Dax makes a lot of sense, and his bitter disappointment over Kirayoshi's fall actually had me warming to him a bit, even if Dax's response really should've been, "Would you please get over yourself?" The Worf-as-nanny story certainly won't win any awards, but it didn't get in the way much either.
The final stages of "Time's Orphan" come after Miles decides to take Molly back. His choice to spare Keiko the consequences was very in character, as was her refusal to let him. (Rosalind Chao seemed a little stiff this week, though; the dialogue itself was reasonable, but her delivery didn't seem nearly as anguished as you'd expect from a parent.) Having the pair of them be caught by Odo and then released actually worked pretty well for me: it showed that Odo's found a little compassion over the years, and that the station's security force is actually competent. (I liked Odo's line to O'Brien, too; he generally respects O'Brien's ability as well.)
The final scenes undercut the episode a bit for me, however. As I've said, a lot of Weddle's and Thompson's best work involves putting the characters in situations where there isn't an easy out; this time, while the O'Briens didn't have any easy choice to make, the "reward" of the young Molly returning as a consequence makes the entire thing ring a little false, not to mention raising the usual "reset to zero" questions. I do like the implied paradox in old Molly sending back young Molly, though; if the older Molly then disappears, who was around to rescue the young one? (Heinlein's short story "By His Bootstraps" has one of the single best examples of this question I've ever seen; if you've not read it, I strongly recommend it.) I'm not sure Thompson & Weddle were really considering that, but I'll take it as a perk anyway.
All in all, however, I don't see any real consequences coming out of this: O'Brien has to face a quick hearing, Sisko vouches for him, and it's all over. If O'Brien's vow early in the episode not to leave his children again actually sticks, that could be a substantial change -- but since a lot of that is likely going to depend on Rosalind Chao's availability, I don't think it's under the writers' control. As it is, then, I'm back to my original question: "Um ... why?"
-- On the "good continuity" front, I was very glad to see Chester the cat make an appearance or three. I do wonder how Miles originally explained him to the family, though. :-) (I also thought the use of Molly's cartwheels and of the bracelet was good.)
-- Anyone want to bet we'll see this time portal or its makers ever again? Nope, I didn't think so.
That pretty much covers everything, I think. After an eight-week stretch showing off some of DS9's highest highs and its lowest lows, this stretch of episodes just sort of ... trailed off. Perhaps those with young children will get more out of "Time's Orphan" than I did -- I don't know. For me, it's pretty neutral; there's no reason to avoid it, but not much reason to seek it out either.
Writing: A fairly by-the-numbers plot; a few nice touches here and there, but a reset ending and no real twists. Directing: No obvious problems, but no obviously wonderful things jumping out either. Acting: Meaney was good (if not top-notch), Krusiec was good, Chao was off her form.
OVERALL: 5. Middle-of-the-road.
NEXT WEEK: A rerun of "Resurrection". Catch you in three.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) firstname.lastname@example.org <*> "I'm disappointed in you, Chief. 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." -- Odo 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.