The producers of DS9 have a mental Hall of Shame, where they single out the one episode every season where nothing comes together and you wind up with a turgid, soggy mess. This includes “Move Along Home,” “Rivals,” “Meridian,” “The Muse,” “Let He Who is Without Sin,” and “Profit and Lace,” or as they’re also known, leading candidates for the worst episodes in the show’s entire run. My reviews more or less back that assessment, with the only possible exception being “Rivals,” mostly because I instantly forget that episode ever existed moments after watching it. What did surprise me is that the producers place this week’s hour, “Prodigal Daughter,” on that list.
That’s not to say I think this is a good episode. It’s not. There are insurmountable problems with it. But I don’t think this is the worst of the season. I don’t even think it’s the worst Ezri episode of the season. Although some of that is that I’m using slightly different criteria to judge than the producers. While “Prodigal Daughter” is sort of this shapeless mass that doesn’t do much, it’s relatively inoffensive, while “Field of Fire” is a more or less successful attempt at an inexcusably dumb and trite serial killer story. “Prodigal Daughter” does one thing extremely right, though. It establishes Ezri as a distinct character from the symbiont, something the writers never managed with Jadzia.
As I mentioned when Ezri is first introduced, she is, in essence, a first season character dumped into the seventh and final season of an intensely serialized show. This is her second episode (of three) in the spotlight, and it gives us a window into the Tigans, her family, who run a mining concern on a non-Federation world. Ezri was already the black sheep when she enlisted in Starfleet, and it’s only gotten worse since she was joined. After spending a bit of time with them, it becomes apparent that it was a minor miracle that the Tigan clan was able to produce anyone even remotely functional. Ezri’s mother, Yanas, is that delightful combination of overbearing and passive-aggressively critical, convinced the world is at once not good enough for her children, and that they are too fragile to face it. She’s produced one son, Janel, who runs the mine and is miserable, another, Norvo (played by Kevin Rahm, or Ted Chaough from Mad Men), who wants to be an artist and is miserable, and Ezri, who got the hell out of there as soon as she could.
It’s worth noting that this is far more backstory than we ever got on Jadzia. She talked about her family in passing, but the show was never interested in visiting them. Instead, it concentrated on the other hosts, having them serve in that role for character development. It is the biggest knock on the character, that Jadzia Dax was much more the second part of her name than the tissue-thin first part. It’s strange that it took her death for the show to realize that, oh yeah, the host might have some baggage too. So, while I’m not crazy about this episode, I like it more than the producers do partly because it gives Ezri more depth in one episode than Jadzia got in six seasons.
The framework for introducing the Tigan family is as clumsy as this episode’s reputation would lead one to believe. Chief O’Brien secretly went undercover (without Sisko’s permission, because that’s just an awesome idea) to help out Liam Bilby’s widow. You remember, the Orion Syndicate capo O’Brien befriended while undercover and whose cat O’Brien adopted. Anyway, when the Chief fails to return, Sisko sends Ezri, whose family’s mining operation is on the world O’Brien went missing, to have a look. She finds him entirely by accident, and he gives her the news that Bilby’s widow has been murdered by parties unknown, and it’s starting to look like the Tigans are in bed with the Orion Syndicate.
It sounds like there’s a whole lot of talking and not much investigating, doesn’t it? That’s a big problem with the episode. All the exciting stuff, with O’Brien in deep cover and finding that the woman he went under to protect is dead happens off screen. What we’re left with is a few limp conversations, and one scene with a Syndicate heavy doing his best to lean on Janel.
The show is on better footing when it honestly explores who Ezri was when she left, contrasting it with who she is now. The old Ezri is gone, a ghost haunting the family. The new one is a doppelganger -- she looks and sounds like the old Ezri, but she is someone entirely different. The show implies that Ezri could only flee to the stars to get away from her family, but the symbiont has given her the weight necessary to confront the harsh truths. To truly sever the connection with a mother who has become a cancer on the family.
Ezri doesn’t understand the depth of the problem until in a dramatic confrontation with her whole family in which Janel reveals that he was the one who hooked them up with the Syndicate to bail them out of dire financial straits. He admits that he added Bilby’s widow to the payroll as a favor, but denies killing her. Ezri then realizes the killer is her tragically weak brother Norvo, who thought he could finally break out of the prison of his own passivity. He confesses to the murder and is hauled off by the authorities. Ezri’s mother pleads with her daughter to absolve her of the guilt, but Ezri can’t. While her mother didn’t pull the trigger, her poisonous parenting put the gun in Norvo’s hand. Ezri tells Janel to get out of there and find a new way, but it’s unclear if he ever does. There isn’t enough time to return to the Tigan clan. This is as good a place as any to leave them. The galaxy is about to get set on fire.
The criticism the producers leveled at the show is accurate. It never comes together, starting as an O’Brien-focused sequel to season six’s “Honor Among Thieves” (an hour I’m no great fan of), before turning into a family melodrama for a new character. It’s a detective episode with no actual detective work. It’s about the Orion Syndicate, but the Syndicate only actually appears in one scene. The one thing it does well is give Ezri some character, and for that reason alone I can’t call it the worst of the season.
That’s not exactly high praise, but it’s what I have.
Next up: A series wrap on the Mirror Universe.