Star Trek: Deep Space Nine “Time’s Orphan”
Oh gosh, it’s been such fun. Miles is the kind of wholesome, kindhearted lug your inner sadist wants to see kicked until he screams. But today we draw the curtains on our sad bumbling hero with our final installment of…
As of this episode, Keiko and the family have only recently returned to Deep Space Nine, having left while the Dominion War made staying on the station too dangerous. Yes, the routine space-time anomalies, organized crime, terrorism, and occasional demon possession didn’t convince them things were dicey on the station; it took the literal biggest war in Federation history, and they don’t even wait till the war’s over to jump back on the station. It honestly serves them right that in “Time’s Orphan”, the O’Brien family suffers its most awkward temporal anomaly since Keiko turned twelve.
This is sixth season Deep Space Nine, which had lots of soaring heights with the Dominion War episodes, and lots of crashing lows whenever they had to do stand-alones. “Time’s Orphan” really sent the writers hacking through the weeds for ideas. Supposedly, some version of this script had been kicking around since the middle of The Next Generation and originally had to do with Worf’s dipshit son turning into a hardened warrior thanks to being stuck in time. This episode ends up on a lot of “Worst of DS9” and “Worst of Trek” lists, but it doesn’t suffer from the sort of screaming dumbness of your “Profit and Lace” or painful cringe of your Vic Fontaine episodes. The B-plot is harmless runtime padding fluff, while the A-plot gives both Colm Meaney and Rosalind Chao some nice character work, with the latter in particular feeling more believably maternal than she has since, well, ever, but two major factors work against it. First of all, the O’Briens’ daughter Molly is treated as a prop, not a character. Quick, name two things she likes. We can’t be bothered to care whether she’ll be around to say something annoying every eighteenth episode. Second, not a single one of the long series of absurd decisions the O’Briens make in this episode feel like something real parents might do. I’ll be circling back to this point.
Early in the morning, Molly crawls into Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien’s weirdly austere-looking bed. Molly shakes her hungover dad awake and reminds him he promised to take her on a picnic.
“I can’t believe how much she’s grown since I saw her last,” says Miles. “Look who’s talking,” says Keiko, patting his belly. “What have you been eating since we’ve been gone?”
Security has eased up so much that they’re going all the way to a planet named Golana, a Bajoran colony planet, for a picnic. Molly wants to take the cat that Miles inherited from his murdered gangster friend. Keiko mutters her desire to take the cat there and leave him. She’s firing off the bitchery with both barrels today.
On the surface of Golana, Molly babbles happily, running around and doing cartwheels, while Miles basks in the sun. He talks to Keiko about how happy he is now that the family’s back together, and promises they’ll never be apart again. No sooner than those tragic words leave Miles’s mouth, the trickster god of screenwriting invokes his curse, and a screech is heard from the cave where Molly is playing.
Miles hurries over but Molly’s nowhere to be found. “Daddy, help!” a voice pleads. Miles finds Molly clinging to the edge of a precipice so large and obvious that she would have almost had to fall off it on purpose. Below her is a polygonal structure lit up in the middle with woozy, fluid-looking energy inside, kind of like a Stargate (which was, come to think of it, already on the air as of this episode’s airdate), except bright pink. Miles tries to grab her, fails uproariously, and she falls in and the pink energy disappears.
After the cold open, seemingly everybody on DS9 has been pulled away from the total war so they can respond to an Amber alert. Dax, as the most sciency science person on the station, has figured out that the Stargate is actually a Timegate left behind by an extinct civilization. She can’t get it to work, but can say definitively (somehow) that Molly got sent 300 years into the past. Which means that she’s SOL, because the civilization that built a bunch of time portals, and then just left them lying around literally wherever, decided to go extinct 2000 years ago. Molly’s all alone on a dead planet. Well, unless a radio survived all that time, along with all those time portals. No? Just the time portals? Alrighty then.
The team is having some trouble getting the alien technology to work, as represented by Miles punching some buttons, causing a short and a shower of sparks, and yelling “Oh, bollocks!” Waiting for the portal to turn back on by itself, like it obviously can do and did earlier, is not an option for some reason. Finally, they get the thing working and decide the safest thing to do would be to beam Molly through the portal with a field transporter. No sooner have they decided to do this than the portal’s energy field starts to collapse. Bashir gets a lock on Molly’s DNA and energizes the transporter.
Molly appears in front of the portal. But something’s wrong. Miles had intended to grab Molly only a few minutes after she went in, but… he’s not quite done it. This Molly is older. Taller. Dirtier. More Asian, somehow. She’s in her teens at the very least, and like many teens, she’s in a weird fashion phase. Keiko approaches Molly and she grunts and waves a club at her threateningly.
Bashir sedates her and takes her to sickbay on the Defiant. His readings suggest she’s subjectively aged a decade, making her at least 18, neatly ensuring her a place of honor in some uncomfortable fanfic. Moreover, she’s gone more or less completely feral, to the point of not remembering how to speak. Miles is not ready for any of this, and sensibly suggests firing up the time portal again to try and grab Molly again, a bit sooner after she went in.
But Bashir’s first-do-no-harm ethos applies to timelines as well. “If you do that,” Bashir says, “there’ll be no one left to grow up and become this Molly. You’ll be erasing her existence.” Keiko agrees. “Just because we missed the last ten years of her life doesn’t give us the right to take those ten years away from her.”
Bashir says that it’s going to be difficult for her to reassimilate. So difficult, in fact, that it might be better if you just fixed the timeline and spared her the trouble, Keiko, but no matter. Meanwhile, Bashir has radioed ahead to Captain Sisko to have one of DS9’s cargo bays converted into a living space, where she’ll be penned up like an animal and mostly deprived of human contact. Gee, it’s almost as if fixing the timeline and sparing Molly a decade of crushing hardship and isolation would be the more humane option here, especially if you were her parent and entitled to make these kinds of decisions, but I guess the weird scruples you just now developed take precedence, Keiko. Wow, do you ever suck.
Back on DS9, Worf walks into his quarters to the sounds of Dax playing with Yoshi O’Brien. Never one to mince words, he asks, “What exactly is this infant doing in my home?”
Dax explains that she agreed to watch Yoshi while the O’Briens get their cavedaughter all sorted out. Worf protests that Dax is supposed to scan a comet tonight, and insists that she go to work while he watches Yoshi. Dax is hesitant. “Let’s face it, Worf, you’re not good with babies,” Dax says. “Babies are a handful. I should know, I’ve had nine of them.” But the writers have decreed that his episode needs some sitcom-style domestic goofs, so Worf’s word is final. He picks up Yoshi, who immediately starts wailing.
Down in Cave-Molly’s enclosure, the O’Briens have set up a hilarious little fake tree, rock, and a patch of turf, like when you drop a handful of grass and a twig into a jar with your frog so he feels at home. She wakes up, and goes into immediate threat mode, grunting distressedly, and she clambers up a tree at Miles’s approach. He tries to ply her with a fruit from the planet she was trapped on. She snatches the melon and Keiko brings Molly her old doll, which she takes with a glimmer of recognition.
Back at Chez Worf, an exhausted Worf plops down on his bed (which looks much nicer than the O’Briens’), having had no luck getting Yoshi to sleep, but he won’t let Dax have a crack at it. Displaying unusual perceptiveness, he tells Dax that he knows she’s judging his potential fitness as a parent, and thus refuses to give up. In his place, I’d concentrate my parenting efforts on my son who I never see, but I’m funny like that.
Later on, Keiko goes to relieve Miles of supervisory duty. Molly’s fallen asleep up a tree. “How does she keep from falling?” Keiko muses. Keiko begins brushing her own hair, which attracts Molly. She reaches out for the brush and moans, eventually consenting to allow Keiko to brush her hair. Later, Miles excitedly talks to Bashir about Molly’s progress, showing a picture she drew.
Bashir takes Miles’s gushing with gentle good humor, but warns him not to push her too hard or she could get frustrated and regress. And speak of the devil, when O’Brien gets back to the cargo bay, Molly is running around having an ear-splitting freakout and Keiko can’t calm her down. Molly ekes out the word “home”, the first word she’s so far managed to speak since getting back to the station, which encourages Miles and Keiko to take her back to their quarters. She creeps around anxiously, peering at her old room and her old kitty, before furiously ripping up one of her old shirts and pointing to a picture of the family on Golana. “Home!” she insists.
Keiko comes up with the idea of going to Quark’s bar and programming a simulation of Golana into a holosuite. An exhilarated Molly runs around, rolls in the grass and hangs from the tree.
The door chimes and Quark is there with two Klingons who have a reservation. Miles tries to gently shoo Molly out of the holosuite, but she won’t go. In an act of nearly unfathomable thoughtlessness, Miles tells the computer to end the program. Seeing her environment disappear triggers an epic freakout that sends Molly out the door, biting Quark, pushing customers out of the way, breaking glasses, and finally stabbing a patron with a broken bottle before Odo (RIP Rene Auberjonois) can stun her with a phaser. I consider this partially Quark’s fault, because why are there even any bottles in his bar? All his stuff is replicated.
Bashir stitches up the man who Molly attacked, but the guy files charges against Molly for assault with a deadly weapon. Sisko tells Miles he’s talked with the Federation magistrate, who’s recommended that Molly be taken to a special care center on a distant planet. Miles protests mightily, but I gotta ask, like, why? The big threat is that she’ll be shunted into some crummy mental institution forever, when she has two parents willing and able to take care of her? Even in this horrible era, we don’t do that shit anymore. Does Miles not trust Luxury Utopian Space Communism to produce attentive, humane institutions that respect Molly’s rights? Did a Scientologist write this episode?
Meanwhile, Molly’s in a cell in the brig, pacing back and forth, hooting agitatedly and crashing repeatedly against the force-field. Bashir warns that being in such a small space is exacerbating her distress, spiking her adrenaline levels, and says, perhaps a bit melodramatically, that keeping her confined will “kill” her.
The crew’s got Bashir running around all over today. Next, he goes to the Worf-Dax residence because Yoshi took a fall while Worf was playing a Klingon baby game called “gung-gung-gung”. Yoshi’s fine, of course, but when Dax gets home, Worf is in a right state. He verbally self-flagellates over his failure, tells Dax she was right to question his fitness as a parent, and does the whole “I won’t be here when he wakes up” thing. What a drama queen.
Keiko can tell that Miles is cooking up a wonderful awful grinchy idea and demands to be let in on it. O’Brien relents and tells her he’s planning to steal a runabout and take Molly back to spend the rest of her days running happily through the virgin fields of Golana. “But that’s the first place they’ll look for her,” Keiko objects. “Unless…” Miles nods. Once she’s through, he’ll destroy the portal so no one will ever be able to get her again.
…Well, unless they themselves go back in time using delta-series radioisotopes. Or an Orb of Time. Or a Red Angel suit. Or fly on the mycelial network. Or hitch a ride with Q or one of the many species that can time travel. And that doesn’t even count all the times people have time traveled by accident. I do understand “if you love something, set it free”, but like, off the top of my head, what if Molly breaks her leg? What if she falls off a cliff and gets mangled by a falling rock and lies immobile, dying for days with a rotten septic leg, burning with thirst, wishing for nothing more than a comfortable bed in a mental institution and the love of two parents who aren’t born yet? Is this really a choice a parent would make?
Back in the brig, Miles has somehow gotten his hands on a hypospray full of sedative and misdirects the Bajoran security guard long enough to put him to sleep. They aren’t able to get on the runabout, however, because they’re caught by a Starfleet security guard. Odo detains the family in the airlock and sends away the Starfleet guard to get a statement from the Bajoran one. “I’m disappointed in you, Chief,” Odo says. “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.”
He then opens the airlock and herds them into it. I think we’re supposed to think “Oh! Odo’s so nice and understanding!” but I’m thinking, “they were that desperate to eat up a minute of runtime?” Keiko kisses Odo gratefully.
Back on Golana, Keiko’s packing Molly’s bag for her trip back to the barbarous 21st century. A tedious tearful departure happens. Unlike the last time, where it was a complete crapshoot when the machine turned on and when the portal went to, O’Brien turns the thing on easily and says they should be able to drop her in the exact time they left her. I don’t know why that’s necessary if the whole planet’s dead, but whatever.
Oh wait, I do know why that was necessary. Because when Cave-Molly steps through the portal, who should be on the other side but a scared little girl who looks like a younger, less Asian version of her? She’s huddled in a corner in the cave, looking at the now-active portal but not going in for some reason. “I want my mommy and daddy,” she tells the stranger. “Mommy…Daddy… there,” Cave-Molly asserts. She hands the little girl her doll and ushers her through the portal. “Molly… home,” she says, before disappearing into thin air.
Miles has got his face screwed up, grimly determined to destroy the time portal with a phaser. But then young Molly steps out.
Everybody has a happy reunion and the episode patters out for a few minutes. Miles gets Sisko to represent him at some hearing to acquit him for stealing the runabout. (The guy Molly stabbed can go eat a dick, I guess.) Dax tells Worf that Yoshi enjoyed his playtime so much that he was shouting
“Yoshi!!” “gung-gung-gung!” and that maybe Worf isn’t a total pathetic destitute clod of a father after all. Molly asks if she can meet the nice girl who saved her and her parents knowingly say, “Not for a little while.” Molly draws a new picture which looks like her older self’s picture, and the writers insist this is a huge bombshell. The end.
How long does Miles O’Brien keep cracking away at this pointless, thankless, traumatic freak show of a job? A job where he’s poisoned, irradiated, imprisoned, and beset by all manner of time-fuckery? According to the DS9 finale, he retires from active duty and takes a position on Earth teaching engineering at Starfleet Academy. Which seems like a pretty sweet gig, considering he never went to the Academy, until you realize that the second his students graduate he has to call them “sir”. Maybe the submissive little pig would be into that. I don’t know.
That’s all I got for ya, peeps. It’s been real. If the demand is there, I might recap “Power Play”, a Next Generation episode and arguably the first “O’Brien Must Suffer” episode, as a kind of bonus. Sound off in the comments if that’s something you’d like; otherwise, you’ll see me again when Star Trek: Picard starts airing—I’m doing the recaps!