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Sunday, 22 October 2017

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 2-06: Melora

Episode:26|Writer:Evan Carlos Somers and Steven Baum and Michael Piller & James Crocker|Air Date:31-Oct-1993

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures it's two-thirds of the way through October and I'm only up to episode 6 of Deep Space Nine's second season. I'm starting to think that I'm going to run out of year before I can finish the season off.

It's not the worst time to watch this episode though, as Melora originally aired in October. In fact, it was shown on the 31st, but I don't think it's a horror episode. At least, not deliberately. Though it's an episode with a character's name as its one-word title and they're rarely ever good in my experience.

I should probably have made this one a quick review and gotten it over with, but instead it's getting the full recap treatment, with maximum SPOILERS. I may also spoil events in earlier Trek episodes, but nothing that came later.



The episode begins with Bashir riding around the infirmary in an antique electric wheelchair he's replicated for an Elaysian cartographer coming on board, Ensign Melora Pazlar. They can't just give her a modern anti-grav chair to use because the sets are too narrow for the prop they had in storage it'd be incompatible with the Cardassian artificial gravity system on the station.

Now it's got me wondering whether anti-grav would work on Babylon 5's 'spin the room real fast' gravity system. I'm guessing... no.

Bashir and Dax head to where Melora's ship's parked and her walking to her chair with the aid of exoskeleton and clearly not enjoying it. She makes it clear she'd enjoy their help even less though. Melora's played by Daphne Ashbrook by the way, who'd appear as almost-companion Dr. Grace Holloway in the American Doctor Who TV movie/failed pilot three years later. And Dax actress Terry Farrell played Cat in a failed American Red Dwarf pilot, so we've got the weirdest crossover going on here.

There's nothing medically wrong with Melora, she's just from a low-gravity world so the gravity on every other planet, ship or space station we've ever seen in the Star Trek universe is strong enough to pin her to the ground. Melora's kind of the opposite of Alara in The Orville, who comes from a high-gravity world and has super strength. Well, aside from the fact that they both look entirely human from the nose down.

First thing that Melora does when she sits down is mention that they've screwed with the chair design she's been practising with for a month... but that's fine, she'll just have to adapt. I get the feeling this was supposed to be a lesson for Bashir that he shouldn't assume to know more about a person's needs than the person themselves. He immediately offers to replicate the original design, but she's determined to have as little special treatment as possible, so after making Bashir feel bad she stubbornly sticks with the chair she's got.

Though she won't use the transporter to get around, so poor O'Brien had to add ramps to every part of the station that she's likely to want to go. I guess future medicine is so good that wheelchair accessibility has just never been an issue before. It was definitely an issue for writer Evan Carlos Somers though, and Melora's problems here are based on his own troubles getting his wheelchair around the DS9 sets.

I didn't really notice until this rewatch that Deep Space Nine's got two very different kinds of hallways, but you can tell the difference right away in these two screencaps. At first I assumed it was a way to show the audience where a scene's taking place, outer docking ring or inner habitation ring, but they're always walking from one kind to another so that doesn't work.

And that’s pretty much the end of the teaser. A cranky cartographer goes to her room. Well I’m excited to see what happens next!


ACT ONE


Man, that's a lot of names; generally not a good sign. I can never remember what the difference between 'and' and '&' is, so I looked it up again, and 'and' means the writers worked on the script independently, while '&' means they worked together as a team.

Behind the wall of credits, Quark was making a deal with the guy on the left to trade his bracelets for lots of gold-pressed latinum, but he got interrupted by the arrival of the other guy you can't see. He's an old associate of his, who just got out of prison and thought he'd drop by the station to murder him.

Very little Melora in this scene I noticed.

Oh there she is, and she's out of the wheelchair again. Sisko comes down the steps from his office to meet her in the chair, but after that it's left behind and we don't see the struggle a wheelchair user would have to get in here.

Melora immediately complains about the other officers talking about her behind her back, because she's sick of being shut out of the 'Melora problem'. Then she asks to be allowed to take a runabout out into the Gamma Quadrant on her own because she works better without other people trying to be helpful to her. Plus I suppose it'd mean she could turn the gravity down and be perfectly comfortable in there, but she forgets to mention that.

Sisko says no, because no one goes through the wormhole in a runabout alone, and Melora makes an impassioned plea. So he tells her no again, and she... accepts that without further comment. Which kind of surprised me, but in a good way. After all, she’s gone through the academy and has reached the rank of ensign, so if he’s her boss right now she should be well prepared to follow his orders and demonstrate a suitable level of respect.

Damn, did they find Melora a room in Ore Processing or something? All the quarters on DS9 look kind of bleak, but we've never seen any guest quarters look this oppressive before. I keep expecting to see Han Solo and Luke Skywalker burst in dressed as Stormtroopers.

Bashir decided to drop in on her to see how she's settling in and turn on the creepy charm, and she responds by dialling her own charm right down to 'icy'. But he calls her out on it and eventually she has to admit that she's been deliberately putting people on the defensive.

In the original draft, the well-meaning crew were supposed to be making a more of problem out of Melora's situation than she was, and she'd be frustrated by that, but in the final episode she's riling people up with her attitude and we're sympathising with the crew. Doesn't seem like the best way to go in an episode about the subject of disability.

Hey, that's not the same picture he was holding in the last screencap!

Anyway, now that he's talked her out of being unfriendly and feels confident that the person in the photo isn't her husband, Bashir moves to phase 2 of the operation: inviting her out to dinner! I wonder if he's ever had a female patient he didn't ask out.


ACT TWO


Quark’s also prepared a dinner, to try to calm down the man who wants to murder him. But the guy just pours his Vak clover soup out onto the table. He even turns down the offer of 'doubling down' with two half-naked dabo girls.

To be fair I wouldn't want to eat either if I had all that rubber covering my mouth.

The vengeful criminal, Kot, was supposed to come off as menacing, but he just looks unimpressed. I don't get the feeling he could reach across the table and murder Quark at any moment. In fact, I'm a bit confused about why he's just hanging out here by a table on his own instead of disappearing off screen to let Quark have a scene with Odo where he begs him to protect him from the lunatic here to kill him.

Meanwhile, Bashir and Melora end up at the new Klingon place on the promenade. Wait, this is the episode with the Klingon chef in it? Damn, I was seriously considering just skipping this episode entirely; I nearly missed him! Though this has to be the grossest scene in DS9 so far, as Bashir orders a plate of worms, which get to see in a close-up. C’mon guys I’m trying to eat my own dinner here!

Melora takes one look at what he’s ordered for her and says she can’t eat it… it’s half dead! So she yells something at the Klingon chef in fluent Klingon, and he tosses the plate away with a grin and gets her some proper racht.

Well that's been chucked.

Wait, how does she deliberately speak in Klingon when they’re using a universal translator?

It's funny how comfortable people are with eating racht now, after how grossed out the Enterprise crew was by it in Next Gen's A Matter of Honor five years ago. There's even some Pakleds from Samaritan Snare eating in the background. I guess Klingon food makes them go.

Bashir tells Melora the story of why he became a doctor, which is a much more interesting story than the one he told his date in Q-Less, about how he got a preganglionic fibre mixed up with a postganglionic nerve in a test once. Plus we get a new fact about him: he nearly became a pro tennis player instead of practising medicine. In a parallel universe there's a version of DS9 where Sisko's a chef instead of the commander, Bashir plays tennis, O'Brien's a cellist, and it sucks.

The next morning, Dax goes to Melora's quarters to meet her for their trip to the Gamma Quadrant, only to find that she's not answering the door. Either she's gone off in the runabout without her, or she's in trouble! Or asleep! So she uses a security override to get the door open and finds the room empty.

But it turns out she hadn’t gone off to the Gamma Quadrant. She’d just gone to get some stuff from storage and tripped over the lip on the doorway, giving the actress a chance to do some 'malfunctioning exoskeleton' acting lying on her side. It also means that someone finally gets to question why there's a raised rim running across the floor on every doorway on this station.

Terry Farrell demonstrates her superhuman strength by just picking Melora up and putting her back in the chair and they get her to the infirmary. No mission to the Gamma Quadrant today then. Instead, she gets to enjoy a lecture from Bashir that no one's truly independent in space. They all rely on each other out here, so she shouldn't be too proud to ask for help when going into unmodified areas of the station.

Bashir walks Melora back to her sinister grey quarters, talking about a possible cure for her condition, and is about to leave her to enjoy low-gravity for a while when she invites him in to join her.

So the two of them start floating around the room, because I guess 'low-gravity' means 'no gravity' now. Bashir seems really new to this considering that he's an astronaut. Did he not do zero-g training in the Academy?

Wait, I've figured it out! This is the holosuite set covered up with grey panels! That's why it's got those impractical sloping walls that you can't push a desk or wardrobe up against.

This is probably the least romantic room on the station but the two of them end up kissing anyway. It's a miracle they didn't get their cables all tangled up. Here's a rubbish fact for you: that flying rig remained up there for three whole seasons just in case Melora ever came back.

You'd think all of this air movement would cause the photo to start drifting, but nope it's staying where it is. It's of her brother, by the way, she's not cheating on anyone.


ACT THREE


It's taken until the third act, but Melora's finally managed to take a runabout out to explore the Gamma Quadrant. There's actual exploring going on for once and it's happening on screen! It was driving me mad that no one even talked about missions to the Gamma Quadrant in season one. I mean I didn't expect to see our crew leaving their station to seek out new worlds and new civilisations themselves, but I wanted them involved in the process somehow. I wanted some sign that the wormhole mattered and someone cared!

Here's two things I've never really noticed about the runabout set before: Dax's seat has an armrest with buttons on it, and both seats seem to have a slot on the side for a seatbelt despite the fact that seatbelt technology was lost hundreds of years ago.

I also noticed the boom mic peering in through the window in one of the other shots.

Anyway, the two of them immediately fail the Bechdel test by talking about Melora's potential romance with Dr. Bashir, which leads to Terry Farrell suddenly delivering the most natural performance of any actor in the episode so far. It's amazing the difference in her acting when she's given material that suits her.

Back on the station, Quark finally comes to tell Odo that Kot's coming after him, but of course he already knew. He will do his job though... after taking a moment to smile at the thought of just letting Quark die.

Odo brings the guy in to have a chat, telling him he can tell a man's intentions by the way he walks. Apparently Kot's got an 'I'm planning to kill Quark later' kind of strut. But a person's walk can't be submitted as evidence, so it's only a short chat. Best that Odo can do now is give Quark a combadge to call for help if he's being murdered. A Starfleet one, weirdly, even though he's a Bajoran officer on a Bajoran station.

I'm sure he'll be secretly spying on one of though, disguised as a lamp or something. Kot's a hardened criminal fresh out of prison with motive to kill Quark and he even threatened to do it, so he has to take this seriously.

Meanwhile, Melora goes to see Bashir in the Infirmary and discovers that he's come up with a procedure for her that'll let her move in the station's gravity as easily as everyone else. Though it does require her to strip off for some reason. She's still got those beads in her hair though, so I guess they're either natural or really tangled in there.

She signs up to be his guinea pig with a surprising absence of hesitation and after her first treatment she's strong enough to walk across Ops to hand over her report. But the effects quickly fade and she's back to using her exoskeleton again.

The funny thing is, all the gravity on the station is artificially generated by deck plates, so it can't be that hard to automatically reduce the gravity for her in the section of the floor she's standing on as she walks around. She’d have to keep everyone else at arm’s length or else they'd end up in the low g too, but she's had a lot of practice at that.


ACT FOUR


They go back to her quarters and Melora's curious about whether she can turn the gravity off. Unfortunately, it turns out that she can't tonight, as low-gravity might confuse her body and lead to a loss of fine motor control. That seems like a pretty serious side effect for someone who'd probably like to visit her low-gravity world ever again. I figured they'd go with 'you'll be too strong to fit in back home' as the catch, but this makes more sense.

Over in the 'Quark's gonna get killed' plot, Kot finally decides to ambush him in his quarters, throwing the combadge away to stop him calling for help. I keep waiting for a chair to transform into Odo, but Quark ultimate has to save his own life by offering the guy a serious amount of latinum.


ACT FIVE


Lots of symmetrically framed shots this episode.

Melora's still continuing the treatments, but it's only a matter of time before the effect will become permanent and being stuck in this level of gravity's becoming less appealing to her. So Dax tells her about the story of The Little Mermaid. This is basically Melora's situation: she wants to grow legs and live on land but she's not so keen about never being able to return to the sea. I've forgotten how that story ends though and Dax spares us from spoilers, though the look on her face makes me think that she didn't see the Disney version.

Elsewhere, Quark has brought Kot along to his latest trade, so that he can keep the money, the other guy can keep the merchandise, and everyone can leave him alone.

Kot has other ideas though, as he shoots the other guy with a phaser and takes both money and merchandise. Man, it's nice to see a good old-fashioned phaser beam after all this Discovery I've been watching lately.

But Kot's not done there, as he kidnaps Quark at gunpoint, then runs into Dax and Melora, and kidnaps the two of them as well. Then he steals their runabout! So that makes this the third time an officer's been kidnapped or held hostage this season and it's only episode 6.

Whoa, it's Kira! And she's got a line! I guess she heard that there was finally some action going on and came running out of her trailer.

The crew go through the normal routine of putting a tractor beam on the escaping vessel that's kidnapping one of their crewmembers, but Kot makes it clear that he's going to start killing people unless they let him go. Sisko tries to negotiate with him, so the guy decides to prove he's not bluffing by pulling the trigger on hostage #1...

... murdering Melora live on camera!

Cut to the crew's almost total lack of reaction. Bashir's clearly a bit surprised and unhappy, but he doesn't do anything as extreme as moving his face or making a sound.

Maybe they just don't recognise the woman who got shot, as she's been replaced by stuntwoman Patricia Tallman (Lyta Alexander on Babylon 5) for this 'falling off a chair' stunt. It's hard to miss the switch as we get a clear look at her face for a good couple of seconds.

They let the Orioco go, but Sisko, Bashir and O’Brien beam straight to the Rio Grande to show Kot what the station’s top runabout can do. So we get the first runabout chase through the wormhole since Past Prologue in season one. Back then one of the runabouts had a sensor pod on so we could tell them apart and they've pulled the same trick here. You'd think that the one kitted out for a cartography mission would have the pod and the one launched in a hurry wouldn't, but you'd be wrong.

It seems like director Winrich Kolbe was their first choice for episodes with spaceship chases, as he did Past Prologue, Vortex and The Siege. I've no idea how much input a TV director even has with the visual effects, I just thought that was an interesting coincidence.

While I'm listing titles, this is the first story since Battle Lines to take us to the other side of the wormhole, and that was 13 episodes ago. I'm glad Stargate: SG-1 showed a bit more enthusiasm and curiosity about its magic gateway.

Dax refuses to fire at the Rio Grande chasing them at warp, because it's the motherfucking Rio Grande, so Kot threatens to kill her. But Dax knows something he doesn’t: she's spotted Melora crawling over to a computer panel to turn off the gravity.

Okay, that one moment justifies this entire episode.

It also shows why TV series avoid doing zero-g scenes if possible, because they tend to look comically terrible unless you've got a budget. Especially if you're filming inside a space van.

Sisko and Bashir beam over to be big damn heroes, but the Orinoco crew have already handled Kot, with Quark holding him at gunpoint.

Cut to Bashir and Melora back in the Klingon restaurant, with Melora literally starting the scene with "Why didn't the phaser kill me?" I guess when there's only two minutes of episode left you have to get more blunt with your exposition. Bashir doesn't actually know why, but he suspects that it's a result of the treatments. Side effects may include aching muscles, a warm backside, the inability to ever return home and immunity to death.

Melora has decided to stop the treatments though because if she could walk on land she wouldn't be a mermaid anymore. Besides, she's coming around to the idea of letting people help her out. Not him though, because she's leaving soon.

But the two of them stick around for a while to listen to the Klingon chef serenading them with his violin-thing. It's like an Earth string instrument, except you can apparently play different notes without holding the strings.

And that's how the episode ends.


CONCLUSION

Well that was a bit of a disappointment really. I was expecting Melora to be terrible on every level, but it was actually alright! This is the trouble with watching all of season one first; it's worn me down to the point where I'm actually happy to get a Dax and Bashir ep where he immediately falls in love with a guest star as long as it isn't entirely boring.

Plus it helps that the guest star is an explorer who actually gives a damn about investigating this Gamma Quadrant thing they've got sitting on the other side of their wormhole! Well, okay she's a cartographer, but close enough. I don't need to see our heroes doing the Star Trekking personally, but I do need them to be getting involved in the stuff that's going on outside or else I'm just watching people hang out in an airport.

And I'd totally forgotten about the Quark B-plot! I had absolutely zero recollection of his old friend coming out of prison and threatening to kill him, and I didn't have a clue where the story was going. Probably because it was utterly unmemorable. I definitely didn't remember Odo being so useless again. It was like The Passenger all over again, as he's told about what's going on, he says he'll do what he can about it, and then he utterly fails to keep an eye on the person involved. Twice Quark was nearly murdered this episode, and Odo had zero involvement in saving his life or catching the criminal. It's making him look really inept.

The Melora A-plot had warning signs all over it, with Bashir immediately making a move on his patient and Melora herself making everyone else feel terrible for trying to be thoughtful of her needs, but I actually kind of liked the two of them together. Bashir's way calmer than he was in season one and Melora is far less prickly after the first act... after he tells her to stop deliberately putting people on the defensive. The weird thing about the episode is that it's less about the crew learning how to treat a disabled crewmember like a person rather than a problem, and more about her learning to rely on other people instead of being stubbornly independent. She's the one who changes by the end.

I was at least expecting Bashir to screw up by pressuring her into carrying on with the treatments, but nope, he pointed out her options at every step and was immediately willing to go with whatever choice she made. Even if he wasn't happy about it (apparently no cure means no long-distance relationship for him). Not that I have a problem with this; I'm glad he's on the road to character rehabilitation.

The episode was kind of written as a response to the Next Gen episode Ethics, where Worf is paralysed and would rather die than live like that, as here a character is offered a 'cure' to their 'disability' and ultimately turns it down. It even features a scene where she uses her different physiology to take down the villain and save the day... though it comes right after she survives a shot because she was undergoing treatment to change her physiology, so the moral's a bit mixed there. Plus it's only the side-effects of the treatment that she's bothered about as they'll stop her from returning home, where she's as capable as anyone in her species.

I can't say I liked this episode more than Cardassians, because Garak isn't in it, but I'd rate it way higher than Invasive Procedures, so it's made it into my top five for the season so far! Out of six. Ultimately though I think the only thing really notable about the episode is that it gives us a glimpse of what could've been, as a character like Melora was originally planned to be the show's science officer, before the producers decided that the low-gravity effects would be too tricky and expensive, and created Jadzia Dax instead.

Well that, and Melora going full Mortal Kombat and pulling off Raiden's torpedo slam in zero-g.



COMING SOON
Deep Space Nine will return with Rules of Acquisition. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, more Discovery with Lethe.

Comments are appreciated!

7 comments:

  1. Oh, right, that's Melora Pazlar. I've gotten so used to her being in the Star Trek: Titan novels that I kind of forgot she was on TV once.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Especially embarrassing because I didn't have a very clear image of the character in my head, despite seeing her on TV.

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  3. I would watch a spinoff about the Klingon chef.

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    Replies
    1. Even if it's full of close ups of Klingon food?

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    2. Well, that's negotiable.

      I think there's potential in a Trek universe spinoff that's not about a starship crew. It doesn't have to be a five year twenty episode per series epic, but a six to eight epsiode thing on Netflix or something could be fun.

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    3. That's why I was hyped about the rumours that Discovery was going to be an American Horror Story-style anthology series, jumping to a new part of the Trek universe and featuring new characters each season. They could've taken risks with ideas they'd never make a 7 season TV series out of. Though the downside is that it'd be ridiculously expensive to build new sets each year, and they'd inevitably end up spending a season in Starfleet Academy.

      Delete
    4. It would be like Harry Potter, but with Vulcans!

      A Trek anthology series would be ace, but yeah, you're right, probably far too expensive.

      Delete