Crewmembers’ fantasies come to life – some silly and harmless, but increasingly disruptive – just as a spatial anomaly threatens Bajor.
Plot Summary: While Bashir flirts with Dax and Odo warns Quark not to let Jake spend too much time in the holosuites, Sisko and Kira discover unusually high thoron emissions. A bit later, O’Brien tells Molly the story of Rumpelstiltskin, and shortly afterward the fairy tale creature takes solid form in her bedroom. O’Brien tries to summon Sisko, but just then Jake tells his father that the baseball player Buck Bokai somehow escaped from a holosuite program and is now in their quarters. Elsewhere on the station, Bashir is awoken by an amorous Dax, but when the two are called to Ops to analyze the strange events, a second Dax appears, revealing the first to be a fantasy of Bashir’s. The real Dax discovers that the thoron emissions are coming from a subspace rupture, and Odo’s warning of a snowstorm on the Promenade alerts Sisko that their visitors – whose bioscans reveal them to be alive, even the “holographic” Bokai – may not be as benign as they seem. Dax finds that the rupture is being amplified by the wormhole and warns that it could encompass Bajor if it doesn’t stop growing. Rumpelstiltskin offers to rescue everyone in exchange for Molly O’Brien, but Sisko realizes that the reluctance of himself, Bashir, and O’Brien to embrace fully the Bokai, Dax, and dwarf from their imaginations is confusing the entities and tells Miles to refuse. The command crew prepares a torpedo to try to seal the rupture, which is expanding at an alarming rate. The torpedo is unsuccessful and the station begins to shake apart, but from watching Rumpelstiltskin, Sisko guesses that the rift itself is a product of their imaginations and orders the crew to stop believing in it. The rift disappears and Bokai explains that they are members of a species traveling through space who are fascinated by the concept of imagination. Before disappearing along with “Rumpelstiltskin” and “Dax,” he suggests that they may return again.
Analysis: My family can’t be the only one that quotes Ghostbusters throughout this episode – “Don’t think about anything!” “It’s the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man!” Though, in fairness, we could just as easily be quoting the original series thoughts-are-real dramas “Shore Leave” and “Spectre of the Gun,” one of The Next Generation‘s fantasies-gone-wrong episodes, or the original holodeck story from the animated series, “The Practical Joker.” There are a couple of entertaining bits of ongoing canon in “If Wishes Were Horses” regarding Sisko’s love of baseball and Bashir’s not-so-secret desire to date Dax, but otherwise it’s one of the most derivative, least memorable episodes of Deep Space Nine. There’s not much to make it DS9-specific; the crisis could easily have happened on Picard’s Enterprise, with O’Brien’s concerns about Molly being exactly the same and Riker’s long-simmering feelings for Troi substituting for Bashir’s for Dax. Though Bajor appears to be threatened, Kira is more worried about evacuating the space station than warning her home planet; if she has so little faith that the scientists there could be of use in solving the crisis, wouldn’t this be a good moment to think about alerting the Prophets that their Celestial Temple may be contributing to the subspace rupture? It all feels very slapdash and poorly integrated into the series as a whole, even granting that this is the first season and we don’t know all that much about Quark except that he’d wish for more Dabo girls and more profit.
I’ve been trying to keep my rants about sexism in Star Trek to a minimum, mostly because this series has some of the best female characters in the history of television and the moments of misogyny are few and far between. But “If Wishes Were Horses” is one of the more egregious offenders. Dax is indignant to realize that what Bashir really wants is a version of herself who’s more submissive and needy, but she doesn’t nail him for the really unforgivable characteristic of the fantasy, which is that Duplicate Dax is stupid – that’s how everyone in Ops realizes she’s not the real thing just before the real thing arrives, because she can’t answer a technical question they’re all certain the real Dax would know. Yes, it’s delightful that we all take Dax’s intelligence for granted, but what does it say about educated 24th century men that they still feel safer around bimbos, or at least want versions of their women who aren’t very bright? Then there’s Quark, who in real life has Dabo girls depending on him for jobs, dreaming of…more Dabo girls! More appreciative Dabo girls! More erotically demonstrative Dabo girls! I understand that respecting the cultures of others might stop Sisko and Kira from telling Quark off about this on a regular basis, but the fact that scantily clothed women in service professions remain a staple of his bar’s environment – and we never see the male equivalent, though we know from Dax’s holosuite programs that she’s quite capable of enjoying a hunky male masseur – suggests that it’s still acceptable for humanoid males to demand female eye candy, whether they’re human or Ferengi or Bajoran or whatever.
The moral of most wish-fulfillment stories is that you don’t really want whatever it is you think you’d give anything to have, anyway, and “If Wishes Were Horses” fits that theme fairly well, though I’m not clear why the first fantasy creature to appear is one who’s intimidating to both O’Brien and his young daughter – Sisko is much luckier getting to meet a longtime sports hero, and Bashir, though embarrassed, finally gets the closest thing to a passionate kiss from Jadzia that he’ll ever receive. If only someone had had a truly unexpected fantasy, rather than things right out of the series bible that we already knew about them…if Odo really had wanted the encounter with a female shapeshifter that Quark offered in a holosuite, if Kira dreamed up an invading force of Cardassians just so she could break their necks one by one, if Dax realized that her Inner Curzon always wanted to grab command from Sisko, if Quark pictured himself being a hero and saving lives instead of making money, if Bashir’s forbidden fantasies were not about Dax but about Garak. I can’t even imagine what Garak’s naughtiest fantasy might be but it would by definition be more creative than anything we got to see in “If Wishes Were Horses,” even if the spy really wishes he’d moved into his mother’s basement and watched the Cardassian equivalent of television through the entire war instead of being involved in espionage and winding up in exile. Odo’s pathetic order, “Please refrain from using your imaginations” – and Sisko’s follow-up, which, absurdly, works though Spock had to use a mind-meld to get the same results – might as well have been directed at the writers of this episode.