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Retro Review: Melora

Posted by Michelle - 06/04/12 at 09:04 am


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 02 Episode: 06 (s02e06)

Original US airdate: 10/31/1993

A scientist from a planet with very light gravity arrives on the station with her natural metabolism acting as a severe handicap.

Plot Summary: Bashir prepares to welcome cartographer Melora Pazlar, an Elaysian who plans to work in the Gamma Quadrant. Because Elaysians are from a planet with very low gravity, Pazlar has trouble getting around in Earth-normal gravity and Bashir has designed a wheelchair for her. Pazlar is resentful of being treated as a handicapped person and is angry when Sisko insists that she take Dax with her for her research, though Pazlar is only an ensign. Bashir warns her that she is alienating people who only want to see her succeed and shows her that he has equipped her quarters with a device to lower the gravity to what’s comfortable for her. The two become friendly over a Klingon dinner at which Pazlar demonstrates that she can speak Klingon fluently. But the morning of her mission, Pazlar trips and is unable to get up without Dax’s assistance. Bashir begins to research the possibility of permanently altering Pazlar’s metabolism so that she can work in Earth-normal gravity comfortably. On the runabout Pazlar tells Dax that she has feelings for Bashir, which Dax encourages her to explore despite their differences, though Dax has graver doubts about whether Pazlar should give up her natural physiology so she can live more comfortably among humans – a process that will mean she can never live at home again. Meanwhile, Quark has been visited by Fallit Kot, who has been in prison for eight years after a scam gone wrong. Kot intends to kill Quark until Quark offers him a fortune in latinum. But Kot takes Quark hostage after receiving the latinum, trapping Dax and Melora in their runabout and threatening to kill them if Sisko won’t let him escape. When Sisko tractors the runabout, Kot shoots a phaser at Melora. Believing her to be no threat, he does not notice when she crawls across the floor and turns down the runabout’s gravity, allowing her to retake control of the ship. At the station, she tells Bashir that she has decided not to alter her physiology but prefers to remain Elaysian.

Analysis: Even though “Melora” has an A and B plot and the two come together at the climax, the episode drags through its first half hour as though there just isn’t enough material to keep it engaging. I’m not sure whether to blame the formulaic romance that springs up between Bashir and Pazlar, the predictable girl talk between Dax and Pazlar in the shuttle that replaces any substantive discussion of the scientific research that’s supposedly the most important thing in Pazlar’s life, or the After-School Special feeling of an opening in which the audience is treated to several lectures about being sensitive to people with different physical abilities and not letting apparent disabilities get in the way of one’s ambitions. None of it’s a bad idea, but the writing is quite and no amount of effort at demonstrating enthusiasm during low-gravity flying-and-kissing scenes ever translates into real chemistry between Bashir and Pazlar. In hindsight, there’s an opportunity for substantive interaction between these two characters because Julian, like Melora, is the product of artificial enhancements that have allowed him to become a Starfleet officer yet also made him feel homeless…but when this episode aired, the writers hadn’t yet decided that Bashir was genetically modified, so all his dealings with Pazlar seem a bit tinged with condescension rather than a man seeking out someone in a situation that parallels his own. The speech about how he wanted to be a tennis player but couldn’t return an opponent’s serve sounds like a veiled warning about knowing one’s limitations. I can’t help wondering whether it’s the woman herself who intrigues him or the possibility of low-gravity lovemaking while flying around a room.

It doesn’t have to be like this – we see from the scene in which Palzar orders a mean Klingon dinner that she’s bright and funny when she’s not obsessively defensive about whether people are treating her with pity. The exuberance we see in her when she’s flying around in her quarters is sadly lacking when she talks about the research for which she left her home planet and endured the limitations of Starfleet Academy. Given that she comes to the station to work on cutting-edge stellar cartography, which we hear precisely nothing about, and given that her interest in Bashir seems at least as strong as her interest in possibly being able to walk, she ends up being doubly stereotyped – as a person so determined to prove she isn’t handicapped that she takes unnecessary risks, and as a woman so distracted by love that she has trouble separating out what she wants from what her lover wants for her. The analogy between her desire to walk and “The Little Mermaid” is an obvious one but there’s a copout in not letting Dax tell her the full fairy tale – that a talented girl who chooses to mutilate herself for love may wind up utterly alone. I think that turning her relationship with Bashir into a love story is a mistake, in part because I’d so much rather her discussions with Dax focus on their experiences of the bodies that constrain them – Dax, too, has at several times had to get used to a new physiology – and in part because I’d rather see her interact with Bashir without any sense that she’s thinking about changing just for him. I wish we heard less about why Bashir wanted to be a doctor and more about why she wanted to leave her home planet…why does she consider becoming more like a human “real independence” in the first place?

The repetitive “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” scenarios are particularly frustrating, the first because it’s set up a result of Melora’s pride, the second because it’s impossible to believe in any threat to her even after she’s been shot – we just need to shown that, in a crunch, she CAN take care of herself and everyone else, after all those lectures we’ve heard about her differences not constituting a disability. I love that this character accepts herself as she is and insists that others do as well, but the heavy-handedness of the dialogue and scenarios make it hard to enjoy watching her. None of this is helped by the Quark storyline, which can’t decide whether it wants to be a comedy or a horror story. Clearly Quark is afraid of Kot, but his precautions seem amusing largely in their superficiality – replicating a fancy meal for him? accepting Odo’s jokes? – and it’s apparent from the start that Quark is not going to learn any lesson about fair play or good behavior no matter how much of a scare Kot gives him. So what’s the point of it all, other than to create a scenario in which Palzar can save the day and convince herself she doesn’t need to throw away everything she is as an Elaysian? (I’ll be good and avoid questions like why bipeds on a low-gravity world evolved with musculature that looks exactly like that of humans.) It all fits together too neatly, meaning it’s not even possible to appreciate Palzar as an underdog and I really do want to appreciate her; it’s just so hard, when I feel like I’m being lectured and asked to enjoy something because it’s good for me rather than because it’s, well, good. So props to the makeup and effects departments, which did a great job with Kot’s nose and Melora’s flying, and props to the actors who were clearly trying hard, but this isn’t one of the highlights of a very fine season.

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  • mvdelaney77

    Heavy-handedness… heavy-handedness? Well… at least you’re discussing a subject with which you are entirely familiar…

    Personally, out of the episode and this review, the most heavy-handed moment is this:

    “I can’t help wondering whether it’s the woman herself who intrigues him or the possibility of low-gravity lovemaking while flying around a room.”

    Of course you can’t… and, of course that’s the only thing on Bashir’s mind, right? He’s an evil man. If only the object of Melora’s affection was Dax, this would’ve been your favorite episode.

    Lady, it’s getting old…

  • Seventhbeacon

    I do think this was before the writers really had a grasp on the Bashir character, to the point that it is entirely plausible to read into the motivations any number of ways because the story isn’t clear on it. I remember watching this and recognizing the trait in myself that Bashir was “in love with love” and here was an exotic woman for whom to focus his affections on, to convince himself that he was falling in love. I think to draw the conclusion that his focus is on sex when the shows up to this point as a whole he is not a shallow man (a la the despicable Ryan Gosling character in Crazy Stupid Love, which sells that you CAN reform the philandering bad boy as opposed to going after the somehow less appealing or boring decent men), but youthful and taken to flights of fancy.

    I didn’t feel the undercurrent of misandry in this one as I have in other reviews, but reading into character motivations, esp on a show that’s still discovering who its characters are, can only BE a subjective process. We take our own internal motivations, or our past experiences with others (I hate getting personal, but was there a scumbag or six in her life that brought about the general sense of misandry that has been a common thread of suspecting the motivations or perceptions of male characters and male writers?)

  • SJStar

    “handicapped person”??

    Handicapped was once accepted “person with a disability”, but the words are considered derogatory and negative, implied as to be limited or lessening as a person by an impediment of some kind. Handicap has been replaced to the much preferred passive word “disability”. The writer here, in context, is talking about atypical patronising sometime projected on those with disabilities. Belittling others will such terms diminishes the authority of this author IMO. Pity.

    Again saying for “as a person so determined to prove she isn’t handicapped that she takes unnecessary risks,..” There is one important rule here. She is not disabled, everyone else is. More positively, her reaction is regarding equity* and not just attributable because she has some limitation.

    *Actually, Star Trek is mostly about equity among races and creeds. Accepting differences between peoples and races is the real ‘boldly go where no ones gone before.’ Evolution of humankind between today’s world and the future world is based on the fundamental changes in attitudes and accepting difference. Not everyone gets it, however….

  • SJStar

    Funny. The comment you have just highlight reveals more the mind of the reviewer rather than the supposed objective ideas that should be presented in any review.

    Clearly having come from a low-gravity environment, Bashir would be well aware that the physics of lovemaking might be plain dangerous. I.e Hurting her. I’d have thought that lovemaking in low or zero gravity was available to everyone – either in the holosuite or by just turning off the gravity plating on some attached space vessel to DS9. (Even though the episode says, to much of my own disbelief, as they have been to use such technology in various later episodes of the series, the “normal anti-grav unit” doesn’t work on DS9.)

    Does having curiosity about another interesting individual always mean, especially if they are male (or female), all they ultimately want to do is get them in the sack? I think not. Bashir, as a scientific medical doctor, just might be far more interested interested in her alien biology, and add to his own learning curve of xenology. Judging from his highest and noblest behaviour in the DS9 episode “The Quickening”, where his character so desperately tries and helps to save the pregnant Ekoria and unborn child, and puts his heart and soul to save all her people from a horrifying viral Dominion plague. Bashir is far from misogynist prat the reviewer predisposes.

    Q. What is the opposite female word for a misogynist?

  • SJStar

    In the story explanation (http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Melora), I was taken with this comment, which this review kinda misses…

    It says the views of the writer of the Melora episode, Evan Carlos Somers;

    “Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Ethics”, in which Worf’s spine is damaged, causing paralysis; “That episode had gotten a little under my skin. Even though Worf is an alien and it’s just a TV show, everyone knows we’re making statements with Star Trek. Messages and values are being broadcast loud and clear. I resented the message in ‘Ethics’ – that Worf is worthless now that he’s disabled and therefore must kill himself. I’m sorry that the portrayal had to exist at all.” Furthermore, Somers recalled that it was “unfortunate that anyone would think that way,” regarding Worf’s decision to kill himself. “I always thought it would be nice to create a disabled character who’s accepted for what she is and doesn’t have to change,” he says. “The best way to do that on Deep Space Nine was to have Bashir find a cure for the disability, and for the character to turn it down. That was the real driving force behind my wanting to do this episode.” (The Official Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Magazine Vol. 6, pp. 60-61)”

    It seems the produces spent a lot of time is presenting this episode – likely getting people with disabilities interested in Star Trek. One of the best thing about Trek is that in the future, technology and medical know how has solved things like common aliments to genetic disabilities. This leaves the real impression of hope.

  • mvdelaney77

    A female misogynist? Duh… Michelle.

    And don’t bother trying to attribute to Bashir any other qualities… he’s a man. All he does is think about sex with women… then again, sex with women seems to be all the reviewer really thinks about either. Perhaps we’ve been thinking about this all wrong… Michelle is actually a little sexist man trapped in a woman’s body… explains everything, including the misguided bitterness toward all men… If I was missing my ding-a-ling I’d be cranky too.

  • mvdelaney77

    Yeah, that’s the actual Trek perspective when you aren’t fixated on genitals.

    With that said, it’s not actually right. I mean, I don’t want to offend anyone, but if reality is offensive, then so be it. Whether we want to call something a handicap or a disability, it’s the same thing. In fact, were we to parse the words themselves, I don’t see how being disabled, ie not possibly able to do something, is more respectful than handicapped, wherein you have an issue, but are overcoming it. A handicap in golf just means the inherent advantage or disadvantage you bring to the table is considered… It doesn’t mean you can’t play golf. So, why is handicap such an offensive word? People with a disability are handicapped. That’s not to say they aren’t able… Ergo, by definition, they aren’t DISabled…. I think people that are offended by handicapped don’t really get it… it’s not an offensive term. If you want offensive, how about crippled? Gimp? I mean, I could go on and on with offensive terms… actually offensive terms… So, rather than make up things for our society to get our panties in a bunch, let’s let the whole PC bs take a break for a few.

    And that brings me to my next point, which is likely to be far more irritating to some:

    Star Trek and modern medicine are colluding to damage the human genome. Some people should die. Some people should never reproduce. But, through the extraordinary means of modern medicine, some people are both kept alive and subsequently reproduce when they should not. Political correctness needs to stop at some point on this subject. For millennia, humans have been weeding out the people we needed to in order to advance as a species. That biologial flotsom is now clinging to our necks like the perverbial pair of Tiberian Bats…. and friends, that’s not good. It’s not good to preserve bad genetics in poodles, why would we think it true in humans? By the 24th century, at this rate, we’ll all have something wrong with us… there’s no way we’ll be out exploring the galaxy.

    It might sound harsh, but we’re doing too much to mitigate natural selection among the human population… maybe that starts by being offended when people use a term that isn’t even offensive… Maybe the destruction of our genetic code is already underway… and the first casualty? We’re all too thin skinned.

  • SJStar

    “Whether we want to call something a handicap or a disability, it’s the same thing.”

    I have a muscle wasting disability. I, am some of my friends, find the word “handicapped” offensive.

  • hostile_17

    Yes, commenters… Bashir is a true romantic, who wanted to marry Melora because he loved her personality!

    Yes, that’s possible… but why must you think that a guy can’t just want to get laid in the 24th century?

    It’s a fair point, becuase the relationship didn’t last more than one episode.

  • Seventhbeacon

    “Misandry.”

  • Seventhbeacon

    Because we live in a moral society that doesn’t need to take ‘natural law’ to its fullest extent. We protect children and the elderly, we provide medical care and the chance for some standard of life for those born with mental or physical ailments. It’s rooted in Christian beliefs and modern western thought.

    Granted, eugenics was very popular at the turn of the 20th century, even in the US… but the reason modern medicine and Star Trek vilify it is simple: Nazi Germany practiced active eugenics, killing off undesirables; not just Jews and political dissidents, but those with mental and physical handicaps.

    You pose a fair question about how society chooses to handle things, but at least in most modern democratic nations the freedom to make that choice as a private citizen is paramount.

    You are absolutely right, though, about things being far too PC, especially in the political and newsmedia mediums. There is surely some common ground in between stepping on eggshells and the militant, uncivil discourse of the Mahers, O’Reillys…

  • Seventhbeacon

    Equity. Amen. That is spot-on Star Trek’s best focus.

    I thought the whole point of the episode wasn’t to pander, but to reiterate “infinite diversity in infinite combinations.” To celebrate and work with differences rather than to label them as inferior or superior. Bashir’s good intentions and obliviousness to Melora’s world view make him a very fallible character, so focused on science and fixing problems that he was unable to possess the wisdom to view it from her perspective.

  • Seventhbeacon

    Another flaw in both your reasoning and especially in Star Trek’s:

    “For millennia, humans have been weeding out the people we needed to in order to advance as a species.”

    Star Trek constantly proposes a belief that evolution is leading us toward “advancement,” perhaps to some higher state of being. That is not scientific. Evolution is a neutral process, and in the framework of natural selection does not lead beings through advancement, but to better survive the environment in which species exist. It does not drive species to become more complex or intelligent; mutations that grant creatures the ability to suvive and flourish lead to those changes becoming more populous… and disadvantageous elements are elimiated through natural selection.

    Because we are the highest form of intelligence (that we know of) on this planet, we have been able to fashion tools and develop technology to better increase our standard of living, to lengthen lives, and essentially to shape our own destiny through this process. We have cured many ailments, but we haven’t had to bash babies’ heads on rocks to accomplish this as was/is the practice in places where modern medicine have not been an option.

    Allowing a child with, for instance, downs syndrome, to survive in no way impedes our advancement as a race. That person has access to a higher standard of life in the modern world. Putting natural selection on a pedestal is wrong, especially in our society that has the ability to engineer its own future. That leads to advocating ‘might makes right’, and since money and power are the primary forms of strength in modern society, natural selection means those who have the money have more right to exist (and can make their own rules) than those who do not.

    I know that’s not what you think you’re advocating… I presume that you’re advocating a preference of living in a society where disease and disability are no longer around. But there’s the humane way, and then there’s natural selection.

  • Seventhbeacon

    Mostly because I like the Bashir character and prefer to think of him as having a higher moral standard. If a person in the 24th century still has to pretend he cares about someone in order to engage in sexual intercourse… if there still needs to be a pretense (read: mutual lies) for physical mingling, then perhaps the 24th century isn’t as psychologically advanced as we’d like it to be.

    Of course it didn’t last more than one episode; most Star Trek relationships are exactly that!

  • SJStar

    Gee, really thanks for that!
    I have been looking for that word for ages, and never could find it!

  • Seventhbeacon

    Yeah, it’s relatively new to me too ;) It’s not something I’ve really heard, even though I’ve seen it in action so much!

  • Guest

    I find your dislike of the term “handicapped” offensive, as it shows your willingness to put aside the dictionary definition of words so as to better create opportunities to feel offended. And I care as much about your feelings as you do about mine.

  • Kang the Unbalanced

    I agree that Bashir regularly exhibited high standards for himself and for others. Also, just because something is not mentioned in an episode doesn’t mean it no longer exists or is happening. After all, didn’t Data’s cat Spot continue to exist even though it wasn’t mentioned in episodes very often? (Well maybe that’s a bad example… since Spot changed breeds almost every appearance, Data may very well have been killing and replacing it for all we know. Or possibly indulging in replication experiments. Or… hey, the cat was never seen outside Data’s quarters, right? Holokitty!)

  • Kang the Unbalanced

    The writer of “Melora” misunderstood “Ethics”. Well… after thinking it through some more… partially.
    Worf felt himself to be worthless if handicapped; that is the Klingon attitude. What Riker and others tried to beat into his head was, you are NOT worthless if handicapped, and further, you can only be worthless if you let yourself be so.
    However, that said, the episode was a muddy mess, and the message got completely torpedoed by the typical series desire to have a regular actor go back to status quo at the end of the episode. I think if the producers had had a real set of balls, they would have kept Worf wheelchair-bound for convalescence for a few episodes, learning new ways to cope and be a badass rather than moping like a big bumpy-headed pussy.

  • Kang the Unbalanced

    This sounds like a very interesting episode. Sorry I missed it, I will have to look it up.

  • Kang the Unbalanced

    That is a horrible, horrible line. I hope that was one of Dax’s wisecracks. But, if I can right now purchase a trip on the Vomit Comet for such a purpose (and people have), then why would Bashir have to go to such lengths (so to speak) for low-G sex on a fracking space station????

  • scott

    Good review as always.

  • Seventhbeacon

    That… would have been fantastic to see. He’d be kicking ass like Barbara Gordon/Oracle. Yeah, it was Worf being his usual Klingon hipster. “I’m more Klingon than Klingons.”

  • SJStar

    Boo! This is one of the worst examples of stinking cowardice from just a stinking bully. Clearly your more disabled than me.

  • Moscow Guest

    Why do you find it offensive? Handicap is just a word, which means “something that hampers or hinders”.

    Now if your disability doesn’t hamper you or hinder your abilities in any way, it’s not a disability either.

    I assume you don’t like the word because it’s been used as an insult to you in the past?

  • Kang the Unbalanced

    Yes. I know “more Klingon than Klingon” was a big part of Worf’s character, but it would have been so nice to see him (and the writers) break out of it in such a major way.

  • SJStar

    It would have been far more interesting if Melora Pazlar was killed and not wounded.