Molly O’Brien falls through an ancient time-shifting device, emerging as an adult who has lived alone in the wild since her early youth.
Plot Summary: Keiko and Miles take their children on a trip to a planet they had visited with Molly before Yoshi was born, letting her run around while they play with the toddler. Molly enters a cave and falls through a time portal. Miles summons help from the station and is able to retrieve her, but Molly has been lost 300 years in the past and a miscalibration causes them to bring her back after ten years alone on the planet. Now she is a feral teenager who doesn’t remember her parents, has few language skills, and can’t bear to be confined. The O’Briens leave Yoshi first with Kira, who remembers being pregnant with him and tells Odo that she might want a child one day, then with Dax, who learns that Worf believes she does not intend to have children with him because she finds him an unfit parent. Miles and Keiko discover that Molly desperately wants to return to the planet she calls “home,” and when she must leave the holosuite where it has been recreated, she becomes violent, stabbing a patron in Quark’s bar with a broken glass. Odo is forced to stun her and Starfleet demands that she be delivered to a psychiatric facility. Believing that Molly will die if she’s trapped in a Starfleet hospital, Miles and Keiko break her out of the brig where she is sedated and convince Odo to let them borrow a runabout. When the teenage Molly steps through the portal to the past, she finds the child Molly, who has only just arrived due to a glitch in the temporal field. The older Molly sends the younger one back to her parents, then vanishes. Sisko agrees to testify on Miles’ behalf at the Starfleet hearing and the O’Briens are reunited with Yoshi. They plan a dinner for Worf and Dax, who have agreed that he is not a complete disaster as a parent.
Analysis: The ideas behind “Time’s Orphan” are interesting, but the first time I saw it, I described it as “one of the worst-written episodes of Deep Space Nine,” and I can’t help wondering on a rewatch whether any of the men on the show’s writing staff had ever been married or had children when the episode was produced. The only parts of it that ring completely true are Worf’s insecurity about the idea of having children with Jadzia – whom, as they both recite, has had nine as both a father and mother – and Odo’s concern when Kira declares that her lasting attachment to Kirayoshi – the child she carried for the O’Briens, yet now rarely gets to see – has made her think that she might want to have a child of her own one day. It’s strange that the prospective parents on the series seem so much more realistic than the actual parents, but I think a lot of the problem there resides in the way that Miles and Keiko have been written for years now. In all that time, there have been far more scenes in which Keiko has been characterized as an intolerable shrew than either a caring wife or a strong independent woman; her role in her husband’s life seems limited to nagging, complaining, whining, criticizing, and warning him that his parenting skills are lacking to such a degree that one wonders why Worf believes Dax (who doesn’t seem concerned about babysitting in a room with bat’leths hanging on the wall) might have similar concerns about himself. In the early minutes of “Time’s Orphan,” Keiko complains that Miles is getting fat, warns him not to eat too much on the reunion picnic they’ve apparently been planning for some time, then snarls about how much she hates the cat he adopted from Bilby and hints that it might be a good thing if the new family pet got lost on a faraway world.
So as difficult as I find it to believe that Miles and Keiko are willing to surrender Molly without a fight to a world where she will be completely alone for the rest of her life, I don’t find it quite as hard to believe that Molly would rather be there than with her largely absentee father and impossible-to-please mother. I know that there’s a war going on, but is there really no Starfleet counselor to spare for a brief long-distance consultation? Is Bashir so busy researching genetic modifications that he doesn’t have time to spare to work with a traumatized girl who’s lost her language skills? Sisko, himself a parent, couldn’t tell the Klingons that the holosuite was needed for Starfleet business and convinced Quark to let the O’Briens use it for a while longer? Dax, the station’s Most Expert Parent by everyone’s account, is more useful babysitting Yoshi than applying some of those hard-earned parenting skills trying to help get through to Molly? Worf couldn’t demonstrate his own unconventional-by-human-standards parenting skills by bonding with a girl who’s most comfortable in the wild? Fail, fail, fail, fail, fail. The fact that nobody’s even really trying suggests that the episode will end with a reset, which of course it does, so it’s hard to get emotionally invested in teen Molly at all. And what does anyone learn from the experience? Worf learns that his disastrous parenting experiences with Alexander haven’t really registered with Dax, who doesn’t seem to think they need any sort of counseling or even pre-pregnancy discussions about expectations and fears, and Miles learns that Odo may be the only person on the station who will really stick his neck out for his family. It’s not clear that the rest of the O’Briens learn anything at all.
Since I find it irritating that maternal instincts are posited often in this franchise as a prerequisite for femininity – even Kira, who hasn’t spoken about Yoshi since the emergency pregnancy storyline concluded – maybe I should find it somewhat refreshing to see Keiko demonstrating such obvious unhappiness with the largely traditional role into which she’s been scripted. She has a job that she says she loves, yet we never see her doing it; instead of cooing at her toddler during a rare moment when she isn’t complaining about her family obligations, couldn’t she have been distracted from Molly by the local flora? She may be joking when she says she’d like to ditch the cat, but she easily and comfortably comes to agree with her husband’s decision to do the same with their daughter – a decision he makes without Keiko for her own protection, as if she isn’t a grown woman with an enormous stake in the situation. Give me Worf’s overbearing Klingon parenting style any time over the ease with which the O’Briens decide to send Molly back, all by herself, without discussing running away to some uncharted wild planet, without considering quitting Starfleet to accompany their daughter to someplace they can get help as a family, without pondering going into the past with her and hoping someday one of their scientist friends will find a way to rescue all of them. Miles says he’s doing it for Molly, but it sure looks like ditching a disabled child before she can cause any more stress for the rest of the family. She may have lost her language skills, but she still clothed and groomed herself, she still wanted her doll…she was still human when they found her. As horrifying as it sounds that Starfleet would take custody of a child without so much as a hearing, the O’Briens seem so incompetent that I find myself rooting against them. This is no one’s finest moment.