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.