On a planet that phases into a different dimension for the better part of each century, Dax falls in love with a man she can only stay with for a week – unless she chooses to stay for a lifetime.
Plot Summary: While performing a survey in the Gamma Quadrant, the Defiant crew is astonished to witness a planet materialize out of nowhere. The inhabitants of Meridian invite the senior crew down for First Meal, as they call their initial gathering once they regain corporeal form – something they do only once every sixty years, and then only for about a week. The people of Meridian do not age in incorporeal form, but they can only reproduce as physical humanoids and are concerned that, because the planet is becoming unstable, their time in physical bodies will grow so short that eventually they will cease to materialize at all. When Dax offers to help them stabilize the planet so that its phases will be much longer, she is shown the pleasures of Meridian by the scientist Deral, a widower with whom she falls in love. He offers to leave Meridian to go to Deep Space Nine with her, but because she understands his sense of obligation to his people, she decides instead to stay with him during his sixty years of incorporeal existence and asks Bashir to help alter her molecular structure so that she can shift dimensions when the planet does. Sisko is sad to see his old friend depart, but pleased that they have been able to stabilize the planet so that when it next appears, it will remain corporeal for several decades. As Dax waits with Deral for the phase shift, violent seismic waves begin to shake the planet. O’Brien concludes that Dax’s presence is acting as an anchor, tearing both the woman and the world apart. He beams her back to the Defiant, allowing Meridian to disappear into the other dimension and saving her life. Meanwhile, back on the station, a wealthy alien named Tiron hires Quark to make him a fantasy holosuite version of Kira, but she and Odo catch on to his attempts to record her pattern and alter the program so that Quark’s head will appear on her body, costing Quark a fortune.
Analysis: It’s not fair to compare “Meridian” to the disappearing-village story Brigadoon, which undoubtedly inspired it, because Brigadoon is witty and clever while “Meridian” is neither. Dax has been overdue for a romance, but she deserves a more interesting lover, a more interesting story, and above all a more interesting scientific gimmick. The passing-out-of-phase stuff is ridiculous; I’d have accepted that the planet was invisible to the rest of the universe for sixty years because of some perceptual issue like the one that made the Scalosians too quick for Kirk to keep up with, or in the wrong phase like LaForge and Ro, but it sounds more like a cheesy fantasy novel than Star Trek when we find out these people remain essentially themselves, yet incorporeal, able to communicate but not to reproduce or work on their seismic issues. They turn into shimmering gray ghosts like the Organians not because they’ve left a corporeal state behind but because of some technobabble that works neither as physics nor as storytelling. The dialogue is equally awful (“Don’t you want to take a look at the new telemetry?” “I’d rather sit here and look at you!”) and it’s laughable that Dax would respond to inquiries about how far down her spots go. Based on what we’ve heard of Curzon’s reputation, I bet he made up better pick-up lines in his sleep. For that matter, Bashir’s early attempts to hit on Jadzia, which I dismissed as the pathetic flirtations of a schoolboy, sound sophisticated compared to Deral’s drivel. When Deral first suggests running away with Dax, it’s a relief, suggesting that he may have an ulterior motive with his attentions – maybe he just wants to get off Meridian, away from the matriarch’s attempts to play matchmaker and a long life lived in limbo – but then he announces that he really can’t leave, and for reasons she doesn’t even attempt to explain to Sisko, Dax decides to stay with him. Is it safe for the symbiont? Apparently not, though the episode doesn’t even attempt to explain why the preposterous phase-shifting doesn’t work for her – perhaps those sexy spots can’t change.
One-shot love stories like this are by definition unsatisfying unless they’re extraordinary like “The Enterprise Incident,” where something much more is at stake than whether the main character will find fleeting happiness (or, in Spock’s case, a meeting of minds) with the alien of the week. For a character like Dax to have a relationship that will satisfy viewers, it will need to reveal something deep and unexpected about her; we only know the most superficial things about her previous husbands and wives, we’re not really sure what attracts her, we haven’t seen what makes someone who’s lived so many lifetimes decide it’s time to choose a mate for one of them. Director Jonathan Frakes tries really hard to show us Dax’s sense of wonder, like the tracking shot down the tree she and Deral climb, but he ends up stuck working around romantic cliches, trying to convince us there’s a deep connection between two characters who talk to each other like high school seniors afraid they won’t see each other again after the prom. Yes, the outdoor garden setting is pretty, and yes, it’s nice to see Jadzia with her hair down. But even if she had the kind of chemistry with Deral that she later will with Lenara and Worf, he’d need to bring out something new in her intellectually, emotionally, or at the very least reveal some reason that she’d leave behind everything she knows for the span of a lifetime to explore a different sort of world on a honeymoon that can’t even involve holding hands. I suppose I should appreciate that neither Sisko nor Bashir tries to talk Dax out of it – they’re not condescending, they don’t roll their eyes or accuse her of letting her emotions cloud her judgment – but the setup is so dreadful that part of me wishes one or the other would suggest she get some counseling!
Fortunately, “Meridian” has another romantic plot that I love so much, I can overlook nearly all of the above. While the writers have Dax long for sixty years of incorporeal love, they also give us the first real indication that Odo’s thinking about Kira as a man, not in a purely emotional, non-physical way despite his discomfort with eating and other messy humanoid things that embarrass him to try. Nothing in Dax’s would-be-lifelong-commitment comes close to the emotion of the look on Odo’s face when Kira tells Tiron that Odo is her lover, putting her hand over Odo’s for emphasis. For Kira, who keeps calling Odo “sweetheart” even after Tiron has gone, it’s a joke between friends. But after she, too, leaves the Promenade, Odo stares at the fingers she touched as though his hands have been transformed, perhaps even become fully solid for the first time. When Quark later lies and claims he needs Kira’s image so he can create a holosuite program to give ordinary folk the feeling of being in Ops, Odo’s hilarious retort, “Naked, I assume,” says as much about him as it does about Quark – not only that he assumes the worst of Quark, but that even if he doesn’t share her physiology, he’s aware that by the standards of most humanoids, Kira is very attractive. Given her aversion to holosuites and therefore presumably her lack of knowledge about them, whereas I would assume the chief of security has familiarized himself with all sorts of things that go on in them, I suspect Odo must have had a hand in putting Quark’s head on Kira’s body…in the same peach nightgown she wore with Bareil. Where did Quark dig up that tidbit? If it was in Kira’s personnel file, which he hacked, does that mean Odo has access via station security to what goes on in Kira’s quarters? The privacy issues are staggering. But in fairness to Quark, since Barclay did it to Troi, and Odo will do it to Kira, and Seven of Nine will do it to Chakotay, such behavior is not all that unusual. Even I can’t help thinking how much that sexy Kira program would go for at a Star Trek convention.