Retro Review: Prodigal Daughter

3 Comments

When O’Brien disappears, Ezri reluctantly returns home for the first time since receiving the Dax symbiont in order to enlist her mother’s help in finding him.

Plot Summary: When O’Brien goes missing, Bashir admits to Sisko that he went to New Sydney to check on the widow of his friend Bilby, who died in Starfleet Intelligence’s Orion Syndicate sting. Ezri Dax’s mother is an influential businesswoman in that system, so she reluctantly agrees to help find O’Brien, though she is unhappy about having to visit a family to whom she no longer feels close. When she arrives, she finds her mother Yanas and brother Janel worrying about the family mining business while her brother Norvo is depressed at having been rejected from art school, meaning he has no excuse to stop working as the family bookkeeper. Yanas persuades the authorities to find O’Brien, who arrives bruised and angry; he has found Morica Bilby’s dead body, but the police won’t investigate the evidence that she was murdered. Because Yanas offers him hospitality, he agrees to try to fix a sonic drill that Janel suspects may have been sabotaged by the Orion Syndicate. In the mine, a commodities broker recognizes him as a Starfleet Intelligence operative and warns Janel that O’Brien should leave the system before the Syndicate targets him. Concerned that her family may have ties to criminals, Ezri lets O’Brien investigate their business records and learns that Bilby’s widow was on the payroll. Janel admits to his mother and the Starfleet officers that he employed Morica Bilby as a favor to the Syndicate in exchange for saving them from bankruptcy. When his mother protests, Janel argues that he found a way to get the cash they needed. He claims not to know how Morica died, which Yanas doubts, but Norvo is so defensive of Janel’s innocence that it arouses Ezri’s suspicions. Norvo confesses that he killed Morica, who was demanding money and making threats. After his arrest, Yanas begs Ezri to tell her that his crime was not her fault, but Ezri refuses to answer, advising her other brother to make a life elsewhere, as she has done.

Analysis: Rewatching “Prodigal Daughter,” I think it’s well-acted, yet I had remembered it as being one of the worst episodes of Deep Space Nine‘s final few seasons. This is partly because the script isn’t strong and partly because so many regulars scarcely appear in it – it picks up minor threads instead of weaving into the arc stories – but I think my biggest complaint is that I share the common resentment that Ezri gets so many stories while characters we’ve cared about for years barely show up onscreen. This time around, I’m happy to get a glimpse of Ezri’s family and some sense of why, unlike every other Trill we’ve met, becoming a host never mattered to her, but at the same time I can’t get rid of my lament that we know so little about Jadzia’s family and didn’t even get to see them when she died. None of this is Ezri’s fault, and Nicole DeBoer gives a lovely performance, as does Leigh Taylor-Young as Yanas, but a more tightly written mystery that allowed time for a B storyline with other characters – or at least for more O’Brien, preferably letting us see him working undercover and finding Morica’s body – would have been most welcome. O’Brien serves more as a plot device than a character here, since we never see him express feelings about anything. We’re told that he became friendly with Morica, but we don’t get to witness it, nor do we get to hear him defend Morica when Ezri’s brothers characterize her greed. In fact, we have more evidence that O’Brien cares about Bilby’s cat from previous episodes than we do that he cares about Bilby’s widow. Why has he kept in touch with her? There’s also the fact that although Ezri keeps citing the relationships of previous Dax hosts as distractions from bonds with her birth family, she and O’Brien scarcely seem to like one another. She pulls rank to demand O’Brien’s silence in a criminal investigation till she can sort out her family’s role in it, even though in all likelihood the people who beat him up were working with her brothers.

Maybe it’s because Ezri and Miles are in competition for Bashir’s attention. Though Ezri obsesses over Jadzia’s fondness for gagh, Bashir hardly seems to notice the woman with whom he’s supposedly falling slowly in love, since he’s focused so completely on Miles’ safety. Kira notices Bashir’s unhappiness, yet Ezri does not, and Bashir has no concerns about possibly putting Ezri at risk when she’s sent to help find Miles, nor does he care whether things will be uncomfortable with a family that doesn’t interest him. He’d never have been so uncaring about Jadzia. Miles and Ezri don’t reach any new understanding in the end, either, even though we see them chatting cordially about her relief that her brother only receives a 30-year sentence, which he feels is lenient. Considering the physical suffering that Miles endures at the hands of people with whom her brother has made a shady deal, the fact that he ends up having to comfort her seems unfair. Miles may be older and wiser than Ezri, but surely past Dax hosts have insights that could help sort out the issues that ultimately destroy the Tegan family? Ezri’s the one who’s a trained counselor! I guess now we know why she chose that career. I appreciate what a strong character Yanas is, but at the same time, we’ve seen a dozen characters face off with powerful fathers and end up reaching some level of mutual appreciation – everyone from Spock to Garak to Chakotay. So how come the maternal issues are treated as unforgivable, whether it’s Sisko’s abandonment by the Prophet-possessed woman who bore him, Kira’s mother who became Dukat’s lover, Nog’s absentee mother who dumped Rom, or Ezri’s mother whose success as a businesswoman is ultimately shown to be less than admirable because (despite apparently being a single parent for a long time) she didn’t do right by her kids?

Yanas seems so smart and on top of things that I really wish she’d known of her son’s deal with the Syndicate; she’d be forgivable as a minor criminal like Bilby, but because she’s both aggressive and righteously angry, she comes across as sanctimonious when other people have to get their hands dirty for her. Given that we’ve seen so few representatives of Trill culture despite having a Trill regular on this series, I would love to have more of a sense of how typical this family is – do Trill tend to be matriarchal? Are the unjoined all so unnerved rather than proud when a child receives a symbiont? I certainly don’t want all the characters to be paragons of virtue, but no one in Ezri’s family is portrayed as particularly likeable, which makes it frustrating to spend so much time with them. It might all be easier to swallow if Janel and Norvo seemed as young and untested as Ezri often does – that’s part of her charm, the old soul in the childlike form – but the sons are both adults, not adolescents, so their moping and blaming everything on their mother makes them quite unsympathetic. I worry about Ezri’s training as a counselor when she’s so willing to go along with this perspective on a parent who seems genuinely concerned if myopic about the best interests of her offspring. We’ve seen repeatedly that the Orions and the Ferengi have meddled with the family’s mining operations, yet apparently we’re supposed to accept their behavior as infinite diversity in infinite combinations while we’re not supposed to tolerate a mother expecting her children to follow in her footsteps and protect family interests. Weren’t we supposed to understand Sarek and Worf putting similar pressure on their sons? It’s all haphazard and poorly constructed, and in this season where so much is at stake, it feels like a waste of time.

What do you think? Chat with other fans in the Star Trek: Deep Space nine forum at The Trek BBS.

Michelle Erica Green

Author

Michelle Erica Green

Writer, mother, reader, traveler, teacher, partner, photographer, activist, friend, fangirl, student, critic, citizen, environmentalist, feminist, vegetarian, enthusiast. TrekToday staffer for many years, former news reporter, current retro reviewer.

Up Next