April 20 2024


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Retro Review: Time’s Orphan

6 min read

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.

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12 thoughts on “Retro Review: Time’s Orphan

  1. According to the DS9 Companion by Terry J Erdman this episode caused contention for the DS9 writers because Writer / Producers Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimler already were fathers when it was being written, and they didn’t like the idea at all. The story was a left over premise from The Next Gen by Joe Menosky to get rid of Alexander. Michael Piller knocked the idea on the head so it never surfaced on TNG. The DS9 Producers agreed to it here, because writer Rene Echevarrria was able to persuade them as it had a key sci fi element in the portal, it was a bottle show to help save money, they all wanted to do an O’Brien family story, and there was no question from the start that little Molly would be returned to her parents at the end.

    I agree with the reviewer from start to finish though. Setting aside Michelle Krusiec’s excellent performance as wilderness Molly, the episode is a disappointing waste, and raises some alarming attitudes to child care and parenting. The reset button makes it feel like a Voyager episode, which is ironic since it was originally intended to be a TNG idea. With an original story, it could have been a golden opportunity to show the O’Briens as a solid family unit, give Rosalid Chao a chance to show the professional and likeable side of Keiko and contrast life on the station from a family perspective, beside the Siskos. The end result displays what can happen when there is not enough time or money. Something that thankfully, DS9 did not suffer from very often.

  2. I would look at this episode as one of those story-arc seeds; ignore the Molly story and focus on the secondary stories of Dax/Worf and Kira/Odo. I think that was the intent – stir those emotions for story lines under development. Sort of like when Q pushed the Enterprise in front of the Borg or when Tasha, in another timeline, goes over to the Enterprise C.

  3. People like to talk about a “reset button” on Voyager but the fact is Voyager did the “reset” much much less often than any other Trek series. The fact that Voyager used sequential storytelling which no other Trek series had ever used before that point makes the whole “reset button” much harder to use than on a show like TNG or DS9 where next weeks episode might be months after the one last week.

  4. Voyager did more “sequential storytelling” than DS9??! About half of Voyager’s season two was serialized (The Seska/Jonas thing), compared to 85% of everything on DS9 following season 2? No my friend, that statement is just wrong.

  5. “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.”

    Michelle, after reading your misandristric screeds for more weeks than I can count, my current guess is that maybe they were all married to women exactly like you.

    What makes a male character “ring completely true” for you? Insecurity. Emasculation. Worf, the proud warrior, reduced to embarrassing hand-wringing over the thought of having kids? Oh yeah, you’re totally into that shit. Odo’s frustration at not being able to have kids? Perfect. (Bashir and Garak may or may not be discussing the possibility of having kids while conducting their secret gay love affair; you haven’t told us the answer to that one yet.)

    But let one minor recurring female character on DS9 — the show that, by a mile, featured the strongest, most three-dimensional and best-realized women of any of the Trek series — be anything less than the feminist archetype of the Strong Independent Woman Who Is Also A Caring Wife And Mother Even Though She Doesn’t Need A Husband Or Child To Validate Her Existence, and it’s a conspiracy by troglodyte MEN on the writing staff who are clearly too thick-headed, too lacking in familial experience, and, oh gosh, just too male to really understand anything.

    In 1998, “Time’s Orphan” had me actually believing right up to the end that the writers were actually going to do it, were actually going to separate the O’Briens from their child. It didn’t seem at all out of the realm of possibility for a show that took so many risks. Seems kind of silly now. But then, I was unmarried and childless, so what the fuck did I know, right honey?

  6. Funny you should mention Yar. The one thing “Time’s Orphan” got right was that the alternate Molly vanished from existence once the younger one returned to her time. If only the same happened to that Tasha from “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, we would have been spared seeing that dimwit Denise Crosby return to TNG as her half-Romulan daughter. It was obvious she regretted leaving the series once its popularity boomed and was looking to horn her way back in whatever way she could.

  7. You really are one giant jackass. Too bad the toxic condom you crawled out of wasn’t flushed properly.

  8. You’re right on that; Yar would not have existed once the timeline had been restored. Interesting catch (but come on, I LOVED the Romulan Yar episodes! Kitchy Trek from the get-go!”

  9. Seriously man? Did you even watch the show? The creators of Voyager stated right off the bat that they would be doing the entire show in a sequential style, which according to the direct statements of all of the people in charge of Trek at that point, Berman, Bragga, etc., had never been done before in Trek. Meaning that what happened on last weeks episode was also last week for the characters, unlike all other Trek series, where last weeks episode might have been 6 months ago, or next year, or whatever. That is why all of the Stardates on TOS are random, because Gene wanted it to be clear that these were not seen in sequence, B did not follow A, but it might follow T, or X.

    Look it up for yourself, but don’t tell me I am wrong when I am going on the direct statements of the people who made the show and the personal experience of having watched every single episode of every single Trek series, TOS, TAS, TNG, DS9, VOY, & ENT.

  10. The creators of Voyager stated a lot of things at the outset that they didn’t actually follow through with. Voyager was an episodic series, there really is no denying it.

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