Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Melora"

**

Air date: 11/1/1993
Teleplay by Evan Carlos Somers and Steven Baum and Michael Piller & James Crocker
Story by Evan Carlos Somers
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Ensign Melora (Daphne Ashbrook), an Elysian woman confined to a wheelchair due to her homeworld's lower natural gravity, is temporarily assigned to DS9, bringing with her a chip on her shoulder and a defensive attitude that the fascinated Bashir instantly finds challenging. Meanwhile, and old "friend" that Quark testified against (Peter Crombie) and had sent to prison years ago comes to the station and threatens to kill the Ferengi barkeep.

"Melora" is another small DS9 drama about unique perspectives, but this episode doesn't really seem know what it wants to say. It merely rambles with dialog scenes that don't really have any long-term significance to Melora's situation—and Melora herself thus comes off as a severely undefined character. First the story makes Melora unlikable and closed-off (she wants to be completely independent and attacks anyone who tries to give her help), then it suddenly makes her open to possibilities when Bashir far-too-easily stumbles over a medical procedure that could allow her to walk in normal gravity—an idea that, dramatically, is both too obvious and doesn't offer any interesting insights.

What really hurts are two awkward, forced Runabout scenes. One involves Dax and Melora talking about "romance in Starfleet," which feels so oddly out of place and is directed with such uncertainty that the scene seems to belong in a soap opera. The other big mistake is the finale where the bad guy from the B-plot takes Melora, Quark, and Dax hostage in a Runabout, and is resolved with the corny idea of Melora disabling the gravity to subdue him. The best summary of this ending would be to take the word "clever," find a word that means the exact opposite, and apply it appropriately.

The episode isn't awful; some of the Bashir/Melora chemistry works, particularly the scene where Bashir deconstructs Melora's sarcastic defensiveness with equally pointed remarks. But proceed with caution—this episode doesn't end up saying much of anything.

Previous episode: Cardassians
Next episode: Rules of Acquisition

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18 comments on this review

Robert - Mon, Dec 12, 2011 - 10:59am (USA Central)
I just recently watched Melora. It was an interesting concept, but they made a mess of it. I thought the wheelchair and the braces were anachronistic. By the 24th century, we could surely have a wheelchair which can go over obstacles, and some sort of suit which can aid in walking. That suit looked like something from the 1940's. And I can imagine someone being from a low gravity planet, but not THAT low, if gravity were as low as she was used to, her home planet couldn't even retain an atmosphere. But I can overlook those details. And Bashir being amazed at low gravity seems peculiar. We viewers might be amazed by low gravity, but people in star Fleet would be used to it.

I agree, the episode doesn't seem to know what it wants to say. The part about where completing the therapy means you can never go home again seems to come out of nowhere. We seem to get nothing more out of this episode than "buildings should be wheelchair accessible", which is a good message, but hardly groundbreaking. But does accommodating people with handicaps end there? Why is a treatment that lets people walk unassisted a bad thing? That's the sort of thing we are supposed to expect from the future.
LastDawnOfMan - Thu, Aug 9, 2012 - 6:20pm (USA Central)
Agree that the doctor being so "amazed" by low gravity was just ludicrous. And the arbitrary restriction that the cure would not allow her to ever use low gravity again because it would "confuse her motor neurons" was just pitiful. Sounded like bad science out of the 19th century. This episode, where they can't even figure out how to make decent wheelchairs, or powered exoskeletons, really badly contrasts with later episodes, where they, for instance, know how to analyze and transport an entire universe. I mean, really? I think the idea for this character had a lot of potential, but why not think it through a little better? I would have liked to see her in future episodes had they worked her scenario out in halfway sane fashion.
azcats - Tue, Oct 1, 2013 - 2:00pm (USA Central)
my favorite part was when Bashir "Bashir deconstructs Melora's sarcastic defensiveness with equally pointed remarks"

fun dialogue. the rest? meh.
Kotas - Tue, Oct 22, 2013 - 3:34pm (USA Central)

Very sappy, but it could have been worse. I give it a "meh" rating.

4/10
Dusty - Wed, Feb 26, 2014 - 6:17am (USA Central)
Mediocre, but not as bad as I feared--just another example of the writers figuring out what worked on this show ('Vortex', 'Necessary Evil' and their ilk) and what didn't ('Q-Less', 'The Passenger', and this). Melora's character started out unbearable and turned out okay. The "handicapped person OF THE FUTURE" thing was heavy-handed and sappy, and Bashir found the cure way too easily. Basically, the characters kind of worked but the story didn't. It was too convenient and simplistic for a show like DS9, and nothing really meaningful was said.

(Did anyone else notice that not even the writers could figure out why Melora survived a phaser shot to the chest? The best they could do was have Bashir speculate for one sentence about "neuro-stimulants." Groan. The more I think about this plot the more it's going to disintegrate. I'll just stop now.)
Yanks - Thu, Jun 26, 2014 - 8:40am (USA Central)
I normally skip this episode, but I watched it last night.

We see anti-gravity trays carrying all kinds of stuff around in TOS, but she has to have a wheelchair? The can't create a suit that compensates for her? "Cardassian construction just isn't compatible"??? Really? No gravity plating/technology on DS9? or something mechanical that actually works? eeesssh....

In order to have less that "1" gravity, which is what DS9 would have, the biggest delta would be that one. Would she really be that tired by just standing up? She always seemed out of breath. While I think it's far stretched to conceive a planet that has "such low gravity", this is SCI-FI so, OK...

I did enjoy Bashir putting her in her place with her constant jabs. Very appropriate but don't you think someone at the academy would have corrected that? She got to the point of whining and to Sisko to boot! She didn't want any help doing anything accept listening to her complaining that she didn't want any help. If I were Sisko, I would have sent her packing, or had her put her nose on the circle on the chalk board or something. Just seems convenient that our lover boy Doctor has to be the one to address that.

I kind of like that this is a "Grass isn't always greener" episode. I thought there was good chemistry between Melora and Bashir and didn't find his medical discovery all that atrocious.

What was the "B" story again? :-)

2 of 4 stars for me because I liked the Klingon "chef" :-) How hard can that job be? lol
Ian G - Fri, Jul 25, 2014 - 12:34am (USA Central)
This is a pretty dull and ponderous episode that try's to make some sort of ham fisted point about accepting handicapped people that would be fine in a 90's public service video but not Star Trek. Melora's predicament seems silly in the midst of all the medical marvels of the ST universe. The episode then degenerates further into a meaningless one off love story with her and Bashir. Melora herself is unbearable throughout, at first she's angry at everyone for no reason, then she's just a sappy love interest. Through all this we are slapped in the face by the script and told how awesome she is at everything lest we think all people with disabilities are meek and worthless.
Andrea - Mon, Nov 3, 2014 - 5:30am (USA Central)
I really, really, really HATE this episode, i found it insulting. It basically says that if you are disabled, you are not a person, you are a disable, and it's your disability that defines you, not your own personality, and that trying to cure that disability would be a bad thing, because you are "denying who you are". do I have to explain why this is bullshit? and the fact that this was written by a disabled writer makes me cringe even more. and then there's the little fact that the writer is "cheating": Melora isn't really disabled, she comes from a planet with a lower gravity (and can somebody please explain me how such planet would retain an atmosphere? but that's another story..) so in that context the whole "denying who you are" thing makes sense, buuuut the fact is that this episode wants to be a clear allegory for disability, so the writer wants to "cheat" us into thinking that makes sense in the context, while in the larger context (the one of the allegory) it really doesn't, because (and i feel bad for having to spell this out) a person is NOT defined by his/her ilnesses, try to exchange disability with AIDS and you'll get what i mean. and don't try to bullshit me: disability IS an illness. it's not homosexuality, which is something that somebody IS and it is part of his/her personality, and partly (key word being partly) defines who he/she is, disability is an illness, that in some cases can be cured even now (not to talk about the 24th century..), and i challenge you to find ANY wheelchair bound person who would turn away a cure for his/her disability because "that's what i am". and here's another problem with the writing of this episode, it's the 24th century, disability is gone, if you break your spine a quick travel to the infrmary and you'r good as new, but hey, we have to hammer on an half assed message about... something.. so let's make up a bullshit reason about her turning down the cure. i hate this episode
Robert - Mon, Nov 3, 2014 - 8:59am (USA Central)
@Andrea - I think maybe you are giving the writers too much credit. I'm not sure this episode is an allegory for anything except having a bunch of ideas and nothing useful to do with them.

Some background... Melora was originally supposed to be DS9's science officer. They had a character bio lying around collecting dust and decided to use it. While Melora clearly was an allegory for the struggle of dealing with a disability, she wasn't exactly disabled. They seemed to go from a story about overcoming disability to the little mermaid (they even cited in) in less than 30 minutes.

So the writers had a cool character (she floats!!) with a chip on her shoulder from sort of being disabled and having people treat her poorly (even though none of our mains do) that of course our Doctor can melt in under 30 minutes (Trek lightspeed romance). He then finds a cure in minutes of looking and it switches to a little mermaid story. Oh and a Quark story is in there too. It was a mish-mash of ideas that were slopped together, not necessarily an offensive allegory.

And as to your point about nobody ever turning down a cure, I will point out that some of the deaf community is against cochlear implants and this episode struck me a lot like that. Once you get one you gain some amount of functionality back from your disability but you can't exactly go home again.
Alistair - Sun, Nov 9, 2014 - 6:57pm (USA Central)
This one was already done on TNG, and it was done a lot better. "Ethics", anyone? I do have to defend the weird suit that Melora wore to walk though, that's pretty much exactly what Worf was using and I find the idea that even in the future, there are still some medical problems we can't solve interesting.
MsV - Tue, Apr 7, 2015 - 4:33am (USA Central)
This is one of the few shows that stunk from beginning to end.
Adam C - Wed, Apr 22, 2015 - 2:40am (USA Central)
It’s pretty bad on its own, but as an inspection of Bashir, it’s legit. And very sad, in a way.

One thing that we learn over the course of the show is that Bashir is a profoundly lonely man. Oh, sure, if it isn’t screwed down, he’s the man to screw it, but as far as emotional intimacy goes, it’s not there for him. Part of that is the tinkering and puttering done to his brain, making him almost as smart as Cytherian Barclay; part of it is the arrogance that goes with the extreme intelligence. He doesn’t mean to push people away, but he does it nevertheless.

So here’s Melora, who does the same thing for her own reasons. Bashir forges a connection with her because he recognizes that aspect of himself in her. And that’s how we get to Bashir’s first attempt to construct the perfect woman. (I don’t think his doormat Dax daydream counts, although Terry Farrell was quite hilarious in that role.) She’s got the moxie, the strength of character, but she needs the strength of body or it won’t work. So Bashir, possibly thinking, “Yes! This is my chance!”, tries to make Melora the woman he wants. When she turns down the treatments in the end, she’s effectively turning down Bashir as a potential mate, and that hurts.

Over the course of the series, this aspect of Bashir’s personality will be revisited enough that the seed planted here is worth note, even though the episode on its own is mediocre.

(Also, the B plot should either go away or be fully developed. The idea of Quark double-crossing a business partner and reaping as he’s sown is pretty great, but it’s given such minimal development here that they shouldn’t have bothered.)
methane - Fri, Jun 26, 2015 - 12:36pm (USA Central)
Yanks said: "We see anti-gravity trays carrying all kinds of stuff around in TOS, but she has to have a wheelchair? The can't create a suit that compensates for her? "Cardassian construction just isn't compatible"??? Really? No gravity plating/technology on DS9? or something mechanical that actually works?"

They did mention somewhere early in the episode that anti-grav technology doesn't work on Deep Space 9...something about the Cardassian construction.
dlpb - Sat, Jun 27, 2015 - 6:38pm (USA Central)
They did mention somewhere early in the episode that anti-grav technology doesn't work on Deep Space 9...something about the Cardassian construction.
------

You mean something about lazy writing?
Yanks - Sat, Jun 27, 2015 - 8:57pm (USA Central)
methane is right dlpb.

BASHIR: Her normal anti-grav unit isn't going to work here. Same problem we had with the Starfleet cargo lifts. Cardassian construction just isn't compatible.
dlpb - Mon, Jun 29, 2015 - 12:49am (USA Central)
My point was that that is lazy writing. It's an excuse pushed in for no reason other than to explain something that is nonsense.
dlpb - Mon, Jun 29, 2015 - 6:23pm (USA Central)
Although, to be fair, they had to be lazy there to make the story they wanted work. It can be forgiven.
William B - Tue, Jul 28, 2015 - 12:18am (USA Central)
"Melora," take one: The difficulties faced by, um, everyone when a disabled woman comes to use the non-accessible station, and her rough experience thusfar makes her misinterpret everything that everyone says as a mark against her. She swings wildly between HOW DARE YOU EXPECT THAT I NEED SPECIAL TREATMENT and YOU JUST TRY BEING IN THIS CHAIR THEN YOU'D UNDERSTAND, and comes across as passive-aggressive. Of course, Bashir is already smitten before she arrives, responding to Dax' comment that it sounds as if he already knows her with "I FEEL AS IF I ALREADY DO," arrogantly believing that having read a person's files allows him to peer into that person's soul. (Actually the teaser-setup is especially reminiscent of "Galaxy's Child," with Bashir as Geordi and Melora as Leah.)

These two are at odds until the following exchange happens in Melora's quarters:

BASHIR: Julian. I'm no longer your doctor.
MELORA: I see. You've decided I need a friend.
BASHIR: Was that an attack? You see, you do it so well, with such charm, it's hard to tell.
MELORA: I really don't mean to --
BASHIR: Sure you do.
MELORA: I beg your pardon?
BASHIR: Of course, you mean to. All of these broad shots you fire it's your way of keeping the rest of the universe on the defensive. Has to be. You're too good at it.
MELORA: Well, it always seemed to work pretty well. Until now.

Ah. So, Julian is the first person ever to identify Melora's conversational pattern, and, as happens with all defensive people, the first time someone identifies that they are defensive, the defenses drop and they are primed to fall in love for the first time! No, that is not how this works. "Until now" presupposes both that Bashir is the first person *ever* to call Melora on her behaviour, or even to push back at all, and further her new openness to him implies that he really cut through years of personal barriers with one pointed remark. And, you know, no.

In any case, the drama about a person dealing with accessibility, and the question of what she can/cannot do, sort of dissolves. This is a romance now.

"Melora," take two: Now they go to dinner, and it turns out isolationist, angry Melora who keeps everyone at a distance speaks fluent Klingon and knows exactly how to argue her way into getting quality racht. The Klingon restauranteur laughs and they share a knowing smile and rapport. It's not even that Melora's aggressive arguing with the Klingon is an extension of her prickliness in act one, which endeared her (deliberately) to no one, it actually comes across as a practiced, carefully honed ability to negotiate with Klingons. The main function here is to undermine Bashir's conception of Melora as "wheelchair lady," for him to start thinking of her as an exceptional person in her own right rather than being defined as her own person, and I do think her having very specific individualized interests fits with this -- but her cosmopolitanism does rather run counter to her entire personality as established up to this point, which the episode was fairly careful to establish is how she acts all the time.

Time for her to show him her world! OK so it's been established that she comes from a low-gravity planet, which is why she has weaker muscles than the class-M humanoids and has trouble with Earth-style gravity. Fine. Which means that in her quarters, designed presumably to emulate her home planet, it should be about half gravity and she should be walking around norm -- NOPE SHE FLOATS AROUND IN ZERO-G. Wait, so, why does she not ever want to experience her own planet's gravity in her inner sanctum, rather than the artificial zero-g? Or is her planet actually, like, near zero gravity, and everyone...floats around until they float off into space? What? And Melora and Bashir seem to have equal strength in zero-g. Bashir, a Starfleet officer going out into space, has never been in zero-g? What if he has to perform surgery and the gravity goes out?

The "low-gravity planet" thing started as an excuse to do a show about disabilities from a Space perspective. The problem is that there is no "planet of disabled people," but, fine -- until they disregard the premise they've established. Anyway, one way to interpret things, though, is that Melora is a somewhat prickly woman with some significant impairments that make it hard for her to function on others' terms, but she has a rich, complex inner life which she largely does not let others into. In this sense, the Melora story is basically similar to Sarina's in "Chrysalis." So she is maybe something like an autism-spectrum person, ill suited in some senses to traditional interactions but still capable, and coming fully into her own in her own space. That's interesting, if a bit at odds with the wheelchair-WHY IS THE STATION NOT MORE ACCESSIBLE very clearly physical-disability-focused stuff. But okay.

But CAN PEOPLE FROM TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS MAKE IT WORK? Dax's answer: maybe!

Anyway, of course, Bashir dates a woman for like two minutes before he decides he can change her into a completely different person, which leads us to:

"Melora," phase three: CAN MELORA BE CURED?

It is pretty funny that the reaction everyone has to Melora walking on the bridge and handing her report to Sisko is excited back-patting for Bashir along with comments about how this project of his will earn him some great papers in prestigious journals. I may give her flak, but Melora's concern that people look at her and only see her Otherness/"disability" seem pretty accurate. Anyway, in this section Bashir cures her life-long genetic condition in ten minutes, but then does Melora really want to be "cured"? Because, you know, disability blah blah but isn't she denying who she is if she gets out of the chair and -- stop.

The episode's radical course-corrections really do feel odd, because, yes, it is true that the episode sets up the Bashir/Melora romance early on, and it is plausible that Bashir might work on "the Melora problem," and so it's not as if they are completely disjoint. But there are such huge shifts in tone and personalities of the players that the episode can never gain full focus. Bashir was attracted to Melora specifically because she could show him how to fly, which makes little sense but let's go with it, and so he knows he is depriving her of that, but only half-registers it. Didn't Bashir say he's her friend, not her doctor? What exactly is it that Bashir and Melora have to build a romance on, when they stop interacting except as doctor-patient soon? Is the issue of accessibility of the station, and how people treat the disabled, still on the table or is it gone?

Anyway, as a physical disability metaphor, the idea that she must give up zero-g flying and ever visiting her family for an extended period again pretty much trashes real-world counterparts. Maybe one could argue that a deaf person regaining their hearing fully might lose touch with the deaf community and so lose something fundamental, and certainly "curing" *psychological* "disabilities" is tricky business. It may be that the often-present trope of the person with physical impairments not wanting those impairments to be cured magically does have particular resonance and means something, so I don't want to dismiss it entirely. But, you know, if being in a wheelchair is part of who someone is, that is *still* not the same as Melora's home-planet/family issue.

Also, like, exactly how cumbersome is her antigrav equipment that works literally everywhere except DS9 and apparently the Runabouts? That's an important question because Melora's probably only going to be here for a week, "Mapping the Gamma Quadrant" or no.

What is interesting about this is what the Melora problem says about Bashir -- he falls for her because of her determination and then her openness to experience and her rich internal life, then finally settles on totally fixing her/rebuilding her from the ground up. The mixture of affection for who she is and desire to remake her into who he thinks she should be gets repeated in "Chrysalis," which by hitting on a better metaphor (the genetically engineered-autistic thing) manages to suck less (though I don't think it's a good episode). And I guess, to get into extra spoilery territory, in a lot of ways these go beyond just immature male romantic worship issues and into something specific to the formative event of Bashir's life. In this episode he talks about the time where he saw a woman dying and found out he *could* have saved her, and that no doubt is part of his zeal to solve all problems when they appear. But I think the reveal that he was genetically engineered does explain some of his behaviour. Jules Bashir was "defective," and out of "love" (?) his parents "fixed" him. As long as Bashir keeps that secret close to his chest and also remains grateful for it, he must believe that the truest act of love is to "fix" people. There's an inability to leave well enough alone that comes down, in part, to his own feelings of inadequacy as the guy he was before his IQ was tripled.

So that's interesting in retrospect -- but it hardly comes out much here. And so Melora decides, ultimately, that she is going to stop the treatments, because The Little Mermaid. But wait!

"Melora," take four: HOSTAGE CRISIS! Angry guy shoots Melora for some reason, because he's mad at Quark, etc., I can't be bothered to focus on this much. She's dead! Wait, she's not dead, because the treatment saved her, which, uh, I guess it is good that she got those treatments, right? Or, wait, does that *mean* anything or is that a pure plot contrivance to wring small amounts of excitement in a flagging script? And then Melora gets the big heroic moment of, ha ha ha, turning off the gravity and then, like, ramming into the guy, because, you know, that is not going to look ridiculous and also make the guy seem really pathetic and thus everyone else look awful for not being able to stop him. It is not so much that Melora *couldn't* use her skill set to her advantage, but the way it happens is so silly in look that it's hard to deal with.

And on a matter of teleplay construction: if you are going to have Melora save her day with her (still wrong, because her planet was low gravity and she should be able to walk in low gravity rather than fly in zero-gravity which anyone can do anyway but I digress) zero-g skills, thus proving that it's best to have a physical impairment, shouldn't that be the climax of the personal plotline as well -- i.e., shouldn't Melora have realized at *that point* that she absolutely needed to "stay true to herself" or whatever, rather than a few minutes before so that this whole unfortunate incident could be excised entirely? I mean, it's not that I require strict adherence to teleplay structure but it usually is best to break it only for a good reason, and this episode is already doing badly.

Anyway now that Melora has decided not to get any more treatments, the show is over, because, you know, those other parts about the difficulty of Starfleet romances and the Bashir/Melora love connection and also accessibility issues are no longer relevant. The episode ends without so much as a postscript that she's never coming back, though we maybe could have expected that.

I really have next to nothing to say about the Quark subplot; it is largely somewhat painful until it intersects with the Melora plot, until it becomes *very* painful.

1 star.

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