Nutshell: An excellent, original science fiction story with hard choices and well-realized arguments. Very, very intriguing and powerful.
Color me impressed. "Children of Time" is another highlight of the season, and, again, another show that ranks among the best of the series' installments, a praise that I've now used four times this season—and meant every time. This is one of the most fascinating, original science fiction stories I've seen in quite some time, and it's absorbing and compelling pretty much from beginning to end. High praise is in order for another wonderful script by Rene Echevarria (as well as to Gary Holland and Ethan Calk for story credit).
The episode is another Trekkian time manipulation episode, but one of the best ones on record, up there with the likes of emotionally gripping time-travel character shows like "The Visitor" and "Past Tense, Part I."
The setup is as follows: Returning to the station from a reconnaissance mission in the Gamma Quadrant, the Defiant (carrying all the DS9 senior officers, of course), deviates from its course to investigate a planet with some odd energy readings. Dax assures Sisko that the risk of entering orbit is minimal—definitely worth investigating for what may be a rare scientific discovery. The Defiant is snagged in an energy field, and seconds later they receive a hail from a human colony with more than 8,000 people. The crew beams down to the planet, where they're told by the colony leader (Gary Frank) that the entire settlement's citizens are descendents of the Defiant crew. According to the leader, in two days when the Defiant attempts to leave orbit, the ship will encounter an anomaly that will send it back two centuries through time. The Defiant will then crash on the planet. With no means to escape (the wormhole doesn't even exist at that point), the crew will decide to begin life anew. Two hundred years later, this history is revealed to the crew before it happens. The leader of the colony, by the way, is Yedrin Dax—the current host for the still-surviving Dax symbiont.
Yedrin has a theory that will allow the Defiant to escape this destiny and still preserve the colony. Through a complicated technical procedure that can be executed at the time the ship encounters the anomaly, a duplicate Defiant will be formed; one will travel back in time and crash, while the other will safely break orbit and resume its course.
This is a clever concept to begin with. It's another interesting example of the time paradox that leads one to question where and when events begin and what true causality is based upon. (Is Yedrin, for example, changing "destiny" by informing Sisko what will happen before it does?)
But this is only what begins to make this episode the success that it is. "Children of Time" takes a turn that makes it a real classic—a truly compelling story that seeks to raise some very tough questions.
It turns out that Yedrin is lying. Dax discovers Yedrin's logs are forged and the theory will never work, and that he has hidden his attempt to preserve his colony at the expense of the Defiant's imminent crash—and also Major Kira's life. Kira will die, it's revealed, in the next few days if she doesn't receive some serious medical treatment for a radiation surge she was subjected to on the Defiant. Her grave just outside the settlement proves it.
The rest of the episode is about this dilemma. If the Defiant avoids the anomaly and doesn't go back in time, the entire colony of 8,000 will cease to exist—or, rather, will never have existed. Yet if the crew chooses to save the colony, they also choose to abandon their lives as they know them—and Kira suffers a death sentence.
Questions arise. Difficult questions, such as: Who has the right to ask Kira to die? Would it be worth it? Is this colony even truly "real"? Would preserving this colony be the "right" thing to do? Is it the crew's destiny to do so?
Such questions define this episode, but what's also stellar is the way these questions are presented by the various characters' situations. For example, Yedrin's deception turns out to have a very personal concern beyond his obvious need to preserve his society: He has repressed guilt—Jadzia Dax's guilt for getting the Defiant into the situation in the first place, without being certain of the risks. A very interesting notion. Yedrin explains to Sisko how for months Jadzia couldn't even look at him without thinking how Jake would never see his father again. Gary Frank's performances is one of the scene's highlights, and Terry Farrell's reaction shots are quite emotionally revealing.
Then there's Kira's dilemma. She visits her own grave, wondering if perhaps it is her destiny to give her life to save this colony. She asks herself how she can justify saving her own life at the expense of 8,000 people. Have the prophets laid out this path for her to take? Would avoiding the time anomaly be avoiding her destiny? These are some very appropriate and well-realized questions—and completely consistent with the major's character. This aspect of the episode truly had me fascinated.
In fact, everything about this show just clicks right into place. In addition to Dax's and Kira's binds, Worf finds himself sympathizing with some colony residents who have chosen to live the Klingon way, following the traditions of the Sons of Mogh. I appreciated the episode's nod to cultural identity within this colony, and I felt for these Klingon followers when they revealed that ceasing to exist because their parents were never born does not constitute an "honorable" death.
There's also interesting, substantive discussion once Kira goes public with accepting her fate to die. The crew argues the situation further in a wonderfully thoughtful scene that displays the main characters all being honest with one another (although I must admit that I also wondered what the Defiant's unseen 40 crew members had to say about the situation). Kira believes that they should follow the path of the prophets. "With all due respect, Major," O'Brien replies, "I don't believe in your prophets. I have a wife and kids back home." There is, of course, the question of whether these people are as "real" as people who "already" exist.
Hearing this dialog was fulfilling. Here was a time story not mired in technobabble plotting (cf. Voyager's "Before and After") or superficial adventure romp (cf. Voyager "Future's End"), but about looking destiny in the eye and making tough, important choices. I greatly appreciated how every character felt big pressures.
The Arbor Day commercial—er, "planting day" scene, featuring the colonists and the crew working together in the final day before the big decision, was a tad overlong and slightly exceeded my syrup tolerance. I would not, however, call this a weakness of the episode—just some schmaltz in a good-sized dose. It serves its purpose by making the crew realize they can't simply go home and snuff this colony out of existence; instead they suddenly find themselves obligated to travel back in time.
But that brings us to the issue of Odo. That is, Odo from the alternate timeline. He has been living on the planet 200 years, and has been longing to see Kira again. This Odo is quite different. He's much more open with his feelings, and he immediately reveals to Kira how he loves her, and has always loved her. (The Odo from the normal timeline is in no position to intervene; he is incapacitated by the planet's energy field—something the alternate Odo overcame long ago.)
Now, as some may know, I've never been terribly enthused about the writers' hints for pairing up Odo and Kira (and I realize I may be in the minority as fans go). I preferred their sibling-like affection back in the second season, and I'd thought with last season's "Crossfire" we had seen the situation put to rest. When I saw the trailer last week featuring the big "declaration," I thought we'd be in for the beating of a dead horse taken to a new level.
However, I couldn't have been more wrong. Everything about Odo's feelings in this episode rings absolutely true and fits beautifully in the context of the story. Plus, there's no simple solution to Odo's fear of not having his feelings returned (despite the fact the show reveals early on that Kira and Shakaar have broken up). Kira does not throw herself at Odo or any such nonsense—she is understandably confused. In a reasonable notion, Odo tries to convince Kira to change her mind—so that the Odo from the normal timeline won't have to watch Kira die again. But Kira can't do it if it means wiping away the colony's existence.
The most fascinating thing about this episode is that it's 100 percent character-driven. This is not an episode where a technicality saves the day, or a last-minute solution makes the choices easier. This is a show where a decision must be made, and everyone has to live with the consequences. I can't stress how much this worked in the episode's favor. A lesser effort might've taken the easy way out, but "Children of Time" does not cheat, and not cheating makes the drama that much stronger.
The ending (since, obviously, the crew must ultimately not be stranded in the past) throws a twist on us that manages to preserve the necessary requirements of the series while also being completely satisfying. The crew's flight plan is unsuspectingly reprogrammed, causing them to veer away from the temporal anomaly and break orbit. The colony vanishes without a trace. It never existed—period. The irony is that the person who reprogrammed the flight plan was someone from the alternate timeline (now there's a paradox for you)—or, more specifically, it was Odo. He did it so Kira wouldn't have to die.
Frankly, the implications of Odo's actions scare me a little bit. And, in the rather intense final scene, Kira's reaction when the "normal" Odo informs her of his counterpart's deed is absolutely believable. ("He did it for you, Nerys. He loved you," Odo tells her. "That makes it right?!" she demands. "I don't know," he replies, desperately. "He thought so.")
In fact, it's hard to imagine how Kira will look at Odo again without realizing what his counterpart did, and thus what Odo himself may be capable of. The implications here are neither pretty nor easy—and that's exactly why they're so wonderful. There's almost the sense that Odo passed a judgment that wasn't his to make, trading 8,000 lives for one. There are many interesting dynamics to ponder concerning the alternate Odo's actions, and this thoughtfulness is perhaps the most interesting aspect of "Children of Time." The episode is a tragedy of sorts, and once it's over, it leaves behind questions with tough answers that resonate, working completely plausibly with character history, and making extremely good use of the given situations.
With compelling performances all around and its brilliant script, "Children of Time" is stellar work—nearing perfection.