Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Time's Orphan"

**1/2

Air date: 5/18/1998
Teleplay by Bradley Thompson & David Weddle
Story by Joe Menosky
Directed by Allan Kroeker

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"I'm disappointed in you, chief. If anyone could break a prisoner out of a holding cell and get them off the station, I'd have thought it would be you."

— Odo, before letting the O'Briens continue on their way

Note: This episode was rerated from 3 to 2.5 stars when the season recap was written.

Nutshell: Not great, but nice, with some poignant little touches.

I'm beginning to wonder if the only time O'Brien gets the lead in stories anymore is when the writers want to torture him—as if a story break meeting for an O'Brien episode comes down to people asking each other, "Well, how would O'Brien react to this particular personal tragedy?"

Take this week's example, "Time's Orphan." Poor Miles, after nearly a year of being separated from his family because of the Dominion War, is finally reunited with his wife and two children, takes time out from his busy schedule to have a family picnic on a nearby planet ... only so his daughter can fall through a mysterious time portal and vanish before his eyes. She's transported 300 years back in time, and when Miles pulls her back with a complicated tech procedure, she's 18 years old (played by Michelle Krusiec), having been stranded in isolation for ten years.

So now O'Brien has been switched with a different version of himself in an alternate timeline (where he also saw the station destroyed), has suffered through memories of lengthy incarceration, has wrested through a high-pressure assignment while his wife was taken hostage by an evil entity, has been forced to send a family man not unlike himself to walk straight into his death ... and now faces the prospect of not being able to see his daughter grow up. And that's not all; because she has spent ten years in isolation, she has lost most of her language abilities and finds society completely foreign and ungraspable.

Do the writers give this guy a rough ride, or what?

O'Brien-torturing trends aside, "Time's Orphan" is in the tradition of using elaborate time-travel machinations to tell engaging human dramas. This episode isn't a standout example of this theme, but it's a reasonable story that benefits from some nice little touches.

I don't consider myself a social psychologist, but the premise seems believable enough on its terms. I honestly couldn't tell you if a 24th-century 8-year-old could learn to survive on her own with no resources, or if ten years of isolation would change a person in the ways it changes Molly in this story. For the purposes of the story as given, though, I have no problem accepting these given claims as realistic. It certainly seems sensible in context, so the sense that the O'Briens have their work cut out for them in bringing Molly back to society is a workable premise.

There are numerous scenes where Miles and Keiko try to get through to Molly, who simply doesn't understand. I wasn't exactly riveted by a lot of these scenes, but many of them struck me as genuine. The game with the balls showed patience, and the escape to the holodeck was plausible. And when things began to go wrong, the episode tuned into the O'Briens' desperation rather nicely. The eventual central problem—that Molly is far too difficult to control and must be institutionalized after she attacks a man in Quark's—isn't a big surprise, but is fully empathetic.

"Time's Orphan" also sports the first use of the A/B-story structure since "Change of Heart." The B-story—in which Worf babysits Kirayoshi—fits in with the episode's family-oriented theme with an amiable Dax/Worf yarn that toys with Worf's parenting abilities. Again, this was hardly standout material, but the presentation was amiable enough to make me care, and the story dodged enough cliches to keep it entertaining and rooted in believable characterization. It was good use of Worf and Dax in the lightweight sense, sort of like a lot of "Change of Heart." Dax's impression of Kirayoshi's "Gung! Gung! Gung!" was particularly cute.

But what the crux of the A-story really boils down to are a few interesting decisions made by the characters. First is O'Brien's plan to steal a Runabout and send Molly back through time to her home of ten years. Seeing characters forced with choices they would never want to make always makes me sit up and take notice (though I wonder if Miles would carry out such a plan without Keiko knowing about it, as he initially had planned to). Another good moment is Odo's decision to allow the O'Briens to steal the Runabout after they've been caught by security, which is done in a way that is perfectly in tune with Odo's personality and sly use of dialog.

The ending is a bit of a Catch-22—almost as if the episode wants to have its cake and eat it too. It allows the O'Briens to follow through with their agonizing decision, but then it also allows the episode to end happily and erase all consequences of this decision. It's a bit manipulative because the conveniences of the plot allow the various timelines to resolve themselves almost arbitrarily. Essentially, since the O'Briens manage to get lucky, they get their little Molly back without having to face any of the moral implications of willfully retrieving little Molly in exchange for erasing big Molly—an issue that seemed relevant earlier in the episode. This all feels more like a need to make the story end on a happy note than it seems like a genuine outcome of events. At the same time, having the O'Briens lose their daughter isn't exactly the way I wanted to see this episode unfold, either (just how much tragedy does one man have to endure?). Overall, the twist ending left me a bit skeptical.

On the other hand, this finale, even through the plot convenience, still hinges on two specific choices. The first is the aforementioned choice the O'Briens make in sending big Molly back "home." The second decision, however, is a little more interesting, because it's made by a character with motivations that are much more ambivalent—namely, big Molly herself. Just as O'Brien mused, I wonder if big Molly realized that she was sending little Molly home. I have a feeling she did, but I also wonder if she realized the sacrifice she was making.

Overall, I'm giving "Time's Orphan" a recommendation because it manages to keep its heart in the right place and is acted with sincerity (what more could you expect from Colm Meaney?). The episode also benefits from some nice little touches, like the striking similarity in the drawings of the picnic spot that each Molly renders—a poignant little detail. Still, there are better examples of timeline manipulation stories that put their central characters through emotional wringers (like "The Visitor," "Far Beyond the Stars," or "Things Past," for example). As for O'Brien, I think he has been tortured enough—and I think he has been tortured more effectively, too.

Upcoming: Two reruns ("Resurrection" and "Statistical Probabilities"), followed by the two final episodes of the season.

Previous episode: Profit and Lace
Next episode: The Sound of Her Voice

Season Index

32 comments on this review

AeC - Wed, Jun 25, 2008 - 8:55pm (USA Central)
This ep never did a lot for me, but a couple things stood out on this viewing. The first was when Kira, while holding Yoshi, commented to Odo that she might want to have a baby someday, at which he stiffened and changed the subject. It occurred to me that it might be a (stereo?)typical man-is-scared-of-being-a-father moment, but my initial read was that he was worried about the probable biological incompatibilities between a Changeling and a humanoid and the realization that, if she were to have a child, it would almost certainly not be with him. If that was what the writers intended, it was nicely understated and poignant.

The second was Worf's reaction to first seeing Dax with Yoshi in their quarters. I don't think Worf's face has ever lit up quite like that before; it may be the warmest Michael Dorn has ever played the character.

BTW, Jammer, I remember when you first wrote this, or rather, the "Next Week" blurb from the previous review. "Deep Space Nell" made me laugh then and it made me laugh now.
Nolan - Thu, Jun 4, 2009 - 5:04pm (USA Central)
Man, that O'Brian... he's sure had some bad luck with oddly aged family members. I'm talking of TNG's Rascals of course. His wife, aged to that of a child. Now his daughter aged 10 years.
Nessie - Fri, Aug 28, 2009 - 6:39pm (USA Central)
Well written review. I found the episode to be unrealistic in the moral decisions of the parents. What parent would consider dooming a child to a lifetime of solitude, even given the alternatives? I expected them to go back with Molly, a choice that never seemed to be considered but that I imagine most parents would take.
Destructor - Thu, Dec 3, 2009 - 5:31pm (USA Central)
I was pretty unimpressed with this one on first viewing, but I watched it again with my girlfriend last night and she bawled through pretty much the entire thing, was extremely affected by it, and was profoundly relieved when little Molly came back through the portal. If the function of art is to trigger emotion, it certainly succeeded.
Cloudane - Thu, Nov 18, 2010 - 7:23pm (USA Central)
I completely agree with AeC's comment on Odo, exactly what I thought as well.

This episode was indeed very poignant, and I think actually writing Molly out would've been a bit much. Though I could've happily lived with her eventually re-integrating into society for the 7th season and all the story around that, but I guess it just would've added to the stuff to be wrapped up.

Reset button plots don't go down too well with me either normally (any episode of Voyager at this point i.e. Season 4, is very frustrating for this) but of all the reset buttons they had to do, I think it worked very well. In my interpretation the older Molly certainly did know what she was doing, and it was a very touching way to finish. It's not like the O'Briens didn't suffer a sacrifice - they lost a real, alternate-future version of their daughter.
Wharf - Fri, Dec 3, 2010 - 4:25am (USA Central)
I don't like this one much, mainly as it depends entirely on one silly statement made by Bashir when they get 18-year old Molly. He refuses to let them try again as it would remove 18-Molly from existence and negate ten years of her life, and he didn't have the "right" or some such garbage. Well whatever happened to 19-year old Molly after 18-Molly was removed? Or 29-Molly? They were all negated from existence when she was removed. Taking her out of time at ANY stage would rob her of any future life. It's not as if 18-Molly was magically created when they pulled her back: the moment young Molly went into the past she was already dead in their time. It's just a question of when to get her. There was nothing technical working against them that we were told: it was Bashir's smug insistence on "rights" that screwed over the O'Briens.

But on the plus side, even though she looked 100% ethnically Asian, Michelle Krusiec was seriously hot....
Elliott - Tue, Jan 11, 2011 - 5:46pm (USA Central)
Wow this season began with some of the only episodes of DS9 not to evoke negative feelings from me, and lately it's been a stream of pure garbage. This episode is not only morally dumb, it's darn-right un-watchable. It's like watching icicles form for the pacing...so why not add a mute character. I sort of get the "dilemma" and all that, but please, this is utter contrivance. Wharf's comment is dead-on. Bashir's idiocy (genetically engineered huh?) pasted over with feigned Starfleet idealism is just a joke. Next, please.
Ken - Tue, Jan 25, 2011 - 11:08am (USA Central)
This episode doesn't deserve 2.5 stars... more like 1.5 or 2. I've watched all of the episodes 2 or 3 times... and this is one I will simply gloss over.

The main problem is that it comes at a time in the season where time is running out... and of all the stories one could tell about the chief, was this really it?

There was a lot of padding this season, which I think fundamentally made the season worse than season 5. Some of these episodes just don't contribute to the context of the show in any significant way:

6x08 - Resurrection
6x12 - Who Mourns for Morn
6x14 - One Little Ship
6x15 - Honor Among Thieves
6x23 - Profit and Lace
6x24 - Time's Orphan
6x25 - The Sound Of Her Voice

It's not a big list, but notice that they get clumped together. At least some of the filler episodes in season 5 had a good balance - they somehow managed to setup parts of the ongoing story or develop pieces further even if the main story was isolated. These episodes can literally be deleted and it just doesn't matter.

Time's orphan is just one of those episodes I didn't care to say, I didn't want to see and never had to be told.
Jay - Sat, Sep 3, 2011 - 4:21pm (USA Central)
Well I was all set to say something, but Wharf nailed it already. Bashir's comment about 18-Molly (to keep Wharf's creative moniker) was arguably the single most ridiculously warped tidbit of "morality" any Trek has ever slipped into dialogue. Whoever wrote it should be vigorously slapped around.
Jack - Sun, Jan 8, 2012 - 4:33pm (USA Central)
They borrowed Voyager's reset button on this one...
Enloe - Sun, Feb 12, 2012 - 2:40pm (USA Central)
This might be the first episode of this show that really didn't sit well with me. I thought, "Jesus Christ, they're about to send their daughter into a lifetime of depression and isolation." It was really hard to stomach. I get that it's a difficult decision, but that's a pretty terrible solution.
Chris - Sat, Apr 14, 2012 - 2:02pm (USA Central)
"There will be no one to grow up to become this Molly"? Is he kidding with this?

If we apply that logic to every other Trek episode that involved time travel, then every character who ever time travelled would not have been entitled to come back.
Justin - Sat, Apr 28, 2012 - 1:31am (USA Central)
I'd say the 2.5 star rating is about right. Not terrible, but too many problems to reccommend it to anyone but a diehard fan.

That said, Rosalind Chao's delivery of the line, "Miles, where's our baby," had me heartbroken and it put a lump of fear in my throat as well. I hope I never have to go through that kind of thing with my kids.
Kara - Thu, May 3, 2012 - 6:59pm (USA Central)
I loved the B-plot didn't care much for the A-plot. Worf and Dax would make great parents. Well maybe in another timeline!
Snitch - Sat, May 12, 2012 - 7:40pm (USA Central)
Wow this episode was utter crap, 1 Star. just unwatchable.
Captain Calhoun - Tue, May 15, 2012 - 7:26am (USA Central)
The Worf and Jadzia subplot was brilliant, the 'O Briens plot not so good. 2.5 stars overall.
Connor - Wed, May 23, 2012 - 12:54pm (USA Central)
Awful. It's this kind of pointless padding that bogged down season 6 after the fantastic occupation arc at the beginning.
Sasha - Thu, May 31, 2012 - 5:38pm (USA Central)
Very good 3 stars.
TMLS - Mon, Jul 2, 2012 - 2:33pm (USA Central)
For me, I'd rate this less than Profit & Lace, though neither at 0 stars. 1 for this, 1.5 for Profit. Really didn't like it.
Amy - Fri, Aug 17, 2012 - 12:20pm (USA Central)
I must say I am a little surprised both by review and comments. For one thing, where is the most illogical fact that Molly does not only survive 10 years on her own and looks neither insane from living alone for so long, nor starved, nor suffering from any illnesses or infections, she, the protected and pampered child of two doting Starfleet parents?
Secondly, it is very obvious that older Molly knew she was sending little Molly back to her parents in the end, else she wouldn't have given her the doll to keep.

I must say I rather liked the episode. When you do not care so much for an outwardly perfectly logical plot but can accept that Star Trek stories are very often built up on a fairy tale pattern, "Time's Orphan" is an interesting parable on parenthood. Kira for the first time desires a baby of her own; Odo is frustrated because he can't be the one giving it to her; Worf experiments caring for a small child.

The O'Briens in the meantime experience the most bitter part of parenthood - having to let your child go, which might mean you will never see it again, a very important task every parent must accept and perform, even if the adult life their children lead is totally incomprehensible to them. Molly is eight, usually the age where a parent must begin, if slowly, to let go and to give up the delusion that they will always be the centre of their child's world. Parents who do not manage that make their child pay a huge price later in life. That is also, I think, why they never considered going back into adult Molly's world with her.
Both Miles and Keiko prove considerable maturity and courage sending adult Molly back, so the "happy ending", as it is in fairy tales, is somehow the reward for having learned the lesson. That Miles at first was about to send Molly back without consulting Keiko first is not surprising, seeing how only shortly before she was whining "Where is our baby?" It's only a good thing that she later understands that Molly is no longer a baby and no longer her child but her own person, whatever or whoever that person may be, and who can manage to live in her own world, which is bewildering and lonely to their parents.
Seen like this, I wish a lot of parents would watch "Time's Orphan" and understand this kind of subtext. Obviously, you won't if you insist that Star Trek stories must be perfectly documentable, as if such stories could ever really take place exactly like this, in some remote future...
Mimi - Thu, Nov 8, 2012 - 11:39pm (USA Central)
@Amy: After reading your review, I've realized that this episode is deeper than I previously concluded. Thanks!
Qermaq - Sat, Feb 2, 2013 - 4:26pm (USA Central)
A lot of polarization on this one. I liked it quite a bit.

I think the main reason someone would not like this episode is that it does nothing to further the "soap opera" arc elements of the series as a whole. That has never been too important to me, so it's not a concern; if anything, I am happy for a story in which I don't have to have seen the previous 5 episodes to get it.

The other reason not to like it is because nothing blows up and few people are stabbed.

I liked it just fine. It's a great character study and a great Trek story. Not the best episode by far, but a very good one.
Herman - Wed, Feb 13, 2013 - 7:10am (USA Central)
I liked this one in a guilty pleasure kind of way. Sometimes it's okay when things get all sappy and melodramatic. Some viewers really like that sort of thing (like Destructor's bawling girlfriend above, lol). But by now I'm in for a solid main story arc episode, dammit!
Wouter Verhelst - Tue, Feb 26, 2013 - 1:44pm (USA Central)
@Chris yeah, I couldn't believe that either. That line should have been "There will be no one to grow up to become this Molly, and we'd be out of a plot". It's such a cop-out.
Daniel RG - Wed, Mar 13, 2013 - 11:03pm (USA Central)
**Spoilers** Hard to watch episode. O'Brien Plot: The premise wasn't terrible, but sloppily executed. Very contrived elements were used to move the story along, sometimes painful. The "moral dilemma" was really stupid when they didn't want to try again to get the young Molly. (Wharf above hit it perfectly) - the truth is they'd just try again. It's as much a mistake that she went there in the first place as what random time she came back. But we want to move the plot along! Her "development" was an interesting part of the episode, along with the parents' hard decisions and trying to work with her.

But the most contrived plot element is that she freaks out - and there is no second chance. She is going to be sent to some home far away, taken from parents, etc. The injured person would be fine in a week. They said he'd press charges. That's believable. But then without a trial, without time passing, without a second chance, Molly is going to be shipped off immediately, far away, to some prison home place. It can't be stopped, appealed, postponed, or challenged. Marshall law Starfleet, huh? I don't think the Dominion war has made them that bad. Totally contrived, but that was to get them back to the planet. These two places where the plot was forced to move forward (can't try again and going to rehab home, no appeal) were very clumsy and kind of ruined it for me. Pull out the Worf/Dax subplot and handle this a little more gracefully!

Still not as bad as profit and lace, where I watched the clock more than the screen.
jkeisari - Mon, May 27, 2013 - 1:14am (USA Central)
What about the time portal? It is stated in the beginning that it is unstable, yet in the end it seems to work in and out very fluently with the little Molly there unaged, unharmed. O'Brien sees it his right to destroy it with maximum-setting phaser? Just for the benefit of his family, as he originally plans. Ancient and valuable site of incredible technology - a stable time portal.
Doesn't the portal deserve some study - or preservation at least?

And if your kid is 8, has lived all her life in the comfort of her parents and then 10 years passes in solitude, while traumatic definitely yes, you don't forget all the talking and the faces of your parents. If it would have been Yoshi who goes through the portal and returns at 18, it would have made sense.

Interesting idea, but very badly written. Among the worst of episodes.
eschelar - Tue, Jun 25, 2013 - 11:38am (USA Central)
Got to be kidding me. One of the most unstomachable episodes in all of DS9. I agree that this season had a rough go.

I kept seeing the unusual flaws.

How hard would it be to find an Asian girl who doesn't have an extra 10 lbs of chub on her arms? She definitely hadn't missed any meals recently. Nor trips to the manicurist. Her perfectly cut, but badly hair-sprayed bangs, her complex weave-pattern upper garments with her spandex-like leggings... Do you know how difficult it is to make nylon... with stone age tools??

This is an 8 year old girl who forgot how to speak. How skilled is she going to be at surviving?

I think it is interesting because I have learned a couple of languages that have lain dormant since I was a child for 15-20 years and it took me all of 10 minutes to get back into the groove of things... And those were secondary languages, never spoken at home. And after running into an old acquaintance after 15 years of not seeing each other, my subconscious recognized him before I could even place the name (slightly embarrassing because he has the same name as me...).

And the portal... I guess with all his technological skill, O'Brien couldn't figure out how to make a simple locking door.

Come on. I expect more! DS9 is my favorite of the Treks, but this sort of fluff belongs in Voyager!
kkt - Tue, Oct 15, 2013 - 9:17pm (USA Central)
1 star. Plot holes are too big to ignore. A child who's raised normally until age 8 is not going to completely forget how to speak or interact with other humans, even after 10 years. It would take a little time, but resocializing her wouldn't be the hopeless project this episode lets on.

It would have been extremely difficult for Molly to survive 10 years on her own, when she's used to being fed and cared for. She'd have no idea what to eat or how to get it. It's really wildly unlikely she would last 2 months, let alone 10 years.

And total parenting fail! If 19-year-old Molly needs to be at a care center where she'll be watched full time, if she needs to be on a planet where she can run and play in nature, then that's what you do as parents. If you have to resign for Star Fleet and move to earth, that's what you do. Even 21st century United States parents would probably do that, and this is supposed to be the so-enlightened Federation! Sending a child back to live a short live as a wild beast is beyond cruel.

And there's the reset-button ending. Very few reset-button episodes are worth watching... and this isn't one of them.
Kotas - Sat, Nov 2, 2013 - 6:24pm (USA Central)

Wow, another horrible episode. Season 6 taking a major nosedive.

1/10
Arbit - Tue, Nov 19, 2013 - 12:55pm (USA Central)
The way Miles made it sound, Molly was going to be sent to a 19th century insane asylum. He asks (paraphrasing) "Do you think Molly is going to be able to play in open fields?" Well... I would hope so. With holodeck technology and 24th century counseling techniques, I would think that she could transition into a normal life, especially given the progress she made by the end of the episode i.e. going from animal grunts to rudimentary speaking.

And Molly wasn't acting out by writing crappy poetry and getting bad grades in school. She hospitalized a dude with a broken bottle. Even with Federation medical technology, people still die from stab wounds. Transferring her to the care of trained professionals actually seems pretty reasonable to me, rather than a monstrous injustice the episode seems to imply it is. And like kkt said, the O'Briens could have made efforts to join her at the care facility.

The episode was also a terrible metaphor for letting your child go. It's not like Molly choose to go natural and live in the wild; she was wrested from her parents by a time machine and she reverted to her animal nature due to isolation.

Add up all the complaints made by previous posters and this was a pretty crappy episode.
K'Elvis - Mon, Jan 6, 2014 - 3:55pm (USA Central)
One of Molly's difficulties is that things seem smaller than she remembered. She has a meltdown when she examines her clothes and finds them so tiny. This makes it difficult to accept the station as "home". They should have replaced her clothes with versions sized for an adult. It would have been a nice opportunity for Garak to be brought in for his services as a tailor, instead of the tailor business being just a front. The clothes would be unusual styles for an adult to wear, but it would help Molly adapt.

Star Trek does tend to idealize a "state of nature", you see this when subsistence farmers are shown as having an overflowing bounty of food and leisure time. In reality, subsistence farming is hard work with some very lean times. Molly would have been unlikely to survive, unless the climate was ideal for the entire year and there was plenty of edible fruit to eat, but that's unlikely. What she would have gone back to was a very rough life, struggling to survive, a life which would end in starvation when she got too injured or sick to find food.

The legal stuff didn't make a lot of sense. The victim of the attack may want to press charges, but that doesn't determine an outcome, and the outcome certainly would have taken time. Molly would certainly been ruled not criminally culpable, and though she might be put into an institution, she's not insane, so it wouldn't be permanent. They do act like she's going to a 19th century asylum, but this is the 24th century. I am sure there are plenty of institutions that could give her open spaces and take care of her until she was ready to rejoin society. Perhaps a Bajoran monastery, I imagine the Emissary could arrange that. I'm really not sure just what message this story is sending. "Better to be totally alone than to be in any institution" seems to be the closest. But even today there are institutions that could give her time outside. Not everyone that goes into an institution stays there for life. Do they have no medical options to calm her down short of rendering her unconscious?
Jack - Sat, Feb 15, 2014 - 12:03pm (USA Central)
Amy's right...the backbone of the episode made for a moving story. They should have just technobabbled reasons why they couldn't retreive the young Molly in a timely fashion. Having Bashir instead make his ridiculous moral assertion as the core reason for all the following drama utterly devoured the story from within. For me it was so obscene that it alone reduced a 3-3.5 episode to a 1.5-2.

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