Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"The Sound of Her Voice"


Air date: 6/8/1998
Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore
Story by Pam Pietroforte
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Lisa Cusak was my friend. But you are also my friends, and I want my friends in my life ... because someday we're going to wake up and we're gonna find that someone is missing from this circle." — O'Brien, foreshadowing next week's loss all too well

Nutshell: A reasonable story, but surprisingly unaffecting and unmemorable.

As the season winds to a close, it seems that DS9 is saving all its cards for the last episode. The most recent stretch of shows has been variable, and I've been aching to get back into the main flow of the drama. Well, I guess I'll just have to wait one more week; "The Sound of Her Voice" is okay, but hardly anything worth getting excited about, especially in a war-torn quadrant as chaotic as the DS9 universe (or, more specifically, the mostly off-screen DS9 universe).

"The Sound of Her Voice" is a primarily gimmick-free drama about characters. Specifically, the Defiant crew receives a distress call from a Starfleet captain who is stranded on a desolate planet. They must race to her rescue before she runs out of survival medication, which counteracts the effects of carbon dioxide poisoning. In the meantime (the journey takes several days), the crew keeps her company by taking shifts talking to her over the audio-only communications link. They slowly get to know all about her through, as the title says, the sound of her voice. She's a captain whose ship crashed after it was caught by a planet's bizarre energy fields. Her name is Lisa Cusak (Debra Wilson is the actress behind the voice).

I honestly don't have a whole lot to say about this episode (this is probably one of the shorter reviews I've written in the past year). It's pleasant and benefits from good intentions and the general acknowledgment that its characters are people rather than plot pieces. On the other hand, as a dialog-heavy episode, the discussions simply aren't incredibly compelling. The episode also has a B-story that, although pleasant, is about as transparent as they come. Upon seeing how both plots unfold, a big part of me wants to say "so what?"

Lest the "so what?" gets the better of me, let me point out that there is some palatable character work here. It's just that little of it, if any, is deep or challenging.

Bashir's conversations with Lisa weren't much to speak of, though Lisa pretending to be eaten shows a sadistic sense of humor.

The idea of Sisko discussing with Lisa ("captain to captain") his apprehension of having Kasidy on board the Defiant (as a liaison to other freighter captains) is a little more discussion worthy, but still rather neutral fare. (Kasidy's limited appearances this season have had very little character-building impact. Penny Johnson's only other appearance was in "Far Beyond the Stars" where most of the time she wasn't even playing Kasidy.)

The most interesting and believable aspect of the episode was O'Brien's theme, in which he realizes he can bear his soul and problems to Lisa better than he can to his own friends. Sometimes neutral strangers can be good listeners, but the point here (as emphasized at the end of the episode) is that the war has taken its toll on these people, and that they have grown apart as a result. It's a respectably subtle aspect of the war's effect, and I liked it.

As for the Odo/Quark B-story: It's amiable, but pretty darn thin. In the past I've called their relationship "camaraderie in code," but here it's more like a grudging mutual acceptance. While there's nothing here that we haven't seen before, it's okay as fluff considering that the humanization of Odo still makes for pleasant viewing (reinforced here by his ultimate decision to cut Quark some slack for a change). Still, the fact that Quark's Master Money-Making Plan [TM] falls apart as easily as it does is so short-sighted on Quark's part that it comes across as contrived. Or maybe Quark is just getting rusty.

The main story's plot twist at the end—in which it's revealed that Lisa has actually been dead on the planet for three years, having communicated with the Defiant crew through a time-shift anomaly that sent communications signals three years back and forth through time—struck me as a bit of a reach. It's not the sci-fi aspect that I found to be implausible per se; it's that no one on the Defiant looked up a record on Lisa's ship, where they would've discovered her deep-space mission started 11 years ago rather than eight, as she had told them. Not to nitpick or anything, it's just that the twist didn't really serve much purpose; it struck me as a convenient way to get the writers out of the catch-22 created by the fact that neither succeeding In the Nick of Time nor failing By the Slimmest of Margins would be a particularly fresh or satisfying approach to the story's ending. I guess that takes us back to the story's bigger problem, which is that I didn't much care if Lisa Cusak survived or not. The twist seems more like a distraction to lure us away from the fact that there isn't enough at stake for us as viewers.

Yet "The Sound of Her Voice" isn't really a bad episode. There's some interesting stuff here that directly affects the regular characters. The O'Brien theme worked well, the Sisko issue was agreeable if thin, and I liked seeing Jake in a position where he could've potentially gotten his hands a little dirty.

The wake for Lisa Cusak at the episode's end pulls everything together into a halfway relevant context of sorts, though I can't really say I was moved by it. Sure, I believe the Defiant crew would honor Captain Cusak as a fellow officer, and even that they would consider her a "friend"; I just don't feel that I knew her well enough to really be much more than an guest observer at a funeral for someone I had never met.

Also, there's one other thing about the final scene that's perhaps too obvious: O'Brien's lengthy speech where he says, "Someday we're going to wake up and we're gonna find that someone is missing from this circle." Now, knowing that a certain member of Sisko's crew is going to die in the season finale next week (I of course won't reveal who that is, although many if not most people who are reading this review have probably known for months who that person is), O'Brien's speech is nothing short of prophetic. Does that make it manipulative? Prudent? A good way of foreshadowing? I'm not sure; as with most of this episode, I'm just mostly indifferent.

Next week: A return to the war storyline in the long-awaited season finale, in which a Federation victory will cost Sisko one of his crew.

Previous episode: Time's Orphan
Next episode: Tears of the Prophets

Season Index

24 comments on this review

Thu, Nov 13, 2008, 12:52pm (UTC -6)
You're right about the time loop "reveal" being pretty incredulous. Forget looking up Captain Cusak's history--Sisko apparently gave her the full up-to-date history on the war. You can't tell me that he wouldn't have said, "Then on Stardate 51..." and she wouldn't have said, "WTF?" What would have made the episode more believable, and poignant, in fact, is if everyone (including Lisa) knew about the time distortion and the episode became about 1.) comforting someone in their final moments, and 2.) heading to a planet only to assure a proper burial, which would have commented nicely about soldiers' honor during wartime.
Thu, Dec 11, 2008, 5:30pm (UTC -6)
I rather liked this episode, both the A & B stories. It was interesting to see how the war had taken its toll on the crew and suddenly they find them selves talking to a complete stranger who makes their lives a little more bearable. I also liked the ending, albiet a little contrived but still tragic.

Then the B story wasn't as good as the A but still entertaining. I found my self feeling sorry for Quark because criminal or not he did deserve a win. Also Odo showing a softer side was a nice change.
Sat, Mar 7, 2009, 8:04pm (UTC -6)
For the Defiant to be diverted for a 6-day mission (12 days round-trip) during Trek's "THE WAR TO END ALL WARS" was far too inconsistent for my waste. It makes the "war" a childish plot contrivance, to be discarded or ignored when convenient.

I thought the episode would actually have been better served without the tech angle. The way I would have written it, Sisko should have chosen to violate orders (some important but abstract war-related mission, like convoy protection) to go off the rescue, because his damaged and burdened soul needed saving as much as Captain Cusack. He justifies his actions to himself, because she is a living, breathing person that he can save, a mission that he knows he can complete (as opposed to the grim specter of the war and its mounting casualties). For him, the tangible good of the one outweighs the abstract good of the many.

Unfortunately, they don't make it in time, leaving Sisko to ponder what he has wrought. Captain Cusack is dead, and the mission he decided to ignore results in another Federation setback, a different lesson from the one in ITPM (where he concluded that the ends definitely justified the means). He gets dressed down by Admiral Ross and told in no unclear terms that there is no room for individual sentiment when billions of lives are at stake, which reminds him of a similar lecture he gave Worf for his actions in "Change of Heart." Sisko realizes it is not easy to practice what one preaches when the heart is involved.

Or something. I'm not a writer, but I play one on TV :-)!
Aldo Johnson
Sat, Nov 28, 2009, 8:30am (UTC -6)
Actually I didn't know someone's going to die. I didn't have the benefit of being in the States when the series first aired, but thank goodness for DVD :-)

Of course, now I know someone's going to die.

This is also why "The Sixth Sense" in not that big a deal for me.
Sun, Dec 6, 2009, 4:28pm (UTC -6)
The thing for me was... what was the POINT of the time-shift anomaly? So they got to her three years too late instead of three minutes. From a storytelling point of view, what is the difference? She's just as dead. The time-shift anomaly just adds questions that can't be answered, but changes nothing. Made no sense to me.
Wed, Jul 28, 2010, 8:36am (UTC -6)
According to Ron Moore, the time-shift was actually the central crux of the original pitch - Sisko fiddles with a transmitter and accidentally contacts a woman living in 1940, and knows she's from 1940 but doesn't tell her he's in the future. That explains why it ends up in the finished episode even though the rest of the story isn't really related. I thought this episode had great execution, but needed slightly better writing to make the character interactions have more impact.
Some Dude
Mon, Nov 21, 2011, 5:29pm (UTC -6)
I really liked this episode. I feel like a good amount of character work was being accomplished by the two storylines. This was very welcome after some shallow outings in preceding episodes. I liked the understated approach and the fact that a lot of the main characters got some sort of development out of this episode. I also enjoyed the balance of drama and comedy. I don't think that it needed any more impact in the characterizations. The way it was done was just right for my taste. Truly a great episode of DS9 in my eyes. There was nothing I didn't like about it (except maybe the somewhat unneccessary twist ending). Three and a half stars from me.
Nebula Nox
Tue, Apr 3, 2012, 12:16pm (UTC -6)
About 18 months ago I had a bad accident. I was never isolated, but I was in amazing pain and dependent on others to helicopter me to a hospital. So I identify with the downed captain, and her desperation.

I also liked the Jake/Quark combination. I always felt that Jake should take over the bar from Quark.

I do not see the point of the time shift/barrier.
Chris Freeman
Sat, Jun 2, 2012, 2:12am (UTC -6)
This is truly a show written by nerds: all the romantic relationships are inept and shallow, yet the friendships are rock solid.
Lt. Fitz
Tue, Jul 3, 2012, 11:36pm (UTC -6)
This episode kept putting me to sleep, but it wasn't a bad episode. It was just very talky. Odo's unexpected allowance seemed unrealistic, even if it was satisfying to a certain extent.
Mister P
Sun, Sep 16, 2012, 4:25pm (UTC -6)
I don't think Lisa actually crashed on the planet. I think her crew abandoned her there because they couldn't handle listening to her inane blabbering all the time.

(Needless to say, I am not a fan of this episode.)
Sat, Aug 3, 2013, 9:45pm (UTC -6)
I had a feeling she would die (although the bizarre time shift was unnecessary). I actually thought, "I'm not going to bother investing emotionally in their mission or that captain because I'm sure they'll fail." Alas, i was right.

Lately DS9 has either been depressing or inane. I think I might take a little break from it after I finish this season on Netflix. In burned out on watching people suffer. I get enough of that in "real life."
Tue, Aug 6, 2013, 11:41pm (UTC -6)
The premise had potential and I think in the final episode that potential remained more or less intact right up until the pointless twist ending. I don't mind talky episodes if the talk is good and has some meat to it (the talk was fair to good here and had just enough meat that it wasn't completely pointless, IMO) and there's some sort of emotional payoff in the end. There was no payoff here and I blame the stupid twist. It's not that Captain Cusack died. I could accept that. I fully expected it. It's that when they found her, she was a desiccated corpse that had been lying there for 3 years. WHY? It completely undermined any emotional impact the scene should have had. And for what?! What a damn shame.
Sun, Nov 10, 2013, 3:05pm (UTC -6)
Frequently Jammer criticizes Voyager for plots too similar to older episodes of TNG, yet here he turns a blind eye to the fact that the central plot of this episode was handled much better in the first-season Voyager episode "Eye of the Needle."

Methinks if "Sound of Her Voice" had aired in 1995 and "Eye of the Needle" in 1998, Jammer would've pounced on the latter for ripping off the former with the same glee Odo took in citing Quark for violating regulations governing bar stools.

I liked this episode and found it moving, but I agree with the criticisms against it. It would've helped if we would have at least seen a picture of Captain Cusak at the end, or seen some of her friends and family at the memorial service. The absence of both, and the fact that we never learned any of the personal details of her life, (unlike the Romulan played by Vaughn Armstrong in "Eye of the Needle," whom we come to care about deeply) left her character feeling like nothing more than a shallow device to help the DS9 characters express their feelings.
Sun, Nov 10, 2013, 11:42pm (UTC -6)
@V: Is there something in the water where you, Elliott, and a few others live? What does this episode have to do with "Eye of the Needle", an episode Jammer rated higher than it? (And rightly so.) The premises are vaguely similar, inasmuch as they share a scifi "high concept", but apart from that they're entirely dissimilar.

Of course, while "Eye of the Needle" was a solid entry for Voyager's uneven first season, "The Sound of Her Voice" represents one of the lulls in DS9's 6th season and is a pretty forgettable episode.
Wed, Nov 27, 2013, 1:04am (UTC -6)
How did I get sucked into a thread on an episode which received no comment from me?

Anyway, I think V has a point. It is fair to criticise inconstancies in reviews that might undermine their relative impartiality. It must be conceded that Jammer's criticisms of many a VOY episode dwelled on their similarities to TNG ideas. To someone drunk on the DS9 koolaid, I can see it as unnecessary to hold DS9 to the same standard, but there it is.

As for this episode. Eh...I like the idea of revealing the cast to be made of generally lonely, vulnerable people, accentuated by the war condition, but the topics of conversation between crewman X and Captain Cusak crossed the line from "intimate" to "pedestrian" (a systemic flaw of the series I might add) which basically read like the appendices of obscure biographies.

It would probably get 2 - 2.5* from me, too.
Fri, Dec 20, 2013, 2:40pm (UTC -6)
Someone is slowly suffocating, and they keep her talking the whole time, expending more oxygen.
Sun, Apr 27, 2014, 6:06pm (UTC -6)
The only one suffocating are the loyal DS9 audience whom were awaiting a decent few episodes close to the end of season 6.

What forgetable safe boring predicatble drivel, with yet more unnecessary galactic sized plot holes, that serve no purpose, which reeks of lazy writing and possibly a rush job from the cutting room floor back onto the final tapes? Even the final scene is clumsily written but saves it from zero stars. One star for me.
Thu, May 8, 2014, 10:10pm (UTC -6)
I agree with Jammers review here for the most part. Where I differ is that he wants the discussions between Cusack and Defiant crew to be more deep and engaging. I agree that a dialogue rewrite could have done that. But what I got out of it was simply affecting and sincere.

I always thought of this as a quietly poignant episode that was a little too romantic with itself over its own sense of tragedy.

The sub-plot was a nice touch if a bit trite. But Quark was right in this one which is nice to see. Even if he is wrong for the reasons pertaining to the specificity of the moment.

I really like this episode. It's not a huge winner to be sure, but it's not a tosser either. Well-realized character moments from beginning to end is the sole episodes' strength and, as it is on its own terms, works for me.

3 stars.
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 5:59pm (UTC -6)
While this is not a block-buster episode. It's better than the drivel we've been given the second half of this season.

I'm not sure why I enjoy this one, it could be that I really enjoyed the sound of Debra Wilson's voice (no pun intended), or how our heroes opened up to a complete stranger, or the fact that they cared for her ... or that maybe I did as the episode unveiled.

I agree, it would have been nice if they found a picture of Lisa so we could have seen her at the funeral.

I thought the funeral was a nice touch and O'brien's speech quite foreshadowing. I'm guessing that was done on purpose by the writers.

A filler episode, many times those are quite enjoyable.

3 stars for me.
Tue, Oct 14, 2014, 8:28pm (UTC -6)
Among the fairly controversial post-"Moonlight" stretch of S6 episodes, I've agreed with three near-consensus opinions for "His Way", "Profit and Lace", and "Time's Orphan"; disagreed on "Valiant"; and enjoyed but completely understand the ire for "The Reckoning".

For "The Sound of Her Voice" I'll be going against the crowd again, as I quite liked it quite a bit. This one is a lot like "In the Cards" in that it's light enough to be forgotten but does a nice job reflecting on the anxieties the characters have been going through up to this point. Nothing here is groundbreaking at all, but I really like that the show slowed down to do this episode. I don't think it's a waste like some may; the real wastes were the two preceding episodes.

Does the time-displacement gimmick work? I think it works. Lisa gives our heroes a bit of brightness during a very dark time - this much is obvious. The camaraderie, of course, works both ways, since Lisa gets that same companionship in what was (unknowingly to everyone) a hopeless situation. The gimmick also holds Lisa at a much-needed distance and keeps her death from being the result of an immediate plot contrivance (her medication being tainted, Defiant can't go fast enough, etc.). It all works for me, and I'm the guy who's always first to call an episode out for using a sci-fi gimmick when the story could have been told without one ("Things Past" I'm looking at you).

A strong 3 stars for me. A hidden DS9 gem, and my favourite S6 hour that isn't "Far Beyond the Stars", "In the Pale Moonlight", "Waltz" or part of the occupation arc.
Mon, Feb 16, 2015, 9:34pm (UTC -6)
This episode reminded me of the Voyager episode when they found an old spaceship from the 20th century (Phil Morris). When they found his remains and listened to his log entries, they realized how he felt about space travel and the value of it, regardless what his fate was. The belated funeral and honors that was given him in the end and 7's obvious emotional response. The last parts were similar with the honors and funeral of a comrade who was found well after he/she had died.
Brian S
Thu, Feb 19, 2015, 10:55am (UTC -6)
The worst part is, some of the problematic details of this episode could have been worked out with just a little extra thought. Shorten the Defiant's trip to 3 days (eliminates the ridiculous 2 week absence of the Commander of the 9th Fleet in the middle of a war to rescue one escape pod), and have the time distortion be like a month. A month would be far enough into the past for the mission to be futile from the beginning, but not so far into the past that the entire plot requires the viewer to suspend belief that the Defiant crew never mentioned the date or even bothered to look up her ship's records.
Diamond Dave
Sun, Feb 7, 2016, 8:21am (UTC -6)
DS9 does Midnight Caller. It's most effective in using the format as a means of drawing out some quietly effective character moments. Cusak is an engaging enough character that it seems organic and worthwhile. I'd agree though that the twist ending makes no sense at all and badly undermines the episode.

The B-story - Odo has a heart of gold! - is amiable enough. 2.5 stars.

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