Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Prodigal Daughter"

**1/2

Air date: 1/4/1999
Written by Bradley Thompson & David Weddle
Directed by Victor Lobl

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Our mother is a force of nature." — Ezri

Nutshell: Pleasant, perceptive, very quiet; slight on lasting impact.

"Prodigal Daughter" is an example of reasonable storytelling done with sincerity and subtlety. It's a character show surrounded by a serious plot that is executed with the most lightweighted hand. That's not to say the issues are lightweight per se, but that the tone of the episode is. This could go down among the series' most quiet episodes yet.

That's not really a criticism. The DS9 story structure has often ventured into the "do plot things big" arena, like for example the six-episode occupation arc from last season, or as recently as "Shadows and Symbols" earlier this year. It's certainly fine to see the other end of the spectrum, where acting and character relationships are elements within a smaller scale, and thus become a focus point more than the huge, sweeping storylines that are unfolding. And if you're going to do it, you might as well do it in that isolated two-episode lull that's most likely to go forgotten early in the new year.

On the other hand, there's something to be said for huge and sweeping; "Prodigal Daughter" is certainly a watchable episode, but is it particularly memorable? In the current DS9 universe where we want to know, for example, where the war stands and what's going on in the Dominion given the nature of the Founders' illness and so forth, an episode centering around the quiet details of Ezri's family (featuring scenes where guest characters have most of the dialog) is one mystery that wasn't exactly swimming around in my mind. Besides, last week's "It's Only a Paper Moon" provided a meatier, more effective example of how to do a quiet character story.

But that's the nice thing about serial television: Breaking away from the usual business to tell this isolated little tale of Ezri and her family is something writers can do. The flip side of that coin, my brain then reminds me, is that the clock to the end of the series is ticking, tick-tock.

The plot is workable, somehow following up an O'Brien episode from last year while offering insight as an Ezri show. O'Brien, who has been on leave to visit family, has disappeared. Sisko is unhappy to learn that Bashir knew the real reason O'Brien was on leave: because he was searching for Bilby's widow, whom he has been in contact with for the past few months (see "Honor Among Thieves" if you need a reminder as to his reasons). Mrs. Bilby has since vanished mysteriously, and O'Brien feels obligated to track her down.

Once Bashir comes clean and explains the reasons for concern (I liked the amusing bit about Bashir being "in the doghouse" for covering for O'Brien), which narrows O'Brien's whereabouts to somewhere near New Sydney, the captain enlists Dax to use her local family ties (Ezri is originally from New Sydney, you see, and the rest of the Tigan family, her mother and brothers, still live there) to help find Miles.

The story's importance lies not within finding Miles so much as it provides a quiet character outing for Ezri, whom we learn more about a la "Afterimage."

In many ways, this story had a lot of the same impact on me as "Afterimage": It was nice to learn more about "the new Dax," and I just sat back while the story took a routine, everyday sort of pace.

What works best in "Prodigal Daughter" is Ezri's homecoming and the story's analysis of her family life. There are so many perceptive, accurate-feeling notes concerning family tensions that the story subtly picks up on, and I imagine that just about anyone will recognize the sort of uneasy, submerged family schisms that the Tigan family demonstrates. Sure, not every family has problems that run as deep as the Tigans', but I presume most people will identify with the way family members can occasionally restrict one another's space or personal needs, or grate on one another's nerves.

The Tigan household and family mining business is headed by Ezri's mother, Yanas (Leigh Taylor-Young), a well-intentioned maternal figure who has fallen into the unconscious habit of trying to continuously control her children's lives, despite the fact they're all adults. Ezri's two brothers, Norvo (Kevin Rahm) and Janel (Mikael Salazar), live at home and help run the business. The problem here is in two people who are trapped in a repetitive pattern of life, without the ability to move beyond the confines of an existence their mother has created for them.

Norvo in particular is suffering. He's an aspiring artist, but finds himself constantly knocked down by his mother, who conveys her beliefs of his inadequacy more than she should, paving the way for Norvo's depression, apathy, frequent drinking (we presume), and moments of explosive rage (destroying his own artwork). As Ezri points out, Norvo needs to get out. But somehow he can't.

Janel deals with his situation better because he seems to have more commitment to the management aspects of the mining business. Ezri is the one who left the nest, as they say. And she doesn't often return. "You never stay any longer than you have to," Janel notes, expressing honest feelings but with no intended malice. And I liked the way the family scenes uncovered the Tigans' troubles without resorting to cliched histrionics or yelling. (At the same time, of course, the notion of the long-delayed homecoming is as old as the hills.)

It's about here that Mrs. Bilby is confirmed dead, O'Brien turns up, and the Orion Syndicate figures into the mix. Janel and Norvo had called upon the Syndicate for low-interest loans, and when the Syndicate wanted the favor returned—giving the recently widowed Mrs. Bilby a job in the mines—they hardly were in a position to say no. Unfortunately, it didn't end there. Mysterious sabotage followed, and it became clear that to go against the Syndicate would not be the healthiest course of action for the Tigans. The Tigan brothers, unbeknownst to their mother, suddenly found themselves "in," and wanting "out."

I found the Syndicate's methods interesting—an effective strong-arm without being overtly strong-armed. They're subtle but unmistakable about what they want and what they'll do to get it. I still wish the Orion Syndicate would play a bigger part in the series, especially given the connection they've had with the Dominion in the past.

But the Syndicate plot is a means to an end here. O'Brien and Ezri soon find themselves looking for Mrs. Bilby's killer, at which point, the Law of Economy of Characters states that the killer must be someone in the Tigan household. Not a terrible idea, considering how it unfolds, revealing a Norvo who snapped one day and beat poor Mrs. Bilby to death because she complained and talked too much. The psychology of the situation is appropriate given Ezri's role as a psychologist and Norvo's deep-rooted, volatile self-torment brought about by years trapped in that house. And the tragedy du jour is that it's only after the murder has been revealed that Yanas wonders if maybe she wasn't pushing on her son too hard in the wrong direction, asking Ezri desparately, "I didn't cause this, did I?" Ezri feels the burden of responsibility, too, considering that perhaps she was so desperate to leave that she didn't think about those she left behind. It's all very reasonable material—though perhaps underlined by melodrama and not incredibly fresh.

Thompson & Weddle give the script a good deal of human texture and common sense. But they also try to have the plot work both ways: It wants to be a quiet, self-contained character show, yet it also wants to play the DS9 plot thread games by bringing in the Orion Syndicate while doing nothing important with them. It works in context (the Syndicate being incidental to the story rather than vital), but there's still a tendency to wonder why the Syndicate was really necessary beyond filling out the convenience of O'Brien's presence and the murder melodrama.

Besides, some of the story's circumstances strike me as a tad convenient. O'Brien disappears. Fine. He disappears on Ezri's home planet. Okay; an acceptable coincidence. He disappears while looking for someone who has vanished after having been given a job by Ezri's own brothers, one who had eventually killed her. Now we're looking at a pretty small universe.

I'm giving "Prodigal Daughter" the highest "okay" rating I can. There was nothing about this story that struck me as wrong or poorly conceived, and I appreciated a lot of what it had to say. My general reaction throughout the episode was one of nodding in an understanding assent, thinking to myself, "Yeah, I see what's going on here," or, "Yeah, these problems are sensibly conveyed," or "Yeah, Norvo needs to get out of this situation." This is perhaps one of the more competent Trek family tales in recent memory (right down to the use of Ezri’s nickname, "Zee"). It's just that it's not all that moving or probing, but rather a documented set of events surrounding a group of believable people. The lasting impact is what's lacking.

And besides ... "Prodigal Daughter" can at times be a show that makes me long for an episode where stuff blows up.

Upcoming: Some reruns, followed by a final venture into the mirror universe the week of January 31.

Previous episode: It's Only a Paper Moon
Next episode: The Emperor's New Cloak

Season Index

32 comments on this review

Aldo Johnson - Sun, Dec 6, 2009 - 6:46am (USA Central)
The Orion Syndicate is there to provide a red herring. Without it, suspicion is immediately going to fall onto the family members, and how much fun would that be? So the Orion angle could be considered crucial. Otherwise, the writers would have to invent some other bad guy for us to be suspicious about.
Destructor - Sun, Jan 10, 2010 - 5:22pm (USA Central)
I'd give this two-stars- a bit of a snorefest.
Matt - Tue, Jan 19, 2010 - 5:47pm (USA Central)
I wasn't all that cool with Ezri's reaction to her mother at the end. It's not like her mom was that bad in comparison to many others out there and she did have the stress of being both an apparent single mother with three kids and the head of a major business enterprise. To put the blame squarely on her for one of those kids becoming a crazed murderer is a little much.
Nic - Mon, Nov 15, 2010 - 10:18pm (USA Central)
Not a terrible episode, but I really don't see the point in bringing in O'Brien and the Syndicate storyline. None of the emotional impact of "Honor Among Thieves" was really analyzed here; the episode never asks why O'Brien was so intent on tracking Bilby's wife down (of course we know why because we've seen the previous episode - but it's not even mentioned, which makes the link to that episode completely unimportant, and it doesn't really tell us any more than "Honor" did). Although I've also been longing for stuff to blow up (!), I almost think this episode would have worked better without the O'Brien storyline at all... just a confused young (and cute) girl coming home and dealing with the family she has neglected all this time.
Elliott - Tue, Oct 4, 2011 - 3:43am (USA Central)
How is it that Federation citizens have these kinds of financial issues? Am I mistaken thinking that Trill is in the Federation?
Jay - Sun, Oct 16, 2011 - 10:06am (USA Central)
I haven't viewed it in along time, but when TNG's "The Host" first established the Trill, they were presented as being outside the Federation (if I recall correctly it seemed that it was actually just a couple rungs short of a First Contact situation), but everything since has strongly insinuated that Trill is in the UFP.
Nathan - Tue, Oct 25, 2011 - 10:52am (USA Central)
I don't think the Tigan family were on a Federation planet.
Jack - Thu, Nov 17, 2011 - 4:28pm (USA Central)
How does mining work in an era with replicators? If you can simply replicate substance X why would you have to extract it from ore?
tec - Thu, Dec 29, 2011 - 1:45am (USA Central)
Cant make something out of nothing you need raw materals for that. And refined prosess ore...what ever it is in its pure form is a great way to prosess new replacated matter and I bet its rare to something the replacators have a hard time makeing
Nebula Nox - Fri, Apr 6, 2012 - 11:48am (USA Central)
This episode doesn't work, IMHO. Too much blame on the mother at the end.

I did like Ezri talking about her confusion after being joined. But gosh darn it, she is one lousy counselor.
Pen - Wed, Apr 25, 2012 - 7:44pm (USA Central)
What an awful episode. Ezri can't carry an episode by herself she's the most boring character. I tune out of DS9 during its original run because of her.
Spock's fan - Tue, May 1, 2012 - 8:03pm (USA Central)
Worst episode of the series by far. Keeping Ezri on the station was a mistake
Justin - Wed, May 2, 2012 - 11:59am (USA Central)
The planet is New Sydney and it's listed at Memory Alpha as a non-Federation world. I'm assuming it was originally an early Earth colony (hence the name, New Sydney) that did not join the Federation. The reason it didn't join the UFP is probably due to its diverse population of non-UPF races as well as its connection to the Orion syndicate.

I consider it a testament to the consistency of DS9 that this is considered one of the more mediocre episodes. It's a fairly solid story, IMO, and it has good and believable character development for Ezri. And yes, I do like Ezri as a character. I thought Nicole deBoer got a bad rap and that expectations were too high of her.
Kip - Sat, May 5, 2012 - 2:44pm (USA Central)
Horrible and boring but I never liked Ezri anyway.
karl - Mon, May 7, 2012 - 11:01am (USA Central)
Zero stars from me. Put me on the I find ezri annoying camp
Azure - Thu, Jun 21, 2012 - 4:44pm (USA Central)
Terrible episode, I couldn't make it through all of it! The acting was cringeworthy at best and the plot non existence.
Ian - Tue, Aug 7, 2012 - 10:58pm (USA Central)
I guess their are no Jewish people here huh?
The best throwaway line in any Trek in a long while was Ezri's about "Misha-gagh,"
This phrase, with a slighly different spelling, is a Jewish expression which means "nonsense."
I always laugh when I hear it in this episode since it was so purposeful and yet so really obscure, the perfect inside joke...
Jock Strapp - Mon, Sep 24, 2012 - 7:27pm (USA Central)
I like this episode. It wasn't boring to me and the characters were done every well. I felt REALLY bad for this entire family at the end. That means its a winner.

3 Stars
Kristen - Thu, Sep 27, 2012 - 6:35pm (USA Central)
Thank you, Ian. I was starting to think I was the only person who heard Misha-gagh that way!
Dean Grr - Thu, Nov 29, 2012 - 4:20am (USA Central)
I've just watched this ep again, and I wanted to thank-you Jammer for adding so much enjoyment to watching Star Trek with your reviews. It's pretty impressive you wrote these insights during college, while they were first airing. For myself, I've had to become older to be able appreciate some of your ideas.

...

There are two parts of this review I wanted to highlight: First, "... There are so many perceptive, accurate-feeling notes concerning family tensions that the story subtly picks up on ..." Unless a story connects with us personally, it's hard to enjoy it, or remember it for long.
It says quite a lot about DS9 as a whole, that people still think and talk about it.

Also, where you talk about Ezri's mother and how she has "... fallen into the unconscious habit of trying to continuously control her children's lives". A lot of our actions (and mistakes) come from not even being aware of what we're doing. I'd be surprised if her mother really changes for the better after this, but it's possible.

Thanks again, Dean

The Sisko - Wed, Jan 16, 2013 - 6:13pm (USA Central)
I remember how I was incredibly bored by this episode when it first aired. As Jammer noted, the series was drawing close to its conclusion and it felt like a waste of time to endure this slow-moving character piece - especially since so much screen time is used up by guest actors.

So, today I arrived at this episode in my re-watch list and after starting it, I was on the verge of skipping it - but decided not to since it's been so long since I last saw it. And I must say, that was a very good decision.

I guess it's because I expected so little of it, but after watching it with an open mind for the first time, I'm really impressed. Sure, it's no "Visitor". But I really felt for these characters and the plot did work very well for me. I thought it was quite clever how they were able to link up the two seemingly unrelated parts of the story to form a new picture. Yes, it seems a little unlikely. But what the heck.

And I do appreciate the fact that we got to know Ezri a bit better. Without this episode, I guess she would have really been a totally wasted character. This at least gave her a little bit of depth.

People saying this episode deserves zero stars are out of their mind. Or maybe they're in the same stance that I was when I originally saw it. You have to give it a chance. As always, Jammer's rating is spot on.
William - Mon, Jan 21, 2013 - 7:16pm (USA Central)
I'm with Jock Strapp. Good episode. Nothing momentous, but quite solid. I enjoyed meeting Ezri's family, and I liked the tie-in to the Orion Syndicate story. One of the things Enterprise did well was flesh them out.
DavidK - Tue, Feb 5, 2013 - 3:11am (USA Central)
I really enjoyed this episode. It feels like one of the most authentic "family" episodes we got regarding a main cast member. I also thought it was interesting that Ezri's siblings are so prominent...it feels like Trek main characters are often only children? Picard, Worf and Data all had memorable brothers, but Riker, Troi and Beverley appeared to be only children. Geordi had a sister we saw once, briefly.

It's not a criticism, just interesting...in contrast the surviving parents of the main characters often play prominent roles in at least one episode (think Worf, Bashir, Kira, Quark etc.) It seems strange you wouldn't write siblings in, a gold mine of plotlines, similar aged siblings who are possibly also in Starfleet, possibly not as in Ezri's case.

Also re: Trill's Federation membership, even Memory Alpha flatly states they don't know, so there you go. There's some good arguments on the Trill talk page about why it's highly likely, but not definite (the most interesting note from that page I thought was that Curzon was the Federation Ambassador to the Klingon Empire a century earlier, not that that necessarily means anything).

Anyway, New Sydney is said to be a non-Federation world. Also the Federation may not have currency within itself, but it still has to function in a universe community that uses latinum, so "books" would have to be kept in some form.
kkt - Sun, Oct 20, 2013 - 5:03pm (USA Central)
I liked this episode. I like drama between characters, and I think de Boer and the guest stars did a good job with it. I like how the writers related the Tigan family's financial problems to what we've seen of the Syndicate in previous episodes. (Battle scenes just bore me, though.) It seems to me Ezri was a good counselor here: she was too late to prevent the murder, but she helped Janel and Yanas realize what they had given up for the business.

Yes, New Sydney was clearly identified as not a Federation world. The Syndicate seems to prefer non-Federation worlds, and so do people who want to become or stay rich industrialists.

I give it 3 1/2 stars.
Kotas - Sat, Nov 9, 2013 - 10:45am (USA Central)

Waste of an episode.

0/10
K'Elvis - Mon, Jan 13, 2014 - 3:58pm (USA Central)
I thought it was altogether too unlikely that O'Brien would be investigating something on another planet and just happened to be where Ezri's mother lives and EZri's family just happened to be involved in the incident.

Ezri as the girl breaking away from her rich mother is a bit cliche, there are too many characters in fiction with that back story. And the business magnate having a son who is an artist who is up to something is pretty cliche as well. It's an old murder mystery standby. Always suspect the artist who is living off his parents' wealth.
Trent - Tue, Feb 11, 2014 - 7:59am (USA Central)
I actually liked this episode alot, and I thought the revelation at the end, the flames crackling behind Ezri's brother, was powerful.
Toraya - Sun, Mar 30, 2014 - 2:23pm (USA Central)
I liked it fine until the family reaction to the crime. A guy beats a woman to death to prove his toughness, and his mother blames herself, and his sister (a counselor no less) pretty much says "He's not responsible. Really, my mom, the castrating bitch, drove him to it.". Made Ezri seem petulant and resentful.

Otherwise, slow but tolerable.
eastwest101 - Mon, Jun 2, 2014 - 5:03pm (USA Central)
I agree with Jammer here, a quiet but essentially competent and moderately interesting piece.
Yanks - Fri, Aug 22, 2014 - 1:09pm (USA Central)
Good episode. Not great.

The more I get to watch Ezri the more I'm impressed with Nicole's acting.

Average. 2.5 stars.
Robert - Tue, Aug 26, 2014 - 10:05am (USA Central)
@Yanks

Nicole's acting was wonderful, but this episode was kind of boring as was the other Ezri episode that comes soon (where she plays security officer).

I don't know... if they wanted to give Dax an A story I just feel like they could have done it better. The character just feels meaningless to me until the final 10 except for scenes where she's with Sisko.
$G - Thu, Oct 23, 2014 - 11:10pm (USA Central)
I like this one. This is yet another episode that focuses on a new character with lots of guest actors, and I'm surprisingly fine with it. Yes, the main cast hasn't had a whole lot to do this season but I'm surprisingly okay with that. It doesn't feel like episodes focus on them for the sake of it, which is what a lot of late-series shows end up doing. I also don't feel like the stars are getting short changed, either. S7 gives the expanded roster a lot of meat and I'm really liking it. (Granted, watching it on DVD makes the waits between episodes non-existent. I can see why texture episodes like this grated on people back during week-to-week-to-hiatus airing.

This one's good because, like Jammer says, there are no family histrionics. No shouting, no predictable murder scenes, no overt Orion Syndicate mafia cliches. Just a nice, pleasant little drama with a mystery that wraps it up (and a mystery I had no idea would be this neat).

Also, New Sydney is a cool location, just like that cyberpunk hell in "Honor Among Thieves".

The Memory Alpha post about this ep makes it sound like it was an absolute production mess. I like it, though. Understated, quiet, enjoyable. 3 stars. Recommended.

Submit a comment

Above, type the last name of the captain on Star Trek: TNG
Notify me about new comments on this page
Hide my e-mail on my post

Season Index

Copyright © 1994-2014, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of any review or article on this site is prohibited. Star Trek (in all its myriad forms), Battlestar Galactica, and Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda are trademarks of CBS Studios Inc., NBC Universal, and Tribune Entertainment, respectively. This site is in no way affiliated with or authorized by any of those companies. | Copyright & Disclaimer