With the airing of "Meridian," every major character on DS9 has earned the spotlight for an episode in which they have a love interest. Okay—everyone except Odo who does not typically involve himself in the same emotional relationships as humans (and Bajorans and Trills and Ferengi and...).
Trek love stories are just about always unsatisfying. They follow a basic formula that is nearly impossible to deviate from because some unwritten rule states that the particular week's love interest has to be gone by the end of the episode. The biggest problem is that within the given one-hour time limit, the characters have to meet, fall in love and separate. Consequently, everything happens too fast, important dialogue opportunities are missed and in the end it just seems forced.
Don't get me wrong—I'm not saying relationship stories on Star Trek can't work. I'm just saying that writers don't take the risks they should and instead compromise the characters with conventional conclusions. These relationships should inhabit the subplots of multiple episodes to develop and really be effective.
While in the Gamma Quadrant, the crew of the Defiant discovers a planet called Meridian dwelled by a small village of people. The unique thing about Meridian, however, is that it shifts between two dimensions, the second in which the planet exists solely as energy without matter. (Comment: One laughable element of Star Trek is how the population of an entire planet can consist solely of one village of 50 people. Call it extreme dramatic simplification if you will.)
Dax falls in love with a Meridian inhabitant, a man named Deral (Brett Cullen). The relationship is set against Meridian's unstable phase changing and the threat that the planet may go out of phase forever. There's a surprising amount of forgettable technobabble buried in this episode, all of which can fortunately be ignored because it's basically irrelevant to the core of the story.
Unfortunately, the scenes between Dax and Deral are nearly equally irrelevant. They're extremely typical and, frankly, quite boring. What the teleplay should have done was use Dax's eight lifetimes of intelligence and wisdom to inspire some thoughtful, meaningful dialogue. Lines like "Later we can go back to your room and count each other's spots" are cute and all, but the script misses some major opportunities. Instead we get predictable, mediocre (and nearly gag-inducing) scenes such as Dax and Deral climbing a tree or walking down a hillside together while commenting on the beautiful scenery (though it is nice to have some outdoor location filming for a change). And this sappy score is dreadful—excruciatingly reminiscent of some of the original series' love themes. Not much of a comeback for Dennis McCarthy, who scores his first episode of DS9 since returning from working on the Generations feature.
What are very relevant are the peripheral scenes. This episode works well for Dax's character as she decides to abandon her career (and life as she knows it) to stay with Deral on his phase-shifting world. The show's highlight comes in a wonderfully directed and performed scene between Sisko and Dax, who say goodbye to each other forever. These minor moments are so much stronger than the episode's mainstream, which is exactly the problem with "Meridian"—the peripheral scenes are engaging while, on the other hand, the chemistry-lacking scenes between Dax and Deral can basically be thrown out the window.
Keeping the episode lively is a humorous (albeit forgettable) B-story taking place on DS9 as Quark tries to fill a "special order" for a holosuite program. It's an enjoyably unimportant comedy involving an obsessed visitor (Jeffrey Combs) who requests a sexed-up holosuite image of Major Kira. The results are entertaining, with a deliciously hilarious—and equally unconventional—payoff. Though completely unrelated to the main plot, it adds an acceleration boost to the episode.
As expected, "Meridian" ends on a sad note, but it feels like somewhat of a cheat because the ending is based on contrivance rather than character decision. Plus, it seems like a really crappy thing to do to Dax's character. It's just the same old stuff.
The disappointing aspects of "Meridian" demonstrate just how well TNG's sixth season "Lessons" worked as a relationship story. That was a story with thoughtful discussion and memorable moments where Picard stepped back and analyzed his life. That's what "Meridian" needed.
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