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™ 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.