The Good: Nice level of character, Fair acting, Fine special effects
The Bad: Horribly unoriginal plot, Lack of real insight into characters
The Basics: All in all, "If Wishes Were Horses" is a completely middle-of the road episode, which is better for fans of other Trek series' than Deep Space 9 aficionados.
Near the end of Deep Space Nine's first season rut (there's been a pattern of 2 fair episodes, 1 good one) comes "If Wishes Were Horses," a disappointing episode that follows in the tracks of Star Trek and Star Trek The Next Generation. Apparently, there's something in the writer's guidelines that tells the creators of Trek, "We have to have an episode where what people think comes immediately to life." ("Shore Leave," "Where No One Has Gone Before," and now this). This is especially disappointing to fans of Star Trek Deep Space Nine because the overall quality of the series could be defined as the defiance of Star Trek standards. If Gene Rodenberry's vision is encapsulated in Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation, the feeling of Star Trek Deep Space Nine is "Dreams Die." The characters are moody, dark, cerebral. Actually, Captain Benjamin Sisko (certainly COMMANDER Benjamin Sisko) has more in common with Captain Christopher Pike (from the original Star Trek pilot, "The Cage") than any other commanding officer in the franchise.
So, in this incarnation of Trek, O'Brien is reading to his daughter and shortly thereafter, Rumplestiltskin himself appears and the Chief figures something isn't right. Bashir manages to conjure an amorous version of Dax and Commander Sisko brings to life his baseball hero. Sigh. So, it's not long before chaos is reigning on the station because people can't control their imaginations. In this incarnation, it includes a giant rip in space that is going to destroy the whole Bajoran system.
The plot twist near the end isn't much of a surprise for anyone who has been awake through any earlier incarnation of this plot. In fact, it's not a surprise to anyone who is awake in this incarnation of the "fantasy becomes reality" plot. It makes for a wonderful special effect and it creates a plot-convenient menace to attempt to make the viewer care about what happens, but ultimately, it is cheap. As with "Q-Less" the true disappointment here is that Deep Space Nine sank so low, that they were trying to be something they weren't and that is awkward and sad.
One gets the sense at various points in the episode that the actors might have felt this way, too. The guest stars, like the one who plays baseball legend Buck Bokai, seem listless. Even Michael J. Anderson (known well from Twin Peaks and Carnivale) gives a surprisingly passionless performance. He never seems as menacing as he could be as Rumpelstiltskin.
"If Wishes Were Horses" does have some redeeming moments, the few scenes with Odo are amusing and the alternate Dax is funny in the scenes where she and the real Dax are interacting. Odo's character has a chance to stretch a little when he fantasizes about locking Quark up. And Dax's very liberal views are fun to hear expressed, especially when they come into conflict with her very real emotions upon seeing the fantasy Dax Bashir has imagined.
But it doesn't all make sense. And that's part of the problem with "If Wishes Were Horses." Jake Sisko imagines a baseball player, fine. But as the fantasies that become realities continue to expand throughout the station population, the desires of the crew are not accurately expressed. Why doesn't Jake Sisko (or Benjamin!) create a fantasy version of his dead mother? Why doesn't Benjamin Sisko fantasize about the station being perfectly safe for Jake, something he has overtly expressed from the beginning of the series. Sure, it's not so cinematic, but it would keep in the tradition of rooting Star Trek Deep Space Nine in interesting, compelling characters.
Quark is the most offensive of these fantasy incarnations. Quark imagines a woman on each arm (human, or close enough) while his patrons imagine getting rich on his gaming tables. With more than Quark aboard, why is it the humans suddenly fantasize about being acquisitive and all Quark gets is laid?! Why doesn't Rom's fantasy manifest as taking over Quark's? Again, such details make for more compelling character dramas, but are not as pleasant to watch as two half-naked chicks on Quark's arms.
"If Wishes Were Horses" strikes me as the greatest opportunity missed in the first season of Star Trek Deep Space Nine. While episodes like "Q-Less" were just blatant attempts to tie Deep Space Nine to the larger Star Trek mythos, "If Wishes Were Horses" could have been a legitimate character exploration that instead became a cheap attempt at a laugh. Or a fluff piece on an otherwise serious program.
Shame on you guys.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete First Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the first season by clicking here!
For other Star Trek episode, DVD or movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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