Sunday, November 6, 2011

"Melora:" The Deep Space Niners With Disabilities Act

The Good: Actual character moments, Acting
The Bad: Overbearing "Handicapped people can overcome" theme
The Basics: Only for the real fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - good for Bashir fans! - or anyone who has interest in handicap issues.

In the very first rumors of Star Trek Deep Space Nine, the chief medical officer was going to be confined to a wheelchair of some sort. The idea was scrapped for a Middle Eastern doctor. Getting Siddig El Fadil, who is a great actor, just goes to show you why one ought to never make important casting decisions based on a photograph.

"Melora" brings back the wheelchair-bound officer in the form of Ensign Melora Pazlar. She comes from a low gravity planet and thus being in an Earth gravity (or, I suppose a Bajoran gravity) environment oppresses her physically to the point that she cannot stand on her own or walk terribly well. Pazlar arrives on the station eager, but confrontational and while an acquaintance of Quark's menaces the barkeep, Bashir works to befriend Melora. When a chance for exploring the Gamma Quadrant arises, Ensign Pazlar is given her chance.

Outside the obvious evolutionary problems such as "Why would a race that glides around their homeworld be built like a human?" and "Wouldn't our gravity crush her bones and tear her muscles whenever she moved her arms?" the episode spends an inordinate amount of time on the theme of how the wheelchair-bound ensign is easily just as capable as everyone else.

The problem is the way the writers did it. The episode is pretty much a one-trick pony; Melora sits in her chair, someone is presumptuous, she gets angry and shows them (usually intellectually) that she is their equal. And she does it again. And again.

Basically, the episode focuses on Melora and her budding relationship with Dr. Bashir, who comes up with a way to modify Melora so she can exist in our environment unhindered.

What works in the episode are the scenes between Melora and Bashir. Bashir's scenes - not the medical ones, but the personal ones - focus on how Melora isn't handicapped, but she is mean. She is. She's defensive to the point of being offensive and Bashir treats her like he'd treat any other person and says so. In the process, he cuts through a lot of her armor and those scenes are very sharp. They're a nice contrast to the scenes with Melora and Commander Sisko, for instance, where the scenes "read" like something from a high school as opposed to a military institution where there is a chain of command.

In a b-plot that converges with the Melora plot near the end, one of Quark's past co-conspirators returns to the station to kill him and that plot is interesting.

The reason the low gravity character was originally scrapped was because the effects budget for the season could be conceivably blown in a single episode and "Melora" contains low gravity effects that are good, but not in-your-face.

Watching "Melora," one gets the impression that the writer who originally thought of the low gravity doctor in the original Star Trek: Deep Space Nine concepts was given permission to do the entire character arc in a single episode. In some ways, it feels that rushed. In a larger note, Bashir's abilities in this episode actually hint toward his secret (which won't be revealed for several seasons). It's interesting that the writer's will take the Bashir character off in a very unique direction, but a lot of the episodes contain seeds that make it more believable after it is revealed.

The episode is strong on character issues and when it's not browbeating the viewer on Melora's handicaps, it actually does some good work there, too.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Second Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the sophomore season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2011, 2007, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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