I learned a lot from this meaningless episode:
1) We almost got a kick-ass present-Sisko vs. future-Sisko time travel show
2) Most Trek since 1965 has been written and filmed on a “first idea, best idea” time scale
3) DS9 writers, in the end, could not write a bad episode
The DS9 Companion quotes one of the writers of “Prodigal Daughter” Bradley Thomas: “Sisko battling Sisko, with the Sisko from the future coming back to the Sisko of the present, ‘You can’t do this, because things are going to happen.’”
I can’t help but think that the ‘things [that] are going to happen’ would have set up a continuity link from this unwritten episode to the finale arc. Specifically, it would have given the writers a bit more focus—pre-planning time, as we will see—on the Sisko-destiny storyline—more than they actually would get, since this time-travel story never panned out. Unfortunately, the writing team could not figure out what the story would be after the “great teaser” concept of gray-beard Sisko battling goatee-Sisko. I’m sure we can do better from our armchairs.
Ron Moore explained that “Prodigal Daughter” replaced the time travel idea because it was “a case of ‘First thought, best thought.’” There was precious little time before the writers had to hand the director a script to shoot. We fanboys-and-girls often fail to acknowledge the pressures Trek writers always operate under. We wonder why they just didn’t think of our brilliant solution, which we dream up from our perspective years after the fact, and not having any salary on the line. In truth, most Trek has been written by someone who had to get a script finished by dawn the next day—something we haven’t had to do since college. It’s a miracle we have gotten the quality that we have.
The grand plan for the finale was to have Sisko die with Dukat in the Fire Caves, and presumably go walk with the Prophets in the first Trek-canonical depiction of an afterlife. When Brooks asked them not to kill Sisko, they jettisoned the idea. But there was not time to come up with an alternative except to say that he wasn’t dead. If there had been a mid-season time travel show with an older version of Sisko, that might have given the writers time and creative foundation to plan Sisko’s fate. It was not to be.
[By the way, Prodigal Daughter was not Ezri’s fault—nor Nicole deBoer’s. The writers even apologized to deBoer for writing such a lackluster script. The writers proved two episodes later that they could do a great Ezri episode with “Field of Fire.” That episode was of the best Trill episodes ever, in which they introduced a new element: the former host emerging in the mind’s eye of the current host, but cinematically depicted as a separate character played by a new actor that only the current host could see. It is perhaps the first time DS9 successfully dramatized Dax’s experience as a joined Trill—too bad they weren’t doing this from the beginning.]
Unfortunately, “Prodigal Daughter” didn’t explore the Trill at all. It is a pointless exploration of characters we will never meet again (Ezri’s mother and two brothers, one of which now play’s Peggy’s scorned lover on Mad Men). The ‘first thought’ the writers came up with was to explore Ezri’s back story, which meant roping in her family (like TNG did when they ran out of Season 7 ideas and did Geordie, Worf and Data family episodes).
But this was not a bad episode. By ‘not bad’ I mean that the writers of this snoozefest, understanding that they were dealt a bad hand, still performed admirably. They did not denigrate beloved characters by having them act out of character. They did not denigrate new characters by having them act stupidly. There was a sensible plot and a moral, even though it failed to live up to the gravity of the rest of the final season. There was no technobable solution to a problem contrived to set up a space battle. There was even a bonus continuity link to a Season 6 episode, which honored Obrien’s character arc. Behr said that the episode concept was “a valid idea. DS9 is a character-based show, and this had all the makings of a classic drama. But the script never came together.”
Those are the words of a man who knows what it takes to make a script come together, and is secure enough to admit that he can’t make it happen every time.
My big take-away from these facts is that the DS9 writing room never phones it in. They never took us, the fans, for granted, even—especially—when they couldn’t deliver for us.
But what could they have delivered? What would your Sisko time-travel epic have been? And how might it have shaped what happened in “What you Leave Behind”?