I’ve been using this year’s round of holiday malaise as a great opportunity to rewatch some Deep Space Nine. I’m up to Season 6: Episode 23, Time’s Orphan (I’ve been skipping around), and while I remember watching the episode previously, this time through it really rankled. Like I was sitting there yelling ‘wtf, O’Briens,’ at my phone.
Here’s the gist– O’Brien and Kako take their two kids, Molly (eldest) and Yoshi for a picnic on Bajor after the end of the Dominion occupation of DS9. This is a poignant picnic, because the family has been separated for a while– for the whole war, in fact– and this is the first time they get some idyllic ‘this is why we love each other’ times since they’ve been back altogether on the station.
What happens? Molly goes tumbling into a well, or rather a time vortex, and by the time they get her out, she’s aged 10 years. Not only that, she spent those 10 years in prehistoric Bajor, and has gone completely savage.
The O’Brien’s first thought, upon meeting their tree-dwelling, pre-verbal 18 year old daughter, is to transform her back into the 8 year old girl she was earlier that day. Makes sense. Seems like the only logical option. Because of an accident, the child was transformed from someone who is 8 years old, verbal, social, educated, and well-adjusted to someone who has experienced extreme trauma and barely survived to make it out the other side. If you could return your child to the state before that trauma, isn’t the right thing to do to do that? If a child is hit by a car, wouldn’t everyone involved rather reverse time and return to before the car accident and prevent it from happening? If such a thing were possible, I bet AAA would cover it with road-side assistance.
Instead, the know-it-all Dr. Bashir tells the O’Brien’s that such a reversal would be unethical, “because someone has to grow up to be this Molly,” meaning the savage. And he smiles at them condescendingly, with a look that says he has the advanced, more humanitarian view. The O’Brien’s go along with it, and try to get used to this new Molly. They get her set-up with a false forest in a cargo bay, and take shifts staying with her. They try to bring her back around to space station life. They bring her crayons and toys from her childhood room, and are thrilled when she starts drawing.
It is Bashir who points out that her trees have faces, and that she’s anthropomorphized nature. This Molly thinks trees are her parents, and is desperate to return to nature. The O’Brien’s do their best to sympathize and to provide what she needs. They get some holosuite time and recreate Bajor, and the location of the ill-fated picnic. It is as though she is an infant all over again as they rejoice when she learns to use a spoon, and potty-training an 18 year old sounds like a nightmare.
That her parents do not try to give her back her life, but sink down into the primordial muck with her is one thing, but when, in the end, they decide that the only option is to send Molly back down into the time portal, it is as unforgivable as when Audrey Hepburn lets her cat out of the cab in the pouring rain because she’s afraid of commitment.
If, only gone for a few Bajoran hours, ten years had passed on the other side of the time portal, then how much time has passed over the course of a few days when Molly was back aboard DS9? They’re not sending her back to the same time period that they extracted her from, and she’ll be retraumatized all over again. They don’t know what they’re sending her back to, yet they do it anyway, all because Bashir wouldn’t allow them to undo the trauma.
Also, what about the Prime Directive? Everyone’s always so gung-ho to preserve the indigenous land and the natural unsullied origins of planets. Doesn’t a little Earth girl landing in the prehistory, pre-human Bajor disrupt the time continuum? Didn’t they read the story about the squashed pre-historic butterfly and then everything’s orange and totalitarian back in the future?
Why is the acceptable move, the one that all the Star Trek people in the episode know in their heart-of-hearts is the right, non imperialist thing to do, to reinforce Molly’s delusion? When curing her of her savagery is difficult, they give up on her and say well that’s that, she must be better off in the prehuman beginnings of Bajor. How is the right thing to do to give up on your daughter, accept her delusion, and push her back into a time vortex? By doing this, they give her a death sentence. She will never see another human being (unless centuries have passed on Bajor and people have emerged from the ooze), she will never experience the love of other people, or even of her mother and father, ever again. She will not be a mother, not have a career, not read a book, ever again. This is not a reasonable fate to bestow upon your traumatized daughter simply because it appears to be what she wants after a few days of a really difficult transition back to real life.
It also doesn’t make any sense that the O’Brien’s, who have dedicated themselves to very advanced pursuits, that of engineering in Miles’ case and botany in Kako’s, believe that the natural, pre-human culture that Molly has been living in is better than the big bright present of DS9. Can’t they be even a little culturally imperialist? After all, they live on a space station orbiting an alien planet, you’d think they’d have some respect, appreciation, and pride in where human beings have landed in the Alpha Quadrant. Instead, they equivocate their advanced way of life with one in which humans are barely more than animals, barely aware of their own consciousness.
Certainly, Avery Brooks’ Capatain Benjamin Sisko would not have made the same choice. In Season 6: Episode 21: The Reckoning, Captain Sisko watches his son fight an insane battle when he is possessed by a Pah-wraith. He has the opportunity to stop the fight, to push the entity out of Jake’s body, but he chooses instead to let Jake fight his own battles. A big difference is that Jake is a grown man, who makes his own choices, and fights his own battles. Captain Sisko knows this, and he watches on in agony. Were he an 8 year old boy instead, Captain Sisko would have jumped in.
In sending Molly back to the past, the O’Brien’s steal her future, imagining that the trauma she’s experienced will never be undone, no matter how much therapy, time or attention they put in. They should know better, after what they saw on the Enterprise with Captain Picard and the Borg, than to assume the effects of trauma are unable to be overcome.
In fact, when they go back to the time vortex to shove their traumatized, delusional daughter back into it, they find original, 8 year old Molly. Presumably she’s been sitting on the other side of the time vortex for several days, while her grown self was on board DS9. She hasn’t had any food, or socialization, in that whole time. Yet she is not horribly traumatized and falls back into life on the station with no problem at all. Other than that her drawings show trees with smiley faces, there is no indication that she is connected to savage Molly at all.