I have some mixed feelings about the latest season 1 episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. ‘If Wishes were Horses’ was perfectly enjoyable for 95% of its length, and made a masterful transition from an essentially comic, light-hearted situation to a position of overwhelming tension, whose solution was obvious in retrospect. But I felt that it failed in its ending, and that the ultimate explanation was decidedly undercooked.
We started with an unusually long open that encompassed all the cast in a sequence of scenes. Odo suspicious of Quark’s plan to expand his holosuites to include family entertainment, like the baseball programme Sisko had installed for himself and Jake, Bashir still trying in vain to get off with Dax, who is amused at, but far from attracted to his extreme youth, an anomaly in space appearing on sensors which might be the cause of problems, and lastly Chief O’Brien reading ‘Rumplestiltskin’ to little Molly, leading to her imagining the dwarf is in he bedroom. Only she’s not imagining…
Yes, all over DS9, things are appearing that are coming out of people’s imaginations. Sisko’s favourite ballplayer, Buck Bakai, from the dying years of baseball follows Jake home from the holosuite, Quark imagines two scantily-clad, skinny human females (whose dialogue consisted of the occasional giggle) to finger his ear-lobes, his patrons imagine endless wins on the local roulette-equivalent… and Julian Bashir is woken from sleep by a suddenly-amorous Jardzia Dax, eager to get some of that ol’ kissing in.
I think everyone was ahead of the writers over the hasty summons of the senior officers to Controls, with a second, cooler and rather more real Dax following Julian and his hot tamale. By then, we’d had a great deal of fun seeing Bashir, all his dreams come true, far more literally than he was realising, virtually fighting Jardzia Sex off with a pitchfork.
The problem was that, whilst everyone is trying to get to grips with these figments (none more avidly than Quark, off-scene thankfully), the space anomaly is growing ever more dangerous. A precedent is found in a rupture in space, two centuries earlier, that sucked an entire galaxy into itself. Slowly, the mood turns away from the comedy, as DS9 prepares to try to seal the rupture.
The plan fails, the rift accelerates, disaster is nigh, and Rumplestiltskin jumps in with an offer to save the day and seal the rupture. For a price: Molly O’Brien, just like the Queen’s daughter in the fairy-tale.
The Chief is faced with the impossible choice. I thought the show dropped the ball by avoiding having him answer, by Sisko making the choice for him. Maybe thirty seconds less comedy and thirty seconds here for O’Brien to refuse, for everyone to despair, and then Sisko with, say, a slightly altered, “Nor should he.”
Because Sisko’s sussed it. The rupture danger began at the exact moment the figments began appearing, and it’s exactly the same as them. There is no rupture: it’s all Dax’s imagination, supplemented by the rest of them. Tell themselves it’s not real… and it isn’t.
It’s a variation on the old, and usually despised, ‘and he woke up’ ending, given a new and effective twist, but to complete the job, some kind of external stimulus to the ‘dream’ was required. We’d already seen the three primary hallucinations – Bakai, Rumplestiltskin and the fake Dax – meeting to discuss their rle in the situation, and it’s now explained that they are explorers from beyond the Wormhole, who have been studying the application of imagination. They refuse to disclose anything about themselves and disappear, hinting that they might return.
As an ending, it doesn’t work for me. It’s too perfunctory, and by making the aliens purely neutral, it avoids providing a logical justification for all that imagination sloshing around. Again, a little less light comedy, a little more time for the ending and this could have been a very strong episode. As it was, it was fun, it was very enjoyable, but it didn’t follow through, and it ended on a hollow note.