In the eleventh episode of the seventh season of Deep Space Nine, we get to meet Ezri’s family! And then everything falls apart because of course it does. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of strict, manipulative parenting and abuse.
There’s a part of me that wanted more from this episode. When “Prodigal Daughter” is at its best, it is exploring the tortured and brutal dynamics between Yanas and her children. It delves into a sequel of last season’s “Honor Among Thieves,” following up on Bilby’s widow, but since that story happens entirely through a third party, it packs virtually no punch, at least not until these two plots collides. Yet even then, I felt the inclusion of O’Brien and the Orion Syndicate plot was hollow, a bizarre framing device that is ultimately unnecessary. The show didn’t need to go there to get me interested in Ezri’s family; I was desperate to learn anything about her and her past! At this point, we don’t even know that much, do we?
What glimpse we do get here is probably the last we’ll see on the show, but it’s a fascinating one. It’s disturbing, too, and it rang a bit close to home. It’s hard to live with parents who are not just overbearing with their desire to see you succeed, but who also want you to succeed in something you’re not interested in. I wanted to be a writer since I was a kid; my parents indulged that for a few years because I got good grades and because I was voraciously reading. But once it became clear that I really did want to be writer – that I wanted to go to school to learn to be better, to hone my craft, to publish a novel – the crackdown began. My father insisted I enlist in the military, and until he passed away, he repeatedly told me that it was never too late to abandon my terrible plans for my life and make something of it. My mother tried to push me towards anything else: science. Medicine. Anything that was prestigious or made a ton of money. I went into college supporting myself in more ways than just financial means, and it’s not a fun thing to experience! It took nearly a decade for me to find the kind of friends who pushed me to pursue the kind of life I wanted.
So, watching Norvo struggle with a similar dynamic was rough. He was never good enough for his mother. Neither was Janel! And Ezri? Good gods, y’all. Let’s just appreciate how succinctly this show was able to communicate what kind of mother she was like: when she saw her daughter for the first time in three years, she said, “I hate your hair.” Not, “Hello!” Or, “I missed you!” Or even that dependable staple of, “I love you.” Just I hate your hair. Can you imagine a lifetime of that? A lifetime of your mother refusing to help you develop your natural talent for the arts? A lifetime of having someone rush to criticize you, but never stopping to lift you up and love you for the things you want?
No wonder Ezri spent three years away from her family. No wonder she didn’t choose to spend time at home after receiving her symbiont! This is more or less what I’m dealing with, as I’ve decided that it’s not worth the emotional labor or the re-traumatization to keep a relationship with my mother. I’ve been guilt-tripped for it, criticized by total strangers for it, and told that I can’t expect a healthy family if I don’t put in the work. I can’t imagine telling Ezri that here because… well, she does try! She tries to get her mother to see things from a different perspective, but Yanas has no interest in that. It’s not until Norvo admits to killing Morica Bilby that she reflects on her role as a mother. But that’s too little too late, isn’t it?
That’s not to say she’s responsible for what Norvo did because WHAT A TERRIBLE WAY TO IMPRESS YOUR FAMILY. But “Prodigal Daughter” instead builds a case that Yanas was responsible for the atmosphere in her home that led to Norvo making a decision to be tougher. To make difficult choices. To act independent of everyone else. No one is responsible for the murder, but no one is exempt from how they affected Norvo. Janel was the one to drag him into the disaster of a choice to get involved with the Orion Syndicate and then pressure him to keep it a secret. Yanas pressured Norvo to abandon art and work on the family finances. How did they imagine this would end?
“Prodigal Daughter” is full of a number of perplexing writing choices. (Like centering a murder mystery / missing persons case around someone we never meet or see, for example.) It could have been stronger, but I must admit to appreciating this examination of where Ezri came from. She makes a whole lot more sense as a character, and that’s what I wanted from this season. She’s still so “new” to me, so I’m glad they’re giving her space to grow.
The video for “Prodigal Daughter” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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