On TV, it isn’t exactly uncommon for characters to fall deeply in love very quickly with someone they just met. It’s understandable–the episode can only run so long and unless you’re looking at two regular characters, you’ll need to cut to the chase–but that doesn’t mean I tend to care much for it when I see it.
But this is a science fiction show, and not a particularly hard science one at that, so if it happens on Deep Space Nine (the station or the show), you know there needs to be some weird twist to it.
Apparently, it’s the fourth anniversary of the death of his wife Jennifer, and Ben Sisko is, well, kinda bummed. The thing is, he isn’t sure if he’s bummed because it’s the anniversary or because he almost forgot about it, suggesting the pain is lessened on the one hand but he may be forgetting Jennifer on the other. Neither appeals much to a man like Sisko, so he goes for a late night walk and meets an exotic alien woman (in that she has some odd ears) named Fenna. Fenna is charming, beautiful, and good company for the forlorn man.
And she simply disappears at some point.
Now, this being Deep Space Nine, where the Prophets in the wormhole can probably do all kinds of weird things, the basic assumption to make is Fenna isn’t real since it looks like only Sisko ever sees her. Sisko does seem to get a lot happier now that’s met her, such that Jake observes his father’s in love with a bit of approval, and when he can’t find Fenna later, Quark takes some measure of pity on the commander even if he won’t be offering anything for free. Plus, I would fully expect it to be the case that only Sisko can see Fenna.
Except Dax sees her too.
True, Dax doesn’t talk to Fenna. She mostly observes Fenna interacting with Sisko from afar and chides her (sort of) old friend for not saying anything. However, given Dax is the science officer, it stands to reason that Dax’s seeing Fenna means Fenna is not simply a halicination. If anything, aside from her habit of simply appearing or disappearing when Sisko isn’t looking, she isn’t much of a mystery. Sisko does ask Odo to find her, but Odo can’t, and that’s about the extent of that.
Besides, Dax has other things to do, namely work with bombastic terraforming genius Dr. Gideon Seyetik, played with a lot of arrogant charisma by the character actor Richard Kiley (aka, the guy Hammond was so proud to hire as narrator for his Jurassic Park automated tour). Seyetik is full of himself and yet self-deprecating at the same time, and he’s rather fun. His latest plan is to reignite a dead star. Having terraformed countless planets, he’s looking for something bigger. Dax, as science officer, is going along and Sisko just loves chatting with this 24th century version of DaVinci.
That said, when dinner on Seyetik’s docked ship gets to be a bit more of that, I love the way O’Brien stands in the back looking annoyed and Kira outright asks if she can leave early when Seyetik briefly leaves the room. Sisko’s response, that he has to spend time with a lot of Bajoran religious figures that drive him nuts, is a good rejoinder.
Oh, and Seyetik’s latest wife looks exactly like Fenna. Her name is Nidell, and when questioned by Sisko privately, says she’s never met the Commander before in her life.
And then, when Fenna arrives and she and Sisko share a kiss, she literally fades from view.
This is a weird one.
So, how do we solve this dilemma? Two identical women. Both claim to be different people. Both say they don’t have a twin sister or anything of the like. She’s real enough for Dax to see but not for Odo to find, and there’s no explanation for anything until we consider the episode’s title and move on from there.
Well, it turns out to be rather clever. Nidell’s species can release a pure energy subconscious version of themselves when under extreme stress. These aliens don’t believe in divorce, and Seyetik made it clear in the early going that marriage to him isn’t a very easy thing for anybody, hence the reason he’s been married many times. True, the whole “psychic projection” thing is an unknown factor, but the rest all made sense. The problem is the longer Fenna is out, the more likely it is that Nidell won’t wake up, like, ever.
The solution also turned out to be something foreshadowed earlier. Seyetik mentioned how hard it is to constantly outdo himself, and where do you go after you’ve reignited a star? Nowhere, really. So, to save Nidell, Seyetik decides to make sure the sun lights up again while being as closely as possible to it, dying in the process, saving his wife from having to be stuck with him, and banishing Fenna back to Nidell’s subconscious. Sure, the last one sucks for Sisko, but he does get to have a bit of a chat with Nidell afterwards where, I am sure, nothing more will come of it, but it was a nice touch.
So, yeah, Sisko’s not in love anymore, but he’s not really in mourning either. That’s something of character growth that episodes like this don’t often dig too deeply into.