the story: Bashir falls for a new officer who is classified as disabled because she's used to a different environment than what's generally available to her in Starfleet.
what it's all about: "Melora" is basically the second season in a nutshell: an attempt to get back to the root of what this series was supposed to be about, after a first season that could sometimes seem like it was struggling to come up with stories that were relevant to its premise. The thing about "Melora" is that it takes a different approach than other episodes in the season, because instead of looking at what the series should be, it gives fans a glimpse of what it could have been.
Which is to say, the character of Melora was originally conceived as one of the main characters, but the idea was vetoed because it would've been even more expensive to portray on an ongoing basis than the shape-shifting abilities of Odo. Melora comes from a low-gravity world, so that in what we consider normal gravity, she tends to...float. Actually, it's a lovely idea all around, and so is the episode that finally brings her to life.
It's also an episode about the disabled, which surprisingly never really happens elsewhere in the franchise (a glaring oversight for such an idealistic vision of the future, even moreso, in some ways, than overtly acknowledging the LGBTQ community, which finally happened in Star Trek Beyond). I mean, you have Pike in "The Menagerie," but that's a whole story about him finding a way to get away from his disabilities, rather than confront their realities, which is the exact opposite of "Melora." (The whole point of Geordi LaForge and his VISOR compensating for blindness was a thing Next Generation never really confronted, except for references here or there, which itself was a fine commentary, to be fair, because he never let it become an issue.)
The thing is, even though this is a good and helpful exercise, it's kind of dampened by using Bashir to help tell it, in what basically becomes the Bashir version of a Riker episode ("The Outcast," say), in which a noble lesson is learned, along with a doomed romance (this is known in Star Trek as the Kirk Effect). This was when the series was still trying to figure out Bashir's character (later in the season, the famous Bashir/O'Brien friendship would finally become a reality, for instance), which as with some other characters (Sisko) was still a work in progress at this point. It shows. You can't just define a character by borrowing the character traits of other Star Trek characters.
But the good thing about all that is the B-story, which borrows the ever-present charm of Quark's misadventures, a reliable theme of the season, this time involving an old acquaintance's efforts to kill him, or so he's certainly led to believe. The great thing about Quark is that although he was known for his moral ambiguities, he was still easy to root for. Kind of like the series itself, which was an element otherwise missing from the episode, and it shows.
- franchise - A good spotlight for the plight of the disabled.
- series - Brings to life a character originally intended to be part of the main cast.
- character - Quark's subplot helps the episode ring.
essential- It doesn't quite fire on all cylinders.