the story: Ezri has an incredibly awkward family reunion.
what it's all about: Technically, "Prodigal Daughter" is a sequel to last season's "Honor Among Thieves." O'Brien has a supporting role in the episode where he attempts to find some resolution in his undercover work among the Orion Syndicate. But this is really an Ezri episode. I think there was some resistance to "Daughter," originally, among fans resentful of the fact that a new character was hogging attention in the final season of the series. This is one of three episodes (including the earlier "Afterimage" and the later "Field of Fire") that showcase Ezri's attempts to rediscover her footing. This was a character who never had the same confidence as her predecessor, Jadzia Dax, and I think for some fans that was hard to reconcile, all the more so because Ezri kept stealing time from the familiar characters whose time was drawing to a close.
It's their loss. Ezri was a unique character in a series where it was far more common to have an abundance of confidence, overconfidence. But more tellingly, to be filled with doubt. That was often the unspoken undercurrent of these characters, who often struggled to admit it, and that was the irony of "Afterimage," because Ezri was paired with the one who struggled with this the most, Garak. But in "Daughter," Ezri has to struggle with a different set of characters, her family, including a brother crippled by his inability to live up to expectations. And seeing where she came from, it's all the more clear how Ezri became who she is, and actually proof that she's actually much tougher and more resilient than was apparent before "Daughter."
For one episode, the series really does seem to become the Ezri show. It's incredibly rare in Star Trek to meet the whole family of a character. Granted, it's far more common in Deep Space Nine, but aside from the Ferengi, it's rare to be thrust into the workings of that family. Like all of them, there always seems to be someone missing, and in this case it's the father. His absence is a telling detail of the family's story, the void they're all trying to fill, and failing. It makes Ezri more relatable, watching her endure it.
For anyone who really struggles to empathize with Ezri, there's the return of the Orion Syndicate, which breathes further life into the baseline reality of the franchise, away from Starfleet, away from the Federation. Yeah, they're gangsters, but there's always someone like them, forcing lives to be altered by arbitrary power plays, forcing impossible decisions, forcing terrible choices. And of course there's O'Brien to drive the point home.
franchise- You really need to be invested in Ezri to care about the episode.
- series - It works as a sequel to "Honor Among Thieves."
- character - It's in some ways the most important Ezri episode.
- essential - It has a universal message that humanizes the character, and her hapless brother.