Overall Rating: 6.0
High concept fluff - or more accurately, high concept fluff that's been done before in Trek - yet not completely without its charms despite a flawed script.
Station life is interrupted by a race of non-corporeal entities who apparently have the power to bend reality. They use this skill to study a concept in humanity that baffles them - imagination. For the duration of their visit, what pepole on DS9 imagine becomes reality, resulting in a wide range of comical and serious manifestations. Bashir conjures up a more willing Jadzia Dax to play out his latent sexual fantasies, O'Brien - having just finished reading the fairy tale "Rumpelstiltskin" to his daughter Molly, imagines the creature into existance, and Jake Sisko, while playing baseball on the Holodeck makes legendary slugger Buck Bokai come to life. Meanwhile, Quark watches his profits go up in smoke as the gamblers all imagine hitting the jackpot, Odo spends hours chasing everything imaginable around the station, save for a brief moment when he imagines he's got Quark locked up in security. And the senior staff all imagine a dangerous spacial rift is threatening to consume the entire Bajoran system. Only when Sisko realizes that even this threat is pure fiction do things begin to return to normal.
Complaint #1: The concept of this story has been done to death. And then done some more. And them some more. TNG, not 4 years earlier had an episode in which the Enterprise was flung to some distant realm in which thoughts became reality by "The Traveler" and many of the same imagination tropes were used.
Complaint #2: The things certain characters imagined didn't jive for me with what I would expect given other elements of the show. Bashir imagining that Dax would let him catch her is one thing...but imagining a docile, wisp of a girl when the woman he's in love with is nothing like that doesn't make sense. Dax conjuring a purely scientific puzzle to solve doesn't fit with her more well-rounded (and one might say large) personality. Granted at this point she's being portrayed as a serene, logical, strong female, rather than as a sex symbol, but even now, we know that Dax is often motivated by previous hosts to her symbiont and her imaginings should be just as varied. Kira seeing only a situation that throws her into survival mode short changes her character too. And don't even get me started on Odo gleefully picturing Quark behind bars. It should be obvious, even by now, that the day Quark was sent to prison would be the day Odo would become bored to tears with his life on the station - that Odo, against his own rational instincts, respects Quark. This writer clearly does not have a nuanced feel for the characters. For that matter, why didn't Ben Sisko imagine that Jennifer (his wife) had come back to him? Why didn't we see Kira talking to fallen comrades from the resistance or to her father or to Kai Opaca?
Which leads me to complaint #3: rather than staking out some new and interesting angle on imagination and its role in our survival, the writers chose to stick to what has already been done, leaving me feeling like an opportunity (there's that word again!) was missed to use the characters' subconscious (made real) to force them to learn something about themselves. Fluff is all well and good, but not when it's not particularly insightful fluff.
Despite the very weak script, they actually managed to find two halfway decent guest stars to play Buck Bokai and Rumpelstiltskin, and the regular cast salvaged some downright enjoyable moments with their acting chops. I was particularly impressed with Terry Farrell's acting range playing two different versions of herself. I enjoyed Sisko's interactions with Bokai as well. The one fly in the ointment was Bashir. Now I know his character is supposed to be "young" (as Dax put it) but Sid was definitely overacting in his interactions with the real Dax at the beginning of the episode, once again showing off his inexperience.
I would be more impressed with the message of this episode (nominally, impressing upon us the power of and value in our imaginations to motivate our lives and help us make progress) if the episode actually delivered that message through the telling of the story rather than using Sisko as an exposition fairy to inform us that this is what we should believe. It sure seemed like the message of the actual story was "wow, our imaginations can get us in a world of trouble!" If, as I suggested above, the plot had been focused on what we learned from actively communicating with our own imaginations, this could have been an instant classic. Instead it was pretty typical Trek fare.
"Why do we do it, Keiko? Why do we tell her stories about monsters who want to steal children?" - O'Brien has never spoken truer words. :)
(Bashir awakes - startled by a new presence in his bed)
BASHIR: "Ah! Jadzia...what are you doing here?"
IMAGIDAX: "Watching you...waiting for you to wake up." (tries to kiss Bashir)
BASHIR: "Are you feeling alright?"
IMAGIDAX: (seductively) "I'm wonderful..."
BASHIR: "Are you sure...it must be that Aldeberon virus that's been going around..." (scans Dax with his tricorder) "No? Then it must be me! An allergic reaction to the antipasto I had for lunch!"
IMAGIDAX: "Why are you fighting this?"
BASHIR: "Why...am I fighting this?! Why...am I...fighting...I have no good answer to that question..." - maybe this is only a highlight if you're just as hot for Dax as Bashir is. ;)
(Odo enters Quark's and bangs a glass to get everyone's attention) "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! Until the current situation has passed, am I hereby requesting that you all please refrain from using your imagination!" - Yep...that's realistic. :)
BOKAI: "I was the best, Ben! A switch hitter with great power!"
SISKO: "Good power from the left side."
BOKAI: "Hey! Wait a minute! Ben! My rookie year I hit over 20 home runs right handed!"
SISKO: "And never more than 10 after that." - aw snap! Sisko talking smack to the game's greatest hitter...that makes me giggle.