Original Premiere: June 22, 2001
This episode is essentially a trip on one of those insanely huge roller coasters they have at Cedar Point—and for the uninformed, Cedar Point is an amusement park in Ohio that has some of the most insane roller coasters in the world. So just picture the Mantis, or whatever, with all of its vomit-inducing twists and turns, and you’ve basically got the plot for “Meridian Dance.” And there are a lot of twists and turns. Just when you think you know where the episode is going, it veers off in another direction entirely—and just when you think things can’t get any worse… oh yeah… they do…
The incident that sets the entire episode, and the brunt of the Elorg War into motion was inspired by actual world events at the time. It was June 2001; a small Chinese plane had recently approached a U.S. jet over international waters—and the encounter ultimately ended with the U.S. jet being forced to make an emergency landing in Chinese territory. The jet was subsequently captured, and its crew “interviewed” by the Chinese. I thought it was an intriguing political situation—one that had the potential to ramp up the Elorg War considerably… so I tried to mirror that situation in this episode—albeit, with a few grimly ironic differences.
Since I really wanted to heat the conflict up, instead of simply having the Elorg fighters approach the Merrimac, I went so far as to have one of the fighters ram the vessel to instigate hostilities. This was June 2001. A few months later, war would break out in Afghanistan after planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was prophetic, but… in retrospect, it was morbidly ironic—a trend that would continue with season three’s “Behind Enemy Lines,” when the Elorg rammed Starbase 241 just a few days prior to 9.11.2001 (I think I actually finished writing the episode on September 9).
And beneath all of these political overtones, there was an episode about change. Everything is changing. Erin is leaving the Starlight to pursue a career on the Majestic. Kendall is just plain leaving. Rachael falls over dead. Talyere’s little resistance cell is destroyed. Xi'Yor finally achieves “truly evil” status. And Ka’Tula prime is virtually destroyed. So yeah, there is a heck of a lot of change, and that really appealed to me, because people don’t often react well to change, and it’s interesting to see how they deal with it—both on the page and in the real world.
Reader reaction to “Meridian Dance” was initially mixed, mainly because of… well, changes. Some people were upset because Erin was leaving. Other people were upset because Angela died. And then, of course, there was a rather vocal group of people I had not previously known about: the Rachael Meyer fan club. Now, when I wrote “Meridian Dance,” I thought I had made it quite clear that Meyer was dead—I mean, Xi'Yor’s disruptor beam went right through her abdomen in a bloody fury. But apparently, since I did not have Doctor Hartman down on the planet to proclaim, “She’s dead, Alan,” many people were left with a glimmer of hope that Rachael was still alive. In fact, the act of killing Rachael Meyer generated more email than ANYTHING I had done with the previous 47 episodes—which is odd, since I always thought Rachael was the weakest, most boring character on TFF. She was a bad rehash of Voyager’s Kes, right down to her blossoming telepathy. Still, the death had the effect I wanted. People were riled, and they hated Xi'Yor (and me).
People also hated Admiral O’Connor. Everyone hates O’Connor. When I created her back in “Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec,” I knew she was going to be a very unpopular character—in a good way—but I had no idea that she would grow to be so hated that people actually wanted her dead (the Rachael Meyer fan club even suggested I resurrect Rachael and have O’Connor die instead). Of course, with this knowledge, I very quickly resolved to make certain O’Connor lingered for a very, very long time—and though her appearances were infrequent in season three, fear not… she will return.
Continuing the trend started in “Pandora’s Box,” many of the planets featured in the episode take their names from my most beloved video games. This time around, the Cleyra System is from Final Fantasy IX and the Kokiri System is from The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. This is a trend that definitely continues into year three—and especially year four, with dozens of little “Easter Eggs” appearing in the first few episodes alone.
Kendall Johnson’s storyline, which started in “The Long Road,” sees some more attention here. In retrospect, I wish I had handled Kendall differently between “The Long Road” and “Meridian Dance.” Basically, I like the end result, I just don’t like how I got to it. After his suicide attempt, I really didn’t know what to do with him, so I just stuck him in his quarters and said he was sorting things out. It would have been more interesting to see some of that happening on the page… Still, at least I implied that interesting things were going on. Better luck next time, right?
One thing I wouldn’t change, of course, was Christopher’s journey in this episode. Up until now, he’s had things pretty easy. He’s the Captain, he gets to sleep with the best-looking woman on the ship, and he gets a lot of great lines. But in “Meridian Dance,” things go downhill for him in a real hurry. Erin is leaving him, Rachael is killed, and Ka’Tula Prime is virtually destroyed. Suddenly, Christopher is in a heap of trouble; he can no longer be the easy-going dude he once was—he is confronted by this episode overall theme: change. He is going to have to adapt to all of these changes if he wants to survive… but as we’ll see in the coming episodes, he doesn’t adapt well…