“What is it that does not cease when the vision ends?”: Second Sight

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This is the moment where I finally break with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine establishment. I mean, not that it hasn't been obvious over the past year and a half that I have serious disagreements with this creative team about what this show is fundamentally about and even what constitutes good basic storytelling, but “Second Sight” is where whatever bridges span the rift between us vanish forever and it becomes obvious we have two irreconcilable conceptions of what this show is about and something is going to have to give: I think this episode is a defining classic, but the creative team hates it and I have a feeling the majority of fandom agrees with them.

Just like “Necessary Evil”, “Second Sight” is about elements from the past returning to have an impact on events in the present and, also just like “Necessary Evil”, it's about finding positive, constructive ways to make peace with them and continue our lives. It's the four year anniversary of the Battle of Wolf 359, and thus of Jennifer's death, and Commander Sisko almost forgot. The guilt he feels upon this realisation is genuine: At some point we have to move on with our lives, but through the grieving process it's not uncommon for people to feel like they're betraying the memory and legacy of their loved one by not keeping them in their thoughts 24/7. But of course, we always have to remember that our loved ones would want us to move on and have healthy, fulfilling lives, with our without them. This is the conclusion Commander Sisko reaches, and he reaches it fairly early on in the story, even if the cause is a woman who's not quite all there, if you know what I mean.

And make no mistake, “Second Sight” handles this with unabashed utopianism. The whole narrative is pushing Ben to go talk to Fenna, even in spite of that business about unconscious psychic projections I'll deal with a little further down. The show could have taken the trite and clichéd path by using the romance as an excuse to drive a wedge between Ben and Jake for some good old-fashioned conflict-You can just imagine how the scenario would play out in your head with Jake petulantly complaining that his father beginning a new relationship isn't fair to him and is an insult to his mother's memory or something equally stupid (in fact, the normally sensible Michael Jan Friedman does precisely this in a couple years on Star Trek: The Next Generation, astonishingly with the thirtysomething Will Riker). But no: Here, Jake is the *first* one to say that if his dad has found love, he'll support him all the way. So does Jadzia Dax, though Ben keeps dancing around addressing the topic with her.

Speaking of Jadzia, her role in this story, and Ben's evasive behaviour around her, is somewhat revealing. Like “Rules of Acquisition”, “Second Sight” is another episode that very strongly defined my interpretation of Jadzia Dax: Once again she's playing a support role to another character, and this is the most important one for her because it's with Commander Sisko. I've always felt that for two characters who are supposed to be best friends and possibly pseudo-lovers in some form or another, the relationship between Sisko and Dax always tends to go frustratingly underdeveloped. Not here though, if only because this episode is dripping with all kinds of interesting subtext: Ben doesn't want to talk to Jadzia about his problem with Fenna, even though she's practically trying to shake it out of him. They both joke it off as Ben being uncomfortable talking about this sort of thing with a woman (“It's because I'm a woman now, isn't it? you used to tell Curzon everything”, “It's hard to talk man to man with a woman”), but...why is that?

It certainly can't be that Ben has some kind of mild sexist hangup about what's appropriate to talk to a woman about. Not Commander Benjamin Sisko: He's far too noble and honourable to have that kind of failing. But it finally occurred to me this time around that there may be a level at which Dax's new presentation does give Ben pause. I wonder, is it at all possible that Ben's erratic behaviour and uncharacteristic unwillingness to talk to Jadzia in this particular instance about this particular topic is because he might still have unresolved feelings for Jadzia of his own he's uncomfortable with? Like it or not, it's tough to deny that's an undercurrent these two have had dating back to the very first episode, and it popped up more than a few times in the first/sixth season, namely in “A Man Alone” and “Dax” (and I suppose you could even read “Invasive Procedures” from a few weeks back that way if you really wanted to). This year they seemed to have ironed it out and are back to being just best friends...Except we never saw that moment of resolution for Sisko and it's perfectly possible for someone to be in love with their best friend, but struggling to hide it. This could be another example of Ben being torn about pursuing a relationship with Fenna-He's not concerned about betraying Jennifer, but about betraying Jadzia.

Fortunately, Ben finally seems to get over himself enough to work up the courage to ask Fenna out, but unfortunately it turns out she's the psychic projection of the unconscious mind of Gideon Seyetek's wife Nidel, and the two can't exist together without killing each other. Even this is seeped in utopianism, however: Fenna is a thought-form onto which Nidel has projected all of her best qualities, ideals and ambitions-In many ways, Fenna is the person Nidel wants to be, thus Commander Sisko's final line “she was just like you”. It only make sense that Sisko's first serious crush after moving beyond Jennifer would be someone who is literally the embodiment of someone's deepest, most profound qualities. Michael Piller said he hoped to define Commander Sisko as “a builder and a healer” and that's exactly how “Second Sight” portrays him, both in the way he helps to heal Nidel and Gideon and in the way he heals himself by finally moving on with his life. The episode's climax is a perfect metaphor for this: A dead star is literally born again through the end of one set of lives and the continuation of another.

So why is “Second Sight” so hated by the creative team? Largely, I suspect, for precisely the reasons I outlined above. A few of the writers felt the casting of Gideon was off and he wasn't an effective character, but I get the feeling the real problem is the type of episode this is. “Second Sight” is a very slow-paced, low-key episode about real human emotions and how to confront them, and, in spite of what they say, that's not the kind of thing Star Trek fans are really interested in watching, People (read: hardcore Star Trek fans) were already starting to complain that although Commander Sisko was “nice”, he wasn't “commanding” enough, and an episode like this isn't going to do anything to change those sorts of minds. It's also not going to do anything to assuage the evergreen complaints that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was too slow, talky and feelsy and didn't have enough action.

As far as I'm concerned, “Second Sight” is a masterpiece and the perfect roadmap for the quintessential Star Trek: Deep Space Nine story. But *only* as far as I'm concerned.


Daru 4 years, 10 months ago

"“Second Sight” is a very slow-paced, low-key episode about real human emotions and how to confront them, and, in spite of what they say, that's not the kind of thing Star Trek fans are really interested in watching"

*This* is one of my own favourite kinds of Star Trek stories. Love Sisko, love low stakes, debates, discussion and most of all emotion as key parts for the template that makes up the kind of stories that work best for me.

So a big thumbs up from me for this kind of story!

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