“She most lives”: Dax
So I need to get something off my chest right off the bat. The entire teaser and first act of this episode manifestly do not need to exist. They’re nothing more than horrid, stock Male gaze-y Damsel in Distress capture/escape/chase science fiction bullshit. Obviously, the writers wanted that precious “conflict and drama” and, because they’re science fiction writers, they think the best way to do that is to abduct a pretty, doe-eyed young woman who pleads for mercy while helplessly immobilized by the Standard Female Grab Area and then lead the macho military men on a chase through corridors on a starbase as they spout protocol at one another.
I’ll bet you can guess how I feel that Jadzia Dax is the character who gets the treatment in question. But what makes it even worse is that this actually doesn’t make any real dramatic sense! Think about it: How much more dramatic would it had been if, rather than deciding to indulge their Buck Rogers fantasies, the writers actually let us know this was going to be a courtroom drama from the start. Imagine if in the teaser the Klaestronians approach Dax in the corridor, validate her identity, and than flatly state “Jadzia Dax, you are hereby under arrest on suspicion of treason against the Klaestronian people and the first degree murder of General Aredlon Tandro, my father”. Tandro, Jr. slaps handcuffs on Jadzia, we pan up to a shot of her stoic and unmoved expression, and then fade right to black and cue credits.
Casting doubt on characters like Kira, Quark and Odo is one thing. Quark is set up to be a shady dude right from the start, from her first appearance Kira’s loyalty to us is in question (though if you’ll notice, that seems to have all be resolved as of this episode: Kira is one of Commader Sisko’s staunchest allies all throughout the investigation. Uh oh, the crew seems to be getting along! Guess it’s time to cancel the show then!) and before we got to know him better we could imagine Odo being the kind of person who might take his dedication to justice a bit too far. But Dax? The wise woman of DS9? I mean hell, if you’re looking to shock the audience and get them to distrust the characters (I mean, I personally don’t think that’s a great idea, but this team sure seems to think so) I can’t think of a blindside bigger than accusing Dax of all people of murder. High treason…OK, maybe. But murder? That’s a twist worthy of a teaser.
The rest of the story has its ups and downs and has a lot of fruitful material to discuss, and is obviously one that’s quite important to me, but that whole first sequence absolutely mars the episode and singlehandedly consigns it to the rubbish portion of this season it otherwise could have marked the end of. Furthermore, in the words of Kira Nerys (or at least the words she was thinking and would have said had this show not needed to be censored and cleaned up for pre-watershed audiences) it really pisses me off. I don’t know which of this story’s two writers was responsible for this, but whoever it was they ought to be ashamed of themselves. We’ve gotten to the point where this team’s fetishization of outmoded and sexist narrative tropes isn’t just reflecting badly on them, it’s actively working to make the finished products materially worse than they should have been. And not just by my standards: By 1993 standards this would have been seen as unacceptable.
It’s things like this, especially coming so soon after Jadzia’s tragic absence from “Birthright, Part I”, that conspire to hold her back out of the gate more than she really needed. Thankfully it’s never going to be as bad for her as it’s all too often been for Deanna Troi and Beverly Crusher, but it’ll still be another year before this team will be able to completely strike a comfortable balance in writing for her as a character while keeping all her symbolism intact. And by then it’ll be just about too late.
“Dax” is definitely the strongest of this run of troublingly mediocre stories though, and in spite of all that does actually manage something truly special with the title character. This is I’m sure in no small part due to the fact it marks D.C. Fontana’s return to Star Trek after five years, though also sadly her final script for it (not her final contribution to Star Trek, I should add, but her final filmed teleplay). For the sake of my sanity and motivation, I’ll make the quite possibly unjustified presumption that Fontana was *not* the one responsible for that train wreck of an opening act, even knowing that Peter Alan Fields is capable of some pretty masterful stuff himself on a good day: He helped give us “Half a Life”, a good deal of “The Inner Light” and, coming up, “Progress”, “Duet”, “The Circle”, “Necessary Evil” and “Crossover”. On the other hand, he’s also responsible for “Cost of Living”, so there’s that.
And yet it still doesn’t feel like Fontana’s doing anyway: Her touch is present and very noticeable all throughout the rest of “Dax”. Apparently she was brought in because the team wanted a vetted sci-fi author to handle a story that was intended to be very heavy on exposition and world-building. Which it is, and that’s actually one of the other problems with it: This episode is basically “The Measure of a Man” for Jadzia Dax instead of Data (to the point I misremembered the scene where Kira questions Sisko at his request as Kira being coerced into prosecuting the case like Will Riker was), but while the earlier story had a lot of hauntingly gripping scenes deftly and profoundly exploring slavery, the self and personal identity theory to make up for its legally questionable plot, “Dax” doesn’t have that luxury.
Everything from the trial framing device itself to various bits of dialog all throughout feels ever-so-slightly stilted and unnatural, as if it’s been forced to service the episode’s numerous infodumps about Dax’s backstory and Trill culture instead of the other way around. Which it kinda is. People say things that don’t really sound like what we’d expect their character to say because most of them sound like questions the writers are assuming the audience has about the setting and the plot, so they get said just to get addressed. This is like Trill Biology and Culture: The F.A.Q. But credit where credit is due, Fontana is an old hand at this, her having been there when this style of genre fiction writing was in vogue, and while it’s not her personal style she acquits herself well to it.
All of the players, including the regulars, never lose their voice in spite of the stifling sci-fi weight hoisted onto them, and for a lot of them this is their best outing to date. The succession of witness testimonials at the climax as Sisko, Kira and Bashir in turn take the stand is absolutely gut wrenching as you can read on their faces and in the tone of their voices that they all know they’re running out of time and options as they look imploringly to Dax to help them help her. And naturally, it’s Sisko and Dax themselves who shine the brightest: Ben is an open sore of emotion and raw passion, while Jadzia remains almost irrationally calm and placid. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel: This is Terry Farrell’s first real showcase since “Emissary”, a test of her physical acting she excels at. Everything she does here from her reaction at hearing the name Tandro to the way she starts to choke up when talking about Curzon’s ring is simply masterpiece work.
And whenever the two of them are together, sparks fly. Fontana finally drops all the show’s pretense-If you don’t see in her writing or Avery Brooks and Terry Farrell’s acting a portrayal of a relationship that has gone well beyond friendship into something more deeply and uniquely meaningful, you’re pretty much willfully trying to ignore it. As Ben tries to prove Jadzia and Curzon are different people, he’s also trying to come to terms with that reality himself. In his testimony, he admits to the court, to us and to himself that while Curzon was his mentor and biggest inspiration, he doesn’t know how he feels about Jadzia yet. Or at least he’s not sure he’s ready to admit it.
He’s overwhelmingly protective of Jadzia, almost endearingly so, and one assumes he might not have taken quite the same tone had Curzon still been alive to defend himself for a lot of different reasons. Dax herself must be flattered at the overture and touched by his loyalty, but she probably also sees in him a reflection of the excess youthful exuberance exhibited by Julian. Their entire subplot here is about reexamining and coming to terms with what they both mean to each other. The scene where Ben breaks down at Jadzia’s feet as she gently caresses his cheek and assures him he’s done all he can and there’s nothing she expects from him just melts me. It shows the scope of their feelings in their purest, rawest form and even doubles as foreshadowing to the eventual plot twist. Any sense of duty or honour indeed. This isn’t what a mentor consoling a protégé looks like. This goes beyond friendship, and it’s no simple basal romance either: What Ben Sisko and Jadzia Dax share is something altogether grander than both.
This episode is an interesting one to give to D.C. Fontana on other levels too. She’s always been known for her imperiously powerful matriarch characters, for pretty obvious reasons, and “Dax” has four of them. First there’s Kira, who, though she’s a supporting character this week, Fontana clearly took a liking to and had her proudly show off her confidence, competence and swagger whenever she got the chance. Then there’s the frankly amazing arbiter Els Renora whose wonderfully sardonic attitude gives us many of the story’s memorable lines (hell, they’re some of the season’s most memorable lines). You have to wonder if the by this point assuredly crotchety Fontana, bitter after decades of putting up with Star Trek’s shenanigans, saw Renora as a kind of author avatar, particularly when she tells off the testy Sisko and Ilon Tandro like a pair of hormonal teenage boys, One can imagine her expressing similar sentiments to herself speeding away from the Paramount production lot never to return, possibly muttering something to the extent of “I’m too old for this shit”.
And then of course Enina Tandro, who really has the bulk of the emotional and dramatic weight here. She represents a different side of age and experience, and her story arc is a genuinely moving Star Trek: The Next Generation kind of attitude about aging and time. The defining moment for her is when Odo reveals that her son is about to condemn Jadzia Dax, an innocent young woman, by wrapping her up in the thirty year old dirty laundry of people who are all too dead to care. Enina knows the younger generations should not be made to answer for the crimes of their elders and that they must be allowed to live their own lives, a moment that interestingly hearkens back in more than one way to “Half a Life”. Her farewell to Jadzia in the denouement, one of the all-time greatest scenes in the history of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine can thus be read at a somewhat superficially metatextual level about Fontana’s own farewell to Star Trek, placing it in the hands of the person she sees as most deserving of inheriting the mantle.
There’s an aspect of truth to this, as Fontana has herself stated Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is her personal favourite Star Trek. But there’s way more to the scene than just that. Because Jadzia is of course the fourth lady of power in this story, even though perplexingly this episode isn’t really about her. But that’s sort of fitting: Jadzia is the ultimate Star Trek character because she’s the ultimate supporting character. She’s going to work best when the show doesn’t force her to bear her own interiority, but rather uses her to elicit certain reactions from the people around her. This episode isn’t about Jadzia Dax (even diegetically, as Tandro, Jr.’s argument she and Curzon are the same person is plainly nonsense and he’s just using that to justify satiating his bloodlust), it’s about what other people think Jadzia Dax is and why she’s important to them. Benjamin is very openly grappling with this, and while Julian and Nerys don’t have quite as powerfully personal a stake in the matter as he does, they’re still clearly affected. And Tandro, Jr. and his lackeys can’t even see Jadzia as her own person.
(That scene with Enina and Odo reminds me: I’m spending so much time talking about Sisko, Dax and the female characters I’m almost forgetting to mention how utterly brilliantly Fontana writes Odo! He almost steals the show and to me this is the moment where he finally comes into his own as a character. There’s the curt, yet admirable dogmatism in his fierce loyalty to justice which in this case prevents him from entirely dismissing Ilon Tandro’s claim outright, but his scene with Enina is one of the absolute highlights of the whole piece. He’s a full-on 24th century Columbo, standing well back, both in terms of narrative and visually in terms of blocking, asking polite, though leading, questions until he eventually gets at the truth he needs. And furthermore, inspiring her to take the action she must take to allow the healing to begin. A shape shifter goes where needs to and takes the form he has to to get his job done.)
Jadzia then must be a fascinating figure for D.C. Fontana: So many of her matriarch characters have been just that; older mother figures. And there’s a bit of that here, what with Enina’s plot, some of Renora’s lines and even the fact Jadzia seems to take a subtly mothering and nurturing tone with Ben on occasion. The only time she’s really had the chance to work with an actual younger female lead is in “The Enterprise Incident” when she tried to turn Joan Linville’s Romulan Commader into one. But, as Renora points out, Jadzia is both 200 years her senior and about the same age as her great granddaughter. Here, Fontana gets the chance to synthesize both of her favourite (or at least familiar) character archetypes, and it’s intriguing that it’s in a character who spends most of the episode deliberately in the background. Amusingly enough, the staff writers seem to think Jadzia’s dual nature is a source for sweet, juicy inner conflict given some of the things they’ve written about this story, as if Jadzia is somehow in a state of permanent identity crisis, constantly struggling to come to terms with who she is.
But that’s clearly ridiculous. Jadzia Dax is straightforwardly and obviously both young and wise. She’s her own person, but she carries the experience of many other people with her. There are parts of her that are as much Curzon as they are her own: Her sense of honour and loyalty and the love she has for people like Ben and Enina. Just like we all do, she tries to take the best parts of her forbears while casting aside their vices and negative energy. The eternal now, where we revisit our memories to help make us better people now. There’s no conflict, because she’s absolutely at peace with who and what she is. She couldn’t be joined if she wasn’t. That’s sort of the entire point of this episode, isn’t it?
November 16, 2015 @ 12:24 pm
So, one of the commenters (Rachel2302) on Mark Watches just infodumped her responses to the next two weeks of episodes, including the first three episodes of Deep Space Nine. It's really interesting to see what someone who never watched any Star Trek until recently, and knew nothing about DS9 going in, thinks of the characters after three episodes, so I'm just going to quote her here:
"I don't have anything much to say about the first three specific episodes, but rather that I'm enjoying the set-up immensely, I LOVE that Commander Sisco is someone who was directly impacted by Locutus of Borg, I'm thrilled O'Brien made the leap over to DS9 and that Keiko will be starting a school! I think I really like Captain Kira, and Dax is AWESOME and Bashir is kind of cringey and creepy and gross and Odo is intriguing. Strong beginning to the show."
The awesomeness of Dax and Kira really are the two things that shine most brightly in the early show. "This frontier is my home" is the moment at which I fell in love with the show way back when, but it's Dax that was always the most intriguing character. There's a serenity to her and a power, but at the same time youth and joy. She's an old, wise, powerful person in a young person's body, and yet her performance is about as polar opposite to Matt Smith's Doctor as you can get. But that's recognizably what they're both doing!
Also this is the first episode to flirt with the idea of using Dax to explore the LGBT spectrum, which of course will come back. They never quite did enough with it, and the weird, gross choice to make the Mirror Universe the Land of Depraved Bisexual Dominatrices makes it pretty clear that their motivations in doing so were the basest and most prurient, but here at least the notion crackles with potential!
November 16, 2015 @ 3:30 pm
"The awesomeness of Dax and Kira really are the two things that shine most brightly in the early show."
Seconded. It was Dax and Kira who finally drew me over to the DS9 side and they were the first characters from the show who hooked me in the same way the TNG crew did. Commander Sisko came shortly thereafter, but I have to save my personal story of falling in love with DS9 for a later date.
"Also this is the first episode to flirt with the idea of using Dax to explore the LGBT spectrum, which of course will come back. They never quite did enough with it, and the weird, gross choice to make the Mirror Universe the Land of Depraved Bisexual Dominatrices makes it pretty clear that their motivations in doing so were the basest and most prurient, but here at least the notion crackles with potential!"
I will say I do think "Crossover" was excellent and Intendant Kira makes perfect sense for Mirror Kira's character, but only Mirror Kira's character. I'll get to that when the time comes, of course. And once we get to the next show I will make a defense of "Rejoined" (a lot of what makes it good is actually Avery Brooks' direction). But I think the stronger argument for homophobia and erasure, unintentional or otherwise, is actually the paranoid and frantic ship sinking of the obvious Garak/Bashir plotline and then what happens to Dominion Cycle Odo. Which is a shame, as it's so wonderfully easy to do a fantastically queer redemptive reading of everything going on here at this point.
Jadzia Dax is obviously pansexual in every incarnation. Terry Farrell even says as much herself.
November 16, 2015 @ 5:06 pm
Of course when you get to be a man, and a woman, and having had that long of a lifespan, I imagine the blatant obviousness of sexual fluidity becomes old news. Probably after the second or third host. (Though in a culture that grew around that strange symbiosis, even non-Trill host Trillians must be incredibly open-minded. I mean it's a permanent mind-meld!)
The chase was gratuitous. I'm not especially defensive of Bashir's character flaws, but I think the reason I like him more than a lot of people is because I can see a lot of myself in him. I was a young, talented type who also couldn't quite balance enthusiasm with prudence or keeping my mouth shut or saying awkward things or even figuring out how to balance sexual attraction with just making friends with someone. And of course for him, Jadzia represents somebody with basically ultimate sexual experience. Catnip for the immature and testosterone-addled. (Of course he might even be dealing with a eugenically augmented libido. Think of that!) Anyway, that aside, his loyalty got a nice showing, which is at least an important beat for him this early in the run, as he really, really threw a hay-maker at Tandro. (Not for the first time I guess I'll suggest that it's always funny to see him do something awkward and get chumped a little, because the designer human revelation will make an ex post facto joke out of all his early awkwardness. Like, no way was this guy faking it!)
But his eagerness is not a deal-breaker for Dax (who has herself been a young man four times!), nor would it be, and it shouldn't be for us, either. And frankly, the same is true for Sisko. She was an old man not that long ago and he was just a raw cadet. It's one thing to get romantic casually and not have to deal with a two-generational relationship constantly changing, another entirely to take someone you see as a protege (from a male point of view) and then for that to change. I think Dax, being the end of a run of 8 hosts, wouldn't even go near that. Again, it's about how others perceive her, not so much about how she perceives others.
I was mildly disturbed watching this only because for the first time in my life I'm older than Dax, and presumably Bashir here. Very uncool, but it gave this watch a spin that had never been there on previous viewings. Kira was utterly hilarious putting her curmudgeonliness to good use – her friendship with Dax in those first handful of episodes was so obvious, natural, and important that they took it for granted that they didn't need to show it to us. (Ignoring the fact that Dax is the second non-Bajoran to have that orb experience, and the other person first into the Celestial Temple with the Emissary.) Odo as Colombo was pitch-perfect, as was too Odo's beat where he forces Quark to give up the space for the hearing, which indicated a desire for justice but also showed even he isn't immune to a desire to see Dax get a fair shake. Then again, those assholes did cause a commotion on his Station.
Even mediocre DS9, getting its early bearings, is proving to be something special. And Dax's stoicism is fun, too. Every time one of these 'past comes back' scenarios comes her way, she reacts to it completely differently. But you know what Dax would say. Learn to embrace the contradictions.
November 17, 2015 @ 3:25 am
I was also struck by the eleventh Doctor parallels (and contrasts) this episode, including the way that the story is as much, or more, about how her friends see her and interact with her; she is the still centre around which the story flows. That's very Smith era Who. Well, except for the stillness.
It's certainly Dax's serenity, her confidence in who she is, that draws me in, and Farrell does a grand job of showing her successfully – but barely – maintaining that despite being able to see where it leads.
Yes, the opening section's awful. It somehow doesn't tarnish the rest for me. It also doesn't matter that the defense of Dax is obvious from the first conversation between Odo and Enina, because it is so much about the people rather than the mystery. Renora's a delight!
I would say that first Kira, then Dax, and then O'Brien, are the ones who hold my attention most at present. Well, as people; the Odo/Quark pairing is a fun dynamic, but it's based on their plot roles. We haven't really got to see either of them properly yet, despite the odd glimpse here and there.
Having said that, I found Ben Sisko fascinating in this one. The restraint with which he loses his temper is almost a dark mirror of Dax's calm passion for life; both sound almost paradoxical, yet make sense when you see them on screen.
Anything else? Oh, yes: I didn't even notice the "Trill biology 101" aspects, because I was more interested in the people talking at the time! That's the way to do it.
All in all, it's a hit for me despite the crap at the start.
November 17, 2015 @ 4:56 am
Sisko losing his temper always feels more believable to me than Picard. Granted, it's pretty rare for the stoic Picard to even do so, but there's some obvious examples that wind up being pretty jarring. This isn't even to imply that there's any kind of seething undercurrent to Sisko at all times that makes him believably a guy who gets mad. Rather it makes him feel less cloistered about his emotions, more in touch with both the good and the bad, even at a younger age. And that's pretty well representative of the difference in the real world correlaries as you transition from the stoic generations of the early 20th Century to the latter-half, post-sixties generations.
I'm eager to think of what a Star Trek that treats those people as the Previous Generation and stars a crew of latter day Gen Xers and lots of Millennials might bring, just from an emotional awareness level. Anyway, it's certainly interesting to be on a show/in a setting where the leading man is now a member of the younger Riker-aged Next Generation. Picard might not be 'too much older', having one foot in both worlds (and stepping lively into the Next one) but that much still sort of sets him apart from his young friends.
December 20, 2015 @ 10:59 pm
Yep once we get past the opening part, there is so much you mention that I love too about Jadzia. I think she is an amazing character played by an amazing actor whom sadly are both at times (later on?) less well served than they could be. But the pansexual nature of her being and the unique quality of relationship growing with Sisko has always been an inspiration for me.
Oh I remember arbiter Els Renora – what a wonderful role!