Last week, Deep Space Nine presented us with one method of integrating itself into a tapestry of events larger and more extensive than a singular episode or series, but did so in a way that constricted the possibilities for the new show and made its universe seem small. This week, in “Dax,” DS9 rebounds with an episode that sets one of its characters in the larger story of another world, in a way that expands the universe of possibilities, a piece of worldbuilding that sets the current story into the unfolding of history.
It’s most sensible to do something like this with the character of Dax, of course, as the first thing we learned about her in “Emissary” was that she has three hundred and fifty years of memories and experiences thanks to the Dax symbiont, the worm sitting in her belly that, along with the woman she was prior to joining, creates the character we see. Dax herself has observed, through many eyes, the unfolding of history. But aside from that background and some smaller moments — turning down Bashir when he asked her out, telling Sisko that sometimes joined Trill aren’t able to keep friends across hosts, noting to Kira how distinct the experience of once again being a woman is from what she’d been used to, turning down Bashir again — we haven’t gotten much direct characterization of Jadzia Dax. We’ve mostly had her used as a plot device to deliver exposition, as anyone in the role of the science officer on a Star Trek show must be prepared for, but we haven’t really gotten to know Dax as a person yet.
“Dax” seems like the most obvious opportunity to get to know Dax a little better, but interestingly, Dax herself is kept at arm’s length for most of the episode, and is instead defined in a multitude of ways by the other characters. For Bashir she’s someone he’s still trying very hard to woo. For Ilon Tandro, come to extradite her to Klaestron IV by force if possible and by law if necessary, she’s a specter hanging over his life and the scapegoat for his father’s murder. For Enina Tandro, Curzon Dax is a friend and lover whom she remembers warmly if not uncomplicatedly, and Jadzia is a young woman entrusted with his experiences, his memory, and his legacy. For Sisko, Curzon Dax is remembered as a beloved friend and mentor while Sisko’s relationship to Jadzia is not yet set, making his point of view the one that is most emphasized in the episode. While we as the audience are still getting to know all of Deep Space Nine‘s main characters, Sisko and Dax are still feeling out how they will relate to each other, making everything a moving target to the audience.
Bashir’s pursuit of Dax, sadly, is becoming a problem for the show. After Dax gently turns down his offer to walk her to her quarters (Bashir’s killer line: “I can think of better ways of keeping you up, and they’re more fun than drinking Klingon coffee”), Bashir notes to himself that she didn’t explicitly forbid him from doing so and jumps up to follow her. Bashir has been set up as an arrogant character ever since he met Kira and rhapsodized about the frontier life, but this particular form of arrogance isn’t one that DS9 is interested in interrogating thus far, as Bashir happening upon Ilon Tandro kidnapping Dax is the only reason he doesn’t escape the station with her. The closest thing this sequence has to a redemptive element for Bashir is the fact that he is made to look ridiculous: when he sees that Dax is being attacked he punches Tandro, only to immediately fall over due to his own momentum; he stands up and starts fighting one of the attackers, pauses in a moment of chivalry when he sees that the person he’s fighting is a woman, and is promptly knocked unconscious. What follows is the episode’s sole action sequence, as Tandro frustrates Sisko, Odo, and Kira’s attempts to stop him from escaping with Dax…very nearly. For a scene that consists of Tandro using instrument panels to override locks and force fields while the protagonists move between various consoles in ops, it’s a genuinely thrilling sequence that ably carries the episode’s action quotient before it settles into character-based drama.
While “Dax” is another standalone episode in the sense that the Tandro family and Klaestron IV don’t come up again in the series, the episode ably integrates the larger elements at play in the show. Sisko is able to force an extradition hearing on the station — keeping Dax there until he’s able to figure out what’s going on — in an excellent scene in which he and Kira play off of Ilon Tandro, showing excellent chemistry when they get to work together. Tandro ignores Kira’s first line and insists that he’s talking with Sisko only, at which point Sisko instantly moves back and tells him forcefully that his conversation is with Kira now. Tandro’s agility with moving through the station and disabling the systems that should have stopped him is explained through Kira’s speculation that he must have received information about the station from the Cardassians; Kira breaks out of the official diplomatic jargon for a moment with a line brilliantly delivered by Nana Visitor: “They must have given you the layout, which not only compromises Bajoran security, but also…annoys us.” Within a couple of minutes, Sisko and Kira deftly show what a powerful tandem they can be when they’re in harmony — and they also show that one thing that can harmonize them quite effectively is a threat to their mutual friend.
As the main cast comes together to support Dax, Sisko determinedly tells Kira and Bashir that regardless of whatever legal precedent or medical evidence they find, their mission is to prove that Jadzia Dax is not legally accountable for any crime Curzon might have committed. Meanwhile, when Odo calls in from Klaestron IV with some exposition (it really is nice to see Odo doing some real investigating), he notes that if he were Tandro and if the charges were true, “I’d want to hang Curzon Dax up by his heels myself,” though he will do his job and investigate further. Justice is justice, after all. Later, Enina Tandro asks what point will be served by revealing her affair with Curzon and Odo forcefully replies “It serves the truth.” The Truth, an absolute, unyielding thing.
Odo and Quark have another scene’s worth of tremendous banter, when Quark is reluctant to loan his bar out to be used for the extradition hearing and Odo improvises a set of building regulations that he will simply have to enforce if Quark isn’t forthcoming. It will be a long time before there’s an episode that’s purely about Odo and Quark’s relationship, but it’s the sort of character moment that can be sprinkled into almost any script. (Notably, since his scene with Kira in “Past Prologue,” Odo has learned how to deploy pretense. Humanoids can rub off on you that way. Odo also plays on Quark’s affection for Dax, which has not been made as obvious or as troubling as Bashir’s, but will also stay with the show for a long time.) Michael Piller notes in Captains’ Logs Supplemental that the decision to place the hearing in Quark’s bar was not driven by production costs, but rather by the fact that it was the most interesting set available and therefore would help defray some of the drier aspects of legal drama. Piller also notes that it had been established in “Emissary” that the Cardassians trashed the station before giving it to the Bajorans, and clearly the most effort would be put into restoring the core facilities we see in every episode, which is a delightfully savvy diegetic explanation for restricting a TV show to a limited number of permanent sets. Certainly the mural in Quark’s serves as a striking visual element behind the arbiter, and nothing of the sort would have been available in, for instance, Keiko O’Brien’s school. While Deep Space Nine has spent a great deal of time on its standing sets, there are very good reasons for that, including the fact that a show still in its infancy needs to establish its standard locations, the typical cost considerations, the fact that the sets made for DS9 are both more numerous and more complex than comparable locations on The Next Generation, and the fact that many of them are technically and aesthetically fabulous, with multiple tiers allowing action to take place in three dimensions and smaller areas splitting off of larger ones to offer a variety of choices in blocking and framing.
We are told early in the episode that General Tandro is a national hero, with ubiquitous statuary honoring him as a martyr who inspired the governmental forces to overrun forces in rebellion against them. We are given no frame of reference by which to judge the rightness of the government or the rebels, no background on the issues that cleaved them apart in war; “Dax” again focuses on character, on the drama between the Tandros and Curzon Dax and how its repercussions affect the characters in the present day. Ilon idolizes the father he never knew as much, if not more, than his society does, and is obsessed with finding the person to blame for his death. While Enida Tandro eventually reveals her affair with Curzon, clearing Dax of the charges at play (all Daxes, forever, regardless of any philosophical debate), she spares her son of the knowledge that General Tandro himself sent the transmission in question, intending to defect before the rebels killed him out of spite. By only discussing that with Dax (and the audience), she allows Klaestron society to go on beatifying her husband rather than face whatever consequences may come from a full airing of the truth. This deconstruction of legendary figures is, in a way, a more sophisticated version of the “crazed admiral” trope that’s been a part of Star Trek almost since its beginning — turning the figure from an outright villain into more of a nuanced person who has been placed in an outsized mythic role — and will recur in Deep Space Nine a couple of times, thanks to the show’s interest in both the struggle against canonization and the consequences of turning a person into a myth and back again.
When the time comes for Dax to testify, Sisko asks her about the Jadzia who existed before joining with Dax, having her list that younger Jadzia’s scientific accomplishments that Dax uses in her day-to-day life as a science officer in Starfleet. It highlights how much of that young woman remains in Jadzia Dax, how the addition of symbiont to host combines the two almost alchemically, creating a new entity. (The show will get more clear about the process of joining hosts & symbionts and the place it holds in Trill society as time goes on, and will never again refer to the joining process as “becoming a Trill,” but many of the basic concepts are still on display here.) As Richard Hanley says in The Metaphysics of Star Trek:
Although there probably is proportionately more of Curzon Dax than Jadzia in Jadzia Dax’s psychology (since there were seven previous hosts, including Curzon), there is too much of Jadzia to discount. And though the Trill [symbiont] comes from Curzon Dax, the…body comes from Jadzia. Since it is hard to make the case that Jadzia Dax is identical to Curzon Dax or Jadzia, and she cannot be identical to both, the most defensible answer is that Jadzia Dax is identical to neither. Curzon Dax and Jadzia both ceased to exist, and a new person came into existence.
Certainly that’s the case Sisko is trying to make during the hearing, while Ilon Tandro argues for the continuity of personal identity borne by the symbiont itself regardless of host and the continued accountability of any future host, based on a conception of the host/symbiont relationship that would paint them as entities working in concert, co-conspirators. Dax herself seems to be of two minds on this: she consistently refers to Curzon in the third person and Jadzia in the first, even when talking about Jadzia’s accomplishments before joining with Dax (a situation in which Sisko consistently names Curzon and Jadzia without using pronouns, to let her answer in whatever way comes naturally to her), yet for the length of the entire episode Dax is steadfastly silent about the accusations against her because of a promise Curzon made and a secret of his that she feels honor-bound to keep. While she sometimes distances herself from Curzon linguistically, emotionally she still carries much of him — Dax must not only remember Curzon’s love for Enida Tandro, but feel it as well, to not only be silent in the face of accusations that would have her put to death on Klaestron IV but to explicitly tell Sisko to let it happen so that he will not uncover the truth.
This characterization of Jadzia Dax, like all of the characterization of her that “Dax” gives us, is done by implication. She must still care deeply for Enina Tandro to offer up her life to keep their secret. She must be a well-integrated being to feel Curzon’s love and regret so deeply and still keep her cool. She must have had some difficulty arriving at that place — in one scene she talks about trying on one of Curzon’s rings shortly after being joined with Dax, and recalls with horror the way that it slipped off her now-slender finger. (The temporary body dysmorphia suggested by this scene is dropped until much, much later in the series.) More characterization is given in contrast to Curzon — Sisko draws one distinction by saying that Curzon drank a little too much and “could be more interested in women than maybe he should’ve been…not at all like the young woman in this courtroom,” implying that Jadzia always drinks responsibly and has precisely as much interest in women as she should.
But Ilon Tandro’s concept of Trill joining is stuck in the prosaic world of legal culpability; his father was killed, someone must be responsible, and that person must be punished. He has no philosophical interest in how Trills conceive of their identities, no respect for the ability of joining to give someone a young person’s vigor combined with hundreds of years of experience, a multitude of perspectives expressing themselves in one mind. Tandro has missed the point. He posits “a perfect Trill crime” in which one eludes capture long enough to change hosts before going free as long as the new host can’t be prosecuted, reducing what we’re told is a dearly sought-after honor in Trill society to the level of a getaway car.
Tandro’s inquisition about the nature of Trill identity is sidestepped in the episode’s final minutes because the inquiry was opened in bad faith and with the wrong premises, just as “Dax” cuts its legal drama short with the revelation of Curzon Dax’s affair with Enida Tandro, because the characters and their histories are more important. Sisko’s inquiries aren’t purely philosophical either, of course, but his only intent is to save his friend. Rather than a spiritual or metaphysical experience, or an expression of friendship, Ilon Tandro can only think in terms of crimes and criminals. It’s a mindset that would tear down the soaring aspects of Star Trek — which can and should gain as much value from exploring alien modes of thought as their worlds — and encase it in the mundane. And that is something Deep Space Nine cannot abide.
It’s only fitting, as the first episode focused largely on Dax, that this episode is Deep space Nine‘s first to be defined by a series of women on-screen and off. The arbiter, a hundred-year-old Bajoran played excellently by Anne Haney as a no-nonsense old lady the likes of which you may find on any number of TV shows, focuses the scenes taking place in the hearing with calm authority reinforced by the occasional sarcastic barb. Veteran actress Fionnula Flanagan plays Enina Tandro with just the right mix of the strength that has enabled her to live a lie for decades, the rage at the forces of history that that strength is needed to mediate, the tenderness that existed with Curzon Dax, the wistfulness with which she greets Jadzia Dax, and the hope for another lifetime that she sees in her. The scene between Flanagan and Terry Farrell at the very end of “Dax” is an all-too-brief highlight, and makes one wish that the two had been able to work together more.
Most importantly, though, “Dax” is the final Star Trek episode to be written in part by Dorothy Fontana. D.C. Fontana (in the style of initialism chosen by many women to conceal their gender just enough to actually work in television) was a major creative force in Star Trek in its first two phases, editing scripts and writing some well-regarded episodes of the original series, most notably “Journey to Babel” and “The Enterprise Incident,” and producing the animated series as well as writing its best episode, “Yesteryear.” All three of those episodes remain popular for their focus on the character of Spock, and between them, “Journey to Babel” and “Yesteryear” introduced enough of the character’s background and personal history to inspire countless extrapolations by fans as well as other professional writers. Fontana came back to Star Trek with the launch of The Next Generation in 1987 and co-wrote that show’s pilot as well as several early episodes, but left during one of the creative upheavals the show went through in its first year. In terms of “Dax” specifically, Fontana brings not only her long tenure with Trek (as one of the show’s longest-tenured creative forces still living, actually, following the death of Gene Roddenberry) but her abilities as a science fiction writer more generally, as well as her ability to tie sci-fi concepts to characterization, an ability that’s in dire need when it comes to Jadzia Dax, a character who has thus far consisted of a high-concept premise. While her first draft would be rewritten and revised, it still marks Fontana as a remarkable woman in the history of the franchise for having written for all four Star Trek TV shows at the time of this episode.
All Star Trek articles on PTBN, including all episodes of Deep Space Nine covered thus far, can be found here.