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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Lives of Dax: Reflections (Jadzia) by L.A. Graf

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’m taking a look at the first and second seasons. Check back daily for the latest review or retrospective.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

The Trill are an absolutely fascinating species, arguably much more so on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine than they were on Star Trek: The Next Generation. They were introduced in The Host as a race that was relatively straightforward – a bunch of symbionts living inside humanoid bodies. There was no indication that the host was anything but a blank slate for the organism inside to overwrite and control.

On Deep Space Nine, they became much more complex. The show’s first Trill-centric episode, Dax, pondered if it was possible to divorce the actions of the host from those of the symbiont, or vice versa. Though the episode in question wimped on giving a definitive answer one way or the other, the implication is that each Trill is a fusion of host and symbiont, rather than one dominating the other. Because of that, it seemed like the show always had trouble defining Jadzia (the character on the show) relative to Dax (the sum of lifetimes of experience).

As such, it’s hard not to pity veteran writers Julia Ecklar and Karen Rose Cercone (writing as “L.A. Graf”) for drawing the short straw and winding up writing the story from the anthology The Lives of Dax focusing on Jadzia.

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In most cases, you’d imagine that writing the story in an anthology like this centred on the most heavily-featured character would be a blessing. After all, Jadzia was a regular character on a show for six full years. She had her share of character-driven episodes, and developed her own place in the ensemble. Writers dealing with Lela or Tobin Dax have nothing but a few lines here or there and a cameo in Facets to draw upon, and are tasked with writing a story fitting in those constraints but developing its own world in a relatively tiny amount of spaces. So starting with a version of the character everybody knows should be a blessing.

However, Jadzia is a mixed blessing at best. Because of the way the Dax-centric stories in Deep Space Nine tended to work, the symbiont was often a convenient tool for generating story beats. Dax stories frequently either pushed Jadzia to the periphery as a co-star in other characters’ stories (as in Blood Oath) or marginalised Jadzia by using the Dax symbiont to tell stories about Trill society and culture (as in Dax, Invasive Procedures, Equilibrium).

In a way, Jadzia Dax was the least well-defined member of the Deep Space Nine ensemble. When Ezri eventually arrived on the show in its final season, she at least had an opportunity to define her own take on the character, treating Jadzia as the “default” state of a joined Trill. Whereas Ezri was uncomfortable, uncertain and unfamiliar, this just reaffirmed the idea that Jadzia was a well-rounded and fully-functioning character. Which is great in real life, but not so exciting when constructing a story around her.

You can sense the writers’ having a bit of difficulty with Jadzia, and there’s a clear sense that Reflections is much more interesting as an insight into Trill culture than it will ever be as a Jadzia Dax story. However, in an anthology dedicating a short story to each host, there is a bit of extra pressure to put a uniquely “Jadzia” stamp on the narrative. So Ecklar and Cercone give the story a personal angle which feels rather distracting and convenient.

The story just happens to centre around Jadzia’s unjoined sister, a character alluded to on the show but never seen. When she shows up catatonic and carrying a mysterious symbiont, the Defiant races to Trill as Dax tries to figure out what happened. Ecklar and Cercone try to emphasis the personal drama here, treating us to several childhood flashbacks of the sisters at play. These play up the soap opera element of the narrative – reminding us of how convenient it is that Dax’s sister is involved in this – and serve to convolute a story which already seems somewhat tightly packed into a relatively short number of pages.

Which is a bit of a shame, as the story is – broadly speaking – quite fascinating. Invasive Procedures was a compelling look at how the other half (well, significantly more than half) live, and the lengths to which unjoined people would go to procure a symbiont. The head of the Symbiosis Commission advises Sisko, “Well, Captain, you simply can’t imagine what it’s like to be denied something every aspect of your native society insists you want to have.” It’s a wonderfully simple and yet compelling conflict, the “haves” against the “have-nots.” With just one beautiful complication – the symbiont is not merely an object, but a life form.

In many ways, Reflections reads as a sequel to Invasive Procedures, a story never really followed up on the show itself. Despite Dax’s observation that Verad would always be a part of her, he was quickly forgotten. He didn’t appear in Facets, and Ezri never mentioned him while listing her previous hosts.

To the credit of Ecklar and Cercone, they recognise this and even attempt to account for it. They suggest that Verad’s crime was so great, and the damage he caused so severe, that the very mention of his name has become something of a taboo – both among Trill and the crew of Deep Space Nine.

The name seemed to echo between the white walls like the dying rumble of the avalanche of shock it triggered. Duhan spun around to stare at the human doctor in what looked like horror, as if Bashir had sprouted wings. Jadzia simply stared at Bashir, stillness the only possible lid she put on the cold, unwanted flood of memories her symbiont could not help but offer.

After all, it seems unlikely that Verad is an isolated case. Of course, others might not go to the same extremes, but it’s terrifying to think of the lengths that others might go to in order to fill that deep need inside themselves. Jadzia only survived because she was surrounded by a trained Starfleet crew. What of joined Trills living in isolation or in other parts of the cosmos?

Again, Ecklar and Cercone hit open a rather potent idea with delightfully creepy implications, a designer drug which allows unjoined Trills to pass around a symbiont amongst themselves:

The drug would make it possible to give them a taste of what they wanted—for a fee. One symbiont could be passed among many—a month in one, two weeks in another.

Considering how much a violation the theft of Dax was, this is several magnitudes more disturbing, particularly with the implication that the symbiont itself is kept doped up and docile during the procedure. It’s a truly uncomfortable image, and it does an excellent job of painting just how taboo these sorts of crimes must be.

It’s a great hook for a story, and Ecklar and Cercone do a good job mining its dramatic potential. The duo seems to have put a lot of thought into how Trill culture works, articulating several obvious questions raised by Invasive Procedures and by Facets. Sisko briefly raises the fact that Dax never seemed too concerned about the death of Jadzia in Invasive Procedures, observing, “I saw his pain, and I saw how readily Dax adapted to Verad’s conviction that he’d been wronged once they were joined.”

When Jadzia’s sister emerges from her catatonic state, she ponders whether the actions of the joined Trill can be easily laid at the foot of the host or the symbiont, and whether one can overwhelm the other:

“I’m not sure who to blame, either. It was so strange, knowing and wanting things that somehow weren’t my own, but which felt so much like mine. I knew when I—we—it—drugged the doctor, that we meant to get him out of the way so we could kill Verad. Yet I kept thinking how I would never do that, how I could never kill anybody.”

It does raise questions about how casually Verad Dax could dismiss her, and whether it was merely Verad or also Dax.

The morality of the Trill joining process is also briefly discussed, as the Symbiosis Commission attempts to figure out what to do with the cocktail of an “illicit symbiont and unprepared host.” The head of the Symbiosis Commission makes it quite clear where the priorities of the Trill Symbiosis Commission lie, and it’s not with the host. “We have to act. Jadzia Dax, I’m sorry, but if the choice must be between your sister’s life and the life of a symbiont, you know the Commission must protect the symbiont.”

Ecklar and Cercone even raise a nice thematic idea, building off hints dropped in Invasive Procedures and Facets. Discussing Curzon’s attitude towards her during her initiation, resolved in Facets, Jadzia ponders which part of Curzon Dax objects to her:

“What if it isn’t Curzon?” Her voice came out all quiet and small. “What if even after Curzon is gone, it still doesn’t like me? What if it’s Dax?”

Of course, it would turn out to be Curzon’s attraction towards her that anchored his gruff demeanor. Jadzia obviously didn’t know this at the time, and it’s not too hard to wonder whether part of the trauma of Invasive Procedure might have been deepened by seeing her own insecurity play out in front of her. Some small part of her must have suspected that at least a little of Verad Dax’s coldness towards her might be rooted in the perceived dislike from the symbiont she carries around inside her.

However, for all these interesting ideas, Reflections isn’t quite as strong as it might be. If the concepts are the most fascinating part of the story, the characters are the weakest. The personal element of Jadzia’s story feels a little trite and a little convenient. The Trill stories do tend to feel like over-blown melodramas (Crusher knocks boots with a slug in Riker’s body! one of Dax’s hosts was a serial killer! two hot women make out!), but this pushes it a bit too far.

Perhaps it’s intentional, but Verad’s scheme here seems like something out of an afternoon soap opera. I realise that John Glover played Lionel Luthor, but the character turns into a cartoonish supervillain here, losing a lot of the engaging mediocrity that we saw in Invasive Procedures. That version of Verad was a character who was not as exceptional as he was told that he might be. So it seems a bit weird to see the character suddenly become a master of disguise.

It’s not even the cartoonish plot which feels wrong. After all, it’s hard to complain that a full face transplant is unrealistic in a world of warp engines and transporters. Deep Space Nine seems especially fond of the concept, with Kira impersonating a Cardassian at one point. In a universe where the Klingon Arne Darvin can pose as a human, it isn’t too much to beleive that Verad can steal an identity. (However, it does seem like bad planning that he leaves his victim catatonic with his real face. It’s an obviously massive flaw in his plan, especially since his victim has a high profile. Why not just kill the guy? Or give him your old face and tie up all loose ends?)

The problem is that Verad’s plan requires a type of mad cunning the character never demonstrated before. It’s possible that being joined and then separated drove him completely insane, and that the lingering effects of the joining gave him more strength of will (although he seems to mumble that it’s all gone at the end of Invasive Procedures). This is the kind of crazy scheme that Dukat would pull, and Verad’s level of ambition simply isn’t on that sort of scale.

Reflections never really justifies using Verad as a villain, apart from the fact that he was a character who appeared on the show that one time. (And, the logic continues, is therefore inherently superior to any version of any character who didn’t appear on the show.) Reflections would be a much stronger story without dragging Verad into it. The notion of a Trill “black market” is a strong enough hook, and the thematic connections to Invasive Procedures are strong enough as it is.

Reflections isn’t as strong as it might be. In a way, apart from the issues with Verad, it feels like a typical Jadzia Dax story – which probably makes it more of a success than I give it credit for. However, that doesn’t make it a satisfying read, as it shoehorns Jadzia’s personal story into a far more compelling tale of Trill politics.

You might be interested in our reviews of the second season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:

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