Advertisements
    Advertisements
  • Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives









  • Awards & Nominations

  • Advertisements

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Facets (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Facets in more than a little muddled. It’s an episode that is all over the place. It’s a script that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be, leaning in one direction and then another. The episode’s big plot point isn’t dropped until half-way through, and there are any number of points where the script offers a feint towards a plot that never quite develops. As befitting a story called Facets, this is an episode with quite a few different (and often conflicting) sides.

It’s a disjointed little story, and perhaps an effective demonstration of just how much trouble the producers were having with Dax as a character. And yet, despite all this, Facets works surprisingly well. This is likely down to the fact that – like Playing God and arguably Blood Oath before it – it feels like a Dax story that is as interested in the character as it is in the concept.

A little piece of herself...

A little piece of herself…

Up to this point in the show, there have really only been two types of Dax story. The first type is the story that focuses on the Dax symbiote as a plot device, something to be fought over or a hook to hang a nice plot revelation on. The most obvious examples are stories like Dax, Invasive Procedures or Equilibrium. Although Jadzia is featured prominantly in these stories, she often feels like a passenger along for the ride.

The other type of Dax stories reflect on the relationship between the host and the symbiote. Playing God is an exploration of what Jadzia brings to Jadzia Dax. Even Blood Oath is about whether it’s fair or moral for Jadzia Dax to inherit a set of obligations from her predecessor. In both cases, the symbiote is a way for the show to generate a nice plot, but the focus is kept squarely on the character herself.

Nail-biting suspense...

Nail-biting suspense…

What is so interesting about Facets is that the story really straddles these two types of Dax stories. The first half feels like the show is using the Dax symbiote as nothing more than a nice plot device. Projecting Dax’s past hosts into the rest of the cast is a nice concept, playing with the sort of ethereal and vaguely mystical pseudo-science that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine does so well. This seems to be an exercise in eating up time – and a chance for the cast to have a bit of fun.

Indeed, the opening few acts of Facets play like a collection of actor showcases – like the classic “possession” stories, these sorts of “body borrowing” stories are a great excuse to demonstrate the range and versatility of the cast. Many of the short scenes between Dax and her former hosts feel like they exist purely to give the cast an opportunity to take a break from playing the same characters for half-a-year. In particular, it’s a nice opportunity for quirky body language or funny accents.

All fired up...

All fired up…

Even the shorter scenes – Jadzia’s interactions with Torias/Bashir or Tobin/O’Brien – still have familiar actors doing strange things with their voices. Siddig El Fadil offers a wonderfully campy “macho” western accent as the ace pilot Torias, even if we wonder why a Trill sounds vaguely like John Wayne. Colm Meaney does a delightfully (and endearingly) nerdy American accent as Tobin. Nana Visitor hams it up as an old woman.

However, two of the more interesting portrayals come from Avery Brooks and Armin Shimerman, both of which arguably had long-lasting implications for the series. Sisko plays host to Joran, the murderer that Jadzia only discovered in Equilibrium. Given that Facets aired in the nineties, Joran was a murderer, the point of the ritual was self-discovery, and the fact that the scene involves a male and a female character talking on either side of a force field, there was no way that Jadzia’s confrontation with Joran would not evoke Silence of the Lambs.

To be fair, Sisko's cooking skills would make him a terrifyingly effective cannibal...

To be fair, Sisko’s cooking skills would make him a terrifyingly effective cannibal…

It’s easy to suggest that this is all Avery Brooks’ fault. Brooks is absolutely phenomenal in the role, playing a deliciously creepy and unhinged individual. His voice adopts a sing-song quality. His enunciation becomes even more precise. His eyes remain open, his mouth seems to curve in a haunting imitation of a smile. Brooks is a phenomenal actor, and one of Deep Space Nine‘s key strengths.

As a performer, Brooks positions himself half-way between Patrick Stewart’s quiet intensity and Shatner’s deliciously enjoyable scenery chewing. Whereas Patrick Stewart is known primarily as a Shakespearean actor, Brooks has a range of experience that extends to opera – and a lot of his work seems to straddle that line. Brooks can do simmering rage and over-the-top theatricality, often balancing between the two within a single scene.

Thinks are looking...

Thinks are looking…

Brooks’ version of Joran is the perfect example of this. The “surprise!” is inevitable, but Brooks makes it work. It’s a moment campy enough that it works, but not so campy that it descends into self-parody. (It is also delivered with such intensity that it is both absurd and absolutely terrifying.) That said, this feels like the point at which Joran evolved from the deeply troubled artist in Equilibrium into the murder wizard from Field of Fire.

In Equilibrium, there’s no indication that Joran was a serial killer. He was just the wrong person for the Dax symbiote at the wrong time. He may have been troubled, but the episode seemed to suggest that joining made him more unstable – the resulting murder was the result of a mental breakdown rather than a criminal mastermind. It played the story of Joran as something of a tragedy, the man who had wanted something all his life only to get it and discover that it was the worst thing that might have happened.

Stop hitting yourself!

Stop hitting yourself!

In contrast, later portrayals of Joran present him as a character who was always a malicious sociopath. Far from a person pushed over the edge, Field of Fire sees Dax consulting him as an expert in the psychology of murder. Even here, the episode treats Joran as the villain from a slasher movie, talking down to Jadzia in a way that evokes Hannibal Lecter and trying to convince her to let him go free. (There’s a none too subtle threat in his promise that she will never need to be afraid again.)

As such, Facets feels like the mid-point in a character devolution, one that simplifies Joran from a troubled individual who snapped under the pressure into a flat-out psychopath. It’s a creative choice that robs the character of any real nuance or complexity. Avery Brooks’ performance here is strong enough to conceal this problem here, and it’s hard to blame the writing staff for wanting to channel Silence of the Lambs. However, it’s an example of one of the weaknesses of Deep Space Nine – a tendency to reduce complex villains into more generic adversaries.

Ear her out...

Ear her out…

And then there’s Quark. Facets has Quark playing host to one of Dax’s female hosts. This is an interesting – and somewhat complex decision. One the one hand, it’s a little problematic, because it seems to play into the same “let’s put the funny-looking guy in drag” school of tired (and troubled) humour that would eventually lead towards Profit and Lace, as actor Armin Shimerman alludes to while discussing the role in The Deep Space Nine Companion:

“Before I shot it, everyone said to me, ‘This is going to be hysterical, you playing a woman’,” recalls Shimerman. “They thought I was going to do Milton Berle. But I thought that was too easy a choice. I never saw it as a comic scene. Instead, I found as much of my anima, my female side, as I could and played it as straight as possible,” with the exception of the point where Quark’s personality emerges to complain. That, admits Shimerman, was played for comedy, because “the woman wasn’t a comic character, but Quark is.”

Shimerman is, of course, entirely correct here and – as ever – handles himself professionally. At the same time, one can sense his discomfort with the attitude adopted by those around him. It’s troubling that Quark is the only major character on Deep Space Nine to have multiple transgendered experiences – and the fact that these occasions are played as comedy feels a little regressive.

Jake adopts the Abraham Lincoln approach to hailing passing ships...

Jake adopts the Abraham Lincoln approach to hailing passing ships…

The decision to play this as comedy is a little unfortunate, and it’s an example of the sort of conflicts at play in Facets. On the one hand, there’s something just a little problematic about the way the show treats Quark-as-Audrid as a source of comedy. On the other hand, it seems like Echevarria is making a subtle criticism of the way that the cast (both primary and supporting) skews male ahead of female.

It’s worth noting that, including Jadzia, there is a perfect balance between male (Tobin/Torias/Curzon/Joran) and female (Lela/Emony/Audrid/Jadzia) hosts. Before the discovery of Joran in Equilibrium, there were actually more female hosts of the symbiote. (The same is true after Jadzia departs as well.) So the ways that the script to Facets consciously draws attention to the lack of female characters in the ensemble feels rather pointed.

A healthy glow...

A healthy glow…

Among the main cast, there are only two female characters – Dax and Kira. This imbalance is likely why the show felt the necessity of replacing Terry Farrell when she decided to depart before the final series. However, the gender imbalance continues into the supporting cast. Rom, Nog and Garak are all regular male guest stars who were established during the first season. However, there are no equivalent female roles on Deep Space Nine.

Indeed, the most prominent female supporting players in the guest cast are Kai Winn, the Female Changeling and Tora Ziyal, none as established as any of the aforementioned trio. Not only are female members of the ensemble so rare that Quark has to embody a female host, it also means that Leela has to be drafted in for the ceremony. While the opening scene takes pains to suggest that Dax and Leela are close friends, this is only Leela’s second appearance on Deep Space Nine, coming only a few episodes after she officially debuted as a flirty dabo girl in Explorers.

"Would it have been more confusing or less confusing to put Lela in Leela?"

“Would it have been more confusing or less confusing to put Lela in Leela?”

It’s worth noting that this gender imbalance is by no means unique to Deep Space Nine. Even Star Trek: Voyager – the show with the largest proportion of female regular and recurring cast members – skewed male. It remains common to television as whole, as Television Studies lays out in its section on Cultivation Analysis:

On US television, for example, men outnumber women by a ratio of three to one; women appear in a more limited range of roles and tend to disappear once they reach a certain age. While this ratio may vary from one genre to another (the imbalance is greater on news programmes and less on soap operas) most television viewers will, across time, see far more men on their screens than women. This pattern is also true of British television.

As a Star Trek writer, René Echevarria has always been mindful of issues related to gender and sex. His first script for the franchise – The Offspring – featured Lal choosing her own gender. His second script – Transfigurations – was heavily coded with queer signifiers. As such, it seems unlikely that all of this went unnoticed.

Jadzia really floored him...

Jadzia really floored him…

It is telling that the female hosts are the most friendly and instructive to Jadzia. Audrid might be a little bit stereotypical – speaking to Jadzia about motherhood while combing her hair – but Lela and Emony  both give Jadzia insight into herself. Lela, the first host, inspired Jadzia to walk with her hands behind her back. Emony inspired Jadzia’s interest in physical activity – Klingon martial arts as opposed to gymnastics.

It’s telling that one of the stories that Lela chooses to impart to Jadzia involves an exploration of institutionalised sexism. Not only was Lela the first host of the Dax symbiote, she was also one of the first female members of the Trill legislature. She holds her hands behind her back because she used to gesticulate wildly. “When I started out, I talked with my hands a lot,” she tells Dax. “Lots of emphatic gesturing. I discovered some of my male colleagues were imitating of me, so I started to do this.”

Guess who's back!

Guess who’s back!

Given the point of the zhian’tara ritual is to allow past hosts to impart advice to the current host, Lela’s story feels somewhat pointed. It feels particularly notable in the light of subsequent developments. Although the actual plot of Facets takes quite some time to get where it needs to go, it does eventually find Jadzia facing a variation of the same sort of institutionalised sexism that bothered Lela. Like Lela, we discover that Jadzia was a woman who was dismissed by men in power of authority. (The fact that Curzon held enough power to drum Dax out for those reasons is disconcerting.)

In contrast, the male hosts don’t come across particularly well. Torias and Tobin are given the least space of any of the hosts. Torias comes across as a bit of a self-righteous bore – he doesn’t offer Dax any advice, merely suggesting that she tell Julian to break his diet and “live a little.” Given that Torias died young in a shuttle accident, that may not be the best advice – it certainly doesn’t paint him as a long-term planner. Tobin is meek and socially awkward. (In The Siege, Jadzia described him as having “barely a sex life and no imagination.”)

No need to get bent out of shape...

No need to get bent out of shape…

The two other male hosts are downright problematic. Both Joran and Curzon treat Jadzia dismissively and patronisingly, both making thinly-veiled sexist references to her gender as a means of belittling her. Joran calls her “a very pretty girl”, before adding, “But unfortunately that’s all you are.” Curzon tries to infantalise her in order to avoid an awkward conversation. “Now don’t you use that tone of voice with me, little girl,” he insists, sternly.

In both cases, Echevarria goes out of his way dismiss these sexist criticisms. Curzon almost immediately retracts his “little girl” comment, explaining that he was the character in the wrong – he was unable to get past an attraction to Jadzia and so was acting out his insecurities. For all that Joran tries to belittle Jadzia and insist that that she needs his protection, Jadzia is perfectly capable of handling Joran herself. She floors him easily, almost without breaking a sweat. “Thanks,” Sisko says afterwards. “For not breaking any bones.”

Getting ahold of herself...

Getting ahold of herself…

Facets takes quite a bit of time to figure out what it wants to be. Indeed, the first half leans in a number of different directions before settling down into a comfortable episode. First, it looks like it could be another look at Trill culture. From the moment that an ancient Trill ritual is mentioned, the audience is waiting for it to go horrible wrong. Cue Star Trek body-swapping mishap! Once that doesn’t happen, our attention is drawn to Joran. He is mentioned by name in the briefing. Maybe he escapes! Maybe he threatens Sisko! But that, too, is dealt with quickly.

In contrast, the meat of Facets is all about the relationship between Jadzia and Curzon, which is something that only becomes obvious within the last twenty minutes. There’s something rather wonderful about the way that Facets changes so radically (and so frequently) before settling down into a plot, but it does mean that the conflict between Curzon and Jadzia feels like it was a little shortchanged.

Kissing and making up...

Kissing and making up…

As with Invasive Procedures, there’s a sense that the script to Facets is glossing over a lot of interesting questions in order to get the plot working. In Invasive Procedures, the Dax symbiote’s willingness to let Jadzia die felt rather mercenary – even if it was necessary to move the plot along. There’s the same sort of vaguely creepy subtext to the relationship between Odo and Curzon that is necessary to keep the episode focused on Jadzia.

After all, Facets can’t work if it’s only about Curzon wanting to live outside the Dax symbiote. Logically, there needs to be some place for him to go. So, when he ends up in Odo, the script needs to convince us that Odo would be perfectly cool with this, or else the episode ends up getting completely derailed. So, in order to prevent this from becoming a larger and messier plot, Curzon/Odo tells Jadzia, “This is Odo’s decision as well. We like what we’ve become and neither of us wants to go back to the way things were.”

Curzon's got some bottle...

Curzon’s got some bottle…

This is a weird character beat on a number of levels. After the fact, the script goes out of its way to reassure us that Curzon/Odo was probably being honest. Conversing with Dax at the end of the episode, he explains, “I never understood how much joy you humanoids experience in things like eating, drinking, staying up all night playing tongo.” So we can see why this might appeal to Odo. Unfortunately, there’s not nearly enough focus on Odo to justify this.

After all, Odo is a character who has always valued his own independence and identity. He stormed out on Doctor Mora because he refused to be an “unknown sample” for the rest of his life. His attempts to integrate with the rest of the crew have been minimal. While he confesses a desire to join the Great Link in The Die is Cast, it doesn’t seem analogous to being joined with another solid. In short, it’s a pretty big buy for the audience to assume that Odo would be comfortable with this new arrangement.

Shadowy figure...

Shadowy figure…

Instead, it seems more likely that Curzon is effectively bullying Odo into playing along. While we are assured that “at any time you can reassert yourself and regain control of your body” during the zhian’tara ritual, the reality seems a bit more ambiguous. Joran is able to hold on to Sisko’s body even while banging his head against a force-field. He is able maintain control even to the point where he is able to trick Jadzia into lowering the force-field. It seems like things are a bit more complicated.

Of course, this isn’t an Odo-centric episode. There isn’t room to explore his side of the equation. However, it does continue the subtext of Invasive Procedures, suggesting that the Trill are a predatory species. There’s enough evidence here to make a viewer wonder whether the relationship is truly symbiotic or is more parasitic – an entity asserting its own will to survive over the will of a host body.

If the uniform fits...

If the uniform fits…

That said, Curzon is a host, not a symbiote – and it’s quite possibly Verad Dax’s ruthless selfishness in Invasive Procedures was carried over as part of Curzon rather than inherent to the symbiote. Sisko certainly paints a picture of Curzon that is ambiguous – suggesting that his former mentor could be a righteous bully or a manipulative trickster. In a way, it seems like a nice subversion of the stereotypical mentor character that is all too common in genre storytelling. Curzon was a rogue, but he was a rogue whose charm covered some darker aspects of his character.

And Facets offers some pretty harrowing revelations about Curzon’s relationship to Jadzia. He was essentially a creepy and pervy old man who was attracted to a young woman half his age and punished her for that fact. (Though then making Jadzia the next host for Dax feels like a particularly pervy move on Curzon’s part.) It’s a pretty dark twist on a character who has generally been treated affectionately by the show. In a way, it’s somewhat typical of Deep Space Nine. The show was very fond of shattering those sorts of idealistic and nostalgic perspectives.

Force field of fire...

Force field of fire…

Blind affection and nostalgia are treated as somewhat toxic by the show, which is populated with examples of characters realising that the universe doesn’t always line up with how they remember – or even how they still see – things. We’ve had three years of Curzon treated as an idealised figure. He was a diplomat, a warrior, a friend, a mentor. However, the fact that both Sisko and Jadzia remember him fondly doesn’t mean that he was perfect. And the ending of Facets suggests that the best way to move forward is to accept the flawed and broken parts of ourselves.

Facets seems to be a spiritual successor to those identity crisis episodes earlier in the season. The third season of Deep Space Nine is absolutely populated with characters confronting ugly truths they do not want to see – forcing characters to question who they really are. From the Jem’Hadar in The Abandoned to Cardassian!Kira in Second Skin to Thomas Riker in Defiant, the first half of the season was dedicated to characters wrestling with identity. Even Jadzia had a similar experience in Equilibrium.

To be fair, Quark's general niceness is a pretty big hint that's something's afoot...

To be fair, Quark’s general niceness is a pretty big hint that’s something’s afoot…

So, airing as the second-last episode of the season, Facets feels like it’s attempting to close the book on those lingering questions and insecurities. We are who we are, regardless of all our flaws and insecurities. It is fruitless to wish that we might be perfect, but the key is to accept who we are. In many respects, the third season of Deep Space Nine has been about the show coming to terms with itself, as embodied in Jadzia’s attempts to reconcile the more troublesome aspects of herself.

(If you want to get all meta-fictional, you could probably argue that this was an attempt to deal with the occasionally problematic legacy of the original Star Trek in the context of the later spin-offs as it approached the thirtieth anniversary. As influential and iconic – and as well-loved – as classic Star Trek might be, there’s a sense that the show is somewhat troubled. For all that it is optimistic and inspiring, it is also sexist and clumsy. In many respects, it seems quite like Curzon himself. However, it will always be Star Trek, despite this baggage and these problems.)

A Trill cannot change his spots...

A Trill cannot change his spots…

Facets also plays rather well as a character study of Jadzia. The episode allows the character to confront some of the more enduring criticisms leveled at Jadzia – the notion that Dax is only interesting as a plot device rather than as a character in her own right. When Joran tries to dismiss Jadzia as nothing more than “a very pretty girl”, he almost seems to be alluding to Terry Farrell’s history as a model. (And the inevitable sexist dismissals that follow a model-turned-actress.)

He also suggests that Dax is more interesting as a piece of living history than as a character on the show. “You’re nothing compared to Lela, Torias or myself,” Joran insists. “A pretender. You must realise that by now.” In short, Joran seems to be reiterating the criticism of Jadzia Dax rooted in episodes like Dax or Invasive Procedures or Equilibrium – the suggestion that Jadzia Dax is only interesting due to the storytelling opportunities presented by the lives her symbiote has lived.

Talking to herself...

Talking to herself…

As such, Facets seems to be an endorsement of Jadzia as a character in her own right. She handles Joran by herself. She is faced with the possibility of living her life without being reintegrated with Curzon. She learns that she earned her place with the Dax symbiote not because of her beauty, but in spite of it. Jadzia is a character who is easily overlooked or dismissed, but one with a strong character and who is more than just a walking plot device.

Facets isn’t entirely convincing on this front, but it’s worth noting that this marks a turning point for Dax as a character. Like Bashir, Dax is a character with whom the writing team has struggled; like Bashir, her character work dramatically improves over the next few years of the show. Part of this is due to the addition of Worf to the cast in the fourth season, which gives us a new angle on Dax as a character. However, part of that is also due to the effort of episodes like Playing God and Facets to define Jadzia in her own right. Facets may not be a brilliant episode, but it is careful groundwork for stuff to come.

Getting old quickly...

Getting old quickly…

As one might expect from a script by René Echevarria, Facets is packed with lots of nice character touches. Even the introductory briefing sequence has a number of nice exchanges. The responses of the various characters seem perfectly in keeping with what we know of them – O’Brien, knowing the potential for existential suffering in merely getting out of bed, is a little wary; Bashir is curious; Quark is self-interested. Even Leela’s interest in sociology is defined in a way that makes her a more interesting addition to the cast.

Facets also has a subplot involving Nog’s admission to the Academy. It’s a nice little plot that builds on an already endearing subplot from Heart of Stone. It’s nice to see the show committing to long-form character development in a way that will take years to pull off. For Wesley Crusher, Starfleet Academy was a dead-end go-nowhere plot (in episodes like Coming of Age or Samaritan Snare or Ménage à Troi) until it was a convenient way to write Wil Wheaton out of the show. Here, this seems like Nog’s journey might be something that will actually play out in the mid-term.

All hands on holodeck...

All hands on holodeck…

It’s also nice that the show is willing to emphasise that people aren’t going to get along. Quark essentially sabotages his nephew’s dreams, trying to trap him in a dull life in order to prove a larger philosophical point. In short, it’s very hard to like Quark for what he does here. It’s very hard to imagine any other series regular in the history of the franchise doing something that ruthless and cold, let alone to a member of their own family.

And yet, despite that, it’s perfectly in keeping with Quark’s character. This feels perfectly organic from what we know about Quark. He doesn’t see it as an act of cruelty. He probably believes that Nog will thank him at some point in the future for correcting some youthful folly. As insightful as Quark’s observations about humanity might be in episodes like The Jem’Hadar, it’s nice that the show never buys entirely into Quark’s personal morality; he’s never completely softened. He has some valid points, but he’s still self-serving and manipulative and exploitive.

Brothers at arms...

Brothers at arms…

(It’s also great that Facets gives Rom a chance to stand up for his son. The dynamic between Quark and Rom is one of the most fascinating and complex in the series – Quark is a bully, but he’s a bully who means well for his family; Rom is smarter than he lets on, but he’s also sensitive enough to generally play along with Quark’s fits and tantrums. It’s nice to see Rom take a stand against Quark that doesn’t involve trying to flush him out an airlock. It’s a nice reminder of how complex and how well-formed the relationships on Deep Space Nine can be.)

Facets isn’t the strongest episode of the season. It’s a bit messy from a structural point of view, and it’s better viewed as a collection of interesting moments and ideas than a single fully-formed episode. However, viewed on its own terms, it makes for quite an entertaining watch.

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

Advertisements

4 Responses

  1. hello there darren !

    nice analizing !!!

  2. I never realised before I stumbled across this website how creepy some aspects of Trill society are. I would have loved for the DS9 writers to do something similar with them like the TNG episode Conspiracy, where the symbionts try to overthrow Trill by infiltrating the host population, especially the ones who never showed an interest in joining.

    • Thanks!

      To be fair, I believe the DS9 relaunch novels do something similar by making the parasites into an offshoot of the Trill. But I’m not a huge fan of any of the Pocket Books relaunches to be fair. (Give me their seventies and eighties output any day or their “Lost Era” series.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: