Change of Heart is another good episode that stops short of being a great one.
On paper, Change of Heart is a wonderful premise. Due to expedience, Worf and Jadzia are assigned on a covert mission that eventually leads to the potential recovery of a Cardassian defector. While trekking through a jungle world on their way to meet this high-value asset, a fire fight with the Jem’Hadar leaves Jadzia wounded. Without medical attention, she will bleed to death. As such, Worf finds himself caught between the oath that he swore to Starfleet and his duty to the woman that he loved. That is harrowing drama, right there.
The execution is also very solid. Ronald D. Moore is the perfect writer for a script like this, able to balance organic banter with high-stakes drama. David Livingston is a director who can certainly keep a plot moving. While Terry Farrell and Michael Dorn might not make sparks fly, they have an endearing chemistry that plays very well as a married couple. The script for Change of Heart plays to the strengths of its leading performers. It leaps through a lot of contrivances to get to that big central dilemma, but it moves quickly enough that they are not fatal flaws.
However, Change of Heart once again brushes up against the limits of what Star Trek: Deep Space Nine can do as a late nineties television series. It is an episode that suffers from the limitations imposed by the pragmatic realities of late nineties television production. Change of Heart is an episode that has very consciously learned from (and evolved beyond) the mistakes of earlier and clumsier episodes like Life Support and Rules of Engagement, but which still suffers because it cannot escape the constraints of contemporary genre television.
Across the sixth season of Deep Space Nine, there is a recurring sense that the production team have pushed the show as far as they can take it. Repeatedly, the Deep Space Nine writing staff have broken through the expectations imposed by outside forces. It is impossible to overstate just how often Deep Space Nine redefined what was possible within the framework of the Star Trek franchise. Deep Space Nine spent its first five years escaping every box into which fans or critics might try to place it.
However, in the sixth season, it seems like the series has hit its limit. This is reflected in a number of different ways. Battlestar Galactica lurks in the shadows of the season, foreshadowed in the occupation arc of episodes like Rocks and Shoals or Behind the Lines and even teased in the creative arguments that the writing staff lost on episodes like One Little Ship. The show has pushed so hard and so fast that it has brushed up against the limits of what is possible on a syndicated nineties television science-fiction drama.
These limits are as much to do with the realities of television production as the constraints imposed upon the Star Trek franchise. This is most notable in the production of shows like Honour Among Thieves, episodes that feel the need to distract from a tight single-character-focused narrative to include small and cluttered scenes with the rest of the contracted players. There are even elements of that within Change of Heart. Although Cirroc Lofton and Rene Auberjonois do not appear, there is a subplot to include Colm Meaney, Alexander Siddig and Armin Shimerman.
Change of Heart is a story that would undoubtedly work much better on a modern prestige drama. It is an episode that would probably play quite well within the framework of Star Trek: Discovery. It is a story that would make a shocking mid-season episode, as the audience watching at home watches Worf choose between his duty to Starfleet and his love for Jadzia. There would be an intriguing tension there, one reinforced by the fact that almost any character can die at any time on modern television dramas.
The audience watching at home knows that Jadzia is not going to die. That means that there are only two possible outcomes; Worf can manage to save both Jadzia and Lasaran, or he can save Jadzia and fail Lasaran. To the credit of Change of Heart, the episode at least makes sure that Worf’s choice has some minor impact. Ronald D. Moore conceded to The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion that avoiding any consequences would be a cop out:
I felt very strongly that we shouldn’t let Worf off the hook when he’s faced with a tough choice. So often in a story like this a character will get to have it both ways – his wife lives and he accomplishes the mission. They always cheat it somehow. But Worf was just not going to let Jadzia die out there in the jungle, so we decided to let him fail, to let that guy die and to let Worf take that hit. It represented a more interesting choice, and an unexpected decision on the part of the character.
Moore is somewhat overselling his point. Worf does not really “take that hit”, in the sense that the audience only gets to spend a single scene with Lasaran and he is immediately established as a racist jerk. His death has no real weight for the audience. It is not as if Worf chose to abandon Garak, for example. It is also not “an unexpected decision”, if only because the audience knows that the episode will bend towards an ending that keeps Dax alive.
Nineties genre shows very rarely killed off regular characters in the middle of the season. Deep Space Nine had already killed off a number of recurring players, like Muñiz in The Ship or Eddington in Blaze of Glory or Ziyal in Sacrifice of Angels, but had never killed a primary character. Due to the way that television contracts were negotiated in nineties television, it was highly unlikely that a television series like Deep Space Nine would kill off a character in the middle of the season.
By and large, regular cast members arrived and departed in the gaps between seasons. This was obvious even just looking at Deep Space Nine. Michael Dorn had joined the regular cast in The Way of the Warrior, the feature-length episode at the start of the fourth season. Terry Farrell would depart the series in Tears of the Prophets at the end of the sixth season. Nicole deBoer would arrive on the series in Image in the Sand at the start of the seventh season. By and large, this pattern holds true across the nineties television series.
Denise Crosby had left the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation before the end of the production year, but that might have been because the production team did not want to worry about losing two of the show’s three female regulars at the exact same time. Tasha Yar was killed off in Skin of Evil, the twenty-third of the season’s twenty-six episodes; the producers even made sure to keep Denise Crosby around to film Symbiosis, an episode filmed after but broadcast before Skin of Evil in order to maximise Crosby’s utility.
Gates McFadden disappeared after The Neutral Zone at the end of the first season and reappeared in Evolution at the start of the third season. Diana Muldaur’s first appeared in The Child at the start of the second season, and last appeared in Shades of Grey at the end of that year. Jeri Ryan joined Star Trek: Voyager in Scorpion, Part II at the start of the fourth season. Her arrival caused such a fuss that Jennifer Lien’s departure was shuffled into The Gift, the second episode of the season; however, Lien was preemptively downgraded to a guest star in Scorpion, Part II.
Around the turn of the millennium, television series became a lot more blood thirsty. Part of this was down to increased flexibility and freedom in how production teams and actors could approach material. HBO was a major influence in this area. The Sopranos would launch in January 1999, and would kill off several major characters in the middle of broadcast seasons. Ralph Cifaretto died in Whoever Did This, the ninth episode of the fourth season. Christopher Moltisanti was killed in Kennedy and Heidi, the sixth episode of the second half of the sixth season.
The Wire would kill off iconic character Omar Little in Clarifications, the antepenultimate episode of the fifth season. Game of Thrones would kill off designated protagonist New Stark in Baelor, the penultimate episode of the first season. Even lower-key deaths in shows beyond HBO became harder to predict. On Mad Men, Lane Pryce would commit suicide in Commissions and Fees, the penultimate episode of the fifth season. On Breaking Bad, Mike Ehrmantraut would die in Say My Name, the seventh episode of the fifth season.
Examining the 2015-2016 television season, Vox estimated that nearly two hundred and fifty major characters had been killed off over the course of the season. TV Line maintains a report card for the May Sweeps that suggests the number of major character deaths during the period almost tripled from twenty to fifty-seven between May 2012 and May 2016. That is a shocking development, another example of how the conventions of cable broadcasting (like shorter seasons) have begun to creep into the mainstream.
Of course, this trigger-happy scripting is not inherently a good thing. It has been well-noted that these deaths seem to disproportionately affect characters who are not straight white men, for example, sending an uncomfortable message about the characters that television considers to be expendable. Even on shows that developed a reputation for ruthlessness, like 24 or The Walking Dead, there is often a sense that certain “core” characters are safe outside of big event episodes and that there is a clear delineation between those characters and the cannon fodder.
A willingness to ruthlessly kill off major characters can become self-defeating, numbing audiences to the impact of those deaths. Todd VanDerWerff talked to many television producers who agreed:
“In this day and age, you have to do it just for the stakes, to say, ‘We’re playing for keeps,'” says Terry Matalas, the co-creator of Syfy’s 12 Monkeys, which, as a time travel show, can always drop in on dead characters in the past. Later, thoughtfully, he adds, “I do wonder if you start to desensitize the audience to death [as a plot point].”
But if the spring of 2016 has proved anything, it’s that most TV deaths aren’t done well. Most are done poorly. And the medium is drowning in them.
“[Constant death] does become zapping the rat. You’re doing it for shock value, even if what you’re trying to convey is that everyone in this [fictional] world can die,” Grillo-Marxuach says.
Constant death and a bloodthirsty attitude could easily become exhausting, particularly when juxtaposed against the utopianism of the Star Trek universe.
However, there must be a happy medium that exists between the two extremes, to reinforce the sense that any character might die while also ensuring that every death matters. More than that, there are certain points at which outside factors come into play. While killing off a character without a plot justification might seem callous or manipulative, there are points at which actors have to leave certain television series at relatively short notice; such is the nature of the medium. It should be possible to leverage those departures for good drama.
It would seem pointless to kill off Jadzia Dax in Change of Heart just for the sake of killing off a major character. In fact, it would seem downright nihilistic to get rid of Terry Farrell simply to throw the audience off-guard and subverting their expectations of this familiar narrative. However, there are outside factors at play here. There are very good reasons why it would make sense to kill off the character of Jadzia Dax in Change of Heart, mostly due to the impending departure of actor Terry Farrell.
Farrell had signalled her desire to leave Deep Space Nine earlier in the season, although the production staff were still coming to terms with it. Certainly, Ronald D. Moore has talked about how he would never have married Worf and Dax in You Are Cordially Invited… if he had known that Terry Farrell was planning to depart the series. Nevertheless, by this point in the season, Farrell had made it clear that she had no intention of remaining a regular during the final season. Rick Berman had made it clear that he would not downgrade her to a recurring player.
As such, Deep Space Nine was going to have to get rid of Jadzia at some point before the end of the season. In theory, the writing staff did not have to kill off Jadzia, but her close relationship to Worf tied their hands from a dramatic standpoint. If Jadzia were transferred off the station, why wouldn’t Worf go with her? If Jadzia were captured by the Dominion, surely Worf would have to spend every minute trying to rescue her? More than that, sending Jadzia away without killing her would arguably create the expectation that she would return, and that seemed highly impractical.
A few years later, The X-Files would demonstrate the dangers of writing out a major character in an open-ended fashion. David Duchovny played coy with the production team, departing at the end of both the seventh and eighth seasons. The producers were able to coax him back for an extended arc during the eighth season, but he remained much further removed from the ninth season. As a result, the final season of The X-Files was largely built around an absent character, to the point that Duchovny’s butt double appeared before any of the credited leads.
Ultimately, the Deep Space Nine production team would decide to write Terry Farrell out by killing Jadzia Dax. It was the practical solution, given that it allowed for the show to move past Farrell’s absence and to maintain some consistency of character by introducing Ezri Dax. Jadzia would be killed off in Tears of the Prophets. Allowing for the fact that Jadzia was always going to die in the sixth season, and for the awkward manner in which Tears of the Prophets fumbles that death, it seems reasonable to argue that she should have died in Change of Heart.
Certainly, Farrell herself would make that argument. In Crew Dossier: Jadzia Dax, Farrell argues Change of Heart should have been her swan song:
I knew I wasn’t coming back for the seventh season, so it was really written well, and it was the controversy of whether Worf should come back and save my life and not complete the mission, or complete the mission. But he decides to save his wife’s life, and I remember thinking, “Ah, this would be the perfect one to just end it.” I had asked not to be killed, but if you need to kill me because that’s what you need to do, that would have been the perfect episode to do it because it would have been so much more for Worf’s character to play in the long run, because he would have let his wife die, but completed the mission. Oh my God, what an awful thing to live with.
There are several reasons why killing Jadzia here would make sense, if Jadzia had to die anyway; Change of Heart was a better episode than Tears of the Prophets, and putting her death here would catch the audience off-guard.
Indeed, there are any number of permutations and possibilities that would enhance the flow of the episode. The happiest possible ending would have Worf complete the mission without saving Dax. However, a more harrowing story would have Worf make the decision to turn back just a little bit too late. Worf would fail to complete the mission and fail to save Jadzia, although he might manage to save the Dax symbiont to prevent the ending from seeming too bleak. Such an ending would brutally upset audience expectations, underscoring the brutality of war.
After all, that is kind of what happens anyway. Worf sacrifices Lasaran to save Jadzia in Change of Heart. However, Jadzia dies anyway ten episodes later in Tears of the Prophets. There is a sense that Tears of the Prophets tries to make Jadzia’s death seem pointless, murdered on the station while the crew engages in a high-stakes battle, but the plotting feels too heightened. Having Jadzia die of a stray disruptor blast on a what started as a routine mission in Change of Heart would better underscore the arbitrary nature of death in time of war.
To be fair, there would still be some issues with killing off Jadzia in Change of Heart. There would still be shades of fridging to the death, the death of a female character serving as little more than emotional torque the male characters around her. Jadzia’s death in Change of Heart would not be about her any more than her death in Tears of the Prophets. Then again, Jadzia’s relationship to Worf meant that her death would always have a major impact of Worf’s emotion state. Worf would always react to Jadzia’s death in a very emotive manner.
Still, intention should be a factor here. It seems unreasonable to accuse the writers of “fridging” Jadzia when they did not make the decision to write her out of the show. The emotional impact of Jadzia’s death on Worf merely follows basic plot and character logic. It would be more dismissive of Jadzia if Worf didn’t react to her death in an extreme manner. For the writers, Worf’s angst is an organic development of a plot point forced upon them, instead of a motivation to inflict suffering upon Jadzia.
Indeed, killing of Jadzia in Change of Heart would grant her some agency. Jadzia makes the choice to accompany Worf on the mission to Lasaran, signalling her consent to the extraction mission with a small nod when Lasaran requests their assistance. None of that agency exists in Tears of the Prophets. In the sixth season, Jadzia dies as a proxy in Dukat’s feud with Sisko. In Change of Heart, she would die in the line of duty. It would be a horrible and meaningless death, in a way that death is horrible and meaningless in war, but it would be true to who she was.
Still, it was not to be. As much sense as it might have made to kill off Jadzia Dax in Change of Heart, there was simply no way that it would ever be practical for Deep Space Nine. Terry Farrell was under contract until the end of the season, even if she had made it clear that she wanted to leave and even if working on the show was an unpleasant experience for her. Deep Space Nine would never have been allowed to make such a bold move. Once again, the sixth season brushed up against the boundaries imposed by the pragmatic realities of nineties television production.
“Um, there was one where Michael [Dorn] and I went off on a mission together and I got hurt and he had to decide whether to save my life or go on with the mission. Yes, I liked that very much. At the time it was very turbulent in terms of the producers trying to pressure me into signing and… It was the Christmas episode – not that we celebrate Christmas on the episode [laughter] but it happens during the break so that people are really happy when it’s only about two characters! [laughter] Because they don’t usually have a lot to do and they can celebrate with their families!
“It was great to do it with Michael because we’re such good friends and I felt like we really earned our friendship through working together and I really love him. So I was going through a time when the producers were pressuring me, mostly Rick Berman and a couple of his… minions… and making me feel bad and trying to control me. And having Michael be supportive of me – Terry, just me – he’s awesome. He’s a very kind and loving person.”
It is easy to see the appeal of the episode, in theory. It is a very effective dramatic set-up, with Worf caught between his love for his wife and his loyalty to Starfleet.
The biggest issue with Change of Heart, and the problem that really holds it back from greatness, is the combination of the undercutting of the stakes by the audience’s knowledge that the writers would never kill off Dax in the fashion and the rendering pointless of Worf’s choice by the decision to kill off Dax at the very end of the season. It was not within the power of the writers to fix either of these issues, but that does not matter. They cast a long shadow over the episode. Change of Heart is an enjoyable episode, but one that is haunted by what it could have been.
There is a lot to love about Change of Heart. Most obviously, it is a reminder of how well Terry Farrell and Michael Dorn work as a married couple. Deep Space Nine was a show that attempted to depict more grounded and human relationships than the other The Next Generation and Voyager, and it succeeded in particular ways. Deep Space Nine occasionally struggled at getting characters into relationships, often resorting to ridiculous plotting like His Way or The Dogs of War, but the writers really liked the idea of stable well-developed relationships.
Worf and Dax represent the first married couple to feature in the regular cast of a Star Trek series. Chief O’Brien is married to Keiko, but Keiko has never been listed as a regular in the opening credits. Keiko disappears for extended periods at a time. In fact, Change of Heart even makes a point of having O’Brien suggest that most of his wacky subplots with Bashir are only made possible by her prolonged absences. “I have to do something to keep my mind off the fact that Keiko’s been away for six months,” he confesses of his sudden obsession with Tongo.
Worf and Dax are the first married couple on Star Trek to exist week-in and week-out on the show, to interact with one another on a regular basis as regular characters who happen to be in a committed relationship to one another. It helps that Deep Space Nine largely avoids goofy soap opera antics with these two characters, perhaps having learned that lesson from the whole “Worf gets so jealous of Dax’s ex-lover that he becomes a terrorist” fiasco in Let He Who Is Without Sin…
Barring the genre-mandated wedding hijinx of You Are Cordially Invited…, Dax and Worf seem like a functional and healthy couple. Worf and Dax have Kira and mirror!Bareil over for a cute dinner date in Resurrection, in which Worf proves himself a good sport. Dax brings out Worf’s playful side, as reinforced in the cute “epic poem” gag that bookends One Little Ship. The teaser to Change of Heart represents the first time that the show has taken an extended look at their day-to-day life, and it is very routine and very normal. It is all the more effective for that.
Some of the writing of the relationship in Change of Heart has shades of sitcom to it, but it rings to true to the reality of stable long-term relationships. Committing to a marriage involves making compromises and changes, and sometimes that of itself can come as a surprise. The core suggestion in Change of Heart is that marriage has fundamentally changed Worf in a way that is subtle, but noticeable to the people who really know him. It is an idea that starts as a joke, but which develops into a dramatic hook as the episode goes on.
When Worf agrees to “room service” on their honeymoon, Dax is surprised. “You have to admit you’ve been unusually accommodating lately,” she suggests. Worf seems almost taken aback. “What is wrong with that?” he wonders. “I’m a married man. I have to make certain adjustments to my lifestyle.” It represents a nice bit of character growth, especially given how Worf’s stubbornness and uncompromising nature almost derailed the relationship in both Let He Who Is Without Sin… and You Are Cordially Invited…
There is a warmth to the dynamic that is not showy or melodramatic, but which instead feels grounded in two grown-ups who have reached an understanding of one another and who have decided to spend the rest of their lives together. Given that Deep Space Nine could occasionally seem a little juvenile in its handling of romance and sexuality, that is a very mature and endearing approach to these characters. They certainly seem more mature as a married couple than Tom Paris or B’Elanna Torres in episodes like Lineage.
Indeed, the handling of the marriage hints at the warmth and the humanism that lurks beneath the cynical exterior of Deep Space Nine. One of the stock criticisms of Deep Space Nine is that it is a betrayal of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a more idealistic and hopeful future, that its willingness to play with ideas like capitalism and war undercut its place in the larger Star Trek canon. This is largely nonsense, a superficial reading that ignores how the series engages with these ideas.
Deep Space Nine puts a lot of faith in people, more than institutions. In particular, Deep Space Nine is sceptical of centralised authority and moral utilitarianism. One of the recurring themes of the Dominion War is the idea of that personal morality is more important than pragmatism, that a morally reprehensible decision that will save millions (or billions) of lives cannot be excused based on practical grounds. Deep Space Nine is often an optimistic rejection of the trite moral arithmetic of the trolley dilemma.
Statistical Probabilities rejects the idea that millions of lives can reasonably be sacrificed to save billions. Extreme Measures insists that the use of a biological weapon against the Founders cannot be justified, even in a war of total annihilation. Inquisition is horrified at the idea of punishing one innocent person to ensure the security of the state. In the Pale Moonlight is arguably the exception, but it also reinforces these core themes. Sisko insists that he can live with his compromises, but that promise rings hollow.
Change of Heart plays out this idea in miniature, as Worf finds himself forced between Lasaran and Jadzia. Lasaran is a defector with vital information that could seriously affect the outcome of the war. “Were you aware that the information that man had could have saved millions of lives?” Sisko challenges Worf at the end of the episode. Worf admits that he knew. However, Change of Heart also makes it clear that Worf is entirely justified to in his refusal to let Jadzia die so that he might rescue Lasaran. The needs of the many do not outweigh the needs of the few.
This is consistent with the moral framework of Deep Space Nine, a television series that more readily invest faith in people than in institutions. Deep Space Nine has long been sceptical of organisations like Starfleet Command, and so it seems entirely reasonable that Worf’s character should bring him here. No wonder Worf seems more comfortable and more easy-going at the start of Change of Heart. He is now a character who would put his loyalty to another person above his loyalty to the uniform. He is now a Deep Space Nine character.
Even beyond the handling of the relationship between Jadzia and Worf, Change of Heart demonstrates how readily Deep Space Nine has learned from its mistakes. Ronald D. Moore’s script for Change of Heart demonstrates that the writer as very much at the top of his game, and that he has recognised several severe flaws with some of his earlier works. Change of Heart nimbly and casually side-steps a number of storytelling pitfalls that hobbled episodes in earlier seasons.
This is obvious even looking at the final scene between Sisko and Worf. The fundamentals of the scene are familiar. Worf has made a reckless decision that has put innocent lives in danger. Sisko is about to chew him out, because Avery Brooks does excellent work with these scenes. The set-up evokes Rules of Engagement, the late fourth season episode in which Worf was put on trial for the murder of a freighter full of civilians. Worf was exonerated, the scenario revealed to be a set-up.
However, the episode tried to have its cake and eat it, having Sisko eviscerate Worf for his recklessness and chastising him for making a decision that could have maybe possibly put civilians at risk. The scene felt a little hypocritical. Sisko’s righteous anger at Worf seemed uncomfortably sanctimonious, given the skill with which his opponents had manipulated events. There was a sense that Ronald D. Moore wanted a scene of Sisko dressing down Worf, even if it did not really fit with the plot or tone of the episode.
Change of Heart plays that set-up a lot better. Sisko lays into Worf for his decision to abandon Lasaran. “As your captain, it is my duty to tell you that you made the wrong choice,” Sisko warns Worf. “This will go into your service record, and to be completely honest, you probably won’t be offered a command on your own after this.” It is hardly the most damning indictment that Worf has ever received from Sisko, but it still stings. However, the script is careful to avoid the self-righteousness that marred Sisko’s critique in Rules of Engagement.
Indeed, that conversation even allows Sisko to acknowledge that Worf made a decision that went against protocol but remained consistent with the moral philosophy of the show around him. “As a man who had a wife,” Sisko confesses, “if Jennifer had been lying in that clearing I wouldn’t have left her either.” As such, there is no sense of hypocrisy to Sisko’s criticism of Worf, there is no sense that Ronald D. Moore is trying to have his cake and eat it by allowing Worf to make the “right” decision while still admonishing him for it.
It is a nice example of how Moore has grown as a writer, recognising some of his past missteps and trying to avoid them going forward. It is a reminder of how far Deep Space Nine has evolved, how the series was consciously pushing itself to do better. Even if the sixth season of Deep Space Nine seems to brush up against impenetrable boundaries, there is a still a sense that the production team are trying to move forward. This is a show constantly learning to better itself.
That desire for self-improvement is also reflected in the structuring of the episode’s subplot. When the teaser establishes that Quark is on an undefeated hot streak at Tongo, O’Brien vows to beat the Ferengi at his own game. He drafts Bashir into his plan, reckoning on the genetically engineered doctor to outwit the wily barkeep. It is a very goofy subplot, but one that leans on likeable cast members with an endearing dynamic. However, it also wraps up around half-way through the episode, just as Worf and Jadzia arrive on Soukara, as things get really serious.
The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion suggests that Moore’s decision to cut off the subplot half-way through the episode was as a result of his experiences writing Life Support during the third season:
The structure of the script is also unique in the way it deals with the episode’s B-story. Typically, scenes will alternate back and forth between A and B lines. But in Change of Heart, the B-story, in which O’Brien and Bashir try to beat Quard at Tongo, ends just before the episode’s halfway point; the rest of the story is spent in the jungle with Worf and Jadzia. “I wanted to wrap the B-story up so we could just concentrate on the serious story,” Moore notes. “After Jadzia gets hurt, it gets so intense that we didn’t want to break out and be cutting back.” Moore knows how jarring such shifts can be in a highly dramatic story. He was responsible for the teleplay to Life Support, wherein gripping scenes of Bareil’s slow demise were interspersed with a light b-story about Jake and Nog on a double date.
Change of Heart flows a lot better than Life Support, and it is an excellent example of Moore learning from his past mistakes and trying to rectify previous errors. It is a great example of the Deep Space Nine writers evolving.
However, there is also something slightly frustrating in the subplot to Change of Heart, as the Tongo game between Bashir and Quark heats up. As Bashir presses his advantage against Quark, Quark engages in a game of psychological warfare. Quark tries to burrow into Bashir’s psyche, to chip away at his self-confidence and to undermine his attention. Quark does this by broaching the subject of Jadzia Dax. Most pointedly, Quark suggests that Bashir is still in love with Jadzia Dax and that he is heartbroken by her marriage to Worf.
“Now she’s married,” Quark reflects. “Out of reach.” Bashir grows increasingly uncomfortable. Quark presses the point, “What if deep down in our heart of hearts we both know she’s something unique, something we may never see again? A chance at true happiness and we let her slip through our fingers?” Bashir seems truly and fundamentally shaken by the observation. After all, Bashir spent most of the first season aggressively pursuing Dax in episodes like Dax and If Wishes Were Horses…
There is something just a little frustrating about all this, particularly because it suggests a recurring fascination for the Deep Space Nine writing staff. The writers on Deep Space Nine repeatedly suggest that it is impossible for men and women to maintain truly platonic relationships with one another, and that it is impossible for male characters to move past attraction to female characters without retaining some hidden true love. More than that, Deep Space Nine also insists that this hidden true love must eventually be borne out.
This is most obviously reflected in the way that the writing staff approach the relationship between Odo and Kira. The production team suggested Odo’s attraction to Kira as early as the closing scene of Necessary Evil, confirming it in Heart of Stone the following season. However, they built Crossfire around the idea that Odo would never work up the courage to actually pursue that relationship, and recognising that the status quo was toxic. However, the writers reintroduced Odo’s obsession with Kira in Children of Time, and would eventually pair the two up in His Way.
This courtship is frustrating on a number of levels. Most superficially, it insists that men and women are incapable of being “just” friends after an attraction. More troublingly, the arc denies Kira any agency in the evolution of their relationship. Kira is an object of attraction for Odo, but the show never explains how Kira feels about Odo. Odo’s acknowledgement of his attraction for Kira in Heart of Stone comes directly after Kira loses the love of her life in Life Support. The show never explains how Kira forgives Odo for the events of Children of Time or Behind the Lines.
Change of Heart sets up what will be a similar arc for Bashir. Bashir lusted after Dax during the first season of Deep Space Nine, but the two characters quickly became friends. After all, Bashir could repair the broken bones that Dax and Worf received during sex and accompany them on their romantic getaway in Let He Who Is Without Sin… Both Bashir and Dax had romantic relationships, and frequently discussed them with one another. More than that, both offered romantic advice to other members of the primary cast, without any sense of awkwardness between them.
So there is something frustrating in the reveal that Bashir has secretly been carrying a torch for Jadzia over the past five seasons, that he still thinks of Jadzia as “the one that got away” more than as his friend. There is something disconcerting in how Deep Space Nine views relationships between men and women. After all, Ronald D. Moore’s script for Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places suggested that they only reason that O’Brien and Kira weren’t having hot sex was because they never spent enough time in close proximity to one another.
To be fair, Change of Heart is not so bad on its own. However, the problem is that the subplot seems to set up an idea that pays off down the line. When Jadzia is killed in Tears of the Prophets, the Dax symbiont is transplanted to Ezri Dax. Ezri eventually hooks up with Bashir in The Dogs of War. This would not be the worst pairing, if the two characters had spent more time together. More than that, it seems like a relationship that exists primarily to offer Bashir a “second chance” with Dax. As with the courtship of Odo and Kira, it denies the female character agency.
This is all very much in the style of When Harry Met Sally, the film that famously included the assertion that it was impossible for men and women to really be friends without love or sex getting in the way. To be fair, there is some scientific data to suggest that this argument when applied to men; heterosexual men are more likely to be attracted to friends of the opposite gender than vice versa. There is nothing wrong with the writers on Deep Space Nine exploring this idea, but there is an issue with endorsing it without reference to the agency of female characters.
In some ways, this reflects one of the minor weaknesses of the writers’ room on Deep Space Nine. The writers’ room on Deep Space Nine was exclusively male during the peak years. The other Star Trek shows had slightly more diverse writers’ rooms, with female insight into the characters and their relationships. The writers on Deep Space Nine were among the best in the business, but it seems fair to wonder whether the lack of a female perspective led to some of these questionable story choices.
Although, to be fair, Voyager was capable of making any number of poor creative choices with female characters while Jeri Taylor was serving as executive producer. Feminist nightmares like Alter Ego and Favourite Son went into production under Taylor’s oversight, while the sexual assault apologia Retrospect was co-written by staff writer Lisa Klink. So more female writers does not necessarily default to stronger writing for female characters. Still, the romantic subplots on Deep Space Nine did represent a blind spot when it came to the agency of female characters.
To be fair, it could have been worse. Taken on its own terms, with no reference to where his character arc is going, the Bashir subplot in Change of Heart is fairly inoffensive. However, the writers were toying with a more charged subplot that would have focused on Rom’s ex-wife returning to the station and trying to swindle him again. Given the horrific sexual politics of the late-season Ferengi episode Profit and Lace, it might be for the best that the production team went with the Tongo.
Interestingly, the subplot made it far enough into development that it has become part of the fan culture around Deep Space Nine. In particular, some of the cast members have even taken to performing the subplot at conventions:
The evening’s entertainment was The Ferengi Family Hour, which featured Max Grodenchik, his real-life fiancé Lolita Fatjo, fictional wife Chase Masterson, and fictional son Aron Eisenberg. They spent the next hour singing, acting, dancing, and making the entire audience crack-up a few dozen times. The show featured several parody songs, such as Max’s rendition of the Sonny and Cher song I’ve Got You Babe (which became I’ve Got Two Babes), and The Addams Family theme, restyled as The Ferengi Family, had us in stitches. They also preformed the unfilmed B-plot for the DS9 episode Change of Heart, in which Rom’s first wife and Nog’s mother, Prinadora, comes to DS9 to try to get Rom back, as well as a wild skit about Grand Nagus Rom, Leeta, Nog, and Moogie’s vacation to Disney World – in 2002.
Given how awkwardly that subplot could potentially misfire, and given the looming disaster with Ferengi gender politics, it is probably for the best that the plot was cut.
Change of Heart is a good episode. It is engaging and well-written, focused on an endearing dynamic between two likable characters. At the same time, it is an episode that stops just short of greatness, hedged in by the constraints of contemporary television. Deep Space Nine had grown so far and so fast that it occasionally felt like the show was wearing a suit that no longer fit.
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