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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Afterimage (Review)

Afterimage is a necessary episode, in part because Ezri Dax is a necessary character.

Adding a new character to a show in the middle of its run is always a challenge. The addition of Seven of Nine to Star Trek: Voyager had generated considerable tension, both around what the show wanted to be and in terms of the cast working on the series. It can be difficult to strike a balance, to figure out how much attention to devote to this new arrival, to give them some focus without stealing focus from the surrounding cast. It is a tightrope for the writers to walk, one compounded by the relative novelty of this late addition, the new toy in the writers’ toy box.

Make it sew.

This problem is compounded when the new addition arrives at the start of the final season. In any final season, space is at a premium. The production team are racing towards the finish line, trying to service all the dangling plot threads and complete all the important plot arcs. Every beat is important, every story vital. Final seasons are about providing closure, about wrapping things up. Introducing a new character in the midst of all that is a daunting responsibility, a challenge with very high stakes.

The writers at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine were working at something of a disadvantage and to a deadline. However, they did have some handicaps. Most notably, the production team had already successfully integrated a new character into the ensemble, when Worf joined the cast in The Way of the Warrior. More than that, there was some luxury in the fact that Ezri Dax would not be an entirely new character. She would be a logical extension of the premise that was built in Jadzia Dax. She was at least partially familiar, and her concept had been properly seeded.

On airlock down.

Still, introducing Ezri Dax into the final season of Deep Space Nine would prove difficult. The production team would often struggle to strike a balance between writing stories that extended (and concluded) the arcs of other major characters while also writing episodes that introduced and established the character of Ezri. It could often seem like Ezri’s journey was just beginning, right as everybody else’s was coming to a close. The final season of a seven-year show is seldom the perfect place for a new beginning.

As such, Afterimage is more an episode driven by necessity than by desire, a story that has to be told because of factors that were outside the control of the production team. The result is solid, if not exceptional. It is an episode that works best at establishing a new character and new dynamics, suffering just a little bit from clumsy storytelling in the process.

Holo pleasures.

In theory, there was a solid argument for leaving a vacancy in the primary cast following the departure of Terry Farrell in Tears of the Prophets. The writers on Deep Space Nine had enough on their plate without having to worry about introducing a new character at the last minute. More than that, Deep Space Nine had developed an impressive supporting cast over its previous six seasons. Taking Dax out of the equation arguably opened up opportunities for existing characters.

There are any number of characters who might have benefited from additional focus, the opportunity to increase the guest star budget rather than recruiting a new series regular. More guest appearances from Andrew Robinson or J.G. Hertzler would always be welcome, while the production team clearly enjoyed writing for recurring players like Max Grodénchik and Chase Masterson. The bench on Deep Space Nine was incredibly deep. There is a reasonable argument to be made that the show did not need to add another contractual regular on top of that.

Tall order.

In fact, Image in the Sand and Shadows and Symbols suggest that the cast is strong enough to fill all the plot functions previously occupied by Jadzia Dax. Nog could easily take over Dax’s role flying the Defiant. Jake could simply take a more active role in his father’s life, providing a sounding board for the Emissary of the Prophets. Worf did not need a new romantic interest, but he could form a closer interpersonal relationship with O’Brien. In terms of plot mechanics and roles, the loss of Jadzia was not a huge problem.

After all, the writing staff had enough to do in the final season without having to establish and new character and give them focus. There were only twenty-six episodes of Deep Space Nine left to go, and introducing a new character would mean allocating at least three or four of them to fleshing that character out and developing them. Given how long it had taken the creative team to find distinctive voices for characters like Julian Bashir or Jadzia Dax in the first place, this was a risky proposition.

Ezri will have Garak in stitches.

However, there were other factors at play. Had one of the male leads decided not to return for the final season, it seems likely that the production team would have simply let that space on the call sheet remain empty for the final season. However, as Ira Steven Behr conceded in The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, Terry Farrell was not one of the male leads:

“We knew we needed a female,” Behr explains. “We couldn’t have Kira Nerys be the only female regular character. So we started the casting process, and all I saw was a lot of people who couldn’t play the part. There was absolutely no one in the running.”

Behr certainly has a fair point. There were only two female regular characters on Deep Space Nine, which meant that losing one would result in Nana Visitor being the only female regular cast member. Although the show had a deep bench creatively, there were not many supporting female characters who could be promoted to fill that breach. Kai Winn and Leeta are interesting characters, but not interesting enough to appear in twenty-odd episodes a season.

Worf salutes you.

More than that, the departure of Terry Farrell created a unique opportunity. Dax was uniquely suited to an actor swap, given the core premise of the character. The Dax symbiont was functionally immortal, an entity passed from one host to another over centuries. The symbiont and host merged to create a weird fusion. Jadzia Dax was distinct from Curzon Dax, who was in turn different from any other iteration of the character. However, Jadzia had received the symbiont at some point before Emissary, and so the audience only ever really knew Dax as Jadzia.

As such, there was a lot that could be done with the death of Jadzia. In a way, the symbiont served as an elaborate six-season-long Chekov’s Gun. (Or Chekov’s Phaser.) The audience had known about this transition since The Host, the fourth season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that introduced the concept of the Trill. However, viewers had never had the chance to witness such a transition first-hand. There was definitely a story to be told there, as the audience (and the other characters) process that unique (and alien) transition.

Things come to a head.

More than that, the existence of Ezri suggested possibilities that had been off-limits with Jadzia. Along with Julian Bashir and Quark, the writers had struggled to build episodes around Jadzia in the early seasons of Deep Space Nine. Jadzia was well-adjusted to her role as host, having been properly trained and inducted. As such, there was very little drama to mine from the subject. As a result, many of the early episodes focusing on Dax stripped away Jadzia’s agency and turned the symbiont into a plot point; Dax, Invasive Procedures, Equilibrium.

After all, it is very hard to build drama around a character who has a unique facet that is totally under control. Drama built around characters tends to focus on what they don’t have together. Sisko comes to terms with what appears to be a dead-end assignment in Emissary. Kira struggles with her terrorist past in Past Prologue, in being part of the system rather than outside it in Progress, and with her attitude towards Cardassians in Duet. Odo struggles with his status as outsider in A Man Alone, Vortex and The Alternate.

Window of opportunity.

Jadzia was so well-adjusted to the Dax symbiont that there was never any drama to mine in that dynamic, very few stories that felt like they needed to be told. To be fair, this problem was compounded by the fact that Farrell took some time to figure out how to work with the character and the writers took some more time to tailor Jadzia to play to Farrell’s strengths as a performer. Still, Deep Space Nine would eventually build a number of impressive episodes around Jadzia Dax; Facets, Rejoined, Trials and Tribble-ations.

The introduction of a new host for the Dax symbiont introduced all manner of new storytelling possibilities. What would it feel like to suddenly be burdened by all of these memories? What would it feel like to be thrown into the deep end of a set of interpersonal relationships in a place that the host has never been with people that the host has never met? Ezra was built from the ground up to capitalise on these tensions, these potential dramatic character beats. What if the host were inexperienced to begin with? What if the host were completely unprepared?

Morning period.

It is a very compelling character hook. Indeed, Michael Piller even conceded as much in an interview with The Star Trek Communicator, arguing that Ezri represented the chance for a “do-over” that might correct one of the series’ original sins:

I wish I had done that in the first two-hour pilot. I’m not saying that Jadzia wasn’t successful, but it took a long time to make Dax successful. She became a Dorothy Parker kind of dry wit. As Ezri, she had issues and conflicts. Instead of having her character change off camera, she was thrown into chaos on camera. It was a great twist.

It is very clever way to approach the problems created by the departure of Terry Farrell, to ensure some small sense of continuity while also correcting an oversight that was made in the original plotting of Emissary. As risky as introducing a new character at this point might be, Ezri Dax was a great concept.

Bashir has a hella sweet holosuite night out planned…

In some ways, the recasting of Dax recalls the use of regeneration on Doctor Who. That science-fiction series would routinely swap out leading actors through a process of metaphorical rebirth. The Doctor would change his face once every few seasons, and also change his demeanour. It also became a way for the show to reinvent itself, from the establishment toff of Jon Pertwee to the cosmic bohemian of Tom Baker to the stiff-upper-lip cricketteer Peter Davison.

In making the transition, the tendency was to swing wildly between extremes, to emphasise the differences in personality from each iteration to the next. The “clown” Patrick Troughton gave way to the “dandy” Jon Pertwee. The delicate and docile Peter Davison surrendered the stage to the brash and bold Colin Baker. The romantic Paul McGann ceded the stage to the working class Christopher Eccleston, with the theatrical John Hurt later slotted between them. The cool David Tennant was replaced by the decidedly uncool Matt Smith.

The Trill of it all.

As such, the production team needed a way to establish Ezri a clear opposite to Jadzia. They cast actor Nicole de Boer, who was a full seven years younger and a full seventeen centimetres shorter than Terry Farrell. While Farrell had been a model before becoming an actor, de Boer was presented in a manner that was almost tomboyish. De Boer made a conscious effort not to frame her performance as imitation:

I got some episodes and watched them, but I didn’t really want to be affected too much by what she did. Jadzia was going to be one of many people inside of me, so I just did the clasping-the-hands-behind-the-back like she did, which I think also Joran did as well. It kind of gave that little nod to her, but she was going to be one of, what, eight people inside me?

It was a clever approach, and de Boer never feels like she is walking in Farrell’s shoes. Due to the choices made in establishing the character and in de Boer’s performance, it never seems like Deep Space Nine is attempting to straight-up replace Terry Farrell with another performer. It is perhaps the best possible outcome that the creative team could hope for, under the circumstances.

Everything is upside down.

As an aside, there is an interesting age gap between Nicole de Boer and the rest of the cast. De Boer is twelve years older than Cirroc Lofton, but considerably younger than the rest of the primary cast. She is five years younger than Alexander Siddig, thirteen years younger than Nana Visitor, eighteen years younger than Michael Dorn, and twenty-two years younger than Avery Brooks. To put all of that in perspective, de Boer is only two years older than Wil Wheaton. (She is three years younger than Jeri Ryan, and two years younger than Garrett Wang.)

This sets de Boer apart from the casts of the other twenty-fourth century shows. She is the youngest regular performer in those shows to play a Starfleet officer, something that comes across very effectively. De Boer’s youthfulness provides a very effective contrast to the life experience of the symbiont within Ezri. It also means that de Boer is just about young enough to have come of age during the early years of the Rick Berman era. While other performers might have fallen in love with the original Star Trek, de Boer could remember The Next Generation.

Ezri does it.

De Boer has acknowledged in interviews that she was “was kind of a fan [herself].” In fact, de Boer is young enough to remember watching the early episodes of The Next Generation starring Michael Dorn with her parents:

I’d grown up watching the show, and I thought about when I was fourteen on the couch watching it with my parents, and if anyone had told me ‘One day you’re going to be on the show,’ it was like, ‘Wow! I just kissed Worf!’

De Boer has acknowledged, “I was pretty excited to be part of all of that.” It is an interesting illustration of just how successful the Berman era had been to that point, that it had fans that were coming of age professionally.

Old friends for the Old Man.

Once the character of Ezri Dax had been properly cast and properly defined, the challenge was introducing the new cast member in a way that felt unobtrusive. The introduction of Seven of Nine into the cast of Voyager had generated considerable tension among the cast, which was understandable given how quickly the character had stolen the proverbial lime-light. There was no desire to repeat that mistake. Ezri Dax would be eased into the show as carefully as was possible given the time constraints under which the production team were working.

Ezri barely appears in Image in the Sand, dropping by Joseph Sisko’s restaurant at the very end of the episode in order to provide an effective cliffhanger. She decides to tag along with Sisko to Tyree in Shadows and Symbols. There is some conversation and some exposition about the character, including how she came to be joined and why she seems so awkward, but Ezri is never the true focus of Image in the Sand and Shadows and Symbols. In fact, Shadows and Symbols closes by introducing Ezri to the rest of the cast.

It does feel like a bit of a stitch-up.

As such, Afterimage is the first episode to be built around Ezri Dax. That is a lot of baggage for the third episode of the season. The episode has to establish Ezri’s relationships among the primary cast, and differentiate those relationships from those of Jadzia. At the same time, the script has to come up with a justification for keeping Ezri on the station and define what that role will be. On top of that, because the production team want to ease Ezri into the ensemble, Afterimage has to tell its own story as well.

Parts of Afterimage work very well, particularly those driven more by character than by plot. The early scenes of Ezri wandering the station are effective, de Boer effectively conveying a sense of alienation from these familiar surroundings. There is something very powerful in the image of Ezri visiting the Bajoran shrine, the place where Jadzia was murdered. de Boer does good work, capturing the sense of a character who is as confused of her surroundings as they are of her.

The shrine where I died.

Similarly, there are a lot of really nice character moments in Afterimage, give or take some of the poorer choices involving Quark and Bashir. The writers on Deep Space Nine seem to be fixated on the idea of romantically pairing off their leading female characters, and so there is something disconcerting in the way that Quark and Bashir’s first response to Ezri’s arrival is to hit on her. Jadzia was their friend, and Ezri is clearly in need of their friendship. While Quark has always been sleazy, Bashir really should know better.

As such, there is something very creepy in their conversations about Ezri. “Oh, come on, Doctor,” Quark teases. “I know the way you felt about Jadzia.” Bashir correctly points out, “She’s not Jadzia.” Quark responds as sleazily as possible, “She’s the next best thing. So, are you interested?” Bashir is dismissive, “Sounds to me like you’re the one who’s interested, Quark.” Quark shrugs, “It’s not every day you get a second chance with a woman.” while Bashir seems a little disgusted, he almost immediately starts hitting on Ezri.

Quark, keepin’ it classy.

“This might be the last thing you want to hear, but you have Jadzia’s eyes,” he reflects, which is a really creepy attempt at a chat-up line for a woman who is trying to find her own identity. However, Afterimage also makes it very clear that the writers will be encouraging this dynamic. Sharing some “Fanalian toddies”, Ezri very simply confesses, “You can be very charming. You want to know something? If Worf hadn’t come along, it would have been you.” No matter how confused Ezri might be, it feels like an awkward line.

It is also a frustrating line. Given that Jadzia and Julian had largely settled into a platonic friendship long before Jadzia appeared, that feels like a clumsy bit of retroactive continuity, a rewriting of their relationship designed to set up developments in The Dogs of War. It feels like an awkward reversal of what had been a nuanced and compelling friendship. There was something reassuring in the idea that an unrequited (and slightly pervy) crush could develop into genuine (platonic) affection, and the arrival of Ezri Dax undercuts that aspect of their relationship.

(Ba)shir ambition.

To be fair, the writers have consciously been pushing and encouraging this side of Bashir, as demonstrated by the attention devoted to his revived unrequited crush on Jadzia in episodes like Change of Heart and Tears of the Prophets. Still, it feels very much like a retrograde approach to the character, restoring the insecure creepiness of his his earliest appearances. Then again, this is entirely in keeping with the seventh season’s approach to Bashir; he does design his own girlfriend in Chrysalis.

That said, the other character dynamics in Afterimage feel well observed. There is, for example, an appealing symmetry in the idea that Benjamin Sisko might serve as a mentor to Ezri, a logical progression of his relationship as student under Curzon and friend to Jadzia. It even offers Avery Brooks something new to play. The performer often relished the scenes in which he was asked to play a father to Cirroc Lofton, and Afterimage affords him the chance to play a father figure to another member of the regular cast.

Worf has pressing matters to deal with.

More than that, there is a sense that Sisko’s behaviour towards Garak is very much in keeping with how the sixth and seventh seasons have approached his character. When Garak suffers from a claustrophobic attack, it impedes his ability to decode Cardassian messages for Starfleet Intelligence. While Sisko has some measure of compassion for Garak, he also has much greater concerns. Sisko clearly wants Garak to recover, but he needs Garak to keep decoding those military transmissions.

“I’m afraid I won’t be decoding any transmissions for a while,” Garak states. Sisko’s immediate response is to ask, “Can I tell them when to expect you back on the job?” When Garak excuses himself from the conversation, Sisko gets down to business with Bashir. “We can’t afford to lose Mister Garak right now. Is there anything you can do for him?” Later Sisko measures the success of Ezri’s counselling by reference to Garak’s utility. “Mister Garak has asked that the latest Cardassian transmissions be sent to the Infirmary. Well done.”

“Sure, on the outside, I’m smiling. Inside, I’m abetting political assassinations.”

There is something ominous in this, but consistent with how the final seasons of Deep Space Nine approach Sisko as a character. The Dominion War has taken its toll on Sisko, as demonstrated by episodes like A Time to Stand and Far Beyond the Stars. The crisis has forced Sisko to compromise himself, and to accept collateral damage in pursuit of the greater good. In the Pale Moonlight was a watershed moment for Sisko, the point at which he reconciled himself to the idea that everything has a price.

It is a very small part of the episode, but Sisko’s concern for Garak’s utility rather than for his mental health fits comfortably within this characterisation. Sisko is clearly increasingly comfortable thinking in strategic terms. He is clearly sensitive to the needs of an individual, but he is also focused on the strategic worth provided by this individual. This sense of pragmatism is suggested in Afterimage, but affirmed in his later conversation with Worf in Tacking Into the Wind.

Sisko knows how to deal with people who won’t play ball.

There is even something charming in the way that Afterimage plays up the relationship between Worf and O’Brien. Given their time on the Enterprise together, it makes sense that Worf and O’Brien would be able to talk to one another. It is also nice to see Afterimage explicitly acknowledge O’Brien’s hangover from Image in the Sand. On seeing the bottle, even Worf flinches. “Oh no. Not again.” O’Brien acknowledges, “Now, if you want to skip the drinking and get right down to the talking, I’m game.”

However, there is something charming in the idea that Worf can talk to O’Brien about the weirdness of his situation. “It doesn’t make sense,” Worf protests. “She is not Jadzia, yet she is. How can I honour the memory of the woman I loved when she is not really dead?” It’s certainly the kind of existential dilemma that tends to face characters on Deep Space Nine. More than that, it makes sense for Worf to ask these questions of O’Brien. Nobody knows the existential horror of living in the Star Trek universe quite as acutely as Miles Edward O’Brien.

“Keiko doesn’t like it when I drink this alone.”

The relationship between Ezri and Worf is also very compelling, if only because it feels so organic. Worf has never been the most emotionally mature character, and he has often seemed like a bit of a jerk. Occasionally, the writers would push this aspect of Worf’s personality too far, leading to disasters like Let He Who Is Without Sin… However, his refusal to even acknowledge Ezri and his aggression toward Bashir and Quark feel entirely in-character. Worf has never dealt with emotion in a particularly graceful fashion, and this occasion is no different.

However, the most central character dynamic in Afterimage is the relationship between Ezri and Garak. Early in the episode, Bashir notices that Garak feels increasingly uncomfortable with crowds. Only a few scenes later, Garak suffers from a claustrophobic attack in his own shop. Garak seems to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and the stakes are high. Sisko needs those decoded messages, while Garak has literally nowhere else to go. So Ezri has to step into the breach, solve Garak’s problem and save the day.

The blades are already out for Ezri.

This brings up another interesting aspect of Ezri. While Jadzia was a science-officer, Ezri is a counsellor. This is an interesting creative choice on a number of different levels. Most obviously, many of the writers on Deep Space Nine had worked on The Next Generation, and had struggled to write compelling stories based around Counsellor Deanna Troi. More than that, the writers on Deep Space Nine had seemed mock the idea of professional counsellors in episodes like Hard Time and The Sound of Her Voice.

To be fair, some of these criticisms were very on-point. With The Next Generation, Gene Roddenberry imagined a ship full of well-adjusted people on a mission of cosmic exploration. There was never enough for a counsellor to do to justify having one sitting in on staff briefings for twenty-six episodes in a season. It is tempting to look at the original character concept of Deanna Troi as one rooted in the aesthetics of California in the mid-eighties, the same sort of attitude that would later inform Michael Piller’s New Age fascination.

Wise counsel.

Nicole de Boer acknowledged this frustration in an interview with Starlog, discussing Ezri’s status as a counsellor:

“It was not the old style of Deanna Troi,” she continues. “I used to watch The Next Generation all the time, and sometimes I would find myself nodding off a little bit in the counselling scenes. They could get a little boring. I like Ezri’s approach. And yes, she’s a bit young and sometimes she might not seem like the best counsellor in the world. She is young, and she sometimes has more of an unorthodox way of counselling but, in the end, her way achieves good results. When she was with Garak [Andrew Robinson] in Afterimage, it might have seemed like she didn’t know what she was doing, but I think she did. She was just trying to make the other person realise things for himself.”

De Boer is not alone in expressing her frustration with how The Next Generation handled Deanna Troi.

The Way of the Worfier.

However, there is a much greater justification for casting a counsellor on the seventh season of Deep Space Nine. Compared to the other Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine always felt like the island of misfit toys. It is a remote station populated by exiles and failures. More to the point, the storytelling on Deep Space Nine tends to focus on the incredible trauma that various characters have received, how deeply and fundamentally screwed up they are. The universe is a cruel place, and the characters on Deep Space Nine tend to experience that first hand.

More than that, the Dominion War has taken quite a toll on these characters and on their well-being. Deep Space Nine has been very careful to ensure that it does not glamourise or romanticise warfare, and so it makes sense to explicitly acknowledge that it can inflict wounds that are psychological as well as physical. While the Enterprise never seemed like it needed a full-time counsellor, it is surprising that Deep Space Nine has lasted this long without a prominent character in that role.

The more things change…

However, this draws attention to the biggest problem with Afterimage. For all that the episode is about Ezri trying to counsel Garak, it ultimately feels like Ezri is a terrible counsellor. She spends more time talking about ehrself than talking about Garak, often relating his general issue back to her specific neurosis. “He punished me when I misbehaved,” Garak reflects. “What father wouldn’t?” Ezri responds, “My second host. He could not bring himself to discipline his children, no matter what they did. But that’s another story.”

Indeed, at one point Ezri thinks that she has cured Garak because she has talked through her own psychological issues. “You blame yourself,” Ezri assures Garak early in the episode. “Just like I blame myself for that shuttle accident. Maybe you get claustrophobic for the same reason that I get spacesick. We’re both punishing ourselves for things that weren’t our fault. That’s it. Don’t you see? We both have to let go of all this misplaced guilt.” They both feel better, but Garak promptly has another breakdown.

“Look, it could be worse. I could be billing you by the hour for this.”

There is a clever dramatic irony here, in that Ezri is entirely correct. Garak’s claustrophobic attacks are motivated by a sense of misplaced guilt, although not the specific example upon which she fixated. Had Ezri been paying a bit more attention, had Ezri been willing to look outside herself rather than to her own situation, then she might have been able to correctly diagnose the problem and begin an effective treatment. Instead, she seems to make Garak’s problem even worse. He even tries to flush himself out an airlock.

To be fair, the script does acknowledge this concern in dialogue. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but it sounds to me as if you’re the one that needs to see a counsellor,” Garak remarks. Ezri agrees, “You’re probably right. But I didn’t come here to talk about myself, I came to talk about you.” Garak concurs. “So you did.” However, Afterimage acknowledges the issue, but only draws the audience’s attention to an issue that it never quite resolves. Afterimage has some self-awareness, but not enough self-awareness to fix the problem.

Garak is in-console-able…

This issue is baked into the premise. Afterimage is a story about counselling that is also about the counsellor. It is impossible to reconcile these two aspects of the story, to treat Ezri as the focus point of the episode while also showcasing her professional role on the station. Put simply, this is the wrong way to tell a story about Ezri, because it shifts focus away from the character most in need of empathy and compassion. It is a problem that also tends to affect Star Trek episodes focusing on medical officers, such as Melora and Chrysalis.

An effective counsellor has to be able to sit outside themselves and to focus completely on the needs of their patient. While complete objectivity is impossible, there has to be some professional distance. Afterimage makes Ezri look incompetent, irresponsible and self-centred. It cannot be an episode about Garak receiving counselling at the same time that it is an episode about Ezri coming to terms with who she is. The fact that Ezri even considers taking on Garak as a patient makers her seem reckless.

Attack of conscience.

At the same time, the focus on Garak is interesting. It feels like a logical development for the character. Garak has been a fixture of the show since Past Prologue, and has allowed himself to become increased embroiled with Starfleet. Despite his skepticism about the organisation in The Way of the Warrior, he threw his lot in with the Federation at the end of Call to Arms. Garak has served on key Starfleet missions in episodes like A Time to Stand, Sacrifice of Angels and Tears of the Prophets, to the point that he frequently wears a Starfleet communicator.

Like most of the other characters on Deep Space Nine, Garak is effectively an outcast. He has no home beyond the station. “I have to get this situation under control,” he explains to Ezri. “If I don’t, I’m going to be forced to leave the station, and then where will I go? I can’t go back to Cardassia. I doubt if I’d be welcome on Bajor.” One of the more interesting arcs on Deep Space Nine has explored how living on the station affects characters like Quark and like Garak, despite their cynicism.

Dangling plot threads.

Garak is still ruthless and calculating, as his interactions with Sisko in In the Pale Moonlight and with Ezri in Afterimage demonstrate. Garak still understands how to manipulate people, practicing the art of lying with Worf in In Purgatory’s Shadow. Garak very clearly wants to go home, even though he knows he can’t, as demonstrated by his betrayal of the dissidents in Profit and Loss and his embrace of Enabrain Tain in Improbable Cause. Much like Quark wants to believe he is a loyal Ferengi, Garak wants to believe that he is a good Cardassian.

However, time seems to have taken its toll on Garak. In The Die is Cast, Garak discovers that he lacks the stomach to torture Odo and confesses that he has actually warmed to the life of a simple tailor. In Rocks and Shoals, Garak is outed by the Dominion because he forgot to remove his comm badge while exploring the surroundings. Garak puts on a brave face, but the truth is that he has been corrupted by Federation values, that his exposure to Starfleet has softened him in some respects.

Garak’s looking for a way out.

This is the root of his crisis of conscience in Afterimage, his anxiety over the realisation that he is unequivocally a traitor to the Cardassian Union. “By helping to end the war, you’ll be saving lives,” Ezris insists. Garak is having none of it. “Saving lives?” he taunts. “And what lives would I be saving? Human? Klingon? Romulan?” Ezri pretty quickly realises what is eating Garak. She adds, “And Cardassian.” Garak might be emotional, but he is sharp enough to see through her well-meaning interjection.

“No,” he clarifies, “not Cardassians. They’re going to fight to the bitter end. The Dominion will see to that. Don’t you understand? Don’t you see? I wanted to believe that I was helping my people, liberating them, but all I’ve done is to pave the way for their annihilation. I’m a traitor! I’ve betrayed everything.” In some ways, this represents the end of Garak’s arc, the moment at which he finally makes peace with the idea that he is not a “true” Cardassian. It is perhaps the first true conclusion of the seventh season.

Me’s a crowd.

When Garak accompanies Kira to Cardassia in When It Rains…, he is travelling as an emissary between two worlds. Garak already understands what Damar has to learn, that their idealised nationalistic vision of Cardassia is dead, and that something new needs to rise from the ashes. Garak is in many ways the embodiment of the multicultural idealism threaded through Deep Space Nine, an expression of the belief that exposure to new cultures and to new perspectives can make a person better or wiser. Afterimage just forces Garak to acknowledge his journey.

Afterimage is a fascinating character piece, as much as it is a clumsy story. It is a great introduction to Ezri as an addition to the ensemble, even if it feels like a poor introduction to her profession on the station. Afterimage is not the most elegant of narratives, even as it is the most essential of episodes.

11 Responses

  1. I am also a fan of Ezri Dax. I agree with your analysis at how remarkably well the writers did at inserting a new main character into the show’s seventh and final season. Nicole de Boer did nice work portraying the character, as well.

    Like yourself, watching Ezri’s adjustment to becoming the new host of the Dax symbiont reminded me of the Doctor regenerating. I also noticed the progression in the relationship between Sisko and Dax… Curzon was a mentor to Sisko, Jadzia and Sisko were friends, and not Sisko is a mentor to Ezri. I wish we could have seen more of that last one, of Sisko taking Ezri under his wing, but there was already a ton of other stuff that had to be focused on over the course of the season.

    In regards to Ezri being a terrible councilor, a major part of the problem is that it is a profession that simply does not lend itself well to dramatic television. In real life psychotherapy takes months or years. If DS9 had tried to take that more realistic route, it would have meant that Garrick would have ended up going for weekly sessions with Ezri for the entire season before either of them was able to discover the root of his claustrophobia. Obviously that would not have been at all exciting, so instead we have Ezri’s eureka moment as she suddenly uncovers the cause of Garrick’s attacks.

    • Definitely. Like, I can see why Ezri being a counsellor makes sense. And it’s obvious that the third episode of the season needs to be about Ezri. And I can see how combining the two is a logical choice given the space constraints under which the season is operating. And I certainly don’t think it’s a bad episode by any measure.

      After all, the most compelling portrayal of psychiatry in popular culture is probably The Sopranos, and even that feels melodramatic at times. However, The Sopranos is a show about Tony with Melfi as a secondary character. Had the show been about Melfi with Tony as a secondary character, it seems unlikely that the dynamics would have allowed Melfi to be so competent.

  2. I have 2 friends whose favorite DS9 character is Ezri, which I think speaks to how effectively the team was able to insert her character into the end of the series (or perhaps it says more about how cute she was).

    I think Ezri plays a useful role as the ‘relate-able to the viewer’ type of character, much like O’Brien. I don’t think her actual episodes were really stand-outs but she fit well into the ensemble cast, unlike Pulaski on TNG for example. In a sense, it’s a good thing that she managed to fit in without overshadowing many of the mainstays like Seven of Nine did on Voyager.

    • Interesting. I don’t think she’d be my favourite, but I do think she’s a great character. (Indeed, the DS9 ensemble is the only Star Trek ensemble that feels completely characterised and rounded. That they did so much with Ezri in the final season is a testament to that.)

  3. I’m a big Ezri fan and I’m honestly sorry we only got one season of her (and I say this as someone who had… okay still has a crush on Terry Farrell.) Nicole de Boer is very good in the role. I even like her relationship with Bashir, though I do think the feelings should have come from Ezri’s side first and Bashir should have been the one having difficulty seeing past his platonic deceased friend.

    One of the aspects I love is that Ezri being so different retroactively makes Jadzia feel more of her own character rather than a generic host for the Dax symbiote.

    While I liked Jadzia I do agree with the idea that Ezri is a more relatable sort of character who in some ways feels better suited to the misfit nature of DS9 than the polymath warrioress supermodel.

    • Yeah, I don’t want to sound too harsh on Jadzia, even if I think that she was probably the weakest character and performer in the ensemble. The Deep Space Nine ensemble was just fantastic, and pound-for-pound the most interesting and talented in the Star Trek canon. (TNG is perhaps the most lovable, although I like the reboot cast a lot. TOS is the most iconic, of course.)

  4. The moment when Ezri cried in the temple was very powerful – especially considering that it is one of very few incidents where people cry in Star Trek. And what I found remarkable was that even after 1.05 episodes Ezri feels like a full character. She reminds me a lot of Tilly on “Discovery”, though in a natural and believable way. Ezri is no nerd, her situation has clear causes that matter. By the way, I always wondered what would have happened if they did not substitute Jadzia’s open place. In retrospect Ezri would have been missed a lot. She brought a very refreshing and fitting character dynamic into the series. and of course, as you mention, the gender imbalance would have been noticable.

    I have one objection to your review – besides the criticism of Jadzia/Farrell, who had become much more interesting and better played character from season 4 onwards (thanks to Worf maybe).
    You write that “An effective counsellor has to be able to sit outside themselves and to focus completely on the needs of their patient.” I guess that is true, but as you say impossible. And what I found fascinating about this episode is that it is exactly Ezri’s insecurity and her way to work through this that allows for Garak to open to her (even without him realizing it). In psychoanalysis, as far as I understand, there is always the patient’s projection of his symptoms on the “shrink” – but also and necessarily the other way around.

    One thing that bothered me though was (again, not the first time on Star Trek) the handling of patient confidentiality. Everyone seemed to have a say in Garak and Sisko more or less openly risked Garak’s well-being for more encyrption. It seemed very cynical and unsensitive in the way it was presented, even though the motivation is understandable and justified. And I wonder why Julian did not get more to do with respect to Garak (maybe teamed up with Ezri) – he is the closest thing to a friend Garak has.

    Still a very good episode and proof that bootle shows can be great.

    • To be fair to Farrell, she would be at least mid-tier on any other Star Trek series, and you’re right that she does get a lot stronger around season three and season four. I suspect that’s in large part because the writers begin to understand Farrell’s strengths as a performer don’t lie in playing an old soul in a young body, but instead playing the life of the party. Farrell is very good at the sort of smaller scenes that the series starts giving her more regularly in the third and fourth seasons; thinking of her scene with the Jem’Hadar in To The Death or even her flirtation with Worf in The Way of the Warrior. (“You kicked Lancelot!” is one of the comedic highlights of the franchise.)

  5. I have to disagree with this review. I don’t like Ezri and I don’t understand her character’s arc at all. She’s an untrained trill who never wanted to be joined, she’s too young to have many experiences (the point is the host to enrich the symbiont with their knowledge not only the opposite and I doubt she’s even a good councel after she said to Julian that Jadzia would choose him if it wasn’t for Worf) so after she’s joined with Dax she’s confused as expected and my question is what is she doining on DS9, a place where Jadzia lived and worked, her husband lives, her friends live? How that will help her find herself? She should be on Trill getting some training or guidance from other joined trills, not take over Jadzia’s life and friendships. Granted the writing on trills and the reassociation rule is inconsistent but at least Jadzia was friends only with Ben from a previous life. Ezri inherited all her DS9 friendships from Jadzia. Ezri would work better as a recurring character. Ben meets her in season 7 opening, then she goes on trill or a quest anywhere to find out who she has become and then Worf and Sisco visit her for some reason and she and Worf resolve their issues. The rest of her character arc was pointless and especially her relationship with Bashir which ruins Bashir’s character’s as well.

    • I think Ezri’s arc is pretty much the only reason to have a Trill character as a regular on a show like this. The idea of passing knowledge from one host to another is a narrative/thematic Chekov’s Gun, and I think that pulling that trigger with Ezri was the best use of the concept of Dax across the entire run of Deep Space Nine. We’ve been told that hosts carry the memories of their past selves around, and there have been a handful of episodes built around that idea like Blood Oath or Equilibrium or Facets, but it would have been disappointing for Deep Space Nine to go off the air without telling the most interesting story of all using that premise: what is it like to transition from one host to another, both for the host and for the people around them?

      Being honest, they probably should have started with Ezri rather than Jadzia. Jadzia was – like Bashir – a problem character for the series in its early years because she started out with her primary character arc complete. Also because it took the writers a while to figure out Terry Farrell’s strengths were her passion and energy rather than awkward stoicism.

      Plus, I think Nicole deBoer is great in the role; vulnerable and smart, sincere and awkward, a person who has all this experience but without any real grounding for it.

      • I don’t disagree that the transformation from host to host is perhaps an interest story (not to me but to many) and maybe that should have been the early Jadzia’s story. What I disagree is that a newly joined and confused Ezri came to the station where Jadzia’s husband and all her friends lived. She had no place being there from a story point of view. Continuing the life of a previous host wouldn’t help either the new host nor the symbiont to move on and that is the whole point of joining. The transformation story came too late and at the expense of the characters. A couple of episodes in s7 showing what you say would be enough, even better if Ezri wasn’t a starfleet officer and so similar to Jadzia, white, dark hair, blue eyes, woman etc. By the end of the season she was Jadzia 2.0, she was even paired with Jadzia’s number 2 by her words.

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