I’ve gone into some detail about my problems with the Dax character. Fundamentally, it comes down to this: the writers are far more interested in the Dax side of the equation than the Jadzia side. Understandable, as the symbiont is over 300 years old, while Jadzia is in her twenties. There’s more history to be drawn from the worm, especially since Sisko had such a close relationship with the previous incarnation. Yet that character, Curzon, is part of the trouble. He’s so much cooler than Jadzia, it makes you wish they had just cast the old man instead.
This episode at least removes Curzon from the picture. He’s never that far away, since both Jadzia and Sisko will reminisce about him at the drop of a hat. Any hat. (One TNG fan caught that reference and wants to high five me right now.) It isn’t Dax dealing with one of Curzon’s dalliances, as she did in Season One’s “Dax,” or Curzon’s vows, as she did in Season Two’s “Blood Oath,” or even Curzon’s way of doing things in Season Two’s “Playing God.” Here, Curzon is confined to a couple mentions as the hour probes the larger history of the Dax symbiont. There’s a lot of interesting stuff there, as Dax is actually older than the Federation itself and probably remembers when the Trill were brought in. Sadly, we never get the first-person perspective on this moment in history. Although, because this is me, I’d hope she was a crazy isolationist who’s terrified that the Vulcans will take Trill jobs.
Sisko is having a dinner party for his crew when the episode begins. Star Trek loves these little moments that humanize their authority-figure protagonists. Some captains need them more than others. Picard was at his best when he was allowed to loosen up a bit, while Archer was already a teddy bear and any attempt to humanize him just made him look weak. Then again, Enterprise was terrible. Sorry, Enterprise fan. Anyway, this is one of Sisko’s hobbies: cooking. He learned at his father’s restaurant in New Orleans. We’ll get there, don’t worry. Other than the purpose of the scene, it’s notable mostly for Odo’s sad attempts to whip a soufflé, and Kira’s comment that he looks cute doing it. This is the kind of thing that makes shippers, and in the early days of serialized TV, it was customary to assume it would come to nothing.
The point of the scene is that Dax is acting weird. Just after revealing none of the hosts had any musical talent, she starts playing a little tune on Jake’s keyboard and generally being snippy with everyone. Her temper over the next few days gets shorter and shorter, and she continues to hum the same few bars of music over and over. Eventually, it turns into a full-on hallucination of a masked man. The producers hired a stage magician, and even wrote the sequence around his act. It’s built around the idea that he removes one mask, only to reveal another, and so forth and so on. It’s a cool effect and works well with the symbolism of the Trill experience.
Along with the hallucination, Dax’s levels of isoboramine levels are dropping like a stone. What’s isoboramine? I’m glad you asked, voice in my head. It’s a neurotransmitter unique to Trills that move thoughts between host and symbiont. If they drop too low, the symbiont will have to be removed, killing the host. Remember, symbionts are rare and incredibly long-lived, so they’re the valuable ones in the relationship. There’s only one solution here, and that’s a trip to the Trill homeworld.
It’s one of those episodes, where we learn about one of the crew through the lens of the culture. Jadzia is a bit of a celebrity, as she is the only Trill who ever successfully reapplied to the program after being washed out. The Symbiosis Commission is concerned for her health, but ultimately unhelpful. Sisko, Bashir, and Dax go into these caverns beneath the planet where the symbionts breed and strange, unjoined Trill called Guardians look after them. It really looks like they’re taking care of outdoor koi ponds that happen to be filled with nonfat milk. At first, the Guardian is helpful, chalking up the hallucinations to memories, but later, he clams up and seems actively terrified of probing further. When Jadzia falls into a coma, the Symbiosis Commission almost eagerly gets ready to remove the Dax symbiont altogether.
Sisko and Bashir aren’t having that. Thanks to some old-fashioned sleuthing, they uncover the fact that Dax had a host between Torias and Curzon, an unstable musician named Joran, who has been scrubbed from the records. Sisko correctly reasons that merely giving a symbiont to a poor host (who will supposedly reject the worm after only three to four days) isn’t enough to provoke this cover up. No, it’s the fact that Joran Dax existed comfortably for six months that’s the problem. See, Trill claim that only 0.1% of the population can be joined, which is why the application process is so rigorous. In fact, the number is closer to 50%. You might not be a math person, but that’s a big difference. The Symbiosis Commission has to hide this fact, or the symbionts will suddenly become commodities to be exploited. This culture is so alien, that the idea of an immortal slug inside of you is not only a good thing, it’s the best thing. I can’t even imagine it.
Anyway, Dax makes peace with the memories, and she’s okay. Only now she has Joran -- who killed a guy -- rolling around in her head. The episode doesn’t quite work, because as usual for a Dax episode, she spends half of it incapacitated in some way. That’s a running theme for the character: either she’s in a coma, or imprisoned, and it’s up to Sisko (and often Bashir) to save her bacon. While it’s certainly refreshing that there’s no element of romantic reward in there, it’s still unsatisfying as a showcase for a character.
What does work is the relationship between Dax and Bashir. He’s totally dropped the creeper act, and I could not be happier. He treats her as a friend and as a patient, and this is the kind of Starfleet doctor you want. There’s another pattern: Dax episodes having better character development for other people.
Next up: Kira’s complexion gets weird.