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The Future Will Be Carpeted: An Analysis of ‘Deep Space Nine (S7E3)’

“It’s a strange sensation, dying. No matter how many times it happens, you never get used to it.”
    -- Ensign Ezri Dax

Characters in ensemble dramas need episodes focused around them to establish who they are, what they want, and where they came from. There’s a tradition in shows like DS9 to have one member of the ensemble act as the protagonist of the hour, with the rest of the cast taking the role of foils or even antagonists. After introducing Ezri Dax, they couldn’t just sneak her onto the show and pretend she’d been there the whole time. No, she was going to need that spotlight.

The writers knew this. It was the final season, and they were pretty much out of time to establish much of anything. If Ezri was going to get any arcs, she was going to need them right the hell now. Sooner, if possible. So, they once again made the best of a bad situation and used the third episode of the season to get to know who this Ezri person is and how she fits in with the crew.

There’s a tendency for writers to assign whichever gender they’re most attracted to the unenviable quality of being a love interest and little else. This is a long-winded way of saying that since most writers' rooms are populated almost exclusively by heterosexual men, introducing female characters onto a show starts looking a bit like feeding time at a shark tank. And sure enough, that’s partially the fate of Ezri. Both Bashir and Quark look at this as another shot at Jadzia (which is gross and dehumanizing -- detrillanizing? -- for the newly-joined Ezri), while Worf is wracked with confusion and jealousy.

Worf’s feelings are a little more sympathetic. He just took on a nearly suicidal mission to ensure his beloved wife would have a place in the afterlife. Ezri’s presence underlines the fact that while Jadzia is dead, Dax is very much alive. There is a piece of his bride inside of Ezri. How can Jadzia Dax be in Sto-vo-kor when fully half of her is still walking the corporeal realm? This is where religion smacks right up against empirical fact for Worf. These two things can never coexist completely comfortably. At some point, they will contradict one another, and that is where you make the decision over which takes precedent. Worf, convinced by his confidante Chief O’Brien, takes the humanist route by acting in accordance to what he believes Jadzia would have wanted, and (after being a raging jerkass for most of the hour) welcoming Ezri, but maintaining his completely understandable need for some distance from her.

Oddly enough, of all the men on the station, it’s the Siskos who have the best reaction to Ezri. Jake thinks she’s cute -- and let’s be honest, Ezri looks age-, if not height-appropriate for the young man -- but his father remarks that she’s also 300 years too old for the lad. As for Ben, he’s taken to the young ensign. Avery Brooks has more chemistry with Nicole de Boer than he did with Terry Farrell, or it’s possible Farrell’s more serene and aloof Dax never brought out Brooks’ more playful side. In his scenes talking Ezri through her problems, there are glimpses of what could have been, and they’re a delight. He’s more like a father and mentor to Ezri, much like Curzon was to him, and even uses one of Curzon’s old tricks to point her in the right direction.

Ezri, as an assistant counselor, also has to fit into the new crew professionally. For many years, I absolutely hated the idea of a ship’s counselor. It felt like the worst aspects of the touchy-feely revolution, although that’s likely because I was raised by a shrink. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate not just the logic, but necessity of the position. If there’s someone devoted to the crew’s physical health, it would make sense to have someone to look after the mental and emotional. My only lingering objection is to have the counselor on the bridge in one of the important seats. That’s just silly. The ship’s doctor has sickbay, and the counselor should have the same. You want someone next to the captain of an exploratory or diplomatic vessel, a diplomatic officer or linguist makes a lot more sense.

There has recently been a strong push to destigmatize mental illness, essentially treating it as the equivalent of a physical ailment. The logic goes that you don’t expect someone with a broken ankle to run a marathon, so why expect the same of someone with depression? DS9 was, as usual, ahead of this curve, as well. When Garak, who has been doing vital work for Starfleet Intelligence by decoding Cardassian transmissions, is incapacitated with panic attacks stemming from his claustrophobia, no one on the crew treats this as any different from him being shot. The only difference is that Bashir openly acknowledges that he is unqualified to treat his old friend.

The task falls to Ezri who is only an assistant counselor. This is when Sisko starts with the peptalks, quite logically pointing out that there’s very little she’ll learn in her nearly complete training that she hasn’t already in 300 years of life. Unfortunately, the plot turns into one of those stories that, even when they’re done well (as it is here), I’m not really a fan of. One character has a mental breakdown, and then another character discovers the Rosetta Stone to the first character’s psyche and everything is okay again.

What saves this hour for me is the way it provides more insight into my favorite character in the series. Yes, once again, it’s Garak who proves the most interesting element of someone else’s episode. While Ezri’s approach to therapy involves her being vulnerable and quirky in her new joined state, she does uncover exactly what’s wrong with plain, simple Garak.

His claustrophobia comes from the way Tain used to discipline him as a child: by locking him in a cupboard. It’s interesting that Garak never once refers to Tain as anything but “my father.” While this is likely to avoid confusing new viewers, it signals a sense of acceptance from Garak. It also flies in the face of the family-first morality of the Cardassian culture. Remember, out-of-wedlock children could destroy the careers of powerful men (That was Dukat’s plan in season two’s “Cardassians,” and later his fate when he brought Ziyal home.), and Garak was the child of the head of the Obsidian Order and his housekeeper Mila. (Yes, it’s never actually said, but come on, we all know Mila’s Garak’s mom.)

Had the episode stopped with that revelation, I’d probably be calling it the worst of season seven. (That honor goes to another Ezri episode that I dislike for being an example of an overused trope, and worse than that, a bad example.) Instead, Garak continues to push Ezri away, ripping her apart verbally as only Garak can and even pushing her into handing Sisko her resignation from Starfleet. (Sisko, of course, never turns it in.) Eventually, when another attack hits, Garak comes clean about what’s really bothering him.

He’s a traitor. For years, living in exile, he was never guilty of what Tain believed. Garak has always been a proud Cardassian patriot. He holds up Cardassia’s art and literature as guiding lights for the galaxy at large. But Cardassia has been conquered by the Dominion in service to the ambition of lesser men like Dukat. Now, Garak has no choice. The Dominion has to be destroyed, but that’s going to cost Cardassian lives. Yes, his decoding is saving lives, but Garak points out that those lives belong to humans, Klingons, and Romulans. (The extra venom Andrew Robinson drips over “Romulans” is an excellent window into how Garak despises them since they helped get his father captured and killed.) He is helping kill his people with every transmission he decodes. He has become what Tain always thought he had been.

In essence, this moral quandary is a small place for Garak to be stuck in. This metaphorical tight fit was enough to spark his claustrophobia, rendering places like his shop, or Quark’s bar, intolerable. Garak has nothing anymore. The homeland he loved will never be the same. The one person who loved him truly -- Ziyal -- is dead. All that’s left is the job. And, maybe, vengeance against the Dominion.

As for Ezri, she and Garak reconcile. He is sweet to her in their final scene together, thanking her for helping him through his battle. He also reminds her that Sisko will be pleased, as well. The captain is, taking her on as DS9’s counselor (odd that they didn’t have one before now, but whatever) and getting her a commission to Lieutenant, junior grade. Ezri Dax has joined the crew.

For the final twenty-two episodes of the series.

Next up: It’s a nice day for some baseball.