Saturday, September 25, 2010

1-8. Dax


When Dax is the target of an attempted kidnapping, Sisko, Odo, and the Ops crew pull out all the stops to prevent the kidnappers from getting her off the station. They only barely succeed. But as Sisko prepares for a hostage situation, he is thrown a sudden curveball. Ilon Tandro (Gregory Itzin), the leader of the kidnappers, hands Sisko an extradition order. Dax is wanted on his home planet, to face charges of treason and murder from 30 years ago.

Sisko is determined to protect his old friend. But when he asks Dax what is going on, she refuses to even speak about the charges. Sisko goes into crisis mode, arranging for a Bajoran extradition hearing to stall Tandro while dispatching Odo to investigate the original crime. He skillfully arguest hat the charges - directed against the now dead Curzon Dax - have no validity against Jadzia, who is an entirely different person. But with Tandro prepared for that line of attack, it becomes clear that if Dax will not speak in her own defense, then the entire proceedings are just a stall whose conclusion will be inevitable...


Commander Sisko: One of Sisko's better episodes, in that this episode actually seems to be making an effort to write for Sisko as an independent character, rather than simply as a generic commander. Sisko's temper is specifically referenced in the script, tying in with the many flares of temper we have seen in previous episodes. Sisko's friendship with the earlier Dax is also further explored. We get a glimpse of just how much Dax was to Sisko - not just a mentor, but practically a second father to him. We also see that Sisko is still not absolutely sure of his friendship with this new Dax, though that friendship gets further cemented in a lovely scene between the two characters about 2/3 of the way in.

Dax: The series' first Dax-centric episode, and also Terry Farrell's best performance in the series thus far. There really aren't any of the clunky line readings that have marred some of her earlier performances. She is particularly good in her scenes with Avery Brooks. A scene in which Sisko tries to badger Dax into telling all, and Dax deflects him by recalling moments from their earlier friendship, is perfectly played by Farrell. There's this lovely, half-haunted tone in her voice as she recalls trying on a ring as Jadzia that had played a part in a moment in their friendship as Curzon, only to find that the ring slid "right off" her finger.

From the very first episode, the consistent strength of Farrell's performance has been her nonverbal acting, which is capitalized on here. There are a lot of scenes where Dax doesn't speak, but simply sits and occasionally reacts. Farrell plays these nonverbal beats beautifully, whether in a movement of her eyes or a quick expression that flicks across her face, or even in a moment in which she carefully shows no expression. It's a very good performance matched by strong writing, which together take a character who was already promising and turn her into a character who this viewer now wants to see much more of.

Odo: Unlike Sisko, he does not automatically assume Dax's innocence. He almost seems to be working from the opposite assumption - that Dax's silence probably points to guilt. He does act to secure Dax's position until after the hearing by using just the right mix of duress and finesse to get Quark to give up his bar so that the hearing can be held on-station. When he goes to investigate the original crime, he is both thorough and tenacious, perfectly willing to pursue a lead that might implicate Dax (the very same lead that ultimately exonerates her).

Dr. Bashir: In what has been sadly typical form for the character, he starts out the episode sexually harrassing (for comedy relief) a mercifully oblivious Dax. When he observes her being kidnapped, he leaps into action... getting himself promptly knocked out, when taking 5 seconds to contact Ops (as he does when he comes around) before leaping into the fray would have been immeasurably more helpful. Then again, had he behaved sensibly, the entire "exciting first Act" could not have happened.

As has also been typical, both actor and character fare much better when treated more seriously. The Julian Bashir who testifies on Dax's behalf only to be trapped by the opposition is a very well-played character.  In this scene, he is knowledgeable but honest, even when he would wish not to be. I would like to see more of that Bashir, and less of the sex-starved, bumbling idiot from the teaser.


This is the obligatory courtroom episode. Every Trek series gives us one or two of these. TOS had Court Martial and The Menagerie in the first season alone; Enterprise offered up Judgment (and, arguably, Stigma) in its second season. TNG certainly had its share of courtroom episodes, too. It's a standard device. Of course, it's standard for a reason - the strict structural guidelines of courtroom drama tend to make for an at least entertaining episode.

But Dax is better than most of the titles I've mentioned (it's not better than The Menagerie, but that would be asking too much). The script, co-written by Trek favorite D. C. Fontana, uses the courtroom structure both to tell a solid standalone story and to develop two of the series' main characters. The standalone story works, with the revelation at the end a suitable sting with which to close out the piece. It moves along nicely, and is well-structured. It's... at the very least awfully convenient that Odo can reach the planet on which the crime took place and return with a witness all within the relatively short time in which the hearing lasts. But it works dramatically, with the backstory parcelled out at a sufficient pace that we have a reasonable picture of this past civil war by the end.

If it simply worked on that plot level, this would be a pretty good episode. But where it really impresses is as a character piece. D. C. Fontana's TOS episodes always stood out to me as ones that were very good at revealing character. This script offers some excellent character development for Sisko and Jadzia both. It also advances what we know about the Trill society. The quiet scenes between these two characters show us the friendship that previous episodes have largely been content just to talk about, and also underline the fragility of that friendship as Sisko tries to form a bond with this new Dax. The courtroom scenes provide an ideal setting to deliver exposition about the relationship between the Trill and the host, and about Jadzia's pre-Trill background, in such a way that it doesn't come across as exposition. Indeed, for a large portion of the episode, that exposition is Sisko's defense. We come out having learned a lot about these characters, a lot more about the Trill, and the information is given in a way that feels dramatic because it is part of the conflict of the story.

Overall, this might be the best Deep Space 9 episode yet. More to the point, by making a couple of the main characters feel more convincing and three-dimensional than they have before this point, this episode does an important job of laying groundwork for even better and more dramatic stories in the future.

Rating: 8/10.

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1 comment:

  1. This was an excellent episode where we get to know a little more about the Trill in general and a lot more about Dax in particular - at least the qualities that Sisko finds so admirable - loyalty, compassion, trust. We find that those characteristics aren't limited to her relationship with Sisko, but also went with other relationships Dax had in different hosts. I find myself liking Dax more and more all the time.

    You called Jadzia "mercifully oblivious" to Bashir's advances, but I don't think she's oblivious at all. She sees the passes and deflects them with humor and warmth, all without hurting Bashir's feelings. I would have gotten frustrated and snapped at him, but she never does, and I like the character (and the acting) even more for doing that.

    Familiar faces: It was a little interesting to see several guest stars that had appeared in NextGen episodes: The arbiter played by Anne Haney was also Rishon Uxbridge in the NextGen episode "Survivors". The General's wife played by Fionnula Flanagan was also Data's mother in "Inheritance". The other Trill that testified, played by Richard Lineback, was a drug addict in "Symbiosis".

    It's always fun to see familiar faces and try to place them.