Sunday, April 17, 2011

2-17. Playing God

A close encounter in the wormhole.


A guest comes to the station: Arjin (Geoffrey Blake), a young Trill initiate who is to be mentored and evaluated by Dax. She will supervise him for two weeks, and make a recommendation as to whether or not Arjin is ready to serve as host to a symbiote. It's not an experience Arjin looks forward to: As Curzon, Dax was notorious for washing out initiates. Jadzia is just as nervous, because she was one of the initiates Curzon attempted to eliminate, and she is determined not to be as harsh as her predecessor.

While flying a routine mission through the wormhole, Dax and Arjin encounter an anomaly. When they bring it back to the station for study, they discover that it is a "proto-universe," a newly-born universe that is going to steadily expand into a full universe of its own. Initially, Sisko favors containing it so that it will collapse back into nothingness. But when Dax discovers evidence of life in the proto-universe, a new solution must be found. And it must be found quickly - before the proto-universe expands and, in so doing, destroys the station!


Commander Sisko: His friendship with Jadzia Dax has grown to a point at which he clearly trusts her as much as he did Curzon, albeit in a different way. It seems clear enough that Curzon, the "old man," was a mentor to him - a favor he seems to be repaying now to Jadzia, the young woman. When he sees Jadzia being too soft on her initiate, when confronting the young man's inadequacies would actually make him more likely to reach his potential, he speaks up. When Jadzia protests that Sisko doesn't know "what Curzon did to (her)," Sisko challenges her assumption that Curzon was her enemy, pointing out that she toughened up under Curzon's abuses and made it through a program where most initiates fail.

Dax: One thing I love about Deep Space 9 is that almost all the regulars are interesting. Dax has the built-in complexity of being essentially two distinct beings in one: Jadzia and Dax, with the line separating the two always interesting to explore. Here, we see Jadzia determined not to put her new initiate through the same hell through which Curzon put her. Jadzia bears a lot of lingering resentment toward Curzon, whose treatment was evidently not so much strict as downright abusive.

We also continue to see Jadzia's delight in unusual experiences, from her love of Klingon cuisine to her collection of lost composers. When she hears that O'Brien is trying to root out Cardassian voles on the station, she gets instantly excited, chirping that she's "never seen a Cardassian vole," and getting down on hands and knees to crawl into a duct for the pleasure of coming face-to-face with one. Jadzia's entire personality seems to be dominated by a near-obsession with experiencing as much of life as she can.

Quark: Seeing a downcast Arjin trying his hand at drowning his sorrows, Quark shows his compassionate side and asks the young man to tell him what's wrong. When Arjin says he believes he's thrown his chance at becoming a joined Trill away for a pointless outburst at Jadzia, Quark "reassures" him by telling him about his own past indiscretion, which cost him a lucrative future. When asked how he recovered, Quark responds that he never did. He's now "tending bar at Wormhole Central," he tells Arjin, adding that "You only get one chance at the Latinum Ladder. Miss it, and it's gone." What really makes this anti-pep talk funny is Armin Shimerman's delivery. This isn't Quark being snide - This is Quark genuinely trying to be helpful, without even the tiniest awareness that he's actually making the young man feel much, much worse.


Playing God is an entertaining episode, which gets a lot of mileage out of Terry Farrell's energetic performance as Dax. The identity issues surrounding such a composite character add extra levels to her character, which lends the episode more interest than it otherwise might have. It's also well-paced, with a scattering of genuinely amusing scenes, notably the one with Quark giving his reverse pep-talk to the hapless Arjin.

For all its virtues, there are two problems limiting this episode's success. One is minor bit of sloppiness. The subplot with the Cardassian voles is clearly there to provide an excuse for the release of the "proto-universe." Fair enough, and the voles are a passable way to show the ongoing issues with inheriting a space station from the Cardassians. But once they've fulfilled their role in the plot, they vanish - never to be mentioned again. There's no indication that the voles will be a continuing issue for O'Brien, and no indication that the problem's been solved. Having done their job as a plot device, they are just forgotten about. A minor annoyance, but still an annoyance.

A bigger problem is the acting of Geoffrey Blake as Arjin. His wooden performance fails to convince at any point in the episode. This is particularly true of the climax, in which Dax and Arjin pilot a runabout through the wormhole and have to avoid nodes (think a videogame level and you'd not be too far off). The scene has some rather nice-for-the-time CGI, and Terry Farrell is good throughout. But Blake remains wooden in a climax that largely focuses on his struggle to pilot the ship through what is effectively a minefield. Because he doesn't show the emotion, it all comes off much flatter than it would have with a stronger actor.

Lest I come across as too harsh, let me restate that this is entertaining. It's briskly-paced, with a terrific performance by Terry Farrell. It's a perfectly adequate script, minus the sloppiness with the voles. But a weak guest performance and a general contentment of the episode to be average when it certainly could have been better combine to keep this as just OK, and highly expendable.

Overall Rating: 5/10.

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