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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: “Facets” / “The Adversary”

Illustration for article titled Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: “Facets” / “The Adversary”

“Facets” (season 3, episode 25; originally aired 6/12/1995)
In which Jadzia meets some ghosts of her former selves…

I’ve been disappointed with DS9 episodes before, but this must be the first time I felt let down because an entry was actually smarter than I was expecting. “Facets” works quite nicely as a character piece for Dax. It’s intimate and self-contained, and Jadzia remains at the center of the story even when things take a turn at the halfway point. Even more impressively, the writers set up an obvious twist, and then go in a completely different direction when it comes time for the plot to develop complications. And that’s where my disappointment comes in. As silly as it would have been for a Joran-infested Sisko to run around the station terrorizing everyone, I was expecting some variation of just that, and the fact that the hour’s creepiness is relegated to a single scene surprised me. The episode makes more sense the way it actually unfolds, and it gives us a chance to see Curzon Dax in the Odo-flesh, but there’s a small, childish part of me who wishes we could’ve had more time with the pseudo-Hannibal Lecter. Although, let’s be honest here: that probably would’ve been terrible.

That caveat out of the way (and I want to stress, I don’t mean the above as a criticism of the episode; just pointing out how easy it is to both demand innovation, and wincewhen that innovation threatens to do something actually original), “Facets” boils down to two plotlines. In the main story, Jadzia asks her closest friends on DS9 (the main ensemble, plus Leeta, who is adorable) to help her perform the Zhian’tara, a Trill ritual in which a host is briefly seperated from and allowed to “meet” the memories of her symbiote’s previous hosts. This boils down to each cast member getting a chance to pretend to be someone else for a scene or two, which is goofy and fun until the sociopath shows up. In the second story, Nog takes a entrance exam for a Starfleet Academy training program, and fails.

Both stories are about individuals trying to prove themselves against the apparent doubts of others. In Nog’s story, Quark is convinced Nog is working hard to make a fool of himself. Worse, he believes that if Nog does somehow succeed in becoming a Starfleet cadet, it will mean the end of conventional Ferengi society as it now stands. It’s been well established that Quark is a conservative of the old school, someone who passionately believes in doing things the way they’ve always been done. Nog is a clear threat to this, so while it’s undeniably cruel of Quark to sabotage the test program to ensure that Nog fails his evaluation, it makes sense. In Quark’s mind, he’s just doing what’s best for himself and his nephew, even if that breaks Nog’s heart. But then, this isn’t about Nog or Quark; the story is actually about Rom, who figures out Quark’s subterfuge impressively fast, and reads his brother the riot act to convince him to stay away from his son. Again: entirely in character. But it’s immensely satisfying all the same. It’s easy to become accustomed to characters falling into the same patterns of behavior, and Rom is always the weak one, the apologetic one, the sap. But while he isn’t about to run the bar on his own or start pulling in profit, he is very clear-headed when it comes to protecting his boy’s future, and it’s gratifying to see him turn the tables on Quark, if only for this topic.

Jadzia’s story is less simple. At first, the ceremony plays out as you’d expect. Kira takes on the memories and personality of Lela, Dax’s first host, an older woman who served in the government. Jadzia talks with her, learns a little about what this particular host has added to her own life, and then moves on to the next set of memories. Dax has always been one of the most difficult characters on the show to pin down, because the basic premise of her personality is beyond most of our comprehension. Odo changes shape, and there’s no way to understand the freedom of that, or how it’s defined who he is, but he’s still just a single soul. Dax is the samplings from a number of souls, shifted and then reformed into a single, temporary unit, and that’s hard to convey outside of prose. The Zhian’tara, then, is a way to make it easier to grasp exactly what all of this means. In a way, it’s a shame this couldn’t have happened earlier in the series. I’m not sure DS9 could’ve done the concept justice in the first season, and Joran and Curzon both needed some build up for their reveals to be effective, but it at least would’ve made Dax easier to relate to. It’s a bit like looking to your parents and your grandparents and the ancestors beyond, trying to find the pieces that made you; only Dax has these voices inside her head all the time.

Which is creepy, when you consider that means she’s got to deal with Joran 24/7. We first heard of Joran in “Equilibrium,” back when Dax discovered she had a secret host, an unstable murderer the Symbiosis Commission hushed up because of what his existence would reveal about their selection process. In “Facets,” he spends some time in Sisko’s body; as mentioned, this seems to set up an obvious story hook. Most other shows, if a crazy ghost is brought back to life, well, that’s not going to have a happy ending. (Those of you who’ve seen Angel know what I’m talking about—and yes, I realize that wasn’t a “ghost.”) But Jadzia takes precautions. Sisko-Joran is kept in a holding cell for most of their conversation, and what’s more, Sisko is in control of the situation at all times, like all the other temporary hosts. Joran may have some decent willpower, but he’s still just bad memories. Their conversation is unsettling and tense, and raises questions about Jadzia’s suitability as a host that will pay-off later in the episode. But when things go south, and Joran tries to get violent, Jadzia hands his ass to him, and Sisko pushes the memories aside. And that, barring some twist in another season, is that.


This is the right choice. Any circumstance in which Joran was allowed free reign would’ve been contrived, no matter how tempting it might be for the writers to attempt. Instead, the “threat” of the hour comes from the least likely source: Curzon. He merges with Odo, and instead of simply sharing his memories with the shapeshifter, Odo’s abilities lead to a bonding process in which Odo becomes a kind of makeshift Trill. What this means is, Odo’s make-up changes to make him look more like Curzon; and Rene Auberjonois gives a lively, laughing performance, a fine change of pace for a character actor whose role usual calls for intense restraint. It also means that when it comes time for Curzon to rejoin with Dax, he’s having so much fun that he refuses.

So that’s a problem, but it’s only really a problem for Jadzia. The Trill who ran the ceremony doesn’t object to Curzon staying inside Odo, and Odo isn’t trying to fight his way free. He likes the change in himself, which makes sense; of course Odo would like getting to be the charming, brash Curzon. Curzon fits in wherever he goes. But just because he makes Odo’s life temporarily more entertaining, that doesn’t mean he can stick around in the shapeshifter’s head. His memories are a part of the symbiote, a part of Dax. They aren’t Curzon at all, just a collection of his greatest hits, and they belong home.


It comes down to a question of Curzon’s relationship with Jadzia; why he failed her from the initiate program, and why he allowed her to be the first applicant in history to be re-accepted. He was in love with her, and his feelings made him uncomfortable, and that’s why he kicked her out. Then, realizing he’d made a mistake, and because he cared for her and didn’t want to destroy her, he let her back in. This isn’t bad, but it’s probably the least interesting revelation the episode could’ve delivered. There’s nothing wrong with the idea, exactly, but it tells us nothing about either Jadzia or Curzon. Jadzia is just a “beautiful, brilliant woman,” which is we already knew, and Curzon is a charismatic ladies man who finally met his match in his declining years. An older man falling for a younger woman is an old cliche—happens all the time, but that doesn’t make it a great story. The reveal serves its purpose; it gives Jadzia what she wants to know, and confessing it gives Curzon the push to finally leave Odo. But while the actors sell the exchange, there’s nothing in it quite so powerful as the final conversation between Dax and Odo. Odo apologies for his part in Curzon’s games, but Dax tells him there’s nothing to be sorry for. She’s grateful that, because of Curzon’s brief time as a changeling, she now has memories of what it’s like to be able to change forms. And ultimately, this is what “Facets” is about. Not chats with murderers or the discovery of a long lost crush. Just Dax, proving to herself that she’s earned the right to be a host by matching the only qualification that’s truly necessary: endless, boundless curiosity.

Stray observations:

  • Avery Brooks is excellent as Joran. His voice is just slightly higher pitched—it’s not a forced attempt to be effeminate, but the sound of someone who you hope doesn’t have access to sharp objects.
  • I like Leeta. Glad she’s sticking around.
  • Dax tricks Quark into taking on a female host. It’s funny mainly because Armin Shimerman really commits to the bit.
  • The make-up effect on Curzon-Odo is excellent. Manages to convey both Odo’s “real” face, and a sense of what Curzon must have looked like.
  • “A root beer. This is the end of Ferengi civilization.” -Quark

“The Adversary” (season 3, episode 26; originally aired 6/19/1995)
In which we meet the Enemy, and he is…


The unifying factor that has so far held together the different series in the Star Trek franchise is the belief that there’s an Us and a Them; the main goal of both the original series and Star Trek: The Next Generation was to work towards as making as many of Them into Us as was reasonably possible. It sounds exclusionary, and to a certain extent it is, but there’s also a fundamental optimism built into that concept which often gets overlooked. An Us implies unity, a group banding together with common interests and goals, and that means shelter through rough times. It means that even in the vast reaches of space, there’s still somewhere we can go home to, places of safety and security the fighting never reaches. Even in the greatest battles, when Earth was threatened and all that stood between civilization and the lifeless sterility of the Borg, at least there was an Earth for us to cling to. Starfleet, the Federation, were concepts inviolate, and regardless of the bureaucracy and occasional dangers, they represented humanity and its reach to the stars at its most pure. Ignore the implications of condescension or imperialism. This wasn’t about conquering. This was about cooperation, friendship, and discovery. A Them is just an Us you haven’t met.

Cracks in the facade have been showing for a while now, though. DS9 hasn’t given up the dream of the unity, but it has addressed the way the base metals of the individual often react in ways no one can predict. It used to be that just wanting to be friends was enough; now, though, there are conflicting allegiances, religions, philosophies. Communication helps, but it’s not a cure all, and situations arise in which there is no real right answer—in which the most two sides can hope to achieve is an uneasy compromise until the next great crisis. There’s no definitive protagonist on DS9, no single hero like Picard of TNG or the Kirk/Spock/McCoy trifecta of TOS. Sisko may get top billing, but he’s first among equals. All viewpoints are welcome, all are treated with equal respect. Hell, the mere fact that the writers worked to make the Ferengi more than just one-note jokes is practically a statement of purpose.


But all these different perspectives lead to new challenges, and in a way, that’s what the Founders represent. While they themselves are unified, their abilities to take on different forms, to become anyone or anything they like—that’s a different kind of threat. Where the Borg presented themselves as a single unit, one which could change its defenses and attacks as needed but which was always unrelentingly itself, the Founders are more, if you’ll pardon the word, fluid. When you accept that others have as much right to their beliefs and opinions as you do, you become a (hopefully) better person, but you also lose the ease of distinguishing right from wrong. Friends and enemies are no longer as separate as they once were; Us is Them, and Them is Us, to paraphrase a line from Pogo.

On the surface, “The Adversary” is a well-made, entertaining rip off of John Carpenter’s The Thing. The Thing is a terrific horror movie, one of Carpenter’s best, and if you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth a look. In Carpenter’s film (which is a remake of the ‘51 classic, The Thing From Another World; both movies take their inspiration from the John W. Campbell short story “Who Goes There?”), a group of men in a remote Antarctic research station face off against an alien which can mimic their forms exactly. This leads to a lot of paranoia, infighting, and a growing sense of horror at the implications of the threat. If they don’t defeat this creature now, if it makes it out of Antarctica and to more populated area, the human race is doomed. There will be no way to prevent it from absorbing every human being on the planet, at which point it can move on to devouring all remaining life at its leisure.


The stakes are high, is what I’m saying. It’s not quite as intense on the Defiant (at least, not at first); replacing the research station with a space ship means keeping the isolation, but losing the immediate danger of the threat spreading to the rest of the planet. Sure, if the Founder who cons his way aboard managed to keep his presence hidden for the entire trip, he could easily travel wherever he wanted to, but, well, that’s basically a moot point. We’ll get to why in a bit (boy will we), but for the purpose of this particular episode, the big threat is that the secret Founder, masquerading as an ambassador named Krajensky, will start a war between the Federation and a race called the Tzenkethi. At the start of the hour, just after Sisko gets his promotion from Commander to Captain (the former always sounded more imposing to me than the latter, but I’m not not charge), the fake Krajensky approaches Sisko with orders for a secret mission. The Tzenkethi government has been overthrown in a coup, and, supposedly, Starfleet wants to send a ship or two out to the sector to remind the folks who are now in charge of just who they’re friends are.

This all sounds reasonable enough to pass Sisko’s bs-detector, and it’s not until things start falling apart on the Defiant that he becomes concerned. Things get crazy fast, and it’s not long before Krajensky is discovered—but by then, the damage has been done. The ship is set at warp speed on a course to a Tzenkethir settlement; the weapons are armed; and Sisko realizes that if they don’t get a handle on the situation quickly, he’ll have to set off the self-destruct in order to prevent an inter-stellar incident.


This is where the Thing rip off kicks into gear. “The Adversary” never gets as intense or unsettling as the movie, since the effects aren’t anywhere near as creepy, and, more importantly, the characters aren’t already at odds with each other. There may be some unresolved tension between Sisko and Eddington (who, apparently, isn’t a Changeling after all, although he still gives me the creeps), but the main ensemble is a strong, centered bunch, so much so that in order to ramp up the infighting, the writers need to bring in some guest characters to glare at each other and throw out accusations. The real tension here is the growing sense that anybody could be anybody, and that everything has gotten out of control so quickly that there’s no way our heroes will be able to restore order in time. The direction adds to the uncertainty in subtle ways, focusing on actors for a beat or two longer than usual at the ends of scenes; even if Sisko appears in control, and none of the leads ever break into a panic, the audience is given more and more reason to suspect everyone.

The episode’s most blatant lift from Carpenter’s film is in stealing the movie’s signature scene: the blood test. In The Thing, Kurt Russell and company theorize that, given the creature’s nature, ever cell in it must be a distinct entity. Therefore, if a bit of its “blood” is injured—say, from a hot wire—it will try and protect itself. In “The Adversary,” they realize that Changelings, being liquid beings with no internal organs, have no blood. The resulting scene is nowhere near as scary as the movie version, partly because the Changeling isn’t a murderous, unspeakable monstrosity, and partly because they don’t use the slice-the-thumb method used in the film, which is a lot more visceral than Bashir’s through-the-uniform method. Alas, Sisko and the others make the classic newbie mistake and fail to begin the test by running it on the person getting the blood samples, which allows a fake Bashir to (briefly) frame Eddington, creating even more confusion.


Look, the specifics of the episode’s plot aren’t what’s important. Everybody runs around in crazy confusion until the end, when Odo saves the day just in time, war is averted, and the Changeling is killed. While “The Adversary” deals with the show’s ongoing Dominion arc, it initially appears self-contained. This isn’t a two-parter, and the fact that so much of the story is influenced by a movie makes it feel less ambitious, a solid double instead of a more ambitious swing for the fences.

Of course, the Founder’s death is important. As Odo explained to Eddington earlier in the hour (in the manner of one casually mentioning he only has a few days left until retirement), no Changeling has ever harmed another Changeling, but now Odo has gone and broken the rules. We’re not given a lot of time to process this, but I’m sure this will have ramifications down the line. After all this time wanting to go home, but choosing not to, Odo has seemingly exiled himself from his own kind forever, basically by accident.


Speaking of ramifications: the endgame of The Thing is, we die. The most optimistic interpretation of the final scene is that everyone who worked at the station is dead (or will soon die), and the creature has been either killed or sent back into the ice. But there’s no way to know, not for certain, and if it did escape, if it somehow took over one of the survivors without us knowing, then that’s it. We’re not equipped to deal with a threat this quick, this outside of the norm.

But DS9 is the future, right? A future in which the existence of a wide variety of intelligent life is both known and acknowledged; a future with technology centuries beyond ours, with smart people (human and otherwise) working together to forge a peaceful and sustainable present. So, clearly, the Founders are just one speed bump on the road to Utopia, another antagonist to shake its fist, only to fall before the force of cooperation and heroism. Clearly. Except the Changeling’s last words to Odo are: “You’re too late. We are everywhere.” This isn’t a battle just beginning. This is a war, and it started fifteen minutes ago. The fake Kajensky wasn’t a desperate gamble on the Founders’ part. He was just a plan, presumably one among dozens. There are other tricks to pull, other conflicts to start, and while the Federation sends out exploratory committees; while the Cardassians and the Romulans try their hopelessly out-maneuvered surprise attacks; while Sisko waits at the doorstep, holding his breath and praying to gods he doesn’t believe in—the enemy is here. And you’re next.


Stray observations:

  • Yes, that was a Watchmen reference. (And if you don’t know what I mean, go read Watchmen!)
  • I still don’t know what Eddington’s deal is. His conversation with Odo is interesting, as is his chat with Sisko about the captain’s new rank, but it’s all more suggestion than it is anything specific. Yet the character doesn’t come across as vague or unsubstantial. Something’s going on there.
  • The device the Changeling uses to sabotage the Defiant is great; it’s just a bunch of clear rubber tubes, but there’s something freakishly organic about it.
  • The episode also had a definite Alien vibe, what will all the duct crawling.
  • “I don’t understand my people all that well.” “That’s too bad.” “Yes, it is.” -Odo and Eddington, shooting the breeze.

Next week: We dive into the start of the fourth season with the super-sized “The Way Of The Warrior.”