“Tears Of The Prophets” (season 6, episode 26; originally aired 6/17/1998)
In which Jadzia says her prayers…
To be fair, Jadzia Dax’s death was probably never going to fit no matter how the writers handled it. This is, after all, a show at the end of its sixth season, a show which, in its entire time on air, has never killed off a member of its main ensemble. A few guest stars bought it, the occasional tedious recurring character was sacrificed (so long, Vedek Bareil and poor Tora Ziyal), but nobody really major, and no one whose absence seriously threatened the integrity of the series’ core. Deep Space Nine has had its share of significant plot shifts and political upheavals, but Sisko, Kira, Odo et al have remained present and accounted for throughout, even when they aren’t in the same place. That creates a strong sense of continuity, and if you’re going to break that kind of continuity, you need to earn the destruction. Even though Jadzia’s death was dictated by external forces (Terry Farrell decided she wanted to leave the show to do Becker), in context, it needed to have weight and meaning. The writers manage the weight, but the meaning is iffy; and, still being fair, there was probably no way to avoid that.
But as far as picking and choosing the right moment, “getting zapped by a Pah-Wraith-possessed Gul Dukat while she’s visiting a Bajoran shrine to pay respect to the Prophets for making it possible for her to have a baby” isn’t really going to make anyone’s top ten. That’s not a heroic death; it’s not even a particularly heartbreaking one. You can argue that it has a certain didn’t-see-that-coming verisimilitude with most real life fatalities, but that’s an argument that only goes so far. Getting murdered by a lizard man with red-eyes via the power of, what, magical-non-burning flame is a far cry from a heart attack of a brain aneurysm or, hell, a suicide. The whole point of reminding us that death can come at any time is for that death to be fundamentally banal—a mystery in the “why” department that never bothers much with the “how.” Jadzia’s death is an anomaly in the history of the series, a bad luck moment in a universe where such bad luck has never affected our heroes so mortally before. What happens is striking, and memorable, because it’s unprecedented, and because it has consequences. But it’s also airless, an event of great sorrow that plays out like an old joke.
The effort to make the death more poignant before the fact—namely, Dax and Worf’s desire to have a baby—just looks forced in retrospect. There was some build up to the idea, which is smart, but having a kid in the middle of a war in which both parents are active participants is an odd choice; and even if you accept that (which, sure, why not), it just doesn’t really fit in with anything we know about Jadzia. Or Worf, although at least with Worf I can believe some idea of wanting a kid for tradition, or to finally erase Alexander’s existence from our memories once and for all. But Dax? She’s all about adventure and exploration and new experiences, and while I can completely see her wanting to have a baby eventually (pregnancy and parenthood being, in their way, an adventure with exploration and new experiences), her sudden obsession with the idea is just too programmed, too clearly established for pathos.
“Tears Of The Prophets” is an odd episode, and not just because it marks the departure of a major cast member. The plot, which has Sisko leading the first step of an invasion into Cardassian territory, sounds like standard season finale material, with its big space battle and shift in the overall paradigm; but there are strange variations throughout, as the writers attempt to move the Prophets and their war against the Pah-Wraiths to the center of the action. It doesn’t quite work. Earlier forays into mysticism were charming in a sort of “I don’t get what any of this means but it sure is wacky!” kind of way, but Gul Dukat’s decision to unearth a Bajoran artifact for a team-up is more a Lex Luthor type move than anything else. And not the good kind of Lex Luthor move, either. I mean, he breaks a statue and a glowing spirit invades his body, and his eyes go red. It’s basically Super Friends; all that’s missing is a laughing purple monkey.
More interesting is Sisko’s struggle when a vision warns him not to leave Bajor. The conflict between the captain’s role as a Starfleet officer and his duty as the Emissary has been a consistently compelling one since the start of the series, because it’s a question that can never have a definitive answer. There is a version of Sisko who, when forced to define himself, would have rejected the spiritual calling of the Prophets; and there’s a version of Sisko who would have given up his professional career entirely once the visions started. But neither of those are the version of Sisko we have. Our version (“The Sisko,” you might say) wants earnestly, and at times desperately, to satisfy both vocations, so that when he tells Admiral Ross about his vision, and about the bind he feels he’s in, it’s not an empty complaint. And when he decides to go on the mission anyway, the choice marks the first time I can remember that he’s explicitly gone against the will of the Prophets, which helps to make everything that follows (including Dax’s death) just a little more tragic.
Only a little, though; while Sisko’s quest to find the meaning in his life becomes more important at the start of the next season, here the various pieces don’t fit together all that well. It’s possible Sisko being on the station might have prevented Dukat from killing Dax and releasing the Pah-Wraith to taint the orb (apparently almost all the orbs, which is impressive), but the circumstances are too random and over too fast to really feel like an event which could’ve been prevented or stopped regardless of who was there to see it. The closure of the wormhole is a big deal in theory, but it’s the sort of twist whose impact isn’t immediately felt—truth be told, the wormhole hasn’t really been an important part of the show in quite some time, and it’s loss isn’t half as surprising as the loss of Deep Space Nine was last season.
Season finales don’t need great shocks to succeed, and there are effective elements throughout “Tears Of The Prophets.” The space battle for control of the Chin’Toka system is thrilling, and it’s always great to have Garak hanging around. (I like how there’s no obvious change in the way Sisko treats Garak—I’m not sure the two of them exchange a line of dialogue, which may be important in and of itself, but there aren’t any obvious awkward glances or vague threats. What’s done is done; and the more the show refuses to follow up on “In The Pale Moonlight” in any way, the more powerful that episode becomes.) And hey, Weyoun and Damar sparring is never not funny, as it’s been too long since we’ve heard from either character. But this plays like the first half of a two-parter, and that’s not really what it is. The premiere of season 7 is an interesting (and better, I think) hour than this, but it doesn’t make “Tears Of The Prophets” more coherent in retrospect. This episode just tries to accomplish too much, and in doing so, shortchanges almost everything. There are possibilities here, but few that generate real excitement; and death, when it comes, leaves everything looking hollow by comparison.
- While Jadzia’s death was a disappointment (including the scene when she’s goodbye to Worf, which is well-acted but weirdly unbelievable; what the hell did Dukat do to her, anyway?), the way the show handles the fallout from that death is smart. Sisko’s monologue over Dax’s coffin is well-written and a fine piece of acting from Brooks; I love the reminder of how often Sisko relied on Dax to help him talk through his problems.
- Wow, Dukat’s plan is something. All of a sudden he’s fixated on Sisko, and decides the only way to defeat his enemy is via an ancient alien force which he probably didn’t even believe in a few months ago? While I accept that Dukat is unstable, and that recent events would put him at odds with the captain, the obsession is too obviously designed to be dramatically interesting. It robs the character of complexity; his goal is no longer anything for himself, but simply to lay low the nominal protagonist of the series. He’s a tool, not a person, and that’s disappointing.
- Bashir and Quark getting mopey because Dax wanted a baby was so damn dumb. Although it did allow Bashir a nice turn when he helped facilitate a potential pregnancy through the power of science.
- Oh, Kira and Odo have a fight about a vedek, and Odo thinks it means she wants to break up with him. She does not.
- Sisko takes his baseball with him when he leaves the station. I think that might have hit me harder than anything else in the episode.
“Image In The Sand” (season 7, episode 1; originally aired 9/30/1998)
In which Sisko decides what to do next…
What do you do when you lose your way? It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’m in the middle of what you might call a crisis. Things have gotten pretty weird in my life over the course of the past year or so, for reasons that aren’t worth getting into, but the weirdest, and worst, part of all of it is that I feel lost. Or stuck, or trapped, or frozen. I’ve had bad times before, but the last time I felt like this was in my mid-twenties, and it’s a scary feeling, because it’s not exactly depression or misery (though there are elements of both). It’s more waking up every day and realizing the center of my world wasn’t where I thought it was. I’m not religious or even particularly spiritual, but for a long while, I could actually feel the course of my life, as though all the good bits and the bad bits were part of a long, singular track. It’s a ridiculous sensation, presumptive and bordering on arrogant, but now that it’s gone, I’m not sure what to do next. That’s bad, the not knowing; and even worse is the growing suspicion that it was all bullshit anyway, or that if it wasn’t, I made the wrong choice and ruined everything; and the future stretches out before me, unmapped, gray, and more than a little empty.
I think nearly everyone has periods in their lives when what had once seemed like a sure thing suddenly falls apart, and you’re left in the darkness. If you want to be optimistic, you can say that’s part of the process of growing up and maturing and becoming wise—to struggle through hard times and realize you can find your own way if you need to. If you want to be pessimistic, you can say that there never was a “way” in the first place, and what I’m experiencing right now is simply the truth in its harshest, most unmitigated form. Either way though, it’s basically a universal experience, which is why Sisko’s struggles in “Image In The Sand” are more than just a plot device to delay his return to Deep Space Nine. Admittedly, most of us don’t have the benefit of visions from wormhole aliens to nudge us forward, but that clear sense of loss that informs Brooks’ performance in the first half of the episode makes sense. Sisko is a passionate, frequently brilliant commander, a man whose livelihood depends on his ability to make bold choices when necessary, trusting in the veracity of his judgement and a fundamental faith in his own abilities. But now that the Prophets have entered his life, it’s no longer a simple matter of doing what feels right. There are forces at work above and beyond him, and, for a while, they helped to guide him; but now that they’re gone, the old faith no longer satisfies.
Which might be why it stings all the more that when the Prophets do re-enter his life (via a vision of Sisko digging through the sand on Tyree and finding a woman’s face), it’s to throw him even more off balance. Mythology-wise, I’m not sure what to make of the fact that Sarah, Sisko’s real mother whom he never knew existed, once had a necklace with Ancient Bajoran written on the back, a phrase which Sisko is able to translate as “Orb of the Emissary.” The idea that Sisko’s involvement with the wormhole aliens might have been something that was set into motion before he was even born is the sort of big artistic choice that writers always seem to fall for late into series when they’re struggling to find new angles. It requires too much coincidence, too much connection, and it transforms one of the more fascinating elements of Sisko’s arc—the fact that he got the job as Emissary apparently because he was just in the right place at the right time—and threatens to turn it into yet another Chosen One saga. I don’t know where this is headed right now, and it could still work, so I’m gonna withhold judgement; but I am not optimistic.
Put aside the future plot-related aspects of the reveal, though, it actually works fairly well. Sisko comes home to Earth with his son (I’m surprised Jake was willing to go along so easily, but he does love his dad) to hang out at Joseph’s restaurant, a supposedly “safe” space; sure, there were Changelings around the last time, but that got resolved, and Sisko’s is pretty far away from the warfront. But three months later, after not figuring out a damn thing, the Prophets send a message that ultimately leads our hero to discovering that his “safe” life was a lie. Finding out Dad had a wife before Mom, and that this wife was your actual biological mother, would hit hard. It’s melodramatic, sure, but it at least fits in with where Sisko’s head is at. Everything he thought he could trust, right down to his own father, isn’t quite what he thought it was, and the problem isn’t going to go away if he keeps hiding. Hell, there are even external threats to go along with the psychological ones, as it turns out there’s a Bajoran cult who worship the Pah-Wraiths, and are determined to stop Sisko whatever the cost. It’s odd that we haven’t heard more from them in the past, but stabbing Sisko multiple times in the gut is as strong an introduction as you’re likely to get, even if it is undercut by the fact that Sisko is completely fine the next time we see him. (The old ways are great and all, but one phaser blast would’ve solved your whole problem, bad guy.)
Back on the station, a newly promoted Kira (she’s a colonel now) is dealing with the fallout from the wormhole collapse, as well as the arrival of a new Romulan contingency. The Romulan storyline introduces Cretak (Megan Cole), an apparent friend who uses honey to catch flies, with mixed results. Then there’s Worf, who’s in a horrible mood even for Worf; he’s gotten in the habit of visiting the Vic Fontaine program, ordering Vic to sing Dax’s favorite song, and then tearing the place apart. This is treated as a bad thing. It makes sense that Worf’s friends would be worried that he isn’t dealing with his grief well, but Bashir and Quark’s horrro over the damage to the holo-simulated nightclub is bizarre. It’s not like that damage can’t be quickly repaired; it’s not even as though Worf was hurting simulated people. The attempt to make Fontaine a regular feature of the series is odd enough, but ignoring basic ideas that have been with the show since the start (ie, there’s no such thing as permanent damage in a holosuite, unless the safety protocols are off for some dumb reason) isn’t the way to go about it.
Still, Worf’s frustration and distance are gratifying in that they refuse to let Jadzia disappear quietly. In jumping three months ahead, the season leaps over what was probably the most intense period of grieving for the characters, but it would’ve been a cheat to just let the loss pass without any lingering impact. Worf is upset because the way Jadzia died supposedly denies her a place in Sto Vo Kor, the Klingon heaven; but really, what he wants (and what Bashir and O’Brien want, I think, and anyone in their position would want) is to give her death meaning. Losing his wife left Worf as lost as Sisko is, only in Worf’s condition, there’s no way to repair the damage. She’s gone, and it’s up to him, without any special message from alien mystics, to find a way to move forward. So, with a little help from his friends, Worf finally gets what he wants: a dangerous mission into enemy territory to give him the chance to win a battle in Jadzia’s name, and ensure her happiness in the afterlife. As solutions go, it’s not elegant, but there’s a practicality to the Klingon approach that’s very appealing. To hell with praying—when in doubt, go kill something.
That’s a luxury Sisko doesn’t have. So he decides to go find a supposedly dead woman instead. “Image In The Sand,” like “Tears Of The Prophet,” feels incomplete, but here, that incompleteness makes thematic as well as textual sense. Our heroes are once again unmoored, through tragedy and the machinations of plot, and beginning a new season means choosing a course and setting out on it. Worf, Bashir, and O’Brien are off to the Dominion War under Martok’s command, while Kira and Odo try and deal with Romulan duplicity; and Sisko, Jake, and Joseph are all off to Tyree, to try and find out more about who Sarah was, why she left Joseph when she did, and what this all has to do with the Orb of the Emissary. Oh yeah, and the new host of the Dax symbiont shows up right at the end. If you ever needed a symbol for an uncertain future, an old friend with a new face isn’t a bad place to start.
- Dax 2.0 is played by Nicole do Boer. I’m sure we’ll get to know more about her next week.
- The Cretak storyline, in which the senator earns Kira’s trust, only to seemingly violate it by storing weapons inside a hospital on a Bajoran moon, has potential. As of yet, it’s hard to know just how straight Cretak is playing things (as in, how much of her politeness and seeming respect are a tool to get what she wants, and how much, if any, is actually sincere), but I’m hoping it won’t be a simple “she’s a villain” twist.
- O’Brien getting Worf drunk to get him to open up is a great, if lamentably short, scene. And hey, they talk about Barclay. Remember Barclay?
- Sisko is so upset that he actually physically assaults his father at one point. Bad vibes, man. Bad vibes.