Deep Space 9: s1e08 – Dax

A Trill for all Seasons

The title of this episode makes it clear that we are going to focus on Lieutenant Jardzia Dax, the Trill, the symbiote host, whose previous incarnation, as Curzon Dax, was both friend and mentor to Commander Sisko. It’s due as well: we’re eight episodes in and we’ve really not seen Dax (nor Bashir, nor Quark) as anything other than superficial characters, although Terry Farrell is part of the cast.

‘Dax’ made for a very interesting episode, which had me concentrating quite closely, but which, at the same time, had underlying weaknesses of which I was very conscious. But let’s set up the story first.

We begin with an old-fashioned Captain’s Log Stardate Gobbledygook entry, just to tell us that Chief O’Brien isn’t in this week’s episode. Then we cut to the ever-naive, puppydog Doctor Bashir still trying to get somewhere with calm, unflappable, uninterested Jardzia. Then the good lieutenant is set upon and kidnapped by assailants under the command of guest star Gregory Itzin – baddy yes, but still light years from his slimy, creepy President Logan in 24 – only for the well-laid plan to be foiled by the rest of the cast.

Only then is it revealed that Ilan Tandro holds a perfectly valid, Federation-respected warrant to arrest Dax for crimes of murder and treason thirty years previously as Curzon.

Since Bajor doesn’t have a treaty with Kleasron IV, Sisko holds things up with an extradition hearing, which forms the body of the episode (and in which guest star Annee Haney, as the waspish, 100 year old, no-nonsense Bajoran arbiter steals the show effortlessly).

Yes, courtroom drama, turning on the moral and philosophical point as to whether a symbiont lifeform remains responsible for crimes committed when joined to a previous host, when the punishment – the death penalty – would fall upon a host body not merely innocent of such crimes but not even alive at their commission.

The arguments are fascinating, with both sides bringing up compelling points. Dax is accused, in his role as a Federation Mediator, of betraying General Ilandro (Gregory’s daddy) to the Government forces, who killed him. Ilandro became a martyr to the rebel cause, inspired it to overthrow the Government, and remains a public legend to this day, so the crime is a heavy one.

Ultimately it will be found that Dax was not guilty of the transmission that betrayed General Ilandro to the Government, because he was shagging the General’s wife at that very moment (suppresses sarcastic and lewd thought). Indeed, in a throwaway line that is exceedingly disappointing in its perfunctoriness (reflecting the fact that no-one involved in the story cared about who actually shopped the General as anything more than a MacGuffin), Mrs Widow General lets slip it was Ilandro himself, planning to betray the rebellion. Choke, how ironic.

That’s a very poor ending, but then so far on this series I’ve not been over-impressed with the closing scenes, which are given far too little time to be at all effective. However, good as it is, the episode has, as I said, two major flaws.

The first is structural, and goes to the nature of the form. Courtroom dramas like this can’t work without some fundamental information being withheld: the Courtroom in drama is used as an investigation (think Perry Mason and all its heirs) in pursuit of the truth, which has to start concealed. When it’s used in a series with an established cast, and an accusation against a cast member, the structure falls apart if the accused doesn’t spend at least half the show refusing to defend themselves and generally keeping their mouths shut. As does Dax here, except that ninety percent of the time, this refusal to defend oneself comes over exactly as it does in this episode, as a clumsy contrivance to enable the story to be told, and completely out of character. Why won’t you tell us what really happened? Because if I did the story would end after fifteen minute and we’d have to busk until the end.

So the episode ends up being about, but around Jardzia Dax. She becomes the hollow centre of things and, rather than learn about her as we need to, we learn about Trills in the abstract, we get a xenobiology lesson, not a character portrait, an insight.

And that’s down to the other underlying weakness of the episode, which is that, at this stage in her career, Terry Farrell simply isn’t a good enough actress to play Dax as something more than a quiet, emotionally restricted, flat character. What lines she does speak carry little weight. When you try to imagine her at the centre of a trial, defending herself, you quickly see that Farrell hasn’t got the range to convince in a deeper role for more than thirty seconds, if that.

That’s one of the reasons, I suspect, that we’re going to see Bashir pursue for some time longer. It’s a comedy sub-plot that, with a better actress on Dax’s side, would see her put him out of his misery pretty damned quickly, but until Farrell grows in her performance, she just couldn’t put any of that across.

So, a very good episode in spite of its flaws. But the series needs to do something about those closes. At least sixty seconds more airtime would help.

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