Deep Space Nine: s02e17 – ‘Playing God’


Dax in a towel

It’s a bad habit but I can’t get out of it, I try to guess what sort of episode I’ll be watching from a combination of the title and the open. It’s almost inevitable, given the difference between DS9 and everything else I watch: I know what I’m going to see is 99.9% self-contained, which gives it a different aspect.

‘Playing God’ was a Jardzia Dax episode. A young Trill, Arjin, arrives at the station to be mentored by Jardzia. He is a Trill-Initiate, one of thousands of aspirants for Joining with the symbiont. Curzon Dax was a very harsh taskmaster when it came to such things (he roundly rejected Jardzia, first time, we will learn) and Arjin is nervous. And, when he finds Jardzia playing cards for money, enjoying wrestling, and willing to walk around in front of a virtual stranger dressed in only a towel, he’s really not sure what to make of her.

Nor she of him. Arjin is Jardzia’s first Initiate and she doesn’t know what to do with him, save that she doesn’t want to be Curzon. Nor is she sure what he’s made of: Arjin seems to have no ideas of what to do after Joining: he’s almost a creature of his father’s aspirations. What new things can he bring to a Joining?

I foresaw this being the substance of the episode, with Jardzia refusing Arjin as its climax, but instead that side of things was a little more nebulous. Instead, we had an upfront story, a crisis concerning the station, which enabled Arjin to prove his worth as a Level 5 pilot, which apparently justified his progress.

Unfortunately, the more I think about it, that upfront story was a very badly-chosen McGuffin.

Jardzia and Arjin go through the Wormhole on a training mission. Their runabout hits something in a sub-space pocket, comes back with some strange energy mass clinging to it that Jardzia starts to study. Unfortunately, the station is being plagued by an infestation of Cardassian voles which, apart from providing an excuse for Major Kira to bend over in her tight-around-the-ass uniform pants, are a piece of silliness, but has been written in so that something can collapse the containment field and allow the energy mass to start expanding.

Dangerously so, since Jardzia soon identifies it as a proto-Universe going through its standard expansion phases. Unless something is done about it, it’ll expand through the station, obliterating it, preparatory to shouldering our entire Universe out of the way and destroying everything.

Obviously, it has to be destroyed before it can do so, and DS9 has the technology (and the good Major certainly has the will), but that’s before Jardzia discovers evidence of life in it. Which is where the Playing God part comes in.

Sisko decides not to crush the nascent Universe and its fledgling life, but to send it back through the wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant. Unfortunately, the Wormhole is chock-a-block with energy nodes, contact with any of which will cause our mini-verse to blow up on the spot. But Arjin gets his shit together, manually flies the runabout round all such nodes and wins Dax’s approval.

Only: well, it’s complete bullshit. The original Star Trek was accused of this many times over, and quite correctly, and whilst Next Generation and Deep Space Nine were always far better in this respect, it’s things like that that really hark back to the fact that Star Trek isn’t Science Fiction, but Space Opera.

A baby Universe? Growing rapidly towards full-size? Accepting, for a moment, the scientific plausibility of this, which is tenuous at best, it means we have two Universes, of different sizes, co-existing in the same physical space. It also means that the writers don’t understand what a Universe is.

And you can’t solve the problem of it expanding to the extent where it becomes a physical universe of similar size to the physical Universe because they can’t co-exist, and you especially can’t solve the problem by simply carting your second Universe off to another sector of space and letting it grow up there. And you really, seriously can’t expect to be taking the moral high ground of not crushing all life in your new Universe when your solution is to post it somewhere else and let it crush all life in the Gamma Quadrant.

No, one heck of a failure of intelligence on the show’s part there.

And, to compound things, I hate to repeat myself, but Terry Farrell is still a very limited actress, over a season and two-thirds in. She just isn’t strong enough to carry an episode herself because she doesn’t have any emotional range to portray, which puts an unreleasable brake on any story that has her at its centre.

So, it’s major criticism week. Next week, unless I miss my guess from hints that have been dropped, should be more to my taste, Nana Visitor-wise at any rate…

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