Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Deep Space Nine 4x6 "Rejoined"

rating: ****

the story: Jadzia is reunited with a symbiont who was a former host's wife.

what it's all about: The benefit of the fourth season fresh start is that it gave Dax a chance to start over, with the exact episode the character had needed ever since her creation: a direct response to the debut of the Trill in Next Generation's "The Host."  In that episode, a lot of things were exposed about Star Trek.  Fans and critics at large always assumed that Gene Roddenberry had essentially created a counterculture allegory set in the future.  But if you look back at the original series, you see a lot of refutations of essential counterculture lore, such as the episodes directed against both hippies and the drugs they helped make mainstream.  And yes, his was an inclusive, idealistic vision, but it was more a melding of the mainstream and countercultures than anything, which the extreme reluctance to embrace the LGBTQ community proved somewhat repeatedly through the years, and the outright allegorical repulsion exhibited at the end of "Host," in which Dr. Crusher ends up in a relationship with a Trill symbiont (she makes it past the original host and embraces the idea with Riker when he serves as a temporary substitute) but backs out of it when the replacement host turns out to be a woman. 

"Rejoined" is an allegory (an outright gay character wouldn't actually exist in this franchise until Star Trek Beyond and the forthcoming Star Trek: Discovery), but on the surface it finally breaks the mold in definitive fashion.  I know, because it caused great controversy in my own household when it originally aired a little over two decades ago.  Up to that point the family had been staunch Star Trek fans, and had happily continued watching it when Next Generation ended and Deep Space Nine became the handiest replacement (in our market, both shows aired on Saturdays, whereas Voyager, which instantly split fans more than ever before and as such was never a common viewing with us, aired on the UPN network during the week, which was less conducive to bringing everyone together).  Between the Breen armor that debuted the previous week in "Indiscretion" that bore an uncanny resemblance to the bounty hunter armor Leia dons briefly in Return of the Jedi and this controversial decision, I was to become the lone ongoing, regular viewer of Deep Space Nine in the house.

Anyway, ostensibly the big taboo is within Trill society, in which former lovers from previous hosts aren't supposed to interact in later lifetimes, so that Jadzia is strongly discouraged from spending time with the scientist who comes to the station as part of her work.  Yet Jadzia is too compelled by the thought.  By the time "Facets" aired at the end of the third season, the series had finally gotten a good handle on how to handle the idea that Dax wasn't just a young Starfleet officer but also the latest in a long line of hosts.  "Rejoined" is the next and ultimate step forward in that line of progression, a compelling drama that forces very personal feelings to come forth from a normally confident woman, who was as sure of herself as anyone in the history of Star Trek.  Suddenly, where a lot of other characters had risked their careers for various reasons, Dax wasn't just doing that, but flirting with expulsion from her own people (also a thing that'd happened in the franchise previously).  Yet it never really strays from being an incredibly personal and intimate matter, so that all you really need to care about is how she feels about the scientist, and whether or not the scientist is willing to reciprocate.

The big moment, the second most important kiss in Star Trek history (after Kirk and Uhura's in "Plato's Stepchildren"), is when Jadzia and the scientist kiss.  Honestly I don't know why it isn't talked about more.  Arguably it's the most important one now, because in 2016 (which is when I'm writing this) it's still more rare to see this sort of thing, in the mainstream, where it's not when looking at the state of white and black actors interacting in television or the movies (despite what so-called controversies at the Oscars will have you believe).  I mean, Will Smith, during the first decade of the new millennium, became the most bankable actor in history.  Can you say the same about an openly gay man, or any other differently-sexed actor?  Not by a longshot. 

But none of that matters if the episode itself doesn't ring true, and it does.  It's Jadzia's big chance to finally blow past all the barriers initially expected of a character who might otherwise have been pegged as the pretty girl, and she nails it.  And yes, it's somewhat ironic that by the end of the series, a different Dax host is kind of fighting the same battle, without any Trill butting their heads into her affairs (well, for that reason, anyway).  That's how you make interesting drama out of an alien species.  Usually this only happens for Klingons.  So it figures that only a few episodes later Jadzia begins the initial steps toward a relationship with one...

This was a season that forced the series to redefine its vision, and for a while that proved to be more trouble than anyone might have realized, but "Rejoined" is the moment everything crystalized.  It was an episode that seized the unexpected opportunity, and created something special because of it.  That's how "Plato's Stepchildren" happened, too, in the midst of a third and final season of the original series, when there were no more guarantees about its future.  So it went for broke, literally breaking new ground with the first interracial kiss in dramatic programming history.  Thankfully, Deep Space Nine lasted the rest of its fourth season, and for three more. 

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Truly went where no Star Trek had gone before.
  • series - A definitive statement on the continued viability of the original Deep Space Nine model.
  • character - The definitive Dax episode.
  • essential - You saw "definitive" used twice already, right?
notable guest-stars:
Susanna Thompson
Ken Marshall (Eddington)

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