Sunday, April 23, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x26 "Tears of the Prophets"

rating: ****

the story: Dukat makes a fateful decision, which affects both the wormhole and the future of the Dax symbiont.

what it's all about: Well, that's how to ramp things back up.  Actually, it might be argued that this is the first episode of the seventh season, and the depiction of the Dominion War as it would be seen throughout the final season.  Season finales are always a little tricky.  Sometimes they're meant to provide a climax for a season.  Sometimes they're meant to provide a cliffhanger.  But "Tears of the Prophets" is different.  If you don't consider it in the context of the next several episodes, from the next season, you might not fully appreciate it.

But it's a big, big moment, too, all on its own, because this is the death of Jadzia Dax.  Jadzia was a regular in the series from the very start.  She was the current host of the Dax symbiont, and everyone knew it thanks to Dax's previous friendship with Sisko, who referred to Jadzia as "Old Man" in tribute to the previous host, Curzon.  Although it's sad saying goodbye to Jadzia, in a way there could have been no more perfect arc for the character in the series, passing the symbiont off to someone else, so we could explore what exactly it's like for the symbiont to move on.  But more on that next season.

Jadzia's death is the third major death in franchise lore, and second to be permanent (Spock came back, after all), a series regular KIA (Next Generation's Tasha Yar in "Skin of Evil"), not just a subtraction from the cast (which is also rare in Star Trek, but temporarily happened to Crusher and then permanently for her replacement Pulaski in Next Generation, and then Kes in Voyager, who like Wesley in Next Generation ended up appearing again). 

The drama surrounding her death can seem a little exaggerated.  She and Worf celebrate the news that they're going to have a baby.  Bashir and Quark lament the news (but they'll still be talking about Dax and Worf next season, so that's some of the strong connective material).  The baby adds extra pathos (melodrama) to the death.  Apparently the producers thought and rethought how Jadzia would die, but I think they probably overthought it, even if they came up with a pretty good version in the end, a random death for a random cast departure (Terry Farrell decided she'd had enough, and walked away from what turned out to be one remaining season). 

The impact of the death ends up meaning a great deal to Sisko.  Finally, the war becomes truly personal for him, and connects to his role as the Emissary of the Prophets.  This is more of how the next season follows this material so strongly.  Dukat briefly becomes Emissary of the Pah-wraiths (the Prophets, or wormhole aliens' opposite number) so he can shut down the wormhole, and in the process kills Jadzia.  It's the closing of the wormhole that's the most impactful event of the episode.  The wormhole was sometimes a matter of convenience in the series, taken for granted as just another way to get around, and yet it was a unique element of the series, and proved to be important in ushering the threat of the Dominion.  Yet it becomes most important not because of the Dominion but for what it always was, a conduit to the bigger concepts of the series, the godlike beings and the decidedly human ones trying to contend with them. 

To have it suddenly taken away rips something important from Sisko.  The Prophets never conformed to the expectations of godlike beings elsewhere in the franchise, and "Tears" reflects how significant they are even in their absence, how Sisko has no power over them, and how he's equally free to make his own decisions. 

Anyway, it's big and important, but it leads to bigger and more important things, which makes "Tears" arguably one of the most successful season finales ever in Star Trek.  In one episode a season's worth of sometimes lethargic developments in the most important arc of the series, the Dominion War, becomes transformed into something that speaks on multiple levels and leads directly to the final episode ("What You Leave Behind").

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Death of a major character, truly epic season finale.
  • series - Transforms the war arc and prepares the way to the end.
  • character - Obviously important to Dax, but to Sisko as well.
  • essential - What could have been obvious storytelling is transformed into something greater in the context of ensuing episodes.
notable guest-stars:
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
Barry Jenner (Admiral Ross)
James Darren (Vic Fontaine)

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