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The Future Will Be Carpeted: An Analysis of ‘Deep Space Nine (S2E17)’

“I’m nothing like I expected. Life after life, with each new personality stampeding around in your head, you get desires that scare you, dreams that used to belong to someone else.”
     -- Lieutenant Jadzia Dax

Like any occupation, writers have their own jargon, a combination shorthand that allows them to communicate complex ideas with one another efficiently and a way to exclude the outsiders from the conversation. Different kinds of writers have their own dialects, as well, and though there is some overlap, it’s not complete. This is why you will hear novelists like me fretting about our count, while TV writers will put a certain joke on the roof. And, all of us, regardless of medium, lay pipe. (I assure you, that’s one of those things that only sounds obscene, like “quarter pounder at the Golden Arches,” or “performing oral sex on a woman.”) A piece of slang most often associated with TV writers is the A-, B-, and C-stories (or -plots), a shorthand that refers to the different stories that happen in the same episode. The A-plot is the main one, the B- the secondary, and so on down. It’s possible to have a show with only an A-story (“Necessary Evil” from earlier this season is a good example.), but you couldn’t have one with only a C-plot. This week’s episode, “Playing God,” arguably goes all the way down to a D-story, and it’s a royal mess. Not too shocking, then, that a Dax-centric episode has an identity crisis.

The ostensible A-plot concerns the process by which a young Trill gets selected for joining. A candidate -- in this case, earnest, empty Arjin -- visits an older, experienced Trill called a field docent -- in this case, Lt. Jadzia Dax -- for evaluation. While it’s not the absolute kiss of death should the field docent give a bad recommendation, it’s the next best thing. Dax was famous for washing out recruits, though Jadzia is quick to remind Arjin that this was Curzon Dax. In fact, Curzon himself was Jadzia’s field docent, and after subjecting her to two weeks of hell, tried to scrub her out of the program himself.

The way Trill sound in this episode, and it’s probably intentional, are like that one kid in high school who was really, really into being not just a doctor, but one of those doctors that makes Robocops. That’s a thing, right? Anyway, that kid knows that they’re after basically a single job in the entire universe, and they have to turn themselves into a test-taking master-of-all-things-school. They neglect every other aspect of their lives, just for the shot at this career. By the time they end up where they want to be, they haven’t lived. Well, that was Jadzia, and to a certain extent, Arjin. The thing is, there are 5000 potential hosts every year entering the program to be joined, but on average only 300 symbionts available. The odds aren’t good.

Arjin’s problem is that he’s in the program because his father wanted him to be joined. He never thought for himself. While Jadzia sees this as a problem, she’s reluctant to kick the kid in the ass. She doesn’t want to be Curzon. This is a good place to take the character, but due to the structure of the episode, it’s never quite clear what’s at stake. Part of the problem is that the Trill experience is so alien, there is no human frame of reference for it. While it would be tempting to lay the blame on earlier episodes for not establishing what being a Trill actually means enough to tell these kinds of emotional stories, the truth is that this one could have done it just as easily. Dax remains a frustrating character. There are moments where she shines as a more feminist creation than some modern television (Contrast her sex-positive portrayal with the dire consequences of sex on, say, Buffy.), at other times she rings as a cold and hollow cipher.

The C-plot is at the top of the episode, and it’s part of the running theme that anything Cardassian hates Chief O’Brien. The station is infested with Cardassian voles, and now that Federation personnel are using all of the station (making it a 24th Century buffalo), the voles have started to spread out from their hiding spots. The vole prop is a great, old-style puppet and looks like the monster in one of those great and awful ‘80s monster movies. O’Brien contacts a Cardassian official for help -- who turns out to be reoccurring character Gul Evek -- but gets none. It doesn’t really interact with the other plots, save for a crucial technological failure that really could have just been one of the usual equipment failures. Still, it’s fun to watch Chief O’Brien and Major Kira hunting space rats with phasers.

The B-plot starts up when Arjin and Dax track home a proto-universe from the Gamma Quadrant. See, this weird-ass concept the show explains well, yet they still don’t have a handle on one of their lead characters. Basically, this is a smallish mass that is in the process of becoming a universe, complete with its own physical laws. It’s also growing, so if they leave it on the station (Of course, they brought it back to the station, this is Starfleet we’re talking about who never met a poisonous death monster they didn’t want to take home.), the whole place will explode. They also can’t move it without significant risk. The safest option? Destroying it. One problem: there are life signs.

Because it has different laws of reality, time might move differently in there. So, that life might have had time to evolve all the way to sentience. Kira is all for destroying it. “It’s them or us,” she says. Odo, in a nice bit of continuity, objects, pointing out that just because we don’t understand something doesn’t mean we get to kill it. It’s hard to miss not only his affection for Taya, but a personal interest, as well, seeing as he’s a lifeform no one understands. “It’s like stepping on ants,” Kira snaps. “I don’t step on ants, Major,” Odo growls in response. I love this exchange partially because I enjoy those two actors, but also because I like to see a disagreement between two close allies that makes perfect sense given their backgrounds. It continues with Sisko, who can’t help comparing himself to the Borg, who, if you recall killed his wife and Jake’s mother. They were indifferent to other life, and if he destroys this universe, will he be any different?

Eventually, they decide to take the risky maneuver of transporting the proto-universe through the wormhole. This is where I was confused. It sounded like if the universe kept expanding, it would wipe out their universe anyway. Moving it really only delays the problem, perhaps too long to do anything about it. Anyway, it’s dangerous, but with Arjin’s ace piloting and some well-timed Dax pep talks, they get through. I like to think that the universe sat on the other side of the wormhole for all of five minutes before the Dominion showed up and blasted it. Especially if this was a normal occurrence for them. We have Cardassian voles in the Alpha Quadrant, they have proto-universes in the Gamma.

Next up: Someone actually used to date Quark.

Justin Robinson is the author of many novels and can be found in his lair at captainsupermarket.com.  He would like to emphasize that, contrary to rumors, he is, in fact, a mammal, though still has not obtained documentation to prove it.

Favorite Golden Girl:  Rose
Favorite Cheese Form:  Melted
Favorite God: Hanuman