Playing God (#StarTrek #DS9 Rewatch, Season 2, Episode 17) Dax mentors a too-eager-to-please Trill initiate

Rewatching ST:DS9

In a nice long tracking shot showing off the set, Bashir strolls through an airlock talking with Arjin, a mild-mannered Trill, who is nervous to meet his mentor Dax, who has a reputation of being hard on candidates for the symbiotic joining process.

Of course that was Curzon Dax; the next few scenes are designed to highlight Arjin’s surprise to see Jadzia Dax gaming late at night with Ferengi, chatting with visitors in the morning wearing just a towel, and gleefully phasering vermin.

In a runabout, Jadzia is mildly annoyed that Arjin is working so hard to impress her, and explains that before her joining, she was terrified to be mentored by Curzon Dax, but that as Jadzia Dax she doesn’t intend to give him the same uncomfortable experience. (This explanation is necessary for us, the viewers who haven’t been studying for years to become a Trill host, but it’s hard to imagine that Arjin would make it this far in the program without knowing these basics.)

The runabout snags against a glittery Space Thing, and because so far there isn’t a B plot to create a crisis that will ramp up the stakes, Dax suggests to bring the Space Thing on board the station.

Back on the station, Quark gripes to Kira about the infestation of voles. Dax takes Arjin to the Klingon restaurant, and joins the chef in a spirited song. Picking at his food, Arjin tells a Mr. Cellophane story about joining the Trill initiate program because of his father’s dying wish, and having no particular ideas about what he would want to do after being joined. Dax warns him that the symbiont (with several lifetimes of memories) can overwhelm the host unless the host is assertive.

During a videocall, a smirking Cardassian offers O’Brien no help with the vole infestation.

Over a chess game with Sisko, Dax reflects on the pre-joined experiences she had as Jadzia, when she was in conflict with Curzon Dax. Sisko intuits that Jadzia’s trauma may be leading her to be too easy on Arjin, which won’t help him in the long run.

A vole pokes the laboratory forcefield that’s restraining the glowing Space Thing, causing it to glow more, which the music cues suggest is a bad thing.

While helping do Science Stuff to the Space Thing, Arjin tries to suck up to Dax, who is in a less nurturing, more pragmatic mood. Objecting to the change in her behavior, Arjin gets defensive and lashes out.

Dax reports the computer has recognized the Space Thing as a “proto-universe,” which will expand at regular intervals conveniently timed to provide countdown timers to certain destruction, but with plenty of downtime so the character stories can continue to progress.

Arjin drowns his sorrows at the bar, where Quark tells a comically self-centered story of his own failure.

The stakes rise when Dax detects life inside the Space Thing. Kira is pragmatic — it’s us or them; Odo defends the “other.” Sisko faces another on-brand Trek moral dilemma.

After the Space Thing expands again and creates a hull breach, there’s a well-done visual showing the damage from outside the station. (Three decades ago, such visuals would have involved complicated model work, camera tracking, and probably hand-animated glow stuff, so I want to recognize impressive effects when I see them.)

Sisko doesn’t seem to bother consulting Starfleet for orders, but because of the countdown timer to certain destruction, he has time to parent Jake (who says he has fallen in love with the “dabo girl” he’s been tutoring). There’s also time for Dax to give Arjin a pep talk, and recruit his help.

Sisko’s plan is to have Dax take the Space Thing back through the wormhole, which (because the A plot requires it) involves Dax coming up with a plan that relies upon Arjin’s piloting skills.

While I appreciate that the episode doesn’t include a lecture on this week’s plot contrivance particles, but it’s a bit hard to accept that Sisko would let Dax bring a civilian along with her on this crucial mission.

Baby-faced Arjin is a sympathetic character with a good story arc. Exploring Dax’s eccentricities through his eyes and exploring the complex psychology of joined Trills were both good launch points for a clever story. Shooting the opening sequences form Arjin’s POV also gave the director an excuse not to have to show a moving vole being hit with a phaser — we hear a zap, a squeak, and Dax saying “Gotcha!”, and then we see Arjun’s startled face as Dax hands him a floppy prop that represents the stunned critter. 

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