Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 4.1.7: “You’ve Been Sanctified, And I’ve Been Tried”

Dax

Star Trek DS9 Dax

“We’ve never met but I still have had enough of your crap, gentlemen.”

Well, this certainly didn’t arrive too soon. It’s finally time for Deep Space Nine to start picking at the gloriously complicated structure of impenetrable knots that makes up Jadzia Dax.

Daxposition

This is clearly something that needed to happen with some urgency by this point. Almost every other main character had already been explored to at least some extent, kicking off their respective journeys to becoming some of the best and most fully-realised creations the franchise can claim. Dax, however, has been all but ignored ever since the Prophets returned her from the wormhole. In the five episodes since “Emissary”, she’s had precisely ninety-seven lines to say – that’s eight more than Vash got in “Q-Less” – and almost every one of them has involved exposition, technobabble, or fending off Dr Bashir (or combinations thereof). This is a waste not just of a character with great potential but of an experienced actress too, and apparently someone finally realised it. Hence we get this episode, intended both as an exploration of Dax’s character and a chance for Terry Farrell to demonstrate what she was capable of.

Let’s start with the latter goal first, because that’s the one that’s an unqualified success.  Finally offered enough room to work, Farrell absolutely nails it. We already knew from the pilot and the early scenes of “A Man Alone” that she could convincingly sell the strange, self-contradictory nature of her relationship with Sisko, and of course she does so again here. Here though, she’s given much more beyond that to work with, and she doesn’t put a foot wrong throughout. The range of emotions Farrell can get across with her face alone is amazing; she shifts effortlessly between serenity, pride, confusion, and a kind of devastated sadness. It’s extraordinary to watch. The way she carries herself is brilliant, as well. A lot of what we might call pride in a man north of sixty might read as arrogance when projected by someone in their late twenties, but Farrell sidesteps this trap entirely. She simply radiates the calm self-confidence that access to centuries of memories can bestow upon you, or at least she does up until Ilon Tandro arrives and things start getting complicated.

All in all it’s an excellent performance, made all the more impressive by the story actually requiring her to do very little. Which is where we begin to get into trouble.

The central problem with “Dax” as an episode is that it explores not Dax herself, but some kind of photo-negative of her. We learn not what Dax is likely to say or do, but simply under what circumstances she will refuse to say or do anything. She is defined here by her inaction. We still learn about her from this approach, but it’s a bizarrely stilted method of presenting her character. The fact Farrell sells the absolute hell out of what she’s given here doesn’t change the fact she should have been handed more.

Dax’s refusal to engage with her own defence causes more problems than simply limiting Farrell’s role, too. It also forces Sisko to build his case upon the general nature of joined Trill rather than Jadzia Dax specifically. What this means is we learn about her as an entity rather than as a person. This is character study as exposition, a ten-point listicle on Trill physiognomy awkwardly stuffed into the preamble to a murder trial.

“They’re Guilty When Killed And They’re Killed Where They’re Found”

It’s also worth noting the gender balance here. It’s somewhat discomforting watching four men explain to each other who and what Dax is, especially given their interest is in the man she was rather than the woman she is. Thank the Prophets, then, for Els Renora, the century-old Bajoran arbiter with no time for fools and little time for anything else. I delight in Arbiter Els. I’d love to know the story of what she did during the occupation; I can’t imagine her having the slightest patience for any Cardassian who crossed her. She’s certainly fearless here, arriving at a station run by an immensely powerful interstellar society which is all that stands between her homeworld and the return of its former brutal occupiers, and straight up telling the representative of that society she won’t let him waste so much as a minute of her time. She’s smart, she’s formidable, she’s Ruth Spacer Ginsbourg. Having her preside over the extradition hearing doesn’t remove the issues inherent in Dax’s self-imposed paralysis, but it certainly helps. She even gets to shut men up by smashing a ball into a hard surface: the visual metaphor is as obvious as it is hilarious.

(I wonder how much of DC Fontana is bound in the Arbiter, actually. Whatever the answer is to that, though, the fact this episode was written by both the franchise’s oldest hand and one of its newest, brightest stars is delightfully appropriate given its focus.)

Arbiter Els, because she’s awesome, can also help us find our way back to positive territory. Let’s move on from seeing this as a character showcase, and frame it instead as an exploration of a legal quandary. Because whilst “Dax” isn’t actually all that great a vehicle for Dax herself, the questions the hearing throws up are genuinely interesting. Whilst “Justice” was an episode about capital punishment, “Dax” is about collective punishment, and the two episodes share a willingness to provide a steel-man defence for their respective choice of draconian punishment. So, let’s take the episode’s lead and poke at the idea of punishing groups of people for the actions of individuals (presumed to be) hiding among them.

When collective punishment is employed against a population, it’s often for one or both of the following reasons. Either those judged guilty are too deeply hidden within a population centre to be winkled out, or there are so many people breaking the law in a given area that actually identifying individual criminals no longer becomes possible. Obviously, that’s a far from exhaustive list, but it covers an awful lot of historical examples, from executing civilians in retaliation for partisan activity to launching drone strikes against wedding receptions. “Dax” takes the first of those examples to its most extreme point, by imagining a situation in which a murderer has literally hid themselves within another person. Now, they cannot receive justice without someone else suffering the exact same punishment alongside them. We’ll skip over the acceptability of the death penalty itself here, since I covered that last week. In any case, you also wouldn’t be able to imprison Dax without imprisoning Jadzia, so the issue remains even under threat of a more lenient sentence. The point is that what’s usually merely rhetoric is made literal here: there is genuinely no choice here other than to either punish the innocent, or to let the guilty go free.

And just as it has been before when at its best, Star Trek is unequivocal here. If you can’t punish the guilty without punishing the innocent as well, then you are entirely out of luck.

This position, and the desire to publicly state it, is absolutely key to the episode. It’s why it takes the shape it does. It wouldn’t have been all that difficult to centre “Dax” around an actual trial, instead of an extradition hearing. You’d need a courtroom set, yes, but Piller has gone on record as saying the decision to not build a set for the hearing came about for story rather than budget reasons – why would the recently ransacked and abandoned station have suitable facilities for legal proceedings? This certainly implies the episode could have been set in a courtroom on Klaestron IV, with our heroes attempting to save Dax from execution itself, rather than the possibility of execution following her deportation.

The obvious reason this route isn’t taken is that the actual question of Curzon Dax’s guilt isn’t actually the interesting one. The script sacrifices a quick route to cheap drama in order to actually give us something worth saying. Whether or not the Dax symbiote bears some responsibility for General Tandro’s death is a supreme irrelevance. All that matters is that Jadzia doesn’t.

Watching Ilon Tandro argue to the contrary is infuriating, but it is also instructive. Many of his arguments are reminiscent of those deployed in our own world. He starts off by insisting that failing to punish the new host a guilty Trill symbiote goes on to hide inside will encourage further criminal acts. “The perfect Trill crime”, he calls it. Let’s leave aside the fact this is a ridiculous position, and focus instead on how similar it is to the suggestion that say, civilian populations that are found to have partisans hiding among them must be punished, to prevent other partisans from feeling safe doing the same thing. In this framing, the punishment of the innocent is an unfortunate necessity of war – sometimes you just can’t kill the bad guys without the occasional civilian being sacrificed alongside.

That argument tends to be insufficiently persuasive, however – it’s too easy to imagine ourselves as being the completely blameless citizen wiped from the earth to make someone else’s war easier. Therefore the idea mutates, changing into the suggestion that there’s no such thing as punishing the innocent along with the guilty anyway, because the very fact the enemy chooses to hide within a community proves that community is offering them aid. If someone lives beside the enemy, then they are the enemy (this is an argument the US has made explicitly regarding drone strikes in recent years – any adult male killed by a strike is deemed to be an enemy combatant simply by dint of being in an area the US targeted). Because how could a resistance fighter move in to your village and you not be aware of it? And why would you do what armed soldiers tell you to unless you actually supported their struggle?

It gets a lot easier to judge people guilty when you label ignorance and fear as crimes. This too is a position Tandro echoes, when he suggests a new Trill host becomes guilty of the crimes of their antecedent selves simply by agreeing to the joining, irrespective of whether they had any knowledge or even suspicion of a criminal past.

But it gets worse. Somehow, it always gets worse. Ultimately even these absurdly expansive definitions of guilt can’t get the job done, because the people you want to label as guilty are rude enough to turn out to be infirm, or children, or left paralysed by the last strike you authorised. At that point, the argument magically shifts back to this being a tragic but unavoidable cost of punishing the guilty. Each person hurt ends up in a kind of Schrodinger’s trap, becoming both frothing sympathiser and tragic casualty whilst we wait to hear whether or not they could’ve held a rifle. Whichever position most easily allows the killing to continue will be the one ultimately settled on. Because the killing must continue, or else how else will we stop the killing?

Once again, Ilon Tandro is essentially doing the same thing here, shifting his argument between two different positions based on whomever is currently testifying. When Bashir takes the stand, all that matters is that there’s no evidence of change in the Dax symbiote’s brain waves since its time in Curzon.  It remains unchanged, and therefore can be seen as being the same being it was at the time of the general’s death. Once he’s questioning Sisko, though, it’s suddenly critical that Jadzia and Dax have joined, because that means Jadzia is guilty alongside her symbiote. These positions are incompatible. Either Dax’s brainwaves means it remains a distinct entity, or the Trill joining creates a single being, unique each time. Dax has to remain the same so it can still be considered the entity that killed the general, but also it has to have formed a unique single being with Jadzia so she can be held accountable for that murder. Whatever gets him the result Tandro wants is what he argues at any given time, and what he wants is death.

Family Proceedings Court

Not that there’s any chance of getting Ilon Tandro to understand that. His entire being is caught up in this; it’s essential to his self-worth that he demonstrate Jadzia Dax needs to die. I actually think that, now that Sisko has challenged him to justify himself, Ilon has decided getting people to agree with him is actually more important to him than having Jadzia extradited. Why do I believe that? Well, to answer that question we have to talk about Seelin Peers.

Peers, for those who’ve not seen the episode for a while, is the Trill minister sent to observe Dax’s extradition. I’ll kick off with the obvious: there is absolutely no way that Trill society does not already have an answer to the question as to whether legal culpability can be passed from one host/symbiote pairing to the next. Even if we assume crimes on Federation member worlds are pretty rare, and that the joined are even less likely to step over the line for fear of infecting future hosts with undying remorse, this issue will have come up before. There can’t be a law student on Trill who got through their first year without having to discuss it.

Despite this, neither Sisko nor Tandro actually ask Peers what the culture that produces symbiotic pairings has concluded on the issue. In Sisko’s case, I think this is because he knows what he’s going to hear, or at least fears he knows – we never did learn what Kira found out regarding precedents. After all, were the Trill dead set against the idea of punishing new hosts for earlier crimes, their government would have petitioned the Federation to deny this extradition request, not send a representative to Deep Space Nine to point Dax out to Tandro. At the very least, they’d have sent Sisko a warning this was coming under the radar.

(So why wouldn’t Peers volunteer this information himself during the hearing? Because being required to honour a ridiculous Federation treaty – unilateral extradition? Really? What do the Klystronians have on us? – isn’t the same as actively helping to risk the life of a fellow joined Trill.)

This ties in to the suggestion throughout that Sisko is sure Arbiter Els will uphold the extradition order, and that he’s just playing for time. He knows the writing is on the wall of the execution chamber. While his questioning of Dax in the final minutes of the hearing seems impressive – and as a final message to his old/new friend, it’s desperately sorrowful and sweet – it takes just six words for Tandro to tear our hopes down.

This will only take a minute.

What does he have? How can he be so sure he’s about to shoot down Sisko’s arguments so easily and completely? The structure of the scene makes the answer obvious. The killer question, the final, unanswerable accusation that is so damning  Enina Tandro has to appear at just that moment to save her former lover’s former chest-slug, is this:

As a Trill candidate, did Jadzia fully understand the responsibilities to be assumed upon becoming a Trill, and did you willingly accept those responsibilities, and whatever consequences they might entail?… And would that not obviously include the consequences of criminal acts committed by Curzon Dax?

The whole episode has been leading to this. Absent Enina’s cavalry charge, Dax is dead. The episode might seem to dodge the question as to whether Jadzia Dax can be punished for Curzon Dax’s actions, but basic story structure is making it very clear that the Trills think the answer to this is “yes”. Now I can answer my own question above. I believe Ilon Tandro wanted to “win” the hearing more than he wanted Dax extradited because had he asked this question to Peers rather than saving it for Jadzia, he’d be headed home with her in his hold before Odo had made his first report.

Tandro doesn’t go down that route because it’s too important to him that Jadzia admits that she needs to answer for any crimes Curzon committed.  He needs her to tell him the collective punishment he has in mind is genuinely just, that’s he is not simply on the pointless, destructive revenge kick his mother said he was. By being so set on justifying his course of action, however, he gives his mother the time she needs to reveal he’s doing the exact opposite, tearing herself down in the process. It’s almost Shakespearean, actually. Ilon is so desperate to punish someone for the death of the globally beloved father, he causes the destruction of his own mother’s reputation. He’s so intent on demonstrating his father’s closest friend betrayed him that he forces his mother to confess the “betrayal” was hers.

(I say “betrayal” because I’m not sure how much right Ilon has to be upset with his mother for sleeping with someone other than his father. Having not been on Klaestron IV at the time, I’ve no idea what the actual interplay between Enina, Curzon and General Tandro actually was. We know Curzon himself felt he was acting shamefully in sleeping with his best friend’s wife, but then I’m actually a little uncomfortable with how Jadzia Dax frames this guilt. “Acting shamefully with another man’s wife” carries with it a faint implication of Enina being her husband’s property. Sleeping with your best mate’s partner in secret is obviously a massively crappy thing to do, but that’s not the same thing as equating any kind of affair as shameful, nor does it concede that Ilon or anyone else has a right to judge. From what little Enina says on the subject, it’s clear her marriage was not a happy one, at least not towards the end. If she felt she needed to sleep with Curzon to improve matters, I’m not sure anyone should be throwing stones.)

It’s even possible Ilon’s actions will end up shredding his father’s reputation, too – now the fourth and final name has been struck from Ilon’s list, the only remaining suspect is the general himself. Between Odo’s digging and Ilon returning empty-handed, tongues are bound to start wagging. By insisting his father’s legacy was all that mattered, Ilon might very well have destroyed it. Hell, Enina herself might help the process, if she gets sick of the hurricane of slut-shaming she’s likely got coming when she returns home, and decides she’ll set the record straight.

The Other Woman

Let’s take this opportunity to say with a few words on Enina Tandro before wrapping up. Enina is the third of the three women who’ve been dragged into a fight over the legacies of two dead men, and who’d rather just have been left alone. She only appears in four scenes and has only a handful of lines in each, but like Terry Farrell, Fionulla Flanagan has entirely enough presence to make this work. I’m sure it must be very difficult to make a role memorable with so little time to do it, but Flanagan succeeds capably, turning in an impressively powerful performance; all proud sadness and weary frustration. Doubtless this is helped by her having so tragic a character to work with. Each of Enina’s too-few lines just carries so much weight, so much anger over having to spend half a life in service to someone else’s lie. When she wishes Dax the life she could never have for herself, Flanagan absolutely kills it, wrapped the words in a rusted, burdensome chain forged over every wasted day of this woman’s last thirty years.

Enina also offers both commentary on, and inversion of, the common problem of female characters being defined mainly in terms of their relationships to male ones. Even Jadzia comes close to being described in these terms, as I’ve noted above, though ultimately Sisko explicitly states that he realises Jadzia is not Curzon, and that he’s not qualified to define or even describe the former at all. It’s Enina that represents the strongest push-back to the trope, however. This is most obvious in her demonstration of how utterly wretched a life it is to be defined only as a war hero’s wife, and the power in her decision to insist her story must now actually involve her as a person. More subtly, though, there’s the realisation that Curzon is given form here by Enina, who knew aspects of the man Sisko never did. He can testify about his memories of the man – though even that requires another woman to direct the questioning – but it’s Enina’s knowledge of Curzon that saves the day here, the only other person who can approach knowing him the way Jadzia does. If Ilon Tandro had listened to the story of Curzon his mother had told, instead of trying to write one of his own, none of this need ever have happened.

Now, both Enina and Jadzia are free to talk honestly of how Curzon features in each of their stories, should they wish. Those stories remain their own, of course. In some ways, this is what being a joined Trill means – you get to tell the stories of those long-dead and weave them into your own. You get to take a many-layered story from multiple previous authors and add to it in a way that honours them without rehashing their work.

That is what the joining passes to you. Not criminal responsibility, but a suite of ideas on how to put together the story of your life. And now, at long last, Jadzia Dax can begin to tell hers.

Ordering

1. Dax

2. The Infinite Vulcan

3. What Are Little Girls Made Of?

4. Justice

GS Blogger: Ric Crossman

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