Sunday, December 27, 2015
“We never touch but at points”: The Forsaken
Which means we have to go back in time a bit for “The Forsaken”. Technically speaking, having just watched “Descent” we should be passed “In the Hands of the Prophets” and into the between season material by now, but I have to make up those four episodes somewhere. But it turned out OK after all because “The Forsaken” is a great episode to kick off a brief Star Trek: The Next Generation hiatus on the site, and I like the narrative this sets up from my writing perspective better anyway. And besides, you all should be used to time travel and temporal mechanics having stuck with this project this long, and there's going to be plenty more where that came from in the not-too-distant-future. Well, I say future. But now I'm getting ahead of myself. Or behind.
You know what? I'm just going to stop now and get into “The Forsaken”.
Of all the Star Trek: The Next Generation characters who have crossed over to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine this season, Lwaxana Troi makes far and away the most sense. It's not like Q, who's really bound up thematically and symbolically with Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise specifically and thus doesn't have much of a point in being here (though I maintain you could have found a way for him to work over here that wasn't “Q-Less”) or Vash who doesn't have much of a point at all. And while you could conceivably see Lursa and B'Etor lurking around the area scrounging up resources for their next nefarious scheme, it takes no leap of the imagination whatsoever to picture Lwaxana here. She may have family and friends on the Enterprise but she's an ambassador herself and has her own life outside of them. In fact, it would be an insult to her character to insinuate she doesn't. Of course she'd be part of a Federation diplomatic delegation to Deep Space 9, the most important port of call in the galaxy.
This is very well portrayed during Lwaxana's introductory scene in the teaser: Although it's not required for viewers to have seen her previous episodes as she's consciously positioned alongside the other members of the ambassadorial delegation, the show does on some level expect us to know who she is and be familiar with how she acts and the kind of stories she appears in. In other words, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is subtly treating Lwaxana as a reoccurring character in spite of the fatc this is her first showing on this side of the lot. Normally this is the sort of thing I'd decry as fanwank, but I actually don't have a problem with it in this case: My argument from the beginning of this season has always been that, in 1993 and 1994, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine are really better viewed as not just twinning series, but effectively *the same* series manifesting in two different forms at once. So obviously Star Trek: Deep Space Nine should expect to share a sizable chunk of Star Trek: The Next Generation's audience, who would naturally be well acquainted with Lwaxana Troi from six years of visits to the Enterprise.
(This train of thought isn't always going to work out in Star Trek's favour, and in fact getting careless with it is ultimately what will do the franchise in down the road. But in this specific instance with these two specific shows at this specific point in time, it's simply the natural thing to do.)
Furthermore it's who Lwaxana is as a person, not the iconography she represents or her diegetic connections with any given character, that's central to what “The Forsaken” is about. Much has been made about the relationship that develops between her and Odo here, typically in regards to how it reveals more about his backstory and how that shaped him into the person it became. What's *not* talked about is the role Lwaxana plays in the relationship, what she does here (besides being “nurturing” and “feminine”) and why it's so important. The thing is, this really couldn't be any character *other* than Lwaxana, because, as she actually states in the story, she may be the vivacious and outgoing Lwaxana, but she's still a Troi and she's still a Betazoid. This means she's an empath, remember?
Odo's not quite antisocial, but he's a bit of a loner and a pretty private person-That's not a character flaw, that's just who he is. Part of the reason he finally does click with Lwaxana the way he does (even if you can't always tell from his expressions or his attitude) is that, in spite of what it looks like, she actually really does respect that. She's not the only person who's shown Odo willingness to lend him an ear: Commander Sisko, Major Kira and Quark all do that too, and so would Jadzia Dax if he knew her better. But Lwaxana is the first person extroverted enough to make Odo open up to them, and that her outgoing nature distracts us from her very deep-rooted and palpable sense of compassion and empathy is just all the more fitting. Frankly the only other person would *could* conceivably do this for Odo is Deanna herself, and Deanna has always been more comfortable as a social scientist and a researcher than a therapist anyway (ironically enough, Will Riker has always been the better empath), and when they do eventually meet they'll have a very different sort of relationship.
Letting Lwaxana show up on her own without her relatives and building a story around her individual positionality does wonders for her character, and this is her best outing since “Half a Life”. In fact, it's a better showing for her as a person, her kinship with Odo revealing a stronger, more mature and more nuanced character who seems to have genuinely grown over the past few years. “The Forsaken” is not the unwatchably poor comedy of “Manhunt”, “Ménage à Troi” and “Cost of Living”, nor is it the intensely dark and personal grief of “Dark Page”, but oddly enough it *is* somewhat reminiscent of “Haven”: You could read Majel Barrett as coming in and blessing the show once more in another year of new beginnings, and I think there are far more parallels between this story and the older one than people want to admit: In both cases, Lwaxana shows up and to give a little advice and assistance to get things going on the right track, although this time some of the more overt symbolism is tempered with a more conventionally dramatic sense of characterization. Your mileage may vary on how effective that is, of course.
(And let's not forget that Lwaxana, after all, was one of the first people to describe the nature of this Star Trek universe in terms of animist synchromysticism in that very episode. No wonder she'd find herself on Deep Space 9.)
Lwaxana's touch on the show is easy to miss if you're not looking for it, but it's most definitely there. Every other plot in “The Forsaken” is about empathy and compassion in some form, and that's easy to overlook if the only thing you're focusing on in this story is Odo's character development: Chief O'Brien figures out the only way to work with the program being that's been wreaking havoc with the station's computer system is to respect it as a living thing with wants, needs and desires. Doctor Bashir has to keep his patience with a bunch of obsequious diplomats as they're people too, and those selfsame diplomats have to come down off of their high horses and not treat Julian as subhuman just because he's below their social class. And naturally, it's an emergency that brings about the crucial change: Nothing like a natural disaster to equalize and humble us all.
(That disaster, by the way, may well be a lost memory of mine: Watching Ben and Nerys cut their way through the burning habitat ring set looked *really* familiar to me: I seem to recall vividly watching some kind of scene like that almost twenty-five years ago. The lighting and camera angles in particular struck a very recognisable chord.)
With that in mind, it's sort of interesting to see how “The Forsaken” actually *isn't* the best outing for Deep Space 9's *resident* empath, Jadzia Dax. She's shown to be competent enough during the tech mystery, and I always like to see her getting technobabble lines and being an active particpant in the action. She's better with Miles this time around then she was in “Battle Lines”, but she's still getting some very frustratingly Doctor Who-ish lines. It's almost as if “the young woman” doesn't have “300 years of experience”. However, the climactic scene with Chief O'Brien's decision to build a doghouse comes off well, and it's all due to Terry Farrell. Even though her lines are horrendous, her body language, presence and intonation all sell the moment as one more great Jadzia metafictional precognition moment: She's playing Miles' interlocutor, asking leading questions to get him to figure the problem out on his own, belying her nature as a powerful extradiegetic spirit medium. Amazingly, in a little under a year, Jadzia Dax has done this more often and more effectively than Guinan has in five, and although this scene sadly doesn't quite measure up to the standards of “The Nagus” due to the actual dialog, you can tell this is someone destined for great things.
Since all life is connected, the ripples of love and empathy Lwaxana Troi have brought to Deep Space 9 can only be seen as heartwarming. This is the kind of story it's always nice to see Star Trek tell because it's the kind of story it can be so good at when it puts its heart to it. We can only hope we'll be seeing a lot more stories like this in the years to come and that we never forget the lessons and the wisdom that they contain.