Thursday, October 15, 2015

“Forever Now”: Emissary

It's Stardate 4399.7 at the Battle of Wolf 359. Star Trek: The Next Generation fans exist here. This is a moment of grotesque apotheosis: The moment when you finally realise you're truly not alone in the universe. The Borg: Unfettered efficiency and misanthropy. Proof by negative. I refuse to believe. Behold and confront the negation of reality to reveal the true natures of reality. This is a path. You must decide for yourself if it is a good one for you.

It's January 3, 1993 on your television screen. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine exists in this moment. But it has always existed at this point of singularity. It has waited. It waits. I'm skeptical, though cautiously optimistic about a second Star Trek series. I don't like that it's on a space station, because I dream about travelling to the stars. “This isn't a starship, Major”. I fear a new show will make people stop paying attention to and caring about the Enterprise crew. My crew; my family. Living in the present, but without the self awareness and inner focus to truly comprehend what that means. The local Vermont syndication affiliates are airing Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the exact same timeslot opposite one another. They exist together in the same moment. “I do not understand the threat I bring to you. But I am not your enemy. Allow me to prove it”. It's February 2003. It's October 2015.

There's a lithograph of a Runabout leaving Deep Space 9, still in orbit around Bajor. I can see the image in my mind. I remember the Runabouts. The Runabouts are cool. They're like miniature starships. It's late 1993, and my father is doing warehouse inventory for the toy store. There's an AMT/ERTL model kit of the USS Rio Grande on offer and my curiosity is piqued. Deep Space 9 waits to be rediscovered. It's mid 1994, and Star Trek: The Next Generation is on TV. It may be a rerun, I can't quite make it out. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is on one of the other networks. I flip back and forth between the channels, two different cameras trained on two different sections of the same universe at the same point in time. It's dark. Kira Nerys is trying to have a conversation with Jadzia Dax, who is preoccupied with practicing gymnastics on a high bar. I am unable to turn away.

Stardate 46388.2. Three years later. Miles O'Brien is with Commander Sisko wearing the new Deep Space 9 team open collar Starfleet uniform. His sleeves are rolled up, literally getting his hands dirty with the station's bombed out infrastructure. This is how I always picture Chief O'Brien-To me he is always here in this place with these people. He belongs here. But there's a part of him that still exists on the Enterprise: It's those values he embodies and strive to teach, and its the Enterprise his presence constantly evokes. We say goodbye to it along with Miles, but the Enterprise never actually leaves: It plays a part in the opening act, climax and denouement. It may leave frame, but the narrative universe is unbound: The world is greater than one show can depict. Star Trek: The Next Generation continues. And Chief O'Brien remains there still.

Kira Nerys does not like the Federation. And why should she? One imperialistic occupying force is just as good as any other. The kinship she shares with Commander Sisko, and especially Miles O'Brien, is obvious. In their own way, each knows the dehumanization and trauma that comes at the hands of empires. They remember “Chain of Command”. But on another level, Miles and Nerys are consciousnesses who have been guided to be together by the universe. They understand one another. They know one another. And they are more similar than they might think to Odo, Nog and Quark: Each must live in the worlds others create for them and make the best of it they can. Kira, Miles and Ben are survivors. Quark and Nog are opportunists and Odo, a man literally without form, lives entirely in the moment day-to-day and chooses to define himself by his job.

For Kai Opaka, history is teleological. Everything has a purpose and a destiny ordained by the stars. This is her interpretation, and the one which shapes Bajor's largest and most popular organised religion. Yet some truth lies even guarded away behind the sealed walls of churches and monasteries: Kai Opaka does know life force is the source of all things, and knows how to resonate with it to understand a person and the role they play in nature. And she also knows the true meaning of the Tears of the Prophets: Memory is a part of identity, and that there is no such thing as past where time is unbound. Tears of joy alongside tears of melancholic nostalgia. The Prophets are waiting, but in Another Time.

Jadzia Dax exists. She continues. She is at once “the same old Dax”, and someone who constantly reinvents herself. But she does it in the moment. In this way, she is the problem of the persistence of the experiential self in personal identity theory resolving itself. But on a deeper, more primal and more important level, Jadzia is a powerfully erotic figure: She lives her life guided by the forces of creative and constructive life energy. Not just Erotic, in fact, but Eros itself given form-She is intensely sexual because she is a being shaped by and comprised of sexual energies. Jadzia is compelled to beget life within and around her. Jadzia is Eros and Eros is life force.

Gloria Steinem argues that someone can either give birth to another person or give birth to themselves. But Jadzia Dax does both. Her joining is a profoundly sexual experience, the union of a female identity in Jadzia with the nonbinary, transgender onenesses of Dax. It is the union of sex and Eros resonating with life energy on the astral plane; a Tantric act. And yet the act, and Dax itself, is grubby and materialist-It's through and within Jadzia this becomes sublimated and a divine truth born. Jadzia Dax is born from Jadzia Dax herself, because Jadzia Dax is herself a state of permanent congress. She conceives, is pregnant, and gives birth all in the same moment: The eternal and unfolding Now of her divine cosmic existence. It is the most powerfully, profoundly Erotic and sensual scene I have ever seen in media, a spiritually orgasmic moment that reshapes reality as I know it. Jadzia Dax is the transgender shaman of the ancient traditions, but she's even more than that-She begets herself as the Goddess Sublime, mantling the sacred in her mundane existence through her raw sexual power. Her very life stands as a testament to the Real and the path to attain it.

Benjamin Sisko is a healer and a builder, while Jadzia Dax is a creator. They are drawn to each other by the resonance in the music of their life energy. They belong here and they belong with each other. The Prophets know this, and reach out to both of them. Jadzia may not be *the* Emissary, but she is *an* Emissary. This isn't a story about her, and she knows it. But Ben cannot find the Celestial Temple without Jadzia, because he is joined to her. Their consciousnesses know each other in every sense the phrase connotes: She is his mentor, best friend and lover. He may only be aware of some of the manifestations and incarnations of their relationship, which is a relationship that spans timelines and universes, but she will wait for him to learn. She waits. In Another Time.

Our awareness permeates the world. Our awareness is the world. The world is built by the act of our understanding it. Our subconscious shapes our perception of the universe, and the universe only exists within the moment in which we perceive it. Nature resonates with the sound of our mind at the quantum level. As without as within. Benjamin Sisko's world is barren, violent and ravaged by storms. Lighting in the sky: Charged, raw passionate energy directed into its most caustic form. Jadzia Dax's world is the Land of Eternal Summer. She tries to share it with him, but he can't see it. He's not ready to see it yet. We cannot share our inner worlds with others, because our worlds are our own and we are limited to linguistic communication: Symbols and pictographs intended to stand in for abstract concepts. The Prophets can only speak through performative artifice, taking on the roles of people and places from memory. Only at source energy can we reconnect with our spirits.

Julian Bashir's world must be one of noise and lack of clarity. He lives in the present, yes, but without the self awareness and inner focus to truly comprehend what that means. Hedonism and impulsiveness is not transrational: This is a level of understanding presently denied to him. It's something he has the power to unlock, but only if he searches for answers from within.

The Prophets scan Sisko and Dax by bathing them in light. As they scan Jadzia, they pause at her abdomen.

It's October, 2003. Enterprise has learned that the Xindi are being manipulated by the Guardians, a group of trans-dimensional beings who exist outside our space-time. It was the Guardians, whom Enterprise knows as the Sphere Builders after their penchant for building giant spheres in the Delphic Expanse, who have convinced the Xindi to launch an unprovoked attack on Earth. To me, the solution to the mystery of the spheres couldn't be more obvious: They're plainly Dyson Spheres, and the Sphere Builders are stringing them together to harness energy as part of a grandiose attempt to bend nature to their egoistic Will through advanced technology. It's January, 2004 and we have an answer. The Sphere Builders dwell in a state of pan-dimensional and pan-temporal existence, from which they can observe multiple possible timelines. Nonlinear, flat time where the past, present and future are all equally “now”. As a faction in the Temporal Cold War, the Sphere Builders desire to use their network of Dyson Spheres to reshape our universe in the image of theirs. They are waiting in Another Time.

As without as within.

There's a baseball game on. Like Michael Piller, the writer of this episode along with Rick Berman, Benjamin Sisko is an enormous baseball fan. Baseball is Piller's chosen spiritual path, a game simultaneously ubiquitous and impenetrable to those not drawn to statistics due to a mind's predilection to logical thought. And in the 24th century, by Piller's own design, obsolete. In “Emissary”, we see Commander Sisko literally explain spiritual existence through baseball: A language of symbols and metaphors to convey a working class mystic's understanding of material spiritual truth. The sublimation of baseball into divine exegesis.

As a child, I neither watch nor play baseball. I understand and respect it as part of the cultural landscape in which I exist, but my game of choice will always be basketball. More out of personal aspiration than preference for spectator sports: I look up to and admire the girls on my dad's varsity basketball team and want to be as talented and skilled as they are on and off the court. But, I'll watch a game if it happens to be on TV. Seeing Benjamin Sisko playing baseball with the Prophets evokes to me a world of dreamlike memory and reclaimed nostalgia that isn't mine, but is deeply attractive nevertheless. Bright, warm summer days at the park in the centre of town. Visions of youth lost and found. When I think of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, I think of summer days, baseball fields, lush green parks and bright blue skies. When I think of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine I also think of dark nights and harsh green and brown tones just cutting through the shadows.

I watch the Sphere Builders outline their plans, and I remember the Celestial Temple. It's early 2003, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is finally on DVD. I don't own the Star Trek: The Next Generation DVD box sets even though I'd like to because they are very expensive and, after all, that show's still on TNN. I watch it every night except Wednesday, because that's when Enterprise airs on UPN. I'm very interested in the Temporal Cold War story-Nothing will ever be the same again. It's an exciting time for Star Trek. I make a point to buy these DVD box sets though...Well, the first and second season ones anyway. I know for a fact the series is no good in its third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh years. Memories too horrific and painful for me to visit. I don't want to exist here. I have the power to take myself somewhere else. Somewhere better.

It's January, 1993 again and I'm watching “Emissary” for the first time. For Benjamin Sisko, the Celestial Temple is a soft yet all-encompassing white. “Is this source energy?”, he must be wondering. Nonlinear, flat time where the past, present and future are all equally “now”. Jean-Luc Picard is here too, or rather a facsimile of him. Someone playing his role. And so is the starship Enterprise, or rather a fascimile of her. Someone playing her role. Happy memories for me, though evidently not for Commander Sisko. That he's unhappy makes me unhappy. We are at source energy-Let yourself join with the oneness of love and understanding. Heal. “Where's Jadzia Dax?”, I wonder. “Why isn't Commander Sisko thinking of her?”. I ask that in part because I know I am. I have a hard time not. I'm not entirely sure why in the moment, however. Living in the present, yes, but without the self awareness and inner focus to truly comprehend what that means. But maybe Jadzia doesn't need to be here in this particular moment. This isn't a story about her, and she knows it.

I understand now.

It's May, 2004. “Countdown” is on my television screen. The realm of the Sphere Builders is a soft yet all-encompassing white.

It's January, 1993. It's May, 1994. It's July, 1994. It's February, 2003. It's January, 2004. It's October, 2015. We are at source energy. All that is or ever was or ever will be. The world is built by the act of our understanding it. This is a path. You must decide for yourself if it is a good one for you.

Art is neither a system for transmitting information nor a mode of self-expression. It does these things no better than any number of activities. Art is the seizure of a vision that exceeds language. It captures a slice of the Real and preserves it in an artifact. The work of art is fractal and open—an inexhaustible well of meaning and image overflowing the limits of the communicable. It is a way to the wilderness of the unconscious, the land of spirits and the dead. If great works of art are prophetic, it is because they disclose the forces that seethe behind the easy façade of ordinary time. I am not just thinking of the plays of Shakespeare and Sophocles here, but also of the poems of Emily Dickinson, the songs of Bob Dylan, the choreographies of Pina Bausch, the films of David Lynch. All of them are oracles. 
The shaman enters the priestly society of the ancient world and is called a prophet. She enters modern industrial society and is called an artist. From the shape-shifting sorcerer painted on the cavern wall to Mr. Tambourine Man jangling in the junk-sick morning, a single tradition flows—backwards, like an undertow beneath the tidal thrust of history. This tradition tears us out of the system of codified language and returns us to the dreaming depths where language first rose as the idiot stammerings of poetry. The shaman, the prophet, the artist: each knows the way lies not in the dry processes of logic but in the snaking courses of the heart. If art makes use of ideas, concepts, and opinions, it is only to subsume them in the realm of the senses, to push them to the knife-edge of lunacy where the primal chaos shows through the skin of objects, where all judgments are silenced and beauty, naked and terrible, is revealed. 
Art doesn’t begin when you realize that you have something to say. It begins at the hour when there is nothing left to say, when everything has been said, when what must be said is unspeakable.” 
-J.F. Martel, “Beauty Will Save the World”


  1. Brilliant. Worth waiting for. And just a wonderful Pilot.

  2. Things are ... complicated. And they trust us to wrap our heads around it.

    Only now do I realize that the Enterprise was the destination. Here's Chief O'Brien, whose years of experience as a life-saver have earned him the gift of being the new Scotty ... in what at first glance could be a hellhole. It is what you make it, clearly this will be a show about building and creating. But it's evident from his boot hitting that console that he's going to reshape that damn station in his image. The universe has told him that it's time for him to face his hang-ups about Cardassians, and the universe means, REALLY face them. Daily. Tough love.

    Everybody is introduced. This isn't surprising. But everybody is introduced with a path of backstory traveled, aiming them for some future (does that celestial temple look like a target).

    I didn't get the Prophets when I was younger. Cool effect, I thought, neat deus ex machina, now let's get back to the realpolitik. How am I supposed to wrap my brain around nonlinear time. It was ages before I realized time is as fictitious in tangibility as math or geometry. It's a unit of measurement for approximation and interpretation - for artifice - a way to measure a certain angle of timespace. Meditation helps. We're all just Pahs in entropy. Realpolitik? It doesn't get much more real than that.

    A spiritual being might understand that, while a logical Starfleeter might take a minute to wrap their head around it. A fanatic might not understand what they're experiencing, choosing instead to interpret it in their favor. (I see the Cardassians plunder religious artifacts - taking another page from the Nazi playbook - it's about to get Raiders in here) Meditation required. I can't help but notice (it used to confuse me) they call nonspherical objects "Orbs", when they're blatantly little wormholes. I know now that a wormhole, a hole in three dimensions, appears spherical. The nature of a wormhole is linear. Something with a Point A and a Point B is linear. Something with an entrance and exit is linear. The prophets are trapped inside a linear construct of ... somebody's making. And, they can trap other life forms in similar, smaller constructs, and whisk them back to DS9.

    The continuum can't just allow any omnipotent species to roam the galaxy. At some point we might have to end their roaming by creating a static point, a 'home', a 'temple', a 'prison' to house them. Imagine the chaos of prophets across the galaxy, ruining timespace's divine linearity! We'll be by to check on this Sisko chap we've put into motion in a couple of episodes. Gotta be artful in the presentation, though. Don't want him thinking about a Q and the wormhole prophets in the same sentence.

    Bashir's something new. More later.
    Dax is something new, too. And something old. And something female and something male and something uniquely important. Note that she's already the confidant of the protagonist and will soon be confidant to … well everyone. Not to equate equivocally, but she's this show's Riker … times 10. More later.
    Jake is not Wesley Crusher, though he has a near identical origin. More later.
    Kira's grouchy. We don't know she's an ex-freedom fighter yet, just a voice against Federation dogma. At this point she's still a little bit Ro Laren, though the effort is already underway to delineate. More later.
    Odo's grouchier. Oh there's a wormhole? I came from there. More later.
    Dukat's just another reptilian military man in a line of Cardassian Guls, though the prophets hiccup and close the wormhole the first time he enters it. They know him when they see him. And I just realized that Gul is basically Ghoul.
    Quark … another Last Outpost? More later, more later.

    It's Sisko's game.

    1. Ooh, I like this characterization of the Continuum as being Star Trek's version of the Time Lords. It makes Q work even better as the Star Trek version of the Doctor. Which he is: Q is the Doctor as written by people who think the good guys are authoritarian militarists, while the Doctor is Q as written by people who think being the good guys are anarchic alchemists.

  3. Brilliant post. Exactly right for this episode.

    I'm reminded of the very similar structure I used for one MLP post. There, I used it to reflect the nature of trauma, how it shatters identity and distorts time, making you cycle back to that moment again and again even when you try to leave it. It's not linear, and of course that's what the Prophets' "You exist here" is about: Sisko has never stopped raiding that particular fridge.

    But then, it somehow feels fitting that trauma and enlightenment should be more or less indistinguishable from without.

    10,000 yeses to your discussion of Dax. I'd add another role she eventually serves for Sisko: daughter. At least, that's how I've always read his relationship to Ezri.

  4. Lovely post - the structure reminded me of the Doctor Manhattan focus issue of Watchmen, and, as Froborr says, it's entirely appropriate.

    I can't believe anywhere would schedule TNG against DS9 - how screwed up is that?

    Regarding Emissary itself: I've just watched it for the second time in my life, and I have that curious double vision of half-forgotten 1994(?) memory combined with fresh 2015 eyes. Which is also appropriate. Then, I am initially put off by the mystical trappngs; Now, I remember (vaguely) how it's going to turn out and accept them.

    In these days of rapid-fire TV, I really appreciate the pacing of the second part. It's slow, but not in the sense of dragging; rather, it's taking its time, letting us find our own way in. It's something that you wouldn't find in (say) Doctor Who on TV. (But of course, Doctor Whoisn't on TV, it only exists on the printed page.)

    And the characters! Again, that double vision: watching it the first time I am all "yay, we've got Miles O'Brien! Where's Keiko? I wonder what the others are going to be like? Sisko's very stiff, isn't he? That Odo seems intriguing". Now, I have enough foresight to pay them more attention in a less...anxious way. And my word, what a well-crafted ensemble! The best out of the gate that I know of, pre-Firefly. Each has a way to clash and a way to bond with almost everyone else, and their styles contrast interestingly, with a great range of variability: the rigidity of Sisko (with the man beneath shining through the cracks); the calm, still point that is Dax; the down-to-earth practical humanity of Miles; Odo's mask of Belonging, which hides (from the man himself) the fact that he does belong; Bashir's nervous enthusiasm; the fire of Kira. A few others are little more than caricatures, but that's still an impressive number to introduce in 90 minutes (as well as the whole of the premise of the show).

    A word about Major Kira. I remembered her as (initially) being simply Anger, and therefore not very interesting; but it's not like that at all! Nana Visitor's face (along with the set of her shoulders) just shows everything, emotions flying across it almost too fast to see. Yes, there's a lot of anger there; but it's part of a dynamic whole. I could watch that face for ages.

    I managed to watch four episodes last night, so I'll hopefully have more to say elsewhere...

  5. "Art is neither a system for transmitting information nor a mode of self-expression. It does these things no better than any number of activities. Art is the seizure of a vision that exceeds language."

    Absolutely - what a beautifully written post, thank you Josh.

    1. I should add that this I feel is one of my utter favourite episodes of Trek ever.