Tuesday, February 16, 2016

“Who are You?” Invasive Procedures

You don't want to disappoint Commander Sisko, do you?

Wait, you thought I was going to let Star Trek: Deep Space Nine off the hook for being the younger show? Whyever would you think that?

I have held a grudge against “Invasive Procedures” since 1993. Everything about this episode, from top to bottom, from conception to execution, repelled me at every turn from the beginning. At the time, I was only just starting to become a serious fan of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, that is, becoming actually invested in the setting and the characters as opposed to just watching the general aesthetics unfold from a distance with cautious optimism. And though it was still fairly early, I already knew that Jadzia Dax was going to be my favourite character from this cast. I liked Major Kira a lot too and she was the other early standout for me (in fact extremely early on I got the two of them confused) but it was Jadzia's cool competence and poise that won me over the strongest, So how do you think I felt when the *very first* episode I was cognizant of to deal explicitly with Jadzia's character was also the one that depicted her at her absolute lowest? It's the exact same experience I would have rediscovering Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation, like history repeating itself again

Somehow it strikes me as a bad sign that, when confronted with a joined character with several lifetimes of experience, the only way the creative team can come up with to convey this concept is to show what it's like when she becomes un-joined. Emphasis on “she”-You don't see The Doctor on Doctor Who suddenly unregenerate back to his nascent iteration with the show's writers giving the excuse that they couldn't figure out how to get across all his lifetimes of experience without a proof by negative. And you certainly would never see The Doctor reduced to a mewling, vulnerable damsel character to engender sympathy and give the male characters someone to fight for and protect. But that's literally *all* anyone involved with “Invasive Procedures” talks about when defending their creative decisions: They all talk about how they needed to bring “vulnerability” and “tenderness” to Jadzia in order to “humanize” her and “develop her character”. It's true that we all have moments of confidence and weakness and that we each have dominant and submissive sides, but that's not what this story is about: This is a story about taking a strong, confident, independent woman and stripping away all of her strength and agency because the creators thought that made her distant and unrelatable.

And of course it would be Jadzia who would stump these writers. You could bring in Kira as a possible counter argument here by saying that her retaining all her power and authoritativeness cancels out what they do to Jadzia here, but that's not how that works. Kira and Dax are both strong women, yes, but they're strong in markedly different ways. Although this is a generalization and she's a more complex character than I'm seemingly giving her credit for being here, Kira is predominantly strong in a very masculine way. She definitely exudes a masculine conception of badass: She's a warrior and a soldier (a former resistance fighter), she's a hothead, she gets in a lot of action scenes and she quips and mouths off a lot. We saw that a lot in “The Siege”, for example, especially in that famous assault fighter scene. Now, Nana Visitor injects her performance with a whole lot of nuance and complex emotion, including a lot of tenderness and vulnerability, but that's because she's an amazing actor-When you boil it down to its most basic, this is fundamentally who Kira is written as.

Jadzia on the other hand, while no less competent or confident than Kira, presents as way more openly femme, or even androgynous to the point of transcending gender altogether (because, you know, she's both male and female). This, I think, confounds people, or at least people writing for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on TV in 1993. Somehow, someway I think people look at Jadzia and get the proverbial “does not compute” message flashing across the inside of their heads. The creative team, when presented with a femme (or perhaps transfeminine) figure who doesn't act like any stock pretty girl supporting character they're familiar or comfortable with, suddenly BSODs and revert to their most odious of stock hack writing impulses. And this is the primary reason that Jadzia Dax is always going to be a fundamentally handicapped character and why, even though this season will eventually make heroic inroads to correct this, it absolutely does not start out on the right foot whatsoever.

(Speaking of Kira and Dax together, this is actually what I think is the strongest and most interesting thing about the recently popular fan movement to ship them together. Although not everyone who ships them seems to pick up on this, what's really fun about Kira/Dax is how pairing them plays with and subverts gender roles: Kira, superficially the more masculine of the two, would in reality be straightforwardly the more open and vulnerable of the two. Hyperfemme Jadzia Dax would be a pillar of strength, wisdom, experience and emotional support. This isn't *quite* as excitingly groundbreaking or fascinating to me as Kei/Yuri or what Rumiko Takahashi does with her Benten, but you don't want to hear me go on about Dirty Pair and Urusei Yatsura again, now do you?)

I'm not even going to say it was a terrible idea to show what Jadzia and Dax are like apart from each other, I just think “Invasive Procedures” was a fucking atrocious way to go about doing that. For one, I always felt that Jadzia Dax got most of her science cred and exuberance from Jadzia-We know by this point Curzon was a shit stirrer, but I got the sense his brand of mischief making was considerably more bro-ish than Jadzia's, what with him sleeping around with his friend's wife, punking ambassadors and checking out girls with Ben and so forth. This does not map at all onto the Jadzia we see in “Invasive Procedures”, but my headcanon aside I was always of the opinion the best way to show the difference between unjoined Jadzia and Jadzia Dax was through a flashback sequence. Which, by the way, we already got way back in the first episode. Coincidentally, that scene also gave us a glimpse at a more hesitant Jadzia less sure of herself, but Terry Farrell conveyed that entirely through facial expressions and vocal inflections and she never once needed to subsume herself to male gaze cinematography in order to portray that.

A series doesn't need to reach a certain age or “run out of steam” in order to tread creative water. All it needs is a politically ignorant and out-of-touch creative team running the show. It doesn't matter whether you're young or old, if you don't really know what you're doing and aren't into the characters and settings you've surrounded yourself with, it's going to show through in your work eventually.


  1. "...but you don't want to hear me go on about Dirty Pair and Urusei Yatsura again, now do you?"

    I do, it sounds interesting. Also, as someone with a relatively small knowledge of Trek (and by that, I mean the bits of this blog I've read and a few video series), I figured you wouldn't be getting furious with DS9 for another 11 episodes.

    1. Not every episode, even in these two seasons, is a classic. But there is a *far* higher ratio of classics to utter shite in these two seasons than there are in the twelve to come.

    2. Interesting, that you refer to the 12 upcoming seasons, because I was beginning to expect that you had a few redemptive readings of Voyager in store, for reasons I'll describe in my standalone comment in a few minutes.

    3. I have a redemptive reading *of a sort* for Voyager. But it's a markedly different sort of redemptive reading than you might expect. That section of the project will necessitate a different approach than the sort I've been employing to date.

    4. I find it easy to think of a redemptive reading of Voyager (After all, it's basically, "Let's get away from this grimdark war bullshit and go back to 'Ship all alone on the frontier meeting weird aliens we've never seen before'"), but hard to think of one that doesn't lean super heavily on "Bless their hearts, at least they're trying."

  2. Excellent use of 'shite'. I think it is a shame we never got to know the pre-joined 'Jadzia' properly - maybe a full flashback episode, akin to 'Necessary Evil' would have been justified? (In fact, in a post-'Lost' TV environment, I'm sure a version of DS9 made now would have many such episodes...

    By the way, look what's going on next Friday at my work! To mark the 50th Anniversary... http://www.lse.ac.uk/publicEvents/events/2016/02/LitFest20160226t1830vWT.aspx

    1. That looks really cool! If you want, please feel free to let me know how the panels go-I'd be interested to hear what topic and concepts get focused on.

  3. One part of what I like about having followed the Vaka Rangi project from the beginning is how its themes and emphases have shifted since it started. The main shift that I'd like to emphasize after reading and thinking about this post is how the image of the wayfarer has faded into the background (if an omnipresent background), and your revelations from the best of Dirty Pair has awoken Vaka Rangi's feminist heart more than I ever could have predicted at first.

    It seems to have always been there in your lifelong kinship with Tasha Yar, Ro Laren, Geordi LaForge, and Jadzia Dax. But it's become a constant issue that you grapple with. The central flaw of Star Trek in its Ron Moore period seems to be its writers' general failure to understand the female inspirational dramatic action hero. It really comes out here, in the writers' comments that the only way they could think to develop and round out Jadzia's character was to find ways to make her vulnerable. As if they only way to develop complexity in any female character is to build vulnerabilities.

    I now know this perspective to be ridiculously limited, practically tunnel vision. Granted, I hadn't figured this out when I was 11 years old watching Star Trek on TV in 1994. I hadn't developed much of a critical eye for television, drama, or narrative at all – I only knew what I liked, which sadly conformed to what you'd expect of a stereotypical 11 year old boy with absent-father issues. My best case was the Spielberg-style father-son trauma-healing narrative, and my worst (and sadly frequent) case was an adolescent love of grimdark action and male angst.

    It's really only in the past six or seven years that I've worked out for myself not only how tired and old-hat those narrative styles are, but how destructive they can be when you think through their lived ethics.

    It's why most of my own creative projects now only have male protagonists when the story's arc is how a female protagonist undermines and critiques them, or else don't have any male protagonists at all. And that second one is also a collaboration with a female actor/director.

    1. Dirty Pair awoke a lot more in this project than I could have ever predicted either. The decision to cover that series was a game-changer of the sort I'm still grappling with the full ramifications of two years later.

      I've been trying to bring some of the wayfarer/cultural anthropology themes back in recent posts ("Gambit" most notably, but there's some of that in next week's "Cardassians" too). I think I got away from that a bit more than I really should have, and I have a comparative mythology framework to approach this from now I didn't have when I started this project.

      To be fair, Ron Moore isn't on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in 1993. But to call this the "Ron Moore Era" isn't entirely inaccurate either, as Michael Piller, Peter Allan Fields and, most notably, Ira Steven Behr all share many of Moore's perspectives and weaknesses as writers.

      Though I'd point out anarcha-feminism has always been a theme in Vaka Rangi (don't forget how livid I was in the Original Series, after all) comparing this stage of Star Trek with Dirty Pair really does illuminate Star Trek's failings in this regard. Because there's no reason for it to be *this* retrograde and clueless in 1993. A lot of my anger and frustration during this phase of the project has come about through being constantly profoundly disappointed in a series that I held in much higher esteem in my memory.