Sunday, April 17, 2016

“Goddess Remembered”: Playing God

Attest to your goddess. In this form, she is the energy of life and creation embodied. She waits for you to realise that which you have always known about yourself.

Normally I write these at night. I'm a bit of a night owl by habit already, and I find that, when doing creative work, I perform far better at night. I'm much more focused during the evenings, whereas I tend to get distracted far too easily by the business and hustle-and-bustle of diurnal life. Today though I am breaking habit and writing this during the morning, but it seems to feel right. I am, after all, also very much a day person: Sunshine is a vital and fundamental part of my existence and I need to be around it and in it constantly or I get depressed. I am of the Sun and the Moon equally, which makes things annoying when I need to find time to sleep. I could say the same thing about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine-This is a show that uses a great deal of dark cinematography and colouring, and it's of course a space-based science fiction series. And yet a sizable majority of my memories of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine evoke feelings of openness, brightness and warmth because, as I'll discuss in further detail in following chapters, much of my experience of it came through comic books and magazines, including most, if not all, of this season. I have extremely vivid place-memories of reading about this year's stories in such magazines beneath the warm and welcoming summer sunshine.

It's news to nobody that Jadzia Dax is my favourite character on this show. It is, in fact, typically a three-way race between her, Tasha Yar and Geordi La Forge for my favourite character in all of Star Trek. But of those three, it's no contest who has the most consistent and unforgettable personality. Jadzia Dax is a goddess-woman, a divine avatar who exists in the space between worlds beckoning us to join her. And this is her definitive story. Jadzia is “Playing God”, that is, playing at being a god, but not in the expected Robert Oppenheimer sense. Though diegetically mortal, Jadzia Dax is dressed in the trappings of the divine, her initiate Arjin also her prospective pupil and the play's stand-in for us. Jadzia plays a goddess of fertility, love and lust: Wild and vivacious, she tries to make Arjin get over himself in order to make peace with and accept himself. Because only someone conscious and mature enough to do that will be able to accept cosmic love and light into themselves. It's in that moment of ego death where we find clarity and gain the power to channel our own truest selves. True confidence and identity lies in the moment where we shed the anxieties and self-consciousness of youth while retaining its vive. And if we're not there yet, we can pretend we are. It's the same thing.

Arjin himself wears the masks of many things. Chief among them, however, is that of the implied audience-Hardcore science fiction and/or Star Trek fans and, by extension, the franchise itself. Like Star Trek, Arjin is nebbish, insecure, directionless and far too eager to impress. He's put off by Jadzia less by bigotry or prudishness and more feelings of insecurity and intimidation, and that's what's holding him back. He's totally uncomfortable being himself because he isn't quite ready to admit to himself who he really is. It's not that he doesn't necessarily know (this isn't the cliché navel-gazey plot about the young adult going off to “find himself”), he's just not yet ready to embrace himself for all that he is. Were he just to relax and be himself, he'd find his life would be a lot more clear to him and it would go far easier. And that's the exact sort of person who needs a goddess to come to them, show them their reflection and give them guidance towards navigating their path. And like all great goddesses, Jadzia is not at all coy about putting things in front of her disciples to force them to confront themselves.

Naturally given this is Jadzia's story (which means it's really Arjin's story), “Playing God” is simply dripping in sex magic. Jadzia makes Arjin walk in on the aftermath of one of her own sessions, and then proceeds to tease him by walking around her quarters in just a towel, all in an attempt to focus his attention and force him to confront sides of himself he's afraid to. Moments later, the scene is echoed extradiegteically for our benefit when the camera appears to be preoccupied with Major Kira and Miles O'Brien, who it catches in a compromising position under the Ops command table, lingering for a fair bit of time on their shapely backsides. Standards and practices for a syndicated TV show that goes out before the watershed in certain markets mean there always has to be backdoor “innocent” explanation for such things (including a rather risible, albeit tongue-in-cheek, suggestion in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion that Dax and her paramour were “wrestling”. I'll bet they were), but the “not what it looks like” context of the Ops scene does nothing to dissuade the shippiness quotient I read in it.

(There is also the subplot of the Cardassian Vole infestation, which we are helpfully reminded happens to take place during the voles' mating season. This subplot is utterly incredible and one of my absolute favourite storylines in the entire series-It's as playful and quirky as Dax herself.)

Dax takes Arjin through the wormhole, the Celestial Temple, and for him creates new life. An entire universe of new life, in fact: Breath channeled and given a new dream-form. We get a typical Star Trek moral dilemma, because this is the set of storytelling conventions and symbolic associations we must translate ourselves into to operate in this realm. Is it dangerous? Only if you look at it a certain way. The universe is of us, but it is also bigger than all of us. How do you, personally, respond to a truth like that? Odo and Kira articulate the debate and, in doing so, reveal something fundamental about their characters and their relationship with each other:
“We already have a solution and the longer we wait the harder it will be to implement it. I'm sorry, but this is us or them. We have to destroy it!”  
“You can't just wipe out a civilization! We would be committing mass murder!”  
“It's like stepping on ants, Odo!” 
“I don't step on ants, Major.”
The shapeshifter who can be anyone and anything can mould himself into any perspective...And the formless being looking for an identity falls back on justice. Meanwhile, Commander Sisko spells out the solution for us:
“Personal log. Supplemental. One hour. One hour to make a decision that could mean the life or death of a civilization. Or the end to our own. My mind keeps going back to the Borg. How I despised their...Indifference as they tried to exterminate us. And I have to ask myself...Would I be any different if I destroyed another universe to preserve my own?”
By acknowledging the Borg, Commander Sisko makes his choice. The Borg are who we do not want to emulate, and this is something he would know better than anyone else. And in order to avoid becoming the Borg, we choose empathy. We choose life. We choose love and anarchy. We choose Jadzia Dax, and we welcome her into our lives for all she has to teach us.

And as for Arjin? Perhaps he was scared that the new universe would overtake him. He's not ready to be a Trill host. But perhaps he will someday. In Another Time.


  1. Bravo! I've always felt like there has to be a redemptive read for this episode, but I've never been able to find it myself.

  2. Clearly, unambiguously, this is Terry Farrell's best episode yet. If, until now, I'd been unable to understand her approach (and the writers') to her character, this is the one that would illuminate it.

    I love everything she does here. But especially, taking note of her comment about the personalities of the host and symbiont being balanced, I love how she refers to herself in varying ways. Sometimes as Dax talking about its host in the third person, sometimes as Jadzia talking about her symbiont in the third person. Each one taking some umbrage, and some pride, from something in the other's past. Farrell's voice is subtly different in each of these scenes, too. Her mischievous side, expressed in a bold and impish voice, shines through: the tongo playing, the casual sex (at least, that's how I immediately read the scene). Her intellectual side is brilliantly expressed, and I'm not sure I've ever seen a Trek actor other than LeVar Burton handle technobabble as naturally as Farrell does here. And, of course, the powerfully empathetic and nurturing aspect that takes over at the end of Arjin's training, settling, once and for all for this pair of brilliant beings, how distinct they are from the entity that came before: taskmaster Curzon.

    But where I depart from your reading of Dax, Josh, is in your insistence that she's defined by some sort of conjoining of male and female "energies." This bothers me quite a bit, and feels too much like gender essentialism, coding Jadzia's empathy and tenderness as female, and her intellect and strength as male. I realize that the character is trapped in the context of late 20th Century sexual politics, and is always going to be a bit hobbled by them, and it further occurs to me how many opportunities Trek missed to use joined Trill in exploring transgender issues (though maybe it was for the best that a bunch of cis het male TV writers raised on garbage like Heinlein didn't try their hand at it). But I see Farrell's approach to the character, in her voice and her posture, as breaking apart the gender duality, disregarding the silly idea that there's any such thing as a quality or "energy" residing exclusively in one sex. Jadzia was a woman, true. Dax's prior host was a man, and Dax itself is . . . whatever a symbiont is. Together, they're several men and women simultaneously, countless attitudes and characteristics comingling in a distinct person who is, not agender, but maybe pangender (Tumblr fans would doubtless correct me for using these terms so imprecisely, and I'd welcome it!)

    Funny, how the actual crisis of the episode, the expanding proto-universe, occupied so little of my thoughts. I guess because the moral dilemma never seeemed seriously posed to me. Of course they were never going to kill it and would always have found a way to preserve it.

    Sorry these comments are so long. I'm catching back up to the blog and I've a lot of pent-up thoughts.

  3. So much I enjoyed about this post - what a great read! I adore the idea of the tiny universe and what a great episode for Jadzia. Interesting points regarding gender above Dustin and I like what you are saying about the concept of Jadzia being pangender or something more.