Synopsis: Dax’s widow (after a fashion) is part of a visiting science team, and she and Jadzia fall for one another — despite a Trill taboo against “reassociation”.
This is another of Avery Brooks’s outings as a director, and I really love some of his staging choices — the moment at the party where Kahn and Dax turn around and discover everyone trying to hide the fact that they’re staring at them (except for Bashir, who’s gleefully enjoying the drama) is a great little bit of levity, for instance. I also really appreciate that the kiss isn’t shot in an exploitative or titillating way (in fact, Brooks specifically refused to allow Entertainment Tonight to get film of the kiss to use for promoting the episode because he didn’t want to sensationalize it). You could digitally replace Susanna Thompson with a male actor without really changing anything, not only in that scene but the entire episode — in fact, the new Kahn host was originally going to be male, and it was Ron Moore who suggested making the queer connection.
Which…the fact that it’s just about the most overt queer representation we’d get in Star Trek until Discovery (where they would, halfway through the first season, brutally kill half of the gay couple, and the non-white partner to boot), more than twenty years later, is, uh. Certainly a choice. That choice is why I can sometimes get a bit cynical when the franchise celebrates itself for being So Gosh-Darn Progressive and Forward-Thinking. Like — yes, absolutely, the Kahn-Dax kiss was a big deal at the time, and I’m delighted, as a queer woman who was, at the time, in my preteens and desperate to see myself represented, that they did it! But, you know, the key phrase there is “at the time”. Let’s not sprain our elbows patting ourselves on the back, she said, with a pointed glance at everything Rick Berman shut down in the name of heteronormativity and the cishet male gaze.
(In a darkly funny twist, the outrage in response to the mere announcement that there’d be a queer main character on Discovery goes along with what Ira Steven Behr said of this episode in the mid-90’s, that the angry reaction to it “goes to prove a point I always believed in, which is that science fiction fans and Star Trek fans are much more conservative than people want to believe”.)
The episode as a whole feels less heavy-handed and “you get what we’re actually talking about here, right?” than it might easily have done, I think; it feels like an organic story for Jadzia. It helps that it’s at least as much a story about grief and moving on as a story about Forbidden Love. It makes perfect sense that even as he’s warning her not to do anything rash, Sisko still admits to Jadzia that “if I were in your position I’d probably be just as ready to throw everything away for the person I loved” — this is a man who, at the very beginning of the series, had to be physically dragged to a shuttle as his ship was going to pieces because he didn’t want to leave his wife’s body. Further, it makes sense that it’s Kira, who less than a year ago lost the man she was in love with, who sees first and foremost how lucky the Kahn and Dax are to have a second chance, and who thinks they should take it, taboo be damned.
(This is also where the allegory falls apart for me, as they tend to do if you try to make them map too closely on a real-world issue. Because as a story about grief and loss, the healthy thing actually is for them to move on — particularly in light of Jadzia pointing out last season that it’s important for the previous host not to lose themselves in the symbiont.
A slightly different perspective on reassociation
I’d had some questions around the reassociation taboo — the sort of semi-nitpicky questions to which the real answer is “the writers didn’t come up with it until the Trill were already an established species, and how serious it is depends on how convenient it will be in any given episode”, and which are for the sake of sanity best just forgotten about. Mostly around where the line is drawn, what constitutes “reassociation” — does it extend only to a past host’s immediate family/lovers? Are there varying degrees of disapproval around different kinds of reassociation? If resuming a romantic relationship with a previous host’s lover is such a big problem, why was Odan so ready do so with Crusher in TNG’s “The Host” (this would be the most prominent example of “the real answer is that the writers hadn’t actually thought it out that deeply yet”)?
But apparently Michael Piller’s original concept for the taboo was that it was less of a concern about any individual host or symbiont than the potential ramifications for Trill society — a fear that reassociation could result in the development of an aristocratic caste, a group of people who, as René Echevarria put it, “only want to hang out with each other, their dear old friends from five hundred years ago”. The possibility for a certain stagnation is hinted at in the show, but it’s mostly presented as an individual responsibility to oneself and one’s symbiont not to get lost in a sort of symbiotic solipsism, rather than a greater social responsibility not to form an insular ruling class (not to mention the responsibility to the current host to let them live their own life and have their own experiences rather than reducing them to a vehicle for the symbiont).
The concern being more about Trill society than any individual symbiont’s experience helps, for me, in that it suggests the taboo may not extend to, or at least may not hold as strongly for, relationships to non-Trill. Because a non-Trill can’t serve as a host long-term, even if a symbiont’s new host does resume a relationship with a previous host’s partner, the relationship can only last as long as that partner’s life, so while it might be frowned upon, it’s probably not grounds for full exile. Plus, as I think they mention at one point, after a few centuries the odds on a given joined Trill having to work with someone to whom a previous host was connected go up significantly, especially before the Trill developed interplanetary travel or made contact with other races, so forbidding any kind of contact with people a past host was close to becomes an unrealistic goal without just shutting the host off in complete isolation.
A few other notes
This is the second episode in a row where Sisko has had a private one-on-one with one of his officers because he had to tell them something that might be difficult for them to hear, and I just find it…really interesting? I was trying to figure out why, exactly, and I think it may be the fact that, in “Indiscretion“, he actually went to Kira’s quarters. His and Jadzia’s talks take place in his office here — mostly, he does come to Jadzia’s quarters to privately check in on her before the party — but of course there’s a lot of familiarity between them to start with, anyway. There’s less formality on the station than on Starfleet ships (as Worf has already been learning), but the dynamics among the senior staff in general, and certainly between Sisko and the rest of the senior staff, are subtly but definitively different from those of TNG.
- “Curzon would be horrified to know that I’m a scientist” — didn’t Jadzia already have a doctorate when she was joined, though? He knew she was already a scientist, right?
- Worf trolling everyone when asked what Klingons dream about is such a delight. I’m not wild about some of what they do with his character, but I do love that DS9 lets Worf have a sense of humor.
- Dax, uncomfortable at the party, just going to hang out over by the buffet is a #mood.
- That this was the one rule Curzon took seriously was a little surprising.
- Kahn and Dax are obviously horny in the more traditional sense, but the emotional horniness is what really stands out.
- The reception scene may be one of the finest examples in the show of how every single person on the station is horny for drama.