Episode 2.17: Playing God

This episode really cements the changes made to Dax’s character.  She tried to be a Data-like character in Season 1.  She was aloof, stoic, and unemotional; I wasn’t thrilled by the choice.  She has become more conflicted about her personality, more passionate in her life, more free-spirited, and more fun to be around.  She is uncertain about herself, so she appears chaotic and unrefined.  These characteristics persist for Jadzia until the events of Season 6.  The choice to make her friends with the Ferengi was brilliant.  The Ferengi embrace the more primal desires of life; Dax gets to be less reserved with them and expressive in her love of life and relationship.  She’s thrilled by Tongo, openly flirtatious with Quark, and not willing to let her gender impair her fun.  Playing God is absolutely about Dax, with a Sci-Fi wrapper for spice.  Also voles.

Despite hundreds of years of wisdom from the symbiont, Jadzia is nervous with herself.  She has legacy that she both respects and distances herself from.  She wishes to break the tradition of the Black Marble, yet in that pursuit, she realizes the value of a demanding mentor.  Arjin is little more than a straight-A high school student who doesn’t need to try and who completely fails to realize the mantel of responsibility to come.  To take on a symbiont is, in Trill society, of the highest honor and greatest responsibility, and the mental fortitude to strike a balance with the symbiont is no small task.  As Jadzia came to realize, being the Black Marble isn’t about destroying initiates for some juvenile entertainment; the Black Marble refines initiates so that they can truly be successful joined Trill.  Sisko challenges Jadzia to realize that Curzon wasn’t a barrier to her; he enabled her to become strong enough to carry a symbiont (by forcing Jadzia to reapply).  In the end, Jadzia does things with Arjin her own way.  She doesn’t throw Arjin out of the program, but she does throw him under the bus.  He’s forced to pilot, to not be safe, and to bear responsibility.  She mentors in her way, not the Curzon way.

It was quick, but the story dangled out a juicy morsel of philosophy regarding the proto-universe.  The morality of the situation was stuck between certainties and possibilities.  In scenario 1, Sisko was certain he would save the known sentient life in his own universe by inducing a collapse of the proto-universe, but it was possible the proto-universe had sentient life.  In scenario 2, he was certain he would preserve whatever life was in the proto-universe by attempting to return it, but it was possible that his own universe would be destroyed if Dax and Arjin didn’t make it.  His moral choice was whether he could live with possibly committing genocide against possible sentient life.  I actually would side with Kira in this dilemma.  There was no guarantee the life seen was sentient; it seems more ethical to me to guarantee safety of a universe of sentience than risk it for a possibility.  I don’t mind stepping on ants if it means my own salvation.  Sisko ultimately sees too much Borg mentality in the choice to preserve his own universe, so he goes with the gamble.  In classic episodic television style, the gamble paid off and both universes were saved in the last 5 minutes.  I wonder had this episode been written later in DS9’s life whether it would have ended on a much darker tone.

The voles are a fun diversion.  The station is no longer dilapidated, and people are moving into new areas of the station.  The station still isn’t in peak condition; the show is still embracing the Old West feel.  Kira and O’Brien have this resigned attitude to fighting the voles; this is their everyday life.  Sisko’s escalating response is also amusing, “Phasers on stun, Mr. O’Brien!  I want those voles taken alive!”.  The moment when Sisko’s attitude changes toward the voles, when he doesn’t see them as a game anymore, is the same time Jadzia no longer sees mentoring Arjin as a game anymore.  I also liked the lighter side of diplomacy, where the conversation with the Cardassians turned mocking, suggesting the Federation withdraw from Vole Territory ala the Occupation.  Finally, I saw an amusing double entendre when O’Brien turned his sonic device on Quark.  He wanted to use it to drive out (vole) vermin, and Quark reacted strongly to it.

Random Thoughts:  1) Ron Taylor, the Klingon chef actor, had apparently been nominated for Tonys for a Broadway show he did after DS9; tragically, he also died in 2002.  2) I’ve said before that Jadzia Dax is only a modestly interesting character to me, even after her changes from Season 1.  I think this is because her main character conflict is that she hasn’t figured out who she is yet.  She struggles with personal identity.  That isn’t something I’ve really had to struggle with much, so I don’t connect with her.  Stories about coming of age tend to fall flat for me.  3) Nice literary device where Sisko and Dax spar verbally as they spar in chess.  Sadly, it’s only 2D chess.  There is also the role reversal; Sisko sees doubt in Jadzia, so he mentors her as Curzon mentored him.  4) Kudos on the correct bit of science about life being accompanied by a localized lowering of entropy.  And it’s impossible to tell from that whether it’s sentient or not.  5) I like how the writers are very aware of Quark’s extremely sensitive ears.  It comes up randomly in episodes, both to comedic and to dramatic effects.  6) The gift of the flute is a reference to the Pied Piper fairy tale.  7) Rule of Acquisition #112!  Possibly the most important rule.  8) The title, Playing God, refers to both the proto-universe and Dax’s role as Arjin’s field mentor.  9) First mention of Jake dating Mardah, the Daboo girl, to his father.  They’ve been dating since Sanctuary (Ep. 2.10). 10) Jadzia actually requests the Dax symbiont, out of respect for the Dax line.  11) The verteron nodes look pretty cheesy, not gonna lie.  Tis ’90s sci-fi on a budget.  12) Kira prays to the Prophets in the middle of her duties and in front of everyone.  Again, we see her faith playing a deeply important role in her life, and we see the public place faith takes in Bajoran society.  Such a small thing, but I really appreciate the role faith was allowed to take in DS9.

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~ by Joshua Black on September 5, 2016.

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