The Future Will Be Carpeted: An Analysis of ‘Deep Space Nine (S4E5)’

“It’s really good to see you again, Dax. That sounds so strange. I mean, I’m looking at a different face, hearing a different voice, but somehow it’s still you.”
     -- Dr. Lenara Kahn


Of all the various flavors of Trek, DS9’s alien aesthetic and experiments in serialization have allowed it to age the most gracefully, yet even it is not immune to the passage of time. When you’re trying to pin down what aspect is the most dated, you usually go to the obvious: the clunky desktop computers, the sartorial nightmares Garak seems to be churning out as part of an elaborate prank, or the wall-to-wall carpeting. But, far more obvious, far more weird to the modern eye, is what’s missing.

Where the hell are all the LGBT people?

In the current age of TV, it seems like you can’t get a show -- at the very least on a premium cable network -- greenlit without at least one gay character. And, rightly so. Yeah, I’m exaggerating a little bit, but when it comes to representation, the LGBT community has made huge strides. (Not enough, but that’s a rant for another time.) If a Trek series were to go into production today, an LGBT character would be practically required, if not two or even three. It’s doubly strange that in the Abrams Star Trek reboot, they dodged the golden chance to make Sulu gay. Seriously, how do you not make Sulu gay?

Of all the Trek series, DS9 comes closest to acknowledging that there are those out there who experience same-sex attraction, and that’s totally cool. Considering the make up of the cast, again, it would be stranger were it entirely absent. Odo presents as male, but he’s not in the strictest definition of the word. He’s a genderless entity. It’s not like when he’s in blob form, he’s always carrying around a penis and some testes. He’s already linked -- a process somewhat mapped to sex, though not precisely -- with another Changeling who presents as male and will do so again. If Odo is only attracted to female solids, that’s cool, but I would imagine that would make him an outlier in his people rather than the norm.

Dax is the other case where strict heterosexuality would be bizarre. She’s a composite entity. Jadzia might have been totally straight as an arrow, but as soon as the worm goes in her belly, it has memories of being both male and female. Now, assuming that all the hosts were entirely straight -- which, odds are, at least one and probably more were not -- that means Jadzia gains memories of what is to her now, homosexual sex. And, those memories are likely pretty awesome. Wouldn’t you think, with those memories, “Hey, I wonder what it’s like now? I should take the new equipment for a spin.”

Which brings me (finally) to this week’s episode, which is ironically and appropriately not about homosexuality. A Trill science team is coming to DS9 to test their new theories on the creation of artificial wormholes. Their leader is Dr. Lenara Kahn, a beautiful Trill who also happens to be Dax’s ex-wife. Kind of. Dax’s former host, Torias, was married to Kahn’s former host, Nilani. They were deeply, desperately, completely in love, but their marriage was cut short when Torias died tragically young in a shuttle crash.

The problem is a deeply held taboo in Trill society. As the purpose of symbiosis is to build a symbiont’s pool of experiences, Trill are forbidden from connecting with loved ones from past lives. This means no former children, parents, spouses, or anything like that. The idea is that it prevents a weird, inbred aristocracy from forming. If someone reassociates (as it’s called), they’re exiled from Trill society. Thus, when they die, the symbiont dies. To a joined Trill, who is taught -- nearly brainwashed -- into valuing the life of the symbiont over their own, this is unthinkable.

When Dax and Kahn meet again, they find that they’re still truly, madly, deeply in love. The fact that both of them are women is never mentioned once. That’s not the problem. The problem is, if they do take the plunge, they are exiling themselves and condemning the Dax and Kahn symbionts to death. Jadzia is willing, but Lenara is not. As Lenara points out, she didn’t have a Curzon in her past, urging her to flout the rules.

This was a way for the makers of the show to acknowledge homosexuality in the best way: by normalizing it. In DS9, it’s never considered remarkable that the two might want to be together. That would be relatively normal on a TV show these days. Take, for example, the non-revelation that Canary was in a loving, same-sex relationship on Arrow. In 1995, however, it was something special.

Avery Brooks, who directed the episode, was adamant that it not be exploited for its most showy element: the kiss between actors Terry Farrell and Susanna Thompson. He insisted there be no still image taken of it (I have this on the authority of the still photographer on set, who’s my dad.) and barred Entertainment Weekly from filming it. Brooks understood that this was a story about love, and devaluing the kiss -- a culmination of two lifetimes of longing -- into mere titillation was a betrayal of everything the hour was about.

As you might have guessed, this is the rarest of all things, the albino humpback whale of DS9 episodes. That’s right: a Dax episode -- a Dax romance -- I liked. Liked a great deal, in fact. It succeeds where so many other Dax episodes fail. It doesn’t have to sell us on instant attraction: Dax and Kahn have history and both actors play it beautifully. Susanna Thompson is a case of fantastic casting, too (She’s probably most familiar to modern nerds as Moira Queen on Arrow, a fact that totally blew my nerd mind.), walking the tightrope between brilliant and fragile at turns. The episode hinges on Dax’s past lives, but for once it’s not all Curzon. Torias is the strongest influence, with Curzon providing a bit of rebellion when it’s needed, finally making Jadzia Dax truly a combination of lives, rather than just Curzon Dax and his Amazing Friends.

That the episode ends sadly is both inevitable (They’re not paying a new regular.), but more poignantly as a statement on the presence of LGBT people in the Trek universe. DS9 might quietly acknowledge they exist, but they’re not going to stick around. It’s the most disappointing aspect of this far-future utopia, and one that needs to be addressed if the franchise can ever move forward.


Next up: The Defiant needs tech support.

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