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September 13, 2013

Star Trek: DS9 - Ep 36 - Playing God

One thing that Deep Space Nine has avoided, that many of the other Star Treks haven't been able to, is technobabble. Oh, how the wormhole works is pretty much technobabble, but most of the time the viewer doesn't get an in-depth dissertation on how it works. There have certainly been instances here or there where an episode has had some. But "Playing God" is the first one that has struck me as a lot of gobbledygook. That's not to say the episode is that bad, as it really isn't. But when the scientific problem of the episode is front and center, the episode stalls a bit. Thankfully, there is some fairly good stuff going on outside the science, and thus the episode is definitely watchable.

Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell), who received her Trill symbiont a relatively short time ago, has been sent an initiate in the Joining program on Trill, someone who she has to examine and make a recommendation on whether or not he might be suitable for the program. Jadzia had to go through the same thing when she was an initiate, and the person she was sent to was Curzon Dax, a harsh taskmaster who eventually recommended that she be expelled from the program. The new initiate, Arjin (Geoffrey Blake), has heard of Dax's reputation and is understandably fearful, but Jadzia is fighting hard to separate her identity from Curzon's.

Jadzia takes Arjin on a trip to the other side of the wormhole, where they encounter something that damages their ship. Upon getting back to the station, they discover that what was attached to their ship is a lot more than it appeared to be. It's growing, and could cover the entire Bajoran sector and beyond if they don't stop it first. Meanwhile, Chief O'Brien (Colm Meaney) is hunting a bunch of Cardassian Voles (basically, pests like mice only about three times as large) who are wreaking havoc all over the station.

Thankfully, "Playing God" has a "human" plot to go along with the science one, as the science one doesn't make a lot of sense. However, the interaction between Jadzia and Arjin is wonderful, only let down by Blake's acting at certain points. I know Arjin is supposed to be young and at times whiny, but there were occasions in this episode where Blake's voice just went a little too far and became grating.

That being said, Farrell does a wonderful job playing both sides of the fence; she knows what Arjin is feeling, because she felt exactly the same way when she was an initiate under Curzon. She hated what Curzon did to her, and she refuses to be that confrontational with Arjin. However, as Sisko (Avery Brooks) points out in a well-played scene in his ready room, it was Curzon's confrontational attitude that spurred Jadzia on, forcing her to re-enroll in the Joining program when she was expelled. She's going so easy on him, trying not to be like Curzon, that she's not preparing him for the harsh tests that he will have to overcome later.

That is the only big scene between Dax and Sisko, but it's wonderful on many levels. They look very comfortable together, and you can see that they've been friends for a long time, the affection that Sisko has for the slug that used to be Curzon and is still Dax within Jadzia's body. He can still read Dax's expression in Jadzia's eyes, and I think this episode did more to tell us about the Trill than any other episode, even "Dax". Kudos all around on this one. Farrell did a great job showing how unorthodox Jadzia is, blindsiding Arjin at every turn until, goaded on by Jadzia's harsh tone after her talk with Sisko, he finally explodes, berating her for being the most unusual Trill he's ever heard of. It was a very strong performance.

I'll briefly touch on the Vole plot, as there isn't much to it. It serves its purpose as being there to spark the main scientific problem, but that's about it. The models they used for the Voles looked horrendous (thankfully, they didn't try to give us a moving one, just a stunned example, so they didn't have to try and manipulate it). What's even worse, is that it's not even resolved! Sure, we assume that O'Brien will figure something out, but given the fact that it takes up a few scenes, you'd think they'd want to finish it. It doesn't seem important enough to carry over a couple of episodes, but maybe it will be a background story.

Which brings us to the strange energy plotline. While the technobabble was quite heavy (both in regards to the problem, and with the wormhole itself), I did like how it created a bit of a moral dilemma for all involved, and that the characters strongly disagreed on what to do about it. Kira (Nana Visitor) was her typical strident self, her non-Starfleet training coming to the fore as she looks out for Bajor and its star system before anything else. It's nice to see, as her viewpoint in this case would never have existed in previous Trek shows. It's not a bad plotline, and does give us some good acting, but there is one problem with it. Technobabble is inherently dull, and that hurt.


So the energy cloud is really a protouniverse, expanding at a similar rate as our universe is expanding (I guess). The nice moral dilemma is that, just when a solution to destroy it has been figured out, Dax discovers that there is life in this universe. Since time may be passing at a vastly different rate within this universe than in ours, it's very possible that civilizations exist, have lived and died, and are otherwise just trying to get by in it. Kira's opinion is that they should destroy it anyway, because it's us or them. Odo (Rene Auberjonois) surprised me when he didn't side with her, as he seems even more ruthlessly practical than she is. However, it was nice to see Sisko have to agonize over his decision.

This brings us to a completely superfluous scene with Jake (Cirroc Lofton) and the wanting his dad to meet this Dabo girl that he's been tutoring, because he's in love with her. It's nice that the serialized nature of the series makes these little scenes worthwhile somewhere down the road, but this one threw me a curveball because I figured that it would spark something in Sisko that would help him make his decision on whether or not to destroy the universe (how many people can say they can do that!).

Unfortunately, the trip through the wormhole, while supposedly fraught with tension, really didn't do anything for me. Arjin had to pilot around some technobabble bubbles within the wormhole, because if he hit one, they'd all blow up and the protouniverse would take over the entire area. Ho hum. Our heroes do stuff like that for breakfast.

A couple of short notes:

Quark (Armin Shimmerman) has some wonderful scenes in this one.

Ron Taylor returns as the Klingon chef on the Promenade, and again gives a wonderful one-scene performance, singing Klingon opera with Dax and threatening Arjin good-naturedly that she's his and that Arjin should leave her alone. He always brings a chuckle when he appears (and he was the only good thing in "Melora") so it was nice to see him again.

"Playing God" is a decent episode, with some nice interaction between Dax and Arjin, as well as Dax and Sisko. Blake doesn't embarrass himself, holding his own (for the most part) with Farrell and turning in a decent performance. Don't let the technobabble put you to sleep, and you've got yourself a winner of an episode.

Memorable Quote:
"Phasers on stun, Mr. O'Brien. I want those Voles taken alive." - Sisko

4 Stars


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