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Shadows and Symbols

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WARNING: Although the article below has no shadows that I know of, the symbols should be recognizable words discussing DS9's "Shadows and Symbols". Spoilers ahead:

In brief: Still some annoying aspects, but with much more flair than the season opener.

Brief summary: Sisko's quest for the Prophets continues, while Worf carries out a dangerous mission and Kira faces off against seeming Romulan treachery.

Where "Image in the Sand" set up or continued a great many running situations, "Shadows and Symbols" had the possibly unenviable task of resolving them. Kira and the Romulans? Done. Worf's mission to get Jadzia passage into Sto'Vo'Kor? Done. Sisko's mission to find the Prophets? Done. Introducing Ezri Dax? Done, though there's clearly a great deal left to see on that front. So, for the third time in a row we have an episode with a lot to cover -- and for the third time in a row, there's a sense of a little too much happening. With "Shadows and Symbols", however, I think that feeling is somewhat lessened; I'm not sure if it's that Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimler have gotten more comfortable with this multi-tasking approach, that Allan Kroeker is well suited to directing it (he did, after all, do "Call to Arms" at the end of season 5), or some other factor, but this time most of what bugged me was individual issues rather than an overall sense of the episode.

I imagine a fair bit of my good feeling, however, has to do with the introduction of Ezri Dax (played by Nicole DeBoer). Simply put: I like her. Lots. More properly, perhaps, I like the idea: we saw some of Jadzia Dax's adjustment period early in DS9's history, particularly that regarding Sisko, but only rarely did Dax really feel like someone constantly in a state of change. (One of the bigger disappointments there was "Facets" a few seasons ago; as different hosts were swapped out, Jadzia's demeanor should have changed, but it never looked that way.) Here, there can and should be a lot more: the very idea of a new Trill having to re-evaluate anything and everything she once knew is one that strikes me as very rich for stories. When you add in that everyone around her will have to examine their own emotions and preconceptions as well, so much the better. This Dax is supposed to be uncertain, and that's fine -- along with that, though, deBoer seems to be playing her as a very young sort of uncertain. She's not quite an adolescent, but she's got the "okay, I'm here, now what do I do with my life?" sort of attitude that most people reach sometime not long after their college years. I like that, and so far I think deBoer is pulling it off pretty adeptly. Chalk up one definite win there.

(The big question, of course, is why she's being allowed to come to the station at all, given the Trill taboos against reassociation. If that's handled next week and handled well, then just about everything about Ezri Dax goes solidly in the plus column.)

That leaves the three major conflicts of the show: Kira/Creetak, Worf's mission, and Sisko's quest. All three had decided pluses and minuses to them, so let's start from the top: Kira's dealings with the Romulans.

On the plus side, the Kira/Romulan plot did manage to avoid the standard "Romulans pull a sleazy stunt and get punished for it" trick, at least mostly. I got the impression by the episode's end that Creetak honestly believed she wasn't doing anything against Bajor's best interests, but was unwilling to back down from a fight when her integrity was called into question. That much I definitely like. More importantly, this plot gave Nana Visitor some fairly meaty work, and her command style was very much in evidence here (far more so than her brief stint in "Tears of the Prophets"). Interestingly, she was much more reminiscent of Jim Kirk here than any modern captain we've seen who's actually in Starfleet: the bluffing, the determination, the willingness to push things right to the edge and to run on instinct ... all felt extremely right here. I also liked the further look we got into her relationship with Odo here: rather than anything hugely out of character a la "His Way", we really got something that was essentially a deeper version of something that could've happened when they were still "just friends". Odo's calm support in the face of Kira's dangerous risks hearkened back to some of the best moments in "The Reckoning" last year, as well as other times Odo's defended Kira's wishes simply because he understands her best. On a character level, then, I liked this plot a lot.

On a plot level, on the other hand, I'm not overly fond of "and then they stopped and made up" endings, and that's virtually what we got. If this little dust-up with Creetak was not intended to effect some sort of change in the Fed/Klingon/Romulan/Bajoran alliance, I'm wondering exactly what it was for. That can certainly change depending on whether we see any more of Creetak (which I'd like), but for now it seems a bit empty.

On to Worf, then. This was another one I'd say worked on the character level ... at least most of it. Interestingly, though, the person best characterized during the mission wasn't Worf, but Quark. Given that everyone and his brother looks down on Quark (with the possible exception of Quark's own brother), it's only natural that Quark has grown a certain immunity to intimidation, at least from someone he's reasonably certain won't actually kill him. As such, he was really the perfect person to stand up to Worf and insist on a little recognition that yes, Jadzia's other friends had a right to be on the mission too, and that they cared about her. Bits of the execution here were a little clunky, but overall I liked Worf's dressing down of Quark (and the others by proxy), along with his subsequent apology: it felt like the most depth we should really expect from Worf.

On the other hand, I really couldn't have cared much less about the mission itself. Given its dual purpose -- to strike a blow against the Dominion shipyards and to get Jadzia into Sto'Vo'Kor -- it was a given that they'd succeed, and it struck me as an equal given that they'd hit a snag en route. As a set piece, it was okay, and I liked the final shot of the shipyards doing the big firework, but there's really not much there to comment on beyond "it was okay."

Actually, that's not completely true. I do have one other gripe about the mission, namely this: how, exactly, is this mission supposed to fit with concepts of Klingon honor? A sneak attack which makes a sun blow up your enemy is hardly a fair fight, and I'm frankly somewhat surprised that it qualifies as something which would get Jadzia into Sto'Vo'Kor. The way the mission wound up, with the Jem'Hadar soldiers in hot pursuit, seems to fit all the requirements, but that wasn't how it was supposed to go. I'm a bit lost here.

Anyway, that takes us to Sisko's quest for the Orb of the Emissary. By far the most surprising thing about this was the use of Benny Russell -- unfortunately, I was tipped off to that in advance, virtually in its entirety, so some of the effect was undoubtedly lost. On the whole, though, I was pretty pleased with seeing ol' Benny again. It certainly didn't have the sheer emotional power of "Far Beyond the Stars" for any number of reasons, and I'm also not sure what conclusions, if any, we're supposed to draw from this about Sisko's initial vision of Benny -- but I'm not entirely certain I care, either. As a false vision to dissuade Sisko from his course, it works, and at present that may be all that was needed.

What I did not like, however, was much of the remainder of this plot. Granted, I'm glad that Lisa's prediction from "Image in the Sand" turned out to be false, since I'd hate having to go to trial with the defense of "but she asked me to kill her!" :-) On the other hand, Lisa's idea at least had the benefit of actually using most or all of the characters at hand, which "Shadows and Symbols" did not. The logic problems in this particular subplot really got to me.

For starters, there was Prophet-Sarah's statement that "Costamochin" no longer threatened the Prophets, thus suggesting that Costamochin, the Pah wraith released in "The Reckoning", was also the Pah wraith which inhabited Dukat. Given that Dukat found this wraith in an ancient Bajoran artifact, I have a lot of difficulty believing that. Granted, it provides a certain economy of amorphous evil energy-beings, but it strikes me as closing the barn door a tad late: couldn't we have established that back in "Tears of the Prophets"?

Second, there was the whole point about a Prophet sharing Sarah Sisko's body in order to arrange Ben's birth. While I can't say I didn't see it coming, I can say I didn't want to see it coming. While the idea of arranging for the birth of a particular person is far from new or trite (it's been put to good use by David Eddings in fantasy, and if you want to talk centuries-old breeding programs I'd refer you to the Bene Gesserit in Dune), the idea of it here simply doesn't work for me. Why? Because the Prophets, as we've seen them over the years, are simply not that calculating, or that linear. They don't think ahead: the whole concept of "ahead" didn't even really exist for them until they met Sisko for the first time back in "Emissary". Unless they've been playing some deep game and playing dumb about it for a long, long time, this is out of character for them -- and if they have been playing dumb for this long with no real hints, it's cheating the viewer. Either way, I don't like it. There may well be some interesting things spiraling out of this revelation, but that's a question for the future: as it is, I'm not enchanted with this at all.

Third -- well, is there anyone out there who sees a point to including Ben's father on this little trip? I'm certainly not one of them; he had little to say and even less to do except go on the Roger Corman Memorial Film-Death March through the desert. (Actually, I didn't think the walking sequences were that bad this time, but I couldn't pass up a phrase like that once it came to mind. :-) ) I don't particularly mind seeing Brock Peters, but I'm not big on the idea of wasting his time either, and I feel that's what happened here.

Fourth, I get the impression that everything about the Prophets and the wormhole is now back to normal. That's just way too fast a resolution for me. The Bajorans lost their gods for a time, and it apparently affected the entire tenor of the war as well. We only got hints of what a Prophet-less life was like for the Bajorans, and those hints are not enough. When the station fell into Dominion hands at the end of season 5, it took six episodes for Sisko and company to recover it, and even that seemed to be cheating a couple of stories of their full potential. Restoring the Prophets this quickly seems to make the entire exercise pointless -- beyond establishing Sisko's ancestry, that is, which I hardly think is sufficient reason. Given the Prophets' importance to Bajor, not seeing the impact of this storyline on Bajor is absolutely unacceptable.

Despite all that, though, on balance "Shadows and Symbols" felt like a net win. The cross-cutting between stories in the last couple of acts really kept everything moving at a dizzying pace, and despite my misgivings in spots I was definitely interested to see where things wound up. Some moments of triumph, like the look on Kira's face when she saw the wormhole restored, absolutely made the episode -- and the final scene, where Ezri Dax comes on board the station, most assuredly whets my appetite for next week. I can't say I'm happy with all of the choices that were made here, but the episode was carried off with enough flair that I can forgive a fair bit of it.

Other points:

-- At one point, Prophet-Sarah refers to Sisko as "the Emissary" rather than "the Sisko". I do believe that's a first. (I also think it's possibly a mistake.)

-- Once again, we get a token scene with Weyoun and Damar -- and once again, I'm left cold. I get the impression we're seeing groundwork here for Damar's undoing (his love of kanar, his interest in impressing women with his new rank, etc.), but there's got to be a way to make it more interesting.

-- During the dialogue between Jake and Ezri, I had a thought: Ezri is actually young enough both physically and in terms of overall attitude that we might actually see a potential Ezri/Jake romance here. While I'm usually sour on Trek romances, this one could be intensely interesting, if only for its effect on Ben: when your father-figure is now your potential daughter-in-law, it's just gotta do strange things to your head. Just a thought.

-- I am very curious as to how the doctor in Sisko's vision of Benny got his name, "Dr. Wyckoff." You see, Wyckoff is my middle name, and it's not exactly a particularly common one. I don't think I like the idea of being a Pah-wraith-induced hallucination, but I suppose one takes the jobs one can get. :-)

-- A point I meant to bring up last time: given Quark's statement in the bar, people already know Jadzia was killed by a Pah wraith, and if they know that they have to know it was possessing Dukat. If so, why isn't tracking down Dukat one of Worf's and Sisko's absolute top priorities? With luck, we'll find out a bit more in "Afterimage", but I'm not exactly enchanted with the way this aspect of Jadzia's death has been handled.

I think that covers it; certainly, this is one of the longer reviews I've written of an episode in a while. So, wrapping up:

Writing: Better on character than on plot; still iffy in areas, but crisp and usually packing a lot of potential.
Directing: Beautifully paced.
Acting: No real standouts except for Nicole deBoer, and that's probably due to the novelty. No problems either, however.

OVERALL: Let's call it a 7.5 bordering on 8; were it not for the Sisko's-mother-as-Prophet thing, I'd be far happier.

NEXT WEEK:

Ezri Dax comes to terms with her past.

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
tly...@alumni.caltech.edu <*>
"Ben, maybe my memories are playing tricks on me, but have you gotten stranger?"
-- Ezri Dax

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