A Tale of Two Daxes
A few weeks ago I finished my fifth or sixth series re-watch of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Though I'd certainly classify myself as a Trekkie, DS9 is the only Star Trek series I can watch straight through (with the exception of O'Brien episodes; they bore me outta my skull). DS9 was also a pretty formative influence for me, as it came out when I was a preteen and my older sister made a point of taping each episode as it aired. We had lengthy discussions of DS9; the plots, the characters, the seedy underbelly it showed of a utopian universe.
I've addressed DS9 before in the character of Major Kira, who I think is one of the most wonderful women ever written. You can read my take on her in chapter 20. My appreciation of Kira has only been a development of the past few years. Growing up, I much preferred Jadzia Dax.
Dax was everything I wanted to be: beautiful, confident, intelligent, serene, fierce, and comical. She sailed through every situation with eight lifetimes' worth of aplomb. She was rarely wrong, never wrong-footed. Who better to aspire to become than a woman like that?
When (spoiler alert) Jadzia was killed in season 6, it shook me to the core. How could DS9 get rid of such an amazing character? Moreover, how could they replace her with Ezri Dax, a bland, mousy, insignificant addition to a fleshed-out cast I'd lived with for six years?
I didn't want any of it. My enjoyment of season 7 was tainted, and it took several re-watches before I came to a realization that I'm finally ready to articulate:
Jadzia Dax' character was not as well-written as I'd always assumed. And Ezri, for all her faults and flaws, is a better representation of a woman than her predecessor. In fact, I'd go so far as to say we never actually met Jadzia during her entire run on DS9...we only met a reskin of Curzon Dax, her previous host.
For those of you who, like me, grew up adoring Jadzia, this might be a little radical. But stay with me.
In season 1, we meet Jadzia Dax, who has all the character traits I described above. Yet what do we learn about Jadzia before she was joined?
Jadzia (we don't even know her original surname) was a dedicated student in the sciences. So far, so good! Jadzia Dax joined Starfleet to further her ambitions. What else do we learn about Jadzia? We know she wanted to be a joined Trill. She wanted that so much, that when Curzon (her mentor) washed her out of the running to be joined, she defied him and re-enrolled, earning the honor despite him and setting a precedent in the process.
Again, fantastic! An actual record-breaking badass!
So, what else? What were Jadzia's hobbies, tastes, interests, goals?
Well...that's actually it. Everything that Jadzia does during her tenure on the show—from her interest in Klingon culture, love and talent for Tongo, sex positivity, and overall joie de vivre—are traits of her previous hosts, and are in fact mostly derived from Curzon.
We learn all of this from Jadzia herself. She speaks Klingon, eats their food, and practices their martial arts because Curzon was an ambassador there, takes up with past lovers and friends of Curzon (including Benjamin Sisko, who teasingly calls her "old man"), and admits that she, Jadzia, was a shy, introverted thing who longed for only one achievement: being joined.
Yet no one, no one, is upset about the fact that a frightened young woman hated herself enough—or wanted to change herself enough—to structure her entire life around doing exactly that. Jadzia let herself be overwhelmed by her past lives so that she would no longer have to be Jadzia.
Now, you could argue that none of this is a bad thing, and maybe it isn't. After all, there are shy, introverted people all over the world. We all wish we could change ourselves, to one extent or another. Why argue when a character goes slightly farther than most to achieve change?
Maybe you can't argue. All I can say is that it unsettles me to celebrate Jadzia Dax' character when it's based on an unspoken and unexplored tragedy.
In a way, there are enough clues scattered through Dax-centric episodes that I think the writers wanted to go that way, wanted to explore this avenue. In the season 3 episode Facets, Dax separates herself from her original hosts and meets each one in turn. We quickly discover that Jadzia, as a host, has contributed precious little to the Dax legacy.
Each previous host has a story: a groundbreaking politician, a professional gymnast, a reckless pilot, a murderous musician, and Curzon, whose accomplishments we've already gone over.
See the pattern yet? All of these people were something before they were joined. Being joined wasn't the be-all, end-all of their personalities; it was an addition, a way for the Dax symbiont to experience new facets of being. Some of her hosts were joined for the explicit reason of why the hell not ? None of them treated it with Jadzia's near religious fervor.
This is not to say that Jadzia's life in Starfleet isn't extraordinary. But we are never told whether Jadzia joined Starfleet before or after being joined. And given what we learn about the joining process and the difficulty of successfully getting a symbiont, I'd wager that Jadzia wouldn't have been able to go through the Academy until after her joining.
Which means that Jadzia, before being joined, was an intelligent student...and nothing else. She was joined young, and everything significant in her life began after joining.
In six seasons, we never meet Jadzia's family. She doesn't communicate with them—save for a throwaway line about leaving a message for them in case of her death—she doesn't spend time with them on Trill...in fact, she avoids going home as much as possible, only doing it in the event there's something wrong with the Dax symbiont. They're not even present at her wedding.
The symbiont, in fact, overshadows everything about Jadzia as an individual. The vast majority of Dax-centric episodes are Dax-centric. In one, some failed candidate for joining tries to steal the symbiont. Then, she considers taking up with a past lover even though it would violate Trill mores. In another, Jadzia stands accused of a murder Curzon Dax allegedly committed. In the episode mentioned above, she meets her prior hosts. And so on.
Even when episodes aren't Dax-centric, most we learn about her is prefaced by remarks like "Curzon did this", or "my previous host, so-and-so", or "after eight lifetimes, I suppose I feel this way". Not "I like this", "I feel this way", or "I do this because..."
So, let's compare Jadzia with Ezri.
Everything prejudices us against Ezri. Where Jadzia had been tall, capable, confident, and part of the crew, Ezri is an interloper. Shy, unbalanced, unprepared for joining and chosen only out of convenience, she's not a qualified host at all. She only as the symbiont because, in transit back to Trill, it begins to die and must be joined to survive.
In retrospect, the simple act of Ezri compromising her entire life to save the symbiont—which she'd never wanted and which jerks her life off-course—should have been enough for me to admire her. Her only reason for coming to the crew is because of a selfless act.
Anyway, Ezri arrives. And she's swiftly overwhelmed, seeking security in Dax' friends, friends that are now more real to her than the ones from Ezri's own life. She doesn't know what food or drinks she enjoys, or sometimes who she even is when she wakes up. Joining makes her question everything she wanted out of her life as Ezri, but she's too scattered to pick a course out of her past hosts' lives, either.
Then, she stabilizes. She fights back against the overwhelming chorus of voices in her head, and we meet Ezri Tegan, as well as Ezri Dax.
Ezri continues on her own path, choosing her original ambition of being a counselor because it gives her life meaning. She rejects taking up again with Jadzia's husband Worf (thank God), after making an understandable slip-up and sleeping with him because, in a moment of passion, Jadzia was the loudest voice in her head. She visits her family, pursues her own romantic interests, and generally becomes a true host, contributing new experiences while making the most of old ones.
In Ezri's crisis episode, Afterimage, she tries to help Garak, a caustic Cardassian, when he suffers from acute claustrophobic attacks. Lashing out, Garak sneers at Ezri and tells her that she's a poor follow-up to Jadzia. He taunts her with the fact that Jadzia owned herself, while Ezri's only stumbling about, confused.
But, is that true? Did Jadzia really own herself?
All the evidence the series gives is that Jadzia wanted to escape from herself, and that she succeeded. Whether that's something to praise or not is for you to decide. But Jadzia's accomplishment as a person wasn't that she was self-actualized. It was that she provided a suitable vessel in which Dax could continue its existence.
But Ezri? Ezri did own herself. She fought back against an invasive presence and made herself, her choices, her preferences, and her own experiences matter.