Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 4, Episode 6
Throughout its run in the 20th century (and even into the new millennium), Star Trek’s track record with queerness was not great. Acceptance of queer identities in modern mainstream pop culture has been an uphill battle that Trek mostly avoided. And when it did decide to feature any sort of queerness, the results were very shaky if not outright terrible. But Deep Space Nine was able to pull off a decent and not at all embarrassing gay love story with its Season 4 episode “Rejoined.”
It makes sense that it was Deep Space Nine, considering it was the black sheep of the Star Trek franchise and the most daring and forward-thinking of any Trek series up to that point (although it was far from perfect in overall queer representation). The episode is also impressive for giving Dax a love story that was not completely and totally F.U.B.A.R., as it had done in Season 3’s painfully awful “Meridian”. There are some problems with “Rejoined,” but considering the obstacles in its path (both from outside the show and within), it’s a remarkable success.
Deep Space Nine got a lot of story mileage out of Jadzia Dax’s previous lives and the many quirks of her being a joined Trill. Dramatically, it’s almost kind of a cheat – you have one character, but she’s actually seven (eight?) other characters with separate lives and histories to mine for material. The in-universe dynamics of being a joined Trill weren’t always explained properly or depicted as being logically consistent, but they were interesting.
“Rejoined” introduces a large (and somewhat cumbersome) component of Trill world-building that the entire plot hinges on – “reassociation” and its extreme taboo nature within Trill society. I’ll pick its logic apart in a minute (oh you better believe I will), but it does serve a clever dramatic, story function in that it creates a societal roadblock to Dax and Kahn’s (no, not that KHAAAAAN) burning desire for one another. After all, in the enlightened utopian society of the 24th century Federation, there is no homophobia, transphobia, racism, etc. So why would it be a problem for two women to be in a relationship?
(Although take that statement with a grain of salt. Because older Trek almost completely avoided the mere existence of gay and trans people, their accepted status is something we can only assume. They’ve thankfully been included in more recent entries of the franchise, so we can retroactively surmise that they’re out and proud in the TNG-DS9 era, even though we never, ever see them. Ahem.)
The reason it’s a problem is because “Rejoined” introduces the taboo of reassociation to make Dax and Kahn’s love forbidden. It’s an efficient shorthand way of communicating the extreme real life taboo of gay love, as well as the roadblocks to depicting it on TV in the 90’s. Networks (and their affiliates) were incredibly squeamish about showing gay characters even kissing, and the kiss in this episode (the first for Star Trek) caused a predictable uproar. Star Trek’s typical approach of using metaphor to explore real life situations didn’t usually mesh well when it came to topics of queerness, but here it functions pretty admirably.
HOWEVER, in a logical sense the idea of reassociation as a taboo in Trill society is pretty odd, and not at all consistent with what we’ve seen up to this point. Essentially, when a Trill symbiont is joined to a new host it’s the start of a new life (especially so since the old host dies not long after being separated). Associations with the former life are discouraged and as explained here (in a fairly awkward info dump scene with Kira and Bashir teaching Quark, AND US), it makes a certain amount of sense. Making a clean break with a previous life seems easier and more preferable to endlessly re-litigating it and being beholden for it.
As a philosophy, I don’t have a problem with it. But it does get weird the way it’s essentially treated as a capital offense within Trill society. They try to worm (heh) around it by calling it a taboo and not a law, but it’s also punishable by expulsion from Trill society, thus ending the lineage of that particular Trill symbiont. Yeah, baby that’s a law. And a massively unfair and fucked-up one for a supposedly enlightened society (and member of the Federation?). But again, I guess it cleverly relates back to the massive societal pressure against queer people, and the way they are cast out (at times literally by hateful families, workplaces, etc.). In the U.S. it’s not a crime to be gay – at least not explicitly. But it also essentially is in every other way – and one punishable by death in some tragic cases.
And to be fair, there is precedent for Trill society being fucked up where the symbionts are concerned. In “Equilibrium,” the emergence of a murderous, previously unknown Dax host (and the health problems it caused) revealed a weird and dark underbelly of Trill society. So in that context, it makes sense that they would also be super severe and unfair with a thing like reassociation. Overall, the whole idea of the Trill and their symbionts is so deeply weird that I don’t think there’s any way that it couldn’t be fucked up.
But given all that, Dax has been doing SO MUCH reassociation throughout the entirety of Deep Space Nine without any repercussions. Her friendship with Sisko, a continued one from Curzon? Is resuming a friendship OK but not a marriage or romantic relationship? Or how about all that Klingon stuff, also carried over from Curzon’s life? Does fulfilling a Klingon blood oath from a previous life and helping to murder some albino count as reassociation? No? That’s OK? Got it. Or that time Dax was put on trial for a crime one of her previous hosts supposedly committed? I’m sure the legal issues surrounding reassociation are an absolute nightmare. Of course, most taboos by their nature don’t make logical sense, so…
ANYWAAAAAY. Now that I’m done complaining about that…!
So Lenara KAAAAAHHHN and her Trill science team are visiting DS9 because she’s trying to create an artificial wormhole (the Prophets did it first!). Things are immediately awkward between her and Dax because a previous host of Kahn’s was married to a previous host of Dax’s (in a straight, cishet relationship). And things are kind of awkward between everyone, honestly. It seems to be on everybody’s mind – both Dax’s crewmates and Kahn’s team (which includes her brother Otner). At a dinner party banquet, the two of them commiserate about the tension in the air and Dax jokingly suggests they throw themselves at each other and profess their love in front of everyone. Ha ha, yeah. We should do that. I mean NOT. We should NOT do that! *nervous laughter*
To punctuate the drama of the situation more, it turns out that their previous marriage ended in tragedy – Torias Dax was a test pilot who died in a shuttle accident, leaving Nilani Kahn a widow. Working alone together on the bridge of the Defiant, the two can’t help but re-litigate the drama of their old marriage. Nilani was a worrier and her fears about Torias’ career were ultimately proven right. Lenara is defensive about it, but Jadzia admits she (he?) was insensitive and took unnecessary risks. Almost in tears, she apologizes for getting herself (himself?) killed and Kahn (also almost in tears) accepts it. Dax invites Kahn to dinner with Bashir. He already has plans, but Jadzia forces him to break them so it’s not just the two of them. In a funny scene, he sits bored with his head in his hands while Jadzia and Kahn spend the entire time ignoring him and reminiscing about old times and previous hosts. After speaking at length about Curzon Dax’s exploits, Jadzia notes that her and Lenara have more in common than Torias and Nilani ever did…
Eventually Bashir is rescued with a medical emergency and leaves. The maturation of Dax and Bashir’s relationship was very much welcome, and it’s nice to see him being a good, self-sacrificing friend to her. It’s a far cry from the lecherous creep he initially was.
Now alone, Lenara gives Jadzia her Klingon earrings and they briefly hold hands. The camera pans up to hilariously reveal mean ol’ Dr. Pren from Lenara’s team observing disdainfully. Get a life, ya old fart!
Pren brings his grumbly-wumblies to Lenara’s brother Otner, who doesn’t really want to talk about it. But he later hassles Lenara in private, saying that EVERYBODY is noticing how gay they are, just gaying it up to the max bro (actual dialogue). She gets angry and he backs off and apologizes, saying he trusts her if she says nothing is going on.
Lenara visits Jadzia’s quarters in a huff, complaining about her brother and everybody’s attitude towards them. Dax is cautious and suggests they should maybe back off from the topic and not discuss it. Shockingly, this conversation about cooling it and giving each other space ends with them conjoined at the mouth in a passionate kiss. You know how it goes.
Avery Brooks directed the episode, and he paid a lot of special attention and care to the subject matter, making sure the actors involved felt safe and even refusing to allow Entertainment Tonight to film the kiss scene. What’s remarkable about the scene (outside of its historical-pop culture value) is how remarkable it isn’t. It’s just a kiss between two women, filmed in regular, basic way. Instead of her uniform, Dax wears a drapey blouse that leaves her chest exposed. There’s something thematically appropriate about the clothing choice, as it visually suggests the openness and vulnerability Dax is expressing here (and it’s always nice to see the characters in civilian clothes). There’s something emotional evocative about the way she frames herself in the window, as if she’s bracing herself against a precipice of passion she’s in danger of tumbling down.
Jadzia visits Sisko for advice, and he seems to be in the “don’t reassociate” camp, and reminds her of the grave consequences. It’s a little disappointing to see him pro-Trill orthodoxy. The last time he ran afoul of Trill society he seemed perfectly willing to expose their dirty secrets and burn it all to the ground to save Jadzia. But here he’s like “Eh, them’s the rules. Whattaya gonna do?” Even Curzon, rule-breaking dickhead to the max (official title) was pretty adamant about following it. Fortunately, Sisko doesn’t seem too heavily invested in obeying
Ape Trill Law Taboos, and he tells Jadzia he’ll support her in whatever she wants to do. An emotional Jadzia tells him she’s never had a friend like him and it turns out to be a nice scene.
Back to that requisite sci-fi subplot! Because that’s why we’re really here… The Defiant has created a small artificial wormhole and sends in a probe to test it, but of course the whole thing immediately goes kablooie. Engineering is totally fucked up with a massive green plasma fire raging from the floor. Lenara is on the other side of it and Dax has to get to her, so she creates a big force field bubble around the fire and walks across it. It’s a little wacky and the first time we’ve seen a force field used in this way, but it’s cool.
I’m really not sure what story purpose it serves – I mean, the wormhole subplot is so completely uninteresting and superfluous compared to Dax and Kahn. And this sequence feels tacked on just to add some element of mortal danger or excitement that’s not necessary (see: Voyager’s “Real Life”). It doesn’t say anything about either character. There’s an idea in the episode of Jadzia being swept up by passion and perhaps not thinking things through rationally (love has that effect on us). Eddington mentions that they have to vent the compartment to put out the fire, but Dax wants to try and save Kahn. It kind of implies that Dax is putting the Defiant at risk to rescue her love, but the episode doesn’t follow this up in any way afterward, so *shrug*. In “Crossfire” Odo’s distracted feelings for Kira cause a turbolift situation that almost gets them killed, and it’s a successful plot element that illustrates the ruinous effects of his infatuation. I guess the life or death climax here reaffirms their importance to one another, but it seems a little redundant – they seem almost ready to throw away their standing in Trill society, and this doesn’t change that.
Afterwards, Jadzia suggests that Lenara stay on Deep Space Nine. Y’know, for wormhole research. But despite declaring after the accident how she can’t lose Dax again, Kahn doesn’t want to give up her whole life (and her symbiont’s). It’s a predictable turn of events given their disparate personalities – Jadzia (and Dax) is bold and adventurous, while Lenara (and Kahn) seems more meek and buttoned-down, the way we would expect a research scientist to be. It makes sense that she doesn’t want to throw off the shackles of society over a love affair. Although she promises to think about it, Dax knows that she’s probably not going to reconsider, and the two sadly part ways. The End.
It’s about a million times better and more nuanced a story than “Meridian,” although they do share some similarities. In both, Dax seems gleefully willing to give up her way of life because of a sudden new love interest and it’s only because of a last minute plot swerve out of her control that prevents her from doing that. Dramatically speaking, it’s a little flat since Dax doesn’t seem to have any agency as a character – she’s not making any choices, just abiding by the whims of others. It’s a recurring turn of events we’ve see before – in “Profit and Loss,” a smitten Quark is eager to rekindle a love affair with a Cardassian woman he knew, but she ultimately rebuffs him and leaves the station. I do appreciate how passionate and headstrong Dax is as a character, and her willingness to break the stupid rules of Trill society. It’s a much more earned, believable, and organic character conclusion than in “Meridian.”
Predictably, the flirtation and ephemeral gay passion seen in “Rejoined” did not result in a permanent relationship – TV was definitely not ready for that in the ancient era of 1995. Still, it’s a remarkable achievement as a heartfelt romantic story between two queer characters. Star Trek had received credit for a another taboo-crossing kiss in The Original Series – under control of God-Like-Beings, Kirk and Uhura touch lips. As many eyebrows as it raised and monocles it blasted out of people’s eyes, it didn’t really mean anything in the story. Whereas here, we have two women in full control of their faculties expressing their love for one another in as stark and unflinching a way as had ever been seen on Star Trek and it’s A Big Deal.
The landscape of culture and entertainment has changed a lot in the past 27 years (although not nearly as much as we would like), and queer characters and depictions of their love are much more common and acceptable. As the public uproars from a vocal and hateful segment of the population show, it’s still very much A Thing, and will conceivably be for far too long. But the newer Star Trek series are finally living up to the franchise’s forward-thinking reputation by including more queer identities, and “Rejoined” was a welcome precursor to all of that. As Trek likes to remind us, progress – like love – can be delayed but never stopped.
- OK, so the writers decided to name the other symbiont Kahn? Really??? You couldn’t come up with a different name for the symbiont at all and decided to just give it basically the same name as one of Trek’s most iconic villains even though they have no connection at all? Writers: Ha ha, what? No, it’s Kahn, not Khan, you idiot. You absolute Pakled.
- I feel embarrassed that I’m just now realizing that Susanna Thompson also played Voyager’s version of the Borg Queen (before Alice Krige reprised it). She’s radiantly beautiful here as Kahn, but unrecognizably slimy as the Queen – quite a transformation. She was also in TNG’s “The Next Phase” and “Frame of Mind.”
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