Sep 9 2013 12:00pm

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch: “Playing God”

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Playing God“Playing God”
Written by Jim Trombetta and Michael Piller
Directed by David Livingston
Season 2, Episode 17
Production episode 40512-437
Original air date: February 27, 1994
Stardate: unknown

Station log: Dax has been assigned as the field docent to a young Trill named Arjin, a candidate for joining. Arjin arrives via a transport that he shared with Bashir, who told him all about Dax (for better or worse), and Arjin’s apprehension is lessened—Dax, it seems, has a reputation as a hardass on initiates.

Bashir and Arjin find Dax playing tongo in Quark’s—and cleaning up. Quark tries to bring Arjin to the table, knowing an easy mark when he sees one, but Arjin claims exhaustion and Dax escorts him to his quarters, annoying the Ferengi who are being denied the chance to win back what they lost to her.

Arjin reports to Dax’s quarters the next morning to find a large man answering the door. Dax is just out of the shower, and she sees the large man off (asking when their rematch will be; tuns out they were wrestling, which apparently is not a euphemism), then tells Arjin to get her a black hole (a Ferengi drink) and insists that he call her Jadzia rather than “ma’am” or “Lieutenant.” Arjin is, at this point, completely overwhelmed, his expectations having been turned upside down.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Playing God

Dax takes Arjin to Ops, where O’Brien and Kira are hunting down Cardassian voles that are running loose in the station after a hiding place of theirs was disturbed. Arjin meets Sisko (who remembers what a terror Curzon was with initiates, but Dax insists that she’s not him), and gets handed a stunned vole by Dax.

Then Dax takes Arjin through the wormhole in the Mekong, playing a song from a self-exiled Romulan musician, mentioning that she collects forgotten composers. She tries to put Arjin at ease. Jadzia isn’t much older than him, after all, and he doesn’t have to impress her. She reveals that Curzon recommended her to be terminated as an initiate, but before she can explain further, they hit a subspace pocket, which breaks one of the nacelles, and also embeds a little blue swirly thing onto it.

They return to the station, having been unable to disentangle the swirly thing from the nacelle. Leaving O’Brien’s people to take a shot at it, Dax takes Arjin to dinner at the Klingon restaurant, where the chef is serenading the crowd with a Klingon song. Afterward, the chef boasts to Arjin that Dax taught him the song, to which Arjin comments, “She collects forgotten composers,” proving that he’s not a total dip.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Playing God

Arjin explains that his father’s dying wish was for Arjin to be joined. But Dax wants to know what Arjin’s wishes are, and he reveals that he’s honestly not sure. Dax emphasizes the need for the host to be strong enough to bring balance to the joining, otherwise the symbiont will overwhelm him.

O’Brien resorts to calling the Cardassians, but Gul Evek is singularly unhelpful, though he is sure to remind O’Brien that the voles’ mating season is in six weeks. Bashir is about as helpful with his gift to O’Brien: a flute, accompanied by a note that says, “It worked in Hamlin.”

Dax joins Sisko for a chess game. She admits that Arjin isn’t really looking like a good candidate, but she won’t confront him about it, as that’s not her job—and she won’t do to him what Curzon did to her when he was her field docent. Sisko points out that, however nasty and abusive Curzon could be, he was also demanding of the best. And Jadzia did make it through, after all.

The swirly thing is in a containment unit in the science lab. Unfortunately, the voles are there too, and they chew on the unit, freeing the swirly thing, which expands. While O’Brien tries to come up with new ways to stop the voles, Dax starts being a little harder on Arjin, whose response is to bitch her out and tell her she isn’t worthy of being a host either, so there, nyah nyah. Arjin then goes to drown his sorrows at Quark’s, where Dax opens up a bit to him. Jadzia was a quiet, shy bookworm, who was acing the initiate program—but who also had no interest in life outside the program. Curzon sized her up in about twenty seconds and then made her life a living hell. When he kicked her out of the program, she reapplied and tore through it with a vengeance—and a passion that was missing before. She tells him that he needs to figure out what he wants, not what his father or Dax wants.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Playing God

Dax’s examination of the swirly thing reveals that it’s a proto-universe—and that it may have life within it. Sisko is now reluctant to commit to destroying the proto-universe precisely because he might be committing genocide. He decides to try to take it back through the wormhole, even though that’s far riskier than just destroying it.

O’Brien manages to contain the proto-universe and then beam the containment unit into the Rio Grande. Arjin pilots the runabout, but the radiation from the verteron nodes in the wormhole are mucking with the proto-universe. They stop, which stabilizes things, but the minute they move, they’re screwed—unless Arjin can pilot in such a way as to avoid the nodes. He’s a level-five pilot, so he pulls it off, barely, with some spiffy needle-threading of the nodes. In the end, Arjin apologizes for being a douche, and Dax says she’ll be happy to recommend Arjin for joining—when he’s actually ready.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? O’Brien shows Kira a directional sonic generator, which is a cylindrical device with a glowy bit on the end of it. He considers using it on the voles, but it proves impractical because a) it’s torture for Ferengi as well and b) the BBC will sue him for trademark infringement.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Playing God

When Dax is first examining the swirly thing, before she figures out it’s a proto-universe, the sensor image looks very much like that of the pocket universe created by Wesley Crusher and examined by Beverly Crusher in the TNG episode “Remember Me”—which is kind of a hint as to what the swirly thing is....

The Sisko is of Bajor: Sisko agonizes over what to do about the proto-universe, worried that he’ll become like the Borg, who killed his wife, and whose indifference to other life is one of the things he despises most about them.

Don’t ask my opinion next time: Kira is all for destroying the pocket universe, pointing out that it’s no different than killing the voles—or stepping on ants. The latter comment prompts Odo to tartly say, “I don’t step on ants, Major.”

The slug in your belly: About 5000 Trills become initiates at any given time, but there are generally only about 300 symbiotes available, so the application process can be pretty tough. Curzon Dax was particularly brutal about evaluating initiates, including Jadzia herself.

Dax mentions Lela for the first time as a past host. She’ll eventually be revealed to be the first host of the Dax symbiont.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Jake is still smitten with Mardah, last mentioned in “Sanctuary,” and he kind of accidentally tells his father about her. Sisko agrees to have her come over to dinner one day, a promise that will not be fulfilled until “The Abandoned” next season.

Rules of Acquisition: When Quark tells his tale of woe to Arjin about how when you miss your opportunity, it’s gone forever, he quotes Rule of Acquisition #112: “Never have sex with the boss’s sister.”

Keep your ears open: “You haven’t touched your racht.”

“No, I have. It’s interesting.”

“No, you’ve moved it around on your plate to make it look like you’ve touched it.”

“I didn’t have to move it. It moved itself.”

Dax and Arjin on the latter’s first (and probably last) experience with Klingon food.

Welcome aboard: Character actor Geoffrey Blake—who also appeared alongside Terry Farrell in the TV series Paper Dolls—plays Arjin, while Ron Taylor makes his second appearance (after “Melora”) as the Klingon restauranteur.

Also, Richard Poe makes his first appearance as Gul Evek, though he’s not named here. He’ll be back in “The Maquis, Part 1” and “Tribunal,” and also TNG’s “Journey’s End” and “Preemptive Strike,” and Voyager’s pilot episode “Caretaker,” making him one of only six actors to play the same character in three Trek shows, and by far the hardest of those six to remember (the others being Jonathan Frakes as William Riker, Marina Sirtis as Deanna Troi, Armin Shimerman as Quark, John deLancie as Q, and Michael Ansara as Kang).

Trivial matters: We learn a bunch more about the process by which joined Trill are chosen, with initiates going through a rigorous process that includes a couple of weeks with a field docent, a joined Trill who exposes the initiate to what life is like as a joined Trill.

Curzon’s reasons for being so hard on Jadzia will be revealed to be a bit more complicated than Dax realizes in “Facets.”

The script describes the Klingon song that Dax taught the chef, “Ak’la bella doo,” as being, “Sigmund Rombergesque... the sort of thing Nelson Eddy would have sung to Jeanette MacDonald if they were Klingons,” which is just the most awesome note ever.

The chess game between Sisko and Dax is a mirror of the famous “game of the century” match between Donald Byrne and Bobby Fischer in 1956.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Playing God

Jake is still working with O’Brien, as established last time in “Shadowplay.”

Walk with the Prophets: “I’m not Curzon.” As the most overt example of the continuing awesomeification (a word I just made up) of the character of Jadzia Dax—a process begun in “The Siege,” and which has been a joy to watch this season, as free-wheeling Dax is way more fun than serene Dax—this is an excellent episode. However, as an actual episode of DS9, not so much.

The real problem is that there isn’t any there there. The vole plot is cute (Richard Poe is delightful in his brief cameo as the not-really-sorry Cardassian officer; “They are a nuisance, aren’t they?”), and the stuff with Arjin and Dax is entertaining as a character piece, but the main plot doesn’t have anywhere near the weight it should have. Sisko’s difficult decision is fobbed off in a log entry, and then he decides to just put it back where he found it. If it’s that simple to do so, why wasn’t that mentioned in the first place as an option? And something so big that Sisko invokes his biggest boogeyman in the Borg shouldn’t be something that’s dealt with so perfunctorily. We’ve been down this road before, notably in “A Man Alone,” and it’s just as annoying here.

It’s a great performance by Terry Farrell, who has come into her own as Dax, and Geoffrey Blake does a superb job as her straight man, but it would’ve been nice if there was more substance to the actual plot.


Warp factor rating: 5

Keith R.A. DeCandido has a new Star Trek project coming out next spring: The Klingon Art of War. Check out the first look on

Chris Nash
1. CNash
I was slightly appalled that their solution to the proto-universe issue was "chuck it back in the Gamma Quadrant and forget about it" - if it had been threatening to expand and destroy the whole Bajoran system (and from there, the rest of our universe), just putting it somewhere else isn't going to solve anything. We get to see Dax and her student play an interesting game of Operation inside the wormhole, but it's all manufactured tension that detracts from the character-driven A-plot.

Problem is, the A-plot isn't as compelling as it needs to be, and ends somewhat ambiguously - Arjin doesn't seem to make an actual decision on what to do, and just leaves the station after his reconciliation with Dax. Wasn't he meant to shadow her for a few weeks as part of his training?
Robert Dickinson
2. ChocolateRob
Obviously he had it the wrong way around. If the transporters are capable of beaming this proto-universe from ship to ship, why not just use the tranporters to beam our universe out of the way.

"So chief, run anyone interesting through transporter bay 4 lately?"
"Well let's see... there was a few red shirts (one way), The entire command crew (there and back), some delegates from the planet of hats summit... oh yeah and a universe."
"a what?"
"What what? oh the universe, well it wasn't ours, we had to give it back. It was only a little universe, it fit easy."
David Levinson
3. DemetriosX
@2 ChocolateRob

What really stand out here is certainly not the plot, but rather the continuity. Minor characters like the Klingon restaurateur or the as yet unseen Mardah can so easily fall by the wayside, but the producers do a really good job of remembering these things. It helps make DS9 feel like a real place. TNG tried occasionally, but apart from the barber and one or two recurring helmsmen, non-headliners really felt like the extras they were.
Kit Case
4. wiredog
Why would the BBC sue over a sonic, ummm, spanner? It's a completely different thing than a screwdriver, after all.
Christopher Bennett
5. ChristopherLBennett
Keith, you left out the actress who's played the same role in all six series (counting TAS) and several movies, even briefly in the Abramsverse: Majel Barrett as the Starfleet computer voice. Although I suppose one could split hairs over whether different ships' computers really count as the same character.

I agree, this was a great character study/awesomeification opportunity for Jadzia, but the rest of it is kind of half-hearted, and I did not like Arjin at all.

I also loved Odo's "I don't step on ants." What was really cool and distinctive about his character was that he was a tough, no-nonsense cop, but also had deep reverence for life, in contrast to the way such characters are usually portrayed. A lot of the early DS9 novels got that wrong about Odo, portraying him as more of a Dirty Harry character.

@1: The runabout snagged the proto-universe when it hit a "subspace interphase pocket." In Trek parlance, interphase is the intersection of our dimension/universe with a different one. So I think the idea is that they drew the proto-universe from a separate subspace domain/dimension into our own. So they didn't just dump it in the Gamma Quadrant; they returned it to the interphase pocket and, essentially, pushed it back through the hole into the empty dimension it belonged in, where it could expand without displacing a pre-existing universe.
6. tortillarat
This episode is just dumb all around. Half-hearted acting, things that don't make any sense, issues of morality that are brought up but not explored, and a sense of imminent danger and tension that's utterly unconvincing.

@5 - They don't specify what happened. Jadzia just says, "Now let's get this thing back where it belongs," and then the scene cuts to the runabout leaving. It seems to me no explanation makes any sense, which is probably why they didn't give one. If they just dump it, it expands and eventually becomes a much bigger problem later (unless the Dominion notice it and manage to destroy it, providing them a real reason to dislike the Federation). If instead they push it back as you suggest, they have to squeeze a much bigger proto-universe thing into a "hole" that would be too small for it, assuming the hole was still there. Assuming that works, then it makes messing with universes really simple and would mean mirror universe crossovers and destructive proto-universes much more common. Ugh. The whole thing is so dumb.
Melissa Petterson
7. LadyGayle
I always forget this episode even exists and whenever I'm reminded, I remember I hate Arjin. Dax is a cool character, though not exactly compelling, and his judgy reactions to her drive me nuts. Zack Handlen over at the A.V. Club described him as "Church Lady-esque" and that's exactly it. Ugh. Shut up, Arjin.
Christopher Bennett
8. ChristopherLBennett
@6: As I said, when they were first struck by the object that later turned out to be a proto-universe, it was stated in dialogue that they'd hit a "subspace interphase pocket." If you've seen enough Trek, you know that subspace is essentially another dimension that has other "domains" of existence within it (see TNG: "Schisms"), and that interphase is a merger between different universes (see TOS: "The Tholian Web"). Granted, it could've been explained more clearly, but the explanation was implicitly there from the beginning.

"If instead they push it back as you suggest, they have to squeeze a much bigger proto-universe thing into a "hole" that would be too small for it, assuming the hole was still there."

We're talking transdimensional physics, not replanting a seedling. The interphase was a rift connecting one spacetime with another. Spacetime can expand infinitely -- that's how universes come into being. It's also the basis of how warp drive and wormholes work -- by altering the geometry of the infinitely flexible "fabric" of spacetime.

And far from being "dumb," the core concept of a new universe expanding into and displacing our own is a real one in theoretical physics. The possibility of a vacuum metastability event that would essentially destroy our universe has been the basis of several hard science fiction novels and stories. There's also the idea of an ekpyrotic catastrophe, a collision with an adjacent universe that would trigger a new big bang and wipe us all out. The idea wasn't handled too well in this episode, but in principle it's solid science.

It's also an idea that showed up at least twice in Trek novels long before this episode. Kirk's Enterprise dealt with proto-universes threatening to expand into and destroy ours in Diane Duane's The Wounded Sky in 1983 (still one of the all-time great Trek novels) and Barbara Paul's The Three-Minute Universe in 1988. Greg Bear's 1984 TOS novel Corona deals with similar ideas.
Charles Olney
9. CharlesO
I kind of love this episode, despite all its various flaws. I don't have a particularly good justification for it, except that I really like getting to know the intracacies of Dax. I like watching her obvious attempts to not come down hard on this prat, and the eventual realization that you can't just spare his feelings if you're going to make a recommendation against him. It felt like a real character moment. And there are a few pretty funny bits.

I definitely was puzzled by the 'solution' (wouldn't it just cause the same destruction in the Gamma quadrant?) but find CLB's explantion here to be perfectly acceptable.
10. MikeKelm
There's nothing wrong with this episode but there isn't too much right either. There's no real danger (does anyone think the proto-universe is going to expand and take over local space anytime soon? There's no real conflict unless you count the whiny douche. No real personal growth. It's just the sci fi show of the week.

This is an episode you could completely skip and miss nothing for....
11. Mac McEntire
I’m not a technobabble guy, but I was always intrigued with the idea of the proto-universe. Seemed like there could be all kinds of possiblities there. Could the proto universe be used as an energy source? Could there be intelligent life inside it? What if it IS intelligent life? And so on. It might have been interesting to just keep it there in Dax’s lab for use in future episodes, but that wouldn’t have made a very dramatic conclusion for this one. But, yeah, this is usually the episode credited with debuting the “new and improved” Dax, though we did have occasional hints of wild side before this, but it’s still fun to see.

I remember when the episode first aired, there were a lot of nitpicks about how the interior of the wormhole looks different. Has Trekdom moved on?

I wonder what other Klingons think of the guy who runs DS9’s Klingon restaurant. Somehow, I doubt that guy's going to die in glorious battle any time soon.
Keith DeCandido
12. krad
Mac: the notion that all Klingons expect to die honorably in combat is a fallacy. It's all Klingon warriors who expect to die honorably in combat. But warriors aren't an entire culture, and there's no way you can construct an interstellar empire if everyone's a warrior. Someone has to make stuff and watch stuff and fix stuff and make the food.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Christopher Bennett
13. ChristopherLBennett
@11: I love the idea of Dax keeping a pet universe in her lab throughout the series.
alastair chadwin
14. a-j
Agree that this episode is definitely underpowered though Dax is great and it does contain my all-time favourite Trek line:

'Phasers on stun, Mr O'Brien, I want those voles alive!'

Just for the sheer gusto and pleasure with which Avery Brooks delivers it.
Rob Rater
15. Quasarmodo
1st season Dax would never keep a pet universe in her lab. She'd give it to O'Brien, along with all the other sciency stuff.
Keith DeCandido
16. krad
Folks, the rewatch for "Profit and Loss" will go up tomorrow, as I need to get Gryphon Precinct -- the latest novel in my fantasy/police procedural series -- out the door. This will give you guys a nice even Monday-Wednesday-Friday rewatch week. :)

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
17. Ashcom
In a way, you could also include Spock, Scotty and McCoy as appearing in three different series if you include Trials and Tribbleations.
Keith DeCandido
18. krad
Ashcom: No because those actors didn't play the characters in "Trials...," it's just a reuse of footage. The only actor who would count toward that is Charlie Brill, who actually appeared in the new parts of the episode. :)

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
19. RichF
I was about as unimpressed by this episode as others who commented about being unimpressed. The only thing I came away with remembered years later was wondering what the difference is between racht and gagh.
20. Warren B.
If there's one character in DS9 who needed awesomification, it's Dax. But unlike Keith and others here, I don't think it ever really happened, here or in other episodes. For someone with several lifetimes of experiences (including hanging out with legendary klingon warriors) Dax sure is the dullest and least developed of the cast. I don't personally think the writers shoehorning in tiny snippets of 'she's wild and interesting because we say so!' really counts.
The most interesting stuff Jadzia Dax ever did was provide insight to trill history and culture; banter with Kira about dusty old resistance craft; pass on Curzon's personality to Odo for a while; and die to provide angst for Worf, and tension when Ezri Dax turned up.
Christopher Bennett
21. ChristopherLBennett
@19: Racht seems to be made from a larger species of worm than gagh. Or maybe they're just older worms, like beef vs. veal.
Chris Nash
22. CNash
@19 Rich - racht is (apparently) slightly larger than gagh. It's a bit like the difference between Japanese soba and udon noodles... only with worms.

Aaaand beaten to it by Chris! :)
23. Ashcom
@18 - which is exactly why I used the words "In a way...."
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
24. Lisamarie
Arjin just struck me as kind of boring and insecure - it was kind of interesting when Dax described him as 'arrogant'. Although perhaps those are just too sides of the same coin. And not because he's prim - I don't think being prim or not liking wilder pursuits doesn't necessarily mean boring. He's just boring because I can't tell what he DOES like.

Of course, then he had his big Nice Guy explosion at Dax. He reminds me of butthurt boys who get all upset when a girl they are courting doesn't seem to return their affections. Don't they realize he's a NICE GUY????? Obviously they're just uppity b***** who think they're too good for him, or are stupidly chasing the wrong type of man. Don't they realize that HE is the right one for them? Besides, she owes him for all his niceness.

Honestly, his tirade was so out of left field - especialyl as he knows so little of Jadzia personally. I could perhaps see him getting a dig in on Curzon being an unsuitable host. I actually don't like much of what I hear about Curzon and would not get along with somebody like him at all. But it's quite interesting to watch her come to terms with the different aspects of her newfound personality.

The universe plot was kind of forgettable to me. Did anybody actually think our universe was in any danger? I know it's a sci-fi show, but I still would rather they just focused more on Dax's symbiont plot instead, instead of contriving a wild technobabble plot.

I like that Odo doesn't step on ants, though :) And I think Kira's outburst, which ended with Odo and all the other Starfleet members just staring at her, kind of nicely illustrates the difference between the Starflee ideal, and others may think (although Odo in this case goes along with them).
Christopher Bennett
25. ChristopherLBennett
What bothers me a bit is the implication that they have ants on Bajor. I suppose if they'd had Kira say "like stepping on zibiks" or something, it wouldn't have been clear what she meant. Maybe the station's magic translators were interpreting whatever they were actually saying.
26. slpsite
I'm confused Technically Jonathan Frakes did not appear as William Riker in any Deep Space Nine episode that I can remember. he appeared as Thomas Riker pretending to be William Riker in the episode 'Defiant' but he was not William so why do they include him?
Keith DeCandido
27. krad
slpsite: He appeared in Voyager, in the episode "The Q and the Grey," and in Enterprise's final episode "These Are the Voyages..." as well as just about every episode of TNG, all as William Riker. So those are the three series he appeared in as W.T. Riker. :)

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Joseph Newton
28. crzydroid
@27: Ah ha! So that would be Troi's third apperance as well...I kept wondering when she would show up in DS9.

@25: I feel as though there are several instances in Trek where a non-Terran makes reference to some sort of Earth creature, so maybe they are all instances of the UT working magic. What bothered me is an episode of Enterprise where Archer goes to Risa and the non-Earth woman he meets has a dog.

For all those who thought they were just dumping it in the Gamma Quadrant, I was one who didn't think that. It seemed pretty clear to me that they were just returning it to the subspace whatever.
Christopher Bennett
29. ChristopherLBennett
@27: "Just about every episode?" Memory Alpha says Riker was in every episode of TNG.
30. Anthony Pirtle
I think a lot of you guys are too harsh on this episode. I love that it at least tries to flesh Dax out without simply telling us about her, instead giving her a rather Trill-specific personal delima. The idea of a proto-universe and the morals of destroying it to save our own were interesting things to bring up, even if they weren't well explored. Sure, the convenient crisis-as-opportunity-for-redemption was predictable, since that's a Trek mainstay, but there were lots of moments to enjoy, my particular favorite being Quark's bartending scene, one of my personal favorites of the series.

QUARK: Listen, son. When I was a young man, no older than you, I had an apprentice position with the District Sub-Nagus. I licked his boots like you couldn't believe. He loved me. I was his golden boy. I was on the high road to the top of the Ferengi business world, and then it all fell apart.


QUARK: Rule of Acquisition one twelve. Never have sex with the boss's sister. I was fired, broke. It was quite a setback to my ambitions.

ARJIN: How'd you recover?

QUARK: Never did. Look at me. Tending bar out here in Wormhole Junction while the big boys fly past me at warp speed. You only get one shot at the latinum stairway. If you miss it, you miss it. Welcome to the club, son.

ARJIN: Thanks.

QUARK: Glad I could help.

This exchange alone makes this episode a 6.

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