Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch: “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


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