Welcome back, everyone, for a whole new year of ‘Final Frontier Friday’! Some of you may have noticed, but last week marked the twenty-five years since the debut of ‘Deep Space Nine’. That being the case, there was obviously no way I could let the occasion pass without covering an episode. But which one? (Just humor me, I know the title’s in the headline.) My first instinct was to cover the pilot episode, but if you’re a regular reader you know that I already did exactly that as part of my two-month countdown to ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ back in September. The challenge then became to simply pick a good episode. Or at least an interesting one. Of course, if you love ‘DS9’ as much as I do, that’s kind of a tall order. So I copped out and solicited some suggestions from my friends. Thankfully, they all have excellent taste, and from those selections, I eventually settled on the seventh season episode ‘Afterimage’.

Were it not for the fact that it also includes the series finale, this would arguably be the most important episode of the seventh season. Why? Well, simply put, it was tasked with adding not only a new cast member to a well-established ensemble but doing so in a way that would avoid alienating her much loved predecessor. I’m speaking, of course, of Ezri Dax. Jadzia’s death at the end of the previous season was a major turning point for the show, and (as was to be expected of ‘Deep Space Nine’) informed what virtually every character was doing when we caught up with them at the start of the final season.

While Ezri had appeared in the season’s two prior episodes (albeit only fleetingly in the first), ‘Afterimage’ marked her proper integration into the cast. That left writer Rene Echevarria with the unenviable task of establishing this new character in a way that set her apart from Jadzia, defining her relationships with the other characters (including how they would change now that Dax was essentially a different person), and even giving her a reason to stay on the station in the first place. On top of all of that, Echevarria began writing the episode not only before either of the season’s first two episodes had been shot, but before Nicole de Boer had even been cast as Ezri.

As a result, while the original draft of the episode still followed the same basic idea of Ezri bringing her counseling skills to bear on Garak when the “tailor” finds himself confronting a mental health crisis due to his contributions to the war effort, it focused more heavily on Garak than on Ezri. Obviously, that would not have been ideal for an episode whose mission statement was all about giving Ezri a proper introduction. This is to say nothing of the fact that this version of the story would have required her to essentially be a genius psychotherapist in order to solve the problem, and as Echevarria has put it, “The person who didn’t know who she was would not be an effective therapist.”

Thankfully, when it came time to revise the teleplay, Echevarria had been able to see de Boer in action as Ezri. Thus, her performance came to inform the way her character was handled. Ezri became a bit quirkier, and Garak’s issues less complex. The revised draft also introduced the element of Ezri effectively stumbling upon the solution, coming to it through her own vulnerability and confusion.

The episode begins on the promenade as Ezri reflects on how the station is at once alien to her and intimately familiar. Her companion, revealed to be Morn, leaves as the young Trill realizes he has no idea who she is and thanks him for listening. As she wanders, she soon finds herself standing before the Orb in the Bajoran temple – the very spot where she – as Jadzia  – was killed just a few months before. After a brief conversation with Kira, she leaves the colonel to her prayers. At the bar, Quark serves Ezri a tankard of Klingon bloodwine – the same vintage he served at her (or rather, Jadzia’s) wedding to Worf. But Ezri has no taste for the stuff. Quark so far is the only one of Dax’s friends – save, of course, for the Siskos – who isn’t visibly uncomfortable in her presence. As they converse, Worf enters and, following a tension-filled moment of eye contact with Ezri, leaves without a word.

In Sisko’s office, Ezri confides the issues she’s been having with Worf – that he’s obviously in pain, and that his refusal to speak with her is only making things harder on both of them – and express relief that she’ll soon be returning to the Destiny, an arrangement she believes will be better for Worf and easier for her. In Quarks, O’Brien and Bashir are preparing for an outing to the holosuite, though Garak has been unable to finish their costumes due to his time-consuming work decrypting intercepted Cardassian transmissions for the Federation’s war effort. Later, while working in his shop, he suffers a panic attack.

In the infirmary, Garak confesses that his claustrophobia has been acting up of late. Rooms he once found tolerable are now uncomfortably confining. He tells Sisko that his exacerbated claustrophobia is making it difficult to concentrate and that he isn’t sure when he’ll be able to resume his decryption work. As Bashir can find nothing physically wrong with Garak, Sisko turns to Ezri, who has been serving as an assistant counselor on the Destiny. When she denies on the grounds that she’s still in training, Sisko is incredulous, wondering what she could possibly learn in the next few months that she hasn’t learned in the last three hundred years. At Sisko’s urging, she agrees to try, wishing she was as confident in her own abilities as he is.

Later, she meets Garak in his shop. He tells her that sewing has helped somewhat with his claustrophobia, to which Dax expresses some jealousy. Ever since she was joined, she explains, she’s been getting spacesick, which she attributes to prior host Torias’s death in a shuttle accident. After some probing into Garak’s childhood, during which he tells her that his father would at times lock him in A closet as punishment (though he denies that he ever felt trapped, as he knew he would be let out once he “learned his lesson”) , Ezri excitedly suggests that he gets claustrophobic for the same reason she gets spacesick – as a form of self-punishment for something that isn’t his fault. He somewhat dismissively says he’ll consider it. He begins to suffer another claustrophobic episode, which Ezri believes is coming on because they were talking about it – she admits to feeling a bit spacesick as well – and leaves him with some soothing sewing. After leaving Garak’s, she bumps into Worf – literally. When she tries to start a conversation, he addresses her only as “Ensign” before harshly saying that he wants nothing to do with her.

Sisko stops by Ezri’s quarters to congratulate her. Apparently, Garak’s claustrophobia is under control, as he stopped by Odo’s office to pick a new batch of decoding work. He also offers to speak with Worf on Ezri’s behalf, though she declines. The captain invites Ezri to stay on Deep Space Nine, revealing that he took the liberty of speaking with Starfleet Medical, who’ve agreed to waive the remainder of her training and grant her a commission as a full counselor with the rank of lieutenant. After all, what could she learn in the next few months that she hadn’t already learned in the last three hundred years? She declines the offer, though, “mostly” because of Worf. Later, she has a drink with Bashir in the replimat. After he reluctantly tells her that she “has Jadzia’s eyes,” she accuses him of trying to flirt with her. Though Bashir denies it, she says that while she’s flattered, she’s not as well equipped to handle it as Jadzia was, admitting that her predecessor actually rather enjoyed it. His delight at that revelation is short-lived, though. When Ezri tells Bashir that had Worf not come along “it would have been you.” In an instant, the doctor’s grief is written all over his face. She takes his hand, realizing just how much her friend misses Jadzia, though he admits that talking to Ezri helps. Unbeknownst to either of them, Worf has witnessed this exchange and is… less than pleased. Just then, the two are called to an airlock to respond to a medical emergency. It’s Garak. They arrive to find him sealed in the airlock in a state of panic, pounding on the outer door.

On the holosuite, Ezri leads Garak in a round of guided meditation. He feels humiliated and increasingly desperate to get his claustrophobia under control. Meanwhile, in the infirmary, Bashir is getting some antibiotics for Quark when Worf arrives, saying they need to talk. This need apparently involves shoving the doctor into a wall, as Worf lifts him off his feet and does exactly that, warning him to stay away from Ezri. When Bashir reminds Worf that he will be friends with whomever he pleases, the Klingon tells him that he will regret it should he “dishonor Jadzia’s memory” and leaves, telling Quark that the same goes for him. Later, Ezri finds Garak in his shop. The unusually irritable Cardassian explains that his solution is simply to throw himself into his work. Tired of Ezri’s “insipid psychobabble,” he tells her that she isn’t suited to the task of getting him back to work. Rather, she is a confused child, unworthy of the legacy thrust upon her, a pale shadow of the vital, confident woman Jadzia was. Ezri leaves, on the verge of tears. In desperate need of privacy, she ducks into the temple, perhaps the worst place she could have chosen, and finally breaks down.

In Sisko’s office, Ezri tenders her resignation from Starfleet, to which the captain reacts with far less sympathy than she expected. After all, With eight incredible lives to Dax’s credit, who cares if the ninth is a waste? He chews her out and promises to pass on her resignation. Later, O’Brien arrives at Worf’s quarters with a bottle of bloodwine. Electing to skip the drinking, Worf agrees to simply speak with him. O’Brien pointedly tells Worf that the only person dishonoring Jadzia’s memory is him, by treating Ezri like a stranger. When Worf wonders how he can honor the memory of a woman who isn’t really dead, the chief reminds him that the one person who can answer that question is the one he’s been avoiding. At Garak’s shop, Ezri apologizes for her failure to help him. Though the Destiny is arriving soon, she tells him she’ll instead be going back to Trill. The Destiny, she noted, will be heading for the Kalandra system, owing to a vulnerability discovered with Garak’s help. As she turns to leave, it becomes clear the news has upset him.

As Garak grows more agitated, Ezri realizes that his distress arises from the fact that every victory for the Federation means that many more Cardassians who fought to the death, so many more of Garak’s own people are dead because of codes he broke. As his distress escalates, Garak suffers another attack and collapses. In the infirmary, the two half a much calmer discussion of the matter. Garak agrees that the claustrophobic episodes were essentially giving him an excuse to stop fighting his own people, though he insists that he’ll be getting back to work as soon as he’s able. After all, the Dominion must be stopped. For her part, Ezri has resolved to stay in Starfleet. She rushes to Sisko’s office with a request to be reinstated. He refuses to send it, though as he never submitted her resignation. But despite her decision to stay in Starfleet, she still doesn’t plan on staying at Deep Space Nine. As she packs her things, Worf arrives in her quarters for a long overdue conversation. He apologizes, and when Ezri admits that she wants to stay, he urges her to do so, admitting that Jadzia would not want her to leave because of him. The episode ends in the wardroom, everyone celebrates Ezri’s promotion to lieutenant – including Worf.

So there’s a lot going on here, isn’t there? Most of these relationships will progress in one way or another throughout the season, but ‘Afterimage’ was about establishing them. And given the number and complexity of the relationships at play, that’s no small task. However, it largely succeeds at the task set out for it. Dax’s relationships with Sisko and Quark remain virtually unchanged. There’s some awkwardness (of varying flavors) with Kira and Bashir. Garak doesn’t exactly take her seriously at first but changes his tune by episode’s end. She doesn’t really have any scenes with Odo and O’Brien. And then there’s Worf. Worf’s behavior towards Dax (the fact that he spends most of the year being – to be blunt – a dick to her) is perhaps my biggest issue with this entire season. It gets better. In fact, it’s at its most egregious here. But I’ve never liked it, in no small part because of what O’Brien very pointedly tells him in this episode.

But just because the episode largely succeeds at what it sets out to do (introduce Ezri and define her role on the station and her relationships with the other characters), doesn’t mean it’s without its problems.

The whole storyline with Garak is engaging, yes, but I see it largely as a device to provide a sense of urgency that “Worf can’t deal with Ezri and everyone else is awkward about it” just wouldn’t provide. Plus, cards on the table? I’m not a therapist, but I have studied psychology. I majored in it, and that included some courses dealing either directly or indirectly with psychopathology, professional ethics, and psychodynamic theory. While it’s certainly plausible that Garak would be having issues arising from his guilt at contributing to the deaths of so many Cardassians, simply being aware of the problem isn’t going to solve it. In other words, the episode’s conclusion has Garak at the beginning of the healing process, not the end. And even if he were “better,” I certainly wouldn’t be forwarding decoding work to the infirmary. But this is television, and sometimes we just have to roll with these things. (If I felt the need to write a paragraph about this, can you imagine how I’d deal with watching a show like ‘Scrubs’ or ‘House’ if I’d been to medical school?) All of this is to say nothing of the fact that Ezri’s counseling technique is… well, “informal” would be a kind way of putting it. Wildly unprofessional would be another. Moreso early on, her sessions with Garak (in which, remember, she’s supposed to be helping him work through whatever is bothering him) turn into a therapist using a patient as a sounding board for her own issues. “Counterproductive” would be putting it mildly. Yes, as she herself points out, their issues dovetail rather interestingly. But still.

That said, Andrew Robinson is phenomenal in the episode. He always is, but it’s episodes like this where he really gets to shine. The standout moment has to be his scene with Ezri in act four, where even in the midst of a complete breakdown he knows exactly which buttons to push to deal a crippling blow to whatever confidence Ezri still possesses. But it’s not just his typically masterful line delivery. Throughout the episode, Robinson uses body language in ways the show has seldom given him cause to before now. There’s a tension about him. Like a coiled spring ready to burst. In fact, there’s hardly a moment when he’s not to some degree visibly ill at ease. Even when he doesn’t say a word you can… Well, let’s just say you don’t have to be an assistant counselor to get inside his head.

And speaking of Ezri, Nicole de Boer really brings her A-game. As I’ve said more than once, this episode is all about bringing her into the family, as it were, and the fact that it works as well as it does is entirely on her performance. In fact, if you’re not a fan of the character, there’s every chance that ‘Afterimage’ (or at least the parts where Garak isn’t ripping her a new one) won’t work nearly as well for you. Though some of the distaste for Ezri that I’ve seen in ‘Trek’ fandom could well be due to how the character was handled, I have to admit that I suspect much of it is also owed to how attached some of us still are to Jadzia. For my part, much of what I find interesting about Ezri lies in the ways she’s set up as a direct contrast to Jadzia. Jadzia was confident and self-assured, Ezri anything but. Jadzia put everything she had into earning a symbiont, Ezri didn’t even want to be joined in the first place. She just happened to be the only Trill around in an emergency. It’s rare – and for good reason, frankly – to see a Starfleet officer who is anything less than a put-together professional.

Also, I’ve no idea if it was intentional or not, but I’ve always felt there was a slight metatextual element to this season, specifically to the introduction of Ezri. This season – and this episode in particular – places the audience in much the same position that Sisko found himself in a way back at the start of the series. Hell, it puts every character not named Sisko in that position. And while we had met (after a fashion) Dax’s pre-Jadzia hosts in the past, there’s a big difference between knowing different hosts in the abstract and have the “new Dax” suddenly become a fact of your everyday life. Having known and become attached to a Dax, we know had to come to grips with an entirely new one. As Jadzia said in ‘Emissary’, “I’m still the same old Dax. More or less.” But “more or less” is the crux of it. She’s the same person, “more or less,” but also a different person from the Dax we knew. It’s an unusual thing for a TV show to deal with. Even ‘Doctor Who’, in which regeneration roughly parallels the idea of a Trill symbiont being joined to a new host, has never quite gone that meta with it, though they do occasionally use companions as audience surrogates to bridge regenerations.

So, three thousand words later, what do you think of ‘Afterimage’? Is it as successful as I’ve argued or can you not stand the sight of Ezri Dax? Let me know in the comments, and as always, be sure to check back in two weeks for the next ‘Final Frontier Friday’!