February 27 2024

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Retro Review: Shadows and Symbols

7 min read

While Sisko tries to learn what the Prophets expect from him, Kira refuses to cooperate with the Romulans and Worf fights for Jadzia’s afterlife.

Plot Summary: Ezri Dax introduces herself to the Siskos, explaining that she never wanted to be a host, but when the Dax symbiont began to decline, she was the only Trill on the ship with whom Dax could be joined. She asks to join the family on their trip to Tyree, which cheers up Sisko, though Ezri is space-sick and having trouble reconciling Dax’s thoughts with her own. While searching for the Orb of the Emissary, Sisko begins to hear a voice paging a doctor and has visions of himself as Benny Russell, struggling in a mental hospital to finish a story that the doctor tells him is the cause of his mental instability. Back on the station, Kira tells Admiral Ross that Bajor will take any steps necessary to stop the Romulans from putting weapons on a Bajoran moon and sets up a blockade, though Ross believes she must be bluffing because Starfleet won’t fight its Romulan allies. Odo agrees with Ross that the Romulans may indeed shoot Bajoran ships while Starfleet does nothing, but goes with Kira to confront an incoming group of Romulan ships carrying supplies for the weapons. Meanwhile, Weyoun urges a drunken Damar to get the shipyards to increase their output, while Worf and Martok – joined by Bashir, O’Brien, and Quark, who wishes to honor Jadzia’s memory – prepare to attack those same shipyards by firing weapons into a nearby star, triggering a plasma ejection. Jem’Hadar ships attack them, but O’Brien is able to set off the desired reaction and the shipyards burn in the solar ejection as Worf chants prayers to send Jadzia’s spirit to Sto’vo’kor. On Tyree, Dax reminds a confused Sisko that he must retrieve the Orb, and in his vision, Benny writes that Sisko opens the box containing it. As he does so, energy shoots into space and ejects the pah-wraith from the wormhole. Sisko has a vision of his birth mother, who explains that the Bajoran Prophet now speaking in her form took over the body of the human woman to ensure that Sisko would be born to save the Celestial Temple. When Odo tells Kira that the wormhole has been restored, she takes it as a sign from the Prophets not to back down; she prepares to fire on the Romulans, but Ross insists that Cretak comply with Bajoran demands and turn the ships around, which Cretak does. The Emissary returns to a rejoicing station, and Ezri greets all of Dax’s friends, including Worf.

Analysis: I thought “Shadows and Symbols” was pretty much perfect when it first aired, and now I think it’s – what’s better than perfect? Sublime? Transcendent? Simultaneously, we get to see who Kira is when she winds up in command – someone who becomes Bajor’s ferocious protector, who terrifies a Starfleet admiral – and who Sisko is when he must confront what we all now know to be his messianic birthright. Except for people blessed (or cursed) with great faith and perhaps great ego, must of us have to muddle through our entire lives wrestling with questions of who we are, why we’re here, what we’re supposed to do with our lives. Just look at Ezri, who thought she knew who she was – an assistant ship’s counselor, a Trill who felt complete and fulfilled without needing to become host to a symbiont – then the universe threw her a mighty curve ball. No wonder she grabs Sisko’s baseball and tries to toss one right back! She’s suffering from space sickness, paralyzed by memories of dying horribly in another body, ordering drinks she personally can’t stand, cut adrift from almost everything she had thought was really important, including her family and closest friends. How lucky that she’s still a Starfleet officer and still a person of action rather than introspection; it’s a great way to reintroduce her to her old friends and to a viewing audience. Then there’s Odo, literally transformed by love, comfortably wearing the humanoid form that for many years felt like an impersonation to him, while Worf, Bashir, Quark – all of Jadzia’s intimates – have to figure out who they are in a universe where they must ask themselves what she would want them to do because they can no longer ask her. Even Kira glows with relief when she believes she’s been given a sign from the Prophets that her path is the right one, when the responsibility for the lives of Bajorans in the blockade, not to mention the alliance between the Federation and Romulans, no longer feels like it falls to her alone.

But Sisko? Now he knows that he’s never been alone, he’s never existed without purpose. All the painful, horrible things he’s suffered, the loss of his wife, the exile to a remote space station, the tragedies of war, the death of Dax, very literally shaped his path to put him where he was supposed to be at a critical moment of destiny. Of course part of him deeply resents this, learning that what he believed were his own choices were to a large extent fated, but a part of him must be exultant. Imagine having absolute proof that your life has meaning and purpose, that all your choices so far have been the right ones! No wonder Sisko returns to the station with a smile on his face. Like Benny Russell, who may be a figment of Sisko’s imagination or vice versa, Sisko knows with his whole being that he is doing the right thing. I love the reminder that Sisko may still be the butterfly dreaming he’s a philosopher, the struggle with the condescending doctor who has Damar’s face and voice. Ezri may be trained in psychiatry like the doctor in Sisko’s vision, but she also knows Sisko; she doesn’t think he’s crazy, she thinks he needs to follow his destiny, just as both Jake and Joseph Sisko do, even though they don’t understand it and have been personally scarred by it. If I have a complaint about “Shadows and Symbols,” it’s that we never learn enough about Sisko’s mother or his feelings about learning how the Prophets violated her, as well as his father, to ensure his birth. There are overtones of all the Greek myths in which Zeus transforms himself or a woman so he can take advantage of her and father children by her, except in this case it’s a woman’s mind instead of her body that’s altered, plus a man is seduced under false pretenses by the being sharing the woman’s existence. For the remainder of the series, Sisko’s mother primarily appears as a prophet of doom of sorts, and I’m not happy that this family-oriented man doesn’t do more to learn about the woman who gave birth to him, now that he knows she exists. Maybe he couldn’t bear to think about whether he would exist without such manipulation. The Virgin Mary may have been pious and accepted an unsought pregnancy as the will of God, but Sisko’s parents seem to have been resentful, which casts a pall over the poignant scene in which Sisko confronts the Prophet who made him.

I’m not usually a big enthusiast about Klingon stories or space battles, so I’m not as excited by Worf and Martok’s quest to get Jadzia into Sto’vo’kor with the help of two men who belated realized they suffered from unrequited love for her and a third man who can’t bear to let one of the other two go into danger without him, though as is so often the case, it turns out to be that third man whose engineering skills save the day. Poor Quark gets stuck trying to be the comic relief in a situation that really isn’t funny, so his pleas for some appreciation from Worf for putting up with bad gagh only make Worf more sympathetic when he apologizes to the others for failing to appreciate their importance to Dax. Nicole de Boer does a wonderful job demonstrating that Ezri is still Dax, though clearly not Jadzia; her vocal inflections are often very similar to Terry Farrell’s, though Jadzia never had the edge of hysteria that we hear at times in Ezri. Think how much she will learn from Kira, who is utterly glorious in this story arc, showing both the Romulans and Starfleet that they can never again take Bajor for granted or try to push Bajorans around. Ostensibly she’s acting as the head of the militia, but we see evidence that she’d make a first-rate First Minister, better than either Shakaar or Bareil, and the man she’s with now is a better match for her than either of those previous partners, impressive as their resumes might have been. Odo isn’t afraid to criticize or mock her, to offer unwanted advice, to give her warnings she doesn’t really need, yet at vital moments his ego disappears, he is entirely at ease taking her orders and following her lead, and his support never wavers even when he thinks her choices may lead to both their deaths. That stand-off with the Romulans had me biting my nails more than Benny Russell’s with the doctor, and it’s glorious that all the storylines converge at the moment the Prophets return to power in the Celestial Temple – the wormhole reopens, as Weyoun wanted, just at the moment he loses all the ships he might have deployed to launch an attack because of Martok and Worf’s triumph, reminding Ross what is at stake if he doesn’t support his Bajoran allies as well as the Romulans, allowing Sisko to focus not on his losses but a destiny that affects all the living as well.

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4 thoughts on “Retro Review: Shadows and Symbols

  1. First Minister? Nah. Kai Kira. 😀 Despite her military background, she’s already demonstrated that she can hold her own in theological debate with those who are actually ordained. I always saw an older Kira heading in that direction for some reason. I think the novels have played with this idea to some degree.
    I’ve never understood why so many fans reject Ezri (other than hating change). Nicole deBoer does an excellent job portraying an extremely confused young woman, and the writers do a tolerable job of showing her arc over the season as she re-establishes herself. My only complaint is that she didn’t get more time, because she DID only show up near the end of it all…

  2. This was an enjoyable episode that expanded on the Klingon culture. I wish they would have made a TV series that focused on a Klingon crew. That could have been an entertaining experience.

  3. A good episode that wraps things up for a number of storylines. Not much to be critical about here. It’s all pretty good. I personally don’t have a huge problem with Ezri Dax, except I think she gets *too* many episodes during this war arc that are background and not related necessarily. In and of herself, Nicole deBoer does fine with the character she was thrown into.

    I love Kira here. I don’t exactly know what she could do after this posting to DS9 though. I don’t see her as First Minister particularly since I suspect the requirement for a certain amount of ongoing diplomacy could be crazy making. As a wartime First Minister, sure, but peacetime, not so much. I don’t see her as a religious leader for much the same reason. I don’t see her settling down into a quiet life of spouse and children back in Dakhur province either. It’s a bit of a problem here – what to do when all the excitement stops, since she has been battling her entire life. I would love to know. Roving troubleshooter perhaps? Military leader? Liaison to a rebuilding Cardassia?

    I also love the way Odo is up front and honest with his opinions, but ultimately supportive of the decisions Kira has to take. He handles her with logic, love and respect. Can’t ask for much more from a relationship (she is his boss anyhow, but let’s ignore this).

    Finally, I am not entirely comfy with Sarah the Prophet’s disclosure that she had directed the human version of herself to fall for Sisko’s father. That’s a bit weird. It’s one thing to tell The Sisko what his path entails, because he has the freedom of choice to either follow or not (with the consequences of each choice, of course), but to take over a young woman who has no choice bothers me a great deal. At least, in the Virgin Mary mythology, she was at least informed by an angel of what was to happen. Sarah Sisko had no such forewarning.

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