May 24 2024

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Retro Review: Penumbra

6 min read

While Sisko makes plans to create a home with Yates, Dax learns that Worf is missing and steals a runabout to search for him.

Plot Summary: Sisko shows Yates his plans for the house he wants to build on Bajor, then asks her to marry him and share the home with him. He is very happy when she says yes, though his joy is tempered by the discovery that Worf has gone missing after his ship was destroyed in battle. Distressed that neither Sisko nor Martok will search for Worf amidst the dangers of the Badlands, Ezri Dax takes a runabout and goes to search for Jadzia’s husband by herself. Meanwhile, Damar drinks, pursues women, complains about the number of Cardassian casualties, and welcomes Dukat back while Weyoun tries to placate the visibly ill female Founder, who insists that the Cardassian not be told about the illness afflicting the Great Link. Dukat has surgery to make him appear Bajoran, telling Damar that he now knows the Pah-wraiths have a plan for him. After a dangerous trip to the Badlands, Dax finds Worf’s escape pod and rescues him, for which he is grateful, though they quickly begin to argue about her memories of life as Jadzia. A Jam’Hadar attack forces them to flee to a nearby planet, where they survive a beam-out but are unable to save their runabout or its communication equipment. Ezri complains that Worf keeps comparing her unfavorably to Jadzia and Worf becomes jealous at the discovery that Ezri recently saw Jadzia’s onetime suitor Captain Boday. They taunt one another, then kiss each other, and end up sleeping together before they are attacked by masked assailants. Waking, they realize that they have been taken prisoner by the Breen. Back on the station, Jake is planning a bachelor party and Yates is accepting the fact that because she is marrying the Emissary, she will have to have a much larger wedding than she ever anticipated. Sisko is euphoric until he is visited by a Prophet – the one he knows as Sarah, his mother – who warns him that he must walk his path alone. When Sisko tells her that he loves Yates, Sarah tells him that if he remains with his fiance, he will know only sorrow, for his greatest trial is about to begin.

Analysis: The penumbra is the outer part of the shadow cast during an eclipse, and “Penumbra” ominously suggests that despite the losses already suffered during the Dominion War, darkness has only just begun to fall. Even when it first aired, viewers knew that it was the beginning of the arc that would conclude the series, meaning that every character in the large extended crew might now be considered expendable and every storyline woven into the show’s ultimate design. I’ve loved how relationship-focused Deep Space Nine became in its last two seasons, but it was apparent that many of those relationships would likely be torn apart before the end, though this episode offers what appear to be two hopeful developments – Sisko’s engagement to Yates and Dax’s rejoining with Worf. Of course, for a Trill, “rejoining” is a loaded term, since the Trill specifically prohibit subsequent hosts from becoming romantically involved with the hosts of previous life partners, though it’s not clear whether that would apply for a Trill who’d been married to a non-Trill and the unconventional Ezri dismisses Worf’s concern with a wink and a reminder that Worf, too, has broken a few Klingon rules. I’m delighted to see Worf and Dax finally working out all the issues unspoken between them since Ezri arrived on the station, and if having sex might not have been the best way to do it, it’s both in character and a believable shortcut to getting at the thornier issues of intimacy from Worf’s ongoing jealousy of Jadzia’s past lovers to Ezri’s concern that Worf will never see her as a worthy successor to Jadzia. It’s even more believable and delightful that Sisko would finally ask Yates to share his life – this series started with him still broken from Jennifer’s death, not even sure he belonged in Starfleet, so it’s a true pleasure to see that he’s rebuilt, not only creating a successful career that has saved countless lives but forming a powerful connection with the planet and the people whose Prophets appointed him their Emissary. Finally, Sisko really is of Bajor, and now Yates is too.

Given that I was ambivalent about Worf and Dax as a couple in the first place and given that Klingon sex always seems to be angry sex even when the parties involved are crazy about each other, as if the writers don’t know how to show passion without fury, I’m always surprised how romantic and poignant I find their coming together now that Dax is not Jadzia but Ezri. I always felt as if Jadzia gave up too much of herself to be with Worf, seeming to prefer to be Klingon than Trill at times, for no discernible reason apart from Curzon’s connection to the Klingons, which again had more to do with Dax than with Jadzia. The violent mating rituals seemed out of character even for someone who liked to practice combat skills. Yet Ezri has often seemed too concerned with how to behave as a Trill, tied to a family with little interest in symbionts and stuck with intrusive memories from previous hosts. Apparently she’s been deliberately repressing Jadzia’s memories of Worf, yet his absence brings them to the surface, and then she must sort out Jadzia’s feelings from Ezri’s feelings, deciding that, although Worf’s dear friends Sisko and Martok may be willing to abandon him to fate, she can’t do the same. If Jadzia’s personality seemed to disappear a bit with Worf, Ezri’s becomes sharper; she may be cranky to be compared with Jadzia, yet she isn’t intimidated, and she’s not at all afraid to tell him what she wants. Once they get the sniping and lust out of the way, they treat each other as equals and have plenty of humor between them, teasing about Klingon opera and things like that. Sisko and Yates behave similarly; they may never work out the differences concerning the Maquis which made him send her to prison, yet they can agree to disagree, to decide that what they want together is more important than their differences whether they’re planning a wedding or designing a kitchen. And how much fun is it to see Sisko’s little boy who’s now taller than he is planning his bachelor party?

We get glimpses of much more somber things in “Penumbra” which are hard to ignore during a rewatch – the hatching of Dukat’s plan to seduce and manipulate the Kai, the hints that Damar is near his breaking point with Weyoun and the Dominion, the evidence that the Great Link is in great distress. I’m not sure which is scarier: the Founder with her face flaking off or Dukat hiding behind Bajoran features. At the moment, she’s the one who seems more venal, ordering all the Vorta doctors studying her illness to be killed and cloned in the hope that the new ones will be more successful, but she, at least, has the survival of all her people uppermost in her thoughts, whereas Dukat has only ever worked and fought and changed to further his own agenda. If he sounds less crazy here than he has before, it’s mostly because Damar is currently such a mess. Hard to believe that in a few short months, he’ll be a hero of Cardassia, fighting at Kira’s side. If I have a regret about the concluding arc, it’s that her relationship with Odo is already pretty much over, though neither of them knows it yet. The darkness hasn’t quite touched them here. But we can guess that it will, for seemingly disparate events are coming together: the villainous Son’a from Insurrection are working with the Jem’Hadar, the Prophets are giving instructions to their Emissary, the war is coming close to home. I love seeing so many things from previous seasons brought back in the context of the war that has consumed the past few years for Deep Space Nine, with so much more at stake, with so many developments adding depth to the Star Trek universe.

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5 thoughts on “Retro Review: Penumbra

  1. It’d read so far through this, then gave up.. not because it was a ad review, but because the white text on dark blue background freaks my eyes out…

  2. Ha! I’ve always thought the same thing. When you look away from the screen you have lines in your vision. They should seriously consider changing to dark on white. It’s WAY easier to read.

  3. Light text on a dark background is easier to read by definition (your screen isn’t paper–it’s a light bulb, and you shouldn’t stare into its maximum brightness–e.g, white), and uses less power too.

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