"Shadows and Symbols" 
Season Seven, Episode 2
Written by Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimler
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Music by Dennis McCarthy
Main Cast:
Avery Brooks as Captain Benjamin Sisko
Rene Auberjonois as Odo
Nicole deBoer as Ezri Dax
Michael Dorn as Lt Cmdr Worf
Cirroc Lofton as Jake Sisko
Colm Meaney as Chief Miles O'Brien
Armin Shimerman as Quark
Alexander Siddig as Dr Julian Bashir
Nana Visitor as Colonel Kira Nerys

Guest Stars:
Brock Peters as Joseph Sisko
J.G. Hertzler as Martok
Barry Jenner as Admiral Ross
Megan Cole as Cretak 


Ezri Dax introduces herself to the Siskos three. Ezri was an assistant ship's counsellor on a Starship that was carrying the Dax symbiont to Trill. The symbiont took a turn for the worse and had to be put in a host immediately, so Ezri reluctantly agreed. She wasn't prepared for joining and is slightly neurotic as a result. She sets off with Ben, Jake and Joseph for Tyree, where they spend days searching the desert before Sisko, who's acting increasingly loopier, decides to start digging for the Orb. 

Meanwhile, Colonel Kira decides that in order to stop the Romulans storing weapons on Durna she will set up a blockade to stop them. But she is not match for the Romulans, as Cretak keeps reminding her. At first Admiral Ross refuses to intervene, too concerned with preserving the Romulan/Federation alliance. But eventually he turns the tables on the manipulative Cretak, warning her that if she didn't remove the weapons, he would.

Quark joins Worf, Bashir and O'Brien on their mission to get Jadzia's spirit into Sto'Vo'Kor. They must destroy a Dominion shipyards by igniting a nearby sun. At first their mission seems to fail, but perserverance pays off and they successfully complete their mission, enabling Jadzia to take her place in Sto'Vo'Kor. Back on Tyree, Ben uncovers the Orb casing, but before he can open it he finds himself once again Benny Russell, the man from his vision in Far Beyond the Stars. Benny is now institutionalised and continuing to write his story on the walls. The malevolent Doctor Wyckoff tries to prevent Benny from continuing his story, claiming it is for his own good, urging him to paint over his words. But Benny fights against the pressure, fighting past Wyckoff to finish his story, writing that Sisko opens the Orb...and as he does so, a Prophets is released from the Orb, which reopens to wormhole and casts out the Pagh Wraith. 

Sisko has a vision of "Sarah Sisko", his natural mother who tells him that she has stopped the Pagh Wraith Kosst Amojan. She explains that the Pagh Wraiths had given Sisko a false vision to stop him, but he had stood firm. Sisko asks about his mother and the Prophet tells him that she had possessed the body of the human Sarah Sisko so that she would marry Joseph Sisko and conceive Ben. In essence, the Prophets arranged Sisko's birth. He owes his existence to them. "Why me? Why did it have to be me?" he asks. "Because it could be no one else," comes the cryptic response. Having completed his mission, he returns to DS9 to be greeted by the Bajorans, ecstatic to have their Gods back. Along with him is Ezri, whose arrival startles Jadzia's old friends. "Just when things couldn't get more interesting..." muses Odo.


Well, this episode certainly had its work cut out for it. We have the introduction of a new character, a farewell to an old friend, a surprising follow-up to a seemingly unrelated episode from last season, some pretty major revelations about a character we thought we all knew well -- oh, and it also has the uneviable task of drawing to a close what essentially forms a trilogy linking seasons six and seven. And truth be known it works tremendously, balancing each storyline perfectly, providing some important answers whilst leaving some equally important questions hanging. There are one or two minor problems that keep this from achieving perfection but it's a pretty powerful episode nonetheless and an excellent start to the season.

Shadows and Symbols starts by introducing us to our new Dax, Ezri, so that's where I'll start as well. Her debut was handled quite nicely and Nicole deBoer immediately establishes herself as an assured, charming screen presence. We get a good feel of Ezri's inner turmoil at having been joined which nicely contrasts Jadzia's unflappable serenity. It's maybe a tad overdone, and I imagine that she'll start to grate pretty quickly if she stays this highly strung, but it's the first time in a long time the writers have utilised the whole Trill concept to good effect. As I said, deBoer does a good job, successfully creating a rounded, interesting character and nicely externalising her inner conflict. She's obviously done her research and at times I even picked up a hint of "Jadzia" about her, mainly when she calms down a bit. When she tells Jake "because I've known [Sisko] a long time," she sounded very like Jadzia. I miss Jadzia and I don't think Ezri will ever be able to replace her, but thus far she's been handled reasonably well -- perhaps giving the writers the chance to correct some of the mistakes they made with Jadzia. It's a case of so far so good, but I'll be interested to see how I feel at the season's end.

There were some problems with Ezri's arrival, however. First of all, her introductory scene was too rushed. We needed time to digest what she was saying and it would have been nice to see more of a reaction from Sisko, who seems inappropriately impassive (and though it's early days, I'm afraid that Brooks doesn't have half the chemistry with deBoer that he had with Terry Farrell). One thing that really needed addressing was Jadzia's death. Just a mention would have done. Sisko was obviously deeply cut up by Jadzia's death so you would think he'd have a lot he'd want to tell this new Dax. Instead all we get is a horrible "space sick" gag when what we needed was some emotional spark between Sisko and Ezri. This is a glaring omission that will hopefully be addressed in the next episode. Another thing that was woefully off-kilter was the final scene where Ezri arrives aboard DS9 and walks past Worf, saying only "Worf, we need to talk". Hey, the last thing Jadzia remembered was dying in his arms! Wouldn't that stir some emotion upon seeing him again? Worf's horrified "it cannot be" was a reaction to be fully expected -- he'd just risked his life to get Jadzia into Sto'Vo'Kor and here's this woman he's never seen before claiming to be Dax. I'll be interested to see how the writers handle this awkward situation in Afterimage. There's certainly potential there for some interesting stuff. We'll see how things go. By the way, is it just me or does Jake have the hots for Ezri? A Jake/Ezri relationship could be quite interesting, mainly to see how Ben would feel about his son dating the "old man"! :-)

I've become side-tracked, I'm sorry. Having said a little about Ezri, I'll get back to the plot. And a very plot-heavy episode it was, too, again juggling the three storylines that were established in the previous episode. Let's have a quick look at them in reverse -- Worf's mission to save Jadzia's soul: a little thin but quite fun, thanks mainly to Quark; Kira and the Romulans: perhaps a little insubstantial, but nicely done; Sisko's quest for the orb: just riveting. Once again it's the Sisko story that steals the show, remaining intriguing and thoroughly compelling throughout. As fun as the other two stories were, it was Sisko's exploits on Tyree that kept me on the edge of my seat, glued to the TV. It was nicely built-up, the journey across the desert was beautifully shot and maybe slightly overdone, but still succeeding in endowing the episode with a wonderfully epic, almost mythical feel to it. The voices heard by Sisko (a voice calling for a "Doctor Wyckoff") were an effectively eerie touch of foreshadowing, and it was quite disquieting to see Sisko slowly descend into a state of near-madness or, at the very least, single-mindedness regarding his quest to find the Orb. It's as he uncovers the Orb casing that things really start to get interesting...

I was spoiled! I knew beforehand about Benny Russell's return appearance because I just can't resist spoilers (though I am going to make a real effort to avoid spoilers for the end of the season). But whilst this didn't come as a surprise, it was thoroughly fascinating nonetheless. Far Beyond the Stars is one of my favourite episodes but I never really expected we'd be seeing as direct a follow-up as this. I guess the million dollar question is this: who is Benny Russell? At first I just assumed he was merely a fictional part of the Prophets' vision, merely a reflection of Sisko. It could well be that this is still the case -- it certainly makes sense that the Pagh Wraiths would pick up on the vision given him by the Prophets, after all, the intent was the confuse him. Or is Benny something more? Perhaps there's some kind of parallel reality going on? Whatever the case, I've a feeling that we could well see Benny again before the end of the series (but I won't know, of course, 'cos I'm gonna avoid the spoilers! :-) ).

The interesting thing is that the vision fills us in on what's happened to Benny since last we saw him (which only fuels my "parallel reality" theory). Following his breakdown at the end of Far Beyond the Stars he has been institutionalised and whilst he's still obsessed with telling his story (the saga of Deep Space Nine) on a more personal front he's lost the plot himself. Avery Brooks does an excellent job portraying the delusional, arguably insane Benny, using superb use of vocal inflections and body language. It wasn't as powerful as Far Beyond the Stars, probably because it was so abrupt and unexpected, but it was one of the best plot twists I've seen in a long time. I found it fascinating that Benny actually seems to control Sisko's reality; Sisko open the box until Benny writes "he opens it". As I said above, the big question is how much we're meant to read into Benny and his "reality" -- is he merely a fictional representation of Sisko or is there more to it?

But what's even more interesting is the final exchange between Sisko and the Prophets. Sisko basically learns his destiny and the truth of his existence -- and it's suitably profound and thought-provoking. First of all, I have to get one thing cleared up -- I KNEW IT!! Ever since Accession back in the fourth season I've had a sneaky suspicision that Sisko was in actual fact a Prophet (or at the very least, connected to them in some way). Since then, Sisko's gradual acceptance of his role as Emissary and events in Rapture, Sacrifice of Angels and Far Beyond the Stars had me ever more convinced of this -- and, bam, Shadows and Symbols confirms it! To all my sceptical friends who refuted my theory, all I have to say is this; "I told you so, I told you so, I told you so!" :-) 

Well, now I've got that out the way, let's look at the implications. The Prophets took over the body of a woman named Sarah and made sure she married Joseph Sisko to conceive Ben. In other words, the Prophets arranged Ben's birth; he exists only because of them. Pretty profound, huh? And given that the Prophets are (or are at least considered) Gods, wouldn't that make Sisko a Christ-figure? Wow. In Far Beyond the Stars it was indirectly implied that Sisko was an angel sent by the Prophets to help their people (I assume the Bajorans) through dark times. Well these are indeed dark times and Sisko has saved Bajor from the brink of destruction by the Dominion and now he's helped defeat the Pagh Wraiths. The "Sarah" Prophet tells him that he must still face many challenges, which strikes me as a reference to upcoming events at the end of the series. This revelation is an astounding one, answering a lot of questions but also posing just as many. I'm not alone in wondering just exactly how this storyline (at this precise moment, perhaps the most interesting of the entire series) is going to be resolved. Obviously this development needs follow-up and some sense of closure and I am really looking forward to how its going to be done. But wow.

Onto the "B" plot, which picked up from Image in the Sand which revealed that the Romulans had betrayed Bajor's trust by storing weapons on Bajoran moon Durna. Shadows and Symbols features Kira risking her life to stop the Romulans when Starfleet refuses to intervene. First of all, I was initially quite taken aback by Kira's attitude. Yeah, it was pretty devious of the Romulans to go behind Bajor's back, but I agree with Admiral Ross in that the Romulan alliance is vital to the war effort. And besides, the Romulans are on the same side as Bajor, so who they heck would they use those weapons on other than the Dominion? It seemed to me that as far as Kira was concerned, this was about ego -- Cretak abused her trust and now she wanted to kick up a tantrum, risking other people's lives to do so, I might add. 

But after some thought, I came to realise that this is totally true-to-character for Kira, a woman who spent her life trying to liberate her home from the Cardassians and she is not about to let the Romulans threaten her world. Her reasoning was a little dubious (given, as I said, that the Romulans are allies) but I believe her heart was in the right place and that she was doing what she thought was best for Bajor. It's been so long since we've seen Kira as the fiercely passionate patriot, that it came as something of a surprise but it's nice to be reminded that she still has that fire within her. As I wrote in the notes I was taking as I watched, "it's great to have the old Kira back". As much as I like the way she's grown to be more at peace with herself over the years and, bar the fourth season, this character development has seemed quite natural, I don't find the "tamer" Kira quite as compelling as the wild Kira we knew from the first two seasons. I enjoyed watching her fight for what she believed in and I enjoyed seeing her tap on some of that gutsy inner strength. 

The plot itself was maybe a little insubstantial but was well-executed and the "will-she-or-won't-she-back-down" nicely upped the tension quotient. I'm not convinced this little skirmish is of much consequence but it was nicely done and gave Kira a rare chance to shine. There were some nice moments between her and Odo as their romance continues to blossom. It's refreshing to see such a mature relationship which doesn't feature incessant bickering. I couldn't help but think that in this relationship, however, Kira assumes the assertive, more traditionally "masculine" role and Odo seems somewhat subservient to her, rather like the hen-pecked husband who stays at home, looking after the baby and doing the house-work while "the misses" goes out to work. I half expected him to offer her a cup-cake when she arrived in their quarters, telling him what an awful day she's had. Please don't think I'm being sexist or anything, for there's nothing wrong with swapping roles a bit, it's merely an observation. Maybe it's a Bajoran thing -- after all, Bajoran women are often portrayed as very, shall we say assertive and strong-willed, while the Bajoran men we've seen are rather more placid and quiet. Interesting.

Onto number three; Worf's mission to get Jadzia into Sto'Vo'Kor. To be honest, I didn't really care that much about their mission as I never had much doubt that it would succeed and that would be that. Again, I liked the fact that the writers are paying tribute to Jadzia, but it wasn't qute as compelling as it could been and, once again, Worf's grieving didn't have the resonance it needed. Perhaps he's just not sympathetic enough a character to really care about but at least, I suppose, his actions were "in" character, be that for good or ill. Jadzia's death had the opportunity to be a real powerhouse, shaking up the series in a major way, but that potential has really been squandered by Behr and Beimler, which is just a wasted opportunity. If she was going to go, she should have gone with far more of a bang. Still, this resolution is quite entertaining nonetheless and ironically this has nothing to do with Worf or the actual mission, but rather a certain Ferengi. 

I have to say that Quark just rocked! He was used solely for comic relief, but it worked just a treat. His insensitivity and wise cracks were genuinely funny and rang particularly true-to-character (note to Behr and Beimler: Quark is funniest when the jokes come from him rather than at him as in the ghastly Profit and Lace). Trust Quark to put his foot in it at every opportunity (having the audacity to complain about the constant servings of gagh while surrounded by a roomful of Klingons in the mess hall). His little quips were just priceless and I enjoyed the reaction he provoked from Worf -- these two work really well together, almost capturing the spark of the Odo/Quark relationship at its peak. 

These three plots are juggled quite effectively until they all converge in a superb climax. The pacing and balance as we cut from one to the other was just perfect and beautifully achieved a tremendous feel of "all hell breaking loose" simultaneously. The directing, performances, music and special effects all bind together beautifully and the editing of these sequences makes for a suitably momentous, bombastic finale to this trilogy. One thing I did notice was a distinct parallel to the climax of Emissary, the pilot episode that launched the series six years ago. In both instances we have Sisko off with the Prophets making a pivotal realisation about his life, with Kira on charge of the station (or in this case a Bajoran convoy) trying to defend Bajor from aggressors (in the pilot it was the Cardassians and here it was, of course, the Romulans) but due to a lack of resources having to bluff her way through. After she's informed that the wormhole has returned I half expected her to yell "what did I tell you, Jasad -- THERE'S your wormhole!!" as she did in Emissary. Once the crisis is averted Admiral Ross jokes that her never wants to play poker with her, while O'Brien had said the very same thing in the pilot. The closing shot where Ezri wandering the Promenade featured a few bars of Dennis McCarthy's score from Emissary -- taken from, unless I'm mistaken, the moment just before we meet Dax and Bashir for the first time. Coincidence? I don't know, I tend to think that if it wasn't a conscious attempt to parallel the two then it was an unconscious one. Either way, it's interesting.

Anyway, I've said a lot and I'm afraid I've still got more to say! There were a few little niggles that, whilst nothing major, I thought should be addressed...

That's just about it. There were some problems, as I've just described, but this is an excellent episode nevertheless and provides a fittingly explosive conclusion to this mini-story arc. It's great to see the show get back to what it does best and Shadows and Symbols qualifies as a very impressive start to the year. If we can keep up this momentum I think we're in for a winning season.

Rating: 9

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