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Retro Review: The Muse

Posted by Michelle - 21/06/13 at 07:06 pm


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 04 Episode: 21 (s04e21)

Original US airdate: 04/29/1996

A mysterious woman offers to provide Jake with inspiration for his stories. Meanwhile, Odo tries to protect a pregnant Lwaxana Troi from her husband.

Plot Summary: While Jake is studying people on the Promenade for story inspirations, Lwaxana Troi arrives in Odo’s office, pregnant and terrified – her Tavnian husband has insisted that he raise the child alone, as is the custom for male babies born on his world. Still traumatized from the long-ago death of her daughter Kestra, she can’t bear to be parted from this baby. Once he ascertains that Lwaxana has no romantic interest in him, Odo invites her to stay in his quarters and the two develop a deeper friendship. Meanwhile, Jake meets a seductive alien woman who promises to help him write his first novel. While Sisko and Kasidy are away on a trip, Jake visits Onaya’s quarters, where she gives him the pen that once belonged to a famous writer and assures him that she can bring out his potential. Jake finds himself inspired, but doesn’t realize that Onaya is drawing energy from him as he writes. When Lwaxana’s husband Jeyal arrives, Odo offers to marry her, which will annul her marriage to Jeyal and give Odo the right to determine custody of her child. In order for the marriage to supersede her previous union, Odo must convince all witnesses that he is truly in love with her. When he speaks of her unconditional acceptance of him, Odo realizes that he does care for Lwaxana and even persuades Jeyal. Meanwhile, Sisko returns from his trip to find Bashir trying to figure out what has drained Jake’s cerebral cortex of its energy. Onaya persuades Jake to leave sickbay, but Sisko is able to trace her energy patterns and refuses to allow the dying Jake to finish his novel, though Onaya points out that every man she has inspired has become a legend even if he died young. She turns into an energy being and flies off the station, and Lwaxana tells Odo that she is leaving as well, for she has realized that she still has romantic feelings for Odo that he doesn’t share. Sisko is impressed by Jake’s unfinished manuscript, though a recuperating Jake no longer has faith in his own ability to finish it.

Analysis: Forget last week’s “Shattered Mirror” – “The Muse” is the fourth-season Deep Space Nine episode that most feels like it’s set in an alternate universe, one where women only exist to fit into male stereotypes. There’s the vampire-woman who sucks out all of a man’s creativity after promising him exciting new experiences and physical comfort, leaving him a prematurely aged shell, and there’s the pregnant-and-in-need-of-rescue damsel in distress played by a character who was once one of the most powerful women among this generation of Star Trek women. Plus it’s boring visually and the pacing is terrible. I can’t say it’s completely out of character for the writers to be able to think of women only as muses for their own genius or as demanding creatures whose major life decisions are made based on irrational emotional urges – they’ve suggested as much about Kira and Dax this season as well (two characters whom we see here only dressed up for holodeck fantasy and celebrating a quickie wedding). Lwaxana, the the Holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx and Heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed – not to mention a Federation ambassador who has diplomatic clout and friends in Starfleet – is reduced literally to chattel and accepts that role rather than insisting on a divorce from a man who lied to her about his values and her role, accepting that because his people define her as a slave, she must be a slave. I’d gotten tired of hearing her recite her titles every single time we saw her, then I really missed it during this episode. She never grovelled and moped for Picard or Timicin or any of the other men we’ve seen her show interest in. These days even her hairdos seem tame. Everything I might praise about seeing a woman her age portrayed as a sexual, fertile being gets erased by the reduction of her character to a womb for her husband’s people and a hopeless case for the people to whom she flees.

Then there’s Onaya, who apparently lives off the brain emanations of brilliant, creative men – she makes their brains go into overdrive so she can suck out their energy, and as a side effect they do their most brilliant work in her presence. In this way, she tells Sisko, she has existed for centuries and will continue to do so. Maybe it’s just coincidence that a female member of her species is the first one anyone in the Federation has encountered; maybe there are males who prey on female geniuses, or maybe the gender of the victim is irrelevant and this cougar-alien just happens to prefer brilliant, attractive young men. But it sure looks like Lauren Hutton with her taste for male virgins in Once Bitten, and if it’s nice to know that no Dabo girl needs to worry about having her energy sucked out by this vampire, it’s also depressing to know that she only finds men brilliant and creative enough to spend her time inspiring. Jake’s writing career has always felt like a fantasy projection of the show’s writers, since they never have to show us real evidence that he’s good at it – in “The Visitor” he wins lots of awards but we never get to hear him read a significant amount of his opus aloud, and here we only see a sentence or two – it’s not like watching Wesley Crusher demonstrate his skills in engineering or Amanda Rogers discover her Q powers. At this point Jake’s vaunted writing talents are starting to sound overrated, and the guy whom we saw give up his writing career to become a scientist, only so he could die saving his father, would not have taken the easy way out to get a book written and let an alien pull it out of his head. The usual Byronic stereotype of the lone artist is the guy who forsakes female muses in the name of inspiring freedom; here the creative drain on male genius is portrayed as literal. If the psycho-sex with Onaya is good for Jake, we don’t see it; we only see her orgasmic response to sucking out his brain energy. I miss Jake’s Bajoran girlfriend Mardah so much right now. At least Jake picks up writing in longhand like a trouper and Sisko doesn’t mind not getting to see his son at all during his brief break from work.

The other major player in “The Muse” is Odo, who gets what initially looks like some interesting character development. Called upon to play the knight in shining armor, he rises to the occasion admirably. The problem is that these actions are divorced from anything that came before and don’t seem to have any major impact in the stories that follow, not even when the female shapeshifter returns to his life. His speech about why he wants to marry Lwaxana is touching and sad – he calls her the only person who has ever fully accepted him as he is, though before Shakaar I’d expect him to have said the same about Kira. I suppose he’s doing here what on some level he wishes Kira would do, to acknowledge that deep friendship can bring about real love even if it isn’t romantic love, and I have no trouble buying that he’d like to raise a child, even if it wasn’t related to him or his species. He appreciates Lwaxana’s childlike side, playing Hide and Seek with Odo. But when she then promises to keep her side of the bargain and let him go after the wedding, suddenly he wants not a partner but someone to take care of. How did Odo, whose best female friend is Kira and who lives on a station with women like Dax and Yates, somehow become paternalistic toward a woman? It’s as uncharacteristic as when he started smashing tables because Kira had sex with Shakaar. Given that Lwaxana has just fled from one man who wanted to “take care of her” to the point of suffocation, it makes sense that she’d flee from another. We have no idea how gender works for shapeshifters, but Odo seems to define himself as male because it’s the opposite of female; as he tells Lwaxana, he won’t get hysterical, let alone pregnant. Imagine if, in Sisko’s absence, Odo had gone to Jake for advice. I bet he would have gotten a much more interesting novel out of that experience.

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  • Guest

    “I can’t say it’s completely out of character for the writers to be able to think of women only as muses for their own genius or as demanding creatures whose major life decisions are made based on irrational emotional urges”

    I can’t say that last is completely inaccurate, either

  • Patrick

    It’s sad that this is the last appearance of Majel Barrett in person on Trek and the character of Lwaxana Troi. Both deserved better.