Dax and Garak both attempt to come to terms with their conflicted roles and relationships.
Plot Summary: Ezri Dax attempts to (re)acquaint herself with the station, but Morn doesn’t know who she is and Kira reacts awkwardly upon finding Ezri in the temple at the spot where Jadzia was killed. Only Quark treats her just as he did before, telling Bashir that he won’t give up this second chance with Dax. Bashir, too, decides to get to know Ezri, who shocks him by telling him that Jadzia might have fallen for him had it not been for Worf. Though furious when he sees Dax and Bashir together, Worf will not even speak to Dax, which Sisko tells her may merely reflect concern about the taboo against rejoining. Dax believes Worf knows Trill customs better than that and simply wishes to avoid her. Though Sisko asks Starfleet to offer her a promotion and a posting to the station, Dax plans to go back to the Destiny to resume her job as a ship’s counselor. In the meantime, Sisko asks her to try to help Garak with his increasing attacks of claustrophobia. At first, Dax tries to draw parallels between Garak’s emotional upheavals and her own, but Garak’s eventual rejection of her – calling her a pathetic child who doesn’t deserve the name of Dax – makes her decide to resign from Starfleet. Sisko appears unsympathetic, telling her to waste her life on Trill if she won’t face up to her responsibilities as a Starfleet officer. O’Brien suggests to Worf that he treat Ezri the way Jadzia would want her to be treated, so Worf suggests that Ezri remain on the station, which is what he believes Jadzia would have wanted. Meanwhile, the Cardassian transmissions that Dax convinced Garak to translate help Starfleet to plan an attack on the Dominion. When Garak learns of this from Dax, he collapses after she gets him to admit that his attacks of claustrophobia are being triggered by his fears that he is helping to exterminate his own people. Dax tells Sisko that she is willing to remain, and he performs the ceremony that promotes her to lieutenant, where she is welcomed warmly by Jadzia’s friends.
Analysis: It’s a given that Ezri Dax will be staying on the station and attempting to fill the void that Jadzia’s absence leaves, so it’s inevitable that the circumstances of her arrival wind up seeming contrived – the show doesn’t have enough time to focus realistically on all the changes her presence will bring, there are too many other storylines and characters to juggle. The psychology that Ezri attempts to practice on Garak isn’t all that impressive, and the speed with which Starfleet agrees to a major promotion without offering a replacement in the critical scientific position vacated by Jadzia doesn’t seem all that realistic. So “Afterimage” feels somewhat rushed and perfunctory, but that doesn’t make it feel like a bad episode so much as a necessary one to get Deep Space Nine‘s final season on track to address all the other issues in need of resolution. Poor Ezri goes through a lot of emotions without fully getting to explore them, so it’s impressive that Nicole de Boer makes a strong impression. She does have Terry Farrell’s coloring, as Bashir points out when he tells Ezri that she has Jadzia’s eyes, and though she’s shorter and more boyish-looking, she has a similar economy of movement. Plus she’s obviously studied the way Jadzia reacted to slights by Worf and flirtation by Bashir, since her mannerisms in those situations are very similar.
The back-and-forth between perkiness and tearfulness makes Ezri seem very young, almost too young to be taken seriously as a counselor – I get that she’s struggling with Dax’s personalities, but as a Starfleet officer, she really should seem a bit more competent at it – and it’s a bit of a letdown that onetime scientist and diplomat Dax now has Deanna Troi’s job rather than something in tactics or astrophysics, but she makes a good first impression and her chemistry with other characters, particularly Sisko and Quark, is very nice. I am not and have never been a fan of Bashir/Dax, but given that we all now know it’s an inevitability, I flinch less over the “if it hadn’t been Worf, it would have been you” conversation, though situation her relationships with men who have crushes on her right from the start is fairly irritating. The scenes in which Quark and Bashir argued over which of them Jadzia loved more were annoying enough, though forgivable once we learned that Jadzia was going to die, even if they didn’t need to have romantic feelings to give her loss poignancy. I’m very glad Dax remembers that Quark owes her money, and I rather wish she’d remember Bashir’s self-obsession rather than his boyish charm. It’s hard to tell at this point whether we’re supposed to believe that she has lingering attraction to Worf; certainly she cares for him, she shares his pain, she misses being his closest companion, but she doesn’t have that secret smile that Jadzia only ever had for her husband. Overall this Dax seems much more comfortable with Sisko, and he with her, which given Kasidy Yates’ long absence almost makes me wonder whether he has ulterior motives when he tells Jake that Ezri is hundreds of years too old for him. She does not seem too old for Jake any more than she does for Bashir.
The Garak storyline is a nice reminder of how complicated his position is no matter how much he may care about his colleagues on DS9. They may now treat him like a trusted equal, but he knows he will never really be one of them, and the ties to his home planet and childhood run very deep. I wish the crisis were a bit less predictable – it’s always claustrophobia and it’s always about his father, surely he has some psychological scars that don’t go back to the oft-absentee Tain – but we were overdue more than a throwaway line about what it’s like for him fighting his own people not as he did for years, small sabotages meant to weaken Dukat and his cabal, but by supporting an attack that will kill thousands of ordinary Cardassians. Andy Robinson always plays conflicted Garak very well (I’ve read that he really is claustrophobic, so that part of his performance benefits from his first-hand knowledge), but he doesn’t have the terrifying edge her that he had in “The Wire” or “Empok Nor,” nor the chilling pragmatism he displayed in “In the Pale Moonlight.” It’s somewhat nonsensical too that after a suicide attempt, Sisko sends an assistant counselor to help Garak rather than Bashir, who’s been his closest confidant for years, or even Odo, who shares his outsider status. Even Worf, who finally seems to be processing his grief for Jadzia now that he believes her soul is in Sto’vo’kor, can relate to being torn between the people to whom he’s most closely related and the people who matter to him most in the universe. Ezri must have Jadzia’s memories of talking to Garak, yet she can’t seem to access those as easily as she can slip into both Jadzia’s and Curzon’s memories of Sisko, an inconsistency the writers will improve upon as Ezri develops.