It happens to all of the best shows -- at some point in year three, four, or five, an actor will inevitably choose to leave. That, or the writers/producers want to make a drastic cast change that they hope will bolster ratings and revitalize the series. Unfortunately, this often comes with audience backlash that can easily fate the character and the show itself to failure and long-lasting vitriol. When Ezri Dax joined Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, I was prepared for what seemed like an inescapable truth: I would hate this new face and struggle to enjoy the last season of the show as much as I had enjoyed all the previous seasons.
After seeing Ezri for the first time in the last moments of season seven’s premiere “Image in the Sand,” I was shocked at how excited I was to see a female Trill that wasn’t the one I had come to know and love. Still reeling from the loss of my beloved Jadzia, I was unsure and a bit wary of Ezri’s presence. Was it too soon? Was she going to be another Jadzia? How would Dax’s closest friends and family come to terms with the new host?
All of these questions were answered in a way that honored Jadzia’s memory while letting Ezri shine as her own person. In the one season we got to spend with her, Ezri worked to better the lives of her friends by first giving them closure over Jadzia’s death, and then becoming a separate being from her former host — one who cared just as much but brought different qualities to the story.
DS9 premiered seven years before I was born, so as I watched it I knew seven seasons was all I was going to get. However, Jadzia’s death was something I wasn’t prepared for. Jadzia Dax, like every other character on DS9, was an integral cog in a well-oiled machine, and by season six she had charmed her way to becoming an undeniable fan favorite. So, you can imagine the dismay I felt as season six ended and season seven began (which, for me, was in the span of just a couple of hours).
A bright-eyed, bushy tailed Ezri Dax timidly explaining herself to Sisko was a far cry from the confident, seasoned Lieutenant Commander Jadzia Dax I knew and was still missing dearly. Ezri, while clearly not Jadzia (either in demeanor or stature), still evoked a familiarity that can best be described by Dr. Julian Bashir: “This may be the last thing you want to hear, but, uh, you have Jadzia’s eyes” (“Afterimage”). In that statement Julian unlocked the essence of a joined Trill: the host changes many times over several centuries, but with each new host, the symbiont gains an entirely new perspective and understanding of life itself. Hosts die, but the symbiont carries their memories forever. This idea has been drilled into us from the minute we met Jadzia in “Emissary.” But it isn’t until Ezri comes along that the characters -- and the viewers -- have to deal with what this means firsthand.
Out of all of Ezri’s crewmates, perhaps the person who had the most visceral reaction to her coming on board the station was Worf — Jadzia’s newly widowed husband. At first, I couldn’t believe how outwardly cold and dismissive he was acting (and neither could she). Worf first spots Ezri in Quark’s, and when she smiles and gives him a wave, he quickly recuses himself. Ezri perceives this action as hostile and begins to doubt if she can really make a life for herself here. She tells Sisko, “there are too many memories here” (“Afterimage”).
Tension between the two escalates throughout the episode, and Ezri finds herself questioning whether she even deserves to wear the uniform. It’s a breakthrough with Garak’s anxiety-inducing claustrophobia that reassures her of her ability to be a counselor, and though she planned on resigning her commission earlier in the episode, it’s revealed Sisko never sent her resignation through to Starfleet.
We hardly get to see Worf (much less his feelings) until he knocks on Ezri’s door while she’s packing to leave. He explains that he is unsure of what to feel and is uncomfortable with everything going on: “Part of me is glad to know that she [Jadzia] is not gone forever, but in some ways, it would be easier if she were.” The pair are left with an understanding that she should stay on the station, but that Worf will need some time to adjust fully.
Grief is often mishandled on television — characters will move on too quickly, they’ll behave unusually, etc. Worf’s behavior was upsetting at first because, as I was getting to know Ezri, I felt she should have been immediately embraced by everyone. But this expectation was unrealistic, and looking back, Worf’s feelings were completely valid. Although he treated Ezri coolly at first, he ultimately realized his mistake and made amends.
Interestingly, the Ezri/Worf dynamic doesn’t end with one episode. Their complex relationship is explored further in “Penumbra.” After Ezri saves Worf from the harsh torrents of the Badlands through a daring, AWOL rescue mission, they end up stranded on a planet with no way to contact the station. From the moment of the rescue to when they found themselves grounded, it was nothing but arguing followed by awkward silence. Each had a chance to show off their temper, but when tensions reached a peak, a passionate kiss led to a fiery night.
Shortly after the rendezvous, several Breen approach from out of nowhere and take Ezri and Worf to the Breen ship. While incarcerated, neither Ezri or Worf seem to regret the night before, but as time passes and Ezri eventually gets taken and tortured, her subconscious feelings for Dr. Bashir are revealed. This turn of events leaves Worf hurt and Ezri confused, but it also leads to a deep conversation about the nature of their relationship and what their next move should be (finally). The conclusion of the discussion sees both Worf and Ezri come out with a mutual respect for one another and leaves both with a bond beyond the bounds of friendship.
Dr. Bashir’s relationship with Dax turned out to be perfectly juxtaposed to Worf’s. During DS9’s first season we saw Julian flirt with Jadzia consistently (and consistently be rejected). Even in the first episode when the two had just arrived at the station, Julian was practically choking on his own tongue trying to ask her out for dinner. This constant barrage of advances was something Jadzia found amusing and endearing, but I suspect she knew her 300+ years of wisdom might have been too much for the green, fresh-out-of-the-academy doctor to handle. The confidence and grace she exuded, while magnetic, ultimately weren’t what Julian needed. He began to see this and by the time Worf joined the crew, he and Dax were close friends and nothing more.
We never see any angry jealousy from Julian but there are times when Quark strikes up conversation about what could have been, such as when Worf and Dax are about to get married). There’s an extant air of regret about his relationship with Jadzia, and in “Afterimage,” Ezri says “If Worf hadn’t come along, it would’ve been you.” This revelation was surely devastating, and even though she is unaware of the impact of that statement, the knowledge that he could have actually had something with the woman he was in love with for six years must burn.
After Ezri’s experience as a prisoner of the Breen, she tries to come to terms with her feelings for Julian. Meanwhile, Julian begins to feel similar things for Ezri, leading to nervous run-ins and uncomfortable moments as both prepare to confront the other about their feelings. “Dogs of War” shows the disclosure of feelings from both parties, the “rational” decision to restrict the relationship to that of friendship (for fear of losing each other entirely), and finally the moment we were all (even Chief O’Brien) waiting for. “Huh. I guess they worked it out,” O’Brien says, as the turbolift enters ops with Ezri and Julian kissing. This feels very much like a win for everyone: Worf got to marry the love of his life and eventually have a lifelong friend, and Julian got a close friend for several years, and then a romantic relationship with Dax, even if it wasn’t with the host he originally fell for.
The longest, and by far the most meaningful relationship the Dax symbiont has is with Benjamin Sisko. What makes the relationship so unique and important is that there was never any sort of romantic interest from either party at any point, thanks in part to Curzon Dax, who was the first incarnation of Dax to cross paths with Sisko. Curzon was an old man while Sisko was just starting his career. A skilled and revered diplomat throughout the sector, Curzon took on the role of mentor to a young Sisko. Our insight into their relationship is mostly limited to what’s told through Jadzia, but it is abundantly clear Sisko held great respect for Curzon.
This respect is translated to Jadzia Dax, who continues to be a confidant and sounding board for Sisko in times of crisis or otherwise. However, the dynamic has changed -- not because the old man is suddenly a beautiful young woman, but because Jadzia’s rank as Lieutenant Commander is inferior to Sisko’s rank of Commander (and eventually Captain). What this means is that Dax now holds an additional role of (semi) equal to Sisko. Their banter is still intact, but they are able to communicate in a more authentic way than I would imagine Sisko and Curzon ever could.
Upon Ezri’s arrival, Sisko is one of the only characters to welcome her with open arms and no reservations (along with good old Quark). This is crucial for Ezri’s re-entry into the world she once knew, and she even tells Sisko, “You don’t know how much better I feel just being here with you, Ben,” (“Shadows and Symbols”). Physically, Ezri’s a similarly beautiful young woman, but mentally she was clearly unprepared to be joined. As a result, her self-confidence plummeted and the sureness Jadzia carried herself with vanished. It was Sisko’s tricky handiwork in “Afterimage” that helped to restore Ezri’s faith in herself and her capabilities along with strengthening the bond between her and Sisko. From this episode forward, Ezri held the rank of Lieutenant — just one below Jadzia. The trust and respect that Dax and Sisko had in one another was again translated, and this time, Ezri has become the mentee. She of course still carries the wisdom of her eight previous hosts, but her timid nature and sometimes erratic demeanor means that a steady hand and sound advice from the now seasoned Captain Sisko are always welcome and appreciated.
Jadzia Dax’s departure was mourned by all, but with her sudden death came an unexpected gift — Ezri Dax’s confuddled, eccentric, and charming aura was a welcome bit of levity in the seemingly never-ending Dominion War. Ezri shined in every scene she was in because in previous seasons we’ve been looking at the war through the jaded eyes of the servicemen and women of DS9. Ezri brings a fresh perspective and unique take on precarious situations through her lens as a joined Trill with a brand-new host, and as a counselor — a role never before featured on DS9.
Ezri gave the audience a chance to fully get to know another Dax — one that hasn’t prepared all her life for joining as Jadzia did, but someone more like us. A young woman thrust into a predicament impossible to get out of (without dying in the process) goes on a personal journey to come to terms with herself as a person with eight lifetimes of memories. Along the way, she continues to prove that while she might carry Jadzia’s experiences, Ezri is her own unique character that can endure trauma, be brave, and fight for what she believes in.
Emma Trevino (she/her) is studying English at the University of New Mexico and is set to graduate next May.