Many years ago, my mother was a prospective juror in a murder trial in Tulsa, Oklahoma. When being questioned by the prosecutor, before she was selected for the trial, he asked her a series of questions. The questioning went like this, “Do you watch any TV shows about lawyers or the law.” “Yes.” “Which ones?” My mother, God bless her, said, “Well, LA Law and…I guess…Star Trek.” The Star Trek line got a laugh from the other jurors as well as the lawyers, but I don’t think in a mocking way. Because what they all realized at that moment was that my mother was right, Star Trek has always been a show about laws and our social contract. The Federation is, in essence, a collection of different worlds all living by the same rules and regulations for the betterment of everyone. Even though Star Trek is obviously not a weekly show that takes place in a courtroom (rest in peace Boston Legal,) some of its best episodes are about the rule of law and involve some sort of trial. Which brings us to episode 7 of Season 1, “Dax.”
In essence, this is an episode that uses a trial, or in this case, an informal extradition hearing, to teach the audience about the race of Trills, which had been introduced in TNG, but not been very fleshed out at this point in the Star Trek universe. As the trial hearing progresses, we hear expert testimony from several witnesses describing in great detail the symbiont/host relationship and the joining process. By the end of the trial episode, we have a much better idea of who Jadzia Dax is as a character and how she fits into the new universe of DS9.
But first, let’s take a step back. Every time Star Trek does a “courtroom” episode, the writers of the show get to riff on our current system of justice and what they think it might look like in the future. So, if it please the court, let us briefly take a look at other “courtroom” episodes of Star Trek and see what our future holds! (Legally speaking)
The original TOS pilot, redone and made into a two-parter in the first season is a fascinating episode. The episode’s true purpose is not to tell the story of what happened to Captain Pike, but developing the character of Spock. This episode is exhibit A for Spock’s characteristics; his loyalty, his friendship, and what he considers to be justice, not only for him but for his former captain. For the audience, it is a glimpse into what kind of colleague and companion he will be to Kirk and McCoy, and a way to learn the histories of these characters.
What “Menagerie” and “Dax” share as episodes is that a key piece of evidence is being withheld from both the audience and key characters. [SPOILER ALERT] In “The Menagerie,” Spock withholds his motivations to both protect Captain Kirk and Captain Pike. In “Dax,” Jadzia Dax withholds both the affair her former host was having with the wife of the accused as well as the the esteemed general’s situation at the time of his death. Both of these episodes are used to show a deeper side from a normally stoic character. While it appears that both Spock and Dax are distant and too independent to receive help, in actuality they are both trying to protect people they care for deeply.
The pilot of TNG is, literally, the omnipresent alien Q putting humanity on trial. Q does not believe that humanity has evolved to a place where they should be allowed to explore the universe. They are a dangerous and violent race. Which, honestly, as a historian, it is hard to deny Q’s claim. Yet, this episode is about showing how humanity has grown, and with Captain Picard as our surrogate, we are shown as a people with both compassion and intelligence. So suck it Q.
Q: You’re Out Of Order!
Picard: I’m out of order?! THIS WHOLE DAMN SYSTEM IS OUT OF ORDER!
What “Encounter at Farpoint” and “Dax” share is one character’s prejudice against a particular race. Q, believes all of humanity to be a threat, that they are all violent and dangerous. In “Dax” it is the son of the general, Ilon Tandro who believes that Trills have the ability to commit the perfect crime and he does not see each host as a different person, just a long line of hosts and symbiont who are the same person. Ignorance and prejudice are common themes in the Star Trek universe (as well as in the present-day,) and is an easy way for the either TNG or DS9 to clearly show who is right and who is wrong; and also to teach a lesson to the wrong party at the same time.
Oh boy, what an episode. In essence, Starfleet wants to kill Data and study him to make more Datas, Data doesn’t want to die, Starfleet says he is the property of Starfleet and gets no say in the proceedings. Captain Picard, for not the last time, DRAWS THE LINE HERE! AND NO FURTHER!
Captain Picard is used like how characters in The West Wing were used at their best. To philosophize aloud to everyone, including the audience, the great questions of our age and this episode does not disappoint. This episode, which aired in 1989, is even more important now, as we are beginning to glimpse the beginning of Artificial Intelligence, and what that will mean for humanity. Bonus points for the growth of the Commander Maddox character in the TNG Novel: Immortal Coil.
Like “Dax,” this episode is about what constitutes a person. Is Data a machine or living sentient being, or both? Is Dax, one person, two people, are a combination of every host/symbiont combination? Both episodes walk the audience through this journey. This is one of the best aspects of science fiction; discussing metaphysical and philosophical questions through plot. Both Data and Dax, as characters, are used as the focal point in the question of what makes someone or something a unique individual.
Sabotage on the Enterprise, Picard has to stop a witch trial. Pre-DS9 Worf is wrong again. The End. Like “Measure of a Man,” Captain Picard has to go up against someone he respects to stand up for habeas corpus and sanity. In both of the TNG episodes, the courtrooms scenes, are like our 21st-century trials, but with uniforms!
For those paying attention, in all of these episodes, except “Encounter at Farpoint,” the legal system looks and behaves like our current one. Q, uses a system of justice from our future, their past, so we can not judge its accuracy, but I am going to say it looks pretty redonkulous.
It is fascinating to think what Earth’s legal system will look like 100 years, 200 years, 300 years, or 400 years in the future. Did Starfleet go with the Naval legal tradition because they used that tradition for other aspects of their fleet? Do trials that take place on Earth, or Vulcan, or Andor look different? I would assume so, but until we get a Star Trek TV show about Andor, we will never know (a TV show about Andorians would be awesome by the way.)
Both of these episodes, “The Drumhead” and “Dax” have what can be referred to as the “witchhunter” character. In “Drumhead” Retired Admiral Norah Satie sees a conspiracy behind every corner, no matter what is actually present. In “Dax” Ilon Tandro is so bent on bringing Dax to justice, he can not see the truth no matter what evidence is presented. The “Drumhead” like “Encounters at Farpoint” and “Dax” shows what happens when someone is so hell bent on proving their case they ignore the facts in the front of them. Adding to the list of ignorance and prejudice as common sci-fi tropes, we should add rationality and objectivity as topics Star Trek exposes upon quite often.
Like the other legal episodes so far, the system looks a lot like ours. In this case, it is an informal extradition hearing, with a Bajoran Arbiter acting as judge. Let us all glory in their use of a large ball instead of a gavel. Well played DS9 props team! I can see the conversation now:
Steve: Well she obviously needs a gavel, we have to have tons of those around, don’t we?
Jeff: Stop being an idiot! Bajorans wouldn’t have gavels. They’re a different species! They would have something else!
Steve: Oh yeah, like what? A big ball?
Jeff: Well, they are obsessed with orbs…
Together: The Orb of Arbitration!!
Also, let us all give more props (GET IT?) to Anne Haney, who plays the Bajoran Arbiter Els Renora. She is the most cantankerous, no bullshitting side character I have seen in awhile and she brought the gravity and the guffaws. This episode is surprisingly solid for Season 1 and does what early episodes need to do, develop the main characters. We know a lot more about Dax, Dax’s relationship with her past hosts, her relationship to Commander Sisko, and also how this bizarre grouping of people is coalescing into a family.
Also, it seems that not only has our legal system not changed in the future, but other races developed similar styles of jurisprudence and that is fascinating to think about……..Or the writers didn’t want to come up with a whole new system of jurisprudence every time another race had legal issues. I report, you decide.
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