I find myself missing Star Trek: Deep Space Nine from time to time. It was the first spin-off of the Rick Berman Star Trek television franchise and was a bit of a bold experiment. It was a Star Trek show that really didn’t see the crew go out to explore new frontiers – it was about new life and civilizations coming to them.
Then there was the character of Jadzia Dax, played by Terry Farrell. The great thing about Star Trek is that fans are always looking for meaning in Gene Roddenberry’s semi-Utopian future and what values they can take from it towards the betterment of their lives. It’s a common Trek fan refrain. But when I recollect Deep Space Nine, the thing that was different about this series was how there seemed to be an absence of Federation values and that they didn’t seem to work very well in the Bajoran frontier. That was one of the reasons why I liked the show: it was edgier and a little more realistic.
Dax, however, was the reminder of those principles – the moral compass of the crew, if you like, who reinforced those values. She had multiple lifetimes of experience that she could offer her crew. She was a love-interest, a best friend, a wife and a source of wisdom.
At this year’s Toronto ComiCon I had the privilege of conducting an interview with actress Terry Farrell about these things and more. I began by asking what it was that Jadzia Dax offered her fans as well as her crew that made her so popular:
“I think because she’s absolutely accepting of everyone however they come in, with whatever stage in their lives, whatever baggage they come with,” she said. “She’s accepting and compassionate. Yeah, I think that’s what she contributes. She gets to be like the mother. All the good feelings that Star Trek embodies… she gets to embody what Star Trek means.”
I had to confess at that point Dax was my favourite character on the show. When she left, I felt that the show went downhill. It seemed like those qualities and feelings that Terry was talking about also went with the show.
She replies: “Thank you. I was sorry too. I really wanted to be a recurring character but Rick Berman wouldn’t have it. “
This is old news of course, but I brought up something my dusty mind had conjured up: a paraphrased memory of Terry recounting how she felt that Dax was the coolest character she had ever played.
“Sure!” was her emphatic response.
So the question had to be asked: would she ever consider playing the character ever again if the opportunity ever came up?
“Well, I always figured they could have cloned me!” She quipped. “And besides, Spock came back! But Rick Berman always said that he would never do a movie of Deep Space Nine so… and they’ve already started a new franchise of the original series.”
I couldn’t help but notice what I thought was some wistfulness in that last statement. I felt it too. It was an acknowledgement that Jadzia’s time had passed. I changed the subject to ask her what she thought about the new iteration of Star Trek. Being a fan of the reactionary nature myself, I was also curious to know her opinion.
“I think those guys are amazing actors. I really love watching all of them. There isn’t anybody that isn’t fascinating to watch on that.”
There was no pause in her praise. There also wasn’t a hint of envy that these young actors were taking up the torch, so to speak, and continuing Roddenberry’s story, though in a different format. I was immediately impressed by her sense of professionalism and generous nature. After all, in my opinion, Terry’s role was cut short before its time and here was Chris Pine and company taking on new Star Trek roles of their own. It was an admirable state of mind.
But I wanted to go back to Deep Space Nine. I asked Terry if she could remember her favourite episode of the show.
“Um, there was one where Michael [Dorn] and I went off on a mission together and I got hurt and he had to decide whether to save my life or go on with the mission. Yes, I liked that very much. At the time it was very turbulent in terms of the producers trying to pressure me into signing and… It was the Christmas episode – not that we celebrate Christmas on the episode [laughter] but it happens during the break so that people are really happy when it’s only about two characters! [laughter] Because they don’t usually have a lot to do and they can celebrate with their families!
“It was great to do it with Michael because we’re such good friends and I felt like we really earned our friendship through working together and I really love him. So I was going through a time when the producers were pressuring me, mostly Rick Berman and a couple of his… minions… and making me feel bad and trying to control me. And having Michael be supportive of me – Terry, just me – he’s awesome. He’s a very kind and loving person.”
I love hearing positive stories from people’s lives, especially having a loving and supportive friend who has your back is one of those great things that people want to have. But it was the humility in which Terry framed her remarks about Michael Dorn that really struck me. It wasn’t that she was lauding how great she was for having the friendship but rather how being just Terry seemed to somehow mean that she wasn’t worthy of it.
Of course, the episode in question that Terry was referring to was Season 6 Episode 16, “Change of Heart.” The recently married Jadzia and Worf are on a mission where they have to recover a Cardassian spy. In the course of penetrating a Jem H’adar base, Dax is struck by a Jem H’adar weapon with anti-coagulant properties. Dax is able to survive with steady plasma transfusions, but their supplies are limited and she faces certain death if she is not returned for surgery in time.
Worf must decide if he should continue the mission or leave the planet. They both decide that he should continue and they say their farewells. Worf experiences a change of heart, returns to Jadzia and leaves the planet just in time to save her life. However, Commander Sisko informs Worf that their spy has been captured and killed and that Worf must take a reprimand for the mission failure, barred from command and that he and Dax are never to be paired on future missions. Sisko then also adds that as a man and a husband, he would have done the same thing.
It is a very moving episode but it also one that emphasizes Dax’s sterling character. She is the one who tells Worf to go on and reminds him of his duty. However, her death would have been a loss that he would have never recovered from. I found it particularly interesting in that it somewhat paralleled my own decreased enjoyment of the show when Farrell eventually did leave Deep Space Nine.
This is the type of inspirational stuff that geeks like Star Trek fans look for. It is the example of self-sacrifice or calm acceptance of what is important in life. Geeks are dramatic by nature and look to their mediums to better their lives through positive examples. I related this idea to Terry to get her take on this perception of geek culture.
“Yeah, and I think it should be, because it’s almost like we’re taught that we have to put something down in order to like something else. It shouldn’t be that way.”
My time was running out so I had to ask Terry about new projects that she had on the horizon.
“I have an eleven year old and… well, I guess my only projects are doing a couple of cons. I’m going to take July completely off but because he’s eleven.”
At this point, Terry paused for a second of reflection.
“I quit my career for him, you know?”
I nodded. I could completely understand. Terry looked behind me at this point and asked, “Is that your daughter?”
I smiled because my oldest daughter is a very special kid. I related to Terry that I could totally understand the concept of putting your career on hold for your kid. My nine-year old little girl fought leukemia for five years, so her notion of what you are prepared to do for your child fully resonated with me.
“We live in a smaller town now and I don’t regret any of that. I do miss working, so …”
She trailed off at this point. Though Terry didn’t regret the sacrifice she had made for her kid, I could also sense the calm acceptance that went along with that decision. This is one of the most important kinds of sacrifices you can make for your child and I completely respected that. Her unfinished sentence spoke volumes in my mind.
Terry went on to say how much she loved Toronto. She would love to come back here again and how everyone was “super-nice.” We took a couple of photos together and one with my kid.
After an interview, I usually have a great amount of excitement. But this time it was different. I felt extremely calm and relaxed. Terry Farrell had to be one of the celebrities I’ve felt the most comfortable talking to despite her status as an icon of geek culture. I felt like I had taken something of great value with me: the joy in meeting this very easy-going and accepting person.
Why did Terry Farrell say that Jadzia Dax was like the mother on the show? Because, apparently, that’s what Terry Farrell is like in real life. The ability to accept things and people as they are implies a sense of grace and I think that’s what I got out of my brief time with her.
Did she make a bad choice in leaving the show? It’s hard to say; it depends how you look at it. But it was her choice to make, with good reason and one that Terry has come to terms with in a manner that shows dignity and a sense of poise. It not only sets a good example for the rest of us to emulate, but also to her son as well. What a legacy she leaves for him.
With the photos taken and that moment of reflection, I said good bye to Terry. Shades of her final episode all over again! But at least this time I was able to take a sense of satisfaction, in that somehow Jadzia Dax had shared with me some valuable insight and wisdom just like she did with her crewmates on the show.
Live long and prosper.