Nutshell: A quiet, pleasant, by-the-numbers character show.
There's nothing at all wrong with what we get from "Afterimage," a show that plays like an extended coda to the season's opening two episodes. The problem is, I'm also having trouble finding much to say in praise of this episode. It's diverting, it's a necessary piece, it's nicely acted overall, but it lacks punch and lasting significance.
This is basically an hour of "getting to know the new Dax," which I was actually looking forward to. I only wish it had contained a little more complexity and a little less of the expected.
The episode essentially picks up right where "Shadows and Symbols" left off—perhaps the following day. Dax is confused. She's not sure where she belongs—completely understandable given her situation. What makes it particularly difficult for Ezri is the Worf factor—and Worf isn't exactly making it easy for her. He's in pain over the fact that he has to deal with the memories of his dead wife floating around in another person, and Ezri is also paying the price for Worf's pain. He avoids her. When he bumps into her in the corridor, he refuses to say anything to her beyond, "I do not know you, nor do I wish to know you."
Dax doesn't intend to stay on the station because of the uneasiness that would arise between her and Worf, which is perhaps one of the predictable aspects of "Afterimage's" plot: How much would you bet that Dax will come to terms with Worf and everything else going on at the station before the episode's end? I'd lay pretty good odds on it.
Meanwhile, Quark reinitiates his pining for Dax all over again, saying to Bashir, "It's not every day you get a second chance." But Ezri's a completely different person, Bashir responds. Perhaps so, but she's still Dax.
That's sort of the point of the entire Trill condition: the same person in some ways, but different in many others. Unfortunately, I didn't feel that "Afterimage" got to the heart of this key Trill trait as much as it could've. Especially given that Ezri is not totally compatible with the Dax symbiont, I hoped maybe we'd get a bit more of a look into Ezri's mind—into the uneasy psychological imbalance. I'd hoped she would struggle with the forces inside her, which might have been an interesting challenge.
What we get instead is reasonable: a series of emotional obstacles for Dax as she rediscovers her old friends as a new person, struggling with the weight of things around her. Most of these little issues play themselves out in a fairly by-the-numbers fashion.
Take for example, the whole idea of Ezri proving herself as a competent counselor. A fine idea, but executed without the slightest hint that a formula wasn't somewhere behind the characterizations, flowing from A to B. Applied to most of "Afterimage" is a workable but unassuming formula that provides Dax with a reassurance, then a setback, and then ends by conquering the setback.
For example, there's the Garak angle. A perfectly reasonable idea, but also formulaic. Dax tries to counsel Garak, who's suffering from intense claustrophobic attacks. At first, she's helpful and Garak is able to resume work on translating Cardassian signals for the Federation. But then he realizes the psychobabble is just a sham, and in the episode's best scene, he gives Ezri a complete dress-down on why she is destined to be a failure of a host, and then says to her, "Now get out of here, before I say something unkind." (Garak can be one menacing guy.)
Dax gives up for a moment and is lost in misdirection. By the end of the episode, of course, Garak tells her he was wrong. She has even helped him face up to his intense repressed guilt for undermining Cardassia to thwart the Dominion, which proves interesting in some ways (Andrew Robinson's performance helps, as always), but kind of simplistic in others.
There's also the Sisko angle. Sisko tells Dax that she'll do fine. But when she fails with Garak and considers quitting, Sisko rattles her by essentially saying: "You're right. You won't measure up. You should quit." Dax finds herself lost in misdirection. By the end of the episode, she realizes that being rattled with the truth has helped her face up to reality. It's a reasonable tactic that makes for a good scene, but did anyone not see the turnaround coming?
The Worf angle also follows a calculated format. And while we're talking about Worf, I would like to gripe a little about his transparency. Now, I understand that Worf has always been one who lets his inner-anger get the best of him at the expense of other people's feelings, but here he doesn't do a great job as coming off as particularly interesting in the process. He got on my nerves just a little too much. One scene, where he threatens Bashir in the infirmary because Bashir had earlier talked to Dax, had me downright rooting for Bashir to come back with some sort of cutting remark to put Worf in his place. (Alas, it was not to be.)
Worf, fortunately, doesn't come off as a complete bad guy, because the episode manages to show why he's acting the way he is and lets us in on how he feels. But again, I could see it all coming several scenes in advance. Looking for subtlety in his character is tough—because there's none to be found. That's a shame, because Worf has a complex history. It's too bad that he's so transparent much of the time.
Turning back to Dax, while I wasn't as taken back here as I was by her exuberance in "Shadows and Symbols," I did empathize with Ezri's various hardships. While evidence here suggests that deBoer doesn't make a particularly good crier, she does convey bottled distress very well. And if you look under the surface, you can almost see a touch of Terry Farrell in deBoer's performance of Dax. I'm not sure how much studying deBoer did on Farrell's acting, but it's an interesting aspect to note. Some of the vocal inflections and body language are quite Jadzia-like.
What's strange about "Afterimage," though, is that I can't quite place my finger on exactly why I couldn't get wrapped up in the story. A lot of things about the it were logically conceived. I think it was a matter of every story piece falling into place at the most elementary level, even though there was much richer material beneath the surface that wasn't exploited by the possibilities inherent in the setting and what we know of Trills.
For what we got, "Afterimage" is a perfectly competent and watchable show. But by the end of the show I couldn't help but feel there should've been more challenge and struggle—and less of the inescapable feeling that Ezri Dax's obstacles are now behind her, rather than still ahead.
Next week: Deep Baseball Nine!