In the tenth episode of the third season ofÂ Deep Space Nine, I suppose it was only a matter of time before this story happened. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watchÂ Star Trek.Â
Trigger Warning: For talk of consent, homophobia, casual cissexism.
Well, that was an experience.
I don’t think it’s surprising that at this point, I’m intensely critical of this trope, especially since sci-fi and genre television shows are convinced that they must use some iteration of this trope during their run. I don’t think it’s as viscerally awful as it usually is when you compare its utilization in “Fascination” with otherÂ Star TrekÂ examples, though there’s really only one acknowledgement of the creepy consent issues at hand. (Sisko urging Julian away from Kira.) At the very least, the writers include the detail that Lwaxana’s Zanthi fever brought out theÂ subconsciousÂ attraction that these people felt for their friends and crew. But is that enough to sustain this story?
Like I said at the start, this is an experience, one of those episodes that works solely the first time around, but doesn’t have much meaning or power once you know what’s happening. I WAS CONFUSED! I was intrigued! I was interested in O’Brien’s issues with Keiko’s absence! But the sole conflict here aside from that story is a simple mystery: why is everyone behaving weirdly? Once it’s resolved, there’s really nothing left here.
EXCEPT AWKWARDNESS. SO MUCH AWKWARDNESS. This is an absurdly uncomfortable episode, namely since the show pairs each person with someone they’ve ever had a subconscious attraction to. That gives us some really weird pairings â€“ like Quark/Keiko or Bareil/Dax â€“ as well as a few that I felt made some sense. Like, I get the idea of Kira and Julian being together. (Lord, isn’t this episode like a shipper’s best possible dream? NEW PAIRINGS EVERY FIVE MINUTES. Have fun!) At the same time, two of the “latent” attractions frustrated me more than entertained me. It’s here that I realize that there are two distinct parts of my fandom brain at work here. I can appreciate the humor and wackiness of “Fascination” because it’s fun to see this show step away from the brutally serious narratives that have become part of the show’s oeuvre. I can delight at the romantic capabilities that may come of this episode. (WILL KIRA/ODO EVER HAPPEN, STOP TEASING ME OKAY.) Then, the part of my brain that deals with critical analysis, that delights in talking about tropes and stereotypes and narrative choices, is activated when thinking about the exact same scenes.
Let’s start with Jake and Kira. Why isÂ no oneÂ stating the absolute obvious here? I understood that Marta may not have beenÂ thatÂ much older than Jake, so perhaps the writers didn’t feel it necessary to talk about age gaps, but practicallyÂ no oneÂ address the age disparity between Kira and Jake once his infatuation takes over. That should be perhaps the first and EASIEST reason given? And no one says it? Jake is sixteen. How old is Kira at this point? She has to be between late 20s and early 30s. SO NO, THIS SHOULDN’T BE HAPPENING. If it were addressed at all, I suppose I wouldn’t have an issue with it, but the fact that it’s utterly absent feels weird!
There’s also Dax’s attraction to Sisko. On the surface, it doesn’t bother me and it makes a whole lot of sense! The two have been friends for aÂ longÂ time, and sometimes, there’s a quiet, unspoken attraction that fuels that friendship. On the other end of the spectrum, a long friendship is a perfectly reasonable justification for there being aÂ lackÂ of attraction. Sisko has been friends with Dax for decades! It’s weird to think of Jadzia Dax as a romantic partner, and that’s totally fair. But in this, there’s a really weird undertone created when Sisko keeps referring to Dax as “old man.” It’s as if he views Jadzia as a man or at least, at heart, she is a man. The gender of Trill and their hosts is muddled as it is, but I didn’t feel like this was defined as well as it should have been.
But it’s a throwaway line; Sisko refers to Dax as “old man” repeatedly throughout the series. As a whole, it doesn’t bother me all that much. I’m more disappointed in what’sÂ missingÂ from this entire episode: not a single example of any non-heterosexual attraction. None! SoÂ no oneÂ in this show has any feelings for someone of the same gender? Not even subconsciously? Just in terms of the odds, how is it that every character and every species and every culture is straight?Â AllÂ of them? And you know what, I most likely wouldn’t have thought about this if it weren’t for Sisko’s pet name for Dax. In that moment, I realized that maybe someone thought that Sisko couldn’t be attracted to Jadzia Dax because he thought of herÂ asÂ Dax.
It’s weird, no?
IÂ didÂ enjoy the conflict between O’Brien and Keiko because amidst all the absurdity and weirdness of this episode, their relationship is 100% real. Neither of them are affected by the fever, thoughâ€¦ was Keiko suddenly attracted to Bareil at the end of the episode? Regardless, I appreciated that the writers addressed Keiko’s absence and did so while exploring the complicated emotions these two felt over the situation. It’s challenging. O’Brien missed his wife, but doesn’t want to step on his desires. Unfortunately, he’s alsoÂ stubborn, so it’s not long before his frustration with the situation overwhelms him. Yet “Fascination” doesn’t disrespect the choices Keiko has made. As much as she might miss her husband, her work as a botanist is important and thrilling. She needs to have her own life, too, one that doesn’t necessarily revolve around O’Brien. Granted, I think I’d be happier if Keiko were around a lot more, but hey, if she’s gonna be gone, I prefer a story like this that doesn’t force her into a weird place.
The video for “Fascination” can be downloadedÂ here for $0.99.
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