Wednesday, March 28, 2012

In Defense Of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s "Change Of Heart"

The Good: Great character studies, Not predictable, Wonderful acting, Decent special effects
The Bad: Moments of awkward a-plot/b-plot mix, Somewhat simplistic.
The Basics: In one of the most Dax-focused episodes, “Change Of Heart” explores the competing feelings of Bashir and Worf when Worf and Jadzia go on a dangerous mission together.

Right off the bat, it is worth noting that my final rating was very much in flux for most of this review. I vacillated between the rating I gave it and about half a point higher. Ultimately, it ended up where it did, at the very top of what I generally consider the “average” range because “Change Of Heart” is ridiculously simple. It is a very simple episode and as such, there are moments the b-plot feels quite a bit more forced than it ought to.

That said, “Change Of Heart” manages to do what very few episodes in the Star Trek franchise do. The episode reveals nicely the day to day life of a married couple. Ironically, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine gives viewers a glimpse into how normal and, for lack of a better term, human, daily life can be in the future, using two non-human characters. Since Worf and Dax married in “You Are Cordially Invited . . .” (reviewed here!), viewers have been privy to more mundane interactions, like the couple having others over for dinner. This is actually refreshing because it fleshes out the full reality of the Star Trek universe. Against the backdrop of the horrific interstellar war that has broken out, people still find time to tease one another, make love and negotiate for their individual wants and needs. “Change Of Heart,” as simple as the main conflicts of the episode may be, does that exceptionally well.

After Worf and O’Brien watch Jadzia lose a tongo game to Quark, Worf and Dax return to their quarters for a romantic evening. They are awoken early by Kira who has a priority mission for them. Dax and Worf are tasked with taking a Runabout – the only one the station currently has available – to a specific set of coordinates to get a message from a high-ranking Cardassian who wants desperately to defect. Upon reaching the coordinates, Dax and Worf learn that Lasaran knows the locations and missions of all the shape-shifting Founders working in the Alpha Quadrant. Knowing this is an asset that could change the shape of the entire war, the pair commits to entering Dominion space near Soukara to rescue Lasaran from a jungle near a Dominion facility a few days later.

While Chief O’Brien enlists Bashir to play Quark in a game of tongo to try to break Quark’s winning streak, Worf and Dax embark on a mission where they cannot contact Lasaran and cannot turn back without compromising the mission. After braving an asteroid field and landing on Soukara, Dax and Worf begin the treacherous hike through the jungle to save Lasaran, until a Jem’Hadar patrol catches up with them and Dax is wounded.

Part of the problem with discussing “Change Of Heart” is that the whole purpose of the episode does not become readily apparent until the last two acts (something I am loathe to discuss in most of my reviews). It is shockingly late in the episode when Jadzia is shot with a Jem’Hadar weapon. Fortunately for her, it merely grazes her, but because Jem’Hadar disruptors have an anticoagulant, Dax begins to bleed pretty heavily the more she and Worf move through the jungle. The simple twenty kilometer hike for the couple soon turns into a near-impossible task that challenges Worf.

Worf, who has faced the death of both his parents, the mother of his child and the loss of both of his brothers (one is incommunicado on a planet outside Federation jurisdiction, the other is brainwashed into not remembering Worf or the House Of Mogh), has a lot of emotional baggage. So, the prospect of losing his wife after so few months is a real conflict for the Klingon warrior. “Change Of Heart” is largely about Worf’s attempt to balance caring for Jadzia with finishing the mission.

One of the aspects that is truly wonderful about “Change Of Heart” is that it is not entirely predictable. Worf is a complex character and he has developed remarkably well over the course of his time on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. So, having Worf face a complicated choice that forces him to choose between two extreme aspects his character is devoted to is an extraordinarily good storytelling idea. While many reviewers complain that this is a bottle episode that does not bear consequences, I take another stand. I argue that Worf’s ultimate decision had pretty vast consequences and that his resolution to the problem actually forced the events chronicled in the episode “In The Pale Moonlight.” After all, Lasaran’s intel has the potential to end the war especially quickly by utterly crippling the Dominion.

Appropriately, the b-plot is sublimated to the important a-plot conflict. Rewatching “Change Of Heart,” I was actually astonished how quickly the b-plot is resolved. In essentially one scene, Quark and Bashir square off to play a tongo sponsored by O’Brien. O’Brien wants to watch Quark go down, figuring that it is inevitable for his winning streak to end. When Bashir points out O’Brien is terrible at the game, Bashir plays for him. In one of the funniest executions the series ever does, Bashir complains that he does not know how to play tongo, O’Brien hands him a PADD with the rules and within literally two seconds, Bashir has the rules memorized and is ready to play. What makes the b-plot memorable is that in order to win the game, Quark begins playing Bashir. As Quark and Bashir discuss Jadzia, the pair lament her marriage to Worf and Quark quickly weasels his way into Bashir’s most vulnerable emotional spots. The scene, and its resolution, sets up well Quark and Bashir’s interactions in the season seven premiere episodes.

While Armin Shimerman, Siddig El Fadil and Colm Meany all have decent supporting performances, the episode is dominated by Terry Farrell and Michael Dorn. As cliché as it is to point out, Terry Farrell is damn sexy in “Change Of Heart.” Outside the obvious physical aspects – and her willingness to show some skin and spots for a scene that illustrates that marriage has not stopped the sparks from flying for Worf and Dax – Farrell makes Dax a real sex symbol by infusing her humorous lines with a genuinely impish quality. Farrell is able to emote well using only her eyes and that playful quality helps sell the character as one who is very old, but still remembers how to have fun. As well, Farrell is able to convincingly play Dax as wounded (this is not her season!) and given how the season ended, it has been interesting to hear Farrell’s thoughts at conventions on “Change Of Heart.”

Michael Dorn, though, lands “Change Of Heart” in a way that he has not been given the opportunity to play Worf in a long time. As Worf, Dorn effectively straddles the dramatic and comedic moments in “Change Of Heart” to remind viewers that the character is complicated, not inconsistent. As Worf discusses his sense of humor with Dax, Dorn is able to let loose with enthusiastic expressiveness that he does not play when opposite Colm Meany at the outset of the episode. There, he plays humor in a more deadpan fashion and the viewer always knows they are watching the same character. When Dax is wounded, Worf’s reactions force Dorn to play Worf with increased restraint and he once again nails the role, making Worf an efficient, if conflicted, soldier of StarFleet.

Ultimately, “Change Of Heart” is a frequently-overlooked episode that has a lot more going for it than most fans want to acknowledge. And as a medical ethics episode, it is entirely accessible to those who are not, traditionally, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine viewers!

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the penultimate season by clicking here!


For other television reviews, please be sure to visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the movies and television shows I have reviewed!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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  1. 1.I would really like to know if the producers here knew at the time they were conceiving this story that Terry Farrel was planning her departure at the end of the season. If they didn't then I have no beef with the resolution whatsoever...but I can kind of understand how she might have been frustrated .This is the first episode in a long while in which Dax really contributes to the plot and once again it's by being injured.

    Okay she's far from helpless here. She does some fancy flying in the asteroid field,that was pretty cool .She does some smart technobabble life sign masking with the tricorders,again tres clever. But as in Rocks and Shoals her primary contribution is unfortunately to bleed(in this case on the scenery). A case could be made that by teling Worf it is okay to leave her behind for the mission because she herself understands the importance of duty goes a long way to make her less of a victim but ultimately this was Worf's decision to make. Her decisions aren't driving the story at this point.

    This leaves exactly 2 episodes this season where Dax really figures strongly in the plot: Behind the Lines and You Are Cordially Invited. In the former,I was looking forward to seeing how she was going to handle commanding this dangerous mission on her own and the episode actually consists of seeing Sisko worry about what she is doing offscreen. And with the latter...yes she has an active role but it seems like the most interesting scene,the one which actually shows what Dax actually SAID to Sirella to get the wedding back on,is in fact missing. (Perhaps the writers didn't know what she would have said to get them out of the corner the scenario painted them into,I don't know.)

    So,were I Farrell considering whether I wanted to re-up for another year, looking at the quality of stuff being written for Dax, I might be thinking of greener pastures by now too.

    Which brings me to my point...If the writers DID know that Dax was being written out, I feel a HUGE tactical error was made. If you look at how little she actually figures in the remainder of the season from here on out(many episodes she only rates a token scene) until we start the set up for her departure(and even that doesn't give her terribly much to do) I think what they should have done was killed her off here...

    No wait here me out! Killing her here and having it be Worf's fault would have saddled him with huge guilt. He still might have done the mission to get her into Sto'Vo'Kor but now for a completely different she could have the honor he denied her by his own choices. Sounds like a bad thing to do to poor Worf, I know, but the opportunity to turn a contract decision by an actor into genuine drama for another character would have been immense! And near as I can tell it would have had a negligible effect(if any) on the Ezri arc later. Keeping her here for the rest of the season when she has so little to do...I suppose part of that was to preserve for the general audience who don't read about cast changes in magazines or TV Guide just WHO was getting killed off in the season finale....but I really don't get it.

    2.Kinda dumb that Starfleet doesn't already have a law prohibiting married couples from going alone on missions as standard procedure. The fact that Sisko has to invent one seems like it's a tad bit o' failure to preplan. I mean this is the same Starfleet that puts counselors on (most) ships so they gotta be aware that emotions and psychology do impact the job.Just saying...

    1. Thanks for the in-depth comment!

      I DO know that Farrell was not slated to leave when "Change Of Heart" was written and produced. After the fact, at conventions, she later opined that she would have rather been killed off in this episode. So, the actress agrees with you!

      Thanks for the comment and thanks for reading!