The Multitudes of the Trill

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As humans, we all contain multitudes. Our lives are each made up of experiences that help to shape and define who we are as individuals. From the Vulcans to the Moopsy, the Star Trek universe has introduced us to many fascinating species that have made an impact over the years. Out of all of them, I think that the Trill are the best example of a life of multitudes in all of sci-fi, second only to the Time Lords of Doctor Who.

In a similar fashion to many of the recurring alien species in Star Trek, the Trill looked rather different in their first appearance (The Next Generation’s 1991 episode ‘The Host’) and some of the elements regarding their lore that were introduced would be reworked and refined later. However, in many ways, the Trill arrived almost fully-formed; a joined species made up of a host body and a worm-like symbiont creature that holds the memories and life experiences of previous hosts. Being a Doctor Who fan for nearly 15 years at the time I started my deep dive into the Trek canon, I found myself looking at the Trill as Star Trek’s closest resemblance to the Time Lords and the Doctor, which helped shape my understanding of them moving forward. Through the main character of Jadzia Dax (and Ezri, in the seventh and final season), Deep Space Nine provided a more in-depth look at the Trill, enhanced by the increased focus on serialisation and character development which set the series apart from other Treks at the time.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to balance who we used to be with who we are now. For a joined Trill such as Jadzia Dax, carrying seven lifetimes worth of experience would often prove to be quite challenging in more ways than one. In the first season episode ‘Dax’, Jadzia was forced to answer for her predecessor Curzon’s alleged part in the murder of a war hero, which raised the question of whether a current host was responsible for the actions of their former hosts. This was a question that was raised again in ‘Blood Oath’, when Jadzia wished to honour Curzon’s oath with his Klingon friends to hunt down and kill the man who murdered their firstborn sons. As if things weren’t complicated enough for Jadzia in the early seasons, ‘Equilibrium’ saw her struggle for her survival when memories of an unstable and murderous Dax host began to resurface, after being suppressed for years in an effort to prevent a terrible truth from altering Trill society.

Unlike in ‘The Host’ (where the Trill were largely unknown to the Enterprise crew), DS9’s pilot episode, ‘Emissary’ saw Jadzia Dax stepping aboard the titular space station with a pre-existing friendship with Commander Benjamin Sisko, albeit with a fascinating twist that highlights the rather unique nature of life as a joined Trill. As Curzon, Dax had been a mentor and close friend of Sisko’s for years, so it was quite a change from being a man who lived past 100 to a woman in her late 20s like Jadzia. Many of their interactions were often peppered with Sisko affectionately referring to Jadzia as ‘old man’ in honour of his friendship with Curzon; a term of endearment that Jadzia welcomed (but one which her successor, Ezri Dax, would find problematic). Nevertheless, Jadzia and Benjamin adjusted quite easily, as their bond continued to evolve over the seasons, with both offering each other advice when needed but also having fun together.

Despite the long lifespan of the Trill, romantic relationships are unable to last quite so long, as shown through the concept of re-association, whereby marriages or other romantic unions between one or more joined Trill must end, or else they would be cast out from Trill society and the symbiont would die with them. Dax wrestled with this taboo on more than one occasion, as the fourth season episode ‘Rejoined’ would be the first to demonstrate. Upon the arrival of Lenara Khan, the new host of Torias Dax’s wife, she and Jadzia initially aimed to build a new friendship together as they worked on a mission to create an artificial wormhole. Despite a positive start, the romantic feelings that existed between their previous hosts began to resurface, forcing Jadzia and Lenara to seriously consider whether they were prepared to break from tradition and get back together. Following Jadzia’s death in the sixth season finale, re-association would cause another problem for her successor, Ezri, as she and Worf spent part of the final season struggling to figure out where they stood, post-marriage.

In a similar way to how Doctor Who would occasionally have episodes where multiple incarnations of the Doctor would join together, DS9 also dabbled in multi-Dax stories, with the most fascinating of these being ‘Facets’. This third season tale involved Jadzia undergoing the Trill rite of closure, or zhian’tara, in which a Trill host is able to interact with their predecessors to understand how their past informs the person they have become through the joining. As her fellow DS9 crew members became recipients of the memories of past Dax hosts, Jadzia had more intimate, face-to-face encounters with her past than any human could today. Through Major Kira’s embodiment of Leela Dax, Jadzia learned where she inherited her habit of holding her arms behind her back. On a more serious note, her interaction with the recently-integrated Joran Dax (embodied by Sisko) gave physical voice to her fears of not being worthy enough to carry the Dax symbiont, brought about by her initial rejection from the Trill initiate program by Curzon. At the culmination of Jadzia’s zhian’tara, Curzon, in Odo’s body, revealed that he rejected her because he was ashamed of the fact that he was in love with her. Following the restoration of Curzon’s memories to Jadzia, she had a renewed sense of confidence in herself, as well as a new love for Curzon that would live on within the Dax symbiont.

Although we will never truly know what it means to carry multiple lifetimes of experience inside us, there is still a lot that can be learned from the Trill. If I were to pick my favourite Trill-centric episode, it would be ‘Facets’ because it is a powerful reminder of how we are more than just one thing. Jadzia’s journey in this episode is a variation on the same kind of journey we all go on, of learning to embrace ourselves as multi-faceted individuals, with all the contradictions that come with it, and using our experience as a base on which to help build the next part of our lives, however big or small.

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