On November 22nd Star Trek: The Original Series “Plato’s Stepchildren” was broadcast to the American nation. The episode features the first ever scripted inter-racial kiss between fictional characters to be broadcast on an American television network. More fan mail was received for that episode alone than any other and it appears there was minimal negative comments according to Nichelle Nichols. The writers and production staff were most likely more worried about it offending people – particularly the conservative southern Americans.
By the time Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was being aired surely there was nothing left to cause any controversy in these ‘modern’ times? Wrong. DS9 tackled what I believe to be real issues without covering them up or glamourizing them, such as the real cost of war. The Dominion War story arc had networks cutting episodes when they deemed them too violent, specifically “To the Death” in series four, which had extensive hand to hand combat scenes. The episode was cut by approximately 45 seconds and the deaths of over 32 Jem’Hadar removed from the episode. But surely that’s it right, war scenes cut, on with the show? But no. There was one other plot which is notably more controversial.
Rejoined. The sixth episode of season four airing in October 1995 caused quite a scandal. The episode features Susanna Thompson as Dr Lenara Khan. The Khan and Dax symbionts used to be married when they were in previous hosts – Nilani (Lenara) and Torias (Jadzia) but after Torias died in a shuttle accident Nilani was widowed, something it seems the symbiont never fully got over. Reassociation (the continuation of a romantic relationship after a host change) is forbidden by Trill law as the goal of the Trill / symbiont relationship is to acquire new lifetime experiences. Any Trill breaking the law of reassociation will be exiled, meaning that the current symbiont will die with the host as opposed to being passed on to a new one. I’m not going to go into all the episode details because A. If you’ve watched it you know what happens, and B. If you haven’t watched it you should do so now! Suffice to say though that Lenara and Jadzia are drawn to each other, something that Lenara’s research team and Sisko are concerned about.
The main controversial point in this episode is that Lenara and Jadzia kiss. It’s the first female kiss shown in Star Trek and the episode goes out of its way to avoid any blatant references to homosexuality because that was not the main issue. This episode was symbiont centric, not Trill, but the story had to be played out with the hosts, in this case two Trill females. I find it sad that at the time, many couldn’t get behind the story and emotion of the plot. I personally believe it is one of the best Dax episodes and shows us more of the Trill culture that we see little of in the grand scheme of Star Trek and Avery Brooks did a great job directing. However in 1995 it seems the American people were not prepared for what they were about the watch. As well as the press trying to sensationalise the episode – something Avery Brooks tried to minimise by working on a closed set, the producers received a large number letters and negative calls in response to the episode, citing the kiss scene in particular and in some of the southern states the same sex kiss was removed from the episode entirely. René Echevarria’s own mother was offended by the episode apparently saying that she couldn’t believe they put the scene in and that there should have been a parental guidance warning at the beginning. Also a parent called the show to say that “you’re ruining my kids by making them watch two women kiss like that”. Seriously, that actually happened.
Despite all the controversy Star Trek Deep Space Nine went on to be one of the most notable Star Trek series with a large loyal fan base. They even added another female kiss in “The Emperor’s New Cloak” in season seven between the characters The Intendant and Ezri Tigan! I regard myself as such a fan and believe that it is these controversial episodes where the writers did not shy away from real life issues that make DS9 what it is. It has now been 18 years since the episode “Rejoined” first aired on television and if I look back over even the last 10 years it’s amazing to see how far television has come in terms of showing people what they need to see as opposed to what they want to see. Maybe Star Trek started something. And maybe it’s not quite done yet.