In Season 4, Episode 20 of Deep Space Nine – The Muse – the main plot of the episode is about an alien female who promises to help Jake Sisko with his creative writing. She uses ‘techniques’ to inspire Jake Sisko’s literary endeavours, but she turns out to be not what she seems. Her techniques are actually a form of telepathy which saps his mind and she gains sustenance from his thoughts. Her muse-status, and indeed her appearance, is a deception. She can ‘feed’ on his ideas, almost to the point of Jake’s death. Commander Sisko saves Jake in the nick of time and the alien being turns into her true form, a being of pure energy, and departs the station.
The side-plot runs parallel to this and involves a different form of telepathy. Lwaxana Troi visiting Deep Space Nine. She is in a state of distress at her pregnancy because her Tavnian husband wishes to honour his species’ tradition of raising their unborn son alone until his 16th birthday. Because of her Betazoid telepathic abilities, her state of mind affects the mood of those around her. For a second time we see the joined Trill Science Officer Jadzia Dax and the Bajoran Major Kira Nerys in hilariously fantastic late medieval female clothing in preparation for their favourite shared holosuite program: King Arthur’s Court: Camelot. They are in Quark’s bar with Worf sitting in a state of despondancy whilst Lwaxana rambles on at them. Rather than looking forward to their holosuite adventure, they are completely sapped of enthusiasm, their colourful and flamboyant aristocratic female costumes serving as the perfect contrast to their grey and sombre mood imposed on them by Lwaxana’s all-consuming anxiety and depression at her sham marriage. Lwaxana learns where they had been planning to go and she responds on hearing: ‘Camelot: love betrayed, dreams shattered!’. Quark complains that Lwaxana’s ‘mood is contagious’ as if ‘someone had died’. Odo intervenes while the ladies and even Worf look sapped and Dax exclaims ‘I’m so depressed!’.
The alien female who befriends Sisko promises him immortality via the legacy of his achievements, enhanced through her power to inspire, but clearly she/it is a serial killer who literally feeds off the talents and energies of others. Jake, as a young, talented Black person, almost dies as a result of the alien deception. Meanwhile Lwaxana saps everyone’s fun and happiness by accident, and yet if she had been allowed to persist in her behaviours, she might have caused serious damage to others. Dax and Kira are strong, intelligent, brave and versatile female characters with both scientific and humanistic dimensions to their respective Star Fleet and Bajoran military careers. Yet they temporarily lose their passion and joy visualised in the show through their lost appetite for Arthurian holosuite fantasy. Thankfully for them they have saviours in the form of their friends and family and the trouble-causers are exorcised from the space station: Ben Sisko saving his son, Odo helps Lwaxana acquire a divorce.
Together, these twinned plots provide analogies for the traits of certain medieval academics I’ve known. Some befriend you and promise to help, as they have countless others before, but instead sap your morale and ideas for their own benefit alone. Meanwhile, others never promise to help, but draw you in by proclaiming publicly about their own personal problems, demanding constant attention and sympathy, and in so doing they suck away the joys and energies of those around them. I’ve known a few individuals who have managed the surprising feat of doing both simultaneously.
For dealing with such people, DS9 has two principal lessons for us. First, we must learn to recognise the deliberate deceptions and repeat-toxicity of such individuals. Second, we must not be afraid to heed warnings from those we trust, and call on others to help us to combat the dangers such individuals can cause.