The Problem With the Trill Is the Problem With Star Trek
Star Trek has a wild array of alien species, from the logical Vulcans to the hungry Tribble. One of the newer favorites is the Trill, a race of symbiotic, scientific people who bond with slug-like symbionts to pass memories and lives across generations. Fans first met them in The Next Generation with Ambassador Odan, Beverly’s handsome boyfriend. However, things went sideways when his host body died and his symbiont was passed along to a new, female host.
Fans learned more about the Trill with characters like Jadzia and Ezri Dax, cementing the Trill as a dynamic and fan favorite species.
Part of what makes the species so fascinating is their intriguing culture. After all, not every Trill gets “joined” with a symbiont. It’s a unique part of their society that helps not only protect memories and people, but also chronicles events in history. The Trill use their symbiosis to bolster their skills and advance their technology. It makes sense that the symbionts became an elite, revered part of their culture.
However, this same reverence causes some serious elitism.
Since the symbiont is so precious to Trill culture, the Trill have turned the process of joining into a deep vetting system where they only pick the most skilled and dedicated Trill that can best represent their species. Sounds like a good call, right?
Except it does ignore the perfectly fit people who don’t have the time or money to go through training. Instead, they are ignored and left behind for the shiny, privileged sect of Trill society. There’s a reason that Dax’s suppressed time with Joran is so taboo. It not only exposes the fact that the Trill hierarchy covets the symbionts for the elite, but many more people can bond with the symbionts than they admit.
This is the same problem with the most idealistic version of Star Trek. The Federation and Starfleet insist that they’re based on meritocracy—that the best, most skilled and capable people are the ones at the top. However, with a little more digging, it’s just the more privileged and socially supported that are being shoved to the top over and over. It’s obvious that the people who had the least conflict with other species, had support from the Federation, etc. would rise to the top.
Take, for example, Bajor. They are a complex and rich culture of people, but they were occupied by Cardassia for decades. Of course they wouldn’t be shining examples of the idealized Federation culture if their resources were stolen, their infrastructure decimated, and their people oppressed. And they aren’t going to become Starfleet’s dream people overnight just because they were “liberated.”
They were forced to cope in a harsh situation, and the way they have reacted to that is hardly any failing on their part—but that doesn’t matter to the Federation. Just like the Trill prioritize their own idealized elite, the Federation prioritizes “peaceful” races like the Vulcans, humans, and Betazoids over Bajorans, regardless of how key they are when the Deep Space Nine wormhole appears.
Now, there is a bit of a distinction here, as priority support and respect are a bit different than living beings like the symbionts. It makes sense that they themselves would want to pair with suitable hosts. But the problem is more insidious than just siphoning the symbionts to the elite.
The problem is that the concept of Trill joinings became so coveted and elite that many people started striving for it, even people who didn’t actually want to be joined.
It’s much like the American Dream, where people strive for a stable job, a spouse, 1.5 kids, and a picket fence—this idea that they can have comfort and perfection in this one specific way, and that way only. The Trill dream is to be joined.
Well, the problem is that not that many people can be joined in the first place. And it isn’t just some tool for immortalization; it’s also giving up a portion of your own mind, your own individuality, to welcome in all these lives before yours. Not everyone should want that, nor needs to, but Trill society props it up as the best dream one can have, and it’s taken a toll on its people.
Look at Trill like Verad or Arjin. This first one, Verad, was a man incapable of passing the tests, who felt so desperate for a symbiont, like it was the only way to be a complete person, that he took a station hostage, nearly killed Jadzia, and lost his own life for a taste of the joining. On the flip side, Arjin felt compelled to apply for the joining because he was a smart young man who came from a good family that always wanted a better future for him, but he was meek and shy, the kind of person who might lose themselves in the process of joining. And he didn’t even know if he wanted it for himself or just because it was “what people did.” He deserved to forge his own path, not be pushed towards symbiosis.
Just like the Federation, Starfleet, and even our own society, Trill culture is bogged down by expectations, pressure, and elitism that hurts a society more than it helps. While this kind of idealization can motivate people at first, as a comforting dream, the disappointing slog in competing for it eventually disillusions them from their own culture and can cause massive upheavals.
So, by the time Discovery season 3 rolls around, who knows what Trill looks like? After all, in Deep Space 9, they seem on the cusp of some major, growing civil unrest. The Trill that Michael and the others find might look nothing like the Trill we left behind, and that could be because of a revolution or a complete culture breakdown—perhaps even complete disillusioned anarchy.
All elitist cultures are at risk of crumbling under the weight of the people they push aside. Even Jean-Luc Picard, an idealist among idealists, was disillusioned from his beloved Starfleet because they prioritized the tragedy on Mars over all of Romulus.
Just like people say nowadays, Discovery’s season 3 future Trill might have gotten fed up with their elite and “ate the rich.” Hopefully they didn’t eat the slugs, though.
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