Sunday, September 5, 2010

1-5. Babel


Though online, the station continues to face huge maintenance problems, leaving Chief O'Brien massively overworked and exhausted as he scurries from one disaster to another. An airlock that won't open, an Ops panel that won't function, a blaring electronic noise in the science lab. O'Brien is left with no time even to keep up on his basic duties, let alone time to rest and recuperate.

After he repairs the replicators on the command deck, he suddenly falls ill - apparent aphasia, though with no apparent physical cause. At first, everyone assumes the problem is with O'Brien. Then others begin falling ill with the same symptoms. There is a disease that mimics aphasia spreading through the station. If Dr. Bashir cannot isolate the virus and find a cure, then everyone on Deep Space 9 will soon be dead!


Commander Sisko: Still very much Generic Commander, though the character writing and acting are better in this episode than in the previous two. It may be Avery Brooks' best work so far, in fact. There are no forced moments this time (something that could not even be said of Emissary), and I genuinely believed him as Sisko throughout the episode. In contrast to Emissary, which seriously oversold the father/son moments between Sisko and Jake, this episode simply shows Sisko reacting to Jake as a concerned father would - making their relationship feel far more real here than in previous episodes.

Major Kira: Her contacts from the Bajoran Resistance again prove useful. Her direct approach to problem solving, one that comes from a background as a fighter and has little room for Starfleet diplomacy, also ends up being key to the episode's resolution. Faced with an Annoying Bureaucrat Who Is Obviously Hiding Something, she doesn't try to negotiate or go through channels. Instead, she hops on a shuttle and deals with the man herself. On this occasion, it saves the day - though I hope to see other occasions where her "act first, think later" approach might cause problems.

Chief O'Brien: With the station's systems still breaking down faster than he can repair them, he is massively overworked as the episode opens. The episode doesn't speculate on the extent to which his exhaustion and overwork contribute to him not noticing the device in the replicators, but it's notable that he is exhausted even as the episode begins - and that the device is relatively quickly noticed when someone less overworked examines the replicator later. O'Brien is obviously very good at his job, but the job is clearly too big for the staff he's been allotted. I hope this is a continuing issue, that the station's engineering staff is obviously understaffed, as it is an element with potential. At the same time, I suspect that this issue will end up being "for this episode only."

Odo: Seems to go out of his way to taunt Quark. From what we saw in A Man Alone, I think his reason for making Quark his persistent nemesis is that it gives him someone to hang out with. His "compromise" speech in the last episode, and some of his interactions with Quark in this one, see him interacting with Quark almost as a friend - because in a sense, Quark is his best friend. Of course, Quark is also his nemesis, so he always ends their interactions by baiting the Ferengi. But both actors are already playing the characters as having a bizarre liking for each other, something which I think is being picked up on in the writing.

Quark: Helps to save the day. He's Quark, mind you, so he saves the day only after he makes matters immeasurably worse in pursuit of profit. But his crime would have been a relatively victimless one, and it's not like he had any way of knowing of the plague. He does rather enjoy being the one healthy man in Ops near the episode's end. But he does well in this episode, showing that he can work as a potentially heroic character without compromising the slimier qualities that make him so entertainingly... Quark.

Dr. Bashir: Also gets a very strong episode. Once O'Brien exhibits signs of aphasia, the focus of the episode (which had seemed like it was going to be purely O'Brien-centric) shifts to Bashir for the next 15 minutes or so. I've commented in earlier reviews how much more strongly both character and actor come across when it's Bashir's role as a doctor that is the focus rather than "comedy relief." Here, we see that sustained throughout the episode, resulting in the first truly strong Bashir episode. As a bonus, though much of Bashir's part is loaded with Medotechnobabble, at least some of it is rooted in something recognizable as real science - the broad details of aphasia, and the initial examination of O'Brien, feel convincing to this layman at least, in ways that Trek medical speak often doesn't.


Another stock plot, this one the old standby of the rapidly-spreading plague. There's not much revolutionary in the episode's story. But it works surprisingly well, thanks to some very good scripting and probably the strongest across-the-board character work the show has seen to date.

This is a 45-minute episode that has strong roles for Sisko, Kira, O'Brien, Odo, Quark, and Bashir, as well as passable support roles for Dax and Jake. That is quite a large number of characters to juggle in a short space of time, and yet every one of them is given something to do. At the same time, the plot tightens at a steady pace, with each commercial fade-out leaving the station's situation seeming just a little more desperate.

The backstory of the Bajoran/Cardassian conflict continues to be well-mined as a source of complications for the crew. Past Prologue indicated that there were still Bajoran separatists who were willing to commit acts of terror, even after the Cardassian withdrawal. This episode sees another side to the conflict, as we meet a former resistance member who is perfectly willing to stand by and watch others die in order to cover up the things he did during that period. The show continues to display an admirable neutrality when touching on acts committed by the resistance, with a refreshing lack of any scene in which the regulars make moral judgments against the former resistance. That level of restraint, and willingness to accept that shades of gray might actually exist in desperate situations, sets this apart from other Trek shows.

Not unusually for a Trek spinoff, the situation seems to be solved just a touch too easily, with everything reset "back to normal" with virtually no lingering consequences. But it's a well-crafted, well-made hour of television, and deserves a fairly high rating. Even in this relatively nascent form, Deep Space 9 has the most consistently strong opening set of episodes of any Trek show since the original.

Rating: 7/10.

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  1. I absolutely agree that these opening episodes are the strongest and have the best production values of any of the ST series. They obviously have the budget to make them really good and they worked it well.

    The main problem I had with this episode was the order in which every one of the main characters fell victim to the virus. With 60% of the station down with aphasia, only O'Brien is ill. It's not until the last 10 minutes of the show that the rest of them start to show symptoms. It's a nit, mind you, but one that bugs me a bit.


  2. I think budget's probably part of it, but I think an even bigger part is that the production team had worked out a lot of the kinks during 5+ years of TNG production. By the time DS9 came around, the producers simply knew what they were doing.

    I'm glad you're enjoying the show so far. Good news: It gets better as it goes!

    Thanks for the great comments. I hope to see more of your thoughts as your viewing goes along :)