|Bashir prepares to play for very high stakes.|
Dr. Bashir is enjoying his new holosuite program, an elaborate environment crafted after James Bond spy thrillers. He has spent practically every moment of his free time in the holosuites, and has refused to talk about his program. This has raised Garak's interest, leading the tailor/spy to break into the program to join Bashir in his latest holo-exploit.
Garak has picked a particularly interesting night to do this. Sisko, Kira, Dax, Worf, and O'Brien are returning from a conference. Routine stuff, until sabotage causes their shuttle to begin a warp core breach. Eddington beams them out - but the explosion disrupts their patterns. The five crew members' patterns are rerouted into Bashir's holosuite. Each crew member becomes a different character in the game, some allies helping Bashir, others villains seeking to kill him.
Bashir has no choice but to keep the program running. He also has to protect all five characters. If any of them is killed in the course of the scenario, then that person's pattern will be wiped out - effectively killing them. And with the holosuite safety settings turned off, Bashir and Garak also must deal with the very real possibility that they might be killed in the process!
Capt. Sisko: In the holosuite program, he takes on the role of Dr. Hippocrates Noah, a supervillain who plans to destroy the world with lasers. He and Dr. Evil would get along famously. As the Bond villain, Avery Brooks makes an interesting choice. Instead of going for real menace (something he's very capable of), he camps it up and goes for laughs. The choice works well enough, and it's fun to see Sisko decked out like Dr. No fantasizing about using lasers to cover the globe with oceans, but I think I'd have preferred him to play it straight.
Dr. Bashir: Though the episode itself never truly follows up on Garak's musings about what this fantasy may reveal about Bashir's true nature, it is interesting that he uses his real name within the program. In Picard's fantasy, he was Dixon Hill, private detective. But playing the role of superspy, Bashir chooses to be... Julian Bashir. He also has some real knowledge about geology - It isn't technobabble he uses to pass himself of as a geologist to Dr. Noah.
Major Kira: Takes on the role of Soviet Colonel Anastasia Komananov, Julian's KGB rival and lover. Nana Visitor throws herself into this with abandon, from the accent down to the seductive way of moving that is more like Kira the Intendant than the regular Major Kira. She and Siddig play wonderfully opposite each other, making it seem a shame that this is one of only a very few episodes in which they share any substantial screentime.
O'Brien/Dax/Worf: All get amusing cameos within Julian's program. O'Brien becomes an eyepatch-wearing heavy. Worf is a gambling lackey to Dr. Noah. Dax is a scientist kidnapped by Dr. Noah. Each gets a fun turn, though the most revealing of Julian's fantasies is probably his interaction with Dax, in which he seduces her into freeing him from a very Dr. Evil-like deathtrap.
Garak: What better character to put into the role of observer of a James Bond fantasy than a professional spy? Garak watches the workings of Bashir's fantasy program with bemusement, commenting on the unreality in a spy living such a lavish life. He gets most of the best lines, mostly undercutting the situations in which the characters find themselves. He also shows a pragmatically cold-blooded response once it becomes clear that the holodeck safeties are off. When Bashir refuses to kill the villainous O'Brien character, Garak says he shouldn't dismiss the idea too quickly:
"I want you to stop treating this like a game where everything's going to turn out all right in the end. Real spies have to make hard choices. You want to save Dax? Fine. But you may not have the luxury of saving everyone... Eventually you may have to let someone die."
Our Man Bashir is a holodeck episode. By itself, this is a rarity for Deep Space 9. Unlike TNG and Voyager, DS9 has never really succumbed to the temptation of padding out its episode orders with holodeck episodes. There have been a few ventures into the holosuites on the periphery of the series' stories, but this is the first full-fledged holodeck episode of the series... almost halfway into the show's fourth season.
The episode is also a delight from start to finish.
Ronald D. Moore stuffs his teleplay to the brim with Bond movie references. We get Bashir playing baccarat with Worf's Le Chiffre-like henchman, a supervillain's lair high in the mountains, female characters with names that are sexual innuendoes, and Dr. Noah himself. It's a Bond lover's paradise, and the homages are carefully tuned to work within the story, rather than the story making left turns to accommodate the gags.
Moore is a master of structure, and one of the things that makes this episode so good is just how well-structured the story is. If you take out the Trek elements, it actually works as a '60's spy story. One development leads to the next, the villain's plan makes use of plot elements planted early in the story, and the heroes are taken captive at exactly the right point to raise tension. The story-within-the-story is good television in and of itself, albeit television of a different era.
Moore also recognizes that the real interest in this episode is in watching Bashir and Garak run through the James Bond plot. He spends just enough time outside the holosuite to set up the complication involving Sisko, Kira, and the rest, then cuts away to that strand just often enough to build toward the resolution. But the script spends as little time as possible outside the holosuite. As a bonus, because the technobabble scenes involving the transporter and the holodeck memory are written so tightly to be kept so short, these scenes work very well too. The result is a strong A plot/B plot interaction, with both strands succeeding admirably.
The use of Garak to provide a running commentary on the spy story is inspired, as is the cliche-inverting ending. All the other characters are in their 1960's spy show, thinking they're playing for one set of stakes. Bashir knows the reality of the situation, and is playing to a completely different goal. The script uses that to have Bashir turn the apparent situation upside-down for the sake of the real one. The way in which Bashir saves the day is as perfectly-judged as it is surprising.
Another great episode in what seems likely to be Deep Space 9's best season. Full marks.
Overall Rating: 10/10.
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