|Dr. Bashir encounters a victim of The Blight.|
A trip to the Gamma Quadrant brings Kira, Dax, and Dr. Bashir to a world ravaged by "The Blight," a virus that infects all inhabitants. "We're all born with it," Trevean (Michael Sarrazin) informs them. "We all die from it."
The Quickening was inflicted by the Jem'Hadar generations ago, when the planet refused to submit to the Dominion. The world was destroyed as an example, this manufactured virus inflicted on the survivors as an ongoing punishment for their defiance. Trevean is the closest thing the planet has to a doctor. When the virus "quickens" and begins to kill, he takes the dying in and grants them a quick death - the only mercy he has to give.
Bashir is appalled by both the disease and Trevean's solution. He insists on staying, on isolating the virus so that he can work on a cure. Ekoria (Ellen Wheeler), a pregnant young woman who fears that she may quicken before her baby comes to term, sees Bashir as her only hope and eagerly provides a place for him to work. But Trevean recalls other outsiders who promised aid and created false hope. He warns Bashir and Dax that if that's what they end up doing, then their deaths will "make the Blight look like a blessing!"
Capt. Sisko: Gets a tiny, credit-justifying cameo at the end. It's a good bit, though, as he shows his understanding of why Bashir continues to push himself with one line and one look.
Dr. Bashir: Bashir is instantly disgusted by Trevean's way of "helping" those suffering The Quickening, but it isn't until someone directly asks for his help that he resolves to intervene. He is ready to leave before that, not willing to force his help on these people. Once Ekoria asks for his aid, though, he flat-out refuses to leave. He does enjoy working on the first cure just a bit too much; when that cure fails, he admits to Dax that it was arrogant to assume that he could cure this disease in a week. With that arrogance knocked out of him by his first, truly spectacular failure, he works with grim determination to keep Ekoria alive long enough to see her baby born - Her one goal in staying alive at this point. Alexander Siddig does his usual splendid job, showing just enough of Bashir's early arrogance to contrast it with his later determination.
Dax: Acts as Julian's support during the episode, assisting him with the patients and "translating" his medical jargon for the benefit of both them and us. She is also his human connection, keeping him from taking on too much blame for his first failure and bluntly telling him that while his certainty in finding a cure was arrogant, it is just as arrogant of him to decide that the failure to do so means that no cure exists. The last part of the episode sees her removed from the narrative. Now that Julian has had that arrogance knocked out, he no longer needs someone to "translate" between him and ordinary people like Ekoria.
The Quickening is a fairly typical doctor-centered standalone, following a fairly typical story structure. As soon as we see the Blight-afflicted people on the ruined planet, we know the path the episode will follow. Sure enough, it follows that path.
It ends up being surprisingly compelling in spite of this, though. Writer Naren Shankar and actor Alexander Siddig take what might have been dreary filler and add texture and surprising depth. Shankar's script portrays a society that has rebuilt itself around the Blight, to the point of worshipping "The Quickening." An effective moment has Ekoria recalling how she used to check the mirror each morning to see if her lesions had turned red - the first visible sign of quickening. The people look forward to their deaths, made comfortable by Trevean, and are reluctant to accept Bashir's aid.
This leaves Bashir beating against a metaphorical brick wall not only in fighting the disease, but a culture that has elevated that disease to something practically worshipped. Alexander Siddig, who has become one of the strongest regulars over the course of the series, is wonderful portraying that struggle. Bashir is initially confident, but Siddig pulls back from overplaying the arrogance (as in Season One) so that we are always identifying with him. After his setback, he is rocked into despair for a short time, then becomes resolute as he redoubles his efforts.
That setback, by the way, is one of the more vivid scenes I can recall seeing in a Star Trek episode. As Bashir's cure fails, the lesions spread before our eyes, leaving the people in his makeshift clinic screaming in agony as the doctor looks on helpless. They beg him for help. Then, when Trevean comes with his fast-acting poison, they turn to him for the only succor available - a quick release from their pain and fear. It's a haunting moment, both well-acted and well-directed by Rene Auberjonois, who has come nicely into his own behind the camera.
In the end, this is a formula story made more than its formula thanks to fine writing and scripting. What might have been dreary filler ends up being something genuinely rewarding.
Overall Rating: 8/10.
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