Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Deep Space Nine, Season 5: Doctor Bashir, I Presume

Deep Space Nine, Season 5
"Doctor Bashir, I Presume"
Airdate: February 24, 1997
112 of 173 produced
112 of 173 aired


Doctor Bashir is selected as the holographic model for a new Starfleet EMH program, but the interview process involving his friends and relatives uncovers his dark secret - having been genetically engineered as a child by his parents.

"I was a very bad man!"

Matthew: Rarely has a bag been so mixed as it is in this episode.  On the plus side, I really enjoyed meeting Bashir's parents, and the emotional impasse they found themselves in. I do think this was undercut by some storytelling choices I'll discuss below, but overall this aspect of the episode was quite enjoyable. The basic storytelling device of the other crew members being interviewed about Bashir was mildly interesting, but it smacks a bit of telling us rather than showing us. Of course, O'Brien's comments were most interesting. The genetic engineering angle is a nice callback to prior (and future) tales about "Augments" (if you'll excuse the phrase), and I enjoyed the character work Bashir got in talking about his feelings regarding the changes foisted upon him. The plot device of the reveal was beyond stupid, though. I'm really supposed to believe that these people, who have kept a secret well for 20 years, are going to just blabber it out in completely plain language at their son's workplace, where any number of people could happen by? Sorry, that dog don't hunt.

Kevin: The reveal was a tad creaky, but I didn't overly mind it. I like the idea, if only because it gives something for the Bashir character to do. When we haven't been disliking him for being a super-annoying creep, there really hasn't been a lot of character there. I wish they had gone farther in exploring the social side of things. I'm glad they eventually follow up to show the adverse side effects of genetic engineering, because as it stands, given that parents today vie for educational opportunities for their children before they are born, I have a hard time believing that this is not a widespread phenomenon. Also, there was something that reminded me of what we liked about the Barclay story in seeing both Bashir and his parent's reactions to his slow development. What is it like to not be a superhero in the Federation. Obviously, it's not like Bashir would be destitute for want of a marketable job skill in this world. There's some society-level exploration that it would have been fun to see.

Matthew: There are two kinds of retcons in the world of fiction. The first is the flashback. It tells us things about the character or the world. It builds the background of the story at hand. Does it add new information? Sure. But it doesn't contradict or supersede anything. In this sense, anything not in the present tense of the tale is a retcon. But the other kind is the retcon that rewrites previously established story facts, or calls them into question. And I've got to say, Ron Moore has shown a disturbing predilections towards employing them (See: the entire third and fourth seasons of his BSG reboot). Moore himself has stated that this retcon "explains the character" to him. OK, fine. I might be willing to accept this. But it doesn't explain, short of complete sociopathy, how Bashir can lie to all of his friends, coworkers, superiors, and so on, without suffering some psychological after-effects. I would have liked to hear how letting O'Brien win at darts/springball/whatever for years did not seriously mess with Bashir (I remember almost breaking up with a girl because she let me win at Connect Four... and she may well have been a sociopath). Why go the extra mile of making Bashir's physical attributes be enhanced, anyway? You could just bypass the darts question entirely. Since in my opinion the father-son relationship was the best part of the episode, I think it would have been quite nice to really rigorously compare Bashir to his father - they seem to share a talent for dissembling and complex prevarication. Although it was touched on, I also wanted much more of this "explanation," connecting the dots of Bashir's life (tennis, ballet dancer, postganglionic nerve). If you're going to engage in such egregious retconning, really make it worthwhile!

Kevin: The only stumbling block of the retcon for me is what it retroactively does to Distant Voices. The Lethian allegedly is inside his mind and knows his secrets. That's a pretty big secret to overlook. That being said, I do actually like how it turns his obnoxious behavior on its ear. I have a less difficult time buying Bashir leading a double life in a way short of sociopathy, know...I did it for a while. The parallels to "coming out of the closet" are fun to draw and could have been a neat coded way to discuss that particular social issue. Actually, now that I think about it, this is a more interesting parable for homosexuality than the Outcast got. We have parental shame and an attempt at behavioral modification to hide their shame and everything. The double life, right down to the obnoxious and obvious hitting on a woman (Dax) in a way that both ensures no one will ask why you aren't pursuing a relationship, but carry no risk of that relationship actually happening since NO ONE CAN GET CLOSE ENOUGH TO FIGURE OUT YOUR AWFUL SECRET doesn't lead to a psychotic break; it's just exceptionally lonely. You get used to it, and that's almost the worst part. There's a real self that Bashir has had to hide, and now that he has been "outed" he has to re-normalize the relationships in his life and build new ones more honestly. I'm glad they had a lot of scenes with O'Brien since his is by far the most important relationship he has on the station.

One other avenue I do wish they had furthered explored was how far he took the ruse. Did he ever let a patient die if saving them would have drawn attention to a preternatural skill set, like how Data figured out his mother was an android since she lucked into a solution too quickly. That's a fun question, and it would have been interesting to explore.

Matthew: I enjoy any story involving Zimmerman and the EMH, and not just because it brings more Robert Picardo into our lives. It's a good application of continuity, and it makes a startling amount of sense in this setting. Zimmerman's infatuation with Leeta is rather creepy, though. Also, the economics of offering her a cafe are murky. Wouldn't moving to a Federation world/base/whatever essentially be moving to paradise, regardless of gainful employment? It's difficult to quantify how little I care about any story thread involving Leeta. I found her apparent romance with Rom to be cheesy and schmaltzy in the extreme. The whole setup of both being too bashful was about three steps over the line I demarcate in my brain for unbearable romantic subplots. While I enjoyed Quark offering a (gratis?) holosuite sex program to Rom, I didn't find his backstory to be terribly interesting, either.

Kevin: Yeah, I don't particularly care either. I will say that I am happy they laid ground work in previous episodes, like Bar Association and (I can't believe I am positively referencing) Let He Who Is Without Sin. So the ending may have been super-contrived, but at least it wasn't out of nowhere.

Matthew: I think this episode's conclusion was really forced, too. I think it could have benefited from a court scene, in which someone makes the obvious argument - Bashir should not be punished for the choices of his parents, just as "no Earth citizen can be made to answer for the crimes of their race or forebears." The notion that Starfleet would fire him really raised my hackles. Anyway, these aspects of the story could have been explored if the stupid Leeta subplot had been axed.

Kevin: It didn't bother me as much the idea that his genetic alteration would be an absolute bar to service. If their children can reap the benefits because they didn't have a hand in the decision, wouldn't that defeat the purpose of criminalizing the modification in the first place? Even if you get caught, your kid is still an ubermensch. Especially since prison is a vacation in New Zealand, that seems a small price to pay, and thus no real deterrent.


Matthew: I loved Brian George in the role of Richard Bashir. His British accent was really interesting (this is the guy who played the Pakistani restaurateur Babu Bhatt in Seinfeld, of course), his physical presence was excellent, and his combination of hucksterism and wounded pride was really excellently rendered. Fadwa El Guindi was similarly good, and I really believed her motherly emotions when she tried to reconcile her son and husband to each other.

Kevin: Both parents did a really good job. George, like Eric Avari, is one of those actors you find cast as someone from...well pretty much anywhere ever conquered by Alexander the Great. Your point about the similarities between father and son is well taken, and it shines in the acting. Apparently, El Giundi is an anthropology professor, and had only done community theater when she was cast, and this is her only television role. I think it helps actually. There's an honesty that I think can get lost in the craft of acting. She really felt like a real parent.

Matthew: Oh, Alexander Siddig. When he shouts, I have a hard time believing him. But he did more than shout and argue here, and I think he put a pretty good gloss on some character emotions that were left a but undercooked by the script. Of the main cast, Colm Meaney got the most to do, and I really liked his scene counseling Bashir.

Kevin: Siddig's best acting job to date has probably been the recent two-parter in the Dominion prison. Freed from having to fake being cheery, the writers start to give him more along those lines and it's great. I will say after this revelation, Siddig seems more at ease in the part. Maybe it's the writing, maybe it's the hook that Siddig could grab to get a better feel for the character, but I definitely stopped reading such intense, nervous energy. Ironically, another easy parallel to the post-out of the closet story.

Matthew: Robert Picardo seems like a Pro's Pro. He is consistently "on." I can't think of a single performance of his that I disliked. It kind of highlights some of what's missing in the DS9 cast, too. Only Shimerman can match his comic chops, and that leaves the human/Federation characters feeling quite drab by comparison. Anyway, his turns as both Zimmerman and the EMH were spot on, and easy to differentiate.

Kevin: It's a shame Shimerman and Picardo didn't get anything to do together. I would totally watch that show. But yeah, he's great. You can really hand him anything.

Production Values

Matthew: This was a bottle show, so the only thing we really have to talk about are the dual character effects. They're pretty much seamless by this point. I seriously could not find seams or image degradation when two Bashirs were on screen. Kudos to all involved.

Kevin: I will only add that this is happily the last use of the holo-communicator in the series. Hallelujah.


Matthew: I'm really torn on this episode, because it's such a mixed bag. You have an interesting sci-fi notion that is left almost completely unexplored. Emotional development happens in fits and starts for the Bashir character, but never goes far enough. We get a rather extensive Voyager cameo, but it really amounts to mere fan service.  And then you graft the utterly pointless Leeta story onto the proceedings, which sucked valuable time from the other two threads. I'm going to have to go with a 2 on this, even though it is a hair's breadth from a 3. Had it just been a dumb C story with Leeta, it would have been average, but I think the stupid means of plot progression and the unrealistic consequences seal the deal for me.

Kevin: This is an easy three for me. The idea is interesting and enough people are emotionally invested enough in the story that I think it is at least an average episode. Jettisoning the Leeta/Rom plot and giving us more scenes of the Bashir family could have made this a 4. Still, I think Siddig turns in an excellent performance, and I found my heart breaking a bit for the child he was. That makes a total of 5.


  1. It would have been a strange turn had Bashir lost his commission, but continued to serve in a civilian capacity as a medical/science adviser on the program. Then see him get drafted back to officer once the war hits full swing. Would also make that Section 31 episode coming up a bit more interesting.

  2. OMG, you guys. I am sorry but you completely missed the mark on this one. This is so sad. I usually agree with your reviews and ratings, but this one seems oddly off the mark. A 5? Really?

    Bashir's parents weren't critical of their son (and, in fact, I wouldnt even call what they were going through "critical" but mainly worried because he wasnt a "Federation hero" but because Bashir was mentally retarded!! Simple as that. I mean he said it himself: at an age where other children where learning to read and write and use a computer, he was still trying to tell a dog from a cat, a tree from a house. Concepts they took for granted, he couldnt even begin to master.

    That is not just being slow or no genius, that is mental incapacity. Clinical, medical mental retardation/underdevelopment or whatever you wanna call it.

    When you are severely intellectually disabled suffering from significantly impaired cognitive functioning and deficits, that is hardly "not being perfect." I did not for one second blame the parents for being worried and then proceeding to do such a desperate thing. Also note that they only changed that about him instead of other things, such as looks and personality.

    The way Bashir made it look like was as if the parents were a pair of narcissistic assholes who couldnt love their son for what he was and instead demanded him to be an overachiever and then when he didnt measure up, sent him to undergo genetic re-sequencing. Booo....evil, pressuring parents.

    But the way I saw it, and which eventually came to light in the end is that Julian simply was mentally disabled and his parents wanted to help him. Not out of some misplaced demands of perfection from their son to be a genius, but because, as the mother said, they loved him and were suffering seeing their child in pain, struggling; unable to grasp the very basic concepts (something which may have had adverse consequences on his social life and skills and emotional well being as well. Other kids making fun of him, calling him names, resulting in him being maladjusted. I mean, kids can be real assholes sometimes because they do not yet possess the tools and skills for deception and guile and instead just blurt out what's on their minds).

    I found the scene where his mother says that they did it cause they loved him and because they were desperate and she was worried that maybe it had been her fault, that she had done something wrong during pregnancy to cause him be like this and have a birth defect, very touching and powerful. And real.

    Bashir was so angry at them, he never realized that they did it to help him, not cause they wanted the perfect son but because he was sick.

    I think if you do not appreciate and understand that about the story, I can see how it all fails in your eyes. And if his parents had been the assholes who had just pressured their son to win, win win without regards for him and his feelings and abilities and talents, I may feel that way too, but I just did not see that. They seemed genuine in their concern.

    In fact, everytime Julian whined "oh you just couldnt accept me and wanted the perfect son" I wanted to yell at the screen: "no you idiot, they cared about you and you werent slow, you were clinically stupid, there is a difference.

  3. I also found Julian hiding that about him and being able to pull it off plausible. When you have been conditioned to hide something so fundamental about yourself all your life (especially something you KNO will get you in shitloads of trouble) it becomes second nature and at some point you almost believe the lie yourself. That doesnt make you creepy or a sociopath. I mean look, that is the case with negative things we may believe about ourselves as a result of abuse too, right? (i.e someone who's been told their whole life they are ugly or stupid by those who are to love him eventually believes it). So was I shocked and thought "bullshit, there is no way Julian was hiding it"? No. It made sense, especially because his augmentation only involved mental abilities and not other things that just would have been harder to hide. And it made sense he was able to do it with such ease. As I said it becomes second nature.

    Also, the scene where his parents blurt it out: well, they thought they were talking to their son in his office - they werent saying it to him at Quarks or in a crowd. It was just them and him.

    What did bother me was how much of an asshole Bashir was to his parents. All, of course, out of the ill perceived notion that they somehow had him altered casue he wasnt perfect, which, as said above, wasnt even the case. And the distinction IS important.

    I love this episode so much. From the interviews where O'Brien says he doesnt want this to ever come out and then ends up praising Julian as an awesome guy, to the comic relief part with Leeta and Rom being unable to tell her how he feels to, especially, Julian and his parents.

    Everytime I watch this episode I say to myself I wish that Abrams and his writing team had tackled the issue of augments and genetic engineering in this manner in Into Dreckness (obviously not exactly like this episode, but I mean layered and exploring why genetic engineering of people was a problem and why Khan had to be stopped but why there can also be vlaue to it etc.).

    What I like about tis episode is that unlike in other episodes about augments, here, it is the issue is not as clear cut, as these are not people who wanted to augment their son to abuse the system or for world domination, but because they were parents wanting to help their child; parents who wanted to do the right thing out of love for their child. It made it real and suddenly, I found myself no longer condemning augments and genetic enhancement of humans but seeing real value in it.

    I also find it interesting that the Federation allows genetic enhancement of humans but only for serious birth defects but that somehow being born mentally retarded was not considered a serious birth defect. This episode really did not seem to care to make that distinction or make that point. For the writers, and the Federation, apparently only physical abnormality warrants the use of genetic engineering, not mental (which is a manifestation of the physical - i.e the brain).

    This episode is a solid 10 for me. I enjoy it everytime - it is smart, has depth, is touching, has great character development and especially that part where Julian recalls his childhood struggling, how slow he was, how he didnt understand things, how he was taken to the clinic and then moved to another town. It added a whole layer of realism to the world of Star Trek and once again exposed the raw underbelly of Paradise, because for some people it apparently wasnt. Paradise cannot fix mental incapacity without help.
    (sorry for the length :)

    (I am sorry I had to delete my previous comments to fix some typos and all. Too bad blogspot does not allow for making edits).

  4. Poppy, no problemo. I deleted the old comments.

    I think it's interesting that you focus on the things Kevin and I both liked about this show. It's clear that for you they surmount the difficulties of the stuff you don't mention - especially the Leeta subplot, but also the lack of follow through on the interesting questions that the A plot makes us pose - I say makes *us* pose because the story itself doesn't really ask these questions. Why is genetic engineering wrong? In Space Seed and TWOK, the thesis seems to be "superior ability breeds superior ambition - the violent side effects on the rest of humankind outweigh any benefits. In "The Masterpiece Society," the answer is that it eliminates an element of freedom that belongs in the human experience.

    In this episode, the question isn't really asked, and even when we ask it ourselves the answer isn't particularly interesting. Bashir doesn't seem to possess superior ambition or any violent temperament. Why? Were the geneticists on Adigion Prime better at their jobs? Is Bashir significantly different or more virtuous as a person? Was it because he was six years old instead of being altered from the zygote? This raises the "why not" question. Why not, if it can be done well?

    I want to like this episode. It has (at long last) a hard sci-fi angle with deep philosophical repercussions to it. But the A plot wasn't given sufficient breathing room to ask and answer these questions. That brings it down to a 3 in my book. The inanity of the B plot that crowded it out takes it down another point.

  5. I dont think that this episode needed to get into the whole human genetic engineering issue or be about the bigger questions about augments at all. In fact, it was not about that. This was about Julian Bashir and his journey and his life, his past; not one examining larger questions of human augmentation. I can see how it could have gone that way, but it didnt and that is ok. That did not devalue the story for me.

    That said, I didnt walk out of there feeling that questions remained unanswered. What did bother me, as said before, is that in the Federation allows the genetic engineering of humans but only for serious birth defects but that yet somehow being born mentally retarded was not considered a birth defect. That is the only unanswered question I had and which was a flaw in the plot for me to begin with (the whole "you didnt love me casue I wasnt perfect" thing).

    So, to respond to your point: in this episode, the question isn't really asked, because it is beside the point. I mean do people really believe that genetically changing a human always creates monsters and a Khan Noonien Singh? Looks to me like the idea of responsibly using genetic engineering on humans is not impossible. Why? see Dr. Julian Bashir.

    That the Federation does not allow it is probably because they fought a war over it and are worried that it may get out of hand again. They simply do not want to open up that can of worms (even though they DO allow it for birth defects...aarrgh). So maybe that makes it a 9 :)

    As to the Leeta subplot: I saw it as comic relief. The entire thing. She is a bimbo, I'm sorry to say. I mean that scene where she walks out of the shower and is nude in front of Zimmerman and shrugs it off casually. How do you not laugh at that? She is Rom's perfect match. And you think Zimmerman was creepy, I thought her considering running off with someone she met 5 minutes ago to run some obscure bar way creepier.

    But it didnt bug me. She and Rom are comic relief for me and it was important to set up their courtship.