Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Deep Space Nine, Season 6: Statistical Probabilities

http://www.treknobabble.net/p/rating-system.htmlDeep Space Nine, Season 6
"Statistical Improbabilities"
Airdate: November 22, 1997
131 of 173 produced
131 of 173 aired

Introduction

A group of genetically engineered people have come to the station. Unlike Bashir, their abilities came at the cost of their mental health. Unable to live in society, Bashir hopes to find a role for them to play. Meanwhile, the station hosts an unexpected peace overture from Gul Damar, the new head of Dominion-ruled Cardassia.

Normally, party hats would signal the death of an episode. Here, oddly, they do not.




Writing

Kevin: This is the most "pure" sci-fi that the show has done in some time and I think that by and large it succeeds. The first element is the clear love letter to Issac Asimov and his "psychohistory" from the Foundation novels, a must read for any science fiction fan. The idea that social and political forces could be quantified and therefore predicted mathematically is super interesting, and the shows discusses several of the inherent moral and ethical questions that go with it. Even if you knew defeat was certain, do you fight? Does shortening the interregnum justify the means by which you do it? I also liked that show dug into the issue of genetic modification more as well. We got his personal history in the episode where it was retconned in, but this really felt like an exploration of his life as someone who is genetically engineered. I liked the conversation over dinner discussing the need to discourage parents doing this, but the ethics of essentially penalizing someone for something that was out of their control. It's a very Star Trek thing to do, and I loved watching a complex issue get batted around but not resolved.

Matthew: Yeah, we're big nerds for focusing on it, but there were several great conversations in this episode. It's a pretty talky show overall, and is not the worse for it. The after-dinner conversation was good, and reminded me of some scenes in TNG like "Pen Pals" or "Where Silence Has Lease." Bashir selling Sisko on the merits of their projections was cool, and their later scene in which Bashir lays out the coming dark age was gangbusters. Damar's speech and their negotiations were also interesting. All of these conversations make the conflicts referenced seem much more real to me than pew-pew space battles and Trek-Fu fistfights.

Kevin: This episode brings the season back to the Dominion War, and it does it in a really interesting way. Particularly after retaking the station, and Sisko even tagging it in his log for "You Are Cordially Invited...", the war has just started to feel a little far away, and it comes roaring back in a pretty chilling way. When you think about it, Sisko's plan to retake the station was a Hail Mary pass after losing the war for its first six months...and it failed. But for the Prophets, the Dominion reinforcements would have ended the war, so having the math suggest defeat remains inevitable is a splash of cold water. Add to that the presence of Damar and Weyoun and the posturing surrounding the negotiations, and the war plot is being really well served by this episode.

Matthew: For me, the Dominion War has just been giant fleets of ships battering other giant fleets of ships, and symbols on a map. None of it has felt particularly visceral. Now, this episode isn't visceral either, but it makes the war feel more real by putting numbers on it. Imagining 900 billion dead, five generations of occupation, these things fire the imagination. Asimov's Foundation series was basically a sci-fi retelling of the fall of the Roman Empire and the subsequent dark age. Putting the Star Trek universe in that context is something I will always endorse and enjoy. It raises the stakes and creates a real sense of impending doom. I think they could have done more in terms of explaining how and why these projections might be wrong, or alternatively, why it would be wrong to capitulate regardless of casualties.

Kevin: The weak spots of the episode are two related points for me. They don't dig enough into the ethics of the pseudo-psychohistory or genetic engineering and the characters of the genetically engineered themselves come off a bit tropish as well. The result is not really feeling a sense of urgency in the issues. Except for a few really tight moments, like Jack intentionally injuring Dr. Loews, they seem merely annoying, not disabled. Patrick is a precocious, aware toddler, not an actual toddler. Not to dwell on it, but the kinds of developmental delays that create an adult with the mind of a child don't create an innocent, joyous creature free from worry, they create a person who cannot and will never process the world properly, and the toddler meltdowns come with the physical force of a full grown adult. Matt makes the point in the podcast and it bears repeating here, but Lauren seems fine, she can dress herself and put on make-up and everything, and I'm not quite sure "hyper-libidinous" is really a disability. They don't really clarify in the episode if it's that she's acting out without real consent or not. The more interesting path, more akin to Jack, is that she lacks empathy and uses her sexuality to manipulate people without a care for the consequence. It's a fine line, but I think it would help if you were really unsettled as opposed to merely annoyed by them to treat really treat them as a cautionary tale.

Matthew: I didn't quite get the difference between Bashir's engineering and the foursome's engineering.  Are there crack genetic engineers and then back alley ones? Is the difference between them financial? If so, what gives Bashir's parents the resources to hire the crack team, while the foursome's parents lack the same resources? Bashir's dad didn't seem like some landed aristocrat... I basically agree on the dysfunction of the foursome. Much of it seemed to be in the autistic realm, whether with uncontrollable physical tics, complete mutism, or regressed mentality (or, as you say, being really horny). How are these the results of experiments designed to increase cognitive ability? I guess I would have liked a bit more on what went awry, why Bashir reacted differently, how many people have ill effects, and the like. I also think we didn't get he Bashir scene that would really have crystallized his character development from all of this. Perhaps a hearing or a court scene in which he advocates for the foursome, and shows us that he really feels a kinship.

Acting

Kevin: The guest actors deliver, no two ways about it. Whatever my issues with the writing are, the actors certainly committed. Both physically and verbally, they really threw themselves into the parts. Seeing Damar and Weyoun is a treat, and it was super duper fun, and I appreciate the different dynamic between them than between Weyoun and Dukat.

Matthew: I did not love Tim Ransom as Jack.  But then, I wasn't supposed to. He is supposed to be unpleasant. I think he could have toned down the repetition and nail biting and still had a similar effect. Faith Salie did seem to have a lot going on inside her character's mind, which is an accomplishment when you're essentially catatonic. Combs and Biggs were almost as fun as Combs and Alaimo, which is not faint praise by any means.

Kevin: Siddig was solid this time. Except for the ill-conceived drunk gambling scene, which isn't really his fault, he did a good job. I also liked Sisko in the scene discussing surrender. He was forceful without ever crossing the line.

Matthew: This was a nicely restrained Avery Brooks performance, which is good, because it's not his episode.  Alexander Siddig... I thought his interactions with the foursome were generally excellent. His drunkenness was way too close to Pirate Bashir for my liking. His notes with the DS9 crew varied between quite good and a little bit too smug.

Production Values

Kevin: I liked the use of the cargo bay. It's a slightly unusual set, so we got some good angles, and the hologram scene worked really well. The actors handled not reacting well, and the fast-reverse effect was well achieved. Beyond that, it's a bottle show, but that's certainly not a problem.

Matthew: I was surprised by how engaged I was visually in this show. I guess that shows us that however strange it may have seemed to use the cargo bay, it worked.  Maybe it's just a function of is not having seen this room a whole lot in past episodes. I do think we were missing a status board, with graphics depicting various historical forces.

Conclusion

Kevin: The story is an imaginative one and we get a lot of thought provoking scenes. Our only problem is that they didn't turn the dials up even higher. Still, as a Trekkie and a sci-fi nerd in general, I can't help but want to hug a television show that chooses to reference Asimov. It warms the cockles of nerd-heart. This just makes it into 4 territory.

Matthew: It's not a 5 because of unrealized ambitions. It's not a 2 because it remains entertaining throughout. So it's between a 3 and a 4. I think we always say that a 4 needs something that elevates it above the norm. Many times it's acting, some times it's a great plot. Here, there isn't a ton of plot and the acting isn't superb, but there is a big idea. A big idea. And I think a big idea can be the elevating factor. There are some things that, on TV anyway, only a few shows like Trek or, say, Doctor Who, can do. And when they do it, I'm on board. I agree with the 4 for a total of 8.

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