Monday, September 24, 2012

Deep Space Nine, Season One: Babel

Deep Space Nine, Season 1
Airdate: January 24, 1993
4 of 173 produced
4 of 173 aired


After a long week of repairs on the station, Chief O'Brien inadvertently trips a long forgotten sabotage device which releases a deadly virus on the station. Now, he and his crew mates must race to cure it before they become completely incoherent, and then die.

You want me to put this WHERE?


Matthew: As Kelly and I were watching this episode, she remarked to me drily, "So when is DS9 going to hit its stride?" And I could not honestly answer with anything. This epiosde... kinda sucks. The question is, why? On the one hand, this episode is one in a long line of "beat the exotic disease before it kills the crew" stories. Oh wait - maybe that's the problem. The plot itself is somewhat hackneyed, and the choice of disease symptoms is pretty annoying. On the first front, we yet again have to question why certain crew members seem to be among the last affected - my kingdom for an episode in which the janitor and an imprisoned convict team up to save the day, instead of the superhuman main cast members. On the second, this is another one of those "sounded better in the writing room" ideas. Have you ever heard someone babble incoherently in real life? I have. I didn't want the experience to last any longer than it did. Well, that's not a good feeling to cultivate within an hour-long television show.

Kevin: I agree the idea works better in theory than in practice. What bothered me more was the idea that the ragtag band of terrorists had such sophisticated access to gene splicing materials. By the time we add Dr. Mora's character and flesh out the story of the Occupation a little more, it makes a little more sense, but the picture we have of the resistance at this point is far more low-tech. The other thing that bothered me was how easily it was cured. It would have been a more credible deus ex machina for Surmak to know a cure existed but not necessarily where.

Matthew: The babble itself wasn't written very well. It was simultaneously too "writerly" and too stupid. The way it played out, with people repeating words insistently, made it seem like it was a matter of word transposition, like a code, as opposed to absolute gibberish. I think maybe the drama would have been heightened if the gibberish had started slow, just a word here and there. It would have been sadder to see peoples' coherence slip away, instead of vanish altogether. There should also have been a station log in the babble speak. And just what did the universal translator have to do with this disease? The question is left completely untouched. Would this really be a terribly bad thing? No one is depicted as being unable to do their particular job, just to communicate about it. Can people also not read properly? I think the disease would have been more chilling if the end state were not death, but irreversible insanity.

Kevin: I think it came down to the acting in the individual case, but overall, it seem like consistent word substitution, but that could have actually been explored more. If nothing else, it's a real condition called paraphasia. If it jumbled everyone's word choice in a consistent way per person, but not overall, you would have to start over building a common set of understanding with each person, and that could have been really interesting. It could have been a higher stakes take on Darmok, if everyone had to figure out the subjective meaning of each individual's "Shakas" and "Tanagras."

Matthew: I liked that the Quark-Odo dyad get key stuff to do during the conclusion.Their antagonism is one of the better things in the early going of the series. Quark's puckishness, mixed with genuine concern, was a nice development for the character. On the other hand, the disease "cure" felt perfunctory and rushed. This guy could really cure the thing in less than 12 hours, while a Starfleet doctor couldn't make any headway?

Kevin: Yeah, the solution was far too neat, but I liked the little details of how Kira dealt with the situation. Had Surmak been unable to cure the disease, she would have been guilty of murder. She's not Starfleet and neither are her solutions, and that could have also been a fun angle to explore in the episode. I also liked her hunting for information with the computer. It reminded me of K'Ehleyr in Reunion. There's a rhythm to hunting through the data for the answer and Visitor nails it acting-wise, and I like what it says about the character's abilities.


Matthew: This is not a show that a lot of people would do well to list on their resumes. The babble-speak did not lend itself to any particularly good scenes. Particularly bad were Cirroc Lofton, Avery Brooks, and Terry Farrell. Nana Visitor's scene was thankfully brief. She was reasonably entertaining while lucid. Colm Meany was OK at it, because he could act as though his emotion was the same regardless of the dialogue.. But overall, it just kind of sucked to watch so many otherwise good actors try to act through such drivel.

Kevin: I actually like Visitor's reading. Her inflection made it sound like she knew the word she meant, which would be consistent with the description of the virus. I know what the table it, I just pick the wrong put to say, and she managed to actually convey that, I thought. It's funny, but they kind of handicapped themselves making Odo and Quark save the day. If anyone could have acted aphasia with depth, it's probably Auberjonois and Shimmerman.

Matthew: The extras and guest stars were pretty bland, too. Jack Kehler was annoying as Captain Jaheel. Matthew Faison was beyond bland as Surmak Ren (he looked like he was trying to cure the phone book). And the Starfleet crew who came down with the virus were not good.

Production Values

Matthew: This was basically a bottle show, with the exception of a runabout trip and an explosion or two. We got a look at a Padd with some gibberish on it (apparently this form of aphasia did not negate peoples' abilities to form words and understand the alphabet). I'm really straining for things to say here. The episode was just that nondescript.

Kevin: Yeah, nothing really to add here. We did get the first real use of the exposed turbolift with Odo leaving Ops and Quark squatting down to look at him as he went. It's one of my favorite parts of the Ops set, and it leads to some fun camera work over the course of the series.


Matthew: Another 2. DS9 Season One has really hit the ground with a thud after a strong opening. I think what unifies this run of below average episodes is a general feeling of being half-baked, and not focusing on the right aspects of a given story idea. Here, instead of focusing on a more keenly emotional aspect, kind of like an Alzheimer's story, we got sort of a toothless "beat the clock" story. Yawn.

Kevin: I almost want to give this a 3. The Quark and Odo scenes are a lot of fun, and it's a neat idea, with some interesting implications, but it certainly doesn't gel in the final product. So, that's a 2 from me as well for a total of 4.

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