Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Deep Space Nine, Season 3: Life Support

Deep Space Nine, Season 3
"Life Support"
Airdate: January 30, 1995
58 of 173 produced
58 of 173 aired 


When Vedek Bareil is injured in a shuttle accident, he must decide whether to undergo a dangerous therapy in order to maintain his obligation to assist Kai Winn in delicate negotiations. He must also weigh his love for Kira against his desire to help Bajor.

It was when I realized how boring you are that I knew it was love...


Matthew: So, there are elements of this episode that I really like. As a philosophy guy, the questions of what makes consciousness unique, and what makes a person "human" are interesting to me. Talk about the "spark of life" is a lot of fun, and I liked the ethical dimensions of the story, which were multifold. What wishes of a given patient should be respected by a doctor? When does end of life care justifiably cease? Do the needs of a society justify the artificial prolongation of a life in a manner not consistent with "truly" living? The replacement of living brain tissue with implants, and its impact on the qualia of consciousness, this is the sort of sci-fi that really gets me jazzed up about Star Trek.

Kevin: I really liked the philosophical elements of this story as well. I particularly enjoyed that it takes place in a very recognizable, and increasingly common context: medical decisions. Our society grapples with questions of when intervention should cease and what is it to be "alive," so seeing it play out in the episode felt more powerful than trying for a bigger way of presenting it. It's also the best kind of conflict, and one at which Star Trek can really excel, the one in which neither side is "evil" or absolutely wrong (with the usual delightful exception of the Kai). Keeping Bareil alive, in the abstract is good, but so is respecting the integrity and quality of an individual's life. It's much easier to keep a conflict energetic when neither Kira nor Bashir are simply presenting straw-man arguments.

Matthew: All praise for the A story aside, I do feel that the B story focusing on Jake detracts from the A story, whatever its merits are as a plot (and it does have merit). More screen time should have been spent after the processor implant with Bareil to really explore how it changes his state of being. Nonetheless, I like the cultural relativism angle of the B story, and what it says about human society running up against alien cultures. I also like how Benjamin Sisko shows some real growth, in revising his somewhat prejudicial attitude regarding the Ferengi since Jake's friendship with Nog. I do think this story goes against Nog's characterization not two episodes later, including his desire to join Starfleet and his willingness to embrace human cultural mores. I also think it's kind of strange that someone who spends so much time thinking about how to get laid with non-Ferengi women would be such a cultural chauvinist around them.

Kevin: This has got to be one of the most egregious examples of the A and B stories having absolutely nothing to do with each other. I think there is a way to harmonize this depiction of Nog with subsequent ones, in that he is overcompensating in trying to be an orthodox Ferengi to battle his own belief that he's not. I mean, Quark is certainly a chauvinist, but even he was never as crassly dismissive of a woman he was pursuing as Nog was here. Particularly given how much I liked the Nog in Starfleet storyline, I think this could have been worked into that episode with much better results. I do agree with your take on the father and son scenes. It was nice to see father Sisko advocating for a relationship he now understands to be important.

Matthew: Some aspects of the A plot were a bit difficult to believe. Doesn't Bareil keep notes? The whole rationale for his being kept conscious and available to Winn eludes me. I just don't see how someone negotiating on such important issues with a mortal enemy, for months on end no less, would do such a piss-poor job of keeping his chief executive informed about them. Also, the stasis element of the story was odd. They can keep people on ice for years with no degradation? This is pretty world-changing if so. Are there millions of sick people in stasis then? I was also unclear on just what Kira was advocating at the end - replacing his whole brain with positronic implants? Do they have some sort of means of transferring all of the chemically stored information into such a device? Maybe "The Schizoid Man" could have been referenced here.

Kevin: On the one hand, I like Bajoran political episodes, and Winn is always a treat. I like the idea of reparation talks between the Cardassians and Bajorans; there's lots of potential for pro and con elements on both sides, like Undiscovered Country. The way it got executed was a bit hollow. They could have played up the personal relationship Bareil had developed and show Winn faltering not on the nuts and bolts details, but on the soft sell necessary here. She could need Bareil to read the negotiator, not the negotiations, and that would make his presence seem more important. I think a Schizoid Man reference could have been worked in. I found Bashir's "spark of life" line to be good in substance, but I found the insertion and delivery of the line in conversation to be a bit leaden.

Matthew: There were some really nice character interactions in this show. Jake's scene making up with Nog was pretty good, as well as the scene between the Siskos. I like the scene between Bashir and Winn a lot - it shows his willingness to speak truth to power in the service of a medical goal, and it shows her Machiavellian side. The farewell scene between Kira and Bareil (granted, he was essentially dead) was really affecting. This was a good Bashir show overall, he was written really well. I do, however, think they wasted time on Quark and Winn with the eponymous dessert, that could have been better spent fleshing out the sci-fi story.

Kevin: This, more than anything, is what makes me really, really like this episode. Bashir is finally getting to be a doctor, and he seems like a good one. His scene with Winn was great and he handled the innuendo and politics well. Watching him call her out on leaving Bareil to be a scapegoat was awesome. Kira made this episode for me. The way she delivers the line about needing to work and grieving later was perfect. I still get a little misty when she recounts how they met.


Matthew: This is a very Doctor heavy episode, and Siddig El Fadil delivered yet again. I think Season 3 might be the time frame in which his character and his performance are fully rehabilitated after the creepy and irritating intro he received. El Fadil can really play morose and quietly disturbed well. He has honed in on his role as an advocate for patients, too.

Kevin: I agree. When he's actually advocating for patients, he is great, and his youthful brashness is identifiable and good rather than creepy and off-putting. With scenes like this and one with Tain in The Wire for example, we get a picture of an actual doctor, rather than a walking hormone.

Matthew: This was a strong Nana Visitor performance. I haven't been a huge fan of this relationship (mainly because I found, and still find, Philip Anglim boring as all getout), but she really sells it here. Her farewell scene especially was terrific. It's hard not to get a bit of a lump in your throat as a viewer when you see her choking back tears and kissing his immobile face, and then to hear her deliver her dialogue, talking about how they first met. I was really impressed by her in this episode.

Kevin: Over the course of the series, I think Visitor comes to do a really amazing job on portraying barely contained emotion, whether it be stifling laughter or tears. When she says that she needs to work now and will grieve in her own way later, you really feel for her loss, but neither the scene nor the actor relied on tears to make it happen. The final scene with Bareil alone makes me really like this episode.

Matthew:  Look. Cirroc Lofton is no Laurence Olivier. But I think he did what he needed to do in this episode. He played very well against both Aron Eisenberg and Avery Brooks. I believed his irritation and I believed his desire to keep his friendship afloat. I think maybe it's just that he's a teenager, and teenagers are generally annoying. I'm slowly starting to warm to him.

Kevin: It's a shame that all three turned in good performances in service of an interesting plot idea that was just wasted in being stapled to this episode. The clash of human and Ferengi values and the subtle arrogance of Federation cultural relativism have made some of our favorite moments in the series thus far, and they deserved more space. A little trivia, Jake's date Leanne was played by Lark Voorhies, otherwise known to children of the 80s as Lisa Turtle from Saved by the Bell.
Production Values

Matthew: This was a total bottle show. The only things we really had added to the visual tableaux were medical props and O.R. scrubs. I will say I was never really convinced that they were operating on Bareil's brain, nor was I impressed by the "positronic" implants. I think they could have done a bit more with this. Overall this was a very ho-hum episode visually.

Kevin: Nothing really to add here. This isn't to say the episode was bad from a visual standpoint per se, but usually even in bottle shows they usually try to pepper things with a few treats for the viewers.


Matthew: Overall I think this is a 3. I want to like it more than I do, but it is hampered by a lack of focus. Had the story spent more time on the sci-fi aspects of the problem of mind, I would have definitely put this in 4 territory. The cultural relativism angle of the story was a mere trifle, and that could have stood more development, too. 

Kevin: I agree with the 3. On the strength of performances alone, this gets to the fat part of the bell curve. Had the main plot been more thoroughly explored and the B plot given its own episode, we could get easily to a 4. As it stands, this makes a total of 6.

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