Saturday, October 19, 2013

Deep Space Nine, Season 4: Our Man Bashir

Deep Space Nine, Season 4
"Our Man Bashir"
Airdate: November 27, 1995
80 of 173 produced
80 of 173 aired

Introduction

Sisko, Dax, Worf, and O'Brien are almost killed when their runabout is sabotaged. Beaming them out at the last second, but unable to rematerialize them, their patterns are stored in the station computer, with unexpected consequences. The computer recasts characters in Dr. Bashir's spy fantasy holoprogram with the patterns of the crew. Now, Dr. Bashir, with the help of Garak, must not only survive the dangerous life of a spy, he can't resort to simply killing his opponents, since doing so will cost him his friends and crewmates.

Say, are those bite marks I see on Madagascar?

Writing

Kevin: This episode is, from the outset, a bit of a minefield, one littered with the corpses of other failed "holodeck goes wrong" episodes. I think this episode successfully navigates the minefield and then some. Let's start with the elephant in the room. The malfunctioning holodeck. I think what separates this is that this was not a random malfunction per se. This was the crew using the holodeck in an unorthodox way. Also, turning off the holodeck and leaving is pretty much always an option, just one they are loath to use. This gets around the problem of why they can't just turn off the recreational device seemingly bent on killing the crew. Also, rather than avoiding the internal story of the holodeck once the crisis occurs, the solution relies in understanding and navigating the expected ending. The end result is a holodeck story I actually care about.

Matthew: I agree on the basic avoidance of too many poorly done tropes, with one exception - the safeties being off. Yawn. I almost groaned when the warp core ejection system failed, too, but at least that was stolen. Or something. At the end of the day, we're just going to have to accept that, with very few exceptions (Hollow Pursuits, Fair Haven), holodeck episodes are really not being used to tell real science fiction stories. They're a flimsy excuse to put our actors in period costumes and locales. So, given that, I'm going to be evaluating them with a different set of expectations, and a lower ceiling as far as the ultimate score goes. I really was not engaged or particularly interested by the "twist" of having transporter patterns relocated to the holodeck, and really I think it raised way too many questions (and interesting ones at that) that went completely unanswered. If this pattern is truly "them," how can they be unaware of their "real" identities and instead be subsumed within the fictional ones, which were parameters within a computer program? How could this submersion of their real thoughts and memories be anything other than overwriting them? Is the holodeck incapable of displaying the full flower of a human persona? That doesn't seem to hold water given the existence of Moriarty and The Doctor.

Kevin: Further making this a good episode is that the "B-story" is not a separate, unrelated, entity, but an interesting look at Bashir and Garak's friendship. His recreational indulgence of spy thrillers puts in context his initial attraction (ha) to Garak. The conversation in the cave after they are rescued from lava is actually an interesting look at how both view Garak's work. It's not like their friendship is irrevocably altered or anything, but I like that the story is still anchored by Bashir cringingly having to show Garak this part of his fantasy life, and by the end, based on Garak's comment about having to come back here, it seems that Garak actually seems to have learned something about him.

Matthew: I enjoyed their interplay, not surprisingly. I don't know that much of any interest was really plumbed, here. Garak finding his fantasy silly or insulting was interesting, and they come to a head against one another on strategy. But it doesn't amount to much, if you ask me. For me, some of the bypassed sci-fi questions blunted this portion of the story. Garak seems willing to sacrifice others for his own survival, but could either of them really be certain that shutting off the holodeck would kill their crewmates? I sure wasn't.

Kevin: The other Trek Trope (TM) at work here is the physical storage of a person's consciousness. Again, I think this escapes the worst excesses of the trope. It is not easy or obviously replicable or something that people might choose to do for funsies or to avoid death. It takes all the resources of the station and the clock is ticking on how long they can keep it up. Also, unlike say, Past Tense, where seeing the crew work to save them was mindless filler, here even though it was pretty standard nick of time Starfleet (plus Rom) day-saving, the conversations were fun enough to keep me tickled, and the further look at Rom's competence set up the board for other development for the character this season.

Matthew: Meh. Everything with Rom and Eddington smacked of filler to me. I think this time could have been better spent exploring the metaphysical ramifications of the consciousness transfer.

Kevin: I've been saving this comment for last because I wanted to make sure I had other reasons to like this episode before getting to this one: it was fun. Tons of it. As much as Big Goodbye. Like Trek's noir outings, this is practically a love letter to the genre. The silly touches like women on turntables and deadly champagne corks and baccarat all feel like the genuine affection of a fan, not the lazy writing of someone working from cribbed notes on the genre. It even pairs well with Bashir's more annoying character traits, his sense of self-importance. Of course this is his fantasy, and we get to see him squirm while having some fun poked at him. Watching him navigate what he knows to be the ending is also fun as it makes the character competent, and elevates his interest beyond that of "hobby of the week." Lastly, it provides a variety of opportunities for witty commentary from Garak, and that is never a bad thing.

Matthew: I definitely agree on the fun factor. Whatever else was flawed about the story, you can't really fault the referential humor and the overall fun level of the story.

Acting

Kevin: Maybe it was the fact that cast grew up when these movies were at their zenith, at least pre-GoldenEye's revival of the franchise, so they all really hit their marks. Everyone, again like Big Goodbye seems to really be having a ball playing dress-up. Visitor hasn't had many opportunities to vamp it up thus far, and she really brings it. Dorn's straight man was perfectly applied to Mr. Duchamp. I love Farrell's sexy librarian schtick. Brooks come closest to going too far, but I think, given the parameters of the story, is fine. If he was playing Captain Sisko, or even playing Captain Sisko playing Dr. Noah, it would be too much. But as a straight Bond villain, I think he was fine.

Matthew: The only thing that kept me from thoroughly hating Brooks' line readings was the notion that this is not Sisko at all in any way (which is unclear in the script) and that it was instead the way the character was written in the holonovel. But yeesh. Welcome back, scenery-chewing-Avery! The other characters fared much better.  I will say, I've never really liked Colm Meaney when he plays anything but what I assume is basically Colm Meaney. Dorn, Farrell, and Visitor were all quite good.

Kevin: Siddig and Robinson really anchor the episode. Watching them debate the correct course of action is fun in the context of the episode and it adds some meat to an admittedly light story, and keeps it from floating away. Watching them clash over what the solution is, and ever bump up against each other personally over this is inherently interesting, a nice ongoing payoff of the relationship they have been building.

Matthew: This is Alexander Siddig's best episode so far, bar none. He's come close in a few dramatic roles, but this is easily his most charming and likable turn. Andrew Robinson turns in a typical performance, but I wouldn't say it is among his very best (which is a high bar). I find him better adding a comedic twist to dramatic roles, as opposed to vice versa.

Kevin: Part of the thinking behind this episode was to capitalize on the advance buzz surrounding Pierce Brosnan's forthcoming GoldenEye, and while normally the crass calculation of such a decision would bother me, I think they overcame the initial question of whether the episode "has a right to exist" as we have often phrased it.

Production Values

Kevin: They really nailed it. Costumes were a scream all around. I loved Garak's jacket almost more than I love his normal civilian wear. The Hong Kong apartment was the exactly correct shade of mustard. I think the casino read a little small, but that's a forgivable sin. The cave was well lit this time, for a change, and I liked the set piece for the laser drill.

Matthew: The apartment was totally cool, with just enough period detail (like the television) to sell it. It was a really well designed space, and I'd be surprised if they just struck the set without redressing and re-using it later. I wonder if the suits were off the rack or original creations. The costumes overall were excellent.

Kevin: The sets in Quark's bar and the Defiant were fun for the brief glimpses we got. The array of small props and tubing and whatnot were well done. I also liked the set on the side of Everest. It's a nice money-saving touch that explains nothing but blue sky out the windows and still feels like the appropriate villain venue. I also loved the map of the world. It all felt of a piece with the genre they were gently lampooning.

Matthew:  I think the runabout explosion was a re-use. The map graphic was neat, especially the way it animated.

Conclusion

Kevin: I am going with a 4. It's not high art by any stretch, but the episode certainly has color and energy and humor. What I think puts it into above average territory is that neither the "storing consciousness" or "holodeck malfunction" stories stumble over the usual pitfalls, and they support of an actual episode about Bashir and Garak's friendship.

Matthew: I'm bugged enough by the whiff on science fiction questions that this stays a 3 for me. It is fun and all, but it's a mere trifle. I didn't really learn anything lasting about the character friendship, and I certainly didn't learn anything about the nature of consciousness or mind. So that makes for a total of 7.

1 comment:

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