“Our Man Bashir” (season 4, episode 9; originally aired 11/27/1995)
In which the world is not enough, but tomorrow never dies, so Bashir and Garak get a quantum of solace from Russia with love, for your eyes only...
Well, this is also cute. And thankfully, a bit better paced than “Little Green Men”; comic episodes only work if they’ve got some momentum behind them, and cutting between Bashir and Garak in the holosuite, and Eddington, Odo, Quark, and Rom in the station, keeps things moving nicely. Plus, there’s a clear sense of danger, and a very obvious structure, drawn from the Bond films that Bashir’s program looks to emulate/parody. The jokes are obvious, but enough of them are funny that it doesn’t really matter, and besides, it’s not like the source material was all that subtle to begin with. (Dr. Honey Bear might be over the line, but I’m surprised Mona Luvsitt wasn’t a character in Diamonds Are Forever. It’s a damn sight better than “Plenty O’Toole.”) And once again, we can see the benefit of DS9’s stationary location and on-going continuity. “Our Man Bashir” only gets heavy for about a scene, but it’s a very good scene, and it works based off of what we know about the episode’s two leads. Plus, there are small touches throughout to make sure we can connect what we’re seeing to the larger narrative. It’s a great way to handle serialization: not every story has to advance the main plot, but the more we feel like it’s all connected, the more invested we become.
On the whole, DS9 has avoided holo-centric premises, which is for the best. While Star Trek: The Next Generation had some fun with the idea of a magic room which generated new realities with the push of a button, but it’s a pretty ridiculous concept which the series was never all that interested in exploring to its logical conclusions. Such a device would be even more out of place on DS9. Quark has his holosuites, they’re routinely referenced, but they’re rarely, if ever, plot-relevant. Out of sight, out of mind. But here comes “Our Man Bashir,” with what looks like the platonic ideal of the holo-story. The good doctor is engaging in some pre-work shenanigans, fighting a bad guy and wooing a blonde in a low cut dress, when Garak wanders in, applauding the theatrics. An argument ensues, and we learn the fascinating tidbit that it’s actually illegal to interrupt someone else’s holo-program without their explicit permission. But Bashir finally accepts Garak won’t be put off; the tailor wants to know just what’s been keeping Bashir so busy lately, and, when he discovers Julian is pretending to be a spy, you can imagine the reaction. The two of them go for a team-up, just as a horrific shuttlecraft accident strands Sisko, Kira, Dax, O’Brien, and Worf in the station’s computers. And who do you think pops up in Bashir’s program? Guess.
The funniest part of all holodeck/suite stories is that they always have to go out of their way to eliminate what would be the device’s biggest appeal: namely, the ability to engage in action and adventure without having to worry about consequences. I’d love to be able to pretend I was Indiana Jones for a couple hours, but if “pretending” meant the very real chance that I’d get shot, chopped up, drowned, stabbed, or crushed, I wouldn’t be nearly as interested. So holo-programs come with safety protocols built in, but somehow, because this is all crazy computer stuff (again: magic), the bad guys Bashir faces off against could theoretically hurt him, which means that if the safety protocols are removed, he’s in for a world of hurt. And yes, the safety protocols are removed in this episode. It happens every damn time, or nearly. It’s like having a really amazing TV in your house, only if there’s a glitch, or the batteries in the remote go dead, the TV will murder you. Everyone in the Trek-verse accepts this as a matter of course, but while I’m sure a holodeck experience would be remarkable, I don’t think I’d be so cavalier using the device if I knew there was a one in five chance I set myself on fire. I’m not saying they shouldn’t exist, because it’s amazing technology. But they put safety bars on the roller coaster for a reason, y’know?
In a shocking twist, Bashir’s crewmembers start popping into his fantasy life; first Kira, as his sexy Russian friend (yes, Nana Visitor is good at this), then O’Brien as Falcon, Bashir’s eye-patched nemesis, and so on. It’s a bit like a twist on Barclay’s first TNG episode, only here, instead of Barclay using the holodeck to enact his fantasies with people he can’t bear to deal with in real life, Bashir is forced to keep his made up world going if he wants to save the lives of his friends. There’s some tech speak going on—buffers and what not. When the shuttle exploded, the computer stored the physical patterns of the crew inside Bashir’s holosuite, while using the entirety of the rest of the station to store their substantially larger neural patterns. Which, okay, I’ll buy it, and it gives us some fun moments with Eddington having to team up with Rom to find a work around to reconnect everybody. (I especially liked the reveal that Rom has had to MacGyver up the holosuite circuit boards because Quark won’t put down any money for upgraded equipment.) As always with premises like this, what matters is if the ends (ie, Bashir and Garak playing spy on Earth of the late ‘60s) justify the means.
I’d say they do, although it depends on your fondness for Bond riffs. Most of the gags are relegated to the immediate shock of seeing familiar faces in unfamiliar roles, and anyone looking for a cutting satire of Bond’s Imperialist masculine bullshit shouldn’t get their hopes up; the darkest this gets is a silly moment near the end when Bashir saves himself and Garak by telling Dax she’d look prettier without her glasses and with her hair down. But it is undeniably nifty to watch Kira bust out a Russian accent, or Worf playing the heavy in a tux. As for who comes off the best, I have a hard time picking, but it’s hard to deny Avery Brooks utter awesomeness as the world-destroying arch-villain Dr. Noah. (Get it? Get it?) Brooks has always had a taste for scenery, and he indulges himself at the episode’s climax to great effect, SHOUTING and whispering in ways that make him seem threatening, brilliant, and almost certainly psychotic.
“Our Man Bashir” also gets some mileage out of Garak’s astonishment at this particular brand of espionage, although not as much as I was expecting. He throws out a few one liners, and they’re all good ones, but it turns out his real reason for appearing in the episode was to give the writers yet another chance to take a look at the weird edges that exist between the ex-member of the Obsidian Order, and our noble doctor. Once Garak realizes that they’re playing for keeps, he starts encouraging Bashir to be more ruthless in his work; yes, Julian wants to save everyone, but sometimes you just can’t do that, and to Garak, that means cutting costs and running as soon as the odds are slightly less than favorable. Bashir resists, which builds to a confrontation where the doctor draws a gun on Garak, who’s threatening to shut down the program and escape. (Shutting down the program has a good chance of killing Sisko and the others outright.) Garak doesn’t believe Bashir has the guts to pull the trigger, but when he calls for the doors, Bashir fires, injuring the tailor and defusing the situation.
It’s the only time in the whole hour when the light-hearted tone trembles. (Well, it’s not like Eddington and Odo are yukking it up, but I can’t imagine watching this and being all that concerned about the fate of the crew.) Later, at the conclusion of the spy program, Julian quotes some of Garak’s words to Dr. Noah, stalling for time by giving up being the good guy and helping to destroy the world. Which is amusing, but not particularly subversive; Bashir has already demonstrated his willingness to put his friends above all other considerations, and if that means killing imaginary billions, so be it. That earlier scene, though, is telling. It doesn’t exactly reveal anything we don’t already well know—Bashir is an idealist, Garak is a pragmatist—but it does reinforce once more the the courage of the doctor’s convictions, and the strength those convictions give him. Garak may well mock Bashir’s naivete, but Bashir saves the day, (sort of) gets the girl, and blows up the world. All Garak gets is a neck wound.
- “If I were in your shoes, I would grab a bottle of champagne and shoot me.” -Garak
- So, does Bashir ever actually have sex with any of the ladies in this program? I wonder if you’re required to clean the suite before you leave.
- This is a small point, but the reason Bashir won’t kill Sisko or the others is that apparently the program will delete their file if they die. That can’t be standard practice, can it? Holo-programs have to be designed for multiple uses.
- “I think I joined the wrong intelligence program.” -Garak
- I love how Bashir and Garak change out of their tuxedos for a single scene, and then put the tuxedos back on.
- “I must say, doctor, this is more than I ever wanted to know about your fantasy life.” -Garak
- “You’re a man who dreams of being a hero, because you know, deep down, you’re not.” -Garak, just before he’s proven wrong. (God, I could write a paper about that guy. His need to believe everyone else is as cowardly as he is, combined with the fact that there is just enough decency in him to make him miserable, is endlessly fascinating.)
“Homefront” (season 4, episode 10; originally aired 1/1/1996)
In which Sisko and Odo keep watching the skies...
There’s something horrible about the way Odo talks about his fellow Changelings. The show doesn’t make a huge effort to underline this, and I’m not even sure how intentional it is; but whenever he’s discussing strategy with Sisko, or with other Starfleet officers, his comments on how “my people” largely serve to remind us of how alone he is. Sure, he’s on the same side as the rest of the show’s ensemble, which makes him a hero. Sure, trying to stop the Founders from murdering humans and kicking off any number of inter-stellar wars fits most acceptable definitions of doing the right thing. But Odo’s actions made him a traitor even before he became the first Changeling to harm (and kill) one of his own kind. Viewed in a different light, he’s a Judas, a monster first pitied, then despised. While we’ve had glimpses of Odo’s true feelings about the situation (most notably in “The Die Is Cast”), he doesn’t reveal himself willingly, so all we get is the occasional pained look, and the “my” he always adds to “people.” He’s made his choice, but Odo being Odo, he can’t let go of his guilt.
“Homefront” gives us our first glimpse of the fallout from the Changeling death in "The Adversary," and the signs aren’t promising. It’s a short scene: after an apparent Changeling attack leaves 27 Federation diplomats dead, Sisko, Jake, and Odo head to Earth to help advise Starfleet on how to buff up security and deal with the potential threat. Midway through the episode, Odo runs into a pair of officers he’s met before; everything seems fine, but one of the officers (Admiral Leyton, a friend of Sisko’s played by Robert Foxworth) starts throwing some shade. Odo, realizing something is up, grab’s “Leyton”’s arm, only to find a shapeshifter, who mocks him and quickly escapes. Recounting the incident, Odo mentions the hostility, but leaves the more obvious, shocking fact unspoken: the Changeling’s hatred for Odo was so intense he couldn’t mask it long enough to keep up his cover. Given how good the shapeshifters have been at hiding themselves before now, that’s a whole lot of rage.
That ability to move around hidden in plain sight is one of the driving fears of the episode, a growing paranoia that starts off sensible enough (higher security precautions, phaser sweeps, renewed vigilance) before slowly spinning out of control. Well, not quite out of control; one of the episode’s smarter choices is that each decision Sisko makes seems reasonable, even prudent. It’s hard to pick out any one moment where he and the others cross the line, but one minute, they’re checking the rooms of government personnel for duplicitous desk lamps, and the next, Sisko is yelling at his father for refusing a blood test. Then the power goes out, and it’s time to declare martial law. (Well, not exactly martial law, but close enough.) Given the time we’ve spent getting to know Sisko, we’re well aware he’s not a man prone to rash decisions, and certainly not a proto-fascist looking for his chance to shine. As well, Leyton and Commander Erika Benteen (Sisko’s other contact person, played by Geordi’s former flame Susan Gibney) seem like reasonable adults. Leyton maybe not so much; when we get to part two next week, I won’t be unduly surprised if he’s got some ulterior motives. But so far, no one has stepped over any obvious lines.
The problem with a lot of parables about the horrors of paranoia, and the way war and xenophobia can crush the human spirit, is that they’re rarely subtle. Something like “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street” gets its power by showing seemingly normal humans react poorly in extraordinary circumstances, with those circumstances ostensibly demonstrating some archetypal weakness in us all. And sure, that’s a great episode of television, and the lack of subtlety can, if well-handled, generate powerful drama. But it’s always so easy to watch the situation from the outside and tell ourselves, “I would never go that far.” “Homefront” doesn’t allow us that comfort. It’s not a grim hour by any stretch of the imagination, and at no point does someone say, “Makes you wonder who the real monsters are.” (Although Sisko comes close.) Theoretically, the conclusion to the story (which we’ll cover next week) could completely justify all of Sisko and Leyton’s precautions. But if it doesn’t, the road we’ve travelled to get to that point is one that’s lacked obvious signposts. It’s a bad moment when Sisko realizes he was beginning to doubt his dad’s humanity, but it’s also one in which the combination of Joseph Sisko’s actions and the potential Changeling threat made it impossible to not have certain suspicions. The ideal of a free world where everyone is judged by their actions, where no one is the enemy until he proves himself so, is a beautiful one. But it’s not easy to come by, and the episode never makes the mistake of simplifying its morality.
It also finds time to deal with some fairly meaty family drama. Dealing with a parent who refuses to acknowledge his age and limitations is a common theme for TV drama, but watching Sisko struggle to understand his fathers is decent stuff even before it dovetails with the Changeling hunt. Joseph Sisko (the always welcome Brock Peters) is big-hearted, cheerful, and very stubborn, and his failing health is the closest the episode comes to a sub-plot. Both Benjamin and Jake are worried about him, and from what we see, they have cause for concern; the old man still works long hours, pushing food on his customers, regaling the room with stories and patter, and staying on his feet until he’s close to collapse. In a way, he’s being short-sighted and childish, refusing to accept and adjust to his age, but he argues that this is his decision, and one he has every right to make. It’s easy to be annoyed with him when he’s batting off his son and grandson’s concern, but the episode (and Peters) do a good job making sure he isn’t a caricature or a fool. And while the character can be off-putting, that works to make the eventual confrontation between him and Sisko all the more powerful. Joe’s refusal to take a blood test, combined with his lack of appetite and unwillingness to see a doctor, make him suspicious; and yet all this is consistent with the character of someone who is trying to face old age on his own terms. And while requiring blood tests for all high level personnel and their families doesn’t seem unreasonable in the face of the shapeshifter threat, it’s still invading someone’s rights without anything approaching justifiable cause. There’s no easy answer here, and that ambiguity makes the situation all the more intense; it’s hard to tell yourself you’d do the right thing when you don’t know what the right thing is.
Of course, it’s not all doom and slippery slopes. “Homefront” demonstrates once again had adept DS9 has gotten at managing the time requirements of two-part storylines, using padding to reinforce and develop the main ensemble. There’s a cute bit at the beginning about Dax pranking Odo; apparently she’s been breaking into his quarters while he’s in his liquid state and moving his furniture around. In another context, this could’ve come off as mean-spirited, especially given how much importance Odo places in his version of feng shui, but Dax’s behavior instead reminds us of how relaxed everyone on the station has become with one another. Setting Jadzia, who’s life experiences have made her more relaxed, adventurous, and friendly, against Odo’s stone-faced sincerity, works to both their advantages, enough so that I’d love to see the two of them team-up for a story or two at some point.
There’s also a frankly adorable scene where we learn that Bashir and O’Brien have taken to running aviator programs in the holosuites to deal with their stress over events on Earth; as they’re both stuck on the station, all they can really do is watch the news as it comes in, and on their off hours, dress up like flying aces and defend Britain from the evil Germans. O’Brien’s accent is hilarious, and their grief over the loss of one of their fellow pilots is nearly as funny, especially when set against Quark’s confusion. Good comic sequences are valuable in their own right, but this one also manages to once again demonstrate the awesomeness that is the Bashir and O’Brien friendship, as well as giving us a quick glimpse into just how shocking the attack on the home planet is.
That shock is important; along with everything else discussed above, it helps to justify the episode’s finale, in which Leyton and Sisko urge (demand, really) that the Federation President declare a state of emergency. The power goes out, apparently over the entire world (which is impressive), and Sisko is worried a fleet of Jem’Hadar ships might be on their way to Earth. There’s no definitive proof that he’s right, just as no one has any idea what the Changelings’ real plans are. But in the dark, when you can’t tell friend from foe, and the night stretches on forever, it’s hard to see what lines you’re crossing when you’re rushing to bar the door.
- Forgot to mention: the wormhole has been opening at seemingly random intervals, with no obvious sign of any ships coming through. Some Bajorans (including Kira) believe it’s a message from the prophets, but Sisko and Leyton use it as yet more potential proof of the invasion threat. The Jem’Hadar could have a cloaking device, after all.
Next week: We see what happens next in the optimistically titled “Paradise Lost,” and try not to get caught in the “Crossfire.”