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The Future Will Be Carpeted: An Analysis of ‘Deep Space Nine (S1E8)’

“Fate has granted me a gift, Major. A gift to be a healer.”
    --Dr. Julian Bashir


It’s tough to know what to make of DS9’s resident medical officer on first blush.  He’s naïve, arrogant, and oblivious to all but the most blatant social cues.  He’s eager for challenges, but doesn’t yet know what those challenges mean.  He embodies the can-do, starry-eyed, boyish sense of adventure that the British Empire always imagined it had.  He is a pretty bold creation by the writing staff, if they intended him as I believe they did: a character as intentionally obnoxious as possible, that they might eventually redeem somehow.  Bashir’s character becomes even more fascinating in retrospect, as a later revelation places his early overweening arrogance in a much darker context.

But, for now, Dr. Bashir is DS9’s resident douche.  As though to hammer that lesson home, the episode begins with someone else praising him for a change.  He and Major Kira are returning from an away mission aboard the runabout Rio Grande, in which Bashir performed some medical wizardry.  An impressed Kira compliments him for apparently resurrecting a dead woman, and Bashir actually has a pretty cool response: “Ah yes, well, tricorders -- very accurate with live people, not so accurate with dead ones.  We learn that first year medical school.”  Had he left it there, it would have felt like a TNG scene -- series regular does something cool, gets props, shrugs it off as being part of the job.  But this is DS9, and we’re doing character here, and characters have to have flaws.  So, Bashir begins waxing philosophical about his greatness, ending with the quote at the top.  Good job there, Julian.  You almost earned some respect.

A distress call interrupts them.  It’s a disabled ship with a fire aboard. The ship was transporting a prisoner -- a master criminal named Rao Vantika -- and he started the fire as part of an escape attempt.  One of the two crew is already dead, and the other can’t stop ranting about how dangerous Vantika is.  As though to make things as awkward as possible, Vantika grabs Bashir about the throat and promptly dies.  They tow the ship home, put the survivor, an interstellar marshal named Kajada, in the hospital and the corpse in stasis.  Kajada is absolutely convinced that Vantika somehow faked his death. (He’s done it so much it officially qualifies as an addiction.)  Nope, nope, nope, everyone says.  Vantika is dead.  Chill out.

The b-plot starts up soon after, and, at first, it feels like there’s no connection.  As it turns out, this is one of the better earlier examples of the writers weaving disparate elements together into a cohesive whole.  It’s not the best episode, but you can see the show finding the footing it would need to become great over the next few seasons.  It’s a relatively innocuous scene between Odo and Quark.  These were an early highlight, not just because Rene Auberjonois and Armin Shimerman are two of the best actors amongst the regulars, but because they have excellent chemistry and the writers seemed to have a special affinity for the banter between them.  Straight-laced cop and charming criminal are archetypes, after all, and it’s a pleasure to see a Trekkified version of coptalk thrown back and forth between worthy adversaries.   Odo is there to tell Quark that he best stay away from a deuridium shipment that’s shortly coming in.  Quark pleads ignorance and wounded pride.

This would seem to be nothing more than to set up the Federation officer in security gold eavesdropping from the bar.  This is Lieutenant George Primmin, and I had entirely forgotten he ever existed.  The idea for the character makes sense -- though Odo is an agent of the Bajoran Provisional Government, Starfleet would want one of their own people onboard to see to Federation interests.  The second time they tried this, with Michael Eddington, it worked out much better.  Primmin only sticks around for two episodes, and his purpose here seems to be to reassert Sisko’s trust in the shapeshifter and show Odo that occasionally everyone around him isn’t a total dumbass.

The deuridium shipment is what turns out to be important.  Vantika isn’t just a master criminal: he’s a straight up mad scientist.  His species, the Kobliad, are a dying race, and, apparently, here it means more than just they’ve got a sharply declining birthrate.  Without deuridium, they’ll just die like one of those goldfish you get at the carnival.  Vantika was obsessed with extending life, which caused him to experiment with drugs, cryogenics, and transplants.  His most horrifying crimes are only alluded to: he served as a medical officer in a supermax prison and the inmates were his guinea pigs.  Charming, right?  Kajada hears about the shipment and becomes convinced that it’s Vantika’s master plan to hijack it, despite being, you know, dead.

Sisko plays along with Kajada.  He reasons that she knows Vantika better than anyone, and since he’s next-door neighbors with a bunch of time-traveling gods, one mad scientist cheating death isn’t that tough to swallow.  As DS9’s computer is hacked and Kajada thrown off the top level of Quark’s bar, it’s looking like there’s something to this whole Vantika-isn’t-dead malarkey.  Quark was also collaborating with the man, recruiting a couple mercenaries as muscle.  When a man attacks Quark from the shadows (concealing his identity behind darkness, gloves, and a whisper) and assures him that he is Vantika, well, that’s the final straw.  It also bears mentioning that the whisper is totally recognizable.  Most because you can’t whisper away an accent.

Yeah, it was Dr. Bashir all along.  Dax discovers that Vantika uploaded his consciousness onto a micro-generator thing which he concealed under his fingernails.  When he choked Bashir, he possessed his body.  We get the full reveal of Bashir-as-Vantika when Quark delivers the mercenaries for the hijacking.  They go off and get the deuridium shipment while, on the station, Primmin manages to thwart some of Vantika’s sabotage which would have disabled the station at a crucial point.  Using a bit of Treknobabble, they suppress Vantika’s consciousness and get it out of Bashir and into something that looks like a container for birth control pills.  Alexander Siddig’s performance as Vantika is . . . odd.  He speaks slowly with lots of pauses, almost like a British Captain Kirk.  I think this is supposed to convey a delay between Vantika’s consciousness issuing orders and Bashir’s body following them, but I might be being charitable.

As Bashir comes out of it, he is appropriately humbled, though there’s really not a lot he could have done.  It’s a tiny crack in the arrogance that’s been the character’s defining trait to this point.  The best moment of the episode, the point that truly marks it as DS9, comes in the very end.  Bashir, Sisko, and Kajada are looking at the flashing lights on the birth control disk that contains Vantika, and Kajada asks if they’ve returned custody of the prisoner to her.  Sisko confirms that they have.  Kajada calmly pulls a phaser, disintegrates the disk, and walks away.  Sisko and Bashir just exchange a look, like, “Well, that solves that!” and we’re off to the credits.


Next up: the first season hits its nadir.

Justin Robinson is the author of many novels and can be found in his lair at captainsupermarket.com.  He would like to emphasize that, contrary to rumors, he is, in fact, a mammal, though still has not obtained documentation to prove it.

Favorite Golden Girl:  Rose
Favorite Cheese Form:  Melted
Favorite God: Hanuman

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