The Future Will Be Carpeted: An Analysis of ‘Deep Space Nine (S4E9)’

“Kiss the girl, get the key. They never taught me that in the Obsidian Order.”
     -- Elim Garak

If transporters are the signature piece of speculative technology of Star Trek as a whole, then the holodeck has become that for the TNG era. Makes sense, considering how badly the unrepentant gamer in me desperately wants one. The chance to explore my favorite gaming universes, from Rapture, to Brightness Falls, or even just the West Indies in 1720, would be too much to resist. Yet it’s undeniable that the holodeck gets really weird really quickly.

Romances are an increasingly important part of gaming, and the interactive story games popular in the 24th Century seem to have only increased the emphasis on this trend. I have vague memories of Picard romancing the ladies as Dixon Hill (or at the very least stealing a kiss from a femme fatale), and Kira was introduced to Worf after having punched out Lancelot for kissing her. Hell, Quark’s holosuites were always implied to be the far future equivalent of the brothel -- all the profit, none of the overhead (or, you know, human trafficking and whatnot). So, I guess, I’m kind of wondering . . . are the people from the future f--king hard light holograms?

They have to be, right? What does that mean for social mores? Is it just kind of one of those things everyone does but no one talks about? 24th Century masturbation? Is it considered cheating? Geordi fell in love with a hologram one time, and I refuse to believe that’s not a common phenomenon. Are there cultures that marry them like body pillows? Yes, I’m overthinking a piece of technology the writers use to tell stranger genre stories (most often homages to favorite franchises of the past, like the Marlowe stories with Dixon Hill, or Data’s Sherlock Holmes fixation), but the fact is, holodecks are weird.

This is even without going into how much they seem to malfunction and kill everyone on board. I would complain about this, but I thought to myself, “Self, if your Xbox had a 5% chance of going all Skynet on you, you’d keep it right?” And, I totally would, because I am human, and if there’s one thing that defines us as a race, it’s that we’ll put up with insane amounts of danger if it means games.

The opening scene of this week’s episode answers at least some of the questions about what’s going on with holodecks socially. Bashir is in the midst of his fantasy of being a James Bond-style agent when Garak comes in. Bashir is incensed, pointing out that not only is it immoral to barge in on someone’s holodeck time, it’s actually illegal. Privacy laws, I suppose. So, yeah . . . there’s sex happening. That’s weird, right? That feels a little weird. And yet, it would be even weirder if there weren’t any advancements in porn technology. Considering the fact that home entertainment tech was, in large parts, decided by pornography, it’s possible holodecks were originally created as future porn. Plus, there’s no exploitation going on, so that’s good. Well, until something develops sentience, and now there’s a whole other can of worms. Is it truly moral to create your own sex slaves?

Okay, now I’m really overthinking it. I shouldn’t be, since this is a holodeck episode. These hours are precisely the kinds of episodes modern viewers can’t understand. They’re pure filler. This one is doubly difficult, because it’s also a parody-homage. The James Bond elements are still largely recognizable, but it also draws a lot of its inspiration from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Our Man Flint, both of which were influenced by, and spoofs of, the iconic Bond form.

A Cardassian separatist movement sabotages a runabout, nearly killing Sisko, Dax, Kira, Worf, and O’Brien, but Eddington manages to save them, accidentally storing their patterns in the holosuites. They are now all characters in Bashir’s James Bond story. The holosuite’s safeties have been disengaged (which you have to do to give the episode stakes), and Bashir can’t kill any of them because that will cause the computer to delete their patterns. He also can’t stop the program, leave, or call in reinforcements, because there’s no way to know what might happen. So, he’s forced to play through the story, when Sisko, Worf, and O’Brien have all been turned into Bond-heavies, Kira is a sexpot/KGB Colonel (which was maybe the greatest gift the show could give to teenaged me), and Dax a brilliant geologist with a ridiculous name.

The parody-homage gains a second layer with the presence of Garak. In spy fiction of the ‘60s, there were two schools: Ian Fleming’s, which concentrated on over-the-top schemes, supervillains, and gadgets, and John le Carré’s, which was oppressively realistic, gritty, and moody. Garak’s being a tailor is homage to le Carré’s most famous work, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

In essence, this hour strands a le Carré character in a Fleming story, and he just cannot handle it. It’s like that one movie night where you innocently thought a scientist friend of yours might like The Matrix and you accidentally touched off an hour-long rant about how “body heat doesn’t work like that.” Garak ruthlessly fact checks the proceedings, driving Bashir up the wall. It gets worse when Garak’s practical streak causes him to point out that it might not be possible to save all of the crewmembers or even some of them. Sacrifices might have to be made, and a real spy would be ready for this.

The confrontation comes to a head when Garak decides he’s done running through a collapsing tunnel away from a rushing geyser of magma. In the midst of a lecture about how sometimes there is no way to win, and it’s time to cut your losses, he’s about to ask the computer for the exit. Bashir threatens to shoot him, and when Garak calls his bluff, he finds out that it’s not a bluff at all. Bashir actually pulls the trigger. “What if you’d killed me?” Garak asks, miffed. “What makes you think I wasn’t trying?” Garak breaks into a smile and says, “Doctor, I believe there’s hope for you yet.”

This is one of the aspects of Garak’s character I truly love. Garak is actually beginning to soften by this point. He’s no longer the total sociopath he was when he was introduced -- his long friendship with Bashir, coupled with the torture of Odo, changed that. What he can’t understand is how his new friends don’t understand how dangerous the world around them is and, more to the point, what a dangerous man he himself is. They shouldn’t possibly trust a man so unrepentantly deadly as him. So, when his best friend shoots him in the neck, Garak sees this as a triumph. Bashir is leaving the nest.

He is doubly pleased when Bashir “wins” by betraying the world and allying with the bad guy. In order to buy enough time for Rom (Hey, he’s pretty smart and the only one who can understand Quark’s jury-rigged holosuites, which Rom repaired with a spatula.) to get the crew out, Bashir assists the supervillain with his plan. He even gives Garak’s speech about no-win scenarios and cutting losses. Garak could not be more pleased. After all, it’s not important that the holosuite story be “won,” but that everyone escape with their lives.

The creators intended to do more of these, mostly because they were doing 26-episode seasons and television was insane back then. MGM Studios, who owned Bond, were not pleased, and threatened legal action. This remains a one-and-done idea, though there are hints Bashir continued to play in this universe. I think it works much better this way, as an oddity advancing the strange friendship between an idealistic Starfleet doctor and an exiled Cardassian spy.

Next up: When that Changeling said everywhere, he meant everywhere.

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