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The Future Will Be Carpeted: An Analysis of ‘Deep Space Nine (S3E18)’

“I can do anything I want. It is my mind.”
     — Dr. Julian Bashir

I have an uneasy relationship with spoilers in this space. There are elaborate rules to navigate the revealing of spoilers in our current culture of extreme interconnectiveness. It’s considered bad form to instantly tweet crucial plot twists as a show is airing, for example, but when exactly it becomes okay to discuss in a public forum is very much a subject of intense debate. In this space, I’m never certain how many things I should spoil before they happen.

This week, I’ve decided to spoil a minor plot twist that will get revealed two seasons down the line.

At the risk of getting too philosophical, my reasons for this concern is the definition of the word “spoiler.” Is something truly a spoiler when it was made up on the fly? When there’s no foreshadowing, and, in fact, it doesn’t quite make sense in hindsight, can it truly be spoiled? I really wish I had some macchiato to sip thoughtfully here.

The point is that in the early days of serialization — and really up into modern TV — there was not any kind of grand plan in place. Showrunners introduced stuff they thought was cool and kept it if it worked or threw it out when it didn’t. DS9 was pretty revolutionary at the time just for bringing back guest stars and minor characters, so the fact that there was any continuity at all is something to celebrate.

This particular case comes from a throwaway line in the pilot. Bashir says he wasn’t first in his class, because he mistook a pre-ganglionic fiber for a post-ganglionic nerve on the final. This is the kind of thing writers just kind of throw in. We like big words, we want to sound authentic, and we can’t be experts on everything, even if our characters are. Big problem, though, pointed out by Robert Hewitt Wolfe’s wife, who actually does know a thing or two about medicine: that mistake is more or less impossible to make by anyone who knows anything about medicine.

This is the first episode where they attempt to explain it. They explain it again in the fifth season with another stunning revelation, one that makes zero sense in light of this one.

First, I need to explain what’s going on this week. Bashir gets mind-zapped by a nasty looking alien called a Lethean. When Bashir wakes up, he’s in an empty station, and the few people he encounters are all behaving strangely. Meanwhile, he’s aging rapidly and will likely die before long, and if not, the Lethean is hunting him around the station and killing his friends. He eventually works out that the Lethean put him in a coma, and this is a symbolic dream. The station is his mind, his friends are elements of his personality, and the Lethean is the damage the real Lethean caused. It’s a bit of an El Guapo situation, where someone’s personal El Guapo can be illiteracy, but our El Guapo is also the actual El Guapo. Following me so far?

When Bashir confronts the Lethean — who is actually a personification of the damage the real Lethean caused — in a contest of wills, the alien taunts him with the fiber/nerve mistake. He says the mistake was because Bashir couldn’t take the pressure of being valedictorian. While Bashir denies this, and, in fact, does show the alien to be wrong about other things, in this one case, the alien was apparently right as the show understood it. Only two seasons later we learn — the writers decided — that the error was because a genetically enhanced Julian Bashir was trying not to attract attention. Yep. We’ll get there, don’t worry.

The point of all this is that it does undermine the journey into a main character’s head, when the contents of that head change so dramatically later. It rings a little false against the whole sweep of the series. That’s not to say there’s not some good stuff here. When the Lethean accuses Bashir of “not trying hard enough” to seduce Dax, Bashir launches into an inspiring and heartfelt speech about how much he values her friendship and wouldn’t change that for anything. That destroys the last vestige of the awful Dr. Friendzone from the first season, doesn’t it?

Yet there are moments that are legitimately great. They all involve Garak, which should surprise absolutely no one who has read any of the past reviews. The hour opens with Bashir and Garak having lunch, a tradition I’m pleased they kept up on. Garak wishes his friend a happy birthday and gives him a present of a Cardassian Holosuite program. In this case, it’s a Cardassian Enigma Tale, which Bashir, despite loving mysteries, is not a fan of. Why? Because in perfect Cardassian fashion, the suspect is always guilty. Garak points out that the true fun is determining exactly who is guilty of what.

Bashir’s choices for who portrays the different parts of him is also illuminating. His best friend Chief O’Brien is his doubt (“No, I’m not!” Chief grumps.), Dax is his spirit of adventure, Kira his anger, Odo his suspicion, Quark his fear, and Sisko his skill. The challenge comes from Garak. His Cardassian pal shows up as almost a spirit guide, and with Garak’s usual faintly amused attitude toward danger. When Bashir finally challenges him, it turns out that Garak was the Lethean — the psychic damage — in disguise.

In the real world, Garak points this out. Bashir tries to brush it off, telling his friend not to read too much into it. “Oh, how can I not?” Garak says. “To think, after all this time, all our lunches together, you still don’t trust me.” Bashir is about to protest, when Garak smiles and says, “There’s hope for you yet, Doctor.” This is the element of Garak’s character that I think I enjoy the most. Garak understands that he is a dangerous man, and honestly doesn’t want those closest to him to trust him. Garak knows he will betray them, for himself or for Cardassia, without hesitation. He might not want to, but he’d never get in the way of that. So Bashir, as dear a friend as our simple tailor possesses, revealing he doesn’t trust him, well, that’s the finest gift of all.

Next up: Sisko gets a second chance at love.




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