WARNING: This article contains spoilers for "Babel", this week's DS9 episode. Those wishing to comprehend the episode unencumbered by advance foreknowledge should avoid this message.
"Johnny's cold is getting worse, he's got a fever, and he wouldn't *touch* his dinosaur this afternoon..."
The above line's from the New Twilight Zone story, "Wordplay", in which a man slowly finds the world around him making less and less sense, with new words being replaced by ones that, though familiar, make no sense in that context. ("Dinosaur" above, for example, is supposed to be "lunch" -- but by this time, "lunch" is apparently a word meaning a lightish red color.) It bears an interesting similarity to the *premise* of "Babel", but since it was a Twilight Zone story, no explanation was suggested or required.
(I recommend "Wordplay", by the way. Good stuff.)
Anyway, onwards to "Babel", which is nothing else was a hell of a step up from "A Man Alone". Here we once again saw a fair amount of Odo (among other people), but this time it worked. More on him and other character bits later. (This may be an even more disjointed review than usual, incidentally, given that I *also* am writing one for "Ship in a Bottle" today. Yeep.)
Plot points first. Aside from a few points which mostly concern the ending, I very much liked both the idea of the aphasia virus and the way it was handled. The rationale for its existence made sense (although if you're a terrorist trying to wipe out your oppressors, this virus seems a bit _slow_ for your task), and the method of its spreading was nicely done.
I do have two problems with the resolution, however. The first is that the "cure" for the virus seemed way too magical. Given the explanation given for the virus's methods (scrambling synaptic connections, if memory serves), then an antidote could well prevent further scrambling -- but once the connections are gone, I see *no* way to simply reestablish them without relearning everything. Now, the latter is very possible in DS9's era -- hell, we saw a version of it back in TOS with "The Changeling" and Uhura -- but it's implied that everybody gets the antidote and poof! is back to normal. It's something of a minor point, given that at least the explanation of the virus *itself* made sense (and it's not like Trek in all its forms hasn't had scientific cock-ups that are orders of magnitude worse), but it's there.
A second objection is more character-based. While the final scene with O'Brien healed and back at work lent a certain "closing of the circle" sense to the show, and was clearly meant to show "look, O'Brien was worst off and *he's* back", I would very much have preferred to see, for instance, some post-virus interaction between Sisko and Jake. As it is, Jake was only a plot point strengthening Sisko's resolve rather than a character, and that's a little annoying. Again, that's not a huge point, but it's there.
Something which I do *not* consider a problem is the ease with which Kira managed to abduct Surmak Ren from Bajor. Others have voiced that complaint to me, but given that Bajor has been a *conquered world* for half a century, I think it makes sense that they may not be that good at their own defenses yet, particularly against Fed transporters. Now, if this had happened on Romulus or Earth or Cardassia, then yes, it'd be a problem -- but not here.
Onwards to characterization:
One of the difficulties about a story such as this is that it's probably rather difficult for the *actors* to play their characters straight while spouting deliberate gibberish. Somehow, they all managed it. (Of course, in some cases like O'Brien and Bashir, they spout a lot of technobabble *anyway*, so it's not much of a leap. :-) ) The reactions in the very preliminary stages of O'Brien's infection seemed perfectly on track, being a mixture of slight concern and slight amusement on everyone else's part, and strong concern on O'Brien's part. In contrast, the reactions everyone had once the virus became a known and serious problem were far more despairing, and again made sense. (For my part, while I anticipated characters succumbing at the start of the scenes where they did so, both actors and director did a good enough job that my reaction was not so much "here we go again" as "UH-oh......", particularly in Bashir's case.
As is becoming commonplace on DS9, some of the strongest elements of "Babel" involved Odo, Quark, or both. Making Quark unintentionally responsible for the initial spread of the virus was, perhaps, expected, but it was also logical -- and there could be FAR worse choices. (Picture, if you will, Jake and Nog somehow being responsible for it.) Having Odo and Quark be the two characters immune was expected owing to their physiologies, but led to some excellent work on both characters' parts, particularly Odo.
Quark's segments contained most of the humor of the show, and it's nice to see the humor flowing *from* the characters rather than *at* the characters. (It's particularly nice given that Ira Steven Behr, who has co-story credit here, was also responsible for "Qpid", which in my opinion is one of the *worst* examples of a show laughing at its characters.) For example, Quark's sequence in the "hospital" is something that might well have been insulting if written or performed slightly differently, but that flowed well here. ("Nobody would be that devious [to fake aphasia to avoid paying Quark], Quark." "I would.")
As an aside, the Odo/Quark scene when Quark is caught also led to one of the funniest lines I've seen in a while, and I'm not sure why it caught me so well. As a reminder:
"You said to me that Rom had fixed your replicators."
"Rom's an *idiot*. He couldn't fix a straw if it were bent."
I don't know why that hit me so well, but it certainly did. :-)
Odo, while having some good grimly comic lines of his own (see above), also had the most definition added to him by the show. The possibility of Odo-as-plot-device in the ending was all too real: picture, for example, Odo having to shapeshift to save the station from Jaheel's ship. (Gee, wouldn't *that* have been a lucky break?) Instead, what we got was more of a demonstration of Odo's insecurity when out of his element. We saw it with Bashir in "Emissary", when Odo was uncomfortable helping the wounded, and we saw it even more here, when Odo the Unflappable became downright *panicky* in the final seconds of his task, and almost paralyzed with shock just after their narrow escape. That sequence was well scripted, acted, and directed; kudos all around.
In other, lesser concerns:
-- The "poor, overworked O'Brien" scene in the teaser went on a bit too long, in my view, but is at least starting to flesh out O'Brien a bit more. It does make me wonder where his *staff* is, though. Even Bashir's got a nurse, after all.
-- Bashir is starting to come into his own. He was very little the naive (and slightly annoying) wunderkind here, and very much a concerned doctor desperately unable to help his patients. My only regret here is that Bashir's succumbing to the virus suggested for an instant that the virus had spread to the computer -- and once suggested, it would have been great to allow that illusion to play itself out for a little longer.
-- Dax was barely used, and thus not worth much comment. As for Kira ... well, again I'm not entirely sure. Her stridency again seemed just *slightly* off key in her shuttle scenes -- everything felt right but sounded a little wrong. (Her "and now you're infected, too" was the biggest example of that; something about it just registered wrong with me.) Since I saw Odo, Quark, and Bashir as the focuses, here that was no more than a side issue, but even so it's a little worrying. Kira has the potential to be a great character, but I think Nana Visitor has to fine-tune the edge she's giving Kira first.
-- A hearty "welcome back!" to Sally Caves, who had co-story credit here. As you may recall, she wrote "Hollow Pursuits", the TNG episode premiering everyone's favorite neurotic, Lt. Reg Barclay. It was a very pleasant surprise to see her name appearing here; I don't know whether her long absence or her return from it surprises me more.
-- Although the concept of the virus was terrific, the very idea of so much nonsense being spoken opened itself up to lots of jokes. Several "Bloom County" strips came to mind while I was watching, as did at least two separate "Monty Python's Flying Circus" episodes. See my .sig for one particular instance. :-)
That's about it, I think. "Babel" was a very strong offering from DS9, and I recommend it. So, the numbers:
Plot: 8. Fix the resolution and this is great.
Plot Handling: 10. Even the scenes I didn't care for seemed very vibrant and alive. *Great* direction.
Characterization: 9. Kira was a bit off, but everything else was quite solid.
TOTAL: 9, up to a 9.5 because I *hadn't* called Odo's shapeshifting in advance this time. :-) Nice job.
O'Brien gets caught up in an alien game. I haven't been able to properly judge a DS9 show from its preview yet, so I'm not even going to try.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"My Hovercraft is full of eels."
--"Monty Python's Flying Circus"--
Copyright 1993, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...