WARNING: It was the dawn of the Third Age of ... oh, wait, wrong "Chrysalis"." Sorry about that. Spoilers for DS9's latest below:
In brief: A bit uncomfortable in spots, but a powerful hour nonetheless.
Brief summary: Bashir volunteers to help a genetically enhanced woman return to health, but finds himself deeply attracted to her in the bargain.
I'm finding myself a bit torn this week. I spent a lot of time at the end of last season bemoaning the fact that a lot of shows were focusing on one character rather than being true ensemble pieces, and also that if you're in the middle of a big epic such as the current Dominion saga, it's extremely difficult to take interludes such as we got all too often last year. At last count, all three of the most recent DS9 episodes have been interludes, and two out of those three focused very heavily on one person: Ezri, in the case of "Afterimage", and now Bashir in "Chrysalis." So, by that logic I should be a bit annoyed with DS9 right about now.
And yet ... I'm not. One of the other points I made last year is that the interludes weren't just interludes, but unpalatable ones. That much, at least, is something that seems to have been corrected up to this point in the season; "Afterimage" worked well in its own quiet way, "Take Me Out to the Holosuite" was good fun, and now there's "Chrysalis." One of the best words to describe "Chrysalis" is 'unsettling,' and I'm not entirely certain that the feeling was completely intended -- but nonetheless, my overall sense of the episode was definitely a good one.
For starters, this episode brought back the "JackPack" (as I've heard it called) in a way I wasn't expecting. Given the situation at the end of "Statistical Probabilities" last year, I was anticipating that we'd see Jack and company return with a way to beat the Dominion; while I thought that might be interesting, I also wasn't sure it'd be realistic. Instead, Rene Echevarria turned the tables a bit -- as he did last year, he decided to focus the episode specifically on Bashir, though it took a little time to do so.
The preliminaries leading up to Sarina's cure were all well and good, but basically marking time until she actually started talking. I do think that Jack and associates making it to DS9 by pretending to be Starfleet is a bit of a stretch (among other things, you'd think that someone from the Institute would have sent their descriptions ahead!), but the idea of Patrick being able to silence objections with an imperious "That's a stupid question" definitely has a certain appeal. (Wonder if it'd work for me when I'm stuck in a meeting I don't want. Nah, probably not.) The "mutants help Bashir break -- er, bend -- the laws of physics" bit didn't do much for me, however; it was telegraphed way too obviously, and I'm not at all sure I buy that increased intelligence also means increased engineering skill. (This isn't to say one can't be good at both; it's just far less than a given.)
I also thought that the mutants were played and discussed a little bit differently this time, which while interesting struck me as a tad inconsistent. In particular, they seemed substantially more understated -- and while that has its merits (among them the fact that I liked Michael Keenan's performance much better this time around), it also lessens the chance that we would really see them as unable to fit in with normal society. When Sarina said that the others couldn't make it in society, that they'd "get into too much trouble," my first reaction was a bit of doubt. Okay, Jack and Patrick might have some problems, but I'm not sure those problems would be insurmountable -- and as for Lauren, this time she didn't seem particularly unstable at all. Her vampish tendencies were certainly still in place, but so are Lwaxana Troi's, and she seems to do all right for herself (despite the fervent hopes of a lot of Trek fans :-) ). Some humanizing of the JackPack was necessary to see them as caring much for Sarina at all, but I think it also blunted the impact.
(Along the same lines, I think Sarina's situation was tweaked a bit from where it was last year. She seemed far more consciously aware of what was going on last year than Bashir's diagnosis would seem to suggest.)
All that, however, was basically prologue to the moment where Sarina appears on the Promenade looking at "every ... thing." I said last year that I liked Faith C. Salie's performance as Sarina (although I initially misidentified her, to my lasting regret), and "Chrysalis" certainly confirmed for me that she's one to watch. Her speech did seem to progress a little inconsistently at first, but that may well be normal for one who's initially learning or relearning how to speak. Sarina was a fascinating character when isolated and haunted back in "Statistical Probabilities," and this time she had the ability to light up a room when the situation warranted it. One of the most heartwarming scenes I've seen on Trek in a long time came here, when Sarina was reunited with Jack and the others and takes part in a quick musical improvisation. As interesting as it was musically (and may I say that all four of them had strikingly good singing voices, particularly Salie and Tim Ransom), it was the glow in Sarina's eyes that made the difference between this two-minute musical interlude and any of the ones we've seen from Vic Fontaine.
It's also around here, however, that we get to the heart of the episode: Bashir's attempted romance with Sarina. I found this material very compelling, but also more than a little disturbing. It was compelling because Siddig and Salie made it so, and also because it made a lot of sense: given how much of his life Bashir's spent hiding his true self, it makes sense that he'd be very much attracted to someone who had the same gifts he does -- and frankly, there was something about the way Sarina looked at the world which I think an awful lot of people would find appealing. On that level, then, I could understand and sympathize with Bashir's plight, and I certainly felt for him in many ways when it didn't work.
On the other hand, I'm not sure a quick "you didn't want to be lonely any more; nobody does" from O'Brien excuses some of Bashir's behavior. Even ignoring the fact that this is the second time he's fallen for one of his patients (much as we'd all like to forget "Melora"), Sarina had only just been awakened to the world: she was in her own way every bit as childlike as Patrick. Viewed that way, Bashir was being more than a little manipulative -- unconsciously, I'll admit, but in his way he acted with as little regard for Sarina's feelings as Jack often did, albeit with different results. I'd like to have seen a little more overt recognition of that in the episode; while it was certainly hinted at in spots, such as O'Brien pointing out that Sarina was Bashir's patient and the heavy implication that Sarina was going along with Bashir out of a sense that she owed him her life, I'm not sure it was made clear just how out of bounds that relationship really should have been. (Bashir's guilt at nearly driving Sarina back into her shell definitely helped, though.)
The episode dodged a different bullet near the end. When Sarina appeared to be reverting back to her old self, I started worrying that we were going to get a Flowers for Algernon treatment here, and that she'd come to a tragic end while Bashir could do nothing about it. I was glad to see I was wrong.
Other quick thoughts:
-- I'm not entirely sure why the entire JackPack was along. While I certainly appreciated seeing them again, apart from Sarina the group wasn't really put to all that much use, and given how little time is left for DS9 as a series I'm not sure the "we brought them back because we felt like it" is a good enough reason.
-- "The fact is that the universe is going to stop expanding, and it is going to collapse in on itself. We've got to do something before it's too late." I'll say this for Jack -- he doesn't think small. :-) (Actually, I was really entertained by that little subplot.)
-- Sisko seemed entirely too mellow in allowing the JackPack to stick around, given that they almost betrayed the Federation war effort a year ago.
-- Sarina was probably speaking for the writers when she classified all of Bashir's friends, but she did a good job of it, particularly in describing those aspects of the Kira/Odo romance that work best.
-- "We're genetically engineered; we do everything fast." Given the subject matter at the time, I'm not going near that one...
Overall, then, "Chrysalis" is definitely worth watching -- I'm not quite sure how I'm going to feel about it as it fits into the whole season, and aspects of it still definitely leave me uncomfortable, but overall I'm quite satisfied. (Among other things, if it were awful I probably wouldn't care enough to be uncomfortable.) So, wrapping up:
Writing: I wish Bashir's relationship had been a little more condemned, but that doesn't change the fact that it felt real and felt powerful.
Directing: No complaints -- and that musical interlude was breathtaking.
Acting: Very few false notes.
OVERALL: Hmm. Let's go with a 7.5 for now.
Will the real Weyoun please stand up?
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"It felt so comfortable around them. I didn't have to worry that someone was going to throw a tantrum or break into tears or something."
"They only usually do that at staff meetings."
-- Sarina and Bashir, on Bashir's friends