WARNING: Even if your name isn't Stanley, I suggest you remain wary of spoilers for DS9's "Doctor Bashir, I Presume".
In brief: The main plot: good but disquieting. The subplot: erase immediately.
Brief summary: When Bashir is chosen as the template for a new line of holographic doctors, a long-kept family secret comes out of hiding.
It's times like this that I really think writing assignments are handed out scene by scene, rather than episode by episode. The alternative is to view a writer (in this case, Ron Moore) as one prone to major shifts in quality, which while entirely plausible is not entirely uplifting.
"Doctor Bashir, I Presume" is a good example of this. On the one hand, much of Bashir's plight was well laid out -- and there were a few truly extraordinary scenes, including the fully 5-minute-long capper to act four between Bashir and O'Brien. Once the main plot really got deep into Bashir's character (which took substantially longer than I'd have liked; more on that later), it was interesting from start to finish and emotionally involving. However, it seems that the same Ron Moore who can give us scenes like that can also give us terriblesitcom-level "romance" scenes which serve to do nothing other than undercut the power of the rest of the show. Watching these two stories unfold concurrently is quite the hair-raising experience.
However, I'm quite glad we got what we did, as the first twenty to thirty minutes of the show left me looking at my watch most of the time. While I certainly don't question the premise of a long-term version of Voyager's "Emergency Medical Holographic Program", I questioned the premise of Bashir being chosen as its template. Why, you ask? How about the last two weeks, for starters? Bashir has just been imprisoned by the Dominion for over a month and replaced by a double -- and although he seems to be fine, there's no telling what's been done to him. More importantly, I imagine public opinion may not be all that in favor of the good doctor at the moment -- and if it is, I think Bashir should be wondering if it's out of sympathy for what he's just endured. Basically, I think such an important choice should just possibly reflect any recent earth-shattering events involving the character ... and they didn't.
On the good side, I was pleased and relieved to see that Robert Picardo's guest turn was actually one of substance. Once the LMH issue was brought up, it stands to reason that Dr. Zimmerman would be the person assigned to bring it up to speed -- and as such, Picardo's appearance had a use. (Compare this with Jonathan
Frakes turning up on Voyager's "Death Wish" long enough to wave at the camera and tape a promo.) I may not have agreed with that use all of the time, but it was a perfectly reasonable one.
The other reason I was so greatly underwhelmed by the first half of "Doctor Bashir, I Presume" is one that should come as no surprise to people who've read my reviews before: the words "Rom" and "Leeta" are integral to it. Rom acting like a lovesick sheepdog is no more interesting than his acting like an annoyed brother with Quark, and I have never liked Leeta in any way, shape, or form. I have nothing against Chase Masterson as an actress (though it's tough to tell whether she's any good, not having seen her in any role beyond this one), but Leeta as a character, particularly this week, is nothing more than a silicone-enhanced bimbo. Even lines like Quark's "now ... take those brains back to the Dabo table where the customers can get a good look at them," which might be funny under some circumstances, become downright offensive when the rest of the episode is devoted to proving Quark's claim that Leeta wasn't hired for brains absolutely right. Appearances by the Clinging Cleavage Costumes of Chaos and gratuitous hi-there-I'm-nude scenes do no better, and all the panting and moping make it very unclear what this episode is trying to accomplish.
That's a distinct pity, because once Bashir's parents arrived on the station the show improved immeasurably. Virtually from the moment I saw them, particularly Richard Bashir (Julian's charming but good-for-nothing father), I began to have a sense of why Julian felt so driven, and why he chose to stay so far away from home so often. Richard Bashir, who in his son's words "always [has] good prospects... just over that horizon" is someone who shows up in nearly everyone's family -- charming enough that you don't always notice when meanings get twisted, and pleasant enough company that you forget past associations that have gotten you into trouble. Richard Bashir strikes me as just the sort of father who could easily give any child a lot of motivation, albeit in unintended ways. I liked him, both in conception and in execution (thanks in no small part to Brian George, who played him quite well), and his interactions with Julian alone were worth the hour. (Bashir's mother Amsha was also up to the task, but she was simply a less compelling character owing to the nature of the family.)
Even that paled, however, once the "dark secret" of the Bashirs' past was revealed. I don't like all the implications of it, but hearing Richard Bashir vow that he would not "mention, or even hint at the fact that you were genetically enhanced as a child" made my eyebrows shoot up so fast they nearly came off my head. Bashir's riveting scene with O'Brien shortly thereafter only kept those eyebrows there, making me lean in from my seat to catch every word in the bargain.
I have a feeling that the events and emotions here may strike a chord in a lot of people (parents and teachers especially, though for different reasons). In the world of perfect people that is the Federation, being slow to develop must feel like a truly damning fault -- and given the number of hard-driving parents I've seen as a teacher who probably would take their son or daughter in for genetic engineering if they thought it'd give their kids a competitive edge, seeing the Bashirs go that route with young "Jules" felt entirely understandable. It also put Bashir in an incredible bind -- it's got to be a hard life when you're left wondering if every success you've ever had is one you've earned honestly. The further emotional arc, with Julian upbraiding his father for ducking responsibility for every failure he's ever had, rang very true -- almost a little too true for comfort, as I've had or envisioned conversations like that within my own family on more occasions than I'd like to admit. As a result, on an emotional level just about everything involving Bashir's parents worked wonders.
Intellectually, I had a bit more difficulty -- and the more I think about it, the more disquieting I find the idea of Bashir having been "enhanced", at least to the level that the final scene suggests. Part of my concern relates to the past -- although I don't know that this revelation actively contradicts anything we've known about Bashir up to this point, there are certainly reasons for skepticism. For one, Bashir also had a strong interest at some point in being a tennis pro -- and from what I can recall, gave it up because he wasn't good enough at it. With the sort of hand-eye coordination we saw in the darts game, that strikes me as very unlikely. That's the only thing that immediately jumps out at me, but it just seems that if Bashir had all of these "abilities far beyond those of mortal men", we'd have had to see some sign of it in the past four and a half years.
Of greater concern, though, is the future. Bashir has now been publicly revealed as "different" to his close friends and colleagues, and appears to be nearly superhuman on at least one level (that silly darts game again). That should have a substantial impact on how others relate to him -- even if Starfleet personnel are too perfect to feel that way (which I disagree with in the first place), we've got all sorts of non-Starfleet people around who should feel differently. This, on the heels of the utter lack of reaction to Bashir having been replaced for a month, really makes me feel as though character traits are transitory things. I hope I'm wrong.
On a more prosaic level, I also think there was another dramatic mistake made with the ending. This issue arose because Bashir had been chosen to be the template for the LMH. Whatever became of it? Me, I imagine that the outcome of this whole "issue" is that Bashir will be quietly shelved as a candidate -- but we never find out. It's not that we're told "well, this has thrown everything into an uproar, so we'll let you know" -- it's that the issue was just plain forgotten, so that we have no way of knowing what happened. That's just poor
Basically, I think there's a really good story inside "Doctor" Bashir, I Presume" struggling to reveal itself, but it's hidden by a few things. One of them's pacing: the first half of the show were mostly fly-by-night ideas stalling until we got to the show's main point. Had we gotten Bashir's parents on board in the first act, or better yet the
teaser, we'd have had a lot more time to deal with everyone's reaction to Bashir's news, rather than living through lots of drawn-out Rom/Leeta scenes and a slow-moving Bashir story. The other main one is the implication drawn by the final scene: until then, it was possible that the "enhancements" done to Bashir were only bringing him up to speed instead of making him a demigod, and the former would have been both a more interesting way to frame the ethical debate and a way to avoid requiring huge reactions from everyone else. As it is, the secret is too big; I'm afraid it's not going to be dealt with properly. Time will tell, I suppose.
Despite all of that, once the episode gets down to brass tacks it really does carry a fairly solid emotional punch in places, and I appreciate that a lot. So, a few short takes:
-- From the "gee, where'd I put that calendar?" file: I rather liked Admiral Bennett's point that the reason the proscription against genetic engineering exists dates back to Khan Noonian Singh's depredations, but he said it was 200 years ago. Doubling that would be an awful lot closer, m'boy; back to history class. (Hell, the Federation itself is more than 200 years old at this point...)
-- Given that the station was the focal point of a near-war last week and should have a permanent Klingon military presence on board now, it seemed strangely similar to the way it's always looked. (Okay, there was one Klingon in Quark's; yay.)
-- I liked the look of sheer glee on O'Brien's face when he was making the holo-Bashir walk into walls. Bad Miles; bad, bad Miles. :-)
-- Okay, maybe I just have a warped mind, but when Zimmerman said "it's not very big" right after Leeta ran naked back to get dressed, my first thought was not of the Jupiter Station cafe...
-- So, Richard Bashir's winding up in a prison in New Zealand. I wonder if it's the same place Tom Paris came from.
-- Okay, who was the wise guy who decided that the perfect director for a show entitled "Doctor Bashir, I Presume" should be named David Livingston? I mean, really...
That should do it. So, wrapping up:
Writing: A true gem in places, but hiding buried in a lot of iffy material.
Directing: Some cute work in several spots, the "double-double" scene for one.
Acting: One of Siddig's best pieces in quite some time, and most everyone else was fine as well.
OVERALL: A 6.5, I think -- disappointing in a lot of areas, but with enough of an emotional wallop to overcome much of it.
NEXT WEEK: Reruns for a while, beginning with "...Nor the Battle to the Strong" -- a good one to catch. See you in a few weeks.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"You used to be my father. Now, you're my architect: the man who designed a better son, to replace the defective one he was given."
-- Julian Bashir