WARNING: The following article contains DS9 spoilers; I recommend that you avoid them without resorting to "Extreme Measures."
In brief: Ill-thought-out and clunky as all hell. A major stumble.
Brief summary: Bashir and O'Brien try to lure a Section 31 operative to the station in order to find a cure for Odo.
The opening of DS9's sixth season had the Cardassian/Dominion alliance occupying the station and Starfleet waging a desperately defensive war. A great deal of that arc worked very well, but about halfway into it we got a show entitled "Sons and Daughters" which felt jarringly out of place. The authors? Bradley Thompson and David Weddle, who up until that point had written material which rose well above its premise, like "The Assignment" and "Business as Usual."
Now, with only a few hours of DS9 left before the series closes its doors forever, we're seeing history repeat itself. While the ideas behind "Extreme Measures" fit into this arc better than "Sons and Daughters" shoehorned itself into the Occupation Arc, if anything it's got even more questionable logic and plain old Stupid-Villain Plotting undercutting it. Other shows in this final set of episodes have had questionable moments, but this is the first show which came off as almost entirely disappointing.
Unlike its recent predecessors, "Extreme Measures" limits itself to just one story: Bashir's search for a cure to Odo's disease. When we last left our intrepid doctor, he and O'Brien had planned to send a false message to Starfleet Medical claiming that he'd found a cure for Odo's condition. They hoped that it would lure someone from Section 31 to the station whom they could then capture and force the cure out of.
Now, to the show's credit, Bashir acknowledges openly that this is a very long shot. I'm not all that concerned about them coming up with the plan: if they're desperate, they're desperate, and frankly this is the sort of elaborate scheme I could see the secret-crazy Bashir working to implement. I even understand why Section 31 might decide they have to investigate even knowing the long odds: when you're as paranoid an organization as they seem to be, all leads like that need to be followed up. What I absolutely do not understand is why Section 31 would do what they did this episode, namely send Sloan along to investigate.
Problem one: Why send someone affiliated closely with 31 at all? Hire an anonymous thug (Nausicaans, maybe) to kill Bashir and completely trash his lab. Effective and untraceable.
Problem two: Okay, you've decided you need to send an actual operative of 31. Why do anything about the cure at all? Send someone into the infirmary late at night, and have them kill Odo. No muss, no fuss -- and no more motivation to find a cure.
Problem three: Okay, fine, you need to deal with the cure itself. Why send someone who knows anything about the cure? Bashir's reasoning (that they'd need to know what they were looking for) seems pretty specious to me: as Sloan pointed out, you could just destroy the lab. Even if not, you send an expert in covert operations in, kidnap Bashir off the station, and work him until he breaks. How tough could it be?
Problem four: Okay, fine -- for whatever reason, you need to send someone who knows about the cure. Why send someone Bashir would recognize? Maybe other operatives would be just as recognizable in the black leather, but they've got to have a change of outfit...
Problem five: So Sloan has to go. Fine, whatever. Why on Earth would you send him to Bashir's quarters where Bashir might have something planned? Sloan's already proven he can abduct Bashir easily; do it and be done.
My overall conclusion here is that Bashir won not because he and O'Brien were particularly smart, but because Section 31 is populated entirely by tactical morons. No wonder the Federation's had so many problems with this war. (Another possibility, of course, is that Sloan's superiors in 31 don't particularly like him and wanted him captured -- but if that's the case, the cure should have been a fake.) I'm not overly fond of stupid-villain plots, especially when the villain has been proven to be pretty adept at manipulating people in the past. It'd be like Garak accidentally leaving a business card at the site of an assassination: it just doesn't work.
In any event, Bashir manages to capture Sloan with surprising ease, and then plans to use Romulan mind probes (the same ones used on him while on Romulus, in a bit of irony that doesn't go unnoticed) in order to extract the cure. Sloan then does something sensible, and triggers a mental implant, killing himself.
Naturally, however, we still need a cure -- so after about three scenes hip-deep in technobabble (specifically, a "multitronic engrammatic interpreter"), Bashir and O'Brien are headed into Sloan's mind themselves, where what's left of his memories will be presented in some form vaguely comprehensible to the pair of them. They hope they can find the cure and get out before Sloan undergoes complete brain-death, which would take them right along with him.
What follows is one of the "surreal trip through a character's mind" we've had on more than one occasion in modern Trek, though the only one I can think of on DS9 is season 3's "Distant Voices." Alas, this particular trek through a mental landscape falls pretty seriously flat: the scenes aren't symbolic enough to tell the viewer much, and they aren't surreal enough to be fun from a sit-back-and-enjoy-the-ride standpoint.
What they are, in many places, is somewhat annoyingly padded. It's possible that it just feels padded to me next to the last several shows, all of which were very densely plotted, but I don't think that's it. Consider that we get several vignettes of Bashir's thingamajig being built followed by a detailed explanation, when the explanation would have done just fine. Consider that we get a truly bizarre scene in a turbolift where they take a good minute to decide whether to let go of a railing or not. Consider that Bashir and O'Brien find a Good Sloan, who makes a detailed speech to his family and friends about how he's neglected them over the years and is then killed by the Bad Sloan, which resets our heroes back to square one. So far as I can tell, none of those scenes was particularly necessary -- while Sloan's an interesting character, hearing an internalized version of him mope about the choices he's made isn't doing the viewer any favors.
Partway through the story, we also get another odd turn of events. Bashir and O'Brien have been "shot" inside Sloan's mind, and are sitting on the floor gasping in pain. Convinced that death is imminent, O'Brien grouses how Keiko will feel about it, and before long Bashir starts talking about how O'Brien loves Keiko, but "likes" Bashir better than he does Keiko. Pardon me? The conversation was awkward enough to begin with; given the circumstances, it's just utterly weird. I don't know if this was supposed to get at how "male bonding" is different from romance, or whether it's supposed to hint at intimate feelings between Miles and Julian -- but either way, all it did was grind an already-turgid show further to a halt.
After that, there's one of the typical "trip inside someone's mind" twists: O'Brien and Bashir think they're out and all is lost, but Bashir eventually realizes that they're still inside Sloan's mind after all, and Sloan has simply been using their memories against them. Been there, done that: TNG's "Frame of Mind" did it very well, VOY's
"Projections" used almost exactly the same scene a few years later, TNG's "Eye of the Beholder" had a similar technique, "First Contact" did it in the first ten minutes of the film ... and so on. At this point, it's almost expected, and as such came as little surprise.
The last confrontation between Bashir and Sloan works out much better, and manages to salvage some of the story. Bashir and O'Brien have made it to the "headquarters" of Section 31 in Sloan's head, and are looking around for the tell-tale PADD with a cure for Odo on it. O'Brien finds it, but Bashir is enthralled by all the other secrets surrounding him. He finds details of a one-time mole in former President Jaresh-Inyo's Cabinet, details of current operations on Q'onos ... and enough information to let him take Section 31 down for good, or at least to give it a good run. Sloan encourages him to linger and use it, and Bashir is tempted -- but O'Brien brings him up short, pointing out that Sloan is trying to keep Bashir there until they both die. Odo has to be their current priority. With that conviction renewed, Bashir and O'Brien safely exit Sloan's mind just seconds before it's too late.
A few elements of the scene were a little obvious, but this is one of the few scenes that really does click on both a plot and a character level. Bashir is someone obsessed by secrecy, and Sloan knows it. As Bashir points out later, Sloan's last-ditch effort to save his secrets used the perfect lure, and it was only O'Brien's presence that saved the day. That much I like, and I wish the rest of the episode could have paved the way for it better.
-- I should mention that the opening scene with Odo and Bashir, and especially Odo and Kira, were marvelous. Although the tragic farewell is now likely for nothing (with Odo cured and all), both Auberjonois and Visitor got absolutely everything they could out of that scene, and it's quite affecting.
-- Now that Sisko also knows what Bashir and O'Brien were up to, the continued avoidance of mentioning Admiral Ross has moved from annoying to downright offensive. Bashir knows the man worked with Sloan, at least temporarily: by now, we should either have had an acknowledgment that Sisko knows about it or a realization by Bashir that he needs to keep Sisko's information away from Ross. Enough already.
-- I did like Bashir's methodical ruthlessness in phasering Sloan once the trap was set.
-- If you want a good non-Trek example of a "you think you're out but you're not" scene, find or rent a copy of "An American Werewolf in London." I won't go into more details than that.
-- A recent MSTing. Sloan's wife: "That was beautiful, Luther." <they kiss> Lisa: "Who's that?" Me: "Oh, his daughter."
-- Miles: "I think we've stopped." Boy, ain't that the truth...
That pretty much covers things. After several straight weeks of episodes ranging from good to great, I suppose we were due for a clunker, but I was hoping for much, much better than I got here. If this is the grand purpose Section 31 was set up for, I'd just as soon have skipped the whole thing, despite some of William Sadler's nice work. Hopefully this is the last such clunker in DS9 history.
Writing: Extremely questionable logic, and I don't know what the "character bonding" scene was supposed to do. The only really good bits were Kira/Odo at the start and Bashir's final temptation.
Directing: Not nearly surreal enough to fit the premise, I'm afraid.
Acting: Auberjonois and Visitor were the highlights; unfortunately, they were gone five minutes into the episode.
OVERALL: 4. Not impressive.
The Cardassian rebellion takes a nasty turn.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"You came here because you thought I'd discovered a cure, and you wanted to destroy it. But first, you'd have to find it in my lab -- and in order to do that, you'd have to know exactly what you were looking for."
"You call that reasoning?"
-- Bashir and a dead-on Sloan