WARNING: The following article contains critical spoiler information regarding DS9's "Life Support". Anyone preferring death to spoilers had better move on.
On the other hand, those who prefer a quick death to any form of quality are advised to watch the episode, as none will be present.
Brief summary: A critically injured Vedek Bareil asks Bashir to use unorthodox methods to keep him alive long enough to complete crucial negotiations.
As my one-line comment above the summary might indicate, I found "Life Support" in grave need of its title. While it's not the worst of the season ("Fascination" holds that honor for now, and hopefully still will by
season's end), it is, alas, the one that has made me question the wisdom of watching the series the most. The level of cynicism and sheer manipulation involved in the creation of this episode is one I find appalling.
I'm referring in particular to the casual discarding of Vedek Bareil, a crucial figure in the continuation of Bajor's struggle for cultural and religious unity. Bareil has been, on some level, an excellent tragic figure when used correctly -- but more importantly, he and Winn were two powerful personalities and two excellent contrasts of "where Bajor might go". Since their first appearance in "In the Hands of the Prophets", they have represented a major struggle that Bajor itself is undergoing, and one that we need to see continue.
So, with all that importance invested in the character, what happens? He's killed out of hand -- and for what reason? Not for a noble sacrifice, despite the episode's claims to the contrary; and not for any major dramatic
No, the main reason, and perhaps the only reason, Bareil was killed off is because he became "inconvenient". The current creative forces running DS9 have decided that, come hell or high water, they will pair off Kira with Odo -- and if Bareil gets in the way, Bareil must be removed. Any other purpose Bareil might have served in the past or might be able to serve in the future is beside the point -- Bareil's only function here was to be baggage in need of jettisoning.
Speaking as diplomatically as possible ... I find that needlessly destructive, and very detrimental to a quality series. If characters change roles, you work with that and make it interesting; you don't kill off characters when
they're inconvenient any more than you kill off your fellow writers when they do the same.
All right. Cynical motives aside, how about the show as a show?
Well, plot-wise, I have to wonder again what the writers were thinking. First of all, the Bajoran-Cardassian treaty makes little sense; the Cardassians have no reason to want a peace treaty with Bajor, and Bajor has no reason whatsoever to believe that the Cardassians would honor the treaty for more than about two seconds if the Federation were to take a hike. However, even taken the existence of the treaty as justified ... this is one of the most significant political developments in DS9's entire existence as a series -- and it's tossed away as a minor subplot in a show about Bareil. We see virtually none of the negotiations happening, get very little sense of just what is and is not at stake here -- and in short, there's no sense of anything pressing here. From what we can tell, Bareil could have been kept by himself long enough to heal, then helped Bajor afterwards.
I won't get into the mechanism used to prolong Bareil's life (at least not here; I may further down when I start discussing characters), but I will say that the transport explosion at the beginning was yet another red herring. Winn suspects sabotage, but only long enough to tell Sisko that this was part of the Cardassian negotiations -- after that, any question of why the accident happened is dropped like a rock. Similarly, Legate Turrel's cryptic insistence on the return of "Cardassian property" was dismissed in an eyeblink -- despite the fact that virtually every person I know who watched the show considered it an attempt to reclaim the station. Anything that wasn't directly related to killing off Bareil appeared to be dropped in this half of the plot, regardless of how much sense that made the final product appear to have.
[One other note: even given the apparent "necessity" of removing Bareil from the picture, it was absolutely unnecessary to kill him. He could have been kept in stasis; he could have simply been altered enough by his positronic brain that he was no longer interested in Kira; he could have gone on a lengthy religious retreat; nearly anything could have been done with him. This particular choice of plot was among the most obvious -- and, to be blunt, the most cowardly.]
Character-wise, the situation is perhaps best summed up by the statement a friend of mine made: "So, Philip Anglim and Louise Fletcher make a return to DS9. Pity they weren't cast as Bareil and Winn." While I don't 100% agree with that statement -- I thought Bareil was at least marginally well characterized -- I am in absolute
agreement that Winn was replaced by a pod person here. Where was the certainty in her own actions? Where were the wheels within wheels within wheels? Where were the occasional lapses in her veneer of consideration? In short, where was everything that has made Winn Winn in the four other episodes where she's been seen? Nowhere, apparently.
Bashir was characterized reasonably well towards the end, when he's feeling guilty about what he did -- but his behavior throughout the show was extremely erratic. Has this man not heard of the Hippocratic oath? Apparently not, as his actions made no mention of concern for the patient's future welfare. (His words did ... but his actions spoke a lot louder.)
As for Bareil himself ... well, Anglim did a good job with what he was given. I did appreciate the few flashes of good humor that appeared in the show and in the character, such as his reference to Kira's "advantage" in playing springball vs. a dead man. Anglim projected Bareil's desperation well, and I admire that -- but it felt like it was in a vacuum, without any sort of justification to make it plausible.
Lastly, at least to any significant degree, we have Kira. While she provided one of the best scenes of the show (the final one), it was again a case of nothing feeling remotely real enough to draw me in. I grieved with Kira at the end -- but because a character was wasted, not because of a noble death. Kira's actions also felt like she'd forgotten how Winn has acted in the past -- she seemed to trust Winn implicitly to look out for Bareil, except perhaps at the very end.
That should about cover the main storyline. Now, on to the "Jake and Nog have an argument" plot.
Frighteningly enough, this one worked a great deal better than the main plot. I say that's frightening because even this one had a few glaring items that made me question why I was watching the show.
In particular, Nog's behavior towards Leanne's friend caused me major problems. I understand the point of "well, we can't judge all cultures by our own values", and that's fine. However, Jake (you now, the "decent" one by our own standards) was put in the position of doing all the adapting, leaving Nog free and clear to exercise his own misogyny. Had Jake told Nog, "Fine, you can treat women however you like in your own culture -- but you don't treat non-Ferengi that way," I'd have had few problems with the plot. However, he didn't -- and an implicit message I got out of it was that treating women as chattel is okay as long as you were brought up to do it. Given the current awareness of domestic violence in the world today, that's an absurd message -- and while I don't think anyone involved with the show believes it, it's a shame that the show could be interpreted that way.
(Beyond that, my main objection to the Jake/Nog plot was that Nog, as is entirely too common, is so amazingly overplayed that he causes me intense pain. I nearly got up and left the room during his and Jake's
date, which is not something I do lightly where Trek is concerned.)
So, a couple of minor points:
-- For one brief instant after the "positronic brain" was implanted, I thought we were going to see a wonderfully ironic result: that the implants had removed any semblance of knowledge or care Bareil had concerning the negotiations. That might have been interesting.
-- Jake putting Odo up to arresting him and Nog was a fairly amusing moment, I must admit, and Nog showing at least the canniness to realize (eventually) that he was being set up was also nice.
That pretty much covers my feelings on the show. "Life Support", while possessing a good moment or two here and there, was quite simply appalling. So, wrapping up:
Writing: Manipulatively done -- there was no reason for this story to exist other than the inconvenience of its major victim ... er, guest star.
Directing: Neutral. I don't recall much jumping out at me, for good or ill.
Acting: Decent from Philip Anglim; no one else could muster up the energy to make it through a fraud. (I'm not sure which I respect more.)
OVERALL: a 3, being generous with the "anger" factor.
However, as I alluded to at the beginning, this show is making me question the value of watching the series further. DS9's "bold new direction!", as heralded to the fans at the start of the season, has apparently taken it straight down a well. Rather than focusing on the things that have made DS9 a success in storytelling, rather than giving us anything remotely intricate, long-term, or fleshed-out, we're seeing the calculated destruction of all the cultural and political issues that were a hallmark of the first two seasons -- and in its place, we're getting "TNG Lite", with the Defiant a poor substitute for the Enterprise and Kira/Odo a poor substitute for even bad TNG romances. Simply put, DS9 is showing all the signs of turning into a show that's rejected everything I like about it -- and if that continues through the remainder of the season, I'm honestly not sure how inclined I'll be to watch it (much less review it) next year.
Kira gets stoned.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"My brain hurts..."
-- the best line NOT used for the episode