WARNING: Quick! Turn away unless you want to fall victim to spoilers for DS9's "The Quickening"!
In brief: Decent. Not the most interesting plague story I've ever seen, but decent -- and with a good ending.
Brief summary: Bashir and Dax answer a distress call only to find a world ravaged by a Dominion-given "blight" -- one which Bashir attempts to cure.
It's tough to write a plague story these days, I've got to say. Virtually every series where it would be possible to do one has done it at least once (from all the Treks to "Babylon 5" to "ER", and I've no doubt that "Friends" will do it eventually, leading every other show on television to do it after that :-) ); that, along with all the real plagues that have been hitting headlines over the last few years, means that it's getting harder to do one that doesn't feel like a rehash. I'm not sure "The Quickening" quite managed that, but it came close -- and faced
with what I viewed as a choice between two endings, it managed to come up with a third that seemed to satisfy somewhat. That's not such a bad thing, really.
I'll admit to being quite worried about the show until midway through act two, however. In rapid succession, we had: the token Odo/Quark/Worf/O'Brien scene with Quark being punished for doing something venal and stupid -- yay; Bashir acting totally giddy and annoying -- joy; the initial scene with Trevean, which made me fear that we were going to be in for yet another Trek episode dealing with euthanasia and the right to die; and Bashir acting totally arrogant as if he expects to solve a 200-year-old medical problem in a week. I hoped that the last was setting him up for a fall (which it was, fortunately), but those four items put together really made me wonder if this was going to be one of DS9's rare total duds this season.
Fortunately, it wasn't. Trevean's presence did not indicate yet another right-to-die debate, I'm glad to say -- Bashir and Dax certainly weren't thrilled with him, but neither did they stand in his way of doing what this culture had come to find acceptable and worthy. The first two scenes were aberrations, and Bashir's initial arrogance was setting him up for a fall (the details of which I question a bit, but that's a different story).
There were only a couple of substantial problems I had with "The Quickening" once it got through its first 10-15 minutes. One was perhaps to be expected in a Trek medical drama: the biology was absurd. The blight itself seemed fine, but the "EM fields are causing the virus to mutate at a very fast rate" was just goofy (even if the
current speculation that EM fields from power lines are dangerous is true, which I'm not certain I believe). The actual mechanics of Bashir's "vaccine" also felt questionable to me -- given that the kids are born with the blight, they're presumably infected very quickly after conception, so giving this elixir to a seven-month-pregnant
woman shouldn't do a thing to help prevent the kid's infection. They didn't hurt all that much, mostly because Trek medicine is so magical anyway (and partly because things like VOY's "Threshold" and TNG's "Genesis" have raised the bar so far that run-of-the-mill biology problems barely cause me a twitch these days) -- but they did hurt.
(By the way, the "EM fields" thing also just struck me as a pointless thing to do. Bashir should beat himself over the head enough simply for failing -- to say that his technology went even further and caused harm is to add insult to injury. About the only useful thing it did was to cause everyone to have serious pain at the same time, and there was no need for that; Trevean's mere presence at the death of one of the people in the room might have caused the others to ask for him.)
The other problem I had with "The Quickening" was mostly that it felt a bit flat. The story felt generally solid, but lines like "It's more than that -- we've come to worship death" rang out about as dully as a laundry list. I'm not sure whether that's the fault of the dialogue or of the actress (in this case I'm inclined to blame the latter, as Ekoria never quite grabbed me), but much of the show felt a little slow and flat. (Things like Dax's "translating" for Bashir's medical jargon didn't particularly help, as Bashir rarely seems that bad.)
That was outweighed, though, by much of what we did get from "The Quickening". In particular, the scene between Bashir and Dax after Bashir's patients have died was absolute bliss. What worked best was that Bashir's "doctor as god" belief really hadn't changed: as Dax pointed out, his change from "oh, I can cure this in a week" to "I couldn't cure it in a week, thus there is no cure" isn't really a humbling at all. It was only after she pointed that out that Bashir really realized where he'd been prideful, and that realization just came off beautifully. (His self-lashing "I was looking forward to tomorrow" also came off well.)
As for the ending ... well, I've already said that the biological aspects of it were silly, but from an emotional standpoint it worked. The two obvious ways for the show to go were for Bashir to totally succeed, or for Bashir to totally fail. The former would have set off my "Trek can do anything" alarms something fierce, and the latter didn't really have any oomph to it, so I didn't expect it. (Given the way the blight operated, it wasn't killing off the entire race at once, so an ending where everyone dies wasn't possible unless Bashir really screwed up -- and I didn't really think that would happen.) What was done -- Bashir finding a "delayed cure" of sorts -- still feels like a little bit of a stretch, but feels much better to me: given the lack of regard for life the Dominion seems to have, they may not have considered the possibility of a cure such as this one, and Bashir did still get
emotionally hurt over this. I think this ending is about the best one that Naren Shankar could have been reasonably expected to use ... and that certainly works for me.
That's actually about it. "The Quickening" generally worked, but it was a simple enough story that there's not that much else to say about it. So, a few shorter points:
-- I wasn't enchanted with the "token Quark" scene, but I did like the "free refills" mug complete with jingle that Worf ended up with. :-)
-- I also liked Bashir's teddy-bear story, though I kept waiting for him to admit that he actually still sleeps with it at night. (What? You think he doesn't?)
And, a wrap-up:
Writing: Not always riveting, but scientific plausibility aside it hung together fairly well.
Directing: Flat in spots (though that may have been the actors); nice work with lighting ideas.
Acting: I'm not sure that Ellen Wheeler (Ekoria) really worked for me; the rest did, Alexander Siddig and Michael Sarrazin (Trevean) in particular.
OVERALL: 7. Not stellar, but certainly not bad.
NEXT WEEK: I get a vacation. :-) So does Quark -- unfortunately, it's about 400 years earlier than he planned. "Little Green Men" reruns. [By the way, my review of "Body Parts" will be almost a week
late, as I'll be out of town.]
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"And I was so arrogant I thought I could find one in a week."
"Maybe it was arrogant to think that -- but it's even more arrogant to
think there is no cure just because you couldn't find it."
-- Bashir and Dax