The title makes it plain who’s in the middle of this latest episode, and I’m old enough to spot the reference, but whilst ‘Our Man Bashir’ had the potential to be a good, fun, lightweight entertainment, I think the show made a serious error in not embracing the essential goofiness of the concept as fully as they should, by undercutting it with a supposed psychological depth that the story didn’t need. Sometimes, you need to have the confidence to just sail out there and enjoy things on a purely superficial level.
The set-up was that Julian Bashir has recently taken possession of a holosuite programme that he’s devoting all his spare time to. And no wonder: it’s a nearly-straight James Bond fantasy, set in 1964, with impossible glamour, world-threatening villains and leggy birds in (mildly-anachronistic) mini-skirts and knee-length boots.
(Actually, though we automatically think Bond, the episode title references the James Garner film, ‘Our Man Flint’, which was an early spoof of ol’ 007.)
But, and here’s where the mistake was made: Bashir’s programme was invaded by Garak, impeccably tuxedoed, curious as to what’s obsessing his friend, and more than sceptical about this fantasy version of the job Garak was highly-trained to carry out, which bears no resemblance to the real thing, on any level.
The intention is to provide a cynical and modern commentary on the absurdities of the genre, but since Garak makes plain from the outset that he’s going to nag, carp and generally be a complete bring-down, the episode loses a great deal of credibility instantly, when Bashir agrees to let Garak stay and piss all over his favourite fantasy, and Garak’s complete refusal to go with any kind of flow detracts from the quality of the spoof.
That’s all a build-up to a seriously tin-eared argument over what is and isn’t real when it comes to being a spy, that tries to touch on a psychological depth in Garak, offended at his profession being fantasised, and fails on a story level: Garak’s determined pragmatism about cutting losses etc. is out of place when he and Bashir are operating in a fantasy world whose underlying rules and assumptions are ‘heroic’.
There is a genuine serious element to things that, if left to itself, could have been very well integrated into the spoof. In what seemed, at first, to be a B-story, the senior staff (i.e., Sisko, Kyra, Dax, Worf and O’Brien) are returning from a conference when their runabout is destroyed by sabotage. Eddington attempts to beam them aboard, but the teleport is disrupted. He uses all the station’s computer powers to store their details until they can be reintegrated, with the result that their physical data winds up in, guess where, the holosuite programme.
So Bashir’s private programme suddenly starts substituting the missing quintet for keys roles in the holo, starting with Kyra as a Russian Colonel in a very low-cut and slinky dress – a classy little number for a classy little number – that had the more backward among the audience looking up appreciatively, and going on to add O’Brien as the eyepatched mercenary, Falcon, Dax as the beautiful scientist, Dr Honey Bear, Worf as the slick enforcer, Duchamps, and of course Sisko as the mad scientist, Dr Noah, who plans to flood the world and rule its remnants from the only remaining island mass, Mount Everest.
It’s glorious, utterly glorious, and Avery Brooks is gleefully OTT in a way that fits the bill entirely. Bashir’s problem is that he has to play out the programme, ensure nobody gets killed in it (as ought to happen) and keep anything from shutting down until the missing staff can be extracted.
Which is where Garak comes in and should have been shown out promptly. He’s completely at cross-purposes, pragmatic, self-serving, nit-picking at cliches that we can see are cliches, which are being presented as cliches, and constantly trying to stop everything in its tracks, sacrifice one, or two,to save the others. And himself.
In the end, his presence isn’t totally irredeemable. There’s the traditional final confrontation, in which Bashir has to play for time, which he does, brilliantly, by adopting the defeatist words Garak has just used on him. Oh, and by pressing Dr Noah’s button and destroying the world, but then this is just a holosuite programme, it’s not real, which Garak completely misses.
Everyone is extracted, safe and sound, mission accomplished and Garak, perhaps having learned something, piously hopes that the whole experience won’t have blown the effect of the programme for Bashir, it being such a personal and private fantasy (that Garak has just spent the whole of the last 45 minutes trying to wreck). Bashir however is made of sterner stuff: this isn’t his last mission. Good forhim, and bad for Garak, whose whole presence here has been a total drag that kept a fun episode from being an unalloyed pleasure.