Maybe it’s just the coincidence of approaching the end of a Deep Space Nine season so shortly after the current television season has finished, but I find myself wanting to get season 4 over. Episodes like this one are either a symbol of why I want to get to the end or else a sign of my own staleness.
‘The Quickening’ was basically a two-hander featuring Doctor Bashir and Jardzia Dax, that developed in its last ten minutes into a Bashir solo. Because of the unwritten law that everyone in the cast had to appear, we began with a completely irrelevant, stapled on half-open, so that Odo, Worf, O’Brien and Quark could have a line or two to speak that was so bloody irritating in itself, even before it became totally out of keeping with the episode as a whole that I refuse to even credit it, and a coda with a word or two from Sisko that at least followed the story. Kira fared slightly better: she was the third member of the expedition into the Gamma Quadrant, but she got despatched into hiding from the Jem’Hadar for most of the episode.
I’m only going on about this for so long because I’m getting increasingly irritated at watching stories that are at least perfectly decent being bent out of shape, in an obtrusive manner, just to cram in an otiose line or two from a cast member not required for the story.
It put me in an awkward mood to begin with, which was then exacerbated by the lead-in to the plot. Kira intercepts a distress message from a planet under attack that turns out to be 200 years old. The attack was by the Jem’Hadar, punishing a world that had defied the Dominion by seeding it with a fatal virus that affects the entire population by causing facial and body lesions that, at an unpredictable point, turn red, causing indescribable pain and inevitable death.
The planet’s civilisation has collapsed, it is a ruin, it’s entire existence focused upon death, or rather escaping the death that follows when the lesions quicken.
This is what Bashir and Dax discover when they beam down, although it hurt the episode, at least for me, that they appeared out of nowhere, as complete strangers, dressed radically differently from everyone else, and nobody noticed. The absence of an reaction didn’t sit right, and was yet another example of weak, lazy writing, ducking logic in order to get to the ‘real’ story and thereby undercutting its reality.
At first, that story seemed to hold a tinge of more Federation cultural imperialism. A woman quickened, and Bashir and Dax help her to Trevean, who appears to be revered in the way a Doctor in a plague camp might be. Only he’s not a Doctor in Bashir’s terms because all he does is give those who have quickened a swift-acting poison, and a speedy and relatively pain-free death, as opposed to the drawn-out and agonising one imposed by the virus.
Bashir is convinced he can cure the plague: after all, he’s already saved one plague-ridden planet with just one hour’s diagnosing. He and Dax set up shopped, aided by the heavily-pregnant Ekoria, a sweet and gentle guest appearance by Ellen Wheeler. Trevean (Michael Sarrazin) hangs around making vague threats about liars and what happens to people who arouse false hopes that are never followed up on.
Bashir fails. He seems to be making progress towards a cure but the plague then rapidly and violently mutates, in response to the electrical fields generated by his equipment. Trevean has to step in rapidly to administer his potion, wiping out the entire clinic except for Ekoria, who is unaffected for no better reason than that the plot requires it.
Dax, who has spent most of the episode with her hair distractingly down for no reason other than to make her look different, goes home but Bashir determinedly stays, with Ekoria as his only patient, grimly clinging onto enable her baby boy to be born. There’s a twist coming, we know there’s a twist coming, and even before it’s somewhat blatantly foreshadowed by the total absence of all that antigen from Ekoria’s body, the ending is obvious. Ekoria gives birth, but dies almost immediately. But she lives long enough to see and understand that her baby is born free of the plague: Bashir has inadvertently created not a cure but a vaccine.
And Trevean, after being a slightly low-key heavy throughout, turns saviour, begging to be shown how to administer the vaccine to every pregnant woman. No-one alive will be saved. But within a generation, the plague will be eliminated. It’s a win, but not enough of one to console Bashir, as his distracted response to Sisko’s congratulations shows us.
So. If I were rating episodes, I’d give this a C+ as it is, with prospects of it having been a solid B if not for the strictures of the time. Tighter writing, dumping everyone but Bashir, Dax and Kira, with maybe Sisko to round things off, either tone down on Trevean the threat or else make that a bit more actual, these would have made this a much stronger episode, and me a lot more convinced today.