Deep Space Nine: s05 e16: Dr Bashir, I Presume


Happy Families

When the opening shot of an episode features Chase Masterson’s cleavage framed exactly in the centre of the screen, it immediately gives the episode an uplift. Of course, being in the first part of the open, it also isn’t going to be the A-story. What it is is an amusing, occasionally embarrassing tale of the Love That Dare Not Speak It’s Name, only it’s got nothing to do with Homosexuality in Nineteenth Century London and everything to do with Rom being so bleeding afraid to tell Leeta he loves her, even in the face of her… heartfelt desire for him to do so, that he’s prepared to let her leave DS9 forever rather than risk his fate to a mere 99.9% probability that she’s interested in him. I knew exactly how he felt.

But that was a B story, amusing as it was and pleasing as it always is to see Ms Masterson showing off her… talents (actually, to be serious, she does bring a genuine sweetness and a perfectly judged strand of self-mockery to a role that is practically the definition of one-note and which, in the hands of a less talented performer, could be an utter disaster), and it struck the improbable note of a happy conclusion as Rom finally finds his voice at the last second, though speaking as the unprepossessing dumb-cluck, I can’t quite get over the notion of someone who looks like her falling from someone who looks like me… sorry, him: somebody’s been at the Magic Wish-Fulfillment Juice with a vengeance.

But, as the story title indicates, that’s not the A-story. Nor, originally, was the A-story seen as anything better than a B-story, itself a comic episode. Special Guest Robert Picardo, already firmly fixed in Star Trek lore as the Hologram Doctor in Voyager, turns up in the person of his human avatar, Engineer Dr Lewis Zimmerman. The Emergency Medical Hologram programme which he’s invented is being upgraded to a Long-term Medical Hologram, and our Julian has been chosen as its template.

As a B-story, it would have been the comedic underbelly to a meatier A-story. The producers weren’t interested in the original A-story, but loved the B-story. It wouldn’t go down as a comedic episode so something more dramatic had to be brought in. In retrospect, the fact that Bashir’s background had never previously been featured, and that a host of small asides down the years fell into place as if there had all along been some secret in his past facilitated quite an explosive revelation.

Quite simply, Dr Julian Bashir is the product of childhood genetic enhancement which, in the Star Trek universe, is illegal. If discovered, he will be cashiered from Starfleet and his medical licence withdrawn. Everything he is, does and has accomplished, everything he could do, will be destroyed.

That it may now be exposed is due to the fact that Zimmerman, whilst he’s not trying to get into Leet’a Bajoran knickers, has to build a comprehensive psychological profile of the good Doctor for the LMH, which means interviewing everyone who does or ever has known him. Which includes his parents, who still call him by his birth-name, Jules.

Now, it’s believable that Bashir has been avoiding his parents out of shame over his blowhard father, Richard (played by Brian George, nowadays better known as Raj Koothrapalli’s father on The Big Bang Theory). But the shame goes deeper than that: Jules was, it appears, backwards, as it would once have been called, both physically and mentally, it would appear. So his father took him off-planet to be operated on, creating the brilliant and talented Julian we have always known.

Now that it’s likely to come out – originally the story would have confined the secret to Bashir and O’Brien, secured by a double-blackmail over secrets Zimmerman wanted kept, but Alexander Siddig insisted on things being brought out into the open and thestory is better for it – the secret comes out when the Bashir’s promise complete secrecy, except that it’s to the LMH Julian. And suddenly, the bitterness pours out.

It’s a deep, corrosive bitterness that seems to be couched in shame of his parents, but it goes much too far for that. Alexander Siddig, who only found out about his character’s secret the day before filming started, is on brilliant form. Bashir is angry, angry about everything, seeing the changes wrought on him by a loser father anxious to make some kind of mark on the world, as arising from Richard’s shame at having a son who appeared to be a failure like him. His change of name to Julian was to divorce his past from his present.

But he’s too handy with words like freak, and unnatural for that to come solely from outside. Siddig shows us that Julian is ashamed of himself, of his difference from others, that he has inflated the deliberate creation of his abilities into a full-scale separation from humanity.

He’s too consumed by his own self-hatred to see anything in what his father has done but hatred of the little boy nature produced. Inevitably, given the nature of Deep Space Nine, this mental state is cured by two things: a simple declaration from his mother, as to the fear they felt, the despair at being responsible for what Jules was born as, and that what was done was simply out of love, for their son, and his father sacrificing himself to two years imprisonment as the quid pro quo for Julian’s career, licence and commission being saved.

Siddig was right: it would have been impossible to play Bashir as a man containing a secret whose revelation would have such drastic effects in a weekly series that would basically ignore this development from week to week. So a string story came together basically by accident and its own internal logic impressing itself by fits and starts. Art is crazily wonderful, sometimes.

Incidentally, until we get to the end of the last episode of the season, this set-up is the last memory I have of DS9 in the Nineties. So it’s back to almost-fresh programming for the next nine weeks.

 

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2 thoughts on “Deep Space Nine: s05 e16: Dr Bashir, I Presume

  1. I would say, an up and down episode, not even with anything towards the B Story. The dynamics of the Bashir’s on the good hand. Robert Picardo’s fine performance, as the snarky Zimmerman always a treat, differentiating well enough from the Doctor role on Voyager (Which for me was overused) And the exploration of Trek’s world of banning genetic engineering. That was the set up for Khan, in the original series.

    For the other hand, just thinking on genetic engineering in Trek and this episode, granted I don’t remember a lot of details, but I don’t know if they really looked beyond the superficial. Why would genetic engineering be frowned upon so heavily? You never see or here anyone with disabilities, glasses, over weight, unhealthy babies, etc. Presumably it’s okay when it’s a fetus or in the womb. I know many of those could be cured by the future, but shows that there are some accepted forms of the practice.
    And tying into that I have a hard time accepting that Bashir would be stripped of everything he has accomplished for an event he had no control over it. I understand that the Federation wouldn’t want to be encouraging of people to genetically engineer their children. But this tolerant society would castigate someone out instead of accepting him for who he is?

    1. Yes, the Genetic Engineering background was merely a light scattering, and the ending a cop-out to ensure the status quo remained. We’re incredibly strict and unforgiving about this except when we’re relaxed and forgiving. I hadn’t thought through to the obvious evidence that some sort of genetic correction is going on, but then again we only see the world of Starfleet, which has certain physical requirements to enter. The fat, short-sighted, disabled people may well exist, but in a corner of the Federation that we never visit.

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