I admit to a cynical expectation about Deep Space Nine after all but a tiny few of seven seasons. Though I’ve enjoyed a majority of the episodes I’ve seen, far too many of these have been spoiled for me by poor writing, sloppy writing, writing that has skimped on logic or dodged self-constructed corners with the equivalent of a ‘Hey! Look! A Squirrel!’ that distracts the audience’s attention (they think).
Last week, Julian Bashir and Miles O’Brien declared a private war on Section 31, determined to get out of it the cure for the morphogenetic disease that’s slowly killing the Founders but rapidly killing Odo: in an extended and emotional open, Bashir diagnoses our horribly flaky friend as having a week left, maybe two. Typically, crusty Odo sends Kira back to Demar and co, so he can die alone without her having to watch.
That Julian’s plan – to lure someone from Section 31 to DS9 by pretending to have the cure, have them come to destroy it and extract the real one from them – would work was scarcely in doubt. It was how it would work and, given the nature of Section 31 and the massive imbalance of forces, whether it would be remotely credible that worried me. And my doubts were gloriously refuted.
‘Extreme Measures’ was practically a two-hander, three if you count William Sadler, making a final guest appearance as Luther Sloan. This enabled tight, focussed writing that, because only minimal use of the rest of the cast was allowed (no Quark for two weeks running!), left room for a beautifully constructed twist that I confess I didn’t see coming at all, but which was perfectly logical.
Bashir’s bluff, which he and O’Brien have to reveal to Sisko in the open, works, and of course it’s Sloan himself to rises to the bait, appearing out of nowhere in the chair in the Doctor’s quarters in the night, just like last time. That is what Bashir’s counted upon, and he has a containment field ready. He also has Romulan Mind-Probes ready, despite their being highly illegal in the Federation: Sloan has underestimated just how much of an underhand sneaky bastard the genetically enhanced Julian is prepared to be, and we should all be thankful that all he’s motivated by in the life of a friend.
But Sloan is going to be a tough nut to crack: rather than allow the cure to be extracted, from where it might fall into Dominion hands, Sloan activates the futuristic equivalent of a cyanide tooth, a neuropole thingummy that crashes his brain and will cause his death within an hour. Which leaves Bashir only one option, a complex and dodgy on many levels neural link that will allow him to enter the dying mind of Sloan. Not just the Doctor but also the Chief: O’Brien will not let him go alone, and it is O’Brien alone who will circumnavigate the last and most brilliantly conceived trap.
Inside Sloan’s head it’s DS9. Sloan appears to the hunters almost immediately, willing, indeed eager to hand over the cure but incapable of doing so until they join him in the wardroom and hear his speech in apology to his family and friends for ruining their and his lives by his secrecy and self-erasure, a life he deeply regrets and for which he is shamed by the beliefs of Bashir.
On the one hand, this Damascene conversion is a thrilling refutation of secrecy and manipulation, a self-condemnation for the pain and deceit, but it was laid on a bit with a trowel, and I rapidly decided I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Not from Sloan. In physical terms, the plot wasn’t having any of it: Sloan’s about to hand over the PADD his ‘wife’s been keeping for him when he’s shot and killed by… Sloan. Two warring impulses in the same mind, we’re meant to think, but one of us wondered if this whole thing hadn’t been a diversion, a delaying tactic using up as many as possible of the precious minutes between now and Sloan’s brain-death.
In pursuit of the ‘real’ Sloan, our intrepid pair get themselves shot by a Section 31 operative, witness the light at the end of the tunnel, the one that leads beyond, and soldier on, until, that is, they’re pulled out by a medical team summoned by Sisko after Ezri finds the trio laid out in Science Lab 4. Despite Bashir’s best efforts, Sloan dies.
It’s an unexpectedly final barrier that had me wondering where they could now take this story, with Odo condemned to death. But here was the twist, and it was as beautifully played as the one in ‘The Chimes of Big Ben’ in The Prisoner, the infinitessimal detail that Sloan’s overlooked that makes Julian realise they’ve been conned; they’re still in Sloan’s mind and they have been all along! So small a thing: Julian’s been reading ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, an antiquarian copy borrowed from Ezri (whom he admits, though only to Miles, that he loves passionately). It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, the famous opening line, repeated on page 194… because Julian hadn’t finished reading the book and Sloan, who had never read it, couldn’t pull the rest of the story out of the Doctor#’s head to construct this trap.
So at last we come to Sloan’s lair, the heart of section 31, and a storehouse of everything necessary to destroy it utterly. Sloan knows that and Bashir knows that, and O’Brien knows that it’s the final and most elegant trap: without O’Brien to maintain focus, Bashir will grab everything he can to take back, and will die in Sloan’s mind when time wasted runs out without ever collecting enough to satisfy him.
And thanks to Miles, they’re out for real, and Sloan is dead, a sacrifice in pursuit of what, to him, was an ideal in itself, however much an anathema it might have been to the rest of the good Federation believers. In its own terms, its a noble death, but in Slaon’s it’s a wasted death. Bashir has the cure, and after a big build up about how painful this is going to be, it takes about two seconds to work, an instant transformation that undercuts the seriousness of this episode, but doesn’t mar it, thankfully.
Indeed, but for that and the shoehorning in of the unconvincing Ezri/Julian romance, this was a near perfect episode. Only two more to try to keep that high standard.