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November 19, 2012

Star Trek: DS9 - Ep 4 - Babel

Communication is such a wonderful thing. Reading, writing, talking, there are so many ways that people get their point across to each other. But what would happen if you couldn’t? What if you spouted nothing but gibberish, and everything that somebody said to you sounded like gibberish too? There’s a common link that allows us to communicate with one another, and when that link is broken, chaos ensues.

Thus, we reach the fourth episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, “Babel.” The station is coming apart at the seams, as the Cardassians left it in a sorry shape upon abandoning it. Chief O’Brien (Colm Meaney) and his crew are being run ragged trying to get everything fixed. People are stuck in airlocks, ship maintenance is behind schedule, and computers in Operations aren't working either. Worst of all, the replicators are producing horrible coffee!! I have to question all of this, however, considering everything seemed to be working fine for the last two episodes, with hardly any comment on systems not working or breaking down. I don’t question that there were still repairs to be made, but the fact that O’Brien is this busy all of a sudden strains the willing suspension of disbelief. There should have been some indication in previous episodes of these problems. Strike one against the episode.

Nevertheless, we take as given that nothing is working. When O’Brien is fixing the replicators, he unknowingly trips a device located in the circuitry of the replicator, which causes havoc. Nothing happens for a little bit, but gradually, O’Brien looks more and more tired, until he suddenly starts spouting gibberish. The words are clear, but they don’t make any sense. The device created a virus that has Aphasia-like symptoms, where the processing area of the brain which creates the understanding of language is affected. What the victim says has no meaning, and the victim hears nothing but garbage as well. Kira (Nana Visitor) thinks it’s Cardassian sabotage, but it turns out to be a Bajoran terrorist weapon planted when the station was created, 18 years ago (“before I became chief of security,” Odo reminds everybody). It’s a race against time as Dr. Bashir (Siddig El Fadil) tries to find a cure. Will he find one before he succumbs? Or will they have to track down the creator of the virus? Or will an obstinate freighter captain (Jack Kehler) end up destroying the station while trying to break quarantine before anything can be done?

Ah, yes. The “must find a cure for a virus before it’s too late!” episode. It only took DS9 4 episodes to pull off one of those. Then again, it only took Next Generation two episodes to do it, so there you go. Still, as virus episodes go, it was pretty good. Mainly, once again, because of the character interaction. What? Character interaction in a story where most of the characters can’t communicate? Yes, even in an episode like that. The reason is Odo (Rene Auberjonois) and Quark (Armin Shimmerman), who are both immune to the virus. They have several wonderful scenes together, as well as some apart (it’s hilarious when Quark is haranguing the patients, making sure they aren’t faking it to get out of paying their bills. “GOLD!!! OWE MEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!”). Auberjonois and Shimmerman have a wonderful chemistry that carries through the entire series, but it really begins here. Sure, they’ve had some good scenes before, but this is where the relationship truly develops.

The rest of the actors do a pretty good job as well. I love the relationship between Jake (Cirroc Lofton) and Sisko (Avery Brooks). They truly look like father and son, and you can tell how much Ben loves his son, especially when Ben puts his arm around Jake and kisses the top of his head. I’ve read that Brooks was almost a father-figure to Lofton while they were doing the show, and it truly does show in their performance. The cast also does well spouting the gibberish. I have to wonder if they had two sets of lines: ones that the character is trying to say and then ones that the character actually says. You can see the desperation in their faces when they suddenly can’t understand anybody and it’s obvious that nobody can understand them either. It must have been difficult to remember all that gibberish.

I have to also compliment the writers on giving a new twist to the solution. Not the solution itself (which is fairly run of the mill and convenient), but the way it’s found. On which other Star Trek series would one of the main characters actually kidnap somebody to help solve the problem? I loved it. Points off, however, for some of the other cliches used. There’s the artificial deadline, where something has to be done or bad things will start happening. In this case, it’s used twice! First, Kira suddenly has 12 hours to find a cure or people will start dying. I’m glad medical science is that exact. Then, Odo has 5 minutes before the ship explodes. Nice of the ship’s engines to be that precise. Maybe this is intended to be a warm and fuzzy for Trek fans, since it’s used so often? Personally, I find it trite and boring, and just once wish somebody would give a time prediction like that and then have it be fatally wrong. “You’ve got 5 minutes to disengage before the ship blows up!” BOOOOOM!!!! “Ooops. Make that 30 seconds.”

Still, the episode is entertaining, and the Quark/Odo scenes make it worth watching. I’ll even forgive the script the logic problem of nobody ever fixing the replicators for 18 years (or at least being lucky enough not to trip the booby-trap). Good old Cardassian technology, I guess! Good characters and good acting will make me forgive an otherwise weak episode. This one wasn’t weak, it was just old with a couple of new twists. Thus, the characters bring it up to 4 stars. Definitely a good episode for this early in the first season.

Memorable Quote
“You claimed Rom fixed your replicators. Rom is an idiot. He couldn’t fix a straw if it was bent.” Odo

4 Stars


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