To be very fair, I do sometimes make some minor complaints when Deep Space Nine just tosses out an episode that doesn’t seem to advance much in the way of any ongoing plots, and “Distant Voices” certainly qualifies as that.
That said, I am always a sucker for creative dream sequences, and that’s what this episode largely is.
The set-up is simple: Bashir, over his usual lunch with Garek, frets over his upcoming 30th birthday. Garek, as a Cardassian, doesn’t get it because age is a sign of power where he comes from. Bashir says, for humans, it can be a cause for concern if said human didn’t get as far in life as he or she wanted. Then Quark comes over with some odd alien looking to buy some drugs from Bashir that legally and morally Bashir would never sell, something even Quark more or less knew, but this alien was intimidating.
Then that guy jumped Bashir in Sickbay and when Bashir woke up, he had a bit more gray hair than he did before, and the station is largely deserted. The only person he finds at first is a terrified Quark, hiding behind the bar from that same alien that attacked Bashir. Bashir leaves, thinking he heard voices, runs into Garek, leaves Garek, and then finds Odo, Dax, Kira, and O’Brien, all of whom are acting a little out of character. Kira is angry at everyone, Odo is suspicious, the Chief seems cowardly, and Dax is gung-ho. No sign of Sisko anywhere, and none of them hear the voices either.
Also, Bashir is getting older by the minute, enough to make the 90s era old age make-up look more and more questionable on my HD set.
Now, to the episode’s credit, as weird as all this is, an explanation for everything comes along at the halfway point. Bashir is in a coma. All this is a dream. Everyone he knows in the dream is representing some aspect about himself, and that alien is wrecking the place because if the dream-station shuts down, Bashir dies. Kira is aggression, Odo is vigilance, O’Brien is pessimism, and Dax is Bashir’s self-confidence. OK, Kira makes sense as something Bashir probably sees in her even if in the dream it is dialed up to 11, and Odo isn’t that far off either. Dax is generally vague enough that I barely noticed. But O’Brien as a cowardly pessimist? That just seems insulting. I don’t know what Quark represents, the alien comes from a telepathic race, and Sisko, when he does show up, is doing medical tests and represents Bashir’s professionalism. Quite the compliment according to dream-Sisko.
Naturally, the alien kills Sisko pretty quick, having taken out Dax earlier and leaving O’Brien for last…and Garek.
Yeah, Bashir also figures out Garek is the alien in disguise because Garek doesn’t seem to represent anything beyond being just a little bit unhelpful when time is of the essence.
It turns out Bashir is made of sterner stuff, acknowledging everything the alien throws at him as more minor regrets than major character flaws (he is still in the Star Trek universe), so naturally once he gets himself back to the dream-station’s Sick Bay, he can take care of everything just fine and wake up, something few victims of this sort of attack ever do. He’ll be fine.
Plus, having lived as a many 100 years older than he was more or less, Bashir isn’t one to quibble over his age anymore.
If anything, the end coda was a nice moment: Garek, far from being insulted that Bashir was suspicious of the dream version of himself, is actually rather proud that Bashir sees enough in Garek to be wary of his lunchtime companion, friend, and in many fan-canons even according to the two actors themselves, lovers.
There may be hope for Bashir yet.