So, after all those episodes setting up interesting long term plots or continuing the general drama on the station, there’s this episode where…well, not much happens that I maybe didn’t already know about this setting and these characters.
That’s a little odd to me.
To be clear, this is not a bad episode. If anything, this episode would be perfectly cromulent by the standards of any other Trek show from this era. One of the characters, in this case Bashir, gets it into his head to do some good by some people, and in the end he more or less succeeds. He’s not entirely successful enough by his own reckoning, but even though he manages to accomplish a great deed worth celebrating according to Sisko and the alien race he was helping, it doesn’t really matter because there was something left unfinished.
Mostly, he tried to cure a disease, and while he did manage to give out a cure, it is not the same as the cure.
To back up a bit, after a comedic bit where it turns out Quark managed to put advertising in the station’s communication systems and the Defiant‘s replicators–earning an angry rebuke from Worf that was a lot angrier than I could have ever guessed–the meat of the episode has Kira, Dax, and Bashir doing a routine bit of exploring in the Gamma Quadrant. They come across a planet where there are a lot of sick people. Dax and Bashir go down to investigate while Kira mostly stays on the ship and tries to hide from Jem’Haddar patrols.
Down on the planet, it turns out the people there once defied the Dominion enough for an attack from the Jem’Haddar in the form of a genetically engineered super-plaque that infects the people down there from birth. Everyone is born with odd lesions on their bodies, and when they turn red, AKA the Quickening, that just means death is around the corner. These people have no hope left, and what passes for medical care is a rare older man who basically makes sure everyone dies a comfortable death. Naturally, Bashir and Dax want to help and work to find a cure for the disease. It’s been ravaging these people for 200 years, and it turns out that Bashir isn’t the first person to come by claiming to be a healer. Granted, the others were apparently confidence men, and Bashir at least publicly makes it clear he wants nothing in return and he will make no guarantees.
By the by, it seemed a little odd to me that the Jem’Haddar were the ones who manufactured this disease. These are guys who just live to fight, and infecting a population of a mystery illness means, well, they don’t have to. Disease as a weapon would work better if it came from, say, the Founders or the Vorta. Those guys seem sneaky enough to do something like that. The Jem’haddar, I just figure they’d attack straight on.
Regardless, Bashir does manage to isolate the virus, and he even gives hope to a lot of hopeless people, much against the protests of the “healer”. But it doesn’t go well. His own instruments give off enough radiation to mutate the virus faster, and he’s self-conscious enough to say how arrogant he was to assume he could cure this thing. Cue Dax to point out assuming only he had even a chance of curing the disease is in and of itself another form of arrogance.
But if Bashir is arrogant, he is also someone unwilling to give up, so when Dax and Kira need to return to the station after a week or so, he stays behind, his only helper being a local pregnant woman who lost her husband to the Quickening and who only has two weeks left herself as she figures it. Can Bashir save this sweet, friendly woman?
No, he can’t.
He did find a cure, sort of. It was more of a vaccine. He gave it to his patient, and she managed to give birth before she died. Her child was born healthy. Essentially, Bashir’s cure works, but only as a vaccine for the unborn. Dose the pregnant women and the disease will be gone within a generation. That is something worth celebrating for everyone, even the healer. Just not Julian Bashir.
So, the episode ends with him back at the station, still trying to find a cure. It makes sense that he wouldn’t be satisfied with the vaccine. He did do a lot of good, but he figures he can still do better. But this is a one-off episode, so unless that mystery planet comes up again later, I am going to guess that he never quite finished that cure.
So, really, this is an odd episode. It builds character that isn’t exactly a surprise. Bashir is a perfectionist convinced of his own talent. That fits. But at the same time, it doesn’t feel like something that will mean much going forward. I am sure I shouldn’t expect every episode of Deep Space Nine to advance the narrative. But after so many that did, this one just feels like a little bit of a let-down.