Members of the crew are struck by irrepressible urges to forsake their lovers and pair up with unexpected partners during a Bajoran festival attended by Lwaxana Troi.
Plot Summary: Jake is in no mood to attend the Bajoran Gratitude Festival, for Marta has just gone away to school, but the rest of the crew is looking forward to it. Kira, who will open the ceremonies, has invited Bareil to attend. Sisko is planning a party, and O’Brien is delighted that Keiko and Molly are returning for a visit from Bajor. But Keiko arrives miserable because someone on her transport fed Molly so much candy that Molly got sick…a passenger who turns out to be Lwaxana Troi, traveling to the festival as a representative of Betazed. She is hoping to kindle a romance with Odo, who is sad that Kira plans to spend the day with Bareil. When Odo puts Lwaxana off, she gets a headache that seems to spread to Bareil and Jake as well. Soon afterward Jake is proclaiming love to Kira while Bareil has become obsessed with Dax, who flees and encounters Lwaxana, picking up her headache and promptly being overcome by adoration for Sisko. Meanwhile, the O’Briens quarrel about Keiko’s long absence and friendship with a man on her expedition. A despondent Kira and confused Bashir encounter Odo and Lwaxana on the way to Sisko’s party; Lwaxana has another headache which sends Kira and Bashir racing to the infirmary, where they fling themselves into each other’s arms. Sisko has to punch Bareil to protect himself from the latter’s jealousy over Dax’s affections; certain that the Vedek is out of his right mind, Sisko calls Bashir, but is ignored until Odo walks into sickbay to find Kira kissing the doctor. Keiko arrives at the party in her husband’s favorite dress and immediately wins the admiration of Quark, who has just been in proximity to Lwaxana, which Sisko observes. When he tells this to the doctor, Bashir discovers that Lwaxana has a condition that causes older Betazoids to project their erotic feelings onto people nearby. Bashir assures Sisko that the inappropriate feelings will be gone in a day or so, though only a latent attraction could cause them to manifest in the first place. Keiko and Miles make up and Lwaxana tells Odo that she hopes things work out between him and Kira, since she knows what it’s like not to be wanted.
Analysis: Back when The Next Generation aired “The Naked Now,” I was hopeful that it would be the last stupid “alien influences made me do it” sex farce ever attempted by Star Trek. Of course I didn’t get that lucky, but as horrible as it is to see Tasha, Beverly, Deanna, et al throw themselves with varying degrees of success at crewmembers, it doesn’t come close to the awfulness that is “Fascination.” For one thing, “The Naked Now” was only the second episode of TNG and I had little emotional investment in the characters (and, as it happened, most of the pairings ended up recurring through the course of the series, making them less painful to watch in reruns). For another, as silly as the “naked” virus episodes were in both the original and revived Trek shows, they weren’t mean-spirited; it was moving to see Spock weep because he never showed his mother affection and touching to see Data attempt to experience human sexuality. “Fascination,” however, seems written specifically to degrade nearly all the regular characters and several popular guests, with the exception of Odo, who despite a comparative lack of experience with humanoid feelings keeps a much better grip on his own than everyone else, and Sisko, or perhaps it’s just that there are advantages to being the episode’s director (Avery Brooks helmed this insanity). The storyline, which starts with a look at Bajoran culture – a ceremony that reminds me of Tashlich at the Jewish new year, less religious than symbolic, tossing away the mistakes and regrets of the previous year for a sense of renewal, followed by a joyous celebration with lots of food – quickly degenerates into a choppy, shallow, impossible-to-believe mess that isn’t even funny, with the possible exception of the moment when Sisko realizes that his beloved mentor Curzon Dax might have had the hots for him.
You all know that I love Lwaxana Troi so much that I’m willing to overlook most of the sexist, ageist crap the writers insert into her episodes. But this one goes beyond obnoxious, from her complete lack of respect for Odo after getting to know him in “The Forsaken” to her increasingly horrific outfits and hairdos – and the moral of the story, a warning about watching out for crazy menopausal women who can’t keep their lusts to themselves. This isn’t antic bravery and independent spirit like she showed on TNG, where she was allowed to be a sexually active mature woman without being portrayed as desperate; there’s no doubt that Campio and Timicin were attracted to her, and Picard and Riker both took her flirting with mostly good-natured eye-rolling. Here, since her stalkee Odo is pining for a beautiful younger woman, she looks particularly pathetic, yet she doesn’t get the worst of it. I’m not a big fan of Bareil and Kira as a couple, but I’d much rather see them happy together than having the sort of idiotic crisis they experience even prior to Lwaxana’s hormones kicking in. His romantic dialogue is shallow and cliched before he gets a headache, while she sounds more agitated and conflicted about her responsibilities – and happier to see Odo – than truly pleased to have her lover visiting. Meanwhile, Jake, who has been sensitive and mature with Marta, not only acts like an entitled brat with Kira but insults the Dabo girl whom he encouraged to spread her wings, ending that relationship on a hollow, ugly note. Rather than being discreet after a confession of love from what Kira surely must think is a slightly drunk Jake, she runs to his father to tattle, and his father gives him silly speeches instead of giving him space to grow. Then there’s Keiko, who never gets to play anything but a shrew anymore; while I’m in favor of realistic portrayals of marriage that aren’t all sunshine and smooches, hers is shown to be nothing but misery held together by a child and occasional relief of hormonal urges. It’s like the writers have no idea what a successful partnership looks like.
Poor Bashir has spent three seasons growing up, only to be turned back into a crazed hormonal jerk whom even he doesn’t like, begging for help staying away from Kira – the only line of his that really makes me giggle is when he tells O’Brien he knows he’s a poor substitute for Keiko, a theme that runs right through the end of the series when Bashir will tell O’Brien that the latter may love Keiko but he still prefers Bashir’s company. It’s also quite funny rewatching this episode knowing that Alexander Siddig and Nana Visitor will eventually marry and have a child together, because they have absolutely no chemistry and kiss each other like they think the other’s mouth is full of worms. I’m not sure whether we’re supposed to believe that on some level the characters are resisting their forced coupling, even though Bashir says that only people with latent attractions will desire each other under Lwaxana’s influence, but it looks ridiculous, though no more so than Dax snuggling up to Sisko and talking to him like she thinks a cooing flatterer is what he really wants. Quark’s lines are Ferengi cliches with no clever irony about how marriage works better with a subservient woman, Sisko is mostly present to provide reaction shots, and Odo looks the way Data and Spock used to look in bad Trek love stories where the writers wanted an alien to provide perspective on the silliness of mating rituals. “Fascination” doesn’t need any outside cynicism when it has so much built in: a marriage falling apart at the seams, a love affair best represented by O’Brien’s wishing good luck to a nervous Kira, a Trill who despite having lived several lifetimes can’t admit without alien influence that she finds her old friend attractive. I must agree with Bashir: the episode and all its effects are best forgotten.
DS9, Episode 3×10
Production number: 40513-456
First aired: 28 November 1994