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Retro Review: Life Support

Posted by Michelle - 02/11/12 at 06:11 pm


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 03 Episode: 13 (s03e13)

Original US airdate: 01/30/1995

When Bareil is seriously injured during transport to the station to negotiate a peace treaty, both Winn and Kira convince Bashir to keep him alive by any means necessary.

Plot Summary: A transport carrying Kai Winn and Vedek Bareil makes an emergency stop at Deep Space Nine. Though the plasma coil that caused the crisis can be repaired, Bareil is gravely injured. Winn insists to Sisko that Bareil must be saved, for he has been engaged in secret talks to conclude a peace treaty with Cardassia. After a radical procedure all but brings Bareil back from the dead, Bashir wants to put him in stasis to give him time to recover, but Bareil insists that the peace talks must come before his own health. He asks Bashir to try an experimental drug that will give Bareil mobility but may damage his organs. Despite Sisko’s assistance as mediator, Winn is not a strong negotiator without Bareil at her side. She keeps the Vedek awake for much longer than Bashir believes is safe so that she can learn how to secure Bajor’s position. Meanwhile, Nog convinces Jake to set up a double date for him with the friend of a girl Jake likes, but the date ends disastrously and the two boys stop speaking. When Bareil suffers brain damage from the experimental drug, Bashir suggests replacing his damaged tissue with positronic implants, though he has grave concerns about how these will affect Bareil’s personality. Indeed, when the Vedek wakes, his intellect remains intact, but his feelings and emotions have been greatly diminished. Still, he is able to advise Winn until she can successfully complete the peace negotiations; though he and Bashir know she will receive all the credit, Bareil believes that peace itself is the only important issue. Jake makes his own accord with Nog by convincing Odo to lock them in the same cell so they can work out their differences. When more of Bareil’s brain stops functioning during a party to celebrate the Bajoran-Cardassian treaty, Kira demands that Bashir replace the rest of the brain tissue with positronic implants, but Bashir refuses, saying that it will destroy whatever is left of Bareil’s personality. Realizing that the man she loves is already lost to her, Kira sits at the dying Bareil’s bedside reminiscing about what he has meant to her.

Analysis: “Life Support” is a not-very-good story with some excellent performances and character development that mostly makes up for its flaws. It’s preposterous that Bajor and Cardassia could hammer out a peace agreement so quickly, with only one Legate dispatched to speak for the entire Central Command, and it’s tragic that Bareil is sacrificed so abruptly when it seems as though he’s beginning to make an impact on Winn and her priorities as Kai, even if his romance with Kira seems to have run its course. Though Bareil dies for his cause, redeeming the nonsense he was put through in “Fascination” when he ditched Kira to chase after Dax, Bashir is the real hero of the episode. His moral dilemma is much greater than Bareil’s or Winn’s. I’m sorry that it has to be him and not Kira who makes the final decision not to go any further with the attempts to keep Bareil alive and functioning – I find Kira out of character for most of the episode, which aggravates me – but this is Bashir’s strongest outing all season, dealing with medical and emotional dilemmas that offer parallels to 20th century doctors struggling with issues like euthanasia and whether to disconnect patients in vegetative states from feeding tubes. If there had been proper follow-up to the myriad of issues left unresolved at the end of the episode – the contents of the peace treaty, the issue of the Cardassian demand for the return of all property (presumably including Terok Nor), Winn’s lack of experience with foreign policy – this might be remembered as one of the better episodes of the series, but coming after “Past Tense,” it seems half-baked and rushed. No one even mentions the Borg, though when Bashir refuses to implant the devices that would make Bareil more machine than man, I don’t see how any fan could avoid thinking of the similarities.

It’s no secret that I’ve never been a big fan of Bareil and Kira as a couple, though I’m saddened that the relationship ends so abruptly, with no indication of how they got past the revelation that he might be secretly attracted to Dax just as she might be secretly attracted to Bashir. When we were introduced to Bareil, he presented himself as a paragon of progressive religious leadership, a would-be Kai who nonetheless put his own ego second to the needs of those in his spiritual care, a man who was open-minded about scriptural interpretation, who believed that there was room for a very wide range of beliefs within the teachings of the Prophets. Though he could sound condescending, he was also willing to acknowledge when he had doubts or had made a bad choice. He managed to be authoritative without stepping into the sort of tyrannical territory where Winn is most comfortable, and he was pragmatic about politics, trying to get along with those with whom he disagreed yet holding on to his principles even when they were inconvenient. Even Winn is forced to acknowledge that, had he become Kai in her stead, she would never have been such a model of graciousness, putting the greater good before personal disappointment. He brings out the best in everyone except Kira, though perhaps I should blame hormones rather than the man; when she’s with him, she often announces that she’d rather suppress her opinions than argue with him, which seems very unlike her yet also leads to some of the rare moments of real happiness that we witness her experiencing. I’d rather have seen them debate and discuss their religious beliefs and their hopes for Bajor, which would have told us even more about the characters, but I can’t begrudge Kira whatever joy she found with him.

Despite the peace treaty, I fear for Kira and for Bajor: with a renewed Cardassian presence by way of an embassy, the losses of Opaka, Li Nalas, and Bareil, the fall of Jaro and exposure of the Circle, and the ascension of Winn, Bajoran identity has been in a state of continuous evolution and challenge which must be exhausting. I would have expected Kira to have much stronger opinions about the wisdom of making any sort of peace with Cardassia, even if it meant quarreling with an injured Bareil. But it’s also no secret that I am a shameless fan of Kai Winn, so I need to sing her praises in this episode – not as an individual, since I’m pleased to note that her initial selflessness proves to be largely a performance for Sisko’s benefit, but as an agent of challenge and change. At first her concern for Bareil seems to be because she’s grown to respect him, but as Bashir quickly discovers, she really needs him to work out the complexities of negotiation and possibly to take the fall should the discussions go badly. Whether or not she truly cares for Bareil these days – and we have no reason to doubt it, since he seems entirely devoted, if not to her, then to the republic for which she stands – her hunger for power (and for Kai Winn Souffle with Haligian Tongue Sauce, Quark’s contribution to the episode) trumps any feelings of friendship or alliance. She doesn’t cry when she learns that there’s nothing more Bashir can do for Bareil. She’s already receiving credit for the peace treaty that Bareil dreamed up, set in motion, and gave his life to conclude, and no one can fault her for a thing, since Bareil himself made clear that the treaty itself was more important than his life or his legacy.

I suppose I must say something about the storyline with which this very serious set of issues is paired, in which Jake and Nog have a fight because Nog ruins Jake’s date by acting like a Ferengi. I can best sum up my feelings by rolling my eyes and wondering why the writers had to stick this in here, given that it’s not funny, it has some preposterous elements like Jake thinking Nog will only talk to him if they’re in jail together, and it ends with a pat, cheesy “even though we’re so different, we can be friends” moral which undercuts the complexities of Bajor and Cardassia trying to work out decades of hostilities – something that could have been explored in far more detail had that situation not been pushed aside to show Nog demanding that a woman cut up his food for him. I don’t believe for a minute that a majority of Bajorans would simply accept whatever reparations Winn demanded and agree that Cardassia can now be considered a diplomatic partner — I’d expect Winn to be chased out of office if not assassinated by extremists as soon as the treaty was announced – but we don’t even get a glimpse of how things are being presented on Bajor, nor do we hear from the provisional government about why a religious leader is now taking charge of such a monumental move. Instead we get a reminder that we’ve already heard the “Ferengi and humans are different but that’s not a bad thing” from Sisko in a previous season, showing that even the writers know this double-date fiasco is redundant and unnecessary. I’d rather have wasted a few minutes of Kira’s last episode with Bareil watching them argue.

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  • Enterprise1981

    When this episode first aired, it seemed rather arbitrary to me how they killed off Bareil. Perhaps that character and Kira’s relationship with him had run its course, especially after Bareil didn’t elected kai. The two redeeming qualities were how much the story further developed Kai Winn, as well as what kind of a doctor Bashir was. I actually enjoyed the Jake and Nog subplot, but it seemed not to belong in this episode. And I’m sure Michelle will have plenty to say about the placement of “Heart of Stone” next week in regards to both the A and B plots.