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Retro Review: Statistical Probabilities

Posted by Michelle - 02/05/14 at 06:05 pm


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 06 Episode: 09 (s06e09)

Original US airdate: 11/22/1997

A group of genetically-enhanced misfits comes to the station and convinces Bashir that surrender is the Federation’s only hope against the Dominion.

Plot Summary: A Starfleet psychiatrist brings four genetically enhanced humans to Deep Space Nine in the hope that meeting Dr. Bashir will help them become better socialized after years of isolation in an institution. Jack is violently manic, Lauren is hyper-sexual, Patrick is as sensitive as a child, and Sarina seems nearly catatonic. When O’Brien enters the common area they share to repair the comm system, which is producing a sound outside the range of normal human hearing that upsets Jack, he turns on a monitor which enables the group to hear the newly promoted Gul Damar’s speech requesting negotiations with the Federation. The group offers analysis of Damar’s body language so astute that Bashir presents it to Sisko. When Damar comes to the station with Weyoun for peace talks, the group watches holorecordings of the negotiations and concludes from Damar’s studied disinterest that the Dominion wants to negotiate to control a planet with what Sarina discovers to be the raw materials to manufacture ketracel-white. Sisko is disinclined to let them have it, but the group suggests handing it over to avoid more bloodshed while the Federation works on an alliance with the Romulans. But statistics indicate that even with Romulan assistance, the Dominion will ultimately control the Alpha Quadrant, and that nine billion lives will be lost if the Federation fights. Bashir strongly recommends surrender, which Sisko will not consider. The four enhanced humans try to set up a meeting with Damar and Weyoun to give away classified Starfleet data in order to facilitate a quick and bloodless Dominion takeover, but Bashir learns from Sarina what they intend and manages to prevent them. Telling Jack that his inability to predict how one woman’s actions could thwart their plans proves that statistics are not certain, Bashir encourages Starfleet to send the group back to the institution rather than to try them for attempted treason, and the group promises to work on a plan to defeat the Dominion.

Analysis: “Statistical Probabilities” has within it the germ of a truly brilliant episode, though some laziness in the writing keep it merely at the level of engaging drama with a couple of moments of serious eye-rolling. Obviously nobody can know what genetically enhancing human neural pathways would do if performed by a doctor less skilled than the fictional one who modified Bashir’s brain, but the likelihood that the results would be stereotypes about the mentally ill seems remote. Yet that’s what we get: Jack becomes a wannabe supervillian who’s convinced he’s smarter and stronger than everyone else, Lauren becomes a nymphomaniac, Patrick becomes Rain Man, and Sarina becomes an ’80s movie portrayal of autism with a side of unrequited love. It’s particularly disappointing that the women are largely reduced to their sex drives even though their minds are what are supposed to be enhanced; Lauren isn’t half as clever as Jack or Patrick in figuring out the social and scientific issues, while Sarina only interacts with the world when passion for Jack compels her. It’s all part of the message that human genetic enhancement is to be condemned in all instances, in case we’d forgotten that lesson from “Doctor Bashir, I Presume” last season or from “Space Seed” and The Wrath of Khan before it. We get a heavy-handed lecture from Worf that if people like these damaged augments are allowed to compete freely, parents everywhere will feel compelled to have their children enhanced, though Worf is willing to make an exception for Bashir. It’s a shame we didn’t know about the augments when this episode originally aired, not only because “augments” is a great single term for “genetically enhanced people,” but because knowing about the Klingon forehead crisis could explain Worf’s resistance. I don’t have the impression that the writers fully thought through what would constitute “genetic enhancement”: Does it mean that Bashir’s offspring will share his enhanced brain or merely carry genes for it? Would gene therapy for children with autism that left their savant capacities intact while lessening their disabilities be considered an enhancement?

There are a lot of other unanswered (and I suspect unconsidered) questions surrounding genetic tampering and how it’s performed, not least of which is the reasoning for why these four individuals were separated from the families that committed the crime of having their neural pathways altered, then institutionalized. Lauren, Patrick, and Sarina don’t seem to be threats to anyone but themselves, while Jack may have impulse control issues and lash out violently but he also has a more sophisticated sense of morality than Khan did. The heavy-handed, all-out condemnation of human enhancement nearly drags down “Statistical Probabilities” before we know what it’s actually about, namely the huge odds facing both these four people and everyone else in the Federation in the face of the Dominion threat and how people are going to deal with such obstacles. For Bashir, who is only beginning to acknowledge how isolated and ashamed he feels because of his enhancement, the crisis brings on a deep despair that nearly causes him to cut off his best friend in a fit of condescension and pessimism. Sisko is much more optimistic, but then Sisko has recently had the experience of begging Bajor’s gods to intervene in the war and receiving a favorable outcome. I don’t know why Sisko doesn’t bring that up when Bashir insists that the captain tell Starfleet there’s no choice but surrender; the people on Deep Space Nine know better than anyone that there are bigger forces than themselves at work in the galaxy. I’m glad that he finally acknowledges individual agency as a force for transformation, though it’s an awfully quick turnaround after a lot of emotional upheaval. Not only does he interact with a group of fellow augments, but he faces a dark night of the soul over his inability to save lives in the face of unspeakable suffering, and he has to think about what it means that Miles gets jealous of not having Bashir’s attentions while Keiko is away (though we’ve seen that Miles gets jealous of not having Bashir’s attentions even when Keiko is around).

It’s a shame that Garak isn’t present to give Bashir some much-needed advice about Damar and the Cardassians, about keeping friends, about believing you’re smarter than everyone else, about having your brain tampered with, even about acknowledging that someone is about to punch you and taking steps to avoid it. I wish Bashir could get over his embarrassment of being one of the augments long enough really to pay attention to them. In addition to their quantitative skills, they really are psychologically astute, showing skills that require a certain level of relatability, not merely observational skills, and they obviously have no fear of hard work; if anything, they’re craving more to do, to feel like they’re contributing members of human society instead of perpetual outcasts. They pay attention to things the Starfleet officers don’t think to wonder about, like which tenses people choose for their words that the Universal Translator doesn’t render with precision and where people are making a point to use distraction. I know I said Jack was a wannabe supervillain, but that’s not entirely fair, since he thinks of himself as an ethical person; he just also thinks he’s so much smarter than those around him that he should make decisions for everyone else. His choice to approach the Dominion stems from fear and concern for other people, not because he dreams of becoming a major player in the balance of power. As odd as it is that Starfleet would send them right back to the same institution that’s kept them isolated and seething, it isn’t all that surprising to see them treated much as the mentally ill are in our own era, alternately exploited and shut away. I’m no statistician, but I thought number theory predicted increasing chaos instead of increasing order in probabilities? And how imperialistic is Starfleet if humans looking out for their own interests could consider surrendering the entire Alpha Quadrant? If one human can repeatedly beat a Vulcan at chess, not to mention think his way outside the trap of the Kobayashi Maru scenario, surely many humans and non-humans working together can figure out a way to defeat the Dominion.

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  • SabreCliff28

    This was for me the overall second worst episode behind “Dr. Bashir I Presume”. It only further served as a character assassination on poor Julian, victim of horrible continuity problems. I didn’t like that he just want to surrender to the Dominion just because he and the misfits were making their precious calculations. It’s the exact opposite of the Julian we saw in far superior episodes like “Distant Voices”, when he refused to give up his battle to survive the Lethean attack. This episode was key to the continuity problem of his being exposed as being augmented, otherwise the evil alien would have mentioned it for sure. Add a few mentally ill misfits in this one and we get bad stereotypes who make an overall waste of an episode. Was there really a point of sending them to DS9? To be some kind of consultants? Nobody there would really take them seriously. The only purpose for an episode like this was for Bashir to find out what had happened with the Klingons since “Trials and Tribble-ations” and rub it in on Worf when he made his criticism about the augments. A major blown opportunity there.