Retro Review: Hippocratic Oath


When Bashir is taken hostage by a rebel group of Jem’Hadar, he agrees to help them fight their addiction to Ketracel-white.

Plot Summary: On a mission in the Gamma Quadrant, Bashir and O’Brien find readings from a ship in trouble and go to investigate, only to have their own shuttle disabled by a plasma field. When they crash on the surface of the nearest planet, they are taken prisoner by a group of Jem’Hadar who surprise them by not killing them upon learning that Bashir is a doctor. The leader, Goran’Agar, explains to Bashir that he had landed on the planet once before, and something in the atmosphere cured him of his addiction to Ketracel-white. He wants Bashir to figure out why the rest of his group remain addicted and to find the cure so that they can escape from the Dominion. Initially Bashir and O’Brien use their makeshift lab to work primarily on an explosive device to help them escape, but when the device explodes prematurely, the two men are once again surprised by Goran’Agar, who declines to execute both O’Brien and one of his own men injured in the attack. Believing that the Jem’Hadar may become a less aggressive, more compassionate species freed from addiction to Ketracel-white, Bashir orders O’Brien to help him find the cure, although O’Brien doesn’t believe they can or should help since the Jem’Hadar are bred to be killers. Furious when Bashir pulls rank, O’Brien instead goes to work on his own escape plan. Meanwhile, back on the station, Worf interferes with Odo’s work when Odo refuses to arrest Quark for dealing in stolen goods, not knowing that Odo is using Quark to try to infiltrate a much larger alien smuggling operation. When Goran’Agar’s men will not consent to bring O’Brien back alive, the Jem’Hadar leader realizes that they no longer share his wish to live free from the drug that makes them strong. During the chase, O’Brien circles back to Bashir to take him to the shuttle, and when the doctor refuses to abandon his research, O’Brien destroys his laboratory samples to force Bashir to leave. Once more, Goran’Agar refuses to attack them, telling them to flee to safety since he will have to kill his fellow Jem’Hadar before deprivation of the drug destroys their minds. As they travel back to the station, Bashir is still furious that O’Brien disobeyed orders, which O’Brien insists he did because it was the only way to save Bashir’s life.

Analysis: I just reread the review I wrote of “Hippocratic Oath” for a different publication when it first aired 18 years ago, and I discovered that I did not like it much. What the heck was wrong with me? I have only seen the episode twice since then – once with my son when we rewatched nearly the entire series, and this week to review it; in both instances, I liked pretty much everything about it. Amazing what the conclusion of an arc can do for what appear to be disjointed pieces along the way. Admittedly, it took me awhile to fall in love with the Bashir/O’Brien bromance (oh, hush, those of you who don’t want to see it: this is the episode that starts with O’Brien confessing that he wishes Keiko were more like a man and ends with O’Brien confessing that protecting Julian is more important to him than saving the entire Jem’Hadar race…but more on that later). I used to consider the male bonding storylines a distraction from the awesome aliens and even more awesome women of the series; there isn’t nearly enough Kira or Dax in the early episodes of Deep Space Nine‘s fourth season and there’s so, so much Worf. I understand that the writers felt like they had to reintroduce him and work out his relationships with every major character to integrate him into the storylines, but I had a few weeks of being genuinely terrified that we were going to be watching The Worf Show from that point forward. Now, knowing how good the show would become in its final two seasons, I’m much less bothered by things that made me grit my teeth when they originally aired, and much more pleased about what I thought were throwaway plots that ended up becoming important to later storylines.

There was, and remains a big unsolved plot hole at the center of “Hippocratic Oath” – the idea that a Jem’Hadar, a species specifically bred to be addicted to Ketracel-white so that the Founders could control them, apparently managed to be born with and hide a mutation that allowed him to survive and thrive without the drug. It seemed so unlikely that the first time I saw the episode, I was sure that Goran’Agar was a Founder in disguise, testing first his own men’s devotion, then the Starfleet officers’ commitment to the non-interference directive. Quite frankly, I still think that would be a better episode – Bashir and O’Brien debating Starfleet ethics rather than the practical need for defense against the Dominion, the Jem’Hadar slowly awakening to the realization that their belief in life without the Founders has been contingent all along on a Founder manipulating them. But the story is what it is, and if it shows that there may be cracks in the Dominion, rebel soldiers who can plan an escape right under their Vorta’s nose, the storyline never leads to anything bigger. The Dominion War does not end with a Jem’Hadar revolt. We never even find out exactly why Goran’Agar is the single exception to the addiction rule. Since breaking the addiction apparently means creating a Jem’Hadar who is independent, capable of true leadership, curious about other cultures, reluctant to use violence…this is an avenue that Starfleet should have explored far more aggressively than looking for a way to exterminate the Founders, especially since Bashir thought he was on to something before O’Brien destroyed his research. The Prime Directive might have applied for Bashir, making decisions as the senior officer on this mission about the future of a species that had developed almost nothing independently, but I doubt it applies the same way to the Federation when preparing defenses against a probable war.

I really thought that when O’Brien was called upon to justify his actions, violating a direct order from a superior, he’d come back to the question of interference. Bashir’s research, if successful, obviously could change the balance of power throughout the Gamma Quadrant, affecting all the worlds within or doing business with the Dominion. Instead O’Brien admits that he blew up the experiments because he was convinced that the Jem’Hadar planned to kill Bashir because he knew too much, whether or not his work succeeded, and Miles does not want Julian to die. The piece of me tempted to go on a feminist rant about this episode – in which Dax is utterly absent, Kira is present only long enough to serve as a comfort to Worf, and Keiko exists only as the ball and chain making O’Brien’s life miserable – gets set aside in favor of the piece of me that for five seconds thought maybe these writers, who were too chicken on TNG to do a proper AIDS allegory or a proper homophobia episode with Riker falling for androgyne, might actually deal with the fact that Bashir’s emotional, intimate feelings focus entirely on men – first Garak, now O’Brien. Sure, Bashir thinks Dax is beautiful and Melora is fascinating – who wouldn’t – but his inner life seems entirely occupied by fantasies of spy games with Garak and tragic battle reenactments with O’Brien. And how many times can O’Brien count on alien distractions to rescue him from his own wish to run away from wife and family while he’s declaring aloud that he longs for a partner who’s more like a man?

Bashir can’t stay mad at him for five minutes at the end, even though O’Brien betrayed him and his work in a far more serious way than Worf betrayed Odo, who’s still understandably resentful at Worf’s meddling – shades of Eddington early on, although Sisko clearly has Odo’s back to a much greater degree now. It’s probably inevitable that after so many years as chief of security, Worf couldn’t keep his nose out of the job, and there have long been hints that Odo’s much better at the job than we see on a weekly basis, that he keeps Quark around precisely because Quark gives him (sometimes willingly, sometimes not) a window into the larger crime problems in the region. It’s so nice to see Odo have a real plan, though Worf ends up looking more foolish and Quark more careless than I’d typically find in character. The conflict ends up feeling contrived as a result, not offering the shades of gray that Sisko warns Worf to expect on Deep Space Nine in comparison with the Enterprise. Even if I have Dominion and Prime Directive questions about the Jem’Hadar storyline, it gives the sense of being a story about real people making real decisions, maybe even all the more so for its messiness.

What do you think? Chat with other fans in the Star Trek: Deep Space nine forum at The Trek BBS.

Michelle Erica Green


Michelle Erica Green

Writer, mother, reader, traveler, teacher, partner, photographer, activist, friend, fangirl, student, critic, citizen, environmentalist, feminist, vegetarian, enthusiast. TrekToday staffer for many years, former news reporter, current retro reviewer.

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