Retro Review: Our Man Bashir

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When several crewmembers are trapped inside Bashir’s malfunctioning spy holonovel, he must find a way to keep their characters alive long enough for a rescue.

Plot Summary: While Sisko, Kira, Worf, Dax and O’Brien return from a conference to the station, Garak interrupts Bashir in a holosuite, embarrassing the doctor who is playing a British agent in a sexy old Earth spy fantasy. Abruptly O’Brien realizes that the runabout has been sabotaged. Eddington and Odo are able to beam the crew to safety, but the runabout’s explosion disrupts the transporter, so the computer stores their large patterns in the only available place: the program running in the holosuite. When Kira takes the place of Bashir’s Russian counterpart and lover Ana, alerting the doctor to the crisis, Eddington tells him that he must keep the program running; otherwise, the patterns of the crewmembers could be lost. Kira explains that the mastermind Dr. Noah may be behind a series of dangerous earthquakes as well as the disappearance of Professor Honey Bare, a seismologist whose photo reveals that Dax has now taken on her role in the story. But when O’Brien turns up as the villainous Falcon and starts a brawl, Garak realizes that the holosuite safeties have been disabled, so their lives could be in real danger. Bashir takes Kira and Garak to find Noah, which first requires that he defeat Noah’s assistant Duchamps aka Worf in a high-stakes card game. Meanwhile, Rom goes to work trying to rewire the holosuite to recover the crewmembers’ patterns and reintegrate them with the neural patterns held in the station’s main computer. Duchamps abducts Bashir, Garak, and Kira to Noah’s lair on an upper face of Mount Everest, chosen because Noah – that is, Sisko – intends to flood the planet using artificial earthquakes, leaving his hideaway the only spot above water. Dax aka Honey Bare is working for him willingly, but Bashir persuades her to help rescue himself and Garak by telling her that Noah can’t appreciate her true beauty. Afraid of being killed, Garak tries to escape the holosuite, which might kill the crewmembers trapped there, but Bashir shoots him to demonstrate his resolve and persuades Garak to help complete the program. They return to Noah’s control room, where Bashir stalls by pressing the button that will trigger the quakes. Noah plans to kill him anyway, but Eddington beams Sisko out just in time along with Kira, Dax, and O’Brien. Impressed that Bashir saved his friends by destroying the world, Garak asks to see more of Bashir’s holo-fantasies.

Analysis: Taken on its own merits, “Our Man Bashir” is an entertaining piece of fluff that shows off the acting abilities of several crewmembers and lets the set designers and hairstylists have a lot of fun. Taken as an installment of fourth season Deep Space Nine, however, this is the episode where I really start to wonder if the writers don’t like the series they’re writing. Coming on the heels of “Little Green Men” – arguably a more creative send-up of a movie genre, since 50s pulp gets done far less often than James Bond parodies – and smelling quite a bit like GoldenEye marketing, since that film had just opened when “Our Man Bashir” aired (though MGM apparently was not amused), one gets the sense that the show’s writers were becoming more fond of alternate universe scenarios like “Through the Looking Glass,” “Fascination,” “Prophet Motive,” and “Facets” than they were of the universe they were creating on Deep Space Nine, which was always intended to be a different sort of Star Trek – more world-building, more focused on a particular region and its people. I have enjoyed “Our Man Bashir” more in reruns than I did when it first aired, since the deliberately-adorable factor has become less grating and it’s nice to see such goofiness from actors who have to carry some very dark storylines in the final two seasons. I may not find Bashir charming or suave enough to be a James Bond clone, but there’s no question that Avery Brooks would be a phenomenal Bond villain and Andy Robinson a delightful Bond sidekick. I can’t really say which one made me emit more gleeful giggles, Sisko relishing the thought of destroying both the world and Bashir or Garak wishing he could spy for a fantasy British government and repeatedly saying he’s learning much too much about Bashir’s fantasy life.

The latter, I’m afraid, is true for me as well. I understand that to do a proper rip-off of James Bond during the Connery-Moore era, the women must be reduced to seductive playthings, but I really loathe seeing that done yet again this season to Kira and Dax. Yes, Nana Visitor is convincing as a Russian spy with a not-quite-believable accent whose main purpose is to serve as arm candy, and sure, Terry Farrell is quite adorable as a nerdy scientist even if she’d rather be loved for her beautiful blue eyes than for her ability to control the Earth’s magma, but seriously — wouldn’t it have been so much more twisted to make Sisko the shy nerd and Dax the would-be ruler of a post-apocalyptic Earth? What makes the stereotypes worse is that this isn’t an evil alien’s plot or Betazoid hormones affecting how we see the characters, but Bashir’s fantasies, meaning that despite all those heart-to-hearts with Dax about how they’re just friends and with Kira about how much he admires her, deep down he’s still the same womanizing boy who first arrived on the station. He’s just switched to fictional women in his living daydreams, and he doesn’t even seem to know that Bond’s world was never real life, but the movies. No wonder Garak is practically gagging when in two minutes Bashir convinces Dax that she just wants to be loved. She seems like a riff on the scientist from Moonraker, but that scientist was self-possessed and witty; women in actual Bond movies get more to do than Kira and Dax here. But it isn’t just in terms of gender that I find this reductive and uninteresting. What if the writers had let O’Brien be the leader for a change and Worf the brilliant nerd who just wants to be loved? All opportunity for surprise through humor gets lost by making the obvious retro choices.

I’ll let some of this slide while I’m watching because the Bashir-Garak interaction is so delightful, particularly when Garak turns coward and only wants to save his own butt, then when Bashir recites what Garak told him about spying to stall Sisko. I just wish their bonding opportunity involved a few more cutting comments about Bashir’s puerile heroics before the giant love-fest at the end. The technobabble is pretty effective in the progression of the story – I love the logic by which the computer puts the crew’s patterns on the holodeck and neural patterns in the rest of the station’s systems, even though it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that they could just beam everything back together with no one missing a beat. The directing is extremely stylized and the costume design is great. But the most interesting question of the episode, that of who sabotaged the runabout, is never answered in any satisfactory way. A Cardassian terrorist group no one’s ever heard of before, who don’t bother to do anything with Starfleet afterwards and Starfleet apparently offers no follow-up? Come on, they almost knocked out five command-level officers, leaving Eddington in charge of the station! How much more fun if the saboteur turned out to have been Garak, who might perfectly well have a real spy agenda we don’t know about, or Eddington, whom we will learn long after the fact has his own agenda and may need to present himself as a hero to Sisko et al. Even Quark could have done it, since apparently he has technical expertise that even Rom lacks – and that’s the second time this season, since he can also defuse bombs. The best thing to do with “Our Man Bashir” is probably to watch it out of order, in the middle of the Dominion War when some levity is much needed; when and where it airs, it feels like yet another crossover-type episode with yet more alternate versions of beloved characters who don’t get enough to do.

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

Michelle Erica Green

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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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