When Bashir uses an innovative technique to treat the genetically altered and damaged Sarina, he falls in love with his patient.
Plot Summary: Bashir’s friends are busy with their own personal lives, so Bashir works on virus problems and goes home lonely until he learns that genetically enhanced savants Jack, Lauren, and Patrick have impersonated Starfleet officers to bring the near-catatonic Sarina back to the station in the hopes that Bashir can repair her neural damage. Starfleet agrees to let Bashir try an experimental technique, though he needs help from both O’Brien and his fellow augments to make the surgery successful. Soon after she wakes, Sarina is walking the Promenade, admiring the wonders of the station and helping Bashir with both his medical research and her own neural development. She enjoys singing with the group of peers with whom she has lived for many years, but is soon frustrated by their social ineptitude, accepting Bashir’s invitation to meet his friends and stunning Quark with her skill at Dabo. When Bashir tells Lauren, Jack and Patrick that Sarina won’t be returning with them to the institute where they live very limited lives, they become angry and Jack lashes out at a distressed Sarina. Meanwhile, O’Brien warns Bashir, who speaks glowingly about finally having found a woman who makes him feel good about himself, that the doctor may pushing his patient to become the partner he wants. Undeterred, Bashir invites Sarina to dinner and tells her he’d like to take her to Risa, but when she fails to arrive for the date, he finds her in her quarters, once more catatonic. Her longtime peers question her and realize that Sarina can still talk, but is afraid. When Bashir tells her that he loves her and wants to help her, she blurts out that she doesn’t know what love is. Realizing that she is torn between a sense of obligation to him and a desire to find her own path, the doctor gets her a posting to a research station and says goodbye to her, devastated that his unprofessional behavior nearly drove his patient back inside herself. He feels more alone than ever.
Analysis: When Deep Space Nine first aired, I was nervous about Bashir episodes, even late in the show’s run, because so many of the early ones played like authorial fantasy – using the character to explore the discomforts of being a young male genius while having him make puppy eyes at Dax and other women. “Chrysalis” did not initially not look promising since its description reads like a combination of Pygmalion and Flowers for Algernon…the former the tale of a condescending man who crafts his ideal woman, the latter the story of a doctor who turns a mentally disabled patient into a genius and falls in love, only to watch the patient regress again. I thought “Chrysalis” might end up being both predictable and maudlin, with a denouement focusing on Bashir’s man-pain about both losing the woman he loves and not being able to save her through his genetically enhanced brilliance. Instead it’s more complicated and subtle, and as much as I’d appreciate more focus on Sarina, since her struggles to find herself as an adult after being treated as a disabled child deserve more screen time, there’s also a complex and moving exploration of Bashir and O’Brien’s friendship, which these two series regulars deserve. Indeed, the episode begins with Bashir’s frustration that he can only spend time with O’Brien when Keiko and the kids are on Bajor, then ends with O’Brien offering sympathy that’s rejected along with a dinner invitation when it comes with the caveat that Keiko will be cooking. Dax, whom we’ve heard it suggested a lot recently is the great love of Bashir’s life, is curiously absent this episode as both friend and counselor at a moment when the doctor and his patient could both really use one, except to make the telling observation that Bashir and O’Brien have trouble expressing their feelings for each other (to which O’Brien responds by saying, “Julian, why don’t you show everybody how much you love me and order the next round”).
Thus, what might have become a somewhat didactic story about the perils of doctors becoming involved with their patients (and to some extent teachers with their students and coaches with their trainees) becomes much more universal and emotional, enhanced by terrific direction that makes the bottle show aspects a benefit instead of a drawback. Take the singing scene, which makes me roll my eyes just a bit at the beginning with its echoes of The Sound of Music, then uses the actors’ complementary voices and personalities to soar into something very nearly spiritual. We’ve seen this quartet interacting before in “Statistical Probabilities” yet were never given any indication of what drew them together apart from being able to keep up with one another’s rapid-fire thought processes and the quirks that make them misfits elsewhere in Federation society. Here we see them working together quite literally in harmony, not so much teaching Sarina as inducting her into the beauty of music from which she had previously been shut out. Clumsy direction could have made this seem hyperbolic and embarrassing, but instead we get the same sense of soaring delight from the performances as the music is supposed to evoke, with the augments showing the advantages of the lack of inhibition that has made them a problem for Sisko and Starfleet in the past. A similar effect happens when the camera zooms in on the wilted rose that Bashir intended for Sarina at the disastrous dinner date which never takes place; it’s cliched imagery, yet in an episode that’s named for and contains numerous references to the idea of a person who may emerge or fade away depending upon what happens to her at a precarious moment, it works.
I don’t much like Sisko’s angry bluster when the augments first arrive in stolen Starfleet uniforms, though Sisko’s concern that they be kept isolated is understandable. But the rest of the cast is very enjoyable in very small appearances, particularly the central scene at Quark’s where it becomes obvious that Sarina can no more go back to her fellow augments than she can instantly integrate into what passes for society on the station, even if Bashir wants to believe that she can. He feels very comfortable with Sarina because she can immediately read his own behavior and psychoanalyze it, but he doesn’t seem to recognize how overstimulated she must be by instinctively feeling compelled to read and analyze everyone around her, probably an effect of being worked over by therapists for so many years. There’s a beautiful moment in that scene after Dax claims that men have trouble showing emotion when Sarina looks at Odo and points out that the changeling doesn’t, which makes Kira laugh, after so many years of observing Odo’s facade…yet every time we see Odo in “Chrysalis,” he’s glowing with happiness, whether it’s taking Kira to Vic’s or sitting in Quark’s watching people consume beverages he can’t drink. Even more than a trained counselor, Odo might have been the perfect person to offer Sarina some advice about integrating into a society where she feels like a very late bloomer, were Bashir not monopolizing her to such an extent that she can scarcely function. It’s possible to feel sorry for him in the end not because he’s lonely and feeling sorry for himself, but because his self-reproach over his behavior is stronger than his misery. Given that we now know he’ll make himself let O’Brien go with a minimum of guilt a few months hence, it’s more interesting to watch his pain here.