Tuesday, December 6, 2011

So Long Bareil: "Life Support" Sees The Vedek Off.

The Good: CHARACTER! Acting, Ethical work
The Bad: Overbearing sadness of the plot
The Basics: When peace negotiations go awry, Vedek Bareil is killed, resurrected a few time and ultimately leaves the audience terribly sad.

One of the especially nice things about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is its serialized nature. Casual fans of the Star Trek franchise disliked the nature of the series because it forced the viewer to tune in every week or miss out on important details in the continuing storyline. Those who committed to this series, however, were rewarded and "Life Support" is one of the payoffs for the committed Star Trek: Deep Space Nine viewer.

"Life Support" opens with an accident aboard a Bajoran transport vessel which delivers Kai Winn and Vedek Bareil to Deep Space Nine. Winn is dazed and Bareil is critically wounded; indeed, the Vedek dies rather early. Shocked and hurt, Kira - who has been involved with Bareil for over a year - returns to work while Bashir does the autopsy. In the autopsy, Bashir finds a way to revive Bareil as Winn reveals to Sisko that she has been conducting secret negotiations with Cardassia. Bareil's resurrection affords Winn the opportunity to continue the peace negotiations with the Cardassian Union, but at a price: Bareil's condition continues to worsen and it ultimately comes to a head.

This is one of the turning points in the plot of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Here, the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor is essentially put to rest with a worthwhile Bajoran-Cardassian treaty. As well, Vedek Bareil's death has some lasting ramifications, most notably making Kira single once again.

More than anything else, this is an episode about character and about the morality of extending life beyond its natural limits. The essential play is the agonizing love Kira has for Bareil when she must learn to let him go conflicting with Kai Winn's need for Bareil alive. The conflict between Kira and Winn, which is usually the subject of the episodes Winn is in (i.e. "In The Hands Of The Prophets" and "The Collaborator") the background here. Wisely, this episode focuses on bringing some closure to Kira and Bareil's relationship. Very effectively, "Life Support" portrays the anguish Kira experiences while Bareil is brought back to life time and again.

The political intrigue that Kai Winn inevitably brings with her as the scheming spiritual leader of Bajor is not absent from this episode, though. Her negotiations with the Cardassian Legate who comes to the station is highlighted by a candid conversation between her and Sisko and one of the most openly creepy realizations of her machinations by Bashir.

What makes this episode worth watching and watching again is the acting. The way the actors bring their characters to life - or death - strengthens the episode and brings power to what could have been the flattest episode produced. Instead, the actors give powerhouse performances. Siddig El Fadil makes Bashir both compassionate and cunning with radically different performances in his scenes with Nana Visitor and Louise Fletcher. Siddig has a vitality to his performance that draws the viewer to him in every scene he is in.

Avery Brooks does well at keeping Sisko low-key, making his few scenes more subtle and unimportant than usual. That is, his acting contribution to "Life Support" is actually lowering his screen presence. This especially benefits Louise Fletcher who is able to finally infuse Winn with compassion and pacifist sensibilities that make a great deal of sense for a religious leader. Here, Fletcher brings sadness to her voice and her body language in here scenes is much more humble than it has been before, most notably keeping her back less straight than usual.

The two biggest players here are Phillip Anglim and Nana Visitor. Anglim effectively portrays Bareil in various states of biological and mechanical failure. His use of voice and eyes clearly illustrates Bareil's degradation. The real winner is Nana Visitor. Making Kira sad, broken and hurt is Visitor's chance to express herself with a remarkably deeper range than she has in the past. Visitor is classy, though, pulling the entire range of emotions off, culminating in a beautiful delivery in the end of the episode. Her last speech justifies the entire episode. Between Visitor and Anglim, there is an unrelenting air of sadness created and maintained in "Life Support."

Some people find the emotion of this episode oppressive and I would certainly never recommend watching it shortly after a loved one has died. But, it is one of the most interesting and compelling arguments about euthanasia and the ethics of prolonging life. This is an episode dominated by emotion and it works best for fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Others may enjoy this episode, but it truly it the culmination of a relationship and the oppressive attitude toward death is nowhere near as impressive to those who are not fans.

In the end, this is an episode that is a tragedy and it comes across quite clearly as one. Fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine might lament that this is Phillip Anglim's last performance as Vedek Bareil and given that he dies almost immediately in the episode, his acting after his death is as a different form of Bareil and as a result the last time we see Bareil as Bareil is in the awful episode "Fascination."

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Third Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the breakout season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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