Saturday, March 17, 2012

"Statistical Probabilities" Find The Dominion Negotiating And The Doctor Preparing For Defeat!

The Good: Good characters, Smart, Moments of humor,
The Bad: Another program that does a disservice to smart people.
The Basics: When a group of genetically-modified people arrives at Deep Space Nine, Doctor Bashir finds himself with his hands

I like Siddig El Fadil (Alexander Siddig). I think the actor got a weird bum rush and that he should have expected better of his fans (at conventions, he frequently admits he changed his public name simply because he got sick of fans and convention promoters pronouncing it wrong), but I like Siddig quite a bit. I like him most, probably, because he is funny. Sometimes, though, it takes a long time for his jokes to pay off. So, for example, shortly before the sixth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine began to air, I was at a convention where Siddig was the headliner. I was very excited because this was long before he did conventions virtually every weekend. So, when a fan – referencing “Doctor Bashir, I Presume?” (reviewed here!) asked Siddig if the writers were actually doing anything with his character based upon the secret that was revealed in that episode, El Fadil shook his head, frowned and said, “No. No, it’s one of those things where they needed it for the episode and we never hear about it again.” The joke, for those who are not as familiar with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is that from the outset of the sixth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Doctor Bashir is frequently compared to a Vulcan or a computer for the way his mind works. "Statistical Probabilities," which had been filmed well in advance of that convention appearance I mentioned, was the very first episode that fully delved into Doctor Bashir’s interest in genetically engineered humans.

"Statistical Probabilities" introduces a new set of characters, genetically engineered humans, who recur once more in the series. I actually like "Statistical Probabilities" more than my rating might indicate; I like how the episode fleshes out the larger Star Trek universe. I like how the episode does make “Doctor Bashir, I Presume” have consequences. And I like the way the episode explores how there are characters in the Star Trek universe for whom circumstances have not been as good. Like the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Lower Decks” (reviewed here!), "Statistical Probabilities" shows the fate of people who are not the a-list characters and in this case explores a group of people who are not even with StarFleet.

Doctor Bashir, after consulting with StarFleet Medical, determines that there are genetically enhanced humans living in (essentially) an assisted living facility. So, he invites four of them to Deep Space Nine. With them as his responsibility, Bashir tries to find ways to integrate Jack, Patrick, Lauren and the comatose Sarina with the crew. Jack is frequently manic and nervous, but is able to do complex equations. Lauren, in addition to having an enhanced libido seems to be an expert in many scientific fields and Patrick, an elderly engineered man, is emotionally fragile, but deeply perceptive. Sarina, it seems, is unable to process the world at the speed her brain works.

While Bashir’s genetically enhanced patients are visiting, so too are Weyoun and Gul Damar. Damar is advancing a peace initiative and seems very uncomfortable working so closely now with Weyoun. When Jack, Patrick, Lauren and Sarina witness a broadcast on a monitor, they quickly piece together what has happened between Damar and Weyoun. Astonished, Bashir convinces Sisko to give them access to the peace negotiations. But soon, the group begins predicting a very dark future for the Federation and Bashir comes into conflict with Sisko and O’Brien over how to proceed with the data they are positing.

The real strike against "Statistical Probabilities" is that it again perpetrates the stereotype that exceptionally smart people are socially maladjusted. Smart people, we are taught through "Statistical Probabilities" and the movie Smart People are not able to fit in. They are characterized as misfits, troublemakers and never seem as worthwhile as “normal” people. Of course, this may largely be to help people who are not exceptionally intelligent get by (i.e. “well, they may be smart, but I am well-liked”). It’s a bunch of hokum; often the smartest people actually understand and interact with other people better than those who are not as smart.

So, "Statistical Probabilities" could have been about Dr. Bashir meeting with exceptionally gifted, genetically-enhanced humans who are forced to meet in secret lest they be kicked out of StarFleet. The episode could have been about an exceptionally useful think tank which tries to seduce Dr. Bashir into working with them to end the Dominion War faster, with less casualties and with a greater chance of long-term peace for the Quadrant. But, instead, "Statistical Probabilities" is about a group of people who can barely function they are too damn smart, but oh so dumb. Sigh. And I like "Statistical Probabilities" when I am watching it!

Ironically, what I tend to like about "Statistical Probabilities" are the background plots more han the a-plot. Sure, Lauren is fun to look at and watching Tim Ransom channel Brad Pitt from Twelve Monkeys (reviewed here!) is a hoot, but the schtick gets old quickly. Jack is an exhausting character to watch and Patrick is so fragile as to be annoying in most of his time on screen. But, “Statistical Probabilities" still has decent elements.

The first of those elements is the use of the Bashir/O’Brien friendship. Doctor Bashir and Miles O’Brien are best friends and while episodes like “You Are Cordially Invited . . .” play off that friendship delightfully for comedic purposes, it is nice to see how serious the relationship can be. For the first time in a long time, "Statistical Probabilities" puts Bashir and O’Brien on opposite sides of an issue. O’Brien is intimidated by the idea of genetically enhanced humans and he does not want Bashir associating with Jack and the others. So, when Bashir begins to debate the merits of the projections Jack and the others develop, it is O’Brien who serves as an emotional and intellectual tether. It is nice to see how the two adults work the problem out as adults.

Also virtuous is how "Statistical Probabilities" addresses the language issue. While working with the holographic representations, Jack and Lauren realize that Weyoun is speaking in much shakier terms than the Universal Translator is rendering the words! That sort of detail and delving into what it truly means is a perspective not seen too frequently in the Star Trek franchise and "Statistical Probabilities" presents it well. The scene between Odo and Weyoun is a nice bit of comic relief, as well.

On the character front, "Statistical Probabilities" keeps a pretty tight focus on Bashir and O’Brien, at least when it is not parading Jack around for everyone. There is a delightful scene wherein Sisko becomes overwhelmed with the sheer volume of projections Bashir has for him and that is both an enjoyable scene and cool for both characters. Sisko is great at relying upon his crew to do things that he does not; he is a great leader. Seeing him interact with an unfettered Bashir is pretty wonderful. And Bashir is able to illustrate both his humanity and his intelligence in "Statistical Probabilities," which makes it the first time since “Doctor Bashir, I Presume” where the character has not been truly out of balance.

"Statistical Probabilities" is another great performance opportunity for Siddig El Fadil. A far cry from the annoying junior officer who started the series, Dr. Bashir in "Statistical Probabilities" is smart, articulate and entirely confident. El Fadil manages to play that to a t, with wonderful body language and great, articulate deliveries. Moreover, he and Colm Meany and he and Tim Ransom play off one another exceptionally well.

In the end, "Statistical Probabilities" keeps the main Dominion War plot relevant by creating a tangent story that allows Bashir to be Bashir. That, at the very least, makes it worthwhile.

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


For other Star Trek episode reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page for an organized listing of all I have reviewed!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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