Statistical Probabilities

From: tlynch@alumnae.caltech.edu (Timothy W. Lynch)
Subject: [DS9] Lynch's Spoiler Review: "Statistical Probabilities"
Date: 1997/12/02
Message-ID: <66004n$dbb@gap.cco.caltech.edu>
Followup-To: rec.arts.startrek.current,alt.tv.star-trek.ds9
Keywords: DS9 Bashir enhancements
Reply-To: tlynch@alumni.caltech.edu
Organization: California Institute of Technology, Pasadena
Newsgroups: rec.arts.startrek.reviews,rec.arts.startrek.current,alt.tv.star-trek.ds9

WARNING: My projections suggest that DS9 spoilers are below; thus, the "Statistical Probabilities" are that you will be spoiled if you continue any further in this article.

In brief: Occasionally a bit shallow, but interesting and quirky.

Written by:  Rene Echevarria (teleplay); Pam Pietroforte (story)
Directed by:  Anson Williams
Brief summary:  Bashir's treatment of four genetically enhanced 
Federation citizens takes an odd turn when they begin advising him on 
the war effort against the Dominion.

After a hasty let's-wrap-this-up ending to the Dominion occupation of the station, a reasonably par-for-the-course Trek wedding episode, and the return of a long-lost love, "Statistical Probabilities" left me feeling much happier about DS9 than I've felt in a few weeks. It certainly wasn't perfect, but it was deliberately off-putting (always a plus) and the first downright intriguing episode of DS9 we've had in a while.

Part of that is a nod to past events, and more importantly a lack of contradiction of said events. The reference to Bashir's genetic enhancement is obvious, but the Dominion suddenly seems like more of a threat than they have in a few weeks, and there was no Kira/Odo moment saying "see, they're fine now" to set my teeth on edge the way we've had ever since the Federation retook the station. Not making serious mistakes certainly isn't the way for a show to achieve greatness, but it's a necessary first step.

A real mark of strength (as opposed to a lack of weakness) in "Statistical Probabilities" was that it really tackled a meaty question: if someone whose judgment you trust implicitly tells you to do something which fundamentally goes against the grain, what do you do? Yes, the issue was gussied up amongst questions of genetic enhancement and projections which echoed Isaac Asimov's concept of psychohistory, but the crunch of it came down to a question of numbers vs. ideals. This isn't the first time that Trek's addressed that question and is unlikely to be the last such time, but the episode did a good job of addressing them.

Primarily, that's because of how well Bashir was dealt with. On the one hand, after hanging around the "other mutants" long enough his arrogance really started to come through, so much so that one felt like reaching through the television and giving him a good smack. On the other hand, Bashir's question about what people like him should be "allowed" to do was so pertinent and so interesting that one couldn't help but sympathize with that part of him. As a result, the viewer was just as conflicted about the situation as Bashir was, if not more so -- and as a result of that, the larger issue of the Dominion became one to really look at.

As is typical in Bashir-heavy shows, some of the best scenes were between Bashir and O'Brien. There was no individual scene with the power of the conversation they had in "Doctor Bashir, I Presume" when Bashir's genetic status was first brought to light, but everything served to build up the contrast between them. O'Brien isn't dumb by any means, but Jack's term for him -- "uncomplicated" -- is often on the mark, at least on the surface. He's so down-to-earth that he'd be the perfect person to react to Bashir's high-minded theories, whether the two were friends or not. His plain-spoken remark to Bashir, that "you think nobody with half a brain could possibly disagree with you" brought everything into focus very cleanly (not to mention reminding me of a few times I've felt the same way), and his annoyed departure put Bashir into a real bind when it came time to see where his loyalties lay.

The inmates themselves were a somewhat mixed bag, but on the whole seemed to help the situation. The main drawback I saw in them was that there was very little depth; they weren't quite completely one- note, but they were near enough to cause a problem. (Ironically, the one who seemed the most complex to me was Serena, who had no lines.) On the other hand, they were so fundamentally bizarre that others' discomfort around them made sense, particularly O'Brien's. And let's face it -- any time we can see people dancing with imaginary partners to "The Blue Danube" and not wonder when reality took a right turn, the episode has to be doing something right.

The best of the inmates were the ones who were most and the least verbose, namely Jack and Serena. (Patrick was kind of bland, and Lauren was so drearily a one-note vamp that I couldn't get interested there.) Jack made himself interesting pretty much by pure force of will; the character was annoying, but in a fascinating kind of way. Between the character's complete disregard for social graces and Tim Ransom's energy, I kept wondering what Jack was going to say or do next -- and that's the mark of a *good* annoying character (such as Q, for another example), as opposed to simply annoying characters like Lwaxana Troi, Neelix, or a great many Ferengi. Serena, on the other hand, just seemed so haunted and so lost that I found myself awfully curious about her past. Hilary Shepard-Turner (if I have the actress right) is to be commended.

Perhaps because the inmates were somewhat less than three- dimensional, the show eventually moved away from being an examination of them to a look at the war effort -- and it was there that the inmates became far more interesting to me as well. Their analysis of Gul Damar based on one viewing of one speech had me just as slack-jawed as it did O'Brien and Bashir, and led rather nicely to the actual projections that caused Bashir's later dilemma.

As for the actual projections themselves, I'm intrigued but skeptical. The claim that "there's no way the Federation can beat the Dominion" certainly fits with the way we saw the Dominion for a good long while -- but given the number of missteps we've seen the Dominion make (whether well-founded or otherwise), it doesn't seem to fit the Dominion we've seen since the war began. On the whole, though, Bashir's prophesying the fate of the next several generations was nicely chilling, his calm acceptance of what he considered to be a future set in stone was a good contrast to Sisko and O'Brien, and the "it only took one person to throw your predictions off" idea, while common, was executed well. (For those who think Asimov's Foundation series was the only possible place from which to take that idea, however, keep looking harder; in another medium, there's always Marvel Comics' Mad Thinker.)

I must admit, however, to being uncomfortable with the show to a certain extent. The issue of "this is why we're afraid of genetic enhancement" is slightly uncomfortable, but that much is quite understandable; it's a touchy subject, and both sides were presented well enough that I'd almost be suspicious of anyone who *didn't* feel a little uneasy about it. Similarly, the question of genetically enhanced people being barred from certain fields is not something that sits entirely well with me -- but it was clear from Bashir's conversation with the rest of the senior staff that many people aren't entirely comfortable with it, which is also fine. What leaves me concerned is the idea that people can be institutionalized, apparently against their will, for having committed no crime -- and that *no one seems to see this as a problem*. Admittedly, my worries were eased when I found out that not everyone who was enhanced wound up being treated in such a way -- but the policy was very vaguely laid out, too much so for my tastes. We've only seen two types of "mutants" at this point on DS9: Bashir, the exceptional exception; and those with "unintended side effects" forcing them to be locked away. Nowhere did we get a sense of what enhanced people did if they *weren't* one of those two cases, and that makes me very uneasy about the Federation as a society. (The reaction of any individual person isn't a problem; it's the way the society as a whole is dealing with it that concerns me.)

An additional source of discomfort deals with the entire idea of the inmates as advisors. Once Jack went out of line, he and the others needed to be stopped; no argument there. However, one could almost interpret the whole story as one of the Federation *using* these people; they were willing to listen while it served their purpose, but there was no sense that Jack and the others were being rewarded in any way for their contributions to the war effort. They had some good ideas (and one doozy of a mistake), and now it's just back to the Institute for the lot of them. Given their lapse of judgment, perhaps that stance is justified -- and certainly, they seemed to be interested in the work regardless of what was in it for them. Even so, I can't help but feel that the Federation brass were being a bit manipulative (and the writers as well; I almost felt that the ending was supposed to justify locking these people away).

Overall, though, "Statistical Probabilities" was an interesting piece of work; if nothing else, those very questions which are leaving me uncomfortable should spark some debate and discussion -- and that's what good drama *should* do, in many ways.

Shorter comments:

-- The Damar/Weyoun scene in Damar's quarters was interesting, but I felt that the pair of them were a bit wasted here. I did like Odo's greeting to Weyoun, however: "I know; I honor you with my presence." :-)

-- If Bashir's projections were crafted with Asimov's psychohistory in mind (I concede the possibility that they weren't), a nod would have been nice. Hell, they did it with Data's positronic brain...

-- The reference to the Dominion wanting an Alpha Quadrant source of "white" was excellent. It's about bloody *time* we heard something about the shortage.

-- Perhaps I'm just not reading it properly ... but looking at the maps Damar projects during the negotiations, it looked to me as if the Federation wasn't losing any territory *at all* in his offer, Cabrel system or no Cabrel system.

-- The use of Dabo as an analogy was interesting as well.

-- "Since when do you speak Dominionese?" "Since this morning." Heh; I've heard of a facility for languages, but *that's* got to be pretty swift.

-- One wonders if any of the projections will pan out, particularly the idea of the Romulans breaking the nonaggression pact down the road.

That about covers it. "Statistical Projections" has too many one-note characters to be truly top-notch stuff, but it was quite interesting, and more complex than we've seen in a few weeks. I'm not complaining.

Wrapping up:

Writing: A number of very unsettling implications ill befitting the Federation, and some characters with little depth -- but a very on-target dilemma and excellent work with Bashir. Directing: "The Blue Danube" worked; need I say more? Acting: Siddig and Meaney were excellent, as always; Random and Shepard-Turner are worth pointing out as well.

OVERALL: 8, I think; quite interesting.

NEXT WEEK: The first of several reruns; see you in a few weeks!

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
tlynch@alumni.caltech.edu	<*>
"The way you're acting, you think nobody with half a brain could 
possibly disagree with you."
"Frankly, I don't see how they can."
"Well, I can think of two possible explanations.  Either I'm even more 
feeble-minded than you ever imagined, or you're not as smart as you 
think you are."
				-- O'Brien and Bashir
Copyright 1997, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...
This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net
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-----

Hans-Wolfgang Loidl <hwloidl.glasgow.ac.uk>
Last modified: Sat Aug 19 17:15:44 1995 Stardate: [-31]6158.38