3.13: “Life Support”

Good lord, Louise Fletcher and Nana Visitor are both just phenomenal in this episode, and Alexander Siddig is no slouch, either.

The loss of Bareil is, well. It’s sad in theory, but in practice, I mostly just feel devastated for Kira. As noted before, Bareil himself is…fine. He’s thoroughly OK. I do feel that he’s a bit of a missed opportunity, in general (and I’m starting to feel like you could make a drinking game out of my using the term “missed opportunity” on this blog). There’s this idea I see sometimes (the “who cares about Superman when Batman is there” mindset) that decent, emotionally healthy people are boring, that you can’t tell interesting stories about them. I firmly believe that they aren’t boring, and that they can make for great TV — hell, a lot of Star Trek stands as evidence of that! I just don’t feel like they ever quite figured out what kind of stories to tell with this particular decent, emotionally healthy person, and it doesn’t help that the actor just doesn’t have a lot of presence, or chemistry with most of the other cast members.

Meanwhile, the B plot…whew. Talk about tonal differences. They did actually want something a bit lighter compared to the A plot, which I get, but this is downright tissue-weight, and it’s just so jarring. Also, it…doesn’t quite work for me this far into the series? I feel like “Jake and Nog go on a double date, but Cultural Differences arise” would have been more fitting earlier on, when they were still getting to know one another. It just seems like a strange place in the series to have it, and it’s even more jarring given that the next episode is a huge one for Nog.

Let’s talk a little more about Kai Winn

So, when I was on Antimatter Pod a few months back, talking about religion in Trek, we touched for a bit on Winn, and I continue to find her a really interesting character. I really liked seeing her and Bashir played off each other, as well — it’s not a combination I would have expected, and they’re very interesting to watch.

(As a side note: I really like that this never turns into a hamfisted “religion vs. science” debate, which I feel like it very easily could have done — especially since originally, when instead of Bareil it was a one-off ambassador, it was meant to be Bashir trying to keep the character alive at all costs, and others having to intervene and tell him that it needed to end, and the character allowed to die.)

I was a little surprised, myself, to find that I thought Bashir was being unfair in accusing Winn of just wanting Bareil kept alive so she could use him. First of all, because, you know, Bareil has a say in the matter, too (see also: TNG’s “Ethics”, which is a whole mess of ableism, but where I also find Crusher’s complete disregard for Worf’s own wishes and cultural beliefs kind of troubling). I mean, Winn is absolutely ambitious — and appealing to her ambition was a surprisingly insightful moment for Julian, and a sign of how he’s growing as a character — but as I said when she was first introduced, something I find interesting about her is that her faith really is strong. She’s not a total cynic just using religion as a way to gain power, nor a fanatic who can’t see further than her own religion. She does truly believe, and she has wrestled with her faith and continues to do so over the course of the show.

Like, I’m sure that what Bashir says, about wanting to have someone who can take the blame, may be an element of the whole thing, but just a few episodes ago, in “Fascination”, Bareil was suggesting that Kira was being unfair to Winn, too, that she really was taking her position as Kai seriously. I don’t think it’s out of the question that she really does care about him for reasons beyond his being politically useful for her.

And honestly, I just can’t shake the scene where they arrived on the station. Winn is never one to miss a chance to emphasize her status, but in the midst of the crisis, her very first line is “the vedek, take care of the vedek”. The first we see of her in this episode — never mind ceremony, she’s waving off basic first aid because Bareil needs it more. This seems pretty basic decency, hardly worth remarking upon, but given the way some of the fandom talks about Winn — hell, given the way some of the characters in this episode talk to her — it seems worth calling out.

Speaking of the politics of the whole thing…

I do find it kind of weird that Winn is so utterly unprepared for these negotiations. Why wasn’t Bareil already briefing her? Like, if she was just there to give her blessing once it was done, OK, but I’m not sure why she would be expected to negotiate in the first place, then, rather than just being flown in from Bajor once an agreement was reached to stand at the signing and make a speech. For that matter, why was Bareil the only Bajoran representative involved in this? Why didn’t he at least have a couple of staff members or attachés who could keep notes?

Honestly, for that matter, why is a vedek negotiating a peace treaty? I get that religion is an important part of Bajoran culture, but Bajor isn’t a theocracy. The head of the religion doesn’t need to sign off on treaties, let alone negotiate them, and I certainly wouldn’t expect a priest to be negotiating them. Shouldn’t there be, like, an ambassador doing this?

Of course, the Doylistic answer is that this episode was supposed to be centered on an ambassador originally, but they decided that it wouldn’t have as much impact if it were just about a one-off character, and Bareil wasn’t really working out for them as a character, so they changed the random ambassador to him instead (after briefly contemplating a more thorough rewrite to make the dying character O’Brien, because there were rumors at the time that Colm Meaney was thinking about leaving the show). Which…I guess, and if they wanted to write out Bareil, this was a good way to kill two birds with one stone, but it raises a lot of questions about Bajoran government.

On the subject of questions raised: as is pretty much always the case, I want a lot more about the Cardassian politics going on behind the scenes here. On the Bajoran side of things, at least, the negotiations have apparently been secret, but how secret are they on Cardassia? Formally apologizing for the Occupation is a pretty big deal, I feel like that’s…gonna cause a stir? Six episodes ago, Dukat was attempting to reestablish a Cardassian presence on the station; where did this sudden willingness to compromise come from? (It also seems worth noting that the Cardassians haven’t actually sent a diplomat, either, since the negotiations are with Central Command, rather than the governing body to which the military is ostensibly answerable.)

That said, I really did love that after Sisko said “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I never would’ve guessed that you would be the one to bring such a bold vision of peace to Bajor,” Winn…doesn’t actually try to argue with him, just flat-out admits that Bareil’s been the driving force behind it.

Horniness rankings

The whole Jake-Nog-and-their-dates thing is filled with age-appropriate teenage horniness, but it’s so jarring given the rest of the episode that it’s best ignored.

Also, a couple of lines from Winn at different points make me feel like — well, not like there’s actual horniness between them, but like maybe there is a parallel universe out there where she and Bareil have a lot of sexual tension between them, and like I would be interested in seeing the version of the show from that universe.

3 thoughts on “3.13: “Life Support”

  1. … maybe there is a parallel universe out there where she and Bareil have a lot of sexual tension between them…

    This makes me think of that run of West Wing episodes where Donna meets a nice, well-adjusted, decent guy (who is played by Jason Isaacs, come to think of it), and I spent every minute shouting at her to run away with him and leave Josh forever. And now I want the AU where Bareil was played by a pre-Malfoy Isaacs and was a lovely guy who had UST with everyone.

    (Except Kira, obviously they had RST.)

    (Maybe I just really want Jason Isaacs and Nana Visitor to hook up?)

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    1. Oh my STARS, that would have been so incredible. In terms of alternate career paths for Jason Isaacs in the 90s, this may be even better than when it clicked for me that he’s a year younger than James Marsters.

      (Also good lord, I almost regret never finishing TWW now, because I was unaware that Jason Isaacs showed up at one point?)

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  2. This episode was much more effective than I remembered it being for performances by Nana Visitor, Alexander Siddig, and Philip Angilm. It’s probably the most effective Anglim ever is playing this character – his desperation when he demands an extension, a lifeline from Bashir so he can carry out the will of the Prophets and make the peace agreement happen resonates very well. It’s a real shame the actor didn’t show nearly as much bandwidth during past performances as the character. Makes me wonder whether he was badly-directed, badly-written, or just didn’t see much possibility of depth in Bareil. (I know in a couple of seasons he tries again as Mirror Bareil, but I honestly can’t remember that episode at all besides knowing that it exists, so I’m not sure if it succeeded or not… guess I’ll find out eventually.) Anyway, this is a nice payoff for several episodes worth of wooden performances and his goofy, loopy turn in “Fascination.”

    Siddig is also very memorable as Bashir in one of a very few instances so far where he’s lost a patient and had to break the news to one of his crewmates. (The other time this happened that springs to mind, it was Kai Opaka in “Battle Lines,” and once again he was principally in the role of telling Kira, although there were others around as well, obviously. And it’s kind of interesting to contrast Kira’s reaction to that event with her reaction to this one. When her faith community’s leader dies, she loses it completely; when her boyfriend dies, she internalizes it immediately and locks it up to deal with later.) Later in the episode, Bashir’s evident regret over having gone to such lengths to extend Bareil’s life and his cold dismissal of what he sees as Winn’s political calculation are very solid. The character is always at his best when he’s at his most professional (other than when he’s giddily flirting with Garak) and that’s delivered in spades here.

    Winn probably comes off at her most dramatically interesting in this episode as well. Her frustration in the negotiations is very realistic, as is her multi-layered calculus on how to handle this situation she finds herself in.

    Kind of a shame that the whole Bajoran-Cardassian peace agreement plot development comes out of nowhere, and, so far as I can remember, essentially goes nowhere, for all that Sisko says it creates shockwaves on both Bajor and Cardassia Prime (which it should, and it would have been really interesting to explore that and its implications more deeply). I was mystified by the Cardassians’ motive for actually signing the agreement, and I don’t think the episode did as well as it could have at making that development make more sense in light of previous episodes. The Legate’s insistence on return of Cardassian-origin property is interesting too, particularly because one piece of Cardassian-origin property they’d presumably get back under that agreement is the space station formerly known as Terok Nor!

    The B-plot really didn’t work that well against the A-plot… they could have saved that for a lighter episode and it would have seemed less jarring to transition back and forth from that to wrenching ethical decisions about life and death. Although, it did work well on its own merits. Jake and Nog confronting deep cultural differences and making a conscious decision to tackle them and not let them derail their friendship is the kind of character building that I didn’t really appreciate watching this show as a teenager (how many times I’ve said that… how many more times I will say that…) but that I really like as an adult. I also like that the episode took a moment to have Sisko recall for Jake that he had previously observed that a human and a Ferengi couldn’t be friends, and immediately admit that he was wrong about it. It connects back nicely to a few other moments in this season and late season 2 showing Sisko gaining an authentic appreciation for (some aspects of) the Ferengi culture.

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