4.04: “Hippocratic Oath”

Synopsis: Bashir and O’Brien find themselves at odds when they’re captured by a group of Jem’Hadar who ask for the doctor’s help. Struggling to adjust to life on the station, Worf clashes with Odo over security matters.

This one’s…fine? It’s solid, just not particularly remarkable. It doesn’t help that O’Brien is one of the characters about whom I generally have the least to say, or that I really dislike some things about the way his and Bashir’s relationship is written (more on that shortly).

Something that frustrates me, I think, is that, while I enjoy that the conflict comes straight out of the characters — once the issue of the Jem’Hadar attempting to break themselves of their addiction becomes clear, it also becomes clear that Bashir and O’Brien are going to be in conflict over it. My issue, I think, is that there’s…really no questioning, never any doubts by either of them along the way about their respective positions — except for the ending, arguably, where the two of them aren’t feeling quite as secure in their friendship as they were at the beginning. Even then, though within a few episodes they’ll be back to normal. Granted, I’m pretty much on Bashir’s side on the question of whether the morally right thing to do was to help the Jem’Hadar, so perhaps that’s coloring my viewpoint here, but it’s disappointing not to see any real depth to O’Brien’s position especially — his line that “they’re killers, that’s all they know how to do” is just a straight-up echo of his line in season two’s “Cardassians” that “‘gentle’ was bred out of these Cardassians a long time ago”. Deep Space Nine is frequently comfortable with forcing its characters to reexamine themselves, their positions, their beliefs; the show distinguished itself, even prided itself, on taking a different approach to Star Trek, questioning some of the things that the franchise had taken for granted. So it’s a shame that the “everyman” character, who was intended as an audience stand-in, has apparently not changed or grown much in the past two years, that he’s just declaring a different race to be cold-blooded killing machines.

It’s especially jarring in comparison to the B plot, which is literally about a TNG character trying to adjust to the different environment that is DS9. Sisko literally tells Worf that he’s going to need to get used to the fact that things on the station are less black and white than they may have seemed on the Enterprise, that there are “shades of gray”. That’s a striking message, and one that’s fairly central to the show as a whole, so it’s strange to not really examine it in the A plot — once the conflict of “Bashir wants to help the Jem’Hadar, O’Brien wants to escape and let them die” is established, there’s really no further depth or shading provided to the story, nothing new revealed about the characters.

I sound like I dislike this episode a lot more than I do, I think! I enjoy it well enough, but I think it pulled some of its punches, and that it could’ve been a lot stronger.

The B plot

This is…pretty predictable, really, but I also appreciate that Worf doesn’t immediately fit seamlessly into the crew, that it takes time for him to really find — or make — a place for himself among them. So of course he falls back on what he’s familiar with, security work, never mind that it’s no longer his domain.

I also find Sisko’s interactions with Worf interesting — I’ve said before that Sisko strikes me as very good at reading people, at knowing the best approach to take with someone. Following his conversations with Worf in “The Way of the Warrior“, when Sisko deliberately drew parallels between Worf’s feelings of aimlessness and ambivalence about remaining in Starfleet and his own a few years ago, when the series began, I can’t help but think Sisko is saying what he wishes someone could have told him when he first arrived at the station.

On the subject of Sisko and Worf’s interactions, I found Sisko’s remarks about Quark really striking — I mentioned early on in this blog that I really enjoy the evolution of his relationship to the Ferengi on the station. There’s not much made of it directly apart from when Quark confronts him in “The Jem’Hadar“, but that confrontation marks a real change in Sisko’s thinking, and I just find it…really lovely that he takes Quark’s words there to heart, that he really reconsiders his own beliefs and behavior and comes to respect their culture, even as he continues to disagree with many of that culture’s precepts.

Returning to the A plot and my issues with the Bashir-O’Brien friendship more generally

OK, so: I actually like a lot about the way that O’Brien and Bashir’s friendship develops over the course of the show, from O’Brien barely being able to tolerate Bashir’s presence at the beginning to their being best friends by the end.

But good lord, do I loathe the way the show sets up that friendship and the O’Briens’ marriage as somehow being in competition with one another. It’s played for laughs, and even some people in the fandom seem to think it’s cute, and I just cannot friggin’ stand it. Once Keiko is back on the station regularly, there’s a whole storyline in one episode where, like, Miles can’t so much as stop off at Quark’s for a beer after a shift, let alone take a few hours now and then to go hang out in the holosuite with Bashir, and it’s just…so weird and not at all how a healthy relatinoship works? Especially combined with his ridiculous jealousy in “Fascination” over her having made a (male) friend on her expedition. It’s just such a weird, gross image of marriage, straight out of the worst kind of dull sitcom, where apparently neither partner is allowed to have hobbies or friends or a life outside of the house, and it does none of the characters involved any favors.

And that’s before I’ve even gotten into the “no homo but I wish my wife was more like you” jokes, which also do no one any favors, particularly given that the whole reason Garak and Bashir have fewer one-on-one scenes as the show goes on, and Bashir and O’Brien have more, was specifically in an attempt to discourage the Garak/Bashir shippers. I do, however, appreciate that the fandom’s response to this was to start shipping Bashir and O’Brien, even if I’m not personally into said ship, because I am very much into doing things out of spite, particularly when the person being spited is Rick Berman.

(You will definitely hear more from me on Berman-era Star Trek‘s dreadful record on LGBTQ+ issues, but it may start as early as next post, because the show forcing her into a relationship with Garak solely as a desperate attempt to no-homo Garak is just one item on my very long TORA ZIYAL DESERVED BETTER list.)

Or, less seriously: JUST LET THE O’BRIENS HAVE A WEIRD LITTLE POLYCULE WITH BASHIR AND GARAK, AND ALSO LATER KIRA AND SHAKAAR. It’s amazing how many problems would be solved with more bisexuality and polyamory; I’ve been saying it for years and TV just continues to not listen.

Some other notes

  • “Word gets around in a place like this. It’s one of the things you’ll have to get used to.” LOL Sisko trying to tactfully explain to Worf that everyone on the station lives for drama.
  • Worf grimly observing that Gowron would’ve simply declared victory in the attempted invasion of Cardassia, regardless of what actually happened, was, uh…way too real. Also consistent, having just watched “Unification” last night, with his “rewriting history” to downplay the Federation’s role in his accession, which was interesting. (Has he already been replaced by a changeling at this point?)
  • Is Sisko tinkering with that clock thing from “Dramatis Personae” when Worf comes to see him at the end? That’s interesting.
  • So Odo was just planning to…infiltrate a smuggling ring? How long was that going to take, exactly? Is it normal for him to just, like, disappear for a while doing this kind of thing?
  • At the beginning, Bashir’s drinking something that kind of looks like it’s in a mason jar, and I find the mere idea of that weirdly entertaining.

Horniness rankings

Very little horniness in this one, actually? I mean, apart from the whole “no homo but why can’t my wife be more like you” vibes in O’Brien and Bashir’s early interaction, which, ugh.

3 thoughts on “4.04: “Hippocratic Oath”

  1. (Has he already been replaced by a changeling at this point?)

    Gowron is never replaced by a changeling! He’s 100% pure Gowron all the way through.

    Rewatching the Klingon politics arc of TNG is fun (uh, for me, others’ mileage may vary) because Gowron is introduced as “that guy who would probably be a decent leader, but he’s more interested in politics than being a warrior”. And it seems like he spends most of his career as chancellor over-compensating for that, and for the fact that it was the Federation that put him in his position.

    (One of the complaints about Disco is that the Klingons are too political and not warrior-y enough, and as a big fan of foreheady space Vikings, I say this is a feature not a bug, and also not a new development in the franchise.)

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    1. Oh, that’s right, I always forget it’s just Martok! Just consistent characterization, then, not the changelings doing their homework this time, lol.

      And yes! The roommate and I have been watching some TNG highlights, and combined with starting S4 in DS9 it’s really interesting to notice a lot of the political things that were lost on me when I was younger, and the common thread of Gowron’s obsession with the image he projects. Like, in “Way of the Warrior”, he at one point tells Worf that he’s always considered him a friend and ally, and…uh, sure, buddy, OK.

      Also perhaps I am just more primed than ever to notice vain leaders who are obsessed with projecting a Tough Warrior image, can’t imagine why that might be!

      (One of the complaints about Disco is that the Klingons are too political and not warrior-y enough, and as a big fan of foreheady space Vikings, I say this is a feature not a bug, and also not a new development in the franchise.)

      It is WILD how many of the things people complain about with Disco can, in fact, be classed as “not a new development in the franchise”. I know this is a conversation we have had before, but I’m just constently bemused anew by it.

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  2. They did miss an opportunity to do something interesting with Bashir vs. O’Brien on this one, although I’m not quite sure I know how they would have moved that forward. I think it would have rung false for O’Brien to have had a change of heart and seen Bashir’s point. O’Brien may be the everyman audience representative character, but, let’s be real, he’s also kinda racist. He was kinda racist earlier in the show about Cardassians and only very very vaguely changed his tune about that (and what we did see of that was good, I’m not knocking it), and now he’s kinda racist about the Jem’Hadar. The thing that’s interesting to me was that O’Brien’s attitude about the Cardassians was shaped by his wartime experiences where he saw them committing atrocities and he himself became a killer to stop them. He has not had nearly that much exposure to the Jem’Hadar. He’s basically been involved in, at this point… 1-2 battles with them? Total? So the attitude that they wrote for him here means he’s made a pretty snap judgment about them. Again, I don’t really think it’s inconsistent with his character, although it certainly isn’t admirable.

    I thought back to Worf in TNG’s “The Enemy”, where everyone badgers him to make a blood donation to save the Romulan’s life; he refuses and the guy dies, which is held up as an incident that may precipitate a conflict with the Romulans (and so far as anyone in the episode at that point knows, it probably would have done, since they didn’t know there was another Romulan alive on Galornden Core). In a TOS episode, the character probably would have been persuaded to overcome his prejudice and give the donation. It was a rare early break with that TOS spirit when the episode had Worf refuse to change his mind, and I think it would have been unbelieveable if he had changed his mind. Here we don’t have nearly as much reason to sympathize with O’Brien’s choice, but I still think it would have felt fake and off-brand if he had endorsed Julian’s plan. Come down to it, and O’Brien is running the POW handbook; escape at all costs and frustrate your enemy’s plans to the extent possible.

    Of course, that doesn’t make for tremendously exciting character growth. If they hadn’t set this up as a “conflict between friends” episode it might have worked better, actually. In fact, if they’d substituted Worf for O’Brien that might have been interesting… except the plot wouldn’t have worked as scripted, because Worf outranks Bashir. (In actuality, if Starfleet works the way the U.S. military does, Bashir wouldn’t have been able to give O’Brien orders in a combat situation anyway; as a physician, he wouldn’t be a line officer, and he can’t command anything. Star Trek never quite establishes how this dynamic works in Starfleet, which is probably better for plot flexibility in the long run anyway.)

    I still think it’s interesting that they changed the premise from “The Abandoned”, where ketrocel white (not under that name) is described as a genetic deficiency hardwired into the Jem’Hadar’s DNA; they lack an enzyme that they need to survive, and the white is that enzyme’s delivery mechanism. That’s different from being “addicted” to a “drug”, an addiction that one can “break,” according to this episode. I guess the conclusion, in so much as one is reached, is that Goran’agar was naturally capable of supplying his own enzyme, I guess due to a one-off error in his clone batch – they never really settle whether it’s possible for the other Jem’Hadar to do the same thing… based on what the episode gives us though I’d have to conclude that the answer is probably not. (In which case, Bashir was wasting his time anyway and O’Brien made the right decision for the wrong reason.) Of course, that also doesn’t really track with the “breaking addiction” theme. I think that’s important and not just hair-splitting because of the emotional and societal baggage associated with “drug addiction” in the United States at the time this episode was written (and, frankly, now) vs. the implications of simply having been genetically engineered without the capability to naturally produce a substance that you need to survive.

    And I think this takes on yet another hue later in the series when Starfleet conceives a plan to destroy the ketrocel white production installation the Dominion has built in the Alpha Quadrant **specifically as a form of genetic warfare against the Jem’Hadar** because, well, if it’s a “drug” that they’re “addicted to,” and they can’t “break” that addiction, that’s kind of their own fault, isn’t it? Granted, I don’t remember anyone in the episode making that argument, and maybe I’m reading too much into this, but it bugs me. I just wish they’d stuck with the original explanation.

    Better stuff… Scott Macdonald was solid as the Jem’Hadar first in a role that could have just been a parody. His narrative of how the Jem’Hadar conceive of the Founders and the Vorta was pivotal for the series, especially since we haven’t yet met Weyoun or really seen firsthand the relationship between the Vorta and the Jem’Hadar the way we will later (I’m not counting Eris, since she was undercover). I was actually surprised because we’ve seen so little of the Vorta in the show so far that the reference probably confused people who didn’t remember them all that well from their few earlier appearances.

    The b-plot, eh, yes. It was there. It did make good use of the relationship between Sisko and Worf and showcased Sisko’s emotional intelligence effectively, but the whole thing was pretty paint-by-numbers and since you could tell exactly where the plot was going to go basically from the episode’s teaser scene, I found it didn’t really pay off, and it felt perfunctory.

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