4.10: “Our Man Bashir”

Synopsis: When an emergency leaves the crew stuck as characters in Bashir’s holosuite program, he must figure out how to save them all. (Fortunately, Garak is there to “help”.)

So, in discussing “Little Green Men”, Jason mentioned drifting away from Mad Men after a season or two because of the ways that it dwelt on the problems of the 60’s. A few years back, while we were talking about TV, my mother mentioned that she’d tried to watch the show, but quit pretty early on, because — even knowing full well that it wasn’t actually meant to be a nostalgia trip, that if anything it was meant to be the opposite — it was just too frustrating: “It just reminded me of how terrible everything was then, how miserable I was. The only thing I liked about the 60s was Star Trek.”

Liz mentioned in the comments to the same post that DS9’s historical/pop culture references, when drawn from the mid-20th-century US, generally seem to involve replicating the unpleasant gender politics of the era in question — which makes for a disappointing contrast with, for instance, the moment in the seventh season when Sisko explains his dislike of the Vic Fontaine program, pointing out that in reality, he and Kasidy Yates wouldn’t have been able to set foot in a place like Vic’s except as cleaners or performers. It would’ve been nice if the show could have had the same amount of self-awareness around gender, as well.

Even leaving that aside, though, I just…find it kind of boring how much of DS9’s historical/pop-culture/holodeck stuff is drawn from mid-century America? This is at least as much a rather shallow aesthetic complaint as anything else, to be honest; I generally don’t even like midcentury modern furniture. (When Garak said that “this era has a distinct lack of taste”? I felt that.) But also I feel like it’s one of the least interesting things you could do with a holosuite! Like, come on, you’ve got so much history of so many worlds at your fingertips, never mind the fiction of all those worlds as well! Why would you keep going back to just a couple of specific decades in one single planet’s history? Snore.

(Especially because we do see and hear about people going to/coming from the holosuite for other reasons: O’Brien — and Odo! — kayak, Dax drags Kira to Camelot and a spa on Trill at different points, O’Brien and Bashir reenact various battles, and so on. But what do we get in detail? Bashir’s James Bond program and Vic Fontaine. Like, I get that to some extent, it’s a budget issue, and 60s-era stuff would be relatively easy to come by/put together, but still.)

Admittedly, individual episodes, I tend to enjoy! Season seven’s “It’s Only a Paper Moon” is lovely and poignant, and the same season’s heist episode, “Badda Bing, Badda Bang” is a lot of fun. Hell, this one is fun, too! I sound a lot more down on it than I am; I do quite like it, not least because just about every episode is improved by the addition of Garak. Just, taken as a whole, it’s a somewhat annoying pattern.

Holo-musings

So, as silly as the program is, and as unappealing as I, personally, would probably find it, Bashir is still completely justified in his anger at Garak for breaking into it, let alone when he thinks that he’s somehow roped other members of the staff into joining him! In general people on DS9 are at least better about not just barging into each other’s holoprograms, Kool-Aid Man-style, than they are on The Next Generation, though this may just be, in part, that they just do fewer holodeck stories in general than TNG show did. (Plus DS9’s holosuites are much more clearly established as having pornographic functions than TNG’s holodecks. See: Odo’s appalled reaction early on, when Quark let Jake and Nog go into the holosuites.)

I quite like the detail that it is, in fact, illegal to break into someone else’s program — it should be! As I noted back in “If Wishes Were Horses”, a fantasy is an intensely private thing; it’s not really fair to make sweeping judgments on who someone is as a person based on a fantasy, particularly one that wasn’t meant to be shared. People often enjoy things in fiction or fantasy that they might find upsetting, offensive, or frightening IRL. I’m not just talking about sex here; when it comes to comfort movies, for instance, my roommate tends to enjoy hyper-violent action, which is very much not my thing. I have never felt the slightest concern that her enjoyment of violent movies might mean she will commit violence against me or anyone else, first because she is a very kind, warm, tender-hearted person, but second, and perhaps even more importantly, because she is an adult who is capable of recognizing the difference between fiction and reality.

In fact, fantasy vs. reality is something of a theme throughout the episode, with Garak telling Bashir that “real spies have to make hard choices”, and, later, Bashir suggesting that part of Garak’s increasingly disdainful commentary is due to “the fact that my fantasy happens to step on what you consider to be your private domain”.

(Hell, Deep Space Nine itself contains numerous examples of things I enjoy in fiction but wouldn’t in reality: I have no interest in living through an interstellar war; as interesting a character as I find him onscreen, if Gul Dukat were real the only reason I’d want to be within a light-year of him would be to punch him; and those weird little triangular pillows everyone has don’t look very comfortable.)

“Doctor, I do believe there’s hope for you yet.”

Alexander Siddig has said that this episode marks the point where he started to notice a shift in the general opinion of his character. Bashir, for my money, may be the person who changes the most over the course of the show; this is probably the first episode since season three’s “Distant Voices” where he’s been the central character, so it’s the first time in a while that I’ve had a chance, as a viewer, to contemplate his development. (There was “Hippocratic Oath”, but that didn’t really reveal much new about either him or O’Brien.) It’s starting to become clear that he has, indeed, grown since the first season, that his arrogance has been — is being — tempered, smoothed down into a more mature confidence.

I’ve said previously that early on, when Bashir is at his most irritating, his saving grace is that he takes his job extremely seriously, and is actually pretty damn good at it. Even in the very first episode, as soon as there’s a medical emergency, he’s barking at Odo to either help him or get out of the way. Garak calls Bashir “a man who dreams of being a hero because you know, deep down, that you’re not”; I tend to view his insistence on saving everyone perhaps a bit more generously than Garak does (or at least than he claims to do), less as part of the fantasy and more as an extension of his dedication to his job. It’s Garak who warns him that he “may not have the luxury of saving everyone”; I suspect that part of Garak’s shocked-but-not-totally-displeased reaction when Bashir actually shoots him is that he didn’t really think Bashir had taken his warning to heart — but here he is, deciding that, if necessary, he’s willing to sacrifice one person in order to save the rest.

(Sure, that that one person happens to be Garak himself is perhaps not ideal, but let’s not get bogged down in the details. Bashir is learning, and Garak takes his victories where he can get them.)

I almost feel as though there’s a less-intense version of their dynamic from “The Wire” at work — though Garak is nowhere near as out of control, emotionally, as he gets in that one, he’s still the one who grows increasingly agitated as the story goes on, while Bashir grows steadily calmer and more serious. The jokes and asides come almost entirely from Garak; Bashir himself is focused solely on the problem at hand.

Other notes

The franchise’s holodeck-heavy episodes tend to be very hit-or-miss for me; the ones I enjoy, I really like, but the “let’s put the characters in silly costumes” gag can get old very quickly. This is one of the better ones, for my money, despite the issues I noted at the beginning of this post. Admittedly, no small part of this is that, as noted earlier, the addition of Garak to any given episode is generally sufficient for me to look on it more kindly. For this one in particular, also, it’s very clear that the cast was having a blast (Avery Brooks in particular is fun to watch as he gleefully chews his way through every set on the lot), which makes it pretty enjoyable to watch as well.

(Please don’t tell my rabbi about the embarrassing number of viewings it took me to realize the significance of the villain who wants to flood the world in order to save a select few with whom to start again having the surname Noah.)

Apparently everyone involved wanted to do at least one or two more episodes in this vein — since Garak features so heavily, it was the most time Andrew Robinson spent in makeup of any episode on the show, but even he wanted to do more — but the show got a stern letter from MGM suggesting that, legally, the episode was less of an affectionate homage to James Bond than straight-up copyright infringement. There are a couple more references to Bashir’s spy holo-adventures later, but they’re much more generic.

A couple other notes:

  • When we rewatched this one together several months ago, my mother commented that she remembered me watching the tape we’d recorded from TV a lot. I had to explain that that was because it was one of the only episodes we’d taped that had Garak in it. So yes, my tastes have always been pretty consistent.
  • Watching it this time, my roommate and I were quoting Archer throughout.
  • I feel like Rom and Quark are also unsung heroes of this episode and deserve a bit more acknowledgment for the work they do in figuring the whole thing out. This may also be the influence of my roommate, who refers to them as “my good boys”, at work.
  • Not to victim-blame, but was putting nearly all of the senior staff on a single runabout really a great idea? You’ve got the Dominion and the Klingons both ready to start shit, you couldn’t at least use the Defiant?

Horniness rankings

Obviously the entire story-within-the-story is pretty horny, but since the characters aren’t themselves, that doesn’t really count. Garak and Julian, however, are even more ridiculously horny for one another than ever by the end of this. Garak’s reaction when Bashir shoots him? Good lord, you two.

Also, honestly, me for Bashir when he’s looking world-weary towards the end. I am not that into him at the beginning of the show, but in the later seasons? Hell yes.

One thought on “4.10: “Our Man Bashir”

  1. So there are a lot of things about this episode that I think one could rightly question, but I want to start with what I enjoyed about it, because I really did enjoy it.

    First, there are an unusual number of great and hilarious one-liners in the script that the regulars are able to deliver with a level of gravity that make them really shine. In no particular order I really grinned at:

    Garak: “Another decorator’s nightmare!”
    Rom: “It’s right here. Behind the spatula.”
    Sisko-as-Noah: “MILLIONS of TONS of MOLTEN LAVA!” (This one I wish I could have as a sound effect on my phone or something.)
    Bashir: “Geology and baccarat are my two passions in life.”
    Garak (musingly and serious): “Since the program thinks Dax *is* Honey Bear…”
    Kira-as-Kommanov: Not a scripted line, but when she leans back on the bed and then retrieves a file folder from under the pillow with the mission brief, the move was so well choreographed that I almost applauded.

    Also for some reason Garak’s initial enthusiasm that the program might involve a parade was really funny to me? Like, are parades something he is a big fan of? What are parades like on Cardassia?

    Second, although the plot is pretty ridiculous, it is actually much smarter and makes more sense than almost any “holodeck-puts-the-crew-in-danger” episode from TNG (of which there were roughly, I don’t know, two hundred?). In rewatching TNG in recent years I had the distinct impression that the holodeck was not actually something that the Enterprise crew understood very well. In the very early episodes, it’s practically treated as an alien technology that they’re experimenting with – like in “The Big Goodbye” when the crew are trapped in a Dixon Hill program, Wesley balks at shutting the holodeck off because “the program could abort and everyone inside could vanish.” Um what now???? They legit think that the thing could disintegrate all the actual humans in there just by unplugging it? And they let the ship’s captain and, uh, anyone just hang out in there?? (Maybe this was supposed to be a side effect of the malfunction caused by the Jarada scan, but how do you break a holographic projector to the point where it will actually kill the human users if you turn it off?) Even in later episodes the ship is held hostage by the holodeck in a way that really strains credibility. Maybe it isn’t an alien technology, but maybe it’s the latest buggy tech wonder from the 24th century’s equivalent of Elon Musk – it can do some amazing stuff but it also breaks all the time in real simple ways and the company is totally uninterested in fixing it or providing useful guidance about it.

    So all of that to say that it was nice to have an episode that permitted the insertion of our characters into the holosuite program in a way that also provided for mortal danger as a plot-driving device but did not make everyone on the show seem inept and stupid about how holodecks work. Maybe the thing about the plot that bugs me the most is that it’s *Eddington* who somehow comes up with the save-the-day move on storing the crew’s patterns before they degrade. The writers’ laziness in using Eddington as a specialist in whatever field needs a specialist continues, and it really beggars belief that a security officer would have this kind of expertise.

    Finally, a shoutout to the costuming department on this one. I’m something of a fan of classic menswear and tailored clothing, to the point where I still wear it to work every day despite not really having to (at least I did before COVID; nowadays we’re encouraged to wear daily-washable clothing so we don’t track virus particles everywhere – it hurts my soul, but I do it). So I really enjoyed the suits and formalwear in the holosuite scenes; everything Bashir wears is very well done, especially the light gray suit/navy tie combination in the Hong Kong scene. Worf’s ivory dinner jacket is also splendid. They must have had a real hard time figuring out how to fit a tuxedo jacket on Garak – his Cardassian neck/upper shoulder latex makes the fit up there very difficult (ironic, that, considering he’s a tailor). They can keep the furniture though.

    Also, I was kind of touched that Garak knew where Paris and Hong Kong were on the planet relative to one another. I doubt Julian knows where Lakarian City and Lakat are relative to one another.

    Now for the stuff that didn’t work as well for me. I can admit that the James Bond film franchise is something I enjoy watching for escapist fun (although I’ve never read the novels), but the idea of participating in an interactive fantasy version of them is pretty unappealing. It’s just weird to me that Bashir enjoys a computer game where he’s given two female characters with whom to interact, and matter-of-factly tells Garak “one of them dies, and the other one is supposed to end up with me.” (It doesn’t seem important which one is which.) Also all the violence and killing. In an era where humanity has supposedly grown out of a lot of this stuff. I do have to say that from a character standpoint it is actually miles more interesting than everyone playing classical music, doing tai chi, acting in a theater troupe and playing in chess tournaments, which was basically the recreational standard on the Enterprise-D. (Come to think of it, almost all of Bashir and O’Brien’s holosuite adventures are war or violence-themed; the Alamo, the Battle of Britain.)

    Your observation about how Garak – as in “The Wire” – is agitated and less controlled as the situation continues while Bashir becomes more professional and focused is absolutely great. If it wasn’t a deliberate call back to that, then it’s at least really consistent with the Bashir dynamic throughout the series.

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