By Robert Ring, Tue, 10/26/2010 – 10:02
“Babel” marks the first Deep Space Nine episode that I don’t care for. Whereas the previous episodes have been character-oriented, this one goes back to a technique that I have seen too much in The Original Series and The Next Generation: presenting a problem with no goal other than trying to convince people the characters face a true threat, and then finding a way to pull those characters out safely in the end. There is some character development here, but the vast majority of the episode is concerned with its fake-out scare. Everyone on Deep Space Nine is at risk of dying from a disease. Will they make it out alive? It’s the fourth episode of the series, what do you think?
While running himself ragged trying to fix all of DS9’s many faulty contraptions, Miles O’Brien suddenly finds himself unable to form sentences. As Julian Bashir soon discovers, O’Brien accidentally triggered a hidden device that let loose a manmade aphasia-inducing virus. Before long, everyone is infected, the station is put on lockdown, Kira Nerys abducts the one man who might be able to find a cure, and Quark and Odo, showing immunity to the virus, are left to try to handle things on their own until everyone gets better — or, as the writers probably wanted us to think, if everyone gets better. Oooooh.
There’s really not a lot to say about this aspect of the episode, which is its bulk. The first half is spent trying to figure what’s happening, and the second half is spent trying to fix the problem. There’s no tension because we know everyone’s going to be okay. I find little artistic merit in this plot. I’m sure people will make the argument that this is a story about viral warfare and the consequences of using weapons that can affect innocents years after they were meant to be used, like a landmine story set in future space world. But if that is the case, the message is trite: Weapons that can harm innocents are bad. Or, equally as simplistic, viral warfare is bad. It doesn’t give us any new understanding of the issues at hand.
I do like the little bit of development given to Odo and Quark, however. They’re like enemies that like each other, or friends with an inexorable competitive streak. They’re both always trying to best the other, but they have an unwavering respect for each other at the same time. We see this first when Odo shows some amusement at the prospect of Quark having to shut down his bar but no less than a minute later stands up for the guy when a customer force feeds Quark some soup to prove how bad it tastes. In the end, Quark and Odo are the only people on DS9 capable of running its systems while everyone else has been infected by the virus, and they work together quite happily. Quark even shows genuine concern for Odo’s wellbeing. It’s nice to see two “enemies” that act more like overly competitive brothers than adversaries that simply hate each other under every circumstance.
This is a brief post, but that’s all there is to say about this episode. For the most part, it just isn’t effective. Even plots like this can occasionally work if you use them for something other than trying to manufacture tension, but the premise here is flat all around. The redeeming qualities are tangential and few.