Saturday, September 19, 2009

Classics: DS9 1:4 – Babel

Plot Synopsis:

Whilst fixing the command-level replicators, O’Brien inadvertently trips a terrorist booby trap that unleashes a lethal virus that induces fluent aphasia in its victims. As more and more crew members and civilians succumb to the virus, Kira must track down the virus’s Bajoran creator – and Odo and Quark must act quickly to prevent a panicked trader from tearing apart the docking ring.

The Ratings:

Overall: 6 – A pretty mediocre showing with the occasional nice touch.

Writing: 6

There are some genuinely hilarious moments in this episode (see the highlights below) and a few nice character interactions, but their set up involves an awful lot of hand waving. Outside of the medical issues, which I will address in the quibbles section, I find it difficult to believe that any race would deliberately build something into their genetically engineered creations that would make their origins so easy to determine. Moreover, I fail to understand why Dr. Surmak would be so reluctant to assist Kira. Why would he fear reprisal from the Bajorans? Surely the Bajorans would understand that the booby trap was meant for the Cardassians.

The writers of this episode do get credit, though, for remembering that the station was trashed when the Cardassians departed and thus probably would not be in tip-top shape even now.

Acting: 7

Some moments come across as forced, including Kira’s snark to Quark about his cheating his 1000th customer, Jake’s falling ill, and Sisko’s final breakdown. Otherwise, I have no complaints.

Message: 5

In the end, this was standard Trek fare – not objectionable, but also not particularly challenging.


"'Fix the replicators, chief.' 'My console's offline, chief.' Should have transferred to a cargo drone. No people, no complaints." – poor put-upon Chief O’Brien.

“YOU… GOLD… OWE… MEEEE!” – Quark trying to squeeze latinum out of his stricken customers.

“Then how about helping yourself?”
“Meaning what?”
“Meaning… I’ve been infected with your virus, doctor. So now you’re infected too.” – from the scene in which Kira kidnaps Dr. Surmak in a classically impatient maneuver.

“I’ll beam you over.”
“Relax. I served on a Ferengi freighter for eight years… I must’ve witnessed the procedure hundreds of times.”
Witnessed?” – Quark teasing Odo before beaming him over to the docking ring to release Jaheel’s ship.


There is in fact a type of aphasia in which victims speak fluently, but their words are nonsense. It’s called Wernicke’s Aphasia, and I understand that it can also affect reading comprehension as well as auditory comprehension and verbal production. Here, the episode is in the clear. However –

– spontaneous development of aphasia is not impossible; if I recall correctly, it’s been observed in stroke and transient ischemic attack victims. That rapid development of the disorder would point to a synthetic virus is just plain silly.

– the wildly varying incubation period seems awfully convenient to me. Perhaps there are diseases with incubation ranges that wide – as a layperson, I’m not familiar with every disease currently known to man – but I can’t help noticing that in this episode, who fell ill when seemed to be determined more by story necessity than any stated logic. The aphasia virus is, in essence, a virus that moves at the speed of plot.

– now that I think about it, I’m starting to wonder why a Bajoran terrorist cell would develop a virus that would be so unpredictable. Wouldn’t it be more effective to design a virus that would strike as many people as possible at once? And wouldn’t they try to target Cardassian physiology specifically?

– the virus is described as an “adaptive synaptic inhibitor.” I interpret those terms to mean that the virus interferes with the communications between neurons, probably by blocking neurotransmitter receptors on the dendrites of receiving neurons. Why wouldn’t 24th century medical technology pick up this faulty communication in a neural scan?

Additional Comments:

In this episode, we see that Kira and Dax have started to spend time with each other outside of work. We also see some rather interesting interactions between Kira and O’Brien. It’s nice, for example, that Kira feels relaxed enough around O’Brien to tease him – and that her concern for O’Brien’s well-being is acute enough that she manhandles Bashir and angrily demands to know what’s wrong when O’Brien falls ill. (Damn you, SABR Matt! Now that you’ve mentioned it, I’m going to be seeing Kira/O’Brien everywhere!)

Also, you can tell Odo likes Quark and vice versa. As SABR Matt has already pointed out, Odo seems happiest when he is “persecuting” Quark - and Quark very obviously loves to tease Odo. It’s like a platonic brand of junior high sex.

1 comment:

  1. I get annoyed every time I watch Babel these days when Dr. Surmak is working in the infirmary to counteract the virus because it sounds to me like the writers googled neurological diseases (never mind that this was written in 1993 before google was invented) and terms relating to DNA and just slapped them into his comments haphazardly. "Protein sheeth, DNA remodulator, YES that's's an adaptive synaptic inhibitor!" I'm sure this is what a physicist experiences every day when he listens to TNG episodes where they talk about transporter buffers and Heisenberg compensators and inertial dampeners...but I'd like to think when someone is writing a medical tech string, they'd try a little harder. :)

    I'm so glad you got "YOU...GOLD...OWE...MEEE!!!" in your highlights...that part is classic. And in general, I will always enjoy Quark/Odo rivalry making.

    I think Babel is a better episode than A Man Alone...I'm not sure I'd be quite so hard on it as you were...but in general, I would agree it's nothing special.