The common complaint is that the nutters aren't nutty enough...the common wisdom is only partially correct.
A full summary of this lost opportunity for daring can be found at Memory Alpha (here).
I don't know if this show fails mostly because the acting is poor...or because the script is not ambitious...but I think it's a combination of the two. Let's list the character summaries for each of the nutters with which Bashir must interact in this episode.
- JACK: A deeply violent and self-absorbed man who believes himself to be superior to everyone other than "mutants" in value. A Kahn Singh minus the cunning and muscles.
- PATRICK: A mild-mannered goofy child in a man's body. He never developed the capacity for adult reasoning - failed to control his emotions - and rejected social norms. He should have been a slightly higher functioning Rain-man.
- LAUREN: A nymphomaniacal slut-bomb with a penchant for personal obsessions and a hint of insane jealousy. Original pitches for her character included her siding with Jack against Bashir to get back at him for not taking her seriously on a sexual level.
- SERENA: A cataleptic genius trapped in her own mind with only the smallest capacity to influence the world around her.
All I kept thinking was 'there but for the grace of God go I.' I could have ended up just like them if my parents hadn't found a qualified surgeon to perform my genetic alterations.This was going to be all about Julian learning the dangers of genetic manipulation and in particular the allure of imagining that your superior abilities make you a superior person and that if other people do not agree with your conclusions, they must simply not understand things as well as you do. They only...kind of...got that across beacuse their Faith stand in was just overly flirty and kind of mechanical, their Patrick was ADORABLE and didn't seem crippled by his condition at all, thei Jack was just loud and annoying...not violent and insane (I mean he made threats, but it would really have helped if he'd actually injured someone worse than cutting their hand). And what's worse...their genetic super-geniuses weren't that bright. They talked about things that we were supposed to believe were smart, but their conclusion was utterly irrational and they left behind a person who could foil their plans. Kahn would never be that dumb.
This episode suffers from two big failures - it's not brave enough (doesn't "go there" to places that would actually be threatening, nor does it corrupt Bashir in the way that it might have) and they hired a set of guest actors who were, by in large, horrible. Here's Tim Ransom's brilliant take on Jack: "I figured Jack was the equivalent of the guy who has forty cups of coffee a day." Yyyyyyep...we've gone from very dangerous potential assassin and egomaniac to...guy on speed. No wonder all he does is bark his lines like an idiot and hop around stiffly trying to act "crazy" and only turning out annoying. Hilary Shepard Turner evidently thought she was adding a little Hannibal Lector to her character by...um...not standing up except to dance and speaking in a ridiculously fake deep voice that would go well at a high school improv night following the suggestion "sexy serial killer!" in the game party quirks. Michael Keenan wasn't too bad as Patrick, but his character was the weakest concept in the lot and it got even weaker when his lines were essentially written out of the script...most of the things he says could have been said by Dax and it wouldn't have changed anything (other than the overtly childish cry he has over O'Brien not liking him).
The writers don't do much with Serena...understandably, it's hard to do much with someone who has no lines and is barely allowed to move. But if you're going to create a character, you need for that character to have a reason to exist. Serena doesn't. Not until they butcher it in a seventh season episode called "Julian Bashir: Cradle-Robbing Patient-Boning Perv"
Worst of all...these mutants have been locked away in an institute and not allowed much freedom since they were children and not one of them seems particularly angry about it. Jack barks a few times about it not being fair, but...his kind of character should have been killing people just for fun and revenge after so much time behind bars just for as he sees it...being too smart. I can understand Patrick not being angry...they take care of him and he gets all the sweets and books and play time he wants...but he should have temper tantrums when he doesn't stay on routine, doesn't get his way or fails to get enough attention..he's a bored KID...that's what kids do. And Lauren...well...it was never implied that she had had sex with any of her cell mates. She's a nympho, right? Wouldn't it have escalated the creep factor if she'd had a history with Jack and Jack went mad with jealousy when she turned her obsession to Julian? They accomplished essentially nothing for any of these character...they drop in, say some stuff, almost do something evil in the name of being right, are stopped, and disappear...and no one seems to really learn anything. So what's the point of telling this story?
Well, I'll be fair now and point out that Bashir does in fact learn something (unrelated ot the character quirks of the mutants and more on message) regarding the need to underestimate one's own abilities to predict human behavior. He is so certain that he can statistically calculate the future, which...I don't care what metrics you're using...is an impossible thing to do, that he ignores the random element - human nature. He learns this lesson when Serena, of all people, foils Jack's plan. One person changes the world forever. The largest truths from the smallest actions. That IS a message worth repeating...and it could have been well reflected in the genetically altered nutters created by well-meaning parents' attempts to control human nature by manipulating DNA. No amount of science can engineer a perfect world or a perfect person...and both of those points should have been on display.
A good plot concept done very poorly due to a lack of imagination and guts.
The bad writing is complimented by truly amateurish "acting" on the part of most of the guest cast.
However! The final message is certainly something I can get behind, and it leaves a better taste in my mouth than it may sound like from my review here. I don't come away from this episode wishing I'd never watched it. I actually liked the characters, though that is probably not a good sign for the quality of the character work. But hey...at least it's not pointless, or worse, wrong.