“By Inferno’s Light”/”Dr. Bashir, I Presume”

I’ve mentioned that I do my Trek watching while I exercise, which means I either watch one episode in a 45-minute session or, if I’m feeling more determined about fitness, an episode and a half in a 66-minute session. (I’ve lost and kept off about 40 pounds of excess weight thanks to Star Trek over the past two years. So much for stereotypes!)

If I do manage to maintain this running Trek blog series, that means I’ll often post comments on two episodes on alternating days, since most days I try to work out long enough to get in an episode and a half. You know… math.

By Inferno’s Light

OK, so this turned out to be a secret two-parter and not the beginning of hardcore serialization. That’s cool. It proved, nevertheless, to be very much a game-changing pair of episodes.

It must be difficult to be a writer for episodic television, with an undefined or distant endpoint, trying to juggle a long-term storyline. The Federation and Dominion at this point in DS9 are definitely experiencing a buildup of tension, not to mention military power, but the show can’t just go all-in and launch into total war. What would come after, with two seasons yet to go? No, the conflict has to ebb and surge, moving ever closer to the inevitable shootout without quite getting there until the end. And, I have to say, the showrunners (primarily the late Michael Piller, I believe) did a great job with it. “By Inferno’s Light” walks a precarious balance of not quite tilting things into all-out warfare yet making it feel as though the status quo has changed.

To wit: Gul Dukat has revealed his true colors, disowning his own daughter in the process. The Founders have finally managed to slip a shapeshifting sleeper agent right into the thick of DS9 without anyone being the wiser for a full month. The Klingons and Federation have declared detente again. What remains of the Romulan fleet has limped in to help hold the line. The wormhole is now an even more effective passage for Dominion attack craft to travel between the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants. And thanks to Cardassia’s defection, there’s a Dominion stronghold right next door to DS9. That’s good stuff, all of it.

But best of all, Worf finally — after 10 years! — gets to be the tough son of a bitch. His role on The Next Generation often amounted to calibrating a bad guy’s power level: Look how tough this alien is, he punked Worf! But here, he stands up to wave after wave of Jem’Hadar warrior, ultimately refusing to admit defeat even at the point of his body failing. Instead of serving as a measure of the enemy’s power, here he instead serves to cause an enemy to reconsider the measure of the Federation’s worth. Of course, said enemy gets vaporized a few seconds later, but hey.

Anyway, a very good “mythology” episode, if you wanna put it in X-Files terms.

Dr. Bashir, I Presume?

Somehow, Dr. Bashir ended up being the crux of DS9‘s crossovers. He appeared on The Next Generation in order to pimp the new show, and here he gets to play the central role in a Voyager crossover. Well, sort of. You don’t technically see a Voyager crew member here, but Dr. Zimmerman — the Emergency Medical Hologram’s creator, who provided the holographic doctor with his own likeness — comes a-visiting.

I like the subtle tells that differentiate Zimmerman from the EMH. His hair (what little of it exists) is slightly unkempt; his body language is a little less stiff; he has personality settings besides “condescension” and “exasperation.” But both versions of the man have terrible luck with women.

Zimmerman comes to DS9 to capture Bashir’s likeness for the Mark II EMH (or rather, the LMH: Long-term Medical Hologram). Of course, since I’m watching these shows somewhat out of strict production order, I’ve already seen the episode of Voyager where the Doctor encounters the actual Mk. II, so I came into this knowing that they ultimately decided to model the LMH on Andy Dick. Spoilers, I guess.

That said, this is one of the “ebb” episodes in DS9‘s continuity, a character-driven slice-of-life. And it’s pretty interesting that, immediately following on the revelation that a Shapeshifter had been mimicking Bashir on the station for a month, we get an episode which reveals that, on some level, even Bashir himself isn’t the real Bashir. But it does a lot to soften the character, who can sometimes be overbearing; suddenly, a lot of Bashir’s neuroses and hangups make sense. And none of it was his fault — he was just a child when his parents decided to turn his existence inside-out. The low-key episodes can sometimes feel disorienting when wedged in between the rising-stakes episodes, but this one subtly twists a plot element of the most recent “big picture” two-parter. And it’s hard not to enjoy a Robert Picardo showcase episode.

Plus, you have to appreciate the fact that despite taking a tonal pivot from “Purgatory”/”Inferno,” “Dr. Bashir” still reflects the last episode’s shift in continuity. Look carefully and you’ll notice there are Klingons in the background of DS9 again. And instead of shuttles and cargo ships tethered to DS9’s docking ring, now there are Galaxy- and Excelsior- class heavy cruisers out there. These are minor details, but it helps underscore the rising conflict of the central storyline.