Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Babel"

**1/2

Air date: 1/25/1993
Teleplay by Michael McGreevey and Naren Shankar
Story by Sally Caves and Ira Steven Behr
Directed by Paul Lynch

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

A virus designed by the Bajorans 18 years earlier to infect the Cardassians is inadvertently released into DS9's food replicators and atmosphere, eventually infecting everybody on board the station. Once Bashir diagnoses it, the episode becomes a race against the clock to find a cure before the incubation period expires and the virus begins killing people.

The "race against the clock" is not a particularly effective part of this story, because we all know DS9 is not about to become a floating morgue. The ending, where an antidote is all-too-easily and quickly created (and then administered between scenes with a cut to the exterior of the station) goes a long way toward destroying any remaining sense of danger.

On the other hand, a lot of the character details within the plot work nicely. Kira's tracking down the Bajoran experts on the virus is plausibly handled and interesting (as is the way she kidnaps the man who may be able to find the cure). Odo and Quark continue to display their camaraderie-in-code. Sisko and Jake are believable as father and son, with scenes that resonate. And Colm Meaney's O'Brien is terrific in the opening acts, faced with a broken-down nightmare of a space station where nothing works right. But what's most interesting is the virus itself, which has an inspired, aphasic side effect that causes a breakdown in verbal communication, reducing everyone to babbling incoherence.

Previous episode: A Man Alone
Next episode: Captive Pursuit

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16 comments on this review

William - Tue, Jul 24, 2012 - 11:03pm (USA Central)
I concur yet again. I liked it better than I remember from the initial airings in the '90s.

Kira was the best part of the episode for me.
Van_Patten - Sat, Aug 4, 2012 - 7:21am (USA Central)
An intriguing twist on an old premise, that of the incurable, unknown disease that appears from nowhere. Whilst fixing one of the many mechanical problems bedevilling the wrecked station, O'Brien inadvertently triggers a virus leftover from the early days of the Cardassian occupation.

The first half of the episode is very strong - Colm Meaney is excellent as the 'Everyman' fixer frustrated that hs crew mates seem to expect instant results with no understanding of the myriad problems he is facing. Having had to undertake similar roles at points in my own working life, I can really relate to it! I also like the aphasia virus :

'Oh, Major, Lar's true pepper'

Being one of my favourite lines from the series! What lets it down really is the ending which seems forced. Kira beams the architect of the virus' assistant to a runabout and all's back to normal -one of the most egregious uses of the 'reset' button I have seen in Trek. It's a real shame because the performances of Meaney, Auberjonois (again) and Shimmerman (Why couldn't they keep him in this mode?) are all excellent. Certainly the cast, possibly Terry Farrell apart, seems much stronger and the characters much better defined than at the equivalent point in TNG's cycle. The ending however, does make it for me slightly weaker than ''A Man Alone' but still, 2.5 stars and shows a heartening degree of consistency so early in the series run.
Cail Corishev - Tue, Sep 11, 2012 - 7:29pm (USA Central)
Fun episode. I didn't mind the last-minute reset solution, because it made sense that there would have been an antidote, and Kira followed a logical path to track it down. Very different from trying a series of technobabble solutions until one works.

After Kira beamed the doctor to the runabout, there was a scene where she argues with him and points out that he's now infected, and then a couple more when they arrive at the station and he starts working from Bashir's notes. Short scenes, and he figures it out awfully quickly, but they did cover it. (Maybe he already knew how to do it, but didn't want to admit that much culpability.)
DG - Wed, Dec 12, 2012 - 5:17am (USA Central)
I'm not sure why, but this is my favorite DS9 episode...

I just finished *all* of DS9 (except the last episode. Don't eat me--I do that with all shows I like. That way it goes on in my head. I haven't seen the last episode of TNG, Danny Phantom, Voyager... I saw the vid for Firefly and the last episode of Monk and now I can't watch them anymore. :( )

In retrospect: Odo. Looks. WEIRD! Absolutely creepy... It's like his eyes are going to poke out of his head and his hair's popping off his head relative to Season 7.

Awww! Jake's so teeny! And cute! And them being so close just looks so much deeper now after seeing "The Visitor". Before, it was like 'heh, cliche crap between a forced parental relationship.' Now it's like "aww!!! CUTE!!!! Sisko and Jake!!! :)

Nerys looks the *exact* same except for the haircut, which doesn't count.

I remember thinking 'giant cranium' was a standard Trill thing with the way Jadzia wears her ponytails early on.

NCC-1701-Z - Mon, Mar 18, 2013 - 12:17am (USA Central)
I kinda liked this ep - very TOS-adventure-style - an old cliche of "Cure The Disease Before We All Die", but done well. The virus was a very unique idea and the Sisko-virus-stricken-Jake scenes were very well done.

The ending was too quick though. And couldn't the doctor have just grabbed a phaser from that alcove in the runabout cabin and forced Kira to return him? I really hope they get rid of those phaser alcoves, they kind of annoy me...

Did I mention that O'Brien is awesome in the beginning? I'm sure many working-age men can relate to something breaking down as soon as something else is fixed. I love that guy - he just seems to be like the "everyman" kind of character.

3 stars
grumpy_otter - Sun, Apr 7, 2013 - 8:08pm (USA Central)
Sung to the tune of "Cinderelly, Cinderelly"


Chief O'Brien, Chief O'Brien
Night and day, it's Chief O'Brien!
"Make my coffee, fix the airlock, console's offline, lab is noisy!"
"And the sectors and the phasers!"
They always keep him hopping!
He goes around in circles, till he's very, very dizzy
Still, they holler,
Keep a-busy, Chief O'Brien!

azcats - Thu, Sep 5, 2013 - 9:45am (USA Central)
interesting, odo says Rom is an idiot...but i know from later episodes he is quite brilliant..i wonder if this will be continuity problem. or dod they not know how smart he is..

I liked the scene where the doctor is looking at the screen and all the words change. (Fyi, the computer screens on Voyager are MUCH better!)

I swear that when Sisko was talking to jake and jake was saying nothing..that jake was going to start talking gibberish!
Paul - Thu, Sep 5, 2013 - 10:09am (USA Central)
@azcats: The Rom character was pretty clearly reconceived at some point after the first few episodes. If you listen to his conversation with Keiko about sending Nog to school, he's a completely different character. His voice is even off.

Now, that's not a huge thing. The Dax character changed a lot after the first season and Odo certainly looked and spoke differently after the early episodes (and Bashir toned down the annoying after season 2). But the creators clearly changed Rom early in the series' run.

Far harder to take was Nog's change. In an early episode, Jake is teaching him how to read. But by the third season, he's applying to get into Starfleet Academy! WTF.
Snitch - Fri, Oct 4, 2013 - 6:45pm (USA Central)
The first half was indeed quite entertaining O' Brien is excellent in his role.

Rom was redesigned from bumbling fool, to genius bumbling fool.

Quark is still up to no good, funny how the crew loves him so much.

The race against the clock scenario was lame. Keira's kidnapping of the doctor was a nice touch. Antidote found in one hour not so much.

2 stars from me.
Kotas - Tue, Oct 22, 2013 - 1:37pm (USA Central)

I just couldn't get past how dumb it was to have characters spouting random words.

2/10
Elliott - Sat, Nov 30, 2013 - 5:51pm (USA Central)
Uck

Equal parts cheese (I can't believe we got that early TNG-style joke to credits bit with Sisko and the coffee), boredom (did we have to see every single character succumb to the virus in exactly the same way?), weirdness (I think the aphasia speaks for itself) and pointlessness (that gratuitous bit with the exploding vessel, Sisko sitting with an incoherent Jake). When DS9 doesn't have a storyline to develop, it's amazing how bad it can be.

1/2 a star for Quark saving some face.
Jack - Sun, Jan 19, 2014 - 8:09pm (USA Central)
Two things...

[1] At the end when Sisko's coffee still sucks, he hollers at O'Brien...did he think O'Brien, in his stupor, had time to fix it? It was probably supposed to be funny, bit it just came off as stupid.

[2] When the Doctor that Kira swiped was told by Kira that she was infected, he turned his head, but as far as he knew, it wasn't an airborne illness, but rather a foodborne one. It only mutated into an airborne strain during the crisis, but he didn't know that.
Yanks - Mon, Jul 7, 2014 - 1:21pm (USA Central)
I didn't mind the episode as much as the reveal that Avery can't show emotion at all when acting.

This was a pretty sad moment for me, realizing that we are stuck with this guy for as long as the series runs.

I found it peculiar that the Bajorian was able to find the cure quickly, when Bashir was unsuccesfull over a longer time. I know in the shows' final "captain's log" he states that "with the aid of Bashir's notes", blah, blah .... but we never saw him reference them.

Kind of a hammy episode. Nothing gained really.

2 stars.
Elliott - Fri, Jul 25, 2014 - 2:31pm (USA Central)
Teaser : ***, 5%

"You look like you could use some sleep!" Thanks, Kira. Maybe he'd have time if you didn't stand around bitching about everything. O'Brien's Bad Day is actually a decent bit of work, but dear god, how about some music [even some crappy music]? Or some snappy editing? So many seconds go by wasted where we watch O'Briend tap a console or replace a hatch. Anyway, there's a mysterious device in the bowels of the replicator system. Uh-oh.

Act 1 : **, 17%

And a repeat of the flaw in the Odo/Quark rapport from "A Man Alone"; they're sitting together casually shooting the breeze and are literally telling each other what could amount to character bios. This is not natural dialogue, it's ham-fisted character exposition. What is there for me, the viewer, to infer about their relationship? Nothing, they've just told me everything! Thanks for letting me turn my brain off, guys. On the other hand, it's kind of hilarious how easily Quark gains security access when Odo just left his presence.

So, O'Brien's fatigue starts to bleed into his manifesting odd symptoms until he finally starts babbling nonsense at Kira. This must have been fun to memorise...

TNG's S6 was an unfortunate period to air a new show. The bland, slow, padded style which characterised the direction of the series of that time was a poor vehicle for introducing us to this new series and these new characters. I found myself equally disenchanted by this style on TNG, but at least I already knew and cared about the crew and their mission. DS9 did not yet have that advantage. To me, this is a much bigger culprit in DS9's perceived lack of direction than its stationary setting.

Act 2 : **, 17%

Hmm...Star Trek : Gertrude Stein? It would have been nice if the crew's goofy dialogue were perceived as funny by the cast rather than "deadly serious." Yes, it's a serious problem, but come on, how about some realistic emotional responses, at least at first, before it becomes clear there's an epidemic.

Clunky exposition returns as the alien with the stew makes a second appearance just to give Odo his clue about Quark's security breech.

Others have pointed out the ret-con of Rom being a brilliant engineer despite his "being an idiot," but didn't we see him in the last episode being, well, not an idiot? He seemed like a normal Ferengi. So the writers later chose to take a normal character and make him both incredibly stupid and incredible brilliant. Let's keep this in mind, shall we? I am not certain that Rom was the only victim of this strategy.

So, it turns out Quark is inadvertently responsible for spreading a deadly virus to the entire station's population, including all his customers. I'm sure we'll see consequences to this.

Again, the story plods along at a snail's pace with the most lethargic attempts at character interplay sprinkled about.

Act 3 : *.5, 17%

Here's ANOTHER unnecessary scene--Kira is about to tell Sisko that she found the mysterious device (nice resolution to that mystery, by the way, if only O'Brien had thought to use his tricorder during his repairs), yet we have to actually be shown a 15-second clip of her finding it. Talk about padding.

Okay, what would be different, dramatically speaking, in making the "aphasia virus" just a damned virus, ie a disease which weakens and kills you? Is there a reason to make the sufferers aphasic? Do we get some metaphor, plot twist or even a little pathos from this gimmick? Nope! It's just a way to make the virus more science-fiction-y. Take Sisko's finding Jake sick--if Jake had been, say coughing or wheezing, feverish, sick in bed, would Sisko's reaction be less warranted? Instead, we are asked to feel the same based on Jake's random word-generator speak. So, we have to overcome a strange layer of suspension of disbelief for absolutely no reason. The consequences, resolution and empathy of the plot would not be hindered by making the virus act like a virus and not an internet meme-speak. Another unintentional result is we have to rely on the actors communicating their real feelings without the aide of coherent dialogue. Colm Meany could pull this off, but Terry Ferrel and Cirroc Lofton definitely cannot. Poor kid is just flailing his eyebrows about in an attempt to convey desperation. Without knowing this particular child-actor's strengths and weaknesses, it should have been an obvious bad move for the writers to demand something so subtle and strange from a kid.

Um, the Bajorans developed a complex virus (with this unexplained goofy aphasic side-effect) during the resistance? How, when?

Oof, Kira's friend whom she contacts over subspace gets the shitty acting prize on this one.

Act 4 : *, 17%

"This virus is a work of genius." My ass.

So, Kira has 12 hours to find the Bajoran genius or people start dying. Okay. So, Sisko, maybe you want to assign more than ONE person to work on this! Maybe help yourself instead of interrupting Kira to let her know she needs to hurry up. Geez.

Then, we get the scene where Kira tells Sisko she's leaving to find a cure, but fails to mention she won't leave the Runabout, just so Sisko can berate her for breaking quarantine. People are yelling! Drama must be happening! RARG!

Well, just in case the virus wasn't riveting enough, we've got the other contrived disaster, the exploding ship. That's right, trying to break away from the station doesn't cause his hull damage or impair his docking clamps, but triggers and EXPLOSION. That's some well-designed technology there.

Act 5 : *, 17%

Kira stealing Surmak from his office was hilarious. Total Janeway move.

Why is it that every time someone goes aphasic, it's always met with "what, what was that?" followed by awkward babbling.

Did Kira just sentence this man to death? Well, I'm sure there will be consequences.

Did Kira fly past the burning vessel about to blow up half the station and do nothing? No hail, no offer to use the Runabout's transporters or tractor beam? Huh.

30 SECONDS 20 SECONDS 10 SECONDS!!!!!! 'splosion!

I did like Quark's little comment about "hazard pay." Do Bajorans earn a salary working Federation jobs?

The bookending was really painful--all that was missing was one of those early TNG "that was cute and funny" music cues followed by Sitcom credits.

Episode as Functionary : *, 10%

What's to say? The plot is ludicrous, the danger at the end obviously manufactured and the titular "Babel" aspect is just a gimmick. We could have had an interesting subtext about the original meaning of the Babel myth--the dispersion of peoples, the multiplying of tongues allegorising the divergence of cultures. Instead we get generic danger and inexplicable justifications. I'm not sure if this underwent a rewrite, but it had, in this way, a similar feel to "Masks," where a potentially intriguing idea is dumbed down to pointless drivel. Much like "The Naked Now," it's also a really bad idea to air an episode which requires the actors to be weird so early in the series. It leads to a lot of uncomfortable scenes with darting eyes and confused expressions. The Odo/Quark stuff was okay in places, but nothing about it really added to their dynamic. Sisko's concern for his son does not inflect his actions in any way except during the designated "character scene." It felt cheap. Overall, it's a cheesy, contrived mess that needs no repeat viewings.

Final Score : *.5
Black_Goat - Sat, Nov 22, 2014 - 3:07am (USA Central)
Babel: C+
Good:
- “Strike limits flame the dark true salt!” Colm Meaney has fun with those nonsense sentences.
- Quark is pretty great in this episode. His scene in the sickbay is a highlight.
- Odo’s defensiveness – “before I came aboard.”
- I like the Kira/Dax scene. I’m waiting for the first Dax-heavy episode to make final judgments about Farrell, but she’s not bad in small scenes, and the character is conceptually interesting. Sexuality must be a complicated issue for the Trill, what with all the past lives bearing down on the current one. This was touched on a bit in “A Man Alone”, and I like how Dax can’t quite resist male attention in this one.
- I like Odo being recruited to the bridge crew in the absence of anyone else.
- Avery Brooks is still pretty bad, but I did like the moments between Ben and Jake.
- I choose to suspend disbelief and pretend that Kira was reprimanded offscreen for kidnapping a doctor, but that was pretty cool.

Bad:
- This episode worked really well when it dealt with the light-hearted aphasia stuff, but as the virus spiraled out of control and the tone became more urgent, “Babel” slackened. I’m not sure the show has earned the gravitas yet to tell a compelling medical thriller; the episode might have been on the whole more successful had they stuck with lighthearted filler. The show takes on a darker tone, but can’t fully commit to it. No deaths from the virus? I know it’s network television in the nineties, but come on.
- Characters were affected by the virus in exactly the right order for plot convenience.
- It seems to me that Kira was too quickly able to identify and locate the virus’s creator. Too easy.
- No fallout for Quark (unintentionally) endangering everyone on DS9.
- Not a single member of O’Brien’s staff can deal with the sorts of maintenance issues he was being called upon to fix early in the episode?
- Insta-solution.

I actually liked this episode quite a bit more than the last – it was good fun at a number of different points – but there wasn’t much depth here.


Black_Goat - Sat, Nov 22, 2014 - 12:10pm (USA Central)
To put a finer point on my first "bad": There are basically two issues. One is that the show began forcing a darker tone when the aphasia was still in its infancy and rather silly, which created some tonal issues. But a whole space station being affected by a disease which completely limits one's ability to communicate could actually be a pretty major issue, especially once people start collapsing from deadly fever. But "Babel", as others seem to have said, never makes the race-against-time very compelling, nor does it convey the true horror of having the station besieged by sickness. That's what I mean by the show not having the gravitas to do this story yet.

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