Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Life Support"


Air date: 1/30/1995
Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore
Story by Christian Ford and Roger Soffer
Directed by Reza Badiyi

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"If I remove his brain and replace it with a machine, he might look like Bareil, he might even talk like Bareil, but he won't be Bareil. The spark of life would be gone. He'd be dead. And I will have killed him." — Bashir

Though most will simply remember this as the episode in which the writers kill off Vedek Bareil, there's more to look at. What could have been a maudlin melodrama is instead a sincere story about one man's sacrifice and Bashir's moral dilemma to keep him artificially alive. The reasons, however, behind Bareil's deletion from the recurring character list is a ponderous issue.

When Bareil and Kai Winn make an unannounced shuttle trip to DS9 to finalize a peace treaty with the Cardassians, an accident seriously injures Bareil, who dies on the operating table. Fortunately (i.e., medical technobabble), some residual radiation manages to preserve him long enough for Bashir to perform a miracle and bring him back.

It is not, however, that simple. Bareil has suffered permanent damage due to the radiation, and Bashir wants to put him in indefinite stasis in hope of a cure that could be years down the road. Bareil feels compelled to be sure the negotiations go through as planned, and Winn says she can not finish the talks without him. Bareil demands another option from Bashir, who reluctantly offers an experimental drug as a dangerous alternative. The drug has been known to cause chemical poisoning of the brain and other vital organs, but it may be able to keep Bareil healthy enough—and alive long enough—to finish the negotiations. Bareil presses on, enduring an increasing amount of pain with each succeeding scene, as the drug slowly destroys his body.

It's the classic example of the man willing to die for his cause. The noble Bareil is completely aware that going through with the treatments will likely kill him but accepts it as the price to pay for peace with the Cardassians.

But "Life Support" also works on the level involving Bashir's dilemma. He has to perform these experimental medical procedures at Bareil's request. The drug takes its toll on Bareil, and his major organs begin to break down, forcing Bashir to replace them with artificial implants. This leads him to appeal a plea to Winn, hoping she will take over the talks and allow Bareil to rest with a chance of surviving.

It's the best vehicle this season for Bashir as a doctor; we get to see him in action playing for a single motive—his patient's welfare. The episode sports his first outing doing real operating room surgery. Plenty of effective interaction with Winn and Kira, the interested parties in Bareil's condition, gives the episode ample substance.

He has to break news to Kira that her lover's chances of survival are slim to none. Meanwhile, he has to keep his patience with Winn, who remains adamant that Bareil is the only one who can keep the peace process moving forward, and must continue with the treatments at all costs.

This again brings up the question of Winn's competence as Bajor's leader. In a rather thought-provoking scene, Bashir confronts Winn and tells her what he thinks of her unwillingness to stand alone. He calls her a coward. He believes she uses Bareil as a political shield, someone to take the blame should the talks fail. It's a good point, given Winn's questionable past ("In the Hands of the Prophets"). Even though Winn has been softened into a more sincere character of late, it's nice to know the writers still acknowledge her past and obvious flaws.

Eventually, Bareil suffers permanent brain damage, and Bashir reluctantly replaces part of his brain with positronic implants so the treaty can be finalized. An eerie scene displays a detached Bareil who, with part of his mind replaced with a machine, loses much of his grasp on reality and emotion, speaking in a slow, confused monotone.

The peace treaty is successfully signed, thanks to his assistance, but Bareil is a lost cause—Bashir expects total brain failure within hours. This leads to another interesting speech Bashir makes. When Kira hopes that replacing the rest of his brain may save him, Bashir tells her that he would simply be a machine without a spark of life. "He'd be dead. And I will have killed him." (One could even argue that this is an allegorical anti-euthanasia moment.) Bareil dies, but with some dignity. It almost makes up for the ridiculous moments of his character's appearance in "Fascination."

However, there are a few problems I have with "Life Support." Though it's an important event and I have faith that the writers will utilize it properly in the future, I question how the episode brings about peace with Cardassia completely out of nowhere. I also want to know the writers' impetus behind killing off Bareil in the first place. It makes sense standing alone in this episode, but why in the world would they delete a character so important to this story arc—a very significant if not the central arc of the series—just to fill the requirements of one episode?

I sure hope that Bareil's death isn't simply the writers' way to remove Kira's love interest from the show so she can explore a relationship with Odo. That would be unforgivable. Whether people realize it or not, Bareil meant more and could've continued to mean more to the series than to be Kira's boyfriend.

Previous episode: Past Tense, Part II
Next episode: Heart of Stone

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23 comments on this review

Dirk Hartmann - Wed, Jun 4, 2008 - 6:26am (USA Central)
I didn't like this episode a bit. First of all, there was simply too much of the same: revival-organ replacement-brain replacement ... at a certain point all of this really ceased to have any credibility with me. Second, I think that the motive and urgency behind the decisions to waste Bareil`s life came off as quite forced.
In the end, I think it was a necessary thing to remove Bareil from the show simply because the actor proved to be just too weak in that role.
Dimitris Kiminas - Sat, Apr 11, 2009 - 4:24pm (USA Central)
There's also a B plot in this episode, in which Nog ruins a date of Jake's (Strangely Jammer does not mention it at all).

In any case, the levity and comedic nature of this B plot makes the choice of the writers to pair it with the very serious A plot seem poor, if not puzzling.
Destructor - Mon, Jun 29, 2009 - 9:25pm (USA Central)
The B-plot made me laugh, but I actually thought it was a bit odd how Jake continues to be friends with such a huge sexist prick- I certainly wouldn't. How come the Ferengi never LEARN anything?

While I agree Bariel was not exactly a great actor I did enjoy this episode and thought it was a good end for him.
Nic - Fri, Oct 2, 2009 - 10:20am (USA Central)
And why the hell is Kai Winn negotiating with the Cardassians? I thought she was Bajor's RELIGIOUS leader, not their POLITICAL leader (this would later be confirmed in "Shakaar.")

The writers have stated that the story's original pitch was Bashir's medical dilemma, and they needed a character to die. They chose a recurring character rather than a new character so that the audience would feel sympathy for him, and they were not happy with the way the Kira-Bareil relationship was heading so they chose him to be the victim. I agree that it seems forced (as Kai Opaka's disapparance did in "Battle Lines.") but I guess in the end it served its purpose.
jilly - Thu, Dec 24, 2009 - 10:51pm (USA Central)
About the B-plot: this was another example of The Future being tolerant of differences. IDIC. Nog was not a sexist prick; he was being a Ferengi. He's also still a teenager without a lot of life experience.

It's obvious Quark has come a long way from wanting females to shut up and be nude all the time, for example, but Quark has been around the galaxy a few times, so to speak. :) Nog is still a product of his culture at 17 (or whatever is his Ferengi equivalent in years).

It's a tribute to Nog's character's potential that his friendship with Jake hasn't had friction *until* this point. Remember that he honestly thinks Jake is 'faking' the respect, and believes that is simply dishonest of Jake to do.

Knowing where Nog is headed soon, I am sure he will be exposed to women he can date who will be clothed, have opinions, and be his equals.

IDIC is one of the things that really stands out in the Trek Verse, and is something that keeps me coming back for more. When we meet other sentient species in real life, we will do good to remember these points. :)
Tex - Tue, Mar 23, 2010 - 6:17pm (USA Central)
Best Nog line ever:

"Money is money, but women...are better"
Jay - Sun, Nov 21, 2010 - 3:33pm (USA Central)
You're right Nic.

It happened again in Rapture...Winn was negotiating with the Federation for admission...surely something Shakaar should have been doing instead.
Marcel - Sat, Mar 26, 2011 - 2:18pm (USA Central)
I liked this episode because it shows how far Winn is willing to go. Also some nice scenes with Kira and the nearly death Bareil in the end.
John - Sat, Jul 14, 2012 - 4:26am (USA Central)
I think this one works fairly well for the most part.

A shame the B story was such an awkward fit.

And I'm not sure your faith in the writers' intent to back up the Bajoran/Cardassian Peace Treaty plot element was well founded in the end Jammer.
Ian - Mon, Jul 23, 2012 - 2:24am (USA Central)
So, Data is NOT a person with rights since he is all positronic? So much for TNG's Measure Of A Man...
Cail Corishev - Sat, Sep 15, 2012 - 1:32pm (USA Central)
I certainly wasn't sad to see Bareil go, but unfortunately, in the words of MST3K, "Yeah, he's dead. But don't worry, they have a spare."
Nick P. - Mon, Oct 8, 2012 - 8:36pm (USA Central)
Yeah, the problem with this episode is that it could have been so much more. Imagine a mid-season arc of 3-4 episodes, or even a season cliff-hanger. That is fine the producers didn't like where the relationship was going, they were right, but man, peace with the cardassians, Bariel hanging on by a thread. This could have easily fit at the end of the season in an extended arc to set up a cool cliffhanger.
Comp625 - Tue, Jan 29, 2013 - 11:29am (USA Central)
I have to agree that "Life Support" was poorly executed. It's reminiscent of Season 2 episodes, where the A and B plots don't intertwine well.

All of the events in "Life Support" had potential to be much more powerful. Yet, the lack of direction made it seem as if the writers were trying to do too much in a span of 45 minutes, and ultimately, they failed to accomplish most of their goals.

#1. The Cardassian and Bajoran peace treaty negotiations should have been a HUGE storyline, and at the very least, treated as if it were a standalone episode with no B-plot. Sh!t, it's one of the major DS9 story arcs thus far.

If budget were a concern, it could have been a dialogue-heavy, bottle episode. Yet, somehow, this historical event becomes overshadowed.

#2. Per Memory Alpha, the writers thought Vedek Bareil was a "weak" character who they wanted to kill off since they were unsure about how to use him going forward. That's fine. But this storyline should have been STANDALONE.

There are too many moving facets to squeeze into a 45 minute period, let alone squeezing it in with the peace treaty:

- Bareil's romantic relationship with Kira
- Bareil's political relationship with Kai Winn
- Bareil's religious relationship with the Bajoran people as its spiritual leader

#3. Did the writers want to make a commentary piece about how human life shouldn't be supported solely by artificial technology? If so, that in itself is a STANDALONE story, separate from the treaty negotiations.

Also, "Ian" made a good point above. This episode essentially negates the validity of Data's existence in "The Measure of a Man."

#4. An alive (but robotic) Bareil would have been a decent way of handling his character going forward -- even if he were to be killed off later on. Heck, have him killed moments before the peace treaty is signed (which would have destroyed the treaty altogether).

This "double-edged" ending would have had significant emotional Kira AND the viewer. Bariel's death would have been tough on Kira, but simultaneously, she would have been glad to hear that the treaty didn't pan out (further emphasizing her hatred for the Cardassians).

I know the writers were having a somewhat challenging time transitioning from episodic writing to serialized writing. But there's no reason why the aforementioned story-arc events could have been all used on a standalone basis, and instead, we're left with the discombobulated mashup that is "Life Support."

My rating: 2 out of 4 stars
kerys - Sat, Sep 14, 2013 - 6:25pm (USA Central)
I disagree that this episode detracts from Measure of a Man at all.

If Bareil's brain had been completely replaced by positronic matrices, Bareil would be dead. His body would be home to a new being, but it would no longer be Bareil. Without the man himself explicitly choosing such a future, I don't know how any doctor could ethically perform the procedure.

Additionally, no one has been able to recreate Dr. Soong's work. Even Data ultimately failed with Lal. It is unlikely that an artificially prolonged Bareil with his brain fully replaced by positronic matrices would be any more sentient (or any more 'human') than a sophisticated computer.
Kotas - Tue, Oct 22, 2013 - 6:50pm (USA Central)

The best part was Bareil's death.

Jan - Thu, Jan 16, 2014 - 11:39am (USA Central)
I kind of liked Bareil as a character. It was a decent way to let him die.
Nissa - Tue, Jun 24, 2014 - 10:10pm (USA Central)
The major thing that disappoints me here is that Bareil wasn't needed at all during negotiations. Sure, Kai Winn claimed she needed him, but if she simply had a friggin' spine, she could have done all the negotiations herself. Bareil didn't have an exclusive relationship with the Cardassians, and if Winn had had the gumption she showed later in DS9, everything would have been fine without Bareil.
Yanks - Thu, Jul 17, 2014 - 1:24pm (USA Central)
Interesting episode.

I'll agree with Nic, why is Bareil/Winn negotiating? Shouldn't they be in church?

I'm not sure I agree with Bashir's "treatment" here. Just because there is an experimental drug, doesn't mean he needs to prescribe it when a safer option is readily available. I don't care what the patient wants. Bereil can reject going into stasis, but Bashir should have not given him this harmful drug.

Doctors can "do no harm". This drug definitely did that and Bashir knew it would.

I don't see this relating to Measure of a Man at all.

I liked the "B" story with Nog and Jake.

"NOG: At least I didn't have her chew." ... lol

"JAKE: Great. So we both disgust each other. You know, as we get older, this is just going to get worse. But I know one thing. I don't want to lose you as a friend."

Good for them. IDIC aye.

2.5 stars... average at best.
Diane - Wed, Feb 11, 2015 - 6:03am (USA Central)
This is the first episode that I liked Kira, I hated her for all of the first 2 seasons and almost all of season 3. Bereil was a weak character but the actor is a really good one. I always loved to hate Kai Winn, she was such a hateful woman but she was so also vulnerabe. She wanted power, but not able to pay the price it took to have it.
Icarus32Soar - Wed, Feb 25, 2015 - 3:50am (USA Central)
Vedek Bareil a weak character played by a poor actor? Nuts! Bareil has quiet inner moral strength and acts on principle and out of pure motivation, sacrificing his own career for the greater good as he sees it. Gene would have been proud of this character had he lived to see him.He is far closer to Gene's vision of a benign future than the cartoonish action men, the typical two-dimensional federation officers spawned by the much vaunted academy.He has moral layers that satisfy.
Anglim plays him with an admirable understated dignity that is never brash and in your face. I love all Star Trek but killing off Bareil in this episode and Kes in Voyager has been unforgivable. It shows writers unwilling to take a risk and develop characters that are outside the square. PITY!
MsV - Sat, Feb 28, 2015 - 7:27pm (USA Central)
No Icarus32Soar, a good actor, weak character.
M.P. - Thu, Mar 19, 2015 - 10:56pm (USA Central)
This episode has always bothered me. Primarily what Comp625 said so well, so I won't repeat that.

I really didn't like Bashir in this episode. He came off as way too preachy and arrogant. As Yanks says above, I do agree that he should have just refused to give the drug. In modern society doctors generally have the right to refuse treatment on moral/ethical grounds, as long as they provide an alternate physician.

It should always be the right of the patient to determine their own treatment and even if they live/die (assuming they are of sound mind). This, to me, is an inalienable freedom worth dying for. This episode dropped the ball though, with both sides of the question.
methane - Sat, Aug 8, 2015 - 7:09pm (USA Central)
I really disliked this episode when it first aired. I think I caught on quickly that they were killing off Bareil (probably to open up the way for a Kira/Odo relationship), and I wasn't happy about it. I wasn't a big fan of Bareil, but I did like the character, and I enjoyed the fact that Kira had an actual relationship (a rarity on Star Trek at the time). The repetitive nature of the episode (questionable medical procedure, negotiations, questionable medical procedure...) didn't hold my interest when I had already figured out where they were going and I was unhappy with the destination.

Re-watching it now, it's...OK, I suppose. I'm less attached to Bareil now, and the drama works somewhat better now that I've accepted where it's going. The whole treaty negotiations really got short thrift, though. Why were the Cardassians offering to pay any sort of reparations to the Bajorans? It seems like they were trying to claim the station as their property (and perhaps the wormhole) with their negotiating tactics. Absent that, I don't see why they'd pay anything. It's not like they're worried about the Bajorans attacking them at this point in time.

As to the B plot, I'll echo what I wrote for (I think) a season 1 episode. Back when I was close to Jake's age, I felt embarrassed for him in situations like this. Now that I'm older, I laugh.

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