Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"The Quickening"

***1/2

Air date: 5/20/1996
Written by Naren Shankar
Directed by Rene Auberjonois

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Maybe it was arrogant to think that [you could find a cure in a week]... but it's even more arrogant to think there isn't a cure just because you couldn't find it." — Dax to Bashir

Nutshell: Not the most audacious of premises, but the execution and realizations are absolutely stellar.

When Bashir, Dax, and Kira answer an old automated distress call in the Gamma Quadrant, they arrive at a destroyed planet to find a culture infected by an incurable disease designed by the Dominion two centuries ago as a terrible punishment. The disease is known only as "the blight," and every individual on the planet is born with the condition and is fated to ultimately die by it. The disease is a sort of time bomb; "the quickening," the very advanced and painful final stage of the blight, kills everyone sooner or later. Many die in their childhood, and since most do not live to have children of their own, the culture is looking upon the prospect of their ultimate extinction.

There's nothing particularly special about the way the story of "The Quickening" unfolds, other than its absorbing execution. The idea, after all, of Bashir getting so personally involved in the plight of his suffering patients is nothing we haven't seen before. But execution here is everything. Like with "Hippocratic Oath," Rene Auberjonois proves quite capable at directing DS9 and making a show have lasting impact on an emotional level. "The Quickening" is small, slow, quiet, and involving drama. It's a very simple medical-oriented show for Bashir that really works, unlike "Life Support" from last season, where he was constantly at the mercy of a manipulative plot.

The most important reason for "Quickening's" success is that it allows us to care about the characters and the victims of the blight. I can't put my finger on why exactly it all works so well—whether it's Auberjonois' direction or Naren Shankar's precise dialogue or a combination of both—but the show makes us very sympathetic for these people. Like the Federation, they were once very much in control of their own fate, but their resistance to the Dominion's autocratic hand led to a vicious attack and endless suffering ever since. Yet while keeping everyone someone we can sympathize with, the drama keeps its bounds and never goes the least bit overboard. There's no preaching or excessive melodrama here—just a very even-handed, fair approach to the material.

And such is the case with pretty much the entire story. The creators and actors all seem to know where they're going with the story, and never push harder than they should. Take, for example, the character of Doctor Trevean (Michael Sarrazin). He's a Kevorkian-type who wants to spare people the agony of their final days of life by assisting them in a dignified suicide once the quickening sets in. In the first act, the character initially seems blatantly obvious, right down to an understandable but exaggerated conflict between him and Bashir, who finds it incomprehensible that anyone would help end the life of someone who needs real medical treatment. But the creators play down the conflict angle and make Trevean a sincere and well-intentioned character whose points and actions are very bit as relevant as Bashir's considering that a cure for the condition has indeed been assumed impossible. I appreciate that the episode shows Bashir's disapproval for Trevean's assisted suicides yet still remains completely fair to Trevean and doesn't slight his position.

The show also raises the very true notion that such a culture wouldn't exactly welcome an outside hope for a cure with open arms. Indeed, Trevean even makes a not-so-subtle threat aimed at Bashir and all healers "who bring false hope." The fact that everyone has lost hope in saving themselves is certainly understandable, and the episode manages to work it into the equation realistically. In order to run experiments, Bashir needs volunteers. But it takes a while for the hopeless to work up enough hope to defy the pain and allow Bashir to work with them in their weak, quickened stage.

One of the first Bashir works with is Ekoria (Ellen Wheeler), a pregnant widow who has not yet quickened—who hopes she can survive long enough to give birth. Wheeler does a terrific job with the material. She's another example of the show's strong point: precision characterization performed without needlessly maudlin moments. Eventually, Bashir has a roomful of volunteers, and before too long he even thinks he may have a potential cure.

But things turn dreadfully wrong when all of Bashir's patients begin gyrating and trembling in pain as an unforeseeable element causes them to reject the treatment. (This leads to perhaps the show's one slightly excessive scene where Bashir gets overly involved in trying to save one dying patient while yelling "Breathe! Breathe!" until Dax has to shake him back into reality.) By morning, Bashir has a roomful of bodies, most of whom asked for Trevean's poison to speed their death. Only Ekoria survives the night.

The deaths lead to an interesting character scene where Bashir reveals to Dax that his arrogance got the best of him. I especially liked some of Bashir's dialogue: "I was so arrogant to think I could cure these people in a week; but there is no cure—the Dominion made sure of that." And Dax's response was even better—very relevant and a very scorching wake-up call: "Maybe it was arrogant to think that. But it's even more arrogant to think there isn't a cure just because you couldn't find it." This is a very good scene that's easy to overlook.

Kira and Dax head back to the station, but Bashir decides to stay behind and observe Ekoria's pregnancy while continuing the search for a cure. Things look bleak. Ekoria quickens while still several weeks away from being ready for delivery. She doesn't think she will make it, but Bashir helps her through it until the scene where we're presented with the obligatory childbirth scene. Childbirth scenes make for one of TV's biggest cliches, but this birth is a powerful one—Ekoria gives birth to a child with no signs of the blight, and seconds after she realizes what this means, she collapses and dies. A bit theatrical, perhaps—but very effective nonetheless. Bashir realizes that his treatment will not cure people who already have the blight, but it will prevent mothers from passing it onto their children. It isn't a complete cure, but it's a very large and important step forward. It's nice to see Bashir be a hero under believable circumstances.

The writers also further prove Trevean is not a simple caricature by providing a scene where he enthusiastically takes on the responsibility of seeing others get the vaccine in hopes of curing the future generation. The ending also features a particularly poignant moving crane shot that shows Bashir watching from afar as the people crowd around the newborn baby that they see as their savior. I really liked this shot. Kudos to Auberjonois. David Bell's score also deserves recognition.

While "Quickening" isn't a groundbreaking episode that goes out of its way to choose a topic that's particularly audacious or new, it does cover its chosen topic almost perfectly and with emotional depth. Dramatically, it ventures just up to the point that it should and no farther. The result is a story that feels very real, with characters that act rational and true to themselves, such that we care about what happens to them and we care about the story.

Previous episode: To the Death
Next episode: Body Parts

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27 comments on this review

Josh - Thu, Sep 11, 2008 - 10:10pm (USA Central)
Great review, Jammer - this is one of the most underrated episodes of DS9 and one my personal favourites. It's also nice to see a "medical" episode that isn't laden down with technobabble jargon. I should also mention Siddig's performance, especially in the childbirth system - very well done!
Jay - Sun, Aug 2, 2009 - 12:43pm (USA Central)
The episode never mentions that the EM fields that mutated the virus are also in all likelihood the reason Ekoria quickened the very next day.
Nic - Tue, Nov 10, 2009 - 9:25pm (USA Central)
I guessed very early on that the baby would not have the disease because of Bashir's injections... but somehow, when the childbirth scene arrived the episode had managed to make me forget that fact and I was still extremely surprised. I guess, like you said, it all comes down to the execution!
Leaf - Wed, Jun 16, 2010 - 2:28pm (USA Central)
This is a fantastic episode and quintessential Star Trek.
petetong - Tue, Jul 13, 2010 - 10:43am (USA Central)
I really liked that the matte backgroudn they created for the city. It was a very intriguing setting.
Elliott - Sun, Dec 26, 2010 - 2:24pm (USA Central)
I do indeed like this episode, but no one seems to have noticed that Travean's "hospital" is a thinly veiled analogy for Mother Theresa's House for the Dead. It's a biting commentary taken in that context, but it seems no one realised it, perhaps not even the writer himself.
jon - Thu, Jan 27, 2011 - 6:40pm (USA Central)
Elliot you know Mother Theresa actaully gave a fuck about the poor and tried her best and may i ask do you help the poor?
Elliott - Sat, Jan 29, 2011 - 6:46pm (USA Central)
Dude, seriously, knock it off. I don't know you, you don't know me. This is a fansite. Stop slinging your biased religious detritus at me.
jon - Fri, Feb 4, 2011 - 1:02pm (USA Central)
I'm not religious actually personally i'm more of an agnostic/ lapsed catholic I just think that for all her faults she did genuinely try her best to help the poor and she showed compassion for the poor. I think this was intended as an AIDS allegory and the look was inspired by 16th 17th century art
Lucian - Mon, Jan 23, 2012 - 6:31pm (USA Central)
good to see another example of the darker side of trek that was common in DS9.
The arrogance of bashir who thought no cure existed solely cos he could not find it , and people die.
Joseph S - Mon, Jun 25, 2012 - 2:25pm (USA Central)
As I was watching the episode, I kept noting the times that Bashir would comment on how Trevean has lived longer than anyone else without quickening - and about halfway through, I started to fear that the episode was going to take another route: namely that Trevean has had the cure all along, but maybe he's a Dominion operative, or a Founder, or maybe was threatened by either or both of these into hiding the cure, or God knows what else. And I'm SO glad the writers didn't choose to go there. It would've cheapened the message of this story, which is one of hope. Well done!
William - Mon, Oct 29, 2012 - 1:46am (USA Central)
I agree. A great episode, in its own kind of quiet way.
Maaz - Sat, Feb 16, 2013 - 5:03am (USA Central)
Great episode, I liked the fact that Bashir didn't find a cure, even at the end, it was a vaccine and that last part where Sisko realizes that Bashir hasn't given up makes the ending even better.

BASHIR
People are still dying back there.

SISKO
Yes... but their children won't.
Jake - Tue, Feb 19, 2013 - 4:18pm (USA Central)
Absolutely fantastic episode. I really like Bashir so managed to get quite immersed in the story, I've never gotten quite so emotional about a TV childbirth, I felt so happy for him!

I also noticed the Mother Theresa parallel, although her philosophy was to keep them alive as long as possible despite the suffering as she believed letting them die was against God's will whereas Travean wanted to end their suffering. Both were doing what they believed was right, but they were both ultimately unhelpful and misguided endeavors.
Aaron - Wed, May 8, 2013 - 9:48pm (USA Central)
This episode was just very well done and made me feel for the victims. A "partial success" for Dr. Bashir was the right dramatic approach. They actually used some "real" technobabble when talking about the virus. I, too, suspected that Trevean was a Founder in disguise. I agree with the comment that the art direction was well done and innovative. Ellen Wheeler did a great job as Ekoria.
chrispaps - Wed, Jul 10, 2013 - 8:05am (USA Central)
Absolutely brilliant episode about hope, arrogance and death. Thank goodness Auberjonois directed this. The music was also spot on. Loved it.
Jack - Fri, Aug 2, 2013 - 4:16pm (USA Central)
Great episode, but Jadzia's line about "no one there to translate for you" seemed odd, since there was no sign she had been doing that before. He conversed just fine with everyone even in scenes where Jadzia wasn't there.
ProgHead777 - Tue, Aug 6, 2013 - 4:12am (USA Central)
@Jack, Dax was referring to the fact that she had to translate Bashir's medical jargon for the locals. She does it several times during the episode.
Shawn Davis - Tue, Aug 20, 2013 - 3:11am (USA Central)
Greetings. I just got through watching this episode. This is a great episode of ST:DS9. I especially had some respect for the character Julian Bashir in this one and how the actor Sid El Fadil played him so well in this, especially since previous episodes like last seasons "Distant Voices" while not a terrible episode didn't do a good job in developing Dr. Bashir very well.

I also agree with Joseph S on what he said about the ending of the episode not going the simple route of someone holding the cure of the disease for themselves or the plague being a Dominion plot. The ending where the doctor actually created a vaccine and not a medicine and where Sisko said that at least their children of that species will survive is perfect for this episode.
Kotas - Wed, Oct 23, 2013 - 6:29pm (USA Central)

Even Bashir can't cure everything. Good episode.

7/10
Jack - Wed, Jan 1, 2014 - 11:32am (USA Central)
@ ProgHead777

If Julian can't translate medical jargon to something Ekoria can understand, that's pretty sad. Speaking "layman" isn't a foreign language.
Jons - Mon, Feb 3, 2014 - 11:57am (USA Central)
The premise and the episode was great, but what made it really, really excellent is the ending. I sincerely thought it would be the ending cliché: Bashir finds the cure, too late for the mother but just in time to cure the baby and everyone else.

Instead, the fact that he found a vaccine was completely unexpected (by me at least) and felt really plausible and genuine. And in a way it was even more touching for me than if he had found a realy cure.

The bitter-sweetness of the ending, and the definite embodiment of hope (not for themselves, but for their civilisation's future) actually kind of choked me up (which is unusual for me, I have to say).

Really, really well done.
Dusty - Thu, Feb 20, 2014 - 3:20am (USA Central)
A bittersweet episode that had me doubting Bashir would find any kind of cure. Not only did he devise one--at least, for the planet's unborn children--he earned more respect from me here than in all his previous episodes together. The smug attitude may be just a cover for his passion and the concern he has for his patients. I still want to punch him sometimes, though. xD

I also felt something for the victims, especially Ekoria. The effects of the disease were well depicted but not overdone. It seems shallow in comparison to everything else, but I have to say Terry Farrell was even more beautiful with her hair down. I'll remember this episode for many reasons, all of them good.
Vylora - Tue, Feb 25, 2014 - 5:20am (USA Central)
Amazing episode and one of the best vehicles for Bashir in the whole series. The idea he was able to find a vaccine instead of a cure was fantastic writing. Everything about the direction and the acting by all involved really made me care about these people and their plight. Being put in a position of choosing to end a life to ease suffering was also well written here and made sense relative to the plot. This was a labor of love and it shined brilliantly despite being a quieter episode. Quiet can be good.

As for the "translate for you" comment by Dax to Bashir - it was more tongue-in-cheek than anything.

This was always a classic to me. 4 stars.
Trekker - Mon, Mar 31, 2014 - 9:21pm (USA Central)
Simple and deep, Star Trek takes on Euthanasia with a bias of course, but it is a good episode that tries to explore a need to raise the quality of life and make it worth living.

9.5/10
Yanks - Thu, Jul 31, 2014 - 9:11am (USA Central)
Just great Trek and great character building episode for Julian.

Not much to add to Jammer's review here.

Damn, this virus was something. It even grew stronger in the presence of technology used to try and figure it out.

Julian gets his ego slapped around a bit to the point where he, of all people, doesn't need to take credit at the end.

The Dominion once again a revealed as "no joke".

Funny how an innocent baby always translates to hope. I really felt for Ekoria, enduring the excruciating pain for weeks to ensure her child had a chance to live.

This episode always brings a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat.

I can't find a reason not to give this one a 4.0.

Great Trek!
Ian G - Tue, Aug 19, 2014 - 8:08am (USA Central)
I agree with you, the hidden strenght of this episode is its dramatic restraint. The powerful emotions that in revokes flow naturally from the story, instead of being thrown in our faces. It also doesn't follow the usual Trak formulas. Trivian is actually a good person who's actions are understandable given the hopeless circumstances and we can see his side of things. His conflict with Bashir is muted and grey; the episode avoids falling into a predictable dichotomy and instead focuses on the power of hope. Bashir's partial sucess at the end in curing the next generation further strengthens this theme.

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