Nutshell: Extremely neutral. Acted with sincerity, but the story is all too pedestrian.
"Chrysalis" is essentially four acts inspired by "Flowers for Algernon," with a fifth act that departs the general outline of that story but unfortunately comes off as predictable and pedestrian nonetheless.
"Flowers for Algernon," a short story that was made into the film Charly (1968), is about a man with the mental capacity of a child who receives an operation that transforms him into a genius virtually overnight. The story follows him as he sees the world in a new light, and as he finds himself falling in love with his doctor.
"Chrysalis" is a story about Sarina (Faith C. Salie), one of the four "mutants" from last year's "Statistical Probabilities," and how she sees the world after Bashir performs an operation that brings her out of her deep, catatonic introversion. Keeping true to the Charly formula is the fact that Sarina and Bashir become romantically involved. As Bashir tells O'Brien, Sarina is "the woman I've been waiting for all my life."
Well, it's not so big a problem that the story is based on the cliche of "doctor falls for patient"; it's just that I didn't feel I learned anything new about Bashir in seeing this episode. We've seen before that Bashir feels a bond between those who, like himself, are genetically enhanced, and that he feels a sympathy and understanding for these four "mutants" in particular. There just wasn't much in "Chrysalis" that didn't feel like a rehash on one level or another.
In respect to Sarina's condition, there are some reasonably good moments, like the one where she stands on the promenade simply looking at "everything." One gets the sense that her world will be forever changed for the better. But some of the most interesting questions are the ones the story doesn't ask. Questions like: Will Sarina be accepted in society now that she has emerged from her cocoon? What kind of day-to-day psychological challenges would someone face in being overwhelmed by a new world as they perceive it? (Between this and Voyager's "Extreme Risk," it feels somewhat like psychology week for Trek—not that there's anything wrong with that.)
More questions: What's going on in her mind? How does she feel about it? What kind of challenges will she face in integrating into society while totally lacking previous social experience? This last question seems to be addressed somewhat by the fact Sarina doesn't understand the concept of love the way Bashir evidently hopes and expects she would, but there are more interesting questions, I think, that are missed because the story doesn't dig deep enough. Instead, there's too much implicit emphasis (handled discreetly, admittedly) placed on the "suspense" that lies within whether or not Sarina will return to her cocoon, and not in what it means for her to be out of it.
"Chrysalis" is slow, watchable, nicely acted, and quite uninspired. At this point in the series, I expect as given for everything to be "watchable" and "nicely acted." I have nothing against "slow" per se—the problem is that the story is too derivative, too uneventful, and fails to evoke any passion in me as a viewer.
A big part of the problem, I think, is in the story's perspective. Although a key rule in the Star Trek writing guide has always been "keep the emphasis on our regular characters," this is an episode that really should've been told from Sarina's point of view rather than Bashir's. At this point in the series, we know how Bashir reacts to these types of situations, so most of "Chrysalis" as a result comes off as extremely routine. O'Brien and Bashir Talking Things Over [TM] is always pleasant and well acted, but it's also routine. We needed something fresh here, or at the very least something interesting for O'Brien and Bashir to discuss.
Telling the story from the character who's waking up from decades-long catatonia would've improved things significantly; Sarina is a character with whom we're just enough familiar to care about, yet she also has plenty of uncharted waters to bring a fresh spin to the material. Alas, the "lonely, lovesick Bashir" angle just wasn't worth the time.
Overall, what bothers me most about "Chrysalis" is the obviousness of it all. I have no objections to a story's revelations being telegraphed in scenes leading up to the conclusion. However, when most of the show is essentially telegraphed from the moment the preview aired the week before, we've got a bigger problem. "Chrysalis" is such a case. Once it was clear Bashir would fall in love with Sarina, it became too obvious that the relationship would fail as a result of Bashir getting caught up in the situation and taking things too fast. Besides, as the die-hard formula always goes, no guest character can remain in a relationship with a regular character for more than the duration of a single episode.
The question for me then became just how closely the story would mimic "Flowers for Algernon." Even though the fifth act managed to break away from the "Algernon" tragedy formula, it still wasn't particularly unexpected or insightful.
Meanwhile, the rest of Bashir's crazies (or the "Jack Pack" as they've also been called), seem somewhat wasted. While I'll grant that this story is about Bashir and Sarina, the presence of Jack (Tim Ransom), Lauren (Hilary Shepard-Turner), and Patrick (Michael Keenan) felt more like the obligatory "Okay, let's have some quirky, funny scenes with these four in the tradition of what we did last time" than it felt like relevant use of them as characters. Jack fared the best as the source of adversity (though not nearly as well as in "Statistical Probabilities"), but just who are Lauren and Patrick? The answers, respectively: A sultry woman who finds Nog attractive, and an old guy who wants the furniture in the room to be arranged exactly the same as during their last visit.
Yes, I did enjoy the scene where Jack becomes fixated on stopping the universe from collapsing back onto itself. And the "do-re-mi" scene where the four of them improvise a song makes for a surprisingly effective musical number, even if the sentiment seems a little too proud of itself.
But aside from a few good scenes worthy of mention, "Chrysalis" is precisely the type of show that makes me wonder if the story being told was worth spending the hour upon. I'm all for DS9 episodes that are relevant to the DS9 universe. And I'm all for DS9 episodes that are interesting even if somewhat irrelevant to the core material. But "Chrysalis" simply doesn't have the ends to justify the means. It's certainly not a bad episode, but it really doesn't come with much to recommend either. It's merely there.
Between the less-than-stunning "Afterimage," the totally fluffy "Take Me Out to the Holosuite," and now the predictable and derivative "Chrysalis," I'm beginning to thirst for some crucial DS9. Fortunately, based on the preview, it looks like we're in store for just that.
Next week: A clone of Weyoun defects, and may offer Odo some crucial information. At last, some meat and potatoes.