Nutshell: A problematic final sequence of events, but otherwise an intriguing and very effective story about the dangers of megalomania.
I didn't particularly like "Doctor Bashir, I Presume" last season. It surely had its moments, but it drowned in some horrendous scenes involving Leeta and Rom, had an unfulfilling and all-too-easy conclusion, had a central problem that felt conjured out of thin air, and when it ended it seemed like there wasn't going to be any follow-up to make the idea worth the time used to establish it. Well, here's the follow-up to the previous episode's revelation that Bashir was genetically enhanced as a child, and it's a good one. "Statistical Probabilities" is a strong hour of money-saving DS9 that gets to the heart of Bashir and his problem, tackling issues that went unanswered in "Presume."
The story brings four eccentric individuals to the station, where they're to learn from interacting with Bashir, who represents a sort of "best case scenario" for those were genetically enhanced. Bashir didn't suffer side effects as did these four, who, brilliant as they may be, exhibit social behavior that falls in the realm of the clinically insane.
The first rule of a "crazy people" story (which accurately describes part of "Statistical Probabilities") is to make sure that each crazy person has his or her own distinct characteristic. There's Jack (Tim Ransom), the aggressive, adversarial, hyperkinetic guy; Lauren (Hilary Shepard-Turner), the ever-calm, seductive man-chaser; Patrick (Michael Keenan), the plump, elderly goofy guy; and Sarina (Faith C. Salie), the pale woman who never says anything. These colorful characters seem like they were created to please an audience who simply wanted to see funny, lovable crazy people, but I don't know if "Statistical Probabilities" really needed to rely on the mental institution motif so heavily; this episode is really more about how these characters bring rise to Bashir's central problem. Nevertheless, even though they're sometimes a little cartoonish, these characters work, especially the strong-willed Jack (as energetically played by the entertaining Ransom), who proves to be a constant challenge for Bashir.
The problem faced by these four (and I suspect others like them) is that they feel useless to society, for there are many roles they're not permitted to take. An early discussion amongst Bashir and the senior staff does an excellent job of addressing why this denial is deemed necessary, while also highlighting a dilemma faced by a public that limits children who had no decision in the enhancements given to them by their parents. It's unfair to "punish" an innocent child who had no say in the matter. At the same time, however, such actions taken by the parents have to be discouraged, otherwise the procedure would become accepted and everyone would feel compelled to have their children enhanced in order to simply "keep up"—which could have disastrous consequences. I suspect the Eugenics War stemmed from a similar problem. Of course, there's the other problem that genetic resequencing is not an easy procedure, and because it's illegal it ends up being performed in "back alleys," so to speak, and not necessarily with ideal results (hence the side effects of the four people depicted here, who have spent a great deal of their lives in what is simply and ominously labeled "The Institution"). "Statistical Probabilities" does a good job of conveying these problems in the terms of a controversial issue, which makes for some interesting questions—questions which were not adequately brought into the light in "Presume."
At the same time, "Statistical" also rightly argues that these people do deserve the opportunity to contribute to society in a meaningful way. Specifically, these four begin analyzing the Dominion War, and with data supplied to them by Bashir they calculate and predict theoretical outcomes to battles and proposed compromises and agreements. They're fast and smart—and within days they come up with projections that would've taken Starfleet Intelligence months to calculate. The only problem is that they eventually come to the conclusion that the Federation can not win the war against the Dominion.
Resulting from this conclusion are well-conceived reactions by numerous characters. Bashir's reaction is to tell Sisko that Starfleet must immediately surrender or risk 900 billion casualties. A quick surrender, he adds, would result in fewer than two billion casualties. "Either way, we're in for five generations of Dominion rule." Sisko is appalled. First, there's the problem that Bashir's analyses are based upon assumptions and probabilities; second is the fact that even if Bashir could predict the future with 100 percent accuracy, he couldn't ask an entire generation of people to simply give up their freedom to the Dominion. ("If we're going to lose, then we're going to go down fighting.")
It's a particularly telling sign that Bashir makes it a point to slowly go through and explain his calculations to anyone who disagrees with him. A standout scene between Bashir and O'Brien gets to the heart of the matter when O'Brien refuses to take Bashir's statistical analysis as given. Bashir can't see how anyone would be willing to overlook such "conclusive" evidence of the Federation's imminent demise. "The way I see it," responds O'Brien, not happily, "there are two possibilities. Either I'm more feeble-minded than you ever imagined, or you're not a smart as you think you are." Ouch. Bashir had it coming, though.
What we have here is a perfect example of megalomania. Bashir and his new friends have found something in each other (as he explained to O'Brien in an earlier scene where the two played darts—a perfectly characterized scene, by the way) that Bashir has allowed himself to get caught up in. Bashir wants to give his subjects an avenue to contribute, and when he stumbles upon the war projections he's simultaneously in horror over the future of the Federation while exhilarated at the new discovery of purpose made by his friends. It's a very interesting situation for him to be in, but it's also a difficult and painful one, because people aren't likely to listen to the overly-large (and hopeless) predictions made by a bunch of "mutants." The danger here is that megalomania is not good for one's judgment—and Bashir's judgment is decidedly clouded. He should know that statistics are not the end-all/tell-all of the universe, but he badly wants to believe he's making the best decision and using his friends' gifts in a meaningful way.
The one glaring flaw in "Statistical Probabilities" is the crisis that arises at the very end of the show. In which Jack announces that Starfleet is wrong in dismissing the analysis and that his own decision to surrender should stand. In which he plans to contact Weyoun and Damar anyway, who are on the station for a diplomatic meeting. In which he talks about how he will use his access to battle plans and intelligence information to supply the Dominion with a means for a swift invasion (an action Bashir correctly recognizes as "treason"), which in the long run could "save lives." In three words: no, no, no. I don't care whether Starfleet is technically supposed to be a "military" organization or not, but it's in a war with a powerful adversary, and military organizations do not supply the casual civilian (much less an insane one) with crucial data and strategic plans that could have such extreme consequences if misused. One would hope such information is deemed "classified" and that Bashir wouldn't even have access to it.
While the intentions of this sequence of events are relevant in terms of Bashir's self-realization, the actual actions prompt nothing but incredulity. Once again, we have a microcosmic comic-book situation which claims to put the entire war situation "on the line." Such small devices that purport to impact the big-scale themes in such huge ways are very dangerous from a dramatic standpoint. It wasn't necessary in terms of this week's story, and I'm sure there could've been a way around it. All it does is make Starfleet security look like Swiss cheese. It's no wonder the odds are against them.
Despite that the way these events unfold is annoying, I did like the personal realizations that came out of them. Jack's willingness to make a decision that could theoretically affect billions (punctuated by his remark about being "the next best thing" to a god) underlines the relevant fear that "normal" people have of genetically enhanced megalomaniacs. Also, Sarina aiding Bashir in foiling Jack's plan was reasonable, and the fact that Jack couldn't even predict Sarina's "betrayal" of him made for a pretty good point: How can Jack be so sure about the future when he couldn't even predict the actions of one person in his own room? Bashir's disappointment at the turn of events definitely does a good job of bringing him back to earth, as he realizes that there's much more going on than the odds game.
In addition to its strong statements about megalomania, "Statistical Probabilities" finds relevance by reminding us that the Dominion War is very far from over. It supplies the return of Weyoun and Damar, whose working relationship reveals a Damar who finds himself at Weyoun's casual disposal even more so than Dukat did—which is interesting considering past episodes and how much Damar abhorred Weyoun's disrespect of the Cardassian power structure. There's also some pleasant humor, especially between Bashir and O'Brien in the earlier passages of the show. I only wish the ending hadn't gone so overboard. This show could've been great without some of the needless excess. It's a winner even with the flawed finale, but it could've been even more.
Next week: A rerun of "A Simple Investigation," followed by more reruns until the week of New Year's, when we're supposed to get a major Ferengi outing. See you then.
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