In the thirteenth episode of the third season of Deep Space Nine, an accident threatens Vedek Bareil’s life in the midst of peace negotiations. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For talk of death, misogyny and disability/ableism.
This episode did not go as I thought it would.
Vedek Bareil has been such a vital recurring character in the show that I assumed he was safe. I’m so used to shows magically healing disabilities that I assumed he was safe. Instead, “Life Support” stomps on my soul repeatedly before stomping out Bareil’s life. This is a difficult episode to watch because so much of it feels deeply unfair. Why now? Why does the accident happen right as Bareil and Winn are on their way to the most important meeting in Bajoran history? Why would the Prophets torment these people so? What possible good can come from this?
Good does come from this situation, but it’s a rough, painful journey to that point. “Life Support” tackles the issue of quality of life in a unique way. What if a person knew that they might need life support in the immediate future, and what would they choose to do? The situation is, obviously, hopelessly complicated by timing. In the midst of negotiating a final peace settlement with the Cardassians, Bareil is suddenly and violently taken out of the picture, despite that he had worked tirelessly (and secretly) for five months to make this meeting possible. Thus, it’s understandable why Kai Winn is so upset by this turn of events. Bareil did most of the work, and now she’s got to take control of the negotiations all by herself.
Winn has always been a complicated character from the start. Her self-interest in terms of politics has also been at the forefront of her development. Hell, her election as Kai couldn’t have happened without her shrewd and brilliant understanding of Bajoran politics. Yet when she stepped aboard Deep Space Nine, it was clear that she was different. Working as Kai – with Bareil as her advisor – had changed her. She was more sincere; she did not speak with a thousand meanings hiding behind her words. Is her self-interest entirely gone? No, and later in the episode, I think the show certainly explores it. But this experience tempered her, and that’s partially because Vedek Bareil worked so loyally for her. She stopped having to fight to get what she wanted. She stopped being in competition with someone.
And while all that is veering sharply toward the world of speculation, I feel like “Life Support” gives us the means to understand why Bareil and Winn act as they do. Both of them know the importance of this treaty. They know that if it doesn’t happen at this exact moment in time, it will most likely never happen, and the Bajorans will never be allowed the means to move on from the Cardassian occupation. So Winn pushes Bareil to do anything possible to ensure the success of the negotiations. On top of that, Bareil believes wholeheartedly in his destiny! So even if Winn wasn’t there, he’d still want to risk his life for this specific cause. Of course, it would be foolish to ignore Winn’s influence here. I don’t think Julian is far off from the truth when he speculates that Winn is afraid of the task ahead of her. Without Bareil, she has no one to blame, and it means that in the first time in her career, she’s the sole accountable figure. That sort of isolation must scare her, you know?
So Bareil pushes himself. He takes an experimental drug that ruins his internal organs. He refuses being put into stasis until someone can figure out how to heal him fully. His friends advise Julian to replace half of his failed brain with a positronic implant. At every turn, Bareil will accept the cost, as long as he’s kept alive. This is where Julian’s development excels, too, because the writers don’t ignore his commitment to his patient. Now, I get that he also can’t fully grasp the importance of the political ramifications of this treaty because he’s not Bajoran. I don’t think the writers omit that, even if it’s not explicitly stated. However, he sees a patient suffering when they don’t have to. He sees a leader exploiting someone for their own gain. It doesn’t make him willing to take Bareil further and further from his humanity, you know?
Regardless, I still expected a good ending, some last minute solution that would heal Bareil, and everyone would learn from the experience, and that’s how Star Trek works. EXCEPT NO. No, Bareil dies. TWICE. HE DIED TWICE IN THIS FUCKING EPISODE, Y’ALL. At least in the end, Kira gets to talk to him as he dies. I was so shocked when he died the first time and Kira only heard about it from a third party. That seemed excessively cruel, given their relationship. And if the show was going to write him off, then I needed there to be some sort of closure for Kira. I’m still shocked and saddened by his death, but at least there’s a respectful conclusion here.
I wish I could say I was as satisfied with the conclusion of the Jake/Nog subplot. Oh, it’s resolved in a way that respects both characters, and it’s got a neat message about cultural differences. However, I think the writers completely dropped the ball by ignoring the fact that in a space of mixed company and mixed cultures, someone should have told Nog NEVER TO TREAT ANOTHER WOMAN LIKE THAT AGAIN. All he learned from this episode was that his behavior was okay as long as he told Jake about it. That’s… that’s not the problem with the double date? And now, Nog has no real idea that treating women with such vicious misogyny is A REALLY BAD THING. I get that it’s sketchy as hell to tell someone from another culture to stop abiding by their cultural norms, but he’s in a space where the vast majority of people are not Ferengi. He’s got to learn how to exist in that space!
The video for “Life Support” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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