In the sixteenth episode of the fifth season of Deep Space Nine, I am done. Finished. Expired. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For extensive talk of consent and non consensual medical procedures, specifically on children.
What the fuck, Deep Space Nine. WHAT THE FUCK.
Doctor Bashir, I Presume?
This was a funny episode. This was a funny episode. Until the first sign that something was amiss with Julian and his parents, I fully expected that this show was giving me an emotional break after the wallop of the previous two episodes. I earned one, y’all. And up to the appearance of Amsha and Richard, this was a charming look at one of the main characters! THE MONTAGE. THE MONTAGE WAS EVERYTHING, Y’ALL. Brilliantly written, full of perfect comedic timing and editing, and a giant love letter to Dr. Julian Bashir. Sure, there wasn’t much conflict, but who cares? Robert Picardo was guest starring as both Dr. Zimmerman AND the Doctor. O’Brien was secretly telling Zimmerman that Julian was perfect while Jadzia and Kira were shit-talking him. EVERYTHING WAS PERFECT AND LOVELY AND HILARIOUS.
Plus, the worldbuilding alone was great. Ironic worldbuilding, I might add, since the entire point of creating a new EMH was to use it for more long-term applications. WHILST THEY ARE ALL UNAWARE THAT VOYAGER IS ALREADY DOING SO AT THE EXACT TIME. I just loved seeing the creation of this new holograph while also spending time with Dr. Zimmerman. It’s the sort of experience that allows the audience to understand the Doctor better, since we got to see his creator.
And then everything goes to hell.
I just simply could not conceive of whatever thing that bothered Julian so much being all that bad. He was uncomfortable with the suggestion of Zimmerman interviewing his parents, but given that he hadn’t been close to them in years, it didn’t seem all that mysterious. Yet when Amsha and Richard showed up, I knew something was deeply, deeply wrong. It was not just that Julian was uncomfortable. Lots of people are uncomfortable around their parents! Julian’s discomfort, however, felt far more visceral and urgent. Something wasn’t right. Once they had their first private conversation, I felt steamrolled by the very idea that there was some horrible secret buried in the Bashir family past. Like… what could possibly be so bad that Julian could lose his career? Why would they even need to talk about it?
Once the secret got it (in an expertly written and acted scene, I might add), it suddenly made sense to me why Julian’s every interaction with his parents was so painfully awkward. How long had they been constructing an alternate life for their son? How many stories about Julian’s childhood were clever twists on the actual truth? How many stories were fact-based, but included just to give people the impression that Julian was always a perfect genius?
It’s the way that this episode ties Julian’s true development as a genetically modified human (!!!!!!) to Star Trek canon that makes this so upsetting. I knew as soon as it was stated that Julian being genetically modified was a bad thing, but in case I didn’t get why this was so dire and upsetting, I was reminded of the history of this practice within the show. Khan. The Eugenics Wars. Human history in the world of Star Trek is a giant cautionary tale against the genetic modification of humans to make them superior. And somehow, the Bashir family had found a way to break the law, modify their child, and get away with it.
My gods, this explains so much about Julian. His desire to be alone. His problems with schooling and the Academy. His alternating modesty and arrogance. It’s not often that a late reveal like this makes a whole lot of sense in hindsight (since these sort of things are rarely planned in long-running television shows), but this one fits too well. It’s frightening.
And watching the fallout from it is just as scary, too. What a haunting thing to learn about yourself, y’all, and Julian’s parents kept it a secret from him for over eight years. Were they ever going to tell him that they’d taken him far from home to change who he was? What if he’d found out at his current age? As it stands, it makes a lot of sense that Julian resisted getting close to his parents over the years. How could he? Not only had they changed him in a fundamentally physical way without his consent, but they’d burdened him with a secret that, at any time, could ruin his life. His very existence was illegal. Not allowed. Freakish. He was a relic of a time that was viewed negatively and harshly by his peers. By history! And yet, what was he supposed to do? Not succeed? Not be ambitious? That conundrum feels unknowable to me, but “Doctor Bashir, I Presume?” manages to give us a chance to understand what Julian has been through.
That’s a feat in and of itself. So is the acting, as well as the masterful way in which the writers twist the tone of this episode without disrespecting the story. Even the resolution was thematically appropriate. After years of refusing to take responsibility, Richard Bashir accepts that he has made a mistake, and he offers to serve two years in a penal colony for the decision he made all those years ago. This doesn’t negate Julian’s feelings on everything, and it provides closure. His career and standing aren’t ruined, but there is still a repercussion at work. The whole thing is bittersweet, shocking, and intense. It’s a bold risk for the show to take, but Deep Space Nine has long been willing to do these sort of things to tell good stories. And what a damn fine story this is.
The video for “Doctor Bashir, I Presume?” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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