Hello and welcome as always to ‘Final Frontier Friday’! This week we’re returning to ‘Deep Space Nine’ for a look at the fourth season episode ‘Our Man Bashir’.
Ah, the “holodeck gone wrong” episode. It’s a staple of ‘Star Trek’. Like dead redshirts, it’s one of those things that even people who don’t watch ‘Star Trek’ know is part of ‘Star Trek’ – though like the redshirts, probably not as large a part as the popular imagination would have you believe. This goes back to the early days of ‘The Next Generation’, the show most responsible for establishing the trope.
Well, I say “trope,” but “cliche” might actually be the more appropriate word. That was certainly the prevailing sentiment regarding these sorts of episodes in the ‘Deep Space Nine’ writers’ room. That’s why the show had generally avoided holodeck episodes up to this point. Why, then, make this one? What was it that sold them on doing a style of an episode they had been content to leave to their sister shows? Well, it all came down to writer Bob Gillan’s pitch, specifically the uniqueness of the station’s computer using Quark’s holosuite to store the crew’s transporter patterns. It’s clever enough in its own right, and on top of that, it allows them to simply slot the show’s cast into a variety of spy movie archetypes, rather than (for example) going the usual road of having Nana Visitor play Kira, who is in turn playing a Russian spy.
Given the production team’s reticence around holodeck episodes, it’s oddly appropriate that this one continued another tradition of sorts from ‘TNG’: copyright trouble! Yes, much like the Sherlock Holmes program introduced in ‘Elementary, Dear Data‘, Bashir’s spy movie holonovel was intended to be featured in future episodes, but when it eventually did reappear, it was in a greatly reduced capacity. In the case of ‘Elementary, Dear Data’, the producers ran afoul of the Arthur Conan Doyle estate, as contrary to the producers’ belief, Sherlock Holmes had not yet entered into the public domain. The ensuing legal issues delayed production of a proper sequel for years. In this case, some of the more explicit Bond references apparently resulted in the show getting a rather strongly worded letter from MGM, which held the Bond rights at the time.
The episode begins with a man crashing through a glass pane. We soon find that he was propelled through the glad by a tuxedo-clad Dr. Bashir, who is offered a bottle of champagne by a woman in a red dress. He pops the cork, knocking out the now-recovering assassin in the process. Bashir and the woman kiss to an unexpected round of applause. It’s Garak, simple tailor and moment killer. Bashir scolds Garak for barging in on his holosuite time uninvited and we learn that he’s been spending every spare moment with this particular program. Despite Bashir’s protestations, Garak wonders if there’s something personally revealing or otherwise embarrassing about this particular fantasy, and the doctor grudgingly allows him to tag along.
The two return to Bashir’s Hong Kong apartment, where Garak is horrified by the mid-sixties decor and meets Bashir’s valet, Mona Luvsitt. Garak assumes that Bashir’s character is “some kind of rich dilettante with a fascination for women and weapons,” and is stunned to learn that he is actually a spy, quipping that he joined the wrong intelligence service. Meanwhile, Sisko, Kira, Worf, Dax, and O’Brien are returning to the station on a runabout when a warp core malfunction destroys the craft. Eddington tries to beam the five officers back to the station as the runabout explodes, leaving him with an empty transporter pad.
Eddington realizes that the transporter malfunctioned but the officers’ patterns are still in the buffer. In a last ditch effort to save the patterns until they can get the transporter working, he has the computer wipe everything from active memory to store them. This works but eats up so much memory that many of the station’s systems go offline. On top of that, he has no idea where exactly the patterns were saved. Back in the holosuite, Bashir explains the program’s setting to Garak when they are interrupted by a wall panel that rotates to reveal a bed, on which rests KGB colonel Anastasia Komananov, one of Bashir’s lovers who – rather unexpectedly – looks exactly like Major Kira, albeit with an over the top “moose and squirrel” accent. Assuming that his program has been tampered with, he contacts Ops. Eddington brings him up to speed, realizing that the transporter patterns ended up in the holosuite. Following Eddington’s instructions to keep the holosuite running until the crisis is resolved, Bashir returns to his program. Komananov tells him that the Soviet government has come to believe that a number of recent earthquakes are artificial in nature. She and Bashir have been assigned to a joint operation by their governments, with a mandate to determine who is responsible and what they want. She hands Bashir a file on their best lead. That lead comes in the form of Professor Honey Bare, a seismologist who has gone missing and who looks an awful lot like Dax. At that, Mona enters and falls over dead, having suffered an unexpected case of “knife in the back.” The killer is Falcon, the assassin Bashir corked in the nightclub. Only now he looks like O’Brien.
Komananov implores Falcon to allow her and Bashir one last kiss, during which she indicates that Bashir should make use of her earring. He does so, revealing that it contains a flash bang. The distraction gives them a chance to turn the tables on Falcon. During the fight they realize that the holosuite safeties have been disabled. Bashir stops Komananov from killing Falcon, though Garak tells him not to rule it out. As he points out, Falcon is a hired killer targeting Bashir, and with the safeties off, he may well succeed. Bashir, of course, remains steadfast. Returning to the matter at hand, Komananov tells Bashir that her government beliefs Professor Bare has been kidnapped by a man called Dr. Noah, who has apparently made a habit of abducting prominent artists, scientists, and the like after meeting with them at a club in Paris. Outside, Rom helping Eddington make sense of his jury-rigged holosuite maintenance (because of course quark is too cheap to actually pay for proper replacement parts) and realizes that only the physical patterns are stored in the holosuite. The neural patterns are too complex, and as a result, are stored throughout the station. Arriving at the club, Bashir poses as a noted geologist, Komananov as his wife, and Garak as his friend. There, they meet Duchamp, an unusually Klingon Frenchman who agrees to introduce them to Noah… for a price. In Ops, the decision is made to use the Defiant (thanks to its independent computers and transporters) to reintegrate the officers’ patterns. Unfortunately, the rather ad-hoc nature of Rom’s maintenance work means that more modifications are required for the holosuites to interface with Starfleet systems. Back on the holosuite, Bashir wins the money to pay off Duchamp… from Duchamp himself. With the game concluded, he takes them to Noah, but not before knocking them out with gas hidden in his cigar. The three awake elsewhere and are greeted by Dr. Noah, who is the spitting image of Captain Sisko.
Noah’s base is located some twenty-five thousand feet up Mt. Everest. He reveals that the earthquakes have simply been a test. Using a series of lasers positioned around the world, he plans to flood the planet and let the human race start anew on the “island paradise” of Everest. He also reveals that he’s been working with Professor Bare and that he saw through Bashir’s cover as though it wasn’t even there. Noah has Garak and Bashir tied to one of the lasers and leaves them to die when it’s activated. (Komananov is to serve as breeding stock for the second human race.)
With no readily apparent escape route, Garak insists that It’s time to end the program. As they argue, Hone Bare arrives to make some final checks. Bashir plays the “he only wants you for your mind” card as Garak rolls his eyes. But flattery, it seems, will get you everywhere, as Bare kisses Bashir and slips him the key before she goes. As they make their way back to the control room, Garak becomes more convinced of the futility of their situation, and once again argues for simply cutting their losses. As Garak begins to call for the exit, Bashir shoots him. Garak, it seems, finds this a pretty compelling argument, telling Bashir to “lead on.” They arrive in the control room and a standoff ensues. Noah quickly turns the tables, but before he can shoot Bashir, the doctor plays for time by siding with Noah. Noah isn’t entirely convinced. That is, until Bashir triggers the final laser sequence, destroying the world. Noting that he didn’t actually expect to win, Noah decides to kill Bashir anyway. But just as he lines up his shot, he dematerializes. The Defiant’s transporter was activated at exactly the right moment, and the officers arrive a little disoriented but none the worse for wear. Back on the holosuite, Garak has come to appreciate the virtues of this sort of fantasy, suggesting that they have lunch the next day at Bashir’s place in Hong Kong… unless this was his last mission. As they leave, Bashir assures Garak that “Julian Bashir, secret agent, will return.”
I love this one. I’m not just a huge fan of ‘Star Trek’, I’m also a big Bond fan, so ‘Our Man Bashir’ scratches both itches at once. Of course, while Bond is the most obvious ingredient, the episode is really more of a general pastiche of mid-twentieth century spy fiction, rather than simply a Bond parody. Throughout, you can spot homages to everything from ‘Our Man Flint’ to ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’.
The episode is a romp, plain and simple. It’s a clever premise (that the holosuite isn’t exactly malfunctioning) that gives the episode a greater sense of jeopardy than the usual “Oh no, the safeties are off!” approach (though yes, that’s in here too). It’s also just a wonderful send-up of the tropes of sixties spy fiction, written as it is by someone with an obvious love of the genre. And honestly, that probably would have been enough just to get a fun episode. But then there’s the Garak of it all. Andrew Robinson consistently turns in some of the best performances that ‘Deep Space Nine’ has to offer, and this episode is no exception. Whether he’s off to the side making snide quips about the decor and how utterly unrealistic it is for a spy to live the jet set lifestyle or confronting Bashir with the hard choices and unpleasant realities that make up the life of a spy, he is tremendously effective, garnering some of the episode’s most memorable moments.
If you’ve followed my reviews here, you know I’m a big believer in the idea that you can usually tell when actors are having fun making a movie or an episode of a TV show, and that’s certainly the case here. Save for Terry Farrell and to a lesser extent Michael Dorn, who sadly aren’t given much to do, each of the principles gets at least one chance to really chew the scenery. In particular, Avery Brooks had to have been picking bits of the set dressing out of his teeth. Can we talk to someone about getting him to play an actual Bond villain? Because if ‘Our Man Bashir’ is anything to go by, I’d really like to see that.
That’s it for ‘Our Man Bashir’. Do you have as much fun with the episode as I do? Let me know in the comments and be sure to check back in two weeks for the next installment of ‘Final Frontier Friday’!