The Great Star Trek DS9 Rewatch: Babel

Everything on DS9 needs maintenance, but when Commander Sisko demands a decent cup of coffee, it’s up to the overworked Chief O’Brien to prioritise the replicators. Unfortunately, when he fixes them, he accidentally releases a virus that causes the crew to start contracting aphasia – an inability to communicate or understand what others are saying. Can the crew figure out a cure before they all become incapacitated?

This is a pretty standard Star Trek story – an illness is aboard, and only the handful of senior crew who are somehow amazingly resistant can save the day. There’s all the usual tropes here, right down to a ship that’s about to explode, so surely we can cut this episode some slack for being classic Star Trek? Well, it is classic, but in both good and bad ways. The progression of the narrative is indeed solidly familiar and comforting, but the virus itself is a bit left-field, and the “we found the guy who can cure this all just in time” a convenient twist reminiscent of The Game.

Character development

  • We get to see the start of the ongoing Quark/Odo banter that would become so much a part of the series, with each side insulting the other at every opportunity, despite a grudging mutual respect.
  • Quark refers to Rom as his assistant, even though we can already infer that they are brothers from the fact that Nog is both Rom’s son and Quark’s nephew. I guess in the Ferengi world, business relationships come before family ties.
  • Odo says that Rom cannot possibly have fixed the replicator because he is an idiot. In fact, later episodes will establish that Rom is a talented mechanical engineer, and so fixing the replicator would have been right up his street.
  • Dax says she enjoys the attention of being an attractive woman, although obviously in the enlightened 24th century it shouldn’t make much difference.
  • In the last episode, Dax told Bashir that the Trill aren’t interested in romance as they aspire to higher things. Whilst she may have just been saying this to put him off, it’s clearly false – perhaps young Jadzia believed this when she was training, but in its various hosts the Dax symbiont has been married several times and even had children. In coming seasons, we will see Dax have relationships and even ultimately get married.

Everyone should have died

  • Whilst Quark did help spread the disease by using the fixed replicator, had he not been able to get to Ops and work the controls at the end, everyone would have died. So maybe the general lack of effective access controls at Starfleet facilities is a good thing.
  • When Quark’s replicator is working, presumably people can see him request the food from behind the bar and bring it over. Did no one wonder why he (or perhaps Rom) were dashing off to the command level to get their orders? How was nothing cold or spilled by the time it arrived? I guess the usual clientele of Quark’s Bar don’t look too closely at how things are run.
  • In the last couple of episodes we’ve heard mentions of 26 and 52 hour timespans, as opposed to the usual 24 and 48. These are the first indications that DS9 runs to the 26-hour clock of the Bajoran day.
  • How is Quark able to charge for replicated food when people could just get it for free?
  • Even though it looks like a very simple roulette-style game, Odo doesn’t know the rules of dabo.

Summary – Babel: “Victory strike limits frosted wake. Simple hesitation!”

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