The Great Star Trek DS9 Rewatch: Statistical Probabilities

When a Starfleet officer brings four genetically enhanced humans to DS9, her hope is that Dr Bashir will be able to make a connection with them. Unlike Bashir, these humans have not been able to live in normal society, and their idiosyncrasies make them a hard group to deal with. Nonetheless, Bashir finds himself enjoying his time with the quartet, and between them, they discover some startling insights about the future of the Dominion War.

I have mixed feelings about this episode. On the plus side, it lets Star Trek do its morality bit about the perils of allowing genetic enhancement, and even though that debate has been done to death by now, it feels like an important area for the show to touch upon. It also adds a new dynamic to Bashir, a man who has had to constantly dumb himself down to fit in with society. At long last, he finds people who can operate at his level, and it’s clearly a delight to have such kindred spirits.

But unfortunately, that’s not enough to make this episode an unqualified success. The personality disorders of the genetically enhanced humans feel like very typical, run of the mill go-to quirks – ultimately they are more caricatures than developed personalities. But more than that, Star Trek has always had a simplistic view of mental illness, and this episode only reinforces that trend. Mental illness isn’t something that happens to our normal, balanced every day characters – even trauma like being assimilated by the Borg, or having a lifetime of fake memories implanted into your head, only causes distress for a week or so. Proper mental health problems only happen when genetic engineering goes wrong, or when a character gets promoted to admiral.

And whilst I can see where the writers were going with having Bashir push the agenda that his think tank predicted a horrific Federation loss – at odds with the Starfleet-American gung-ho attitude of the heroes winning the day – it was not a storyline that I can get behind. Predictive models are useful, and they can be fed back into guidelines for current behaviour, but the ridiculous level of detail of Bashir’s future predictions just makes them implausible. This was a model simple enough that it didn’t need a supercomputer to crunch the numbers, and yet Bashir thinks it can accurately predict events centuries into the future? I guess the average viewer doesn’t want to concern themselves with statistics, likelihoods and model building, but Bashir and his cohort are meant to be super smart. If they’re supposed to be smarter than I am, then convince me that they really are.

The ‘mutants’

Each member of the quartet has suffered some mental instability due to their genetic enhancement. They live at “The Institute”, which seems to a 24th century asylum. Didn’t Kirk and his crew cure all mental illness that one time?

  • Jack is the aggressive and hyperactive member of the group. He talks at high speed, doesn’t trust easily, and can be dangerously unpredictable.
  • Lauren is the seductive one, with a heightened sex drive and a tendency to lie around on a chaise longue.
  • Patrick is the childlike and friendly one.
  • Sarina is the mute and unresponsive one, who ultimately saves the day despite never uttering a word.

Other points

  • Damar is now nominal head of the Cardassian Union.
  • I love that Weyoun finds the possibility of a clandestine meeting quite fun. Whilst everyone else is taking the war very seriously, subjugating other cultures is just his day job – he needs something to amuse him.
  • We get the sense in this episode that sometimes intent and meaning can be masked by the universal translator, especially if no equivalent exists in the target language. Come to think of it, how does the universal translator know when not to translate Bajoran and Klingon rituals into English? How does it know?!
  • The think tank correctly predicts that the Romulans will enter the war, but get both the timing and the reason incorrect.

Summary – Statistical Probabilities: It would take a model built with great understanding of hundreds of alien cultures, not to mention vast complexity, to predict the Dominion War so accurately. Not to mention accounting for the effects of rogue individuals. Better luck next time.

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