Last week I started to talk about ableism in Deep Space Nine, which you can find here. This week, I continue the discussion by looking at another two episodes and offer some thoughts to bring it all together. Let’s not waste any time and jump right into it.
BE WARNED: while I originally wanted to keep these confined to their respective episodes, I found that doing wasn’t so easy this time around. So spoiler warning for the entire series.
Bashir helps a group of eccentric genetically engineered Humans who are visiting him try to make a useful contribution to the Federation; the Dominion offers to sign a truce with the Federation. Memory Alpha summary
Plot Highlights: The episode opens on a group of people that are genetically enhanced. These people, unlike Bashir, were locked away at some sort of Institute. They are: Jack, defiant and abrasive, Sarina non-communicative, Patrick overly sentimental and attached and Lauren, a temptess. They’ve arrived on DS9 in the hopes that Bashir can help them.
The first meeting involves Jack testing Bashir; what and how much was modified, how he was able to pass as normal. Jack isn’t happy about how Bashir was able to pass himself off as normal, nor does he accept living at the Institute and how society is still haunted by the Eugenics War. Bashir acts one would expect if they’ve been assimilated into Federation culture by being a foil to Jack and ends up leaving to have dinner with the rest of the senior staff.
Over dinner we learn several things. First, Julian’s parents found a good doctor to do the resequencing on, which is why he doesn’t have any side effects. The others didn’t and as a result they couldn’t pass and were instead placed at the Institute for care. Second, the idea of them coming to the station is that seeing someone living a normal life would help them adjust so that they could live normal lives. Third, this is still Star Trek and being against genetic enhancement and some fear of the enhanced is common; although these views aren’t portrayed in a flattering light and Bashir does push against the bigotry while keeping things civil.
Dinner is interrupted by Jack hacking the comm. system in order to get Bashir to fix a noise that the other Augments have been hearing. It turns out to be a sympathetic vibration that normal humans can’t hear and it gets fixed jus as Damar begins a speech. The Augments, through either ignoring currents or being kept in the dark, don’t know about the events leading up to the 2nd Battle of Deep Space Nine and deduce them from body language. They’re fascinated by the whole thing and Bashir uses the fact that negotiations will be occurring on DS9 to keep them engaged.
A recording of the negotiations is playing out and the Augments are able to figure out what the Dominion’s actual aims are, a particular system, and why, it contains the means to produce ketracel-white. This leads to a flurry of analysis from the Augments as they determine what the most likely course of outcome would be and what the Federation should do. The projections are specific to such a degree that no real person could actually come up with, and we are saved much of the technobabble explanation, to find out that Sisko thinks the analysis is worth sending up the chain.
O’Brien walks in on Bashir and the other Augments celebrating in order to do some maintenance. It is painfully obvious how much Bashir has fitted into the group dynamic and how O’Brien really doesn’t fit in. Later at Quark’s, O’Brien finds out that they think of him as ‘uncomplicated’ which doesn’t go over well. The two of them seem to talk past each other as Bashir talks about how his new relationships and O’Brien eggs him onto to say how he feels superior to everyone around him.
The Augments have run a new series of projections which show that the Dominion is destined to win, and that the Dominion will fall to a new Federation in six generations. While Bashir is convinced, no one else is, Sisko finds the idea morally unconscionable and O’Brien finds Bashir’s sumgness to be more aggravating than normal given his open sense of superiority. Starfleet rejects surrender and Jack decides to commit treason as he’s the next best thing to a god and will do so in order to save billions of lives.
Sarina helps Bashir get loose from his restraints and the attempted treason is defused without incident. They’ll be going back to the Institute. There’s some resolution with Bashir and the other regulars about his behavior as well as a final scene with the other Augments.
Analysis: In terms of ableism, this episode is rather straightforward. All of the other Augments are clearly coded to be read as Autistic. This makes a certain amount of sense; botching DNA resquencing would presumably have repercussions. The problem is explicitly tying autism to something that has been repeatedly described as unnatural is hurtful. Not only that, but having them spend their lives quarantined from the rest of society is indicative of a society that cannot handle the neurodivergent and has upgraded facilities with the intent of keeping these people out of sight, out of mind. It’s a damning statement of the Federation, moreso than Eddington or Quark offer, cause it isn’t questioned at all.
Bashir being an Augment mapped to having an invisible disability to a certain extent, and that sense of camaraderie with people who share your problems does exist. Granted, it’s not borne out of being Ubermensch, but the idea is there. It’s hard to go deeper than that given how much of this episode revolves around the Augments being geniuses.
Jack and the others being ‘autistic’ is a poor choice on a narrative level. I’m willing to accept that collective cultural trauma has resulted in a ban on DNA resequencing in order to avoid another WWIII. I also understand that the presentation of how this plays out regarding the disabled is going to be unsatisfying given the writers’ preconceived notions, ableist and others, as well as a fictional universe can’t be as detailed as the real world. All that being said, having none of the Augments act like Khan, or a prototypical Khan, is underwhelming. Jack flirting with superiority and calling himself the closest thing to a god n order to justify treason doesn’t really do it. Deep Space Nine is a Star Trek show and that means drawing upon the legacy of continuity. Setting up a ban on DNA resquencing and having the only problems come about because of poor procedure isn’t really convincing. While this story can end up retreading ground that the show has already done before, particularly with Garak, the episode would have more of a punch.
In terms of continuity with the rest of the series, this episode is actually grating. On one hand, the Dominion also coming to the same conclusion about an uprising centered on Earth occurring and taking measures to prevent it once they win was a nice callback. On the other hand, the fact that their analysis turns out to be almost completely correct, with the sole exception of not accounting for Odo, is somewhat cheap. Not only does it undermine the ending of this episode, but it undermines the rest of the series with this knowledge. Everything that happens has been determined through statistics-babble and people are playing out their parts. ‘All this has happened before and will happen again’ may work for NuBSG, it doesn’t really work for DS9.
Jack, Lauren, Patrick and Sarina, the genetically-engineered Humans, return to the station, asking Bashir to help rouse Sarina from her cataleptic state. Memory Alpha summary
Plot Highlights: The episode opens with Bashir unable to find anyone to hang out with, heads to sleep and is awakened by Nog as an Admiral Patrick is requesting Bashir’s presence. The Admiral turns out to be Patrick, one of the Augments from the Institute. They have returned to DS9 as Bashir has come up with a theory of how he can help Sarina, and they didn’t want to wait.
Impersonating an Admiral and his staff is a crime so Bashir finds himself arguing for leniency with Sisko. Much of this conversation is rehashing points that have already been brought up before: how the Augments have been excluded from society, how Bashir could’ve ended up like them, as well moving the plot forward.
O’Brien is presented with a rare technical problem that he can’t solve, setting up a chance for the Augments to show off how smart they are and the procedure happens with a minor scene long complication before the procedure works. The Augments are overjoyed with the result and give Sarina a crash course in talking/singing that shows how well they work together; as well as Sarina’s amazing rate of growth.
Bashir walks in on Sarina in his quarters, where they have touching moments about how Sarina doesn’t want to revert to her previous state and general interpersonal chemistry with Bashir. Sarina goes to spend time with the other Augments who don’t mix as well when Sarina points out how outlandish Jack’s plan to save the universe in 60 trillion years. Bashir invites Sarina, and only Sarina to dinner and after Sarina cleans up, they head out.
Sarina showcases the Augments’ ability to read people and we skip to after the dinner, with Bashir and Sarina walking along the Promenade. Eventually she starts talking about how nice it is to be around people who are normal and argues that the other Augments couldn’t function in society. This in turn leads to discussing the Institute and how Sarina won’t be going back. She wonders what she’ll do with her life, and then kisses Bashir.
The other Augment don’t take the news as well. They’re not keen on having their group torn apart, and they’re not keen o how Bashir can’t help them in a similar fashion.
Bashir is head over heels in love, and so very, very, happy that there’s someone like him. Sarina is overwhelmed by this amount of attention and feigns a return to her prior state. The other Augments figure out this is a ruse, instead of Sarina telling them. This revelation displays the incredibly messed up dynamic between Bashir and Sarina; as she feels that she owes him everything and wants to make him happy. The episode ends with Bashir realizing his error, O’Brien reassuring him that no one wants to be alone, and all the Augments going their separate ways.
Analysis: This episode is bad, really bad in a way that none of the others are. Given that the Institute Augments are clearly coded as being autistic; the notion of curing someone, the non-communicative one at that, is incredibly offensive. Now, it’s worth remembering that being an Augment isn’t actually being autistic, but the association is there, and the language that gets used drives the problem home. The repeated insistence that is a cure, that it’ll fix Sarina. But when they say fix, they don’t mean reverse the DNA resquencing, just make it so she’s communicative. The fact that Sarina is the only one who can receive such treatment, the others can’t have their behavioral disorders fixed in a similar manner is cheap writer’s fiat. The central idea, that there is a cure for such a thing, crouched in the terms that DS9 has already established, makes this episode reek of something that Autism Speaks would approve of. Genetic enhancement isn’t permissible except in extreme cases, and it’s fine to keep tinkering with people if they’re disabling the symptoms of autism.
If that was the only problem with this episode it’d be one thing, but it’s not. This episode tries to distance itself as much as possible from the previous episode. There’s no talk about the Dominion or the war at all. Jack, Patrick and Lauren aren’t concerned with trying to come up with a way to win the war, which one would expect given the ending of ‘Statistical Possibilities’; but how to save the universe in 60 trillion years. It’s ridiculous, as it reduces these characters to puerile dilettantes instead of people who wanted to do the right thing. Nor are they quite the same people, their mannerisms are different and they have less hang-ups about being confined to the Institute. They’re recurring characters who aren’t developed enough that the changes are believable and their presence doesn’t add much, if anything.
The reason for structuring the episode this way and altering the characters this way is painfully clear. This episode is really about giving Bashir a romance and playing with his status as an Augment. Which on the surface is not the most endearing idea, and even a cursory glance at the actual situation shows an unhealthy relationship founded upon an imbalance of power. While the show is aware of this, framing an entire episode around this isn’t terribly compelling.
Otherwise there just isn’t much else to say. By this point the show is retreading itself and I’m not keen on retreading the same commentary. This episode is just underwhelming.
So where does this leave us? DS9’s first attempt at addressing the issues of disability with ‘Melora’ was well-meaning, but ultimately insulting. It shows a lack of thought and paints a picture of ‘paradise’ that is exclusionary. A ‘paradise’ that patronizes the physically disabled and shutters the neurodivergent away out of sight. The utopian version of the future is one that doesn’t have the disabled in it, and while that doesn’t take away from the good things that DS9 does, it’s worth keeping in mind going forward. Till next time