The Future Will Be Carpeted: An Analysis of ‘Deep Space Nine (S7E5)’

"Chrysalis"
7.5 (aired October 28, 1998)

“Everyone, this is Sarina. Sarina, this is everyone.”
    -- Dr. Julian Bashir

Dr. Bashir is a lonely man. Of the regulars, he is one of two to never have a long-term love interest or a plot hinging around an old flame returning. The other one to never have this? Jake Sisko, whose chief claim to fame is having been in the fewest episodes of any of the regulars, and in the final season, having his screentime eclipsed by both Nog and Damar. Also, Jake Sisko is too young to have old flames, and hasn’t been dating long enough for anything long term. And could you imagine if the show stopped dead for an extended arc about a teenager’s love life? Yikes.

It gets worse for Bashir, too. The one woman he really was into (creepily so, to be fair) not only goes for Worf over him, her reincarnation tells him that she would have picked Bashir eventually if not for Worf. That’s pretty much the worst thing you can tell a person: “Aw, sweetie, you were her second choice.” And while Jake and Nog are best friends who each have no love interests, Bashir’s best friend is the happily married Chief, who will always prioritize Keiko and the kids over his pal. In short, in Bashir’s two most important relationships during the show, he’s playing second fiddle to somebody.

The thing is, this is nothing new for the doctor. He’s been in a community of one ever since his parents had his genes resequenced. Though it’s a later retcon in the character, some evidence exists for that interpretation even beforehand. He’s colossally bad with people, making both Kira and O’Brien positively despise him before they finally warm up. He harasses Jadzia Dax, who couldn’t appear less interested if she was wearing a uniform made entirely from stop signs. His only stories from the Academy are about rivalries, and his one romance plot (the terrible second-season outing “Melora”) was with a patient.

That turns out to be a pattern.

The opening of this week’s episode, “Chrysalis,” has Bashir realizing just how lonely he is. O’Brien’s hanging with the kids, Kira and Odo are having date night at Vic’s, and casting didn’t want to pay Andrew Robinson this week, so Garak’s not around. While Bashir has come light years from the arrogance and obliviousness he displayed when he first arrived on the station, he’s still nobody’s first choice. He’s still the genetically enhanced boy nobody loves.

Everything changes at three in the morning when he gets a call from Nog to meet Admiral Patrick in the infirmary. When Bashir arrives, he finds not the Starfleet brass he was expecting, but the four genetically enhanced individuals he met in season six’s “Statistical Probabilities.” They stole Starfleet uniforms and whenever someone questioned them, Patrick simply dismissed it with an imperious “That’s a stupid question.” Worked well enough to fool Nog.

The Jack Pack (as they’re known by fans, after Jack, the hyperactive leader) somehow divined Bashir’s desire to cure Sarina of her catatonia, and just decided to go ahead and bring her to DS9. Sarina’s problem is that while her brain can process astounding amounts of information, her senses can’t feed it to her brain fast enough. This produces a disconnection between sense and action, rendering her unable to truly focus on anything around her. Bashir’s solution is a wildly experimental procedure to grow more synaptic pathways in her head.

Sweetly, the Jack Pack actually want to help Sarina, and when Chief O’Brien flatly tells Bashir that the machine he needs to modify Sarina’s brain can’t be built, they build it. The procedure is a success (because there’d be no story if it weren’t), though initially Bashir is unsure. It isn’t until he sees Sarina wandering the Promenade in her surgery robes, an expression of rapt wonder on her face that he knows it worked. In possibly the best moment of the episode, he approaches her cautiously and asks what she’s looking at. “Everything,” she breathlessly replies.

Sarina is amazed at first that people respond to her. After all, she’s thinking things, and people are talking. It’s a chilling look into what her existence was since her modification. Her speech is initially effected, sounding a bit like someone who is hearing impaired. The Jack Pack “fixes” her with a singalong in a scene that’s either magical or embarrassing depending on whether it works for you, with very little middle ground. Personally, I like it. The direction soars, the camera never establishing a master shot, but instead flowing from character to character as the song evolves. It is also the perfect moment to show Bashir falling for Sarina. She was living in darkness and silence, and here she is, singing in a gorgeous soprano that cuts through the gloom of his recent existence.

Bashir sweeps Sarina up in a budding relationship, and she initially appears game for it. To him, this is a fantasy he’s nurtured since childhood: another genetically enhanced individual who truly understands what that means yet can share a normal life. She enjoys the time with his friends, and even gives an astute reading of O’Brien, Kira, and Ezri, admiring the Chief’s stoic good humor, Kira’s ironclad faith, and hoping Ezri will realize she’s more than the sum of her lifetimes. She also points out that Odo is far more comfortable showing his emotions than he is speaking about them, which is yet another thing that endears me to the constable.

While Bashir is dazzled, what he doesn’t understand is that Sarina spent most of her life in a catatonic state. “Statistical Probabilities” implied she had some attraction to Jack, but he ignored her. That is the absolute limit of her romantic experience. So, when Bashir starts talking about a trip to Risa and throwing around the L word, Sarina panics.

It’s so easy for her to retreat back into her catatonic state; that’s where she lived for so long. She first does it when she hangs out with the Jack Pack for the first time since the procedure. They were used to her that way, she reasons, so it’s better for all. The next time is when Bashir really hits the gas on the relationship. It’s worth noting that both Ezri and Miles notice that he’s going too fast, and O’Brien even counsels him a bit to pump the brakes. Bashir doesn’t really hear it. Not until Sarina once again retreats into her safe, familiar catatonia. The Jack Pack are the ones who figure out that it has something to do with Bashir, though they don’t really know what.

She comes out of it when he basically begs her to, telling her he loves her. She crumbles, and in a heartbreaking moment, tells him that she doesn’t even really understand love, but if he’ll explain how she’s supposed to feel, she’ll do it because she owes him. Sarina never learned subtext. She says what’s on her mind when it’s on her mind. Bashir realizes just how selfish he was being, and in a credit to Alexander Siddig’s acting, you can pinpoint the precise moment when his heart breaks into little pieces. Rejection is bad, pity is worse, but realizing you were, in essence, tacitly forcing another person into a relationship is the absolute nadir. He tells her, correctly, that she owes him nothing.

Bashir lets her go. It’s the right thing to do. It’s really the only thing to do. He gave Sarina her life back, and taking it out of a misguided sense of possession would be the worst crime of all. He gets her an internship and says goodbye, sending her off to the stars to do some good.

This episode is a riff on the classic Flowers for Algernon, but appropriately for Trek, it is far more optimistic. While Jack, Lauren, and Patrick will stay at the Institute for the rest of their lives, Sarina will have a happier and more productive existence. She’ll get to live and learn like she never could previously. For Bashir, though, he’s once again alone.


Next up: A defector from the Dominion.

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