“Take Me Out To The Holosuite” (season 7, episode 4; originally aired 10/21/1998)
In which we get to see a Fancy Dan…
Losing sucks. This is not a revelation, but allow me to repeat with emphasis: Losing really, really sucks. And not only does it suck to put all your energy and your passion into something and fail at it, it also sucks that there’s somebody who gets to claim, with immediate and undeniable evidence, that they are your superior; that you both tried your best, and your best was not as good as theirs was. If that wasn’t bad enough, you’re supposed to act gracious about it. You must now accept your inferiority as though it were a gift.
Sisko isn’t great at this. That’s not a slight against his character—the captain is an intensely emotional, deservedly proud man, and he wouldn’t be the same Sisko if that passion didn’t occasionally slip out in less than neat and tidy ways. And in his defense, the source of his wounded prided in “Take Me Out To The Holosuite” is aggravating enough to drive anyone nuts. Solok (Gregory Wagrowski), the Vulcan captain of a Federation ship docked at Deep Space 9 for repairs, has a history with Sisko. When they were both cadets together, Solok’s arrogance inspired a drunk Sisko to challenge him to a wrestling match, which Sisko lost—badly. In the years since then, Solok has taken every possible chance to rub his victory in Sisko’s face, using Sisko’s “emotional” reactions as proof of his theory that Vulcan stoicism is superior to humans and their sloppy, petty feelings. With his arrival at the station, he’s brought a new challenge: a baseball game in the holosuite, Solok’s team against Sisko’s.
So Sisko has a chip on his shoulder, and now he’s finally going to get a second chance to prove who’s the better, um, humanoid. “Holosuite” is corny as hell and all the more fun for it, and part of why the episode works is that it sets up one expectation, only to deliver on another. We’re not privy to the reasons behind the Sisko/Solok feud at first. There’s clear tension in their initial scene together, but that tension goes unexplained until later in the hour, when Kasidy basically forces Sisko to tell her what’s going on. (I really like Kasidy. I may have expressed ambivalence about her before, but I like her a lot, and wish the writers could give her more to do.) As a general rule, it’s not a great idea to hide the motivation behind a character’s actions from the audience for an extended period of time. But it can work well in the context of an hour of television, especially if, as in this case, it sets us up with certain assumptions, and in doing so manages to make the truth all the more resonant.
What I’m getting at is that for a while, the episode plays like an old-fashioned underdog story. You’ve got a determined coach (Sisko) saddled with a group of inexperienced players facing an opposing team of greater resources and physical strength (as Kasidy reminds Sisko, the Vulcans are three times stronger than a human, and while not all of Sisko’s team is human, you can still feel the difference). You’ve got a ragbag team of misfits studying to figure out the rules of an archaic game. You’ve even got the hopeless loser who can’t seem to do anything right, who you just know will come through in the clutch. Rom—good old well-meaning, kind-hearted, eager to please Rom—is so bad at baseball he makes me look like Babe Ruth. (Context: I hated playing Little League because I was terrified every time I had to go up to bat.) Every underdog story has its biggest loser, and that’s always the guy (or gal) we root for the most.
Until Sisko kicks him off the team and throws everything to hell.
What I like about that scene is that it’s not immediately, definitively clear that Sisko’s making a bad call. Because, again, Rom is freaking terrible. He can’t field and he can’t bat, and hey, if this game is so important to Sisko, it’s not asking that much to have the Ferengi sit this one out. The problem lies in the way Sisko rejects him. After watching Rom fail at batting for presumably the umpteenth time, Sisko storms over and excoriates him in front of the entire team. Even if you can justify not having Rom play, there’s no reason to make him feel even worse about it than he clearly already does. Afterwards, the other team-members show solidarity for Rom and offer to quit in his name, but Rom won’t hear of it, because he’s just that damn nice. But all of this isn’t to remind us who Rom is—it’s to start the shift from “underdog triumph” over to something a little more grown-up.
In yelling at Rom, Sisko loses his temper, which means he’s taking what is, at heart, a very silly game far more seriously than he needs to. The real arc of the episode isn’t the captain pulling everyone together and overcoming insurmountable odds. It’s Sisko realizing that sometimes the only way to win is to accept losing and not give a damn about it. There was no way in hell the Niners (the name of the DS9 team; it’s embarrassing how long it took me to get where that came from) were going to beat Solok’s team. Apart from Jake, Sisko, and possibly Kasidy, none of them had ever played baseball before, or even understood the basics of the game, while Solok and his crew have had ample opportunity for training. More than that, from what we know of Solok, it’s obvious that the only way he would enter into a contest like this at all is if he was certain he would win.
Yet he does lose; just not in the way you’d expect. Trying to subvert the underdog scenario is tricky because you risk disappointing your audience, regardless of their savvy or the purity of your intentions—the desire to see the losers win is so ingrained in us that it’s hard to be satisfied when they don’t, even when the lesson is there’s more to life than winning. “Holosuite” manages to have it both ways. For a more traditional triumph, there’s Rom finally getting his chance at bat. He helps bring a run in by accident, when O’Brien (who coaches the team after Sisko gets himself kicked out for poking Odo, the umpire, in the chest) realizes that the best chance they have for success is a bunt; Rom doesn’t understand the symbols everyone throws at him, but he does manage to stick his bat out just far enough to knock the ball forward a few feet. It’s dopey, but sweet, and the immediate outpouring of support from the rest of the team makes it as big a victory as Robert Redford smashing the stadium lights out in The Natural.
But Rom’s big play only results in a single runner (Nog) getting to home plate. The Vulcans still win the game by a landslide (10-1, unless I missed a shot of the scoreboard at the end). That’s where the other triumph comes in, the one that really counts: Sisko realizes that the only way he’ll ever “beat” Solok is to learn how to lose well. It’s satisfying to see someone accepting that failure is a part of life (finding joy in that knowledge all the while), because it’s such an unexpected resolution for this kind of story. For any kind of story, really. It’s a little childish maybe, right down to the way everyone rubs their happiness in Solok’s face at the end, but that fits. Sometimes it’s important to remember the reason you fell in love with a game isn’t to win or to crush your enemies, but for the joy of play and teamwork. Y’know, kid stuff. I’m sure next week we’ll get back to death and despair and moral complexity, but every once in a while, it’s nice to remember what you’re fighting for.
- The adorability levels are off the charts for this, but I think my favorite moment might be Kira catching sight of Odo practicing his umpire calls.
- Ezri’s big catch is cute as well. And those uniforms. And those hats!I’m a sucker for episodes that that manage to sell the family vibe of an ensemble without overselling it, and I think this one fits that category quite well. Star Trek: The Next Generation tried that sort of thing from time to time, with moderate success, but this hour works better than, say, “Data’s Day,” because the corniness of the sweeter moments is balanced by Sisko’s very real, and often ungenerous, anger. He comes around in the end, but no one pretends as though human beings can’t be jerks sometimes, and that makes the kindness more valuable.
- I got a little choked up when they handed Sisko the game ball signed by the team. I’m not even sure why.
“Chrysalis” (season 7, episode 5; originally aired 10/28/1998)
In which Bashir falls for Pygmalion…
As far as returning guest characters go, I’m not sure I would’ve told you I was eager to see Jack, Patrick, Lauren, and Sarina again before watching this episode. “Statistical Probabilities” was a solid episode, and, so far as I can remember (I could go back and check my review, but pfffffft), I enjoyed the twitchy, super-genius quartet for what they were: decently drawn and well-acted individuals who were mostly valuable as symbols of Bashir’s fears for himself. Their genetic modifications gave them incredible gifts, but also left them incapable of functioning in a normal society. The good doctor had escaped this fate, but after having been forced to reveal his true nature to his colleagues, well, he was feeling a little isolated. “Statistical Probabilities,” then, was a good chance to example that isolation, and also to let it go. Just because Bashir is super smart and fast and what have you, doesn’t mean O’Brien and the others like him any less. And just because Jack and friends aren’t entirely sane, doesn’t mean they can’t be useful or made to feel necessary in the world.
Bringing them back, though, means running a risk of diminishing returns, as the writers will either need to find a new angle to explore, or else just repeat the familiar routines. For Jack, Patrick, and Lauren, we get the latter in “Chrysalis.” Jack is still tightly wound, eager to take offense, and super insecure; Lauren is still obsessed with seducing men (she fixates on Nog this time, although she never does anything about it, thank God); and Patrick is still nervous and childlike. Impressively, none of these characters ever wear out their welcome, and by the end, I was almost wishing we could’ve spent a little more time with them. Still, if the story had actually just been another iteration of “the smart crazy people are so weird and smart” that we got last time, it wouldn’t have been worth the time. As likable as they are, these three are inherently limited. It’s part of what makes them who they are.
Thankfully, “Chrysalis” isn’t about Jack, Lauren, or Patrick. It’s about Sarina, and it’s also about Bashir, who is once again feeling some feelings about being alone. This time, instead of being isolated because of his genetic enhancements, Julian is blue because he’s flying solo through a station full of couples. (Admittedly, there’s still Worf, Quark, Sisko, and Ezri to hang out with, but when you’re feeling lonely, it’s hard to remember your options.) As someone in his mid-30s (dear God), I found this easy to understand, but then, I think most people could relate to it. For all the encouraging things people tell you, and for all the reasons you’re supposed to be fine on your own, realizing that many of your closest friends have a kind of life you can only aspire to is kind of unshakable. Being single as an adult is difficult partly because of all the nice, romantic bits about couplehood you’re missing out on, but also because of the basic stuff like having someone to come home to. A relationship means that when you believe you have a place in the world, there’s someone else who believes the same thing. It’s not awful to not have that, and there are definite advantages to bachelorhood, but it gets cold sometimes.
So Bashir is in a vulnerable place when the crazies arrive. Jack, Patrick, and Lauren got their hands on Starfleet uniforms and bluffed their way to the station because they’d heard Bashir had worked out a potential treatment for Sarina’s catatonia. And there’s your plot: Bashir cures Sarina, she turns into a real-live girl, and Bashir falls in love with her. For a while, I was worried the episode was going to work out like Awakenings, with Sarina’s newly restored consciousness gradually cracking as Bashir’s miracle cure fails for some mysterious, irreversible reason, and there are a few feints in that direction. But instead, “Chrysalis” goes a less tragic, more character-driven route. In its way, it has the same path of “Take Me Out To The Holosuite,” with a protagonist initially blinded by his emotional needs ultimately realizing the truth before it’s too late. The main difference is that, for Bashir, doing the right thing doesn’t mean a big cheering party at Quark’s. It means letting go of someone who briefly seemed to promise an answer to everything.
The danger in telling a story like this is that since so much of it is seen from Bashir’s perspective—and since Bashir is someone we know quite well—it would be easy for Sarina to disappear. It’s important that she doesn’t; the narrative is about realizing how important it is for her to have a chance to forge her own identity without feeling burdened by obligations towards others. While the Sarina we (briefly) know doesn’t have a lot of monologues about her childhood or her dreams, she is distinct, and there are glimpses throughout of the kind of person she might eventually be. I especially like the scene where she briefly, but accurately, sketches out the personalities of Bashir’s friends. This shows an insight, but even more tellingly, it shows she’s kind; all of her comments are generous, and while she’s clearly trying to please Bashir, that kindness fits in with everything else we learn about her. Faith Salie does a convincing job at playing someone who is both hopeful and deeply uncertain, and she’s subtle enough about it that’s initially easy to believe just what Bashir believes: that she’s in love with him.
She isn’t, though. On some level she is, but he just saved her from a lifetime of quiet sitting. Her feelings are confused for a variety of reasons, and rushing into a close relationship with her savior isn’t healthy for either of them. There’s a clever fake-out when Sarina seems overwhelmed by the noise at Quark’s, and I thought to myself, “Ah, she’s slipping back to her old self.” But even though she does relapse, it’s not because the treatment isn’t working; it’s because she’s unable to give Bashir what he wants, and what she feels she owes him.
Losing love is awful, but losing a love you never had to begin with is terrible in its own way. Something that was of the utmost importance has suddenly ceased to exist; only it never existed in the first place. You misinterpreted conversations, signals, signs, and each time you did, you felt more secure in your presumption, more convinced that your doubts would fade and that your instincts would prove correct. Watching Bashir babble on to O’Brien about how much in love he is, it’s hard not to wince. All the signs are there. The more you need something, the more willing you are to believe that you’ve found it. O’Brien tries patiently, kindly, to wake him up, but he can’t. That’s the hell of the thing, really; you lock yourself in, and you’re stuck until something shakes you loose, usually with a great and sudden force.
Thankfully, Bashir comes to his senses before it’s too late, and it all ends happily enough: The good doctor is still sad and alone, but at least he didn’t turn into a controlling monster, and at least he has the benefit of knowing he helped someone. (It’s still a little creepy that he was so eager to jump into a relationship with a patient, but since Sarina was uncommunicative for most of her time in his care, and since he does make it a point of passing her on to another doctor when things get serious, I think it’s okay. Definitely a warning sign, though.) O’Brien is still there waiting to hang out as soon as Bashir is ready to play again. This isn’t the first time the show has done the “I’m totally in love with this person, oh here is a circumstance that means I will never see them again,” but “Chrysalis” stands out because the “circumstance” is just the acknowledgement that most of the time, love isn’t something that happens when you need it to happen. The perfect answer to all your questions is the one you can trust the least. That’s a hard truth, but don’t worry; you’ll have plenty of chances to learn it.
- I like how, in the background of all of this, Jack and the others are still working to save the universe from a basically irrelevant threat. (The “improvised” singing they do with the newly restored Sarina is also nifty.)
- Ezri doesn’t get a lot to do this week, but her conversation with Bashir (in which she decides he’s trying to punish himself and does her best to help) was fun.
- The ensemble takes a backseat this hour, for understandable reasons (Bashir needs to feel at least a little isolated for the story to work), but the brief glimpses we get of them are yet another reminder of how likable everyone is. Both these episodes offer a place that makes you want to come back for more.