Sunday, 3 August 2014

Babel written by Michael McGreevey & Naren Shankar and directed by Paul Lynch

What’s it about: A virus that makes the station personnel talk nonsense. No seriously.

Single Father: The trouble is I can understand why some people have an issue with Sisko's quiet approach to command in these early episodes. If the material is strong enough (pretty much the entirety of the second half of season one) then it highlights the sensitive, thoughtful side of the character but if the material is lacking, he just comes across as somebody who isn't engaging with his post. Sisko only registers when he shows concern towards his son being infected. Compare him to the firecracker of emotion he is in season four and you can see the writers reacting against his gentle nature in these formative shows. 

Everyday Engineer: In a couple of minutes footage we get to see just how hard O’Brien is working his butt off to try and keep the Station running. He is literally holding the place together with super glue and sticky backed plastic. I wonder if he has daydreams about hanging out in the transporter room back on the Enterprise? What I love about his character is that even when he is in a grumpy bastard of a mood he is still written and played with a great deal of humour. Colm Meaney is a likeable guy and as such so is O’Brien. His first slip of aphasic language is a genuinely odd moment. He tells Sisko that Keiko is fond of Jake but because Sisko questions this it almost seems as if he has said something improper. I’d love to know what O’Brien said to Kira when she joked about the broken turbolift (I bet there was some colourful Irish language in there).

Unknown Sample: Quark is such a crafty character and it's no surprise that Odo sees through his sudden luck at having his replicators fixed. It's interesting to see that once he is taken out of comfort zone of security and has a station full of lives on his hands he almost falls to pieces.

Community Leader: In the space of one episode Quark has gone from doing fantastic business to it being practically non-existent with Odo commenting on both. I guess that’s the way it goes in the hospitality industry. Security verification never seems to be a problem for this Ferengi; he just pulls out his isolinear rods and gets snooping. He lures Dax through his door with a double whipped Idanian spiced pudding. The scene where he is making sure his less fortunate customers aren’t faking the illness to prevent paying their bar bills is hilarious – Quark really is a wonderful scene stealing character. Look at him swaggering into Ops and offering his help to Odo, he is loving this (and his ‘I must have witnessed the procedure hundreds of times’ is priceless). 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Rom’s an idiot, he couldn’t fix a straw if it was bent.’ 
‘You. Gold. Owe. Me!’
‘Bread the arrive seen earlier!’ - finally Sisko is emoting!

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘I’m holding you personally responsible if anything turns up missing’ – Odo developing his use of the oxymoron.

The Good: Straight off we visit a cargo bay, Ops, a science laboratory and a corridor – this really does feel like a large, functioning area teeming with activity. It’s only a small detail but I love the shot of the fluids running through the circuitry. DS9 really knows how to stage action and the gripping final set pieces is all flames, smoke and explosions.

The Bad: Colm Meaney gives all he’s got to make his nonsense speak as funny as possible (and I did laugh at ‘Simple hesitation!’) but really, this script and premise would be thrown in the trash in a few seasons time. It's one of the early DS9 episodes that is trying out a TNG premise to see if this sort of thing will work on a station bound show. And the answer is not really, or at least that it is a step down from the political intrigue and character drama that the series excels at. There will be a couple of other examples as we work our way through the first season (Move Along Home, If Wishes Were Horses, Dramatis Personae) but they would soon peter off as DS9 develops its own identity. The fella playing Jarheel might be able to send you to sleep with his relaxed delivery. Even DS9 isn’t above having a duff punchline at the end of the episode in the best traditions of BUGS but at least Colm Meaney has the guts to look embarrassed by it. 

Moment To Watch Out For: There is a pan across the Promenade that ends on Jake where you can see that the upper level is unfinished. The producers did not have the budget to have a two storey set like this in the shows first season and it is interesting to see it displayed here so bold facedly. In the next season both sides of the Promenade are walkways with shops and lifts and lots of activity. Once completed it is one of my favourite sets in Trek, as distinctive and exotic as an alien bazaar should be. 

Orchestra: The music is really exciting in the finale as Odo struggles to explode the mooring clamps in a race against time sequence to save the day.

Result: Imagine if the crew had been wiped out by the aphasic virus? What an embarrassing way to end the series that would have been. Babel proves again that DS9 has better luck at dishing out these naff Star Trek premises because its core of characters is strong enough to provide some entertainment when the plot fails to do so. You’ve got Odo panicking when the Station is his responsibility, Quark causing a whole lot of trouble but redeeming himself by coming through when a crisis needs him to and Kira providing her own unique solution to curing the virus by infecting the man who created it. Now we’ve done the standard Trek virus and the murder mystery plots, can we get on with something more interesting? Disposable but fairly watchable especially in the thrilling final ten minutes: 5/10

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