Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch: “Babel”

Written by Sally Caves and Ira Steven Behr and Michael McGreevy and Naren Shankar
Directed by Paul Lynch
Season 1, Episode 4
Production episode 40511-405
Original air date: January 24, 1993
Stardate: 46423.7

Station log: O’Brien is overwhelmed with work. People are trapped in an airlock, a cargo captain named Jaheel has been kept two days for repairs, the lab is emitting a high-pitched squeal, the navigation computer doesn’t work, and the replicators aren’t working right. It is that last repair that proves to be of note, as his maintenance activates a device that has been placed inside the replicator….

Business is very slow in Quark’s as his replicators are down—he’s on O’Brien’s waiting list for repairs. Unwilling to keep waiting, Quark hacks the station records and locates the replicators that have been fixed, then announces a celebration that the replicators have been “repaired” in order to lure customers back in.

In ops, O’Brien starts speaking in gibberish. Bashir analyzes him and says he’s suffering from a form of aphasia, but there’s no damage to indicate why he’s suffering it. Dax then starts to suffer the same symptoms. When comparing Dax and O’Brien, Bashir discovers a virus that’s altering the temporal lobe, mimicking aphasia. As Bashir explains this to Sisko, two more Starfleet officers come in with aphasia. Sisko immediately puts the station on quarantine lockdown.

Captain Jaheel begs Sisko to let him break quarantine, as he has a shipment to deliver and he’s also afraid of getting sick. However, Sisko refuses.

Quark’s remains open despite the quarantine, as a place where people, nervous about the virus, can blow off steam. Quark claims to Odo that Rom fixed the replicators, which makes Odo suspicious (Odo points out that Rom’s an idiot and “couldn’t fix a straw if it was bent”), and he later catches Quark using a replicator in an empty crew cabin to fulfill orders.

Bashir reports that food from the command-level replicators is infected with the virus, despite biofilters that should screen it out. But since Quark fulfilled orders from those replicators, it’s spread all throughout the station and has now mutated into an airborne variety. The whole station’s infected.

Kira finds the device that caused this, which she’s convinced is Cardassian. Bashir, however, determines that it’s Bajoran in origin, and Kira and Odo establish that it was put there, probably by the Bajoran underground, when the station was constructed. Sisko tasks Kira with finding who created it and getting an antidote. But after eighteen years, there’s no guarantee that the creator is still alive—and since it was part of an apparently abortive terrorist plot, no guarantee that there is an antidote.

O’Brien runs a fever and lapses into a coma, and he’ll be dead in twelve hours unless Bashir can figure out how to stop it. Kira now has a ticking clock to find the person responsible. One of her contacts says the best bet is Dekon Elig, but he died while trying to escape from a Cardassian prison. However, he had a medical assistant who’s still alive: Surmak Ren. He was in the same prison, but survived and was repatriated to Bajor when Cardassia pulled out. When she tracks him to a hospital in the northeast district where he’s now an administrator, he quickly and suspiciously denies having any knowledge of an aphasia virus.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Babel

Quark is reduced to playing dabo by himself, as most of the station is down with the virus. So is Odo’s entire staff, so when he’s summoned to ops, he tells Quark that if anything goes missing while he’s away, the constable will hold the Ferengi personally responsible.

While in the midst of trying to find a cure, Bashir contracts the virus. Kira takes a runabout to Bajor to kidnap Dr. Surmak (Sisko is reluctant to let her break quarantine at first, but Odo convinces him that it’s their only chance, and she never leaves the runabout, so if you view the vessel as part of the station, she doesn’t really break quarantine, exactly). Jaheel decides to try to leave on his own—his crew’s down with the virus—but he only succeeds in wrecking his ship. Sisko gets the virus, leaving Odo alone to run the station—with the surprising help of Quark, who beams Odo to the docking ring so he can manually blow the clamps before Jaheel’s ship explodes.

Surmak was only Dekon’s medical assistant, and he insists he’s not responsible, but Kira isn’t looking to assign blame, she just needs a cure. Surmak is still reluctant, right up until Kira reveals that he’s now infected. Kira brings him to the infirmary just in time for her to get aphasia. But Surmak is able to continue Bashir’s work and find a cure.

Sisko goes to the ops replicator to get a cup of coffee, and it tastes like absolute crap. So everything is basically back to normal….

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Babel

The Sisko is of Bajor: Sisko is devastated when Jake contracts the virus. Bashir, to his credit, lets Sisko take Jake to the additional ward in crew quarters before giving his report.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Babel

Don’t ask my opinion next time: Kira shows some investigative chops—tracking Surmak through his signing of Dekon’s death certificate—and her underground training in doing whatever you need to do to get the job done via her basically kidnapping Surmak from his office. (She makes sure he’s alone in his office before beaming him out, and it’s an open question whether or not she’s doing it to avoid anyone else being transported or to avoid there being any witnesses.)

Kira also assumes that the device is Cardassian, but when further investigation reveals that it’s Bajoran, she’s completely unapologetic about the conclusion to which she originally jumped.

Rules of Acquisition: Quark cites an “old Ferengi saying” that you should never ask when you can take. It certainly sounds like it should be a Rule of Acquisition, but those haven’t been conceived on the show yet. Quark is also immune to the aphasia virus.

He also mentions that he served on a Ferengi freighter for eight years.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Babel

The slug in your belly: After being given appreciative looks by several men, Dax comments on how she hasn’t been a woman for eighty years. This will be verified in “Facets,” when we learn that the host Audrid died in 2284, which is 85 years prior to this episode; Dax had three hosts after that, Torias, Joran, and Curzon, all male (Torias and Joran were short-lived).

Preservation of mass and energy is for wimps: Odo disguises himself as one of Quark’s food carts in order to catch him using a replicator on the command deck. Quark comments that he thought the wheels were sticking a bit…

Keep your ears open: “Glass lunch judge a bin to let it!”

Bashir with aphasia.

Welcome aboard: Ann Gillespie makes the first of four appearances as Nurse Jabara, having previously played Ensign Hildebrandt on TNG’s “Pen Pals.” Jack Kehler, Matthew Faison, and Geraldine Farrell all put in appearances as Jaheel, Surmak, and Galis, respectively. Also visual effects supervisor Dan Curry provides the image of Dekon Elig.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Babel

Trivial matters: This episode establishes that the station was built eighteen years earlier, in 2351. This will be contradicted by “Wrongs Darker than Death or Night,” which establishes the station’s construction as being in 2346. Odo also states that he wasn’t head of security when the station was built, which tracks with what Quark said in “Emissary” about Odo having served as security chief for only four years, and will be firmly established in “Necessary Evil.”

This is a rare case where the same person directed two episodes in a row where it wasn’t a two-parter, though it’s in part due to flipping “A Man Alone” and “Past Prologue.” Even with that, though, it’s unusual for one person to direct two out of three episodes in a row, but Paul Lynch does it here.

This is the first DS9 writing credit for Ira Steven Behr, who will take over as DS9’s show-runner in the second season. The story was originally a pitch for TNG that Michael Piller bought from Sally Caves, who also wrote “Hollow Pursuits.” Behr reworked it for DS9 and then the script was given to Michael McGreevy, with Naren Shankar doing a polish.

The particular brand of aphasia that the station suffers here is called “global aphasia.”

Surmak Ren is a play on Ron Surma, the assistant casting director for all the modern Treks.

Over the course of the show, Rom will be revealed to be an engineering savant, so in fact he probably could have fixed the replicators. Odo trailed Quark solely on the basis of Rom’s idiocy, which we’ll later learn is not as bad as everyone thinks. Not Odo’s fault really, but it’s amusing to watch in retrospect.

Walk with the Prophets: “Other support strong courage.” On the one hand, this episode’s roots as a TNG problem-of-the-week episode are pretty obvious. This is exactly the sort of story that space operas do all the time, and it’s a perfectly adequate example of the breed.

What makes the episode stand out a bit from the been-there-done-that-edness of the plot are the uniquely DS9 elements: the interactions between the Siskos, the Quark-Odo banter, O’Brien’s mounting frustration with the endless repair schedule, and Kira basically steamrolling her way to getting Surmak to the station to synthesize a cure.

But the best part is the virus’s origin: instead of just a boring ol’ technobabble malfunction, this virus comes from a leftover terrorist device from the bad old days of the Cardassian occupation, one that was never set off due to the cell being all captured. The occupation of Bajor is a deep wound that is unlikely ever to heal, and it continues to be one of the more compelling elements of the series.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Babel

The episode is far from perfect. It’s a little too convenient that Sisko and Kira are the last to get the virus by virtue of being the two leads, the oldest cliché in the book; the actual solving of the problem once Kira gets Surmak to the infirmary is disappointingly quick and perfunctory; and the danger to the station from the whiny Captain Jaheel is a horribly constructed bit of artificial suspense.

Still, the character set pieces alone make this a worthy episode. I could watch an hour of just O’Brien dashing about the station trying desperately to keep up with all the systems failures while he does a slow burn of sleep-deprived snark, and it’s pretty much impossible for a scene between Rene Auberjonois and Armin Shimerman to not be delightful, and this episode has several. (I love the revelation that Odo doesn’t know how to gamble.) And there are few better father-son relationships in the history of television than that of Ben and Jake Sisko, and it’s on magnificent display here.


Warp factor rating: 6

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be part of the “I, Reader Special Edition: Star Trekking Into Darkness” event on Thursday at 7pm at Singularity & Co. in Brooklyn, alongside fellow Star Trek novelist David Mack, former Star Trek novel editor Marco Palmieri,’s Emily Asher-Perrin and Ryan Britt, and Singularity’s own Cici James. Keith will be reading from his Trek novel Articles of the Federation.


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