Season Seven, Episode 5
Written by Rene Echevarria
Directed by Jonathan West
Music by Jay Chattaway
Main Cast:
Avery Brooks as Captain Benjamin Sisko
Rene Auberjonois as Odo
Nicole deBoer as Ezri Dax
Michael Dorn as Lt Cmdr Worf
Cirroc Lofton as Jake Sisko
Colm Meaney as Chief Miles O'Brien
Armin Shimerman as Quark
Alexander Siddig as Dr Julian Bashir
Nana Visitor as Colonel Kira Nerys

Guest Stars:
Tim Ransom as Jack
Faith C. Salie as Serena
Hilary Shepard Turner as Lauren
Michael Keenan as Patrick
Aron Eisenberg as Nog


The genetically-engineered mutants Bashir hosted a year ago (in Statistical Probabilities) arrive on the station, having escaped their institute by disguising as a Starfleet Admiral and his staff. They are aware of Bashir's plan to try an untested procedure on the mute Serena's neural pathways that might free her from her mental prison and enable her to communicate. The surgery is a success and the result is dramatic -- a young girl who was previously unreachable is transformed into a charming, articulate and intelligent woman. Bashir finds himself falling in love with Serena, and even arranges for her to have quarters aboard the station. But Serena is simply not ready to handle these feelings and relationships with which she has no experience and very nearly descends back into her catatonic state. Bashir realises that it is his love for her that is responsible -- she just doesn't know how to handle it. And feeling that she owed him her life, she had tried to be the woman he was looking for, but she just can't keep it up. Bashir arranges for her to leave DS9 to study under a scientist who can help her with her rehabilitation.


Okay, so Chrysalis may not be in any particular danger of ranking among DS9's finest hours, but I have to say that it's not quite as bad as I'd feared. Whilst I don't think the episode entirely manages to break free of Trek's dreaded romance-of-the-week formula, it had just the right degree of self-awareness as far as the characters and relationships were concerned to make this seem a lot more "real" than is often the norm for such stories. The main problem with Trek "love stories" is the difficulty in effectively portraying a love affair -- beginning, middle and end -- within the space of forty-five minutes. I often have great difficulty believing that there is all that much feeling involved -- and that, unfortunately, is how most of them are "sold". Problem is, I don't buy it. Call me cynical, but I don't really believe in love at first sight -- I do most certainly believe that people can instantly connect and feel very attracted to each other, but love is a feeling that develops and grows over time. So, I'm afraid that as far as I'm concerned, this type of "love story" is more accurately dubbed "Lust in Space".

Chrysalis is no different, but what makes it interesting is that writer Rene Echevarria seems to be aware of this, and it's something he actually explores, particularly toward the end. Now, I'm not talking about physical lust here, more an emotional lust. I didn't believe for a second that Bashir was as much in love with Serena as he was in love with the idea of being in love. The beginning, where Bashir finds himself without anyone to hang with (O'Brien, after all, has a family while Odo and Kira are still behaving like besotted teenagers) makes it clear that he's feeling a little lonely and left-out. That's easy to relate to, for I think we all feel like that sometimes. He perhaps feels like he's missing out on something, that life is passing him by. 

Then the "Jack Pack" arrive on the station, making a welcome reprisal of their roles from last year's Statistical Probabilities. They are aware that Bashir has come up with a way to help bring Serena out of her shell by re-aligning her neural pathways (or something like that-- I'm afraid I switch off at the mere hint of technobabble). The transformation is remarkable and it's quite easy to share Bashir's joy at seeing Serena change from being an unreachable mute to a charming and vivacious young woman who is literally seeing the world afresh. But somewhere along the lines, Bashir's interest in Serena became somewhat more than professional -- and that's where the problems began.

It seemed quite natural that Serena would latch on Julian. It was him that all-but saved her life, rescuing her from her mental prison. But Julian's motives became clear when he awoke to be served breakfast by her after they fell asleep together. The look on his face when she handed him that croissant (was it a croissant? It looked a bit like one but I'm not sure) spoke volumes. Bearing in mind his prior loneliness, it's almost as if something inside him suddenly realised "Aha! This is what I'm missing!" What he did next was try to orchestrate a relationship with Serena. Actually, "orchestrate" is probably too strong a word, for I don't think he consciously meant to push her into a relationship. But what he did was rather manipulative. I think it was rather obvious that he was the one doing the pushing. Not only did he arrange her quarters on DS9 (without much regard to what she might want to do) but he transferred her care to another doctor to avoid that "not getting involved with a patient" taboo. Now isn't that the slightest bit manipulative? He even suggests at one point that they should have a holiday on Risa. Eek! They're barely together five minutes and he's planning their first holiday?!

But I'll reiterate that I don't think Bashir was consciously aware of what he was doing. People often aren't. Yep, I've seen this happen before. Again, I don't mean to sound cynical or anything, but this is actually something I've seen numerous times -- I've even experienced it myself (and perhaps even unconsciously done myself!). I don't mean to sound "off" on relationships, but the truth is that often people will manipulate each other in a relationship. It may be in small, subtle ways, or it may be they are trying to gain a sense of security or perhaps they want to avoid commitment and so "navigate" accordingly. But if you watch folk it's pretty clear that both parties are invariably trying to pull certain strings and control and shape the relationship (which is often OK if both people are on the same wave-length). So rarely do people just sit back and go with the flow. And the fact is that it's usually an subconscious thing (our personalities, action and reactions are mainly derived from our great subconscious mind). So you often can't blame anyone for it. It's usually only afterwards that you can see what you've done and even then, not always. This is basically what happens with Bashir here -- and Echevarria does a nice job of conveying it. 

The main problem is that Serena just can't handle Julian's attention. And, even if you can rationalise his behaviour, this still sits a little uncomfortable with me -- you see, for all intents and purposes, Serena is just a child. Julian seems to think that Serena's innocence and wild-eyed wonder is an endearing character trait. Well, the reason she acts like everything is new to her is because everything is new to her! She may be physically mature and she may have incredible intelligence and cognitive abilities -- but emotionally she is just a little girl. She doesn't know how to handle Bashir's advances and at first plays along with them because she does, for all intents and purposes, owe him her life. It was clear that their relationship -- or at least, the one Julian was trying to construct -- was a mistake from the start. It showed a pretty major lapse of judgement on his part, but genetically-engineered or not, I suppose he is human and therefore fallible. In fact, it's the fact that these Trek characters are capable of making mistakes and are not portrayed as flawless, perfect cardboard heroes that makes them so much more interesting. And I suppose at least he did realise the mistake he'd made (some people never catch on and go on repeating the same mistakes over and over again). 

I guess what makes Chrysalis a fair bit better than the average Trek love story was the fact that the relationship was handled realistically and did not come at the expense of the characters. The characterisation felt real and genuine and their relationship was handled with poignancy and an appropriate degree of awareness on the part of the writers (in terms of what they were building). The conclusion, where Bashir realises that because of his own questionable actions, Serena was nearly driven back to her previous catatonic state, was beautifully-done. It felt like we were watching a real relationship being resolved by real characters and not merely part of some orchestrated, formulaic storyline. This is something that is rarely achieved in these romance-of-the-week episodes and for that, it has my praise.

The episode doesn't entirely transcend the aforementioned formula but it does work a good deal better than I'd expected. It helped that Serena was someone we already knew -- and, to an extent, cared about. The fact that she, too, is genetically-engineered gave Bashir some credence when he told Miles that he's finally found the woman of his dreams. That had a tinge of truth to it, particularly given that it's clear that his genetic enhancement (and the fact he's had to keep it secret his whole life) has created something of a void in his prior relationships. It's evident that the genetic-engineering is something of a taboo in Federation society, but here's a woman just like him, who understands and would never judge him. So the episode does a decent job of letting us see why Bashir was so determined to make things work with Serena. The (would-be) relationship itself is handled quite well, though as I've already said, Chrysalis isn't so much a great romantic love story as it is a look at how we can sometimes harm others by projecting our desires onto them under the name of "love". The only real problem with the main story is that whilst mainly interesting and compelling, it is perhaps guilty of being a little dull and uninvolving at times.

Luckily we have the Jack Pack on hand to lift what could have been a slightly lacklustre episode. As in Statistical Probabilities, they're colourful, delightfully quirky -- and I just love them! They added fun and spark to the proceedings, and were responsible for the best scene of the episode. I am, of course, referring to that little musical number where, in order to help train Serena's voice, they burst into song! I haven't seen anything as offbeat and bizarre in a long time but it was not only refreshing and downright heart-warming but probably the best scene of the season yet. It did look a little like one or two of the voices had been dubbed (I could be wrong, though) but I don't care: it was just terrific.

I only wish we'd seen more of our mutant friends. They rank among my favourite Trek guest stars and they seemed a little wasted. By that, I mean they deserved more screen time. Still, what we did get was very enjoyable, including their method of escaping the institute (dressing up as Starfleet officers and having "Admiral" Patrick answer every question with "That's a stupid question!!" A little implausible perhaps, but very cute) and that little project they were working on:

 Jack: "The fact is that the universe is going to stop expanding and collapse in on itself! We've got to do something before it's too late!" 
Patrick: "How much time do we have left?!" 
Jack: "Sixty trillion years. Seventy at the most." 
Patrick: (distraught) "Oh no!!" 

Heh heh. Great fun -- shame it was only a side-lined gag. These guys are just so entertaining that while I did for the most part enjoy the Bashir/Serena story, they cried out for more material. Oh well, I suppose what we did get was most definitely better than nothing. I did appreciate that their affection for Serena (particularly on Lauren's part) added some extra depth and made them a bit more understandable. But I was left wondering why exactly they're institutionalised. I mean it's understandable in Jack's case (if you saw him walking down the street you'd probably cross to the other side of the road) but Lauren and Patrick, despite their quirks, seem harmless enough. Heavens, I've got stranger neighbours than them! (I'm being deadly serious!) :-)

Anyway, here are a few extra comments that I didn't manage to weave into the rest:

That's about all I have to say about that (do I here cheering in the background! Tut tut! ;-)). Chrysalis wasn't a masterpiece by any means. I guess the main problem was the extreme sluggishness that occassionally held it back and I have a feeling that not everyone will be quite as understanding of Bashir's rather dubious handling of matters. But it was an interesting, thought-provoking and for the most part pleasant episode. The central relationship was handled with poignancy and with realism instead of too much romanticism. Overall, it's a pretty decent effort.

Rating: 7

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