Realistically speaking, I don’t think this is an episode anyone is particularly excited or enthusiastic about. I do think it’s a grave misconception and the deepest of follies to dismiss this first half-season outright, as much of mainline fandom is wont to do: In fact I’d argue this crop of episodes is part of the single greatest season in all of Star Trek, counting Star Trek: The Next Generation alongside it, of course. On the other hand this is not to say that each and every story this year is a triumph, and, on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine at least, we’re about to enter a run of episodes where the new show, so imperious and strong right out of the gate, is…less than successful.
Not unrelentingly terrible, it must be said. I don’t think there’s an episode in this run that is unwatchably or offensively bad, and there’s at least one interesting and/or memorable scene in all of them. And each and every one does contribute something to the show’s rapid and astonishing rate of development and maturation, even if it’s only something as simple as “never do that again, ever”. But even so, we are entering a phase where Star Trek: Deep Space Nine seems to be struggling to define itself a bit, and while there’s no shame in that it does cast perhaps more of a shadow over the year than it otherwise would have given that, from this show’s perspective, it’s a truncated half-season. Normally I would applaud a restricted episode count like this and while I do still definitely believe it’s infinitely preferable to have fewer episodes a year than more, that usually comes with the unspoken expectation that each and every episode is going to be, if not a masterpiece, at least really, really good and demonstrative of how attention to quality trumps quantity.
“Babel” is not that. None of these episodes are. Although that said it’s probably by my count the second-best of this run…It’s entirely watchable, and I didn’t ever find myself annoyed to the point I wanted to switch it off and go back to rewatching Original Dirty Pair (any time not spent watching Original Dirty Pair ought to be well-justified). The actors’ performances are still remarkably compelling and they’ve all already clearly found their voice with their respective characters (even if they’re being given material like this to read) and it’s got a decently suspenseful pace to it. It doesn’t have any cripplingly massive flaws that are worth spending an entire essay complaining about…except for the obvious really big one that the premise is too self-evidently ludicrous and silly to take seriously or get invested in (not the last time this will happen in this run of stories, I’m afraid).
A pandemic isn’t even a terrible idea to base a Deep Space Nine story around, especially a pandemic involving a breakdown in communication: We had a murder investigation in “A Man Alone” and an episode all about differing perspectives and Kira’s past in the resistance cells in “Past Prologue”, and there’s a lot of potential mileage to be had in exploring how a team of operations administrators deal with an outbreak and having to invent quarantine procedure effectively on the spot.…