Flowers For Serena
"Chrysalis" Plot Summary:
When Bashir's friends are too busy with their own lives to make time for him, he works on a virus problem and goes to bed lonely. He is awoken by a message that an admiral wants to see him; it turns out to be the genetically enhanced misfit Patrick, who, along with his fellows Jack and Lauren, have fled the psychiatric institute where they were incarcerated to bring Serena back to the station in the hopes that Bashir can fix her neural pathways to enable her to talk. Bashir gets Sisko's and Starfleet's permission to proceed with the experimental surgery, then enlists the enhanced patients to help correct the probe when O'Brien tells him it can't be done. With their help, the surgery is a success, and Bashir finds Serena wandering the promenade speaking haltingly of how much there is to see.
The previously silent, autistic Serena can now diagnose her own condition, solve Bashir's virus problem, and sing beautifully with the other enhanced patients. She thanks Bashir greatly for his work, but feels restless around her peers whose plans to stop the universe from collapsing in 70 trillion years don't interest her any longer. Instead she goes with the doctor to Quark's, where she jokes with Bashir about his friends and fits in quite well with the command crew. She also trounces the house at Dabo, since her mathematical skills enable her to employ strategies none of the others can fathom.
Bashir tells Lauren, Jack, and Patrick that Serena won't be going back to the psychiatric institute with them; they are jealous, angry, and upset, accusing him of wanting her there for his own purposes. O'Brien also warns Bashir about becoming involved with his patient, but Bashir declares that she's the woman he's always wanted: someone who's enhanced like himself and can understand his unique abilities and needs. He invites Serena to dinner and later to Risa with him, which she accepts, but the next night she does not come. He finds her in her quarters, unable to speak again.
When he can do nothing for her in the infirmary, Bashir brings Serena back to her enhanced friends to see whether they can help. They make a discovery which Jack doesn't want to tell Bashir about because he knows the doctor will separate them from Serena again, but eventually they break out of their quarters to go to his, where they announce that Serena can still talk; she's just afraid to. Bashir goes to Serena and tells her he loves her, but she bursts out that she doesn't know whether she loves him or what she feels at all; this is all too new to her.
When the others leave for the institute, O'Brien finds a despondent Bashir, who says that Serena is leaving too for a research station where he's found her a post. He berates himself for having put his own needs ahead of his patient's, noting that he almost drove her back inside herself. Later he takes Serena to her ship, where she says she'll miss him and he says he'll never forget her.
I can't remember the last time this series did a Bashir episode which I didn't love. I expected this one to be moving but predictable, and indeed when Serena stopped speaking in a perfect parallel with Flowers For Algernon - which also featured a doctor who fell in love with a formerly retarded patient who gained great intelligence, then regressed again (there's even a visual involving a flower which symbolizes Serena). I thought the denouement was going to be about Bashir's getting used to losing her because of his own inability to save her.
What actually happened was much less expected and actually a lot more moving - it took on the real problem of doctors becoming involved with their patients and presented a powerful example of why it's wrong without ever becoming didactic. The emotional resonance at the end was very powerful - I could relate simultaneously to Bashir and Serena. The performances were skilled and subtle, the pacing excellent. This is really first-rate work.
The scene in which the enhanced patients teach Serena to sing is the one which sticks with me, because it could so easily have fallen flat and been embarrassing, thus destroying the emotional core of the episode. When they started with the "do re mi," I was cringing a little. But once the four well-cast actors (a soprano, an alto, a tenor, and a baritone) began dancing around with the sheer joyousness of the scene - in a well-directed sequence with subtle, almost spiritual background music which created a sense of Serena's pleasure, along with her soaring soprano - it was impossible not to be carried away with it. The scene in Quark's worked similarly; Dax made jokes about male bonding while O'Brien and Bashir made slashy jokes, Serena made pithy observations about Odo's and Julian's behavior, there was subtle character development along with a sense of camaraderie which extends well beyond this bottle-show episode.
Bashir's interesting as a failed Pygamlion even more than as a failed doctor. I hope we see Serena again, and I hope the rest of the season's this good.
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