After a comic opening on the station (featuring Quark working an advertising jingle into the cups served up by the food replicators), we join Kira, Dax and a starry-eyed Bashir (“Is it my imagination or are the stars a little brighter in the Gamma Quadrant?”) on a runabout, following a distress beacon to a planet in a state of post-industrial ruin.
We meet a woman with red veined blotches on her skin, who collapses and asks to be taken to Trevean’s hospital. We meet Epran, a cynical local who tells Dax and Bashir, “Go back to where you came from and forget about this place.”
The hospital is a peaceful place, with a musician playing softly and people lounging in groups. Trevean seems distinguished and sincere, with a reputation for helping. He explains that 200 years ago his was a spacefaring civilization that tried to resist The Dominon, and the blight is their punishment. It’s always fatal, and Trevean considers himself a healer because “I take away pain” through assisted suicide.
Bashir, distressed, is ready to leave, but a young pregnant woman asks for his help. Recalling a different plague he was able to cure in three days, Bashir asks Kira to come back for him and Dax in a week.
In space provided by Ekoria, Bashir sets up a clinic, and offers to show her a picture of her baby. She talks about her late husband, and shares with Bashir and Dax the food she had been saving for her own inevitable visit to Trevean’s hosptial.
To study the disease, Bashir needs volunteers whose lesions have started swelling. He heals a boy’s broken arm, which impresses Epram and others in the crowd, but Trevean shows up, reminding the people that everyone else who promised to cure the disease turned out to be liars. Bashir says he wants to help, but can’t make any promises.
Ekoria says she, like her people, used to worship death, but she wants to see her baby grow up.
Epram shows up with red lesions, and has brought two others who have just entered the final phase of the illness. This is enough for Bashir to prepare an antigen. During some downtime, we have a long two-person scene between Ekoria, who is by the way absolutely adorable and earnest. The actress did a great job, and the writing is also top notch, but this is really Bashir’s big moment; he describes his efforts to keep his teddy bear Kukalaka from falling apart, and admits he still has it on a shelf in his room. But this is still early in the episode, so the touching story is interrupted by the sounds of suffering. The antigen isn’t working as Bashir expected, and the patients in the final stages of infection are now in great pain.
To his horror, Bashir realizes that the EM fields of his electrical equipment are causing the virus to mutate. Even after he shuts all his devices off, the patients are still convulsing. Bashir tries CPR to revive Epran, though of course there’s no real point in doing so.
Into the chaotic scene enters Trevean, aghast and disapproving. People call out to him, and he offers them the poison they want.
The next morning, the clinic is full of bodies under sheets.
Disgusted with his own arrogance, Bashir confesses to Dax that he had been looking forward to bragging to Kira about saving the planet.
“Maybe it was arrogant to think that,” Dax retorts. “But it’s even more arrogant to think there isn’t a cure just because you couldn’t find it.”
Stung, Bashir goes for a walk. The locals glare and avoid him, but Ekoria is happy to show him the mural her husband painted before he died, showing the city as it used to be.
We see that her facial lesions have swollen; she realizes that she won’t live to see her baby born, but she thanks Bashir for giving her hope.
There’s still one more act left, so instead of getting back on the runabout when Kira returns, Bashir stays on the planet, science-ing with low-tech, non-electronic equipment.
He makes a salve for the lesions, and makes plans to induce labor in a few weeks, so clearly he’s no longer thinking of a short-term cure.
At some point when Bashir has gone out, we see Trevean patiently dabbing the salve on Ekoria’s lesions. She has declined his offer of poison.
When the baby is born, Bashir is stunned to learn that it’s free from the blight. Ekoria lives just long enough to hear the news.
At the hospital, we see Trevean absorbing the implications. He asks Bashir to show him how to make the antigen, and considers it “a privilege” to make sure that every pregnant woman gets inoculated.
When Trevean takes the healthy baby out into the street, and crowds come running, the camera pans over to Bashir standing by himself in the background, watching hope take hold.
In the final scene, back on the station Sisko praises Bashir for his good work. Bashir accepts the compliment, but remains hard at work, trying to save everyone else on the planet.
In addition to the usual good writing, this episode didn’t skimp on the production values, featuring enough ragged extras to believably represent a crowd — something TNG rarely did. There’s also lots of on-location footage of outdoor streets and public areas, and a high quality matte painting with lighting that changes from day to flickering firelights to dawn. I don’t know whether it’s CGI, but each time we saw the main building, it looked a little different, which made the setting seem real.
After reading the Trek nerd websites, I learned that the lesions which grew and changed on-camera were added to actors who were originally wearing colored dots on their faces — an early example of motion-capture technology used in a TV episode. Also, the director made an effort to frame Ekoria as the Virgin Mary, which may have worked at my emotions on a subconscious level.
Terevan is clearly the antagonist, but Bashir’s hostility is tempered by Ekoria’s hopefulness, and her understanding of why Terevan feels like his plan is the best option. It’s heartening to see Terevan completely rework his mission in life when he realizes he now has a better answer.
I had to take a break from watching this episode because I remembered the agony depicted in the clinic, and I guess I needed to be in the right frame of mind to get through those scenes. There was nothing gratuitous about the suffering — it served the story. But for about a week I kept putting off finishing the episode, expecting that it would be a bit rough.