Star Trek Deep Space Nine : Babel 1.05


The title is an obvious reference to the story in the Bible about the Tower of Babel. It was at the building of the tower that the human race was given its different languages.

The word ‘Babel,’ then and now, served as a sort of a pun on what the suddenly new confusion of languages sounded like. The story is found pretty near the beginning of the Bible, in the book Genesis. In fact, it’s used to introduce the basic human problem of language. The human race cannot communicate well – that’s why we crowd behind imaginary lines on the ground and have fought wars and just know what evil things so-and-so was thinking when she looked at me funny in the break room at the office.

It’s hard enough figuring out what’s going on inside our own noggins, how can we express it to others and understand what they’re trying to express to us? Well, we can’t. Not really well, anyway. We are mostly surrounded by people that speak the same language that we do. I imagine our ancestors kind of crowded around the people they could understand as a mass of humans apparently started gibbering gibberish. They stood there, at the base of their dumb temple or whatever it was, not understanding a word that the guy in front of them just said. They just had a dull conversation about the weather on the way in that morning. Now, he’s speaking another language. “That’s weird, we never had another language,” our ancestor thinks. “But – what if he’s speaking the same language and I’ve just suddenly lost the ability to understand and speak it?!”

Obviously, I have no idea about the mechanics of the event. Maybe it was sudden. Maybe it happened over the course of a year. Who knows. I am confident that the majority of our young race was gathered with a purpose and was scattered because of confusion. And their confusion was based on the new variety of languages. Like I said, it’s hard enough figuring our own thoughts out. Then try to share thoughts with others. Then try to do the same with another language. Minor tasks can be done, sure. But you’d have to be pretty patient to work out something at all complex. And that’s why some people walked off in one direction and other folks walked off in another. You go where you’re understood. I think we still walk off in the direction where we think we’ll be understood. Unless they’re a fight cat, you probably won’t see a liberal at a Ted Nugent concert. Or an atheist in church. You go where you’ll be understood.

In this Star Trek story, the crew of the space station contracts a bizarre virus that disrupts their ability to speak – even think – properly.  Eventually the whole crew is infected and useless. There’s some story about an explosion that’ll occur if the crew can’t get it together. But that’s not where the drama is. The drama, the tension, the suffering, the only interesting thing in this story is the confusion of languages. To see brilliant men and women struck completely useless to each other. It’s Roddenberry’s vision of a perfect future destroyed in a single stroke. What if they couldn’t understand each other? Complete breakdown.

The explosion story point at the end just provides a feeling of resolution. We need that feeling because we’re not getting any resolution for the real problem. The crew can’t understand each other – what can be done? Well, some scientist finds the cure and then it’s back to normal.

Why doesn’t that satisfy? Because it’s a bigger problem than this show can answer. They can show the effects of the problem and illustrate the need for a solution. But they can’t really get at the deep solution because that’s found in Jesus. People are divided by languages, then by nations.  What can reunite the people of the world?

Just them trying to fix it?
Waiting for a great idea to spread among them?
Wait for a charismatic leader to inspire them?
Just really trying hard this time to fix it?
Waiting for a really really great idea and this time making posters and websites to promote it?

All these have come and gone a thousand times already. What really brings the nations together? Look at Babel. Why were they separated in the first place? They were united against their creator.

***

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3 thoughts on “Star Trek Deep Space Nine : Babel 1.05

  1. “Why doesn’t that satisfy? Because it’s a bigger problem than this show can answer. They can show the effects of the problem and illustrate the need for a solution. But they can’t really get at the deep solution because that’s found in Jesus. People are divided by languages, then by nations. What can reunite the people of the world?”

    Very nice point, Mickey.

    I was really disappointed in this episode. Quite aside from the deeper issues you rightly bring up, I was really stuck on why they didn’t just beam the alien pilot out of his ship as soon as he’s causing a threat to the station. I mean, in the very next act, right after the commercial break, Kira kidnaps the Bajoran scientist via transporter – it never ocurred to Sisko and Odo to do the same?

    Bad episode, but good blog post – thanks much for it!

    • Thanks!

      I concur. This is a lousy episode.
      Bad stories seem to litter the first seasons of every Trek show, which is surprising. You’d think they’d have a cache of really good stories to kick things off. And by the time you get to DS9, the process of producing good Trek should be second nature.

      Ah well. It wasn’t.

      The reasons this particular episode is so stinky actually make for a good Geeks of Christ commentary. I think this episode’s biggest failure is the same root problem of Star Trek V: they bite off more than they can chew. You can’t task your space heroes with finding God or facing a Biblical plague without following through and wrestling with it. And Star Trek is comfortable raising the questions, just not dealing with them.

      Which makes GoC easy! Ha! They admit there’s a problem that their perfect future society can’t figure out the answer to. Just add (living) water…

  2. A very good analysis of Babel. DS9′s first season had it’s low points (Bable was one of them) but I guess the great thing about this series is that they’ve managed to move on into more complex storylines after that.

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