the story: Bashir becomes guardian to a team of eccentric fellow "augments."
what it's all about: Chances are if you had a problem with revelation of Bashir's childhood genetic enhancements as revealed in last season's "Doctor Bashir, I Presume?," "Statistical Probabilities" is the episode that completely justifies it. It's also a completely unique franchise take on the genius think tank concept usually depicted by a given series' main cast, characters capable of and interested in solving problems. If this had been an original series episode (and actually, just about every other incarnation), the guest characters in "Probabilities" would've turned out to not only be horribly misguided but the source for a giant problem that ends up imperiling everyone (think Richard Daystrom in "The Ultimate Computer").
But the misfit geniuses in "Probabilities" are a direct commentary on Bashir himself, and the viewer's newfound awareness that he possesses an typically brilliant mind, too. He and his new friends are applying their smarts to calculating the expected outcome of the Dominion War, and they don't come up with good results. The episode is mostly about how even smart people can outsmart themselves, overthink something so that they end up with a distorted viewpoint, and that's pretty clever for a franchise that so often glorifies smart people (think Spock or Data or Seven). Besides the fact that no one ends up looking like a villain, which is refreshing in and of itself, "Probabilities" also probes the nature of outcasts, another thing frequently at the heart of the franchise, and just as typically exhibited by those same geniuses. It's actually more common for Star Trek to feature isolated individuals who really only fit in with the specific colleagues that comprise each cast, than anything. But rarely is this actually explored. Later, in the Abrams movies, it would become much more common, but originally it was more or less taken for granted. This is the rare exception.
When I use the term "misfits," it's no exaggeration. These are neurotic individuals, exemplified by the manic Jack, who actually becomes endearing throughout the course of the episode. The whole "Jack Pack" actually returns in the seventh season's "Chrysalis," in which we see another side of Sarina, the quiet girl and the only one of them, as a result, not sabotaging herself by an abrasive personality (such as the overly sexual Lauren or sad sack Patrick). In The X-Files, this group had a parallel in the Lone Gunmen, who were fortunate enough to gain a short-lived spin-off. That was never going to happen with the Jack Pack, of course, but it would certainly have been unique!
The other thing that's refreshing about the episode is how it handles the Dominion War, as more of a concept than reality, which works extremely well as a standalone episode set during the arc but without needing to fight any of the battles that otherwise typified it. This was a purely intellectual affair. Pity poor Bashir...But at least there's newfound respect for how he tempered his own exaggerated sense of self over the course of the series, so that he could at last embrace his own potential. Some people aren't as lucky, alas.
One last tidbit: We get a glimpse at Damar's elevation to the forefront of Dominion affairs, which is a crucial development for the character as he marches ever forward to his destiny...
- franchise - A clever look at a defining Star Trek characteristic: the smart guys.
- series - An equally clever look at the Dominion War arc.
- character - A Bashir spotlight that helps put him in context.
- essential - Much too fun to even consider dismissing.
Tim Ransom (Jack)
Faith Salie (Sarina)
Hilary Shepard (Lauren)
Michael Keenan (Patrick)
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)