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Friday, 22 September 2017

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 2-05: Cardassians

Episode:25|Writer:James Crocker|Air Date:24-Oct-1993

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm writing about an episode of Deep Space Nine that's probably about Cardassians.

I won't bore you with a long introduction this time. Just be aware that I'll be recapping the whole episode and referring back to earlier Star Trek episodes, so there'll be massive SPOILERS. You'll not see any spoilers for episodes aired afterwards through (Star Trek or otherwise).



The teaser begins in the recently remodelled replimat with Bashir enjoying a drink with a guy called Garak. He's that Cardassian spy tailor who made a single appearance at the start of season one and then disappeared from the series entirely. Turns out that he and Bashir have been meeting up like this off-screen all this time, and I can believe it, seeing as Bashir's not terrified by him anymore.

Their casual conversation conveniently sets up how much Bajorans hate Cardassians (and how Garak's totally not a spy), but it's interrupted when they see a Bajoran man and a Cardassian child wearing a Bajoran earring sit down at the table next to them. This intrigues Garak, who walks over, puts his hand on the kid's shoulder and says "What a handsome young man you have here."

Somewhere in a far-off region of the Alpha Quadrant, Captain Picard just facepalmed and he doesn't even know why.


Wow, I expected this to be embarrassing, but I didn't see that coming.

That was worryingly convincing acting from Andrew Robinson just then. The guy really sounds like he might have lost a finger.

And that's the teaser done.


ACT ONE


Whoa, Garak and Gul Dukat in the same episode for the first time ever. I remembered the two of them showing up more often, but this is only Dukat's fourth episode in the series so far, and it seems like it's the third he'll spend trapped inside a monitor screen.

He's calling about Garak being assaulted, which is interesting considering that Sisko only heard about the attack himself a minute ago. The kid (Rugal) was an orphan left behind after the occupation and Dukat's worried that he's been raised to hate his own kind. In fact he claims to be fighting to bring orphans like him back to their homeland, though he's Dukat so he's probably working an angle.

Sisko and Bashir go to speak with the kid's dad (Proka) about the incident, and this accusation that he's been raised to hate his own race. Proka claims that all he did was tell Rugal what the Cardassians did to their world, and that's enough to make anyone hate them. The guy's clearly got some strong anti-Cardassian feelings himself, but he makes an exception for his son because as far as he's concerned the kid is Bajoran.

Next Bashir visits a witness down in Quark's, probably so that Quark can have his two lines this episode. Turns out that the guy escaped being thrown into prison after disabling security and nearly getting Jadzia killed in Invasive Procedures, because consequences are for people who aren't in the opening credits.

Bashir finds the witness over by the Dabo table, wearing his lunch on his jacket and his dinner on his head. It's a distinctive look at least, so Bashir clearly remembers seeing him talking to Proka (the dad) just before Garak walked over and Rugal got all bitey.

The man explains that Proka was looking for a job a while back and he offered to help, so he's visited them on Bajor a few times now. But he tells very different story to the one the father gave, saying that Rugal's parents beat him and call him worthless Cardassian scum. To them he's their revenge against all Cardassians, he claims.

So Sisko and Bashir go back to visit Proka again, this time to take Rugal away while they carry out their investigation. He'll be going to stay with the O'Briens, which will no doubt lead to hilarious consequences, considering that Chief O'Brien's a war veteran who still calls his race "the bloody Cardies". The father reluctantly lets the kid go, getting one last dig in against the Cardassians before he leaves.

I'm a little surprised that Sisko has the legal power to take a visitor's son away like this, but I suppose it makes sense. And if it has to happen at least he has the right voice for it, as he's able to dial it from 'calm but stern' down to 'disturbingly reassuring'. Disturbing, because of how genuine it makes the scene feel. Star Trek goes dark sometimes, but having the heroes investigate possible child abuse is unusually grim.


ACT TWO


It's taken until act two, but Bashir's finally gotten around to healing Garak's hand. Garak's in a good mood though. In fact he finds the idea that Dukat was concerned about his health to be hilarious. Seems that they may not be the closest of friends.

Bashir's just happy that the bite lead to them learning about Rugal's situation and may even help Dukat get the other Cardassian war orphans home. Garak finds that idea funny too, seeing as Dukat was the one in charge of the Cardassian withdrawal. Those orphans weren't left behind by accident, no one forgot about them, Dukat abandoned them on Bajor deliberately.

Cut to Ops, where Sisko's having a chat with Dukat on the big screen about his investigation into Rugal's parents. I'm wondering why Sisko didn't have this talk in his office and I'm sure he's starts to wonder that himself when Bashir arrives and decides to insert himself in the conversation. He turns around with 'Oh crap, my cocky irritating young doctor has just begun interrogating the former prefect of Bajor!' written all over his face.

Bashir asks Dukat why he chose to leave the orphans behind, who puts on his grumpy face to reply that he was ordered to, by the civilian leaders. Bashir counters that on Cardassia, civilian leaders have no authority over military officers. But they apparently must have some influence, as Dukat claims that it was their decision to withdraw from Bajor, and then ends the video chat. Dukat really doesn't seem to like those civilian leaders much.

Sisko's reaction when Bashir attempts to explain his interruption are great. "Don't apologise. It's been the high point point of my day," he assures the doctor, with his expression making it clear that it really wasn't.

This was a great scene for Kira and Dax too, as it actually gave them a few moments of screentime. Dax even gets a line! It's definitely a Sisko, Bashir and Garak episode this time, with everyone else just hanging around in the background for the most part.

Oh hang on, O'Brien's getting a scene as well.

The O'Briens are looking after Rugal, which Miles actually has no problem with! He's an enlightened Starfleet officer raised and trained to treat all other beings with respect and compassion. Then Keiko reveals that she actually let the kid play with their daughter and he freaks out, talking about how "Gentle was bred out of these Cardassians a long time ago."

This part of O'Brien's character was introduced when he got his origin story almost three years earlier in the Next Gen episode The Wounded, and I'm amazed the writers actually let one of their heroic Starfleet officers hold on to a negative trait. I mean I wouldn't say he's a racist, seeing as he's in an interracial marriage and has zero problems with aliens in general, he was just traumatised by his time in the Federation-Cardassia War and it left him a bit... okay fine he's a racist, but only against Cardassians, and it's something he struggles against.

In his defence, the kid did bite Garak in the teaser.

Rugal puts his Game Boy down and joins them for dinner, but Keiko's taken aback when she sees him praying at the table like a Bajoran. I would've thought the earring would've been a giveaway.

O'Brien asks his wife what they're eating and she tells him she's made Rugal something from his own world... Cardassian stew!

Rugal's been raised by Bajorans who hate everything Cardassian for at least a year now, so I don't know how Keiko expected this to go down, but she must have been expecting some reaction. She can't be that clueless.

Or maybe she is, seeing as she got a plate for her husband as well.

He does take a bite of it, but that's as far as he's willing to go, shoving the plate to the middle of the table... where it collides with Rugal's. They've found unexpected common ground over their dislike of Cardassian cuisine! So that's... a start I guess.

After a 'time passes' stock shot of the station (which is looking very pink this week), we're right back to O'Brien and Rugal hanging out in the living room. It's been kind of a slow episode.

After 30 seconds of silence, O'Brien finally says something, telling the kid that he likely has a say in what happens to him next. Rugal says he wants to go home, which O'Brien totally gets... except for the fact that he wants to go home to Bajor. He doesn't want to be Cardassian, he was just born that way, and his foster parents have always treated him like a Bajoran. Wow, he's like the anti-Worf. He also claims that the accusation of abuse is bullshit; they've never laid a finger on him, not even when he's been bad. It would be against their religion.

So O'Brien makes a genuine effort to help the kid, telling him that Cardassians are just like everyone else: some he's got on with fine, some brutally massacred his friends as he watched. Okay he leaves out the bit about the massacre. The point is that he knows his hatred of Cardassians isn't right, but it's always there with him until he's has a reason to push it aside, and he wants to help this Cardassian in front of him to get past his hatred of his own skin.

Meanwhile Bashir is woken up by an intruder in his bedroom...


ACT THREE


Yep, Garak decided to break into his room in the middle of the night to lurch over his bed and grin at him in the dark. Plus he's got some news for him: they're going to Bajor!

First though they'll have to ask Sisko for a runabout.

Sisko's over the moon about being woken up in the middle of the night by Bashir, especially when the doctor explains that it's Garak who needs the runabout... but can't tell him why. In fact he asks him if just one runabout will be enough. Avery Brooks is absolutely killing it this episode in his role as Bashir's put-upon sarcastic boss. Plus I like his dressing gown.

It's just as well that Sisko was woken up though as they're interrupted by a call from Dukat, who's calling to tell him he's analysed Rugal's DNA and learned that he's the son of prominent politician! Seems that this news must be what got Garak interested in Bajor all of a sudden, so Bashir's allowed to leave.

Hey it's a brand new ridiculously picturesque matte painting of a Bajoran city! Well I don't remember seeing it before anyway. I like how the waterfalls are animated, though I'm less impressed by the lack of railings on that bridge. Also do these people just jog everywhere or is there some other kind of transportation we're not seeing? (Like, I dunno, transporters).

Bashir and Garak end up at the Tozhat Resettlement Centre, which is an orphanage; the one that Rugal was adopted from in fact. Turns out that he was adopted 8 years ago (7 years before the end of the occupation), so it's no wonder the kid considers himself to be Bajoran now.

Garak goes right into being a bastard, aggravating one of the volunteers and going on about how awesome Cardassian filing systems are (which seems like a callback to Duet), but then he redeems himself by fixing the orphanage computers. Because of course a tailor can do that. He's even got a special eyepiece gadget he carries around just in case he needs to adjust someone's pants while he's out.

The guy takes obvious glee in giving terrible excuses to explain his spy skills, while leading Bashir around from clue to clue like he's his own personal Watson. In fact Bashir's basically playing the same role of naive protégé that he did in their first episode together, Past Prologue, though he's noticeably less clueless this time around. It's an interesting story arc for a Trek series to give to its doctor character, and it fits a lot better than Dr. Crusher's obsession with metaphasic shields in Next Gen.

The info they're looking for doesn't seem to be here, but Garak's able to download the records for the whole region onto this tiny Cardassian data clip; a device just a fraction of the size of a stack of floppy disks. Bashir's shocked he'd do this, as it means they'll have tens of thousands of files to search through when they get back! But Garak's not all that concerned. In fact very little seems to faze the guy...

... though he clearly wasn't expecting to have to deal with a group of Cardassian orphans asking if he's here to take them back.

These kids aren't as fortunate as Rugal, so they don't have the same ties that make him consider this world his home. It's nice to see them hanging around with the Bajoran kids though; there doesn't seem to be any hate between the two here.


ACT FOUR


Alright, the music in this episode's really starting to get to me now. Next Gen and its spin-offs had some really bland soundtracks, but this music is just so... nothing.

Hang on, Bashir's the one piloting the runabout? It was implied that he needed O'Brien to take him to Bajor back in The Storyteller, so I guess he got his pilot's licence in the meantime.

Bashir's officially had enough of Garak's vague bullshit at this point and shuts down the runabout until he explains what game he's playing. Garak tells him that the other orphans have no standing in Cardassian society so they can't go back, but Rugal's father (Kotan Pa'Dar) is a politician... one of the civilian leaders who gave the order to evacuate Bajor in fact. That makes him a political enemy of Dukat.

Back on the station, O'Brien decides to have a polite chat with Pa'Dar before letting him see Rugal, to explain that he might not want to go back with him. The guy's a little bit enraged about this, as the kid's his son! He doesn't know how humans do things, but on Cardassia, family is everything. Well that explains why the kids without a family are nothing.

Poor O'Brien must not know what he's supposed to be thinking in this scene; he's clearly sympathising with the Pa'Dar, as his daughter's the same age that Rugal was when he went missing, but on the other hand the man's ranting about how he's disgraced himself by allowing his son to be raised by Bajorans. Some Cardassians are good decent people who can't stand what happened to Bajor during the occupation, but maybe not this guy.

Keiko brings Rugal in to meet his father and their reunion goes about as well as you'd expect. Pa'Dar tries to show him pictures of when he was a child, Rugal keeps trying to back away.

Pa'Dar explains that when their house got obliterated by a terrorist bomb he was sure that Rugal had died along with his mother. Rugal responds by calling him a butcher who brought it on himself and then makes it clear that he'll never go back to Cardassia with him. So it's not the best start, but at least no one's gotten bitten yet.

Later in Sisko's office, Pa'Dar and Proka ask him to arbitrate on who gets custody of Rugal, seeing as he's neither Bajoran nor Cardassian, and he's a father himself.

But their conversation's interrupted by a call from Odo, who's had next to zero screen time so far this episode and had to do something to justify his paycheck. He's just letting them know that Dukat's going to be coming aboard to join them. Suddenly all three of them are momentarily brought together by their shared expression of dismay.


ACT FIVE


They're having a custody hearing in the school classroom? It's a step up from holding it in Quark's, but it's the last place I'd want to bring Space Hitler. Well, unless Vedek Winn's got plans to blow it up again.

Meanwhile Garak and Bashir's have been searching 7420 files and have come to the conclusion that... there's nothing here for them find. Because of course Dukat wouldn't have left that evidence there for anyone to stumble upon, he's not an idiot. So they decide to find the person who wrote the file instead, who tells them that Rugal was brought to the orphanage by a Cardassian military officer, who was attached to a command post called Terok Nor. Wow, good memory.

So Bashir and Garak barge into the custody hearing to confront Dukat with what they know. First though Bashir talks with Pa'Dar, who admits that when people learn about his son it'll be the end of his political career.

Hey there's a map of the explored galaxy behind Bashir! It's a shame they're still talking about Cardassian orphans when they could give us a close up of that instead, maybe walk us through it.

Bashir's theory is that Rugal was kidnapped and taken to the orphanage 8 years ago just on the off chance that Dukat might want to humiliate Pa'Dar someday. The military officer who delivered him there must have been working for Dukat, because Terok Nor is the old Cardassian name for that space station he used to run... currently known as Deep Space Nine! Wait, we didn't know that yet? Well there's a fact for you: Cardassians is the episode which introduces the name Terok Nor.

Also holy shit Dukat, faking a 4 year old's death to discredit his father is pretty damn low, but doing it just to give you a card to play later is an astounding display of long term bastardry. I'm starting to get the impression that he's not a very good person.

Anyway Dukat storms out, Bashir gets to be smug, and it's a happy ending! Though I feel like there's something I'm forgetting... oh right, they didn't decide who gets custody of Rugal.

The pacing's been kind of slow this episode and there's only two minutes left to wrap things up, so Sisko decides to give his verdict in a captain's log voice over.

Rugal's an innocent victim of a conspiracy, he wants to go back to Bajor with his family, he's lived there for two-thirds of his life and the crew are pretty sure now that his foster parents weren't abusive... but Sisko decides to give his biological dad custody instead. Now he's going off to live Cardassia, a world that's entirely alien to him, full of people that he wants to bite. Though O'Brien at least offers to make sure he can come back to visit.

The weirdest part of this is that Sisko never explains how he came to that decision. The only hint we get is his conversation with Pa'Dar afterwards, where we learn that his career's safe and Sisko implores him to use his position to help other orphans like his son. Did Sisko make a tactical move, giving away one child to potentially help hundreds?

And the episode ends with with Garak telling Bashir he's not going to reveal why he hates Dukat.


CONCLUSION

The Cardassians are one of the most interesting, entertaining and multifaceted aliens in Star Trek lore. Cardassians on the other hand, not so much. I mean it's alright, I found it much more watchable than Invasive Procedures, but that's just because it was actually about something and the characters were occasionally fun to watch. Well, the ones who turned up anyway. Jake was completely absent and Odo, Dax, Quark and Kira were basically cameos.

It's so strange that Kira would be left out of an episode about the consequences of the occupation and hatred of Cardassians, because that's totally her thing. But O'Brien gets to take her place this time and it's probably a better fit due to him being a family man with a young kid. Colm Meaney is great as a guy who knows he's falling short of the Star Trek ideal and finds himself trying to convince a Cardassian (and himself) that the Cardassians aren't all bad.

But Sisko's low-key reactions were the best part of the episode for me, as he had to deal with Bashir interrogating Dukat during their video chat, waking him up to ask for the keys to the car, and pulling a murder mystery reveal in the middle of his custody hearing. He's in a real sarcastic mood this week.

The second best part was Bashir and Garak teaming up to steal a plot that would've normally belonged to Odo. This is only Garak's second appearance, and just like before he completely takes over the investigation, making incredibly weak excuses to explain his obvious experience and skills. But this time Bashir's not a deer in the headlights anymore, equal parts terrified and excited that he's working with a Cardassian spy. Now he's more like a deer in the passenger seat, being dragged along on the ride but getting an education along the way.

I just wish that the episode wasn't so slow and sedate. The main plot drags on so long that Sisko doesn't even have time to explain his big decision at the end! The resolution is very 'wait, what just happened?' as Rugal seems to get the bad ending and goes off miserable without reason at all given for why. It stands out in contrast to the Next Gen episode Suddenly Human, where Picard comes to the exact opposite conclusion about a kid called Jono and gives a whole speech about it to his adoptive dad:
"We knew that if only we could persuade him to make the decision to stay, then you would most likely let him. With the best of intentions, we tried to convince him and, in so doing, thoroughly failed to listen to his feelings, his needs. That was the crime, and it has taken a huge toll on a strong and noble young man. And it must be rectified.

He will return home, to the only home he's ever known. To the father that he loves."
I'm not saying that Sisko's choice was wrong, it's not a great situation when a kid's being raised to hate people who look like him, but if you're going to make a decision like that on Star Trek then you gotta make the speech to back up. That's how it works, man.



COMING SOON
Deep Space Nine will return with Melora. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'll be watching... The Orville again I guess. I have to give the third episode a go to see if it ruins everything.

Thanks for reading, leave a comment if you can think of one.

3 comments:

  1. I know Garak isn't really a tailor and that's all part of the joke, but I can't help think about it. I assume that in the TNG era clothes are made by replicators, but just like today, sometimes you'd want something hand-crafted, and there's probably a bit of prestige to having tailored clothes. Like today, you'd go to the equivalent of London, New York, or Paris, but not a half-forgotten island in the middle of the south Pacific. I mean, how many customers does Garak get?

    It's the worst cover identity ever.

    Hang on, Bashir's the one piloting the runabout? It was implied that he needed O'Brien to take him to Bajor back in The Storyteller, so I guess he got his pilot's licence in the meantime.

    I still can't tell if this sort of thing is clever foreshadowing of... er... a thing, or if the writers are just inconsistent when it comes to Bashir's abilities. Probably the latter, but I bet there's a fan theory floating around that... the thing was being planned all along.

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    Replies
    1. Maybe it's not so bad. If you're rich, you may want tailored clothes for status. If you're poor, it may be cheaper to get your clothes mended than it is to replace them. There are a lot of people who come through DS9, and a lot of people who live there, and I think the general public has to pay for replicator use.

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  2. Now he's more like a deer in the passenger seat

    Now I'm imagining a Star Trek/Far Side crossover.

    ReplyDelete