Plot – A Federation Officer (literally the pride of the service) committing a terrorist act in Cardassian space? Sometimes TNG races to a really punchy premise in its pre-title sequences that not only promise a great episode ahead but would have to be the work of true incompetents to get it wrong. I was longing for this kind of episode; one that deals with racism head on and from the human point of view. Long have I lamented that certain human characters express disturbing racist views (McCoy, Archer, O’Brien) in this supposedly xenophobia free Utopia and for TNG to tackle that head on in all its ugliness is a definite tick in its favour.
Character – How interesting to see Worf spreading anti-Cardassian feeling on the Bridge. Once he transfers to DS9 that feeling is still very much there, especially in his dealings with Garak. It’s not until the two of them are trapped in an impossible situation together that he starts to find some common ground with the species.
You can see why people might have developed an issue with Keiko when she tries to force feed her husband fish food for breakfast (mind you the muck he rakes up for her later in the episode looks even worse). What I love about this couple is not only are they the longest running relationship across the entirety of Star Trek and not used as some kind of grandstanding romance to get bums on seats but instead used as a peek into domestic life on a Starship/Station, but they are also a convincing mixed race couple where that is never brought into the equation in a derogatory way. The two of them having a nice breakfast in their quarters and being interrupted by a torpedo hitting the ship gives a pleasingly fresh view of how normal life can be disrupted on the Enterprise.
The look that Troi gives O’Brien when the Cardassians arrive speaks volumes. She’s astonished at such a feeling of hate from one race to another. And check out the venom O’Brien throws at the Cardassian in the turbolift when he asks him to share a drink with him in Ten Forward. O’Brien is the perfect character to funnel this episode through because he is such a nice everyday bloke that is so well respected…and so to see this unpleasant side of his character emerge not only gives him a great deal of substance but it impacts all the more because I do like him as a character. Condemning racism is easy, it’s abhorrent. Condemning racism when it is coming from an otherwise nice bloke is far more uncomfortable. Maybe he has a good reason to be how he is, that still doesn’t make the censure of an entire species acceptable. I love how the Cardassians are made to look ugly and unpleasant and yet the two Officers that converse with O’Brien are very pleasant company. It makes his outright rejection of them much more interesting. How fascinating that O’Brien observes that other people still have a hatred of Cardassians, when he is really talking about himself. He doesn’t hate Cardassians, he hates what the Cardassians have turned him into. That is possibly the most interesting route the episode could have taken. Self-loathing and how it manifests.
Picard is the ultimate diplomat in a crisis situation here; calm, collected, respectful and intelligent. This is the Captain Picard of legend. When confronted with Maxwell and his paranoid delusions, Picard is firm with a man he respects greatly. He has to bring him in to answer for his crimes and that is exactly what he is going to do.
Great Dialogue: ‘It smells musty in here. Like a bureaucrats office’ – Maxwell condemns Picard’s inaction and political chains.
‘Take this message to your leaders, Gul Macet. We’ll be watching…’ I actually stopped breathing after Picard made his threat.
Performance – There’s not one performance that is off here. The cast all do stellar work.
Production – Plenty of adjustments are made to the Cardassians in the following years once the franchise decided that they were going to be one of the big hitters in the Quadrant. Whilst I am far more accustomed to the bulkier uniform and realistic make up job, I do like how they are introduced here. The bizarre bondage gear around the Legate’s head is pretty creepy and the reptilian aspect of their nature is empathised dramatically. I’m not sure about the uniforms here, though. They are far too simple. Thankfully it is Marc Alaimo inside the costume and he is as impressive as ever.
You might think that watching a couple of blips having a space fight on a screen is a money saving exercise (saves paying out for expensive effects) but the scene concentrates on Picard and Macet’s reactions, which is where the drama lies.
Best moment – Colm Meaney telling the story of O’Brien’s experiences on Setlik III. My heart was in my mouth the whole time.
The ending is like an emotional punch in the gut. TNG had moments like this that come out of nowhere and really got under your skin. They really surprise because this was a show that liked to play it safe for a fair amount of its run. Two old war veterans sit in the tatters of Maxwell’s career and sing a song to respect the dead, honour their history and accept Maxwell’s defeat. We only spend a few scenes with Maxwell and the feels I felt for him here are greater than I do for many of the regular cast on this show.
Worst moment – It’s a shame that the Cardassians do appear to be up to no good in this episode because it guts the piece of its point. That you cannot condemn an entire species for their past. What’s more DS9 proves Maxwell right, eventually the Federation is at war with the Cardassians and they should have done well to fear them even at this early stage.
I wish they hadn’t done that – Troi states that because the Cardassians are an ally to the Federation that they have to be trusted. What a naive point of view. They have to be respected, certainly politically, but there are a wealth of episodes that see them behaving in a truly insidious and politically devious way in both TNG and DS9.
A reason to watch this episode again – Whilst it has pretentions of exploring a much larger political game, The Wounded comes down to one man facing his prejudice and realising that he isn’t quite as perfect as society would like him to be. This is the emergence of O’Brien as a major player in the Star Trek universe and a character that would continue to be our eyes and ears for over a decade of stories to come. It’s fascination because the usual pattern is for the characters with extreme views on this show to be dealt with and punished in one episode. This is much more complicated than that and the fact that O’Brien can be seen going through such a struggle and to come out of it a much more rounded character suggests that the crew of the Enterprise is entering a period of more sophisticated characterisation (adding Ro to the roster is another positive step). Not everybody is perfect in Roddenberry’s universe and that is a bold and brilliant statement to make. Colm Meaney rarely gets the sort of recognition he deserves but in 14 seasons of Star Trek he never gave a less than exemplary performance and in episodes like this one that give him some truly juicy material to play, he nails it perfectly. This is one episode that holds up extremely well today and is more important to watch than ever. If only a contingent of society that hates without reason could be as self-reflective as O’Brien.
****1/2 out of *****
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