What’s it about: A Bajoran war orphan takes a chunk out of Garak’s hand which leads to an investigation of his xenophobic upbringing…
Single Father: Sisko has to handle this situation very delicately. You cannot accuse a man of beating his son but at the same time the possibility of such means you need to try and get to the truth before you can send them on their way. Look at Sisko’s face when Bashir interrupts his conversation with Dukat and accuses him of leaving the war orphans behind on Bajor and his simple ‘don’t do it again’ menaces in a way that one of Picard’s lectures on protocol (see The Child) never could.
GE Doctor: Whereas season one's The Passenger was a rare example of a Bashir show gone wrong, Cardassians is the first of a strong run of episodes focussing on the young Doctor that see the rehabilitation of the character (with choice gems such as The Wire, Our Man Bashir, The Quickening, Dr Bashir, I Presume, Statistical Probabilities, Inquisition and Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges). Despite this only being their second story together the relationship between Bashir and Garak is already one of the shows highlights. Despite their differences, there is a respect between the two characters that makes their friendship entirely believable. Hints that Rugal is living in torture commited by his own parent’s sets Bashir’s alarm bells ringing and he is determined to get to the bottom of the situation. He’s willing to be lead on by a piece of string by Garak to a point but after being embarrassed several times by his frustrated Commander and dragged to Bajor he finally concludes enough is enough and demands answers from the man. Bashir gets two great moments where he gets to interrogate Dukat but his theatrical flourish at the end of the story as he puts all the pieces together in front of all the players in this tale is worthy of Poirot himself.
Plain and Simple: I’m surprised it took this long for the show to feature the return of Garak but isn’t it wonderful that within the year that he has been away the show has matured into something worthy of him. He likes to believe that his expertise and general willingness to serve can overcome any resentment his clientele might have about his living on the Station. There is the first hint of discord between him and Dukat in this episode, Garak laughs out loud when Bashir suggests that he was very concerned for his safety. I love how Garak has no qualms about sneaking into Bashir’s quarters in the dead of night and waking him with a seductive ‘Come Doctor.’ He manages to mix menace and high camp. He’s dabbled with fixing computers as a hobby; to Garak it is no more difficult than sewing on a button. Despite the fact that he thinks it is unfair Garak understands that children with no parents have no status on Cardassia and he cannot take the abandoned war orphans home. He is DS9's greatest enigma and long may he stay that way.
The O’Briens: Here’s a great example of how having both Keiko and Miles on the Station creating some very thoughtful material. Whilst I would never promote racism it is very refreshing to see somebody as casually xenophobic as O’Brien making throwaway comments and Keiko stepping in to remind him that his opinions of Cardassians are ugly. Both of their approaches to Rugal are wrong, Miles doesn’t want the boy playing with Molly as though he is not to be trusted and Keiko tries thrusting Cardassian culture onto him. O’Brien’s disgusted face at being presented with a plate of blue Cardassian cuisine mirrors the audiences. It looks like a plate of milky vomit. Given his not so subtle airings of his opinion when he is asked directly by Rugal what he thinks of Cardassians, O’Brien’s response as actually quite gentle. He’s met some he’s liked and others he hasn’t but he can’t judge a whole race of people.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Rugal is their revenge. Their revenge against all Cardassians.’
‘Do you think we simply forgot about those poor little orphans when we left Bajor?’
‘Gentle was bred out of these Cardassians a long time ago’ ‘You know that was a very ugly thing you just said.’
‘I wasn’t a volunteer then. I was in the Underground’ ‘Really? The perhaps we have met!’
The Good: Cardassian war orphans were taken in by the Bajorans but can you imagine the conflict they must go through self loathing that must be built into them given the very sight of the children must repulse the parents looking after them. Raising them to hate their own kind as exemplified in Rugal taking a chunk out of Garak’s hand (‘To hate Cardassians, that shouldn’t be too hard, should it? We told him the truth’). The scene where the Cardassian children trapped in a Bajoran orphanage look on pleadingly at Garak in the hope that he has come to bring them home is very discomforting. Astonishingly the reunion between Rugal and his father manages to be much more than the chat show surprise that it sounds like – the look on Pedar’s face when he sees his son is very touching and it becomes clear that family is the one aspect of Cardassian culture we can completely sympathise with. Pedar cried for his son and couldn’t even stay on Bajor with the thought that he died in a terrorist attack on the planet. I love Pedar’s casual ‘we’ll see’ at Sisko’s suggestion that he helps out other Cardassian war orphans now his political career has been salvaged – you know damn well that it is never going to happen.
The Bad: Ugh, Cardassian Zabu meat looks disgusting.
Moment to Watch Out For: It's fantastic to see that the Cardassian military coup on Bajor has not been forgotten and is drawn so expertly into this episode as a sting in the tale.
Only DS9: The sight of a Bajoran father and Cardassian child might make you groan at the thought of another Star Trek issue show but you have to remember that this is DS9 which tackles its issues head on and with some depth. It doesn’t skirt away from the haunting concepts of abandoning children, teaching them racism or even abusing them. Uncomfortable subject matter for sure but honest and thought provoking. This the first time we hear the Cardassian name for Deep Space Nine: Terok Nor.
Teaser-tastic: The punch-the-air return of Garak is worth celebrating. Thank goodness it doesn't take another year before we see him again.
Result: Cardassians is another thoughtful approach to the ever-blossoming Occupation of Bajor and a show that isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty with some pretty discomforting issues of abandonment and racism. It features the return of both Garak (long overdue) and Dukat (who is practically a semi regular by now) and allowing Bashir the chance to get to grips with some very thorny subjects. I really appreciate the inclusion of O’Brien in this episode who has some prejudice issues with Cardassians that is addressed and handled revealingly. As the narrative unfolds it gains a political angle that proves once again what Machiavellian plotters the Cardassians are and how far they are willing to go in order to bring one of their own people down. With not even the slightest hint of the usual Prime Directive or space exploration bollocks you might just forget that you are watching Star Trek during this episode and instead be tightly focussed on a very strong piece of drama: 9/10