Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Cardassians   Rewatch 
July 15, 2015 7:33 AM - Season 2, Episode 5 - Subscribe

Garak investigates the identity of a Cardassian boy abandoned on Bajor.

Garak: "I believe in coincidences. Coincidences happen every day.
But I don't trust coincidences."

* This is the first reference to the Cardassian name of Deep Space 9, Terok Nor, and also the first time hostility between Garak and Dukat is hinted at.
* Marc Alaimo commented "As an actor, when I got the script, I didn't realize Dukat was being set up to take the blame. But I played him as a man who was being set up. A man who was taking the dive because he had wanted to remove the children but his orders were to leave them".
* Andrew Robinson commented that "the best thing about that was the scene where [Garak] and Bashir go to Bajor and run into the orphans. We learned a little more about their culture, that children without parents have no status in Cardassian society, so they just abandoned them. The fact that Garak was faced with this, and realized that there is something very basically wrong about it, was great".
* This is the first time since the pilot that Gul Dukat has visited DS9.
* When Dukat, Sisko, and Pa'Dar are discussing the orphaned children, displayed in the background is the star chart that was prominently shown in Remmick's office in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Conspiracy".

Pa'Dar: "On Cardassia, family is everything. We care for our parents and children with equal devotion.
In some households, four generations eat at the same table. Family... is everything."
posted by zarq (22 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
For those sufficiently interested, the story of Rugal was followed-up in one of the better Trek novels, The Never-Ending Sacrifice. It's a good, meaty resolution to this episode's kinda unsettling ending.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 8:39 AM on July 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

CheesesOfBrazil, I was just coming in here to recommend that, along with all of Una McCormick's other Trek books, she gets the Cardassians better than almost everyone else.
posted by hobgadling at 10:21 AM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Marc Alaimo was apparently pretty attached to the idea that Dukat was actually a good guy at heart. Maybe sometimes deluded or compromised in some ways, but coming from a good place. I think Alaimo was pretty obviously wrong about that, but that belief sure gave his performance some extra kick. No villain wants to believe he's a bad guy. Dukat is always smiling, always polite, he just wants to be friends... until you piss him off and he turns into a hissing cobra. No wonder he and Kai Winn hit it off, and no wonder their partnership ended so horribly! They are both scheming, evil, power-mad people who have convinced themselves they are selflessly working for the good of their people.

Following DS9 Alaimo seemed to all but retire, taking on very occasional gigs doing voices for games. A lot of DS9's cast seemed to peak with the show and they've worked little since. (Avery Brooks being another sad example.) It's really too bad. You don't expect a Trek show to be an actor's showcase, but DS9 was. (I remember the episode where Odo finds the baby changeling, and Rene Auberjonois had to do these desperate, tragic scenes where he's talking to a little vial of orange goo. He made it work. That is some capital A acting, right there.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:56 PM on July 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

A couple of bits of this that I liked:

This bit o' snark from Sisko:
SISKO: I assume this couldn't wait until morning?
BASHIR: No, sir. I need to use a runabout.
SISKO: I'm waiting.
BASHIR: It's Garak, sir. He wants to go to Bajor.
SISKO: Bajor? For what?
BASHIR: He wouldn't tell me.
SISKO: Oh, well, by all means. Will one runabout be enough?

Keiko calling out Miles for his Cardassian racism:
O'BRIEN: Gentle was bred out of these Cardassians a long time ago.
KEIKO: You know, that was a very ugly thing you just said.
O'BRIEN: I only said.
KEIKO: I don't need to hear it twice.

As for the rest, this is one of those episodes that suffers from one of the more common faults of DS9 episodes, especially the earlier ones: creating a really interesting, thorny problem, and then throwing in a half-assed ending.

On the one hand, Rugal's Bajoran parents are the only ones he remembers, and he feels loved by them. On the other hand, their racism has him wishing he weren't Cardassian. Then there's Rugal's Cardassian father, who loved him and did nothing wrong.

Then it starts to veer off into Garak vs. Dukat rivalry, and as much as I love the animosity between those two, the focus on it seems misplaced when there is a sentient being's welfare at stake. If the dispute was about the Great Seal of Cardassia, then I'd be ok with the focus on Garak and Dukat.

While I disagreed with Sisko's decision (no way would I send a kid to live with parents he didn't remember without counseling and a transition plan), I wouldn't have been so irritated if the writers had treated the decision with the dignity that it deserved. Some sort of scene where Sisko explained his reasoning in detail would have been nice. Instead it's relegated to a three-sentence log entry.
posted by creepygirl at 10:34 PM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

As for the rest, this is one of those episodes that suffers from one of the more common faults of DS9 episodes, especially the earlier ones: creating a really interesting, thorny problem, and then throwing in a half-assed ending.

Yeah, I was confused by the abruptness of the ending. What did it matter whose fault it was that Rugel ended up at the orphanage in deciding his fate? Also, I think I need to watch the episode again, because I don't really understand what the point of the kidnapping plot was, or how it works with the timeline of the Cardassian occupation and withdrawal. I mean, I thought they only left recently, right before Sisco & Co. came to DS9, no? But Bajorans wouldn't have been taking care of Cardassian orphans while the occupation was ongoing, so it would need to have ended long enough ago for Rugel to have lost all memory of his biological father.

I thought at first this was going to be a story about mixed-species Cardassian/Bajoran children; invading soldiers leaving behind offspring seems more likely than soldiers bringing their kids along to the invasion.
posted by oh yeah! at 4:36 AM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Rugal was kidnapped when he was four, which the episode says was eight years ago, long before the end of the occupation. While I can buy that Dukat and Pa'Dar may have clashed that long ago, the kidnapping plot doesn't really hold up on rewatch. I mean, Dukat kept quiet about it for years; was he just waiting for enough time to pass so that Rugal wouldn't remember his parents? Are we supposed to believe that Dukat arranged for Rugal's family to visit DS9, and Dukat knew that Garak would happen to spot them, and Rugal would bite Garak's hand, right around the time that there are hearings about the occupation involving Pa'Dar and Dukat? I don't trust coincidences any more than Garak does, but the alternatives don't make a lot of sense either.
posted by creepygirl at 7:10 AM on July 16, 2015

To put on my scheming mastermind hat, I expect Dukat was keeping the secret of Rugal as leverage over Pa'Dar, and calling it in happened to be useful at the time of the episode. And he probably had some way of less subtly bringing Rugal to Garak's attention if a convenient incident hadn't cropped up. But staging something would make Garak more suspicious, so just seeing if he'd notice and get curious was probably the first step.
posted by Zalzidrax at 2:35 PM on July 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Marc Alaimo was apparently pretty attached to the idea that Dukat was actually a good guy at heart. Maybe sometimes deluded or compromised in some ways, but coming from a good place. I think Alaimo was pretty obviously wrong about that, but that belief sure gave his performance some extra kick.

You know as I've watched the show, I'm less convinced that Dukat is a fundamentally evil person. What he is is ambitious and hungry for influence and power. It's his tragic flaw. I think we see lots of moments in DS9 where Dukat acts logically and reasonably, and not even with a Machiavellian scheme in mind. But his thirst for power leads him to do terrible things eventually.

Good exposition in this episode but I agree that they built the story too big to resolve in one episode.
posted by dry white toast at 12:34 PM on July 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Dukat says in some episode or another, that the one regret he has about the Bajoran occupation is that the Bajoran people didn't realise how lucky they were to have him, specifically, as a Prefect. I suppose that that does make a twisted kind of sense - under a different Prefect, things perhaps would have been much worse. That's not to say that things weren't already awful and terrible, but they might have been more awful and terrible.

Anyway, the episode: I really like the way Garak and Bashir interact, and the way Garak moulds Bashir over time. I think they both really enjoyed the dance of their relationship. Garak was definitely leading, but I think Bashir eventually learned the steps too. "You've become distrustful and suspicious. It suits you."

As others have pointed out, the storyline is a bit handwavey - everything just slots into place at exactly the right time. But if it didn't, we wouldn't have an episode, and therefore less Garak.

Sisko's line "I wasn't aware we had any Cardassians on the station" and Odo's line "We don't!", is, I'm sure, repeated in a later episode, but it's Klingons instead of Cardassians.

"To us, he isn't even one of them any more" is kind of a messed up thing to say. Rugal is certainly aware of the fact he's a Cardassian, even if he does hate himself for it, and his parents are to blame for that hate.

I love the little smirk that Kira gives Bashir after Sisko chastises him.

I absolutely love the way Keiko called out Miles' racism. I like her character a lot, and this is one of the reasons. The shared dislike over the weird blue stew was a nice touch for bringing Miles and Rugal together.

I think the scene in the centre with the Cardassian children is the only time we see Garak discomfited. In practically every other scene, he has a quip or a witty answer or even a long and entertaining string of lies. Here, he has nothing to say.
posted by Solomon at 1:53 PM on July 17, 2015 [7 favorites]

Dukat was complicated and as the show went on he did become more sympathetic at times, but later in the run his worst tendencies take over and we see what an awful guy he truly is. In the Deep Space Nine Companion (a book I'm really starting to regret giving away to Out of the Closet) Ira Steven Behr talks about the struggle they had writing Dukat, and the realization that the character was almost becoming too nice before they made him a real bastard again. The show's creators certainly thought of him as a terrible man, but he has moments of decency and he wants to think of himself as a good person.

I really like the prickliness of O'Brien and Keiko's marriage. They each have their own flaws and their areas of incompatibility, but they love each other and they make it work. I wish we saw more marriages like this on TV. Usually marriages are either depicted as either wonderful or unbearable, and the truth is sometimes they can be both on any given day. Sometimes true love is a bumpy road.

Gossipfilter: I met Rosalind Chao totally at random in a Toys R' Us, when this show was on. I'm sorry to say that she just kind of shrugged when I told her she was awesome as Keiko, and she seemed much more enthused about other, more earthbound shows where she was doing guest star bits. I got the impression she kind of dismissed the Trek shows as kids' stuff... which was surprising and kind of sad. She played a great character on a great show!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:53 PM on July 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

Speaking of the DS9 Companion and the O'Briens' marriage, this quote (which many of you have probably seen before) is still one of my favorite explanations of the show:
In a series that focuses on a starship like the Enterprise, [Michael] Piller explains, you live week by week. "You never have to stay and deal with the issues that you've raised," he says. But by focusing on a space station, you create a show about commitment "...about the Federation's commitment to Bajor and DS9," he notes. "About the commitment that people have to make when they go to live in a new environment, and have to coexist with other species who have different agendas than they have. It's like the difference between a one-night stand and a marriage. On Deep Space Nine, whatever you decide has consequences the following week. So it's about taking responsibility for your decisions, the consequences of your acts."
posted by thetortoise at 7:42 PM on July 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

I think the scene in the centre with the Cardassian children is the only time we see Garak discomfited. In practically every other scene, he has a quip or a witty answer or even a long and entertaining string of lies. Here, he has nothing to say.

Yes, I love his line when the Bajoran volunteer mentions that she was in the resistance: "oh, so maybe we have met!" Total asshole thing to say but I have to admire his nerve, and great contrast to that scene with the kids.

I'm not the biggest O'brien fan but I liked the scene where he is clearly confronting his own racism while talking to Rugal about how not all Cardassian are evil.

Ending was amazingly terrible. That poor kid! This is a frustrating artifact of Star Trek being made in less progressive times--it makes the future look so backwards. I really hope that children and adoptive families will have more rights than that 400 years from now.
posted by chaiminda at 5:35 AM on July 19, 2015 [5 favorites]

At the very least it would have been good to see the adoptive parents one last time. We don't see their reaction. We don't see their farewell or hear anything about visitation rights. They don't seem to matter once Sisko makes his decision offscreen.
posted by brundlefly at 10:17 AM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, no counseling, no taking the boy’s wishes into account, no rights for the adoptive parents, no visitation agreements other than a last minute aside from O’Brian like “if you want to visit just let me know.” Sure, like anybody’s letting this kid visit where he wants! :(
posted by sacchan at 4:28 AM on November 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

hoo boy, as a fella with an adoption hobbyhorse in the context of Trek, how the fuck did I straight up miss this on rewatch?
posted by mwhybark at 10:16 PM on June 13, 2019

wow, the whole zabu meat stew scene, what the fuck, well done show
posted by mwhybark at 10:22 PM on June 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

i am watching this in total slackjaw, it will take some time for me to process
posted by mwhybark at 10:27 PM on June 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

DNA testing reunion, ha ha ha. wow.
posted by mwhybark at 10:31 PM on June 13, 2019

oh boy, terrible. I will get a rant out at some unknown date. I guess I appreciate some things about the episode but fuxake an episode written in the nineties which appears to take as its basis Vietnam war babies and which uses what would appear to be completely unconsidered language about adoption: terrible.

i invite show creators involved with this episode to engage with me here in dialog.

I am a non-international adoptee in reunion and I am very happy to be in reunion. But I will not have children. I end things, here.
posted by mwhybark at 10:45 PM on June 13, 2019

after thinking about this overnight, it was not as bad as I thought it was last night, and Rugal’s viewpoint as presented in the show reflects things about my own viewpoint and sense of identity as an adoptee before I began more critically thinking about my experience and about adoption as an institution in the US. The script does make an effort to really address adoption in the context of conflict and examines self-loathing as a component of the adoptee experience but situates it as an effect of internalized racism, which is a worthwhile topic to explore - consider Worf’s experience, for example, as war orphan raised by people whose political viewpoint and military were in opposition to Klingon at the time he was a child.

In a way, I suppose we could regard this episode as an attempt by DS9 to interrogate Worf’s experience, as well as part of DS9’s generally pretty decent worldbuilding - the episode introduces some key concepts about Cardassian culture including their genuinely alien sense sense of familial obligation, which we see later in the story arc around Dukat’s daughter Toya.
posted by mwhybark at 7:50 AM on June 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

Am I just super hungry? The stew look like a yogurt-based soup and I am ready to eat wherever unusual in-vertebrate meat is in it.
posted by tofu_crouton at 8:47 PM on January 26, 2020

This one is tough, because I really like how thorny the issue is and the different shades of humanity it brings out in the different characters. Keiko's awesome no-nonsense smackdown of Miles' racism followed almost immediately by her well-intentioned but ill-conceived dinner followed by Miles and the kid actually bonding a little bit and Miles examining his own prejudices and on and on. It's tough on any Trek series, and where DS9 is at this point in particular, because the writing is so hot and cold, and this is an episode, like Duet or Progress I think, which really finds the subtleties and trusts the cast to play them properly, so that Keiko's line - "That was a really ugly thing you just said." - can cut through asbeing as forceful as it should, wherein a different episode it would just be another example of subtext made text.

But oh that ending. There's no good option for Sisko to take, and he's not Solomon and the bona fides of both fathers' love for Rugal are pretty ironclad by the end. TNG could have and likely would have used joint visitation to help build peace between Cardassia and Bajor, but DS9 can't really do that and knows it.

But they should have made the tough decision (probably for Rugal to go with Pa'dar, whom he was stolen away from and besides, the self-loathing that his Bajoran family instilled him with can't be healthy, as much as they care for him personally), had a smiling, victorious Gul Dukat follow Sisko into his office (Dukat's former office) talking about what a great decision Sisko made and blah blah blah, and then have Bashir and Garak drop the other shoe on him.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:30 PM on May 12, 2020

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