WARNING: This article contains large amounts of spoilers for "Cardassians", this week's DS9 episode. Those not wishing to be left spoilt by this information should avoid the article.
In brief: Not quite perfect, but powerful, quiet, and good. I definitely liked it.
After the three-part opener, we needed a more quiet, down-to-earth continuation of it. "Invasive Procedures" provided an interlude (barely), but "Cardassians" began to get back into the meat of Bajoran society, and did so quite nicely.
Not only the issue of the war orphans, but even the timing of the issue was brought up. After all, the orphan "situation" has been around for quite some time, and it does seem awfully convenient to have the whole thing blow up on Sisko's watch. Had the coincidence itself not been mentioned and dealt with, I might have been a bit cynical about it -- but as it is, I have to congratulate the writers, like the Cardassians, for their attention to
Gul Dukat is rapidly shaping up as the villain for DS9 -- yes, the Cardassians as a whole are bad guys, but we've already seen lots of evidence that there are decent Cardassians here and there (Marritza in "Duet" and
Pa'Dar here, for instance). Not so with Dukat -- he's slippery, corrupt, scheming at every turn, and always ready with a new gambit. In that respect, he reminds me a bit of Baron Harkonnen from Frank Herbert's Dune (the book, that is, not the film) -- and that's a comparison I don't mind one bit. Marc Alaimo is doing a nice job of making Dukat just convincing enough to make you doubt your convictions that he's up to something, while not quite so convincing that you believe him hands down. That's not an easy tightrope, and he's managing it quite well most of the time.
The highlight of the whole thing, absolutely hands down, was the Bashir/Garak interaction. Forget Kira/Dax, or even Odo/Quark -- if Garak were a regular character, Bashir/Garak might well be the pair to beat for snappy dialogue. I hope Andrew Robinson (Garak) has a fairly empty schedule ahead of him, because I want to see a lot more of him. On the one hand, we got a lot of hints that Garak has far more of a history than being a "plain, simple" spy -- and on the other, we got to watch him play Bashir like a fiddle. Loads of fun, no question.
For that matter, I think this may be one of the best Bashir stories to date. While Bashir was a bit more enthusiastic here than he'd been in the last half-dozen or so stories, it was appealing to his adventurous roots. Beyond the big-ticket items, though, even the little touches seemed to show off how involved Bashir was with the whole affair: the way he hopped off the lift to Ops before it even stopped several times, the way he finished Garak's sentences for him several times early on (before Garak started leaving him in the dust, that is :-) ), even his forwardness in accosting Dukat early on. All added together to give me the feeling that Bashir (not just el Fadil) was really interested in and by the orphans issue, and it certainly made me pay more attention. Nice job.
About the only weak link, acting-wise, was by Terrence Evans, the fellow playing Rugal's Bajoran father. While he was hardly atrocious the way some guest stars have been from time to time, he felt flat to me. He felt more
like a plot point than a character -- the fact that he more or less was is no excuse for him to come off that way. Nothing particularly bad there, but he certainly didn't live up to the rest of the guest cast (or the regulars, all of whom were very on-key this time).
On the other hand, Robert Mandan was wonderful to see as Kotan Pa'Dar, Rugal's real father. I have to admit to a certain surprise on that score, because the only thing I've seen Mandan in before was the "Soap" series about 15 years ago. While he generally did a good job there, "Soap" was first and foremost a comedy show and not a drama -- and I had difficulty seeing him put in this role. I needn't have worried -- he's one of the most "real" Cardassians I can recall seeing. The scene between him and Rugal really felt like a father/son scene to me, and even through the makeup it was wrenching to see Pa'Dar's reaction to Rugal's rejection. Very, very nice job.
(As an aside, the casting of the businessman was fairly smart thinking, too. Dion Anderson sounds and moves enough like Robert Mandan that I thought the businessman was Pa'Dar for bits of the show. While that turned out to be me adding one level too many to the plotting of the Cardassians, it served quite well to keep me off the track. Cute.)
Wrapping up the guest cast, Vidal Peterson managed to hold his own as Rugal. He didn't steal the show, but he wasn't meant to; as was pointed out several times, he was an innocent victim of the whole mess, not an integral player. Regardless, he had some good scenes as well -- the aforementioned scene with Pa'Dar was definitely one of them, but the dinner scene with O'Brien was up there, too. It's not often in Trek that you see two characters bond from a common dislike rather than a common love.
Plotwise, things aren't quite as strong as the acting generally was, but it was good. In particular, the methodical figuring-out of just what was going on, by whom, and for what reason, was excellent. While on TNG we'd see someone (probably Picard) play detective to the hilt and figure everything out himself, here we saw Bashir basically get guided to the answer by someone with his own motives: a very interesting difference. I think that Bashir's general attitude had to be summed up by Sisko's statement:
"So, you deduced that Garak thinks Dukat is lying about something you're not sure of, and you proceeded to interrupt my conversation to confront him about whatever that might be."
Sounds about right from this end. ;-)
I originally had objections about the fact that the war orphans issue wasn't really dealt with, but I realized that that would be fairly inconsistent of me. The issue was raised due to a specific child, and the issue of that
child has been covered: Rugal's going to Cardassia (a move about which I have fairly mixed feelings, but I digress). On a larger scale, probably about all this incident could hope to accomplish was to raise awareness of the issue on Bajor and (especially) on Cardassia, and there are suggestions here and there that it might. On the whole, the more I think about the open-endedness here, the more I like it.
So, some shorter takes:
-- For familiar-face watchers: Vidal Peterson, who played Rugal, also played D'Tan in "Unification, Part II".
-- One loose end that bugs me a bit: how did Garak find Jomat's name? Or rather, how did he know that she was the one who handled Rugal's case? I can think of several plausible ways, but I'd like to see at least a bit more explanation than I got.
-- As is becoming more and more par for the course, the dialogue was really crackling in spots. Besides the Sisko/Bashir conversation I already mentioned and the Bashir/Garak scenes, I rather enjoyed the exchange when Bashir wants a runabout: "I'm waiting," indeed. :-)
-- I rather strongly liked the ambiguity about the orphan girl's question. When she asked "Are you here to take us back to Cardassia?", what did she want the answer to BE? It wasn't at all clear, which I think is excellent.
-- I also liked the evidence that the Bajoran near-coup is having an impact on Cardassia (the upcoming hearings). Now if we can see more of its effect on Bajor, I'll be happier still.
In short, what we saw in "Cardassians" was more political infighting and its effect on the characters. As I said back over the summer, that's the sort of thing I think DS9 is uniquely qualified to address among all the various Trek settings, and I was glad to see it done so well here.
So, to sum up:
Plot: A loose end or two, but in general just the sort of thing I like to see.
Plot Handling: Nice. A particular plus was cutting to Sisko and Bashir's discomfort when Rugal's father went in to get him.
Characterization: Excellent all around.
OVERALL: Call it a 9. Good job.
Wheelchairs, zero-gravity lust, and the Gamma Quadrant.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"I am no more a spy than you are --" "-- a doctor."
-- Garak and Bashir