2.05: “Cardassians”

Okay, this is much later than I generally try to post, but it turns out I had A TON to say, and it took me ages to wrangle it into something halfway readable.

First things first: GARAK!!!!!!!!!!! He becomes such an important secondary character as the show goes on that it’s a little strange to think we haven’t actually seen him since way back at the beginning of the first season.

Honestly, I am pretty much always up for Cardassian bullshit. Cardassians make Vulcans look warm, friendly, and emotionally healthy. They make Klingons look low-drama. They make Romulans look straightforward and plainspoken. They’re always dicks, they’re always horny, and then we find out later that being dicks is also a method by which they indicate horniness for one another. Everything with Cardassians is hilariously overcomplicated and the only person who enjoys that more than I do is every single Cardassian.

Maybe I am focusing on inappropriate stuff here, but also…

If I don’t find things to laugh about I’m gonna cry for a month

So, this episode — oof. This poor kid. Just — oof. Rugal’s adoptive family clearly loves him (at least, his father does, since we never actually see Proka’s wife), but the comments about how they don’t even see him as Cardassian were just heartbreaking. Because…he is. Maybe not culturally, but he’s very obviously Cardassian, and it’s not fair to him to pretend otherwise. Even if the guy in Quark’s is lying about the open, direct abuse, which I think is what we’re supposed to conclude, it’s…still not an ideal situation.

Like — transracial adoption is a deeply complicated issue. There really is no good answer here — it’s supremely fucked up that he was stolen from his family in the first place, and it’s also fucked up that, even when he ended up with a new family, however much they loved him, they simply weren’t able to deal with his heritage in a healthy way. Which is not their fault, either! It is not totally unexpected that, even if Bajorans recognize intellectually that Cardassian children born during the Occupation don’t bear the blame for it, initial responses to him on Bajor would often be negative. The ugliness of the Occupation certainly shouldn’t be hidden. But “of course we don’t mean you” is not, in the long term, good for Rugal.

Rugal’s cry of “that’s not my fault! I was born that way!” when O’Brien mentions that he’s a Cardassian is absolutely gutting. (Honestly, Vidal Peterson, the actor playing Rugal, does a really lovely job overall.) Because of course it’s not! But — the Occupation wasn’t his fault, either. He was a child. He is a child! This isn’t like Marritza in “Duet”, where it’s a question of atonement and how large a share of the blame a file clerk deserves; Rugal bears exactly zero blame for the crimes of the Occupation, not because he’s not “really” Cardassian but because he is a child.

Also — the comment that orphans really have no standing in Cardassian society was…weird. Like, I guess maybe the idea is that even children whose parents died would have enough extended family that “who’s going to take care of them” is never really a question since there’s always an aunt/uncle/grandparent/sibling/other relative, but…then, it can’t be too difficult to find relatives of the other children left on Bajor after the Occupation, right? Yes, a big part of these children being left behind in the first place was that Dukat is a goddamn monster, and if he tells me it’s a day that ends in Y I’m going to assume the names of days have changed without my knowing about it because that is more likely than Dukat telling the truth about something, but others confirm that there’s really no concept of what to do with these orphans on Cardassia Prime. When Sisko suggests at the end that Pa’Dar can use his own influence to try to get some of these kids back home, the guy’s response is basically “yeah, that’s never gonna happen”, only slightly more diplomatic (but only slightly). The only thing I can think of is that locating extended family and arranging transport for all of the Cardassian children left on Bajor would require a level of logistical and diplomatic cooperation between the Bajoran and Cardassian governments that, even with Federation mediation, simply isn’t likely to happen.

Which, looking at the number of children the Trump administration has separated from their families at the U.S.’s southern border, many of whom have already been placed into adoptive families via a company with ties to the Secretary of Education, is…just an extra, brutal little twist of this episode’s “there is no happy ending here” knife. If you’ve got a couple extra bucks to spare, maybe consider throwing them RAICES‘s way.

Okay I cannot take any more of this, can we talk about Cardassian shenanigans instead?

YES PLEASE.

Okay, first of all, let’s address the fact that Garak is giving off major STRANGER DANGER vibes when he approaches Rugal. Like. I don’t even give my two-and-a-half-year-old niece a hug without asking her or letting her initiate it first. RESPECT KIDS’ PERSONAL SPACE, GARAK. I mean, really, RESPECT EVERYONE’S PERSONAL SPACE, but for fuck’s sake, unless they’re about to run into traffic or something, don’t just grab strange kids. Granted, given how we’ve seen him and Dukat act around everyone, Cardassians may have different concepts of personal space. But still.

Speaking of Dukat, this is also the first time we get hints of his and Garak’s past. There are other hints dropped further on — I’m thinking specifically of Garak’s “LOL remember how I got your dad executed” taunting of Dukat in “Civil Defense” — but the full story never really comes out. Some particular moments I adore, however:

  1. The way that, the first time Dukat’s name is mentioned in the context of all of this, Garak just freezes, and for a brief moment his airy act completely drops.
  2. Garak’s slightly unhinged laughter in response to Bashir’s “you never mentioned you [and Dukat] were friends”.
  3. The fact that Dukat is pretending to be real concerned about all of this and is clearly delighted, privately, that not only is one of his political rivals going to be humiliated and have his career ended but that, as icing on the cake, a kid bit Garak in the process.
  4. Bashir being so excited about all of this that he literally jumps off the lift into Ops before it comes to a complete stop
  5. The way that, in the climactic scene, everyone’s reactions to Bashir’s simple country hyperchicken routine range from confusion that he’s here at all (O’Brien, Rugal, Proka, Pa’Dar) to irritation (Sisko, Dukat), to anger (Sisko at the beginning, Dukat at the end), except for Garak, who is completely gleeful the entire time.
  6. When the woman at the orphanage says she was in the Resistance and Garak says, brightly, “Perhaps we have met, then!” Like. HOLY SHIT, GARAK.

Honestly, Siddig and Robinson are both just brilliant in this episode — Robinson in particular, who manages to convey all kinds of shit while wearing a mountain of prosthetics on his face. The episode also does a lot of heavy lifting in terms of showing us how Garak and Bashir’s relationship has progressed, and the actors deserve most, if not all, of the credit for the fact that their relationship feels as lived-in as it does, despite the fact that we’ve only seen Garak once before, and that was more than a full season ago.

I also really enjoyed Dukat’s general air, whenever Bashir barged in, of who the fuck is this twink and why does he keep interrupting my seduction of Sisko, which is definitely going really well otherwise? His “Doctor…Bashir, is it?” is definitely because he needed to refer to his List of People Who Aren’t My Boyfriend Benjamin to figure out who he was.

List of People Who Aren't My Boyfriend Benjamin

A couple of other things I enjoyed

I really liked the use of the O’Briens in this episode, and how each of them messes up a little in dealing with Rugal. Obviously Miles’s mistrust, and his horror when he learns that Keiko let Rugal play with Molly, stands out more — and I really love Keiko’s quiet, matter-of-fact, “that was a very ugly thing you just said” — but Keiko then proceeding to make Cardassian food for dinner shows a certain tone-deafness, as well. I just thought it was a nice touch, a stinging illustration of how everyone, no matter how well-intentioned, makes assumptions about Rugal because of his race. And then, by the end, Miles has become downright protective of Rugal, which is both sweet but also, still, a bit sad, because he’s “one of the good ones”.

I’d also like to take a minute and express my appreciation for Sisko’s increasing level of weariness and irritation with Bashir and his boyfriend dragging him into their spy roleplay. The way, when Bashir tells him after their first call with Dukat that “he’s lying”, Sisko is clearly thinking no shit? Beautiful. His subsequent polite but definitive rebuke of Bashir for barging in on the call? Perfect. His sarcasm when Bashir wakes him up in the middle of the night to ask to borrow a runabout? *chef’s kiss* Benjamin is so tired of everything, which, in the Year of our Lord 2019, is a Big friggin’ Mood.

Horniness rankings

Good LORD, Cardassian-heavy episodes really seem to be the horniest.

  1. Good lord, Dukat. Sisko asks him if he’s here representing the Cardassian government, Dukat says “not exactly,” and then there is a long and significant pause before he starts on his Someone Think Of The Children schtick, and that pause definitely means he is here because he hopes he and Sisko will be able to fit in dinner and boning.
  2. Bashir, for ~intrigue~, and also, very much, for Garak
  3. Garak, for ~intrigue~, for fucking with Dukat, and for Bashir, perhaps not in that order
  4. Dukat and Garak have definitely hatebanged in the past, and are almost certainly going to do so again.

In conclusion, I made this after watching this episode and it might be one of the finest things I’ve ever done.

6 thoughts on “2.05: “Cardassians”

  1. Would that Sisko’s expressions from this episode could be packaged and sold. My lord, it’s a solid performance. Extra special props to the expression responding to Bashir’s “he didn’t say” (in response to “why do you need to borrow a Runabout?”) and to “don’t – do it – again” responding to Bashir’s barging into his video call with Dukat.

    This was a hard episode, not helped, for me, by the fact that I had completely misremembered the ending – I thought Sisko had ruled to give Rugal back to his Bajoran foster parents. (In retrospect, I had this episode confused with TNG’s “Suddenly Human”, in which Picard has to make a similar determination about a human teenager who had been kidnapped by the Talarians, and gives him back to the Talarians.) So I was pretty shocked and kind of pissed when he ruled to give Rugal back to the Cardassians. Then I thought about it some more and maybe it was the right thing to do. I suppose the point is that there *isn’t* a right thing to do, just two things to do which are both pretty lousy.

    Side note – not that you could hold any character accountable for it in season 2, but given subsequent events on Cardassia Prime throughout the run of the series, the odds are very good that Rugal winds up dead by the end of season 7, if not earlier, a casualty either of the conflict that displaces the Detapa Council from power or when the Dominion starts nuking the planet at the end of the series finale. That was part of the reason I was pissed about it, although that’s pretty unreasonable. (Also it’s a TV show and maybe I should get *my* life right.)

    I also wasn’t crazy about the way they graft a Trek-style courtroom drama onto the end of the episode. I tend to think that setup only works if the whole episode is centered on it (e.g. “Dax,” “Rules of Engagement,” or TNG’s “The Measure of a Man”); otherwise you have to get used to a different rhythm of drama, and in this case I felt it killed the momentum of the show. It was also frankly kind of ridiculous for any kind of official proceeding on this matter to be OK with Bashir and Garak to just sort of prance in and start throwing questions and evidence around. I mean, “objection, your honor!”, amirite?

    The way the episode forced O’Brien to confront his racism was pretty solid, and it gave Keiko a rare opportunity to serve as a vehicle for actual drama. O’Brien’s on a complicated journey with those feelings, and they don’t let him get away with easy outs, which is refreshing.

    I couldn’t believe this was only Garak’s second appearance. As usual, the relationship between he and Bashir hints at much off-screen … er, action … that make the dynamic feel well-earned, even when there hasn’t been much in the series to back it. As usual, I’m wondering how much of Garak’s performance was directed and how much was Andrew Robinson’s choice as a performer.

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    1. Avery Brooks is perfection in this episode, oh my stars. I gain a new appreciation, with each rewatch, for just how layered his performance is; even when we don’t really hear about all the other stuff that might be going on around the station, he just conveys perfectly this sense that Sisko, as the commander, probably has a lot of other stuff to deal with! Like, he does not have the time or energy to join Julian and Garak in their spy LARPing! The situation between the Federation and Cardassia is delicate at best, he really does not need Julian barging into his call with Dukat! And good lord, his delivery of “It’s been the highlight of my day! Don’t. Do it. Again.“, YES.

      (Also, when Odo calls and says that Dukat’s arrived on the station, there’s just this full-on moment from Sisko of “ah, yes, of course, he is precisely what this situation does not need, so why wouldn’t he be here” and it’s P E R F E C T.)

      I suppose the point is that there *isn’t* a right thing to do, just two things to do which are both pretty lousy.

      Yes! It’s interesting, because every few years I’ll do a rewatch and I find that with every rewatch I seem to change my mind on whether it was the right call or not, which, yeah, makes me think the ultimate conclusion is meant to be “there really isn’t a good choice or happy ending here”.

      And agreed on the courtroom drama — the pacing of the episode is a bit…not really “all over the place”, but maybe just a bit rushed? As much as I hate the tendency in this, the era of Peak TV, to turn every single story into a multi-episode arc, I do feel like this might have worked better as, well, a multi-episode arc. Not the full focus of a whole season, but something that’s progressing as a B-plot over a couple of episodes, perhaps leading up to an episode where the main focus is the courtroom drama. Or even just a two-parter, although that might just be that I am always happy for lots of Garak-Bashir drama, Cardassian intrigue in general, and everyone being completely fed up with Dukat since thirty seconds before he even showed up.

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    2. Oh and!

      (Also it’s a TV show and maybe I should get *my* life right.)

      Look, if overanalyzing Star Trek is wrong, I am frankly way too far gone at this point to ever get my life right, so it’s nice to have some company.

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  2. One of Una McCormack’s DS9 novels features Rugal and his fate, and such is my opinion of McCormack (and such is her love for Cardassians) that I’m quite tempted to read it.

    I was going to suggest that the solution to this Cardassian orphan problem is that Sisko adopt them all (since Sarek is no longer alive to do so, AND YOU KNOW HE WOULD), but I have a rant brewing about how fandom regards Sisko as a Dad but not a Daddy, and something something desexualisation of men of colour, and maybe that would undermine myself.

    So obviously the solution is (a) necromancy; (b) Sarek adopts them all. Simple.

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    1. Ooh, now I’m tempted to read it, too. (I also would have sworn we had Andrew Robinson’s Garak novel around, because my mom remembers reading it and really enjoying it, but I’m not finding it among our Star Trek novels, and now I’m annoyed.)

      I have a rant brewing about how fandom regards Sisko as a Dad but not a Daddy, and something something desexualisation of men of colour

      OH MY GOD LIZ YES, I HAVE BEEN THINKING ABOUT EXACTLY THE SAME THING. Like — there is definitely a really nasty tradition of oversexualizing Black men in U.S. pop culture, so if I’m giving fandom the benefit of the doubt (admittedly not always a sensible thing to do) I’d guess that for some people, there’s an element of caution around not wanting to perpetuate racist tropes around Black male sexuality. Hell, one of the reasons I haven’t really talked much about this is that I’m trying to sort out how to discuss it without seeming to go too far in the other direction. But…Sisko fucks, canonically! He is not sexless! When the show starts, he has definitely had sex at least once, because Jake, and the show makes it extremely clear that he and Kasidy Yates have a pretty active sex life! He is also extremely handsome, particularly in later seasons, and everyone really needs to discuss how he is one of the few men in history on whom a goatee actually looks really good. He is 100% the Team Dad, but he also has sex, and it’s definitely noticeable that fandom is able to deal with, say, Picard and Pike being both Team Dad and also having sex lives, but Sisko (who has had a lot more sex canonically than we’ve seen Pike have!) is solely Team Dad. “Be conscious of the ugly ways that Black male sexuality has been portrayed in the past” is not the same thing as “ignore the fact that this Black male character has a sex life”.

      So obviously the solution is (a) necromancy; (b) Sarek adopts them all. Simple.

      PERFECT.

      To be honest one of my thoughts during the orphanage scene was “Bashir definitely wants to adopt them all and frankly, given that Sisko completely loses the plot for several minutes at the mere mention of BABIES, coming back with a runabout full of orphans and saying he needs bigger quarters because he adopted ALL OF THE CHILDREN would probably be the quickest way to get back on Sisko’s good side”.

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      1. Setting up a well-run, Federation-style-utopian orphanage or foster system on the station seems like it would have been a reasonable solution — none of the adults on DS9 fit in, really, so why should the kids?

        But then I think about the school, and, well, maybe it’s best that didn’t happen.

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