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?
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:
- 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.
- Garak’s slightly unhinged laughter in response to Bashir’s “you never mentioned you [and Dukat] were friends”.
- 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.
- Bashir being so excited about all of this that he literally jumps off the lift into Ops before it comes to a complete stop
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Good LORD, Cardassian-heavy episodes really seem to be the horniest.
- 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.
- Bashir, for ~intrigue~, and also, very much, for Garak
- Garak, for ~intrigue~, for fucking with Dukat, and for Bashir, perhaps not in that order
- 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.
— Juliashanah tovah (@juleshastweets) September 25, 2019