Y’all, I love this one. I just adore it. Admittedly, as previously established, I generally don’t mind (or at least have a high tolerance for) the Ferengi episodes, and I love Cardassian drama, so “Quark’s ex is prominent figure in the Cardassian dissident movement, also Garak is there” is an easy sell for me.
You know what else I really enjoy? Remixes, mash-ups, song covers, remakes that take the opportunity to bring a new angle to the source material, and transformative works in general. So “DS9 does Casablanca, featuring Quark as Rick, his Cardassian ex as both Laszlo and Ilsa, and Garak as Renault” may be an even easier sell for me.
(Apparently the Casablanca parallels in this one were, initially, even more blatant, including the title just being “Here’s Lookin’ At You”, and they literally got legal warnings and had to do a better job of filing off the serial numbers.)
“I stick my neck out for nobody.”
I found it interesting to learn that neither Ira Steven Behr nor Michael Piller liked this episode; Behr felt that it made Quark too heroic. I could see that point in that it doesn’t represent a major change in behavior or personality for Quark; he’s largely the same as the show continues (although as I’ve noted before, I also don’t think he’s nearly as traditional a Ferengi as he thinks he should be).
That said, as someone who loves Casablanca, but does also spend a lot of it side-eyeing the more Extremely Seventy-Seven Years Ago bits, and who, for instance, cheers when Ilsa calls Rick a coward who’s taking his anger at her out on the world, I…actually really enjoyed that the Rick role is played by Quark, who’s very much acknowledged to be Not A Hero (hell, just a couple of episodes ago, Kira was calling him a collaborator). I may be overthinking it or giving the episode too much credit, but on the other hand, this is one of the relatively few episodes of DS9 credited to a female writer, so it may not be an accident that it actually takes a lot of the things that I find frustrating about Casablanca now, almost eighty years later, and plays with them a bit.
Plus, honestly, for my money, Cardassians are also the hottest of Star Trek‘s aliens, so I find it very easy to identify with Quark here. Like, goddamn, how is everyone on the station not in love with Natima? She’s hot and she’s an antifascist revolutionary! I get it, Quark, I totally get it.
I think I’ve mentioned this before, or at least implied it, but if not: one of my biggest takeaways from this rewatch has been a new appreciation for Armin Shimerman’s performance. This episode is definitely a good example of why, but honestly, all along, he’s elevated the character so far above what was written and given him a dignity and, for lack of a better term, a humanity, that I’m not sure many actors could have.
Speaking of the performances, the scene in Quark’s room, when Natima comes to him for the
letters of transit cloaking device, is really lovely? Apparently despite the fact that the actors’ makeup was constantly having to be retouched because every time they kissed it would get messed up, the makeup supervisor considers it one of the best scenes in the show, because it’s so believable. I’d actually said something similar in my notes, that it was really impressive how natural Shimerman and Mary Crosby made the little touches and kisses, so that I could genuinely believe they were touching each other’s skin rather than latex prosthetics. I was really impressed, in Star Trek: Discovery, with Mary Chieffo’s performance and how expressive she managed to be as L’Rell despite wearing, to borrow a phrase from Jason Isaacs, a bowling ball’s worth of prosthetics on her face; Shimerman’s performance is impressive in the same way.
(Also, I love that, when Natima apologizes for the things she’d said about him previously, and he asks if she really didn’t mean them, she just tells him she loves him. Which is not actually a no.)
“Don’t you sometimes wonder if it’s worth all this? I mean what you’re fighting for.”
This is the first time we hear about the Cardassian dissident movement, which, for my money, may have been the greatest of the show’s missed opportunities. Admittedly, given my love of anything to do with Cardassians, I’m biased. But the little hints we get of the movement, and of more widespread Cardassian resistance to the Central Command, are absolutely fascinating to me. Natima Lang’s time working on Terok Nor (as non-military personnel, it sounded like, and possibly not a government employee either? my impression of “correspondent for the Cardassian Communication Service” was that she was a reporter) radicalized her against military rule; Marritza was trying to force his people to reckon with the Occupation; hell, Li Nalas and the prisoners in his camp were rescued when a guard worked with another prisoner to smuggle his earring out. Even with as little we have to go on for it, I find the whole dissident movement interesting enough, and emotionally resonant enough, that it’s genuinely upsetting for me when the fledgling democratic government is deposed by Dukat’s Dominion-backed coup.
(On my wish list for the Picard series: some kind of hint of what’s happened during the rebuilding of Cardassia, particularly in light of a map seen at a recent convention that shows Cardassia situated inside the UFP’s borders, suggesting that, in the decades following DS9, they’ve joined the Federation. If they really wanted to make my day/month/decade, those hints could also feature Garak.)
Seriously, though, I would watch an entire friggin’ spinoff about the dissident movement in general, and Lang in particular. Apparently in the Star Trek Online game, set a few decades after the end of the Dominion War, she’s head of the Detapa Council, which is yet another aspect of that game that makes me sorry I don’t like MMORPGs.
Speaking of Cardassian politics…
“You’re the only one in Casablanca who has even less scruples than I.”
GAAAAAAAARAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAK. Whew, it is a testament to how much I like everything else that is going on in this episode that it’s taken me this long to talk about the parts involving Garak??? Oh my stars, Robinson and Shimerman just run off with this episode and it is glorious.
Garak-related things I love in this episode:
- That he flat-out tells Bashir he’s an exiled spy, and Bashir is, at this point, so used to his nonsense that he doesn’t even bat an eyelash because who knows if that’s just more BS.
- When he tells Sisko to come down to the shop sometime, which I read very much as a compliment on Sisko’s ability to play the game like a Cardassian.
- On that note, the way Avery Brooks plays the ah, shit moment when Natima mentions that Garak saw her and her students.
- Every single thing about his one-on-one scene with Quark in the shop.
- “You wouldn’t last five minutes on Cardassia.” “Would you?” “Fishing again, Doctor?”
- “They made you a gul? I didn’t realize the situation on Cardassia had gotten so desparate.” GARAK IS SUCH A BITCH AND I LOVE IT
- The, beginning where he and Bashir are discussing Cardassian literature and he says he would choose protecting the state over protecting another person every time, is so incredibly unsubtle and I don’t even care, I was humming “La Marseillaise” to myself off and on throughout the episode and I loved every minute of it.
- Quark, for Natima Lang.
- Natima Lang, for Cardassia and also for Quark, in that order.
- Garak, for Cardassia and for Bashir; also, IMO, for Sisko, and probably a little bit for Natima Lang, too.
- Me, for Natima Lang and Cardassian drama in general.
- Bashir, for Garak, and whew, what a wild episode it’s been that Bashir is at the bottom of this ranking. (Or perhaps, given it’s him and Garak we’re talking about, it is, in fact, entirely appropriate that he is on the bottom. HEYOOOOO)