Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Deep Space Nine, Season 2: Cardassians

Deep Space Nine, Season 2
Airdate: October 24, 1993
24 of 173 produced
24 of 173 aired


When Garak notices a Cardassian boy with a Bajoran caretaker, he senses an opportunity to reassert himself in Cardassian politics. His opportunity, though, threatens to upend several lives.

It is... blue-green.


Matthew: So, I really liked this story. I think it ably presented the idea of interracial or international adoption in a "soft sci-fi" context. Sure, perhaps "Suddenly Human" did this on TNG, but this story seemed to make the emotions more identifiable, and at the same time, it led to a deepening of the racial characterization of Cardassians (family is everything), and actually of Bajorans, too. It gave us an interesting aspect of the Cardassian withdrawal, the human cost of any occupying force in a hostile nation. Kids get born and are often caught between forces completely beyond their control. This episode didn't really get at the idea of interracial children, which later episodes would. But I was still engaged and involved emotionally by the plight of Rugal, and the attachments his parents, both adoptive and biological, had to him. Cardassian politics also get some much appreciated detail, with the difference between civilian and military authorities, and the sorts of scandals that might topple a political career.

Kevin: I like the fleshing out of the consequences of the Occupation. I also really liked the fleshing out of Cardassian politics. Dukat was fun in Emissary as a fairly monolithic villain, and it makes him even more interesting to see how he fits into a broader political landscape. Like the opening season arc, it helps keeps the episode interesting by making the political problems real. I liked the angle of exploring Rugal's self-loathing, and wish they had taken it further, I think it would have helped support the eventual conclusion for the episode. Most importantly from an entertainment perspective, every character was actually fleshed out and had credible motivations and responses.

Matthew: The Dukat-Garak enmity was a really fun element of this episode, and for my money, any episode featuring either Dukat or Garak (let alone both) already has a leg up in terms of entertainment value. It's really nice to have characters with long-simmering antagonism. It's a nice break from the happy-touchy-feely-Kumbaya sentiment that pervades many relationships on Trek. But it's even better when it informs us dramatically as to the story at hand, and suggest possibilities for future stories.Why is Garak so keen to expose Dukat's duplicity? It adds a fun edge to the proceedings, and makes their ultimate scene together in this episode really pop. One thing that seemed a tad off to me was the Dabo-playing businessman. Why would Dukat make a point of enlisting his aid in fabricating abuse allegations? Isn't the revelation of Rugal's presence on Bajor enough to tarnish his rival's reputation? In fact, wouldn't be even more damaging if Rugal stayed with a Bajoran family?

Kevin: This is my favorite part of the episode actually. The searching scenes on the runabout had real energy, which they might not have if they weren't executed so cleanly. The scene in the orphanage was also really good, particularly Garak sparring with the administrator and telling the children he's not here for them. The Dabo-player was always off to me too. If nothing else, once Sisko's seems to acknowledge the allegations of abuse are false, his eventual decision becomes even more incomprehensible to me.

Matthew: O'Brien's racism was really interesting, and was a nice follow-up on previous mentions of it in both TNG and DS9. I wish the episode had dwelled on it for a bit longer than it did. I thought it was a neat source of tension between Keiko and Miles. I think the issue of racism could have played a larger role in what I know from our conversation is Kevin's biggest problem with this episode, the arbitration decision to send Rugal back to Cardassia with his biological father. I agree that initially, it might seem cold-hearted or insensitive to take him from his Bajoran parents. For one thing, there is the fact that Rugal was sequestered from his biological parents by an act of fraud. But it could very well be that Sisko was acting in what he thought were Rugal's best interests - that the cultures and species involved were too inflexible to allow him to live a full life in his current position, or that with family being so important to Cardassians, he would receive the more full measure of love there. We shouldn't rush to apply human or even American standards to this. The problem wasn't the decision, it was the relative lack of explanation - Sisko simply mentions that Rugal is a victim and that his healing must begin. How? Where? Why?

Kevin: It's really a credit to both the writing and the actor that O'Brien pulls it off in a way that's not entirely unsympathetic, certainly not two-dimensional. Racism tends to get depicted as a mustache-twirling villain and that's it. This is a more complicated, more real look at it, and I like that Keiko calls him on it, and is upset. It helps push O'Brien's character somewhere, and it's a credible response for your average, non-war-scarred Federation citizen. Further, the O'Briens have always had a very real relationship, and I always like seeing it. As for the arbitration decision....I get that this is not an American, 20th/21st century court, but that doesn't excuse the increasingly long list of procedural shenanigans on this show. It wouldn't be enough to dismiss Kirk's promotion in Star Trek 2009 as the workings of a non-human/non-American system. Part of what we like about Star Trek is its realism, and particularly in a society as civil liberty and substantive fairness happy as the Federation, a robust, well-defined legal system is essential. Shakespeare's line "kill all the lawyers," aside from being the world's most over-used dinner party joke, was spoken by conspirators trying to overthrow the government, knowing that the phalanx of people dedicated to law and order would ensure the smooth transition to the next lawful ruler unless they were also taken out. It bothers me both from a Star Trek perspective and a television drama perspective when there appears to be no rules regarding procedure or substance, and just a lot of speechifying and big decisions at dramatic moments. I mean, even from the start, what the hell is Sisko's jurisdiction? Rugal committed an offense, and the issue is how to handle that. Where did the lawfulness or appropriateness of his adoption even get into it? It's not just that this process is not the American system with which I am all too familiar, it's that it doesn't seem internally logical. How would we feel about a society that could remove a child from his home permanently, arbitrarily for a first criminal offense? Also, this decision was ripe for some Solomon-level splitting of the baby. Leave Rugal where he is, but rule to ensure his biological father is afforded the opportunity to build a relationship. The reverse, him maintaining ties with his adoptive parents would seem impossible in xenophobic Cardassian society. Accepting for the moment that the self-loathing and fraudulent nature of the adoption are enough to justify the decision, the way it was done seems problematic. He hates Cardassians. Being ripped from his home to live with them would only seem inclined to make him hate humans too. Even as a kid, this decision really bothered me. It's not just the absence of American laws, it's the apparent absence of any established body of law and procedure that nags me every time we have a courtroom drama.


Matthew: Andrew Robinson and Marc Alaimo. Ahh, it's so much fun to have dramatically juicy, morally gray, and just darned entertaining characters on this show. The actors play their characters to the hilt. Alaimo masters the knowing look here, communicating all sorts of information while displaying his character's restraint in keeping quiet. And what more can be said of Robinson, other than that his flamboyant but menacing Garak is the highlight of any show he's in?

Kevin: This is one of the times that I actually enjoyed never quite getting the full story of these two. The actors were so good at it, that I enjoyed it on its own. The details of their feud are almost superfluous and that's saying something.

Matthew: Finally, Siddig El Fadil gets a role that suits him, and plays it pretty well. I totally bought his interest in the well being of Rugal particularly, and orphans in general. It makes sense for the character, and he didn't chew the scenery with it. I wonder if Robinson's presence elevates El Fadil's performance in general. Colm Meaney and Rosalind Chao are great as the O'Briens, and I wish Meaney had been given more racism to chew on. What scenes he did get with it had a real bite to them.

Kevin: Like I said, I love that Meany manages to portray his bigotry in a way that doesn't make me hate the character. That's a tightrope. And, yeah, I could watch a sitcom about the O'Briens. This would have been a Very Special Episode of that sitcom, but yeah, they're always great. I agree this is the first time Bashir is not annoying. Maybe it's the first time he hasn't spent the episode hitting on Dax.

Matthew: The guest stars realy work on this show. Vidal Peterson as Rugal portrayed a sullen, shell-shocked teen quite well. Terrence Evans as the adoptive dad, although he bore a distracting resemblance to Craig T. Nelson, had a good energy. You could totally imagine him both beating and loving his adopted son, and it left it mysterious as to which (if not both) was the case. Robert Mandan as the biological dad was quite good, too. He portrayed both the egocentrism of a politician as well as the wounded emotions of an estranged father.

Kevin: Agreed all around. Pa Dar being a two-dimensional bully would have sunk the episode and made Sisko's decision a foregone conclusion. His speech about family and about Rugal's apparent death were quite touching. I liked that it managed to serve to help propel O'Brien to understanding something about Cardassians and himself.

Production Values

Matthew: Cardassian clothing was interesting here. We got a civilian outfit on the father, and it looked pretty nice. Rugal looked really interesting in his Bajoran earring and knitwear. The blue meat stew was suitably gross looking, but still looked enough like food to be convincing. I just want to point out the "explored galaxy" graphic in the classroom, a re-use from "Conspiracy."

Kevin: I really like Cardassian civilian wear, particularly the collar shapes that mimic the neckbones. It looks really credible as clothing. I really want and really do not want to know how they made the blue meat.  The earring looked a little off on Rugal's ear, but I imagine that was the intent.

Matthew: The scenes on Bajor had a really interesting vibe. The Bajor matte painting is really great, with its interesting vista as well as its pedestrian animation. The Bajoran orphanage looked like it totally fit the matte stylistically. I liked the airy outdoor feel, kind of like it was in New Mexico or something. The computer looked good, too.

Kevin: This is definitely one of the best match-ups between the matte and the set. I agree on the orphanage too. It's a soundstage, but I was this close to thinking it was really an outdoor set.


Matthew: I ended up really liking this one. I'm going to give it a 4. I think it had nagging questions that keep a 5 off the table, but the story covered interesting emotional ground, it was very well acted (especially by Robinson), and the production was solid.

Kevin I am going with a 3. Aside from my issues with the support and logic of the ruling, I think it got a little talky toward the middle, around the scene with the Dabo-player. It slowed the episode down a bit too much for me. And like I said, it's not that they don't have an American sytle court, as they seem to have no style of court, instead one that merely melds to the dramatic needs of the script. It's a neat idea, and certainly well acted, I just can't get around the arbitrary nature of the proceeding and the decision. That makes a total of 7.

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