February 15, 2012

Blog Space Nine part #3: "Cardassians"

When the tailor Garak spies another Cardassian on the station - a teenage boy wearing Bajoran dress - he is intrigued, and moves to introduce himself. His encounter leads Commander Sisko and his crew to uncover the shameful existence of Cardassian war orphans - children left behind on Bajor when the Cardassian Union withdrew. The boy's real father is found - but does the boy wish to be repatriated with his own people?

The thing that I have always loved about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was the degree to which it explored the culture of a few key civilizations. Other Star Treks travelled around the galaxy, leading more often than not to a continuing factory line of interchangeable bumpy-headed aliens. Deep Space Nine, by virtue of its sitting in the one location, was able to explore the culture of both the Bajorans and Cardassians to a degree never previously done in SF television - and I'm not sure it's ever been done since (to be fair, Babylon 5 - through the Minbari, Narn and Centauri - gets remarkably close).

It's a wonderfully complex episode, in which there are no clear answers to some of the key problems. Rugal, a Cardassian boy raised by Bajorans to hate his own people, brings with him a great sense of tragedy; for him there is no fully satisfactory conclusion, and to their credit the production team don't feel obliged to give him one.

One thing Rugal's presence on the station does provide is a chance for the series to confront Engineering Chief Miles O'Brien's lingering racism against the Cardassians. He fought against them in a border war early in his career, and his prejudice against the entire species is challenged when a troubled, emotionally conflicted teenage boy is temporarily fostered with his family. This kind of character work would be unheard of in Star Trek or The Next Generation, and such character flaws help define Deep Space Nine as such a distinct work.

The primary guest star of the episode is Garak, played by Andrew Robinson. Garak has always been one of my favourite Deep Space Nine characters. He is funny but also unsettling. He constantly claims that he's nothing but "plain and simple", and protests he's simply a tailor, however it is constantly and increasingly apparent that he's lying through his teeth. His friendship with Dr Bashir is one of the series' most interesting elements.

This is definitely an episode to file under "good": this leaves Deep Space Nine's second season running at five good episodes out of five, or 100%.

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