Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine



Air date: 10/25/1993
Teleplay by James Crocker
Story by Gene Wolande & John Wright
Directed by Cliff Bole

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Cardassians" is another stellar episode that highlights what DS9's true strengths are. A young, adopted Cardassian boy named Rugel comes to DS9 with his Bajoran father, but when Rugel bites Garak's hand, a troubling issue appears: Is this a person who has been taught by his Bajoran parents to hate his own kind?

Like many DS9 installments, this episode brings up some extremely sophisticated, relevant themes with tough grey areas: racial hatred, the problems of making generalities, the burden of prejudices by a devastated people, and even agonizing child custody issues. One thing for certain has been reiterated by this story: The Cardassians are not simply villains to be exploited for shallow plots; they're a fountain of potential for asking probing, intelligent questions that force us to think about a situation from many sides—as this episode does.

Big issues aside, this episode packs quite an emotional wallop, as the young boy, his Bajoran father (Terrence Evans), and even the Cardassian father (Robert Mandan)—who suddenly learns his son is still alive—become the victims in a game of political intrigue set in motion by none other than the self-serving Gul Dukat. The complex plot is wound together with extreme adeptness, and benefits from the entertaining pairing of Bashir and the incredibly interesting and observant Garak, who persistently investigate the political intrigue as it unfolds.

The scenes with Miles, Keiko, and Rugel are also enlightening and well-acted. Amid the fury of revelations supplied at the end of the episode, it's not exactly clear how Dukat was able to obtain the young Rugel all those years ago, but overall this plot is very sensible and executed with confidence. This is a quiet episode you shouldn't miss.

Previous episode: Invasive Procedures
Next episode: Melora

Season Index

34 comments on this review

Paul York - Wed, Jun 6, 2012 - 9:16am (USA Central)
Sad that no one cared for the Cardassian orphans ... not even Garek. It seemed a bit implausible that they should be there. Much more plausible is that many children would have Cardassian fathers whom they did not know, and Bajoran mothers who had been raped (we know that the two species can produce offspring, as Dukat's daughters' existence reveals).

A minor issue: in a real legal hearing, heresy testimony (that of the Bajoran administrator who compiled the records years earlier) would not be allowed. To admit her testimony into the record, she would have had to have travelled to the station with Bashir or spoken over a screen, live, to the group, and been sworn in as a witness.

Lastly, it seems strange that Sisko would be in the position to act as a judge in a custody hearing. Doesn't DS9 have a legal expert on hand, versed in both Cardassian and Bajoran law? And what of the boy's wishes -- he seemed to be of the age of reason.

This episode raised some good issues.
Mat - Tue, Oct 16, 2012 - 7:59pm (USA Central)
It wasn't a legal matter. Sisko was merely acting as a mediator for the boy's two fathers.
Arachnea - Tue, Nov 6, 2012 - 9:29pm (USA Central)
I have to say that the end appalled me !

Garak and Dukat are two of the most interesting characters on DS9 and the uncovering of the political conspiracy was captivating.

But the problem of the custody has been poorly handled. In TNG's Suddenly Human, the blood family of the boy doesn't get a chance to see him (the end was too rushed), but at least the boy's voice was heard.

Here, the poor child's voice is lost in the vacuum of space ! Because he's been raised by Bajorans, he fears cardassians. He doesn't remember anything before he was adopted, yet he's given no choice but to go to Cardassia with a total stranger (to him) ? His adopted family was obviously loving and it was reciprocal. Will they even get to see him again ?

I could have settled for a visit to Cardassia in order for him to learn about his roots and culture and then let the child choose for himself. Maybe I react so hard because I've been adopted and I can't imagine being ripped of my adopted parents at age 12 even if I suffered a lot from racism (40 years ago, there weren't many asian or black people in my country)and by the fact that I was completely stripped of my original culture: that didn't impede me to learn it later. Well, you can see the parallelism and you get my point, this end doesn't feel very Trekian to me and ruins an otherwise above average episode.
Rob - Fri, Feb 22, 2013 - 7:34pm (USA Central)
@Paul York - Hearsay is generally not admissible in the United States, but this is not necessarily true in other countries. For example, in England hearsay is generally admissible in civil cases (like a custody case).

So considering this case has a Federation citizen acting as a mediator between a Bajorian and a Cardasian, Sisko allowing hearsay testimony doesn't seem out of line.
T'Paul - Mon, Jul 1, 2013 - 5:45pm (USA Central)
This shows why a static Star Trek was able to do things starship Star Trek couldn't...

Seeing Miles come to terms with his hate for the Cardassians over the dinner table with Molly, having a wide range of Cardassians (and Bajorans) appear on the show, etc., etc., we get to see the consequences of "exploration" and wheeling and dealing that Picard and co. don't have to deal with
azcats - Fri, Sep 20, 2013 - 1:11pm (USA Central)

i agree, i thought it was interesting that O'brien said his "hateful" thing then realized later that he caouldnt hate all cardassians.

i enjoyed this episode. once again, Garak and Dukat make for fascinating story lines.

cardassians are the best alien species on Trek.
Kotas - Tue, Oct 22, 2013 - 3:32pm (USA Central)

I found the kid annoying, but Cardassians a very interesting species. A solid episode.

Jack - Wed, Jan 22, 2014 - 4:54pm (USA Central)
Cardassian flesh is almost human colored in this episode...odd to see it compared to the gray it was both earlier and later.
Dusty - Wed, Feb 26, 2014 - 5:03am (USA Central)
A great, great episode except for Rugel going back to Cardassia. That just wasn't convincing. Why would he care about the circumstances surrounding his adoption? It's important insofar as Dukat's plan being foiled (which Bashir did a great job of, incidentally), but I still think the kid would want to stay with the family that brought him up. Garak, as usual, was brilliant.
Frank - Sun, Mar 2, 2014 - 10:30am (USA Central)
Wouldn't the O'Briens be made aware of the child's upbringing on Bajor and aversion to Cardassians? I cringed when Keiko made the Cardassian dish. They were clearly improperly briefed about this temporary guest.
Ravo - Sun, Jun 15, 2014 - 5:11am (USA Central)
Just rewatched this and while I enjoyed it, I also noticed two terrible flaws;
1) Why on earth did Sisko arbitrarily decide to send a Cardassian boy to Mile's quarters? Especially a boy who just bit the hand of another person? And why does it seem like no one consulted O'brian with this decision, one I doubt he would have initially agreed with. Surely Sisko could not have ordered him to do so. Maybe an explanation got left on the editing room floor?
2) Who told Dukat that the orphan was on the station? The only air time this question gets is Sisko briefly mentioning it to Dukat. After that, it seems no one cares.
Yanks - Thu, Jun 26, 2014 - 7:59am (USA Central)
Interesting episode.

I don't know that the hearsay concerns are warranted. This wasn't a trial, and Dukat clearly acknowledged the validity of Bashir's "story".

Garak is just so frakin AWESOME!! I just loved it when he just stood back and smiled, letting Bashir win the moment. I truly enjoy the Bashir/Garak relationship.

There is no doubt that the Bajoran parents would have been anti-Cardassian and probably taught the boy the "truth" with an edge, but damn.... they looked past their hatred for Cardassian's enough to care and love this boy for what, 8 years? The boy CLEARLY wanted to stay with his adopted parents... screw them I guess.

“After long and difficult deliberations, I have decided to allow Pa'Dar to take his son back to Cardassia. Although I am convinced his Bajoran foster parents treated him with love, Rugal has been the clear victim in this conspiracy. I believe it's time for his healing to begin.”

I’m not saying that Sisko’s decision was wrong, but at least indicate that the Bajoran parents agree or this is a trial period to allow the boy to make an informed decision or something. I think that’s a key part the writers left out.

I am continually impressed with the actors DS9 casts to play Cardassians. VERY impressed with Robert Mandan. Great presence and projection. I was truly convinced that "family" is a prominent part of Cardassian culture, not just thrown in here to save face.

I too thought the boy’s complexion was off for a Cardassian. He looked to have a “Bajoran tint” to him. I kept thinking during this episode that we’d find out the mother was Bajoran or something.

This is one of the few episodes I liked Keiko. The way her and Miles handled this uncomfortable situation was outstanding.

3 of 4 stars for me. Very intriguing episode.
DLPB - Mon, Aug 11, 2014 - 9:43am (USA Central)
The ending was appalling. The kid's wants were completely ignored. In real life, if you have never met your father, and you don't want to go with him, and you have good foster parents... that's the end of it. Sending a child to live in a totally alien culture (to him) and to leave behind people he is now fully bonded with, is a crime.
Robert - Mon, Aug 11, 2014 - 10:22am (USA Central)
"The ending was appalling. The kid's wants were completely ignored. In real life, if you have never met your father, and you don't want to go with him, and you have good foster parents... that's the end of it. Sending a child to live in a totally alien culture (to him) and to leave behind people he is now fully bonded with, is a crime. "

The catch here is that the child was stolen. I don't know that I agree with the verdict either... but Gul Dukat LITERALLY stole the child and brought him to an orphanage. This happens in real life... children are taken from their parents in some countries and end up in orphanages where American parents adopt them only to find out years later the child was not really given up for adoption or orphaned.

There's LITERALLY no good solution to these cases.
DLPB - Mon, Aug 11, 2014 - 6:34pm (USA Central)
I'd say ripping him from two loving parents who he considers his parents, is the worst solution.
JanB - Fri, Nov 28, 2014 - 7:53am (USA Central)
The wishes of the child were completely ignored and he would be taken to a planet where he knew no one, probably couldn't even speak or read the language.

Also, am I the only one who thinks it's weird that they completely ignored that Cardassia was an Orwellian dictatorship where you could be murdered by the state for the smallest things, while Bajor was a free society expected to become a Federation member within a few years? About the only thing Cardassia had over Bajor was that it was more wealthy but the boy's adopted Bajoran parents didn't seem to be anywhere near starvation, he even went to school, so that difference wasn't relevant here.
Dimpy - Sat, Jan 31, 2015 - 2:19am (USA Central)

Sisko ruins kids life.

The real resolution is joint custody. Spend time with both sets of parents.
SamSimon - Sat, Mar 14, 2015 - 3:00pm (USA Central)
This is one of the many episodes that prove that Garak is possibly the best character in the DS9 universe.

Simply amazing. Great episode, great themes, great characters.
MsV - Mon, Apr 6, 2015 - 5:56am (USA Central)
Did anyone notice Keiko's blunder? Why would she prepare Rugal Cardassian food. She knew he hated Cardasians.

I think the boy should have been placed with his bio father. This way he could start his healing process and truly accept who he is.
Nathan B. - Fri, Jul 10, 2015 - 8:01pm (USA Central)
I think Keiko's offering of Cardassian food to Rugel is an instance of very adept scriptwriting. The choice of Cardassian food could be understood as tone-deaf. But it could also be that Keiko and/or Miles were asked by Sisko to provide food that would "expose" him to Cardassian culture. Both explanations are not mutually exclusive. With that one simple dish serving, the storytellers have shown the DS9 crew as human: well-intentioned in a very difficult situation, but ham-fisted. The dish thus foreshadows the atrocious ending.
Nathan B. - Fri, Jul 10, 2015 - 8:06pm (USA Central)
I should probably say, "the tragic ending." I thought the choice and the way it was made (without consulting Rugel at all) atrocious--but that was Sisko the character's fault, not a fault in scriptwriting.
William B - Sat, Aug 8, 2015 - 3:39pm (USA Central)
As in "In the Hands of the Prophets," "Cardassians" presents a dilemma with clear social commentary, only to (eventually) pull the rug out from under it, to reveal that the situation was manufactured by an unscrupulous person for political gain. And as in "ItHotP," this has mixed results. On the one hand, revealing (eventually) that Rugal was found by Dukat's people and sent to a Bajoran orphanage so that he might, years later, be used to destroy Dukat's rival's career at an opportune moment underlines the way in which personal lives are destroyed due to the political scheming of power-hungry men at the top, rather like the notion that Keiko and the Bajoran children's lives are upended in order for Winn to carry out her assassination. This has real-life resonances for all politicians who manufacture crises in order to gain power, and is a valuable tragedy in that sense. On the other hand, it means that the episode gives the short shrift to the social commentary of the complex, murky situation itself. Dukat is a fascinating and complex character, but in this story in particular he is a villain, and his entry into the story ends up distracting from the initial, no-true-villains situation with Rugal and his Bajoran and Cardassian fathers, to the point where the "resolution" to this significant plot is done in a *log entry*, with half a sentence of justification, after Bashir showboats at the arbitration to reveal Dukat's villainy. While we can view this as again bringing forth the tragedy of Rugal's situation -- the distraction of the political maneuvering of Dukat ends up eclipsing what is best for Rugal -- I think some of the blame lies on the episode itself for "deciding" that the political maneuvering is that much more interesting a story.

So, to reiterate, the big, gaping flaw in the episode is the way Sisko's decision at the end of the episode, about Rugal, is given the short shrift. It is by most measures I can think of the *wrong decision* and I don't think I understand why Sisko made it. I don't require that I agree with the decisions made by main characters, but I must at least understand them and feel that the proper weight is given to these decisions. In that sense, the resolution to the custody case makes me retroactively find greater appreciation for TNG's "Suddenly Human," which I laid into a fair bit. While I do think that's a deeply flawed episode, and I think there are some significant errors in the logic presented, Picard's decision takes into account Jono's wishes, allows time for us to see Jono's connection to both cultures, and Picard's reasons are clearly indicated. We get none of that with Sisko.

Here is what I think Sisko's decision is based on, based on the structure of the episode: Bashir's interrogation of Dukat at the episode's end is the last we see of the hearing Sisko convenes, and there it is revealed that Rugal was kidnapped by Pa'Dar, not abandoned as the result of deliberate or incidental neglect. This means that it is not Pa'Dar's fault what happened to his son, *except insofar as* it's his fault for participating in the Bajoran Occupation by his presence at all. However, that Pa'Dar is blameless as an individual parent makes his having his child kidnapped *tragic* and a great injustice, but does not automatically mean that the return of the child against the child's wishes is the best outcome remaining, since children are not property but thinking and breathing creatures. There is no final conversation with Rugal's Bajoran parents (and his mother doesn't even get transportation to the station for the hearing, seemingly), nor a final explicit statement on how Rugal feels about the decision.

This is a shame because the episode had generally done a good job of showing Rugal's perspective, as well as the complicated feelings underlying it. While I do think it's very likely that his Bajoran parents were not abusive and were not taking their hatred of Cardassians out on Rugal; I tend to think that the freighter captain was paid off by Dukat to say something like that in order to expedite the process of returning Rugal to Cardassia, removing his Bajoran parents' rights so that the return and disgrace could be expedited. And his parents do indeed seem to have been pretty truthful about what Cardassians did to Bajor, though their generalizations about what all Cardassians are like are bound to be incomplete. What the episode does do is demonstrate that it is somewhat unavoidable that there will be some consequences to instilling this kind of disgust with "Cardassians," as a group, when one is biologically Cardassian; most Bajoran adolescents don't go biting Cardassians, for example, and the enmity that Rugal shows seems to me to be a need to separate himself from his Cardassian-ness as much as possible. He is going to go through life feeling that people look at him as a people that he has been trained to hate; and to embrace his Cardassian heritage would be a betrayal of the people who raised him, scarred as they were by the Occupation. Meanwhile, even if he does, eventually, manage to sever his roots from Bajor when he returns to Cardassia, anyone who knows about his past will likely look down on him, as orphans are given no status in Cardassia and he spent much of his time that way, and people who don't may start on an intense rant about Bajorans or some such, because Cardassian society is awful.

Rugal's scenes with O'Brien do, I think, help him, by giving him another perspective on what it means to be Cardassian from another person who shares Rugal's initial distaste for Cardassians. I like that O'Brien's unhappiness with having Rugal staying in their quarters is not pure racism, but a combination of his own issues with Cardassians piled on top of an understandable reaction to not being consulted about a weird kid staying in his home (Keiko agreeing to be amateur schoolteacher also means that she's now the station's full-service social worker?) and that said weird kid just attacked someone by biting them. However, while I think O'Brien has been aware that his feelings of Cardassians are not wholly rational and have elements of guilt for what he had to do during the war, it's still difficult to adjust to a Cardassian in his own home. He and Rugal end up bonding over it, and O'Brien's realization that Rugal is a decent kid whose internalized disgust at Cardassians manifests as self-hatred helps O'Brien to use his *own* experience pushing through his own prejudices to teach Rugal that he can do the same. In a sense, all O'Brien is doing is convincing Rugal that Rugal is a good person, which his parents no doubt have told him; but I suspect that his parents' reassurances always have some element of "you can't help that you're Cardassian," whereas O'Brien finally settles on "you are Cardassian and are still a good person." Since Rugal can't quite exorcise his Cardassian-ness, finding some level of acceptance that Cardassians *can* be good people, even if they have to be separated from Cardassian society for this to be done, is probably helpful.

The Bashir/Garak/Dukat material, meanwhile, is not quite as meaty (and ends up distracting from the Rugal story, at the end) but is a lot of fun, dropping hints about what makes Garak and Dukat tick while Bashir finds himself attempting to function in a situation he's been bizarrely thrust into. I love the way that Garak essentially uses Bashir as something like a "beard"; the one Cardassian on DS9 is hardly in a position to start poking around Bajoran orphanages for information, nor having a direct line to Sisko. That Garak is very much using Bashir is uncomfortable and Bashir does not quite seem to know what to make of it, but I think Garak also sees something in Bashir that makes him a perfect candidate for the lonely guy to spend his time with. I think in "Past Prologue," it was simply that Bashir is young and impressionable, but by this point Bashir has very much gotten into, and is fascinated by, the conversational games, and his enlisting Bashir as the front for his own investigation is an act that is good for Bashir too, both in terms of helping him get to the truth, which these do-gooder Starfleet types want, and in giving him quite the adventure. That Garak genuinely seems pleased with Bashir's performance at the end of the episode further suggests the way Garak sees Bashir as protege who, maybe, can be made into enough of a spy/companion to...what? For Garak to share some of his secrets with? For Garak to share some of his methods with? For Garak to simply have a friend (perhaps with some homoerotic subtext) who can understand him, even if he cannot reveal everything? Garak's reasons for devoting so much energy to Bashir are not simply a matter anymore of how useful he can be, but the exact reasons are suitably vague.

One scene that gains particularly power later in the series is Garak's reaction to the Cardassian orphans who ask him if he is there to take them away. "I'm afraid not, child." There is a hint of sadness in his voice. Next scene, he is back to chipper-Garak, saying that he doesn't make the rules about orphans being nothing in Cardassia, and it can read on first glance as if Garak is coming from a position like Dukat's, viewing the plight of the orphans as mostly irrelevant except as a tool for political maneuvering. But later in the series (spoiler), it is established that Garak is Tain's illegitimate child, to say nothing of Garak's almost-relationship with Ziyal, to say nothing of the fact that Garak is himself an outcast in exile from Cardassia, discarded by the machine that he had so completely served. Garak's unwillingness to *seriously* question the Cardassian value system, instead taking potshots at particularly egregious offenders like Dukat, has its own elements of self-loathing as well as a fairly typical response of a neglected, unwanted child growing to idealize and love his parent all the more -- parent here being Tain, yes, but more broadly Cardassia, which holds his love even as it dooms itself further and further.

Bashir's own enthusiasm is fun to see, and one of my favourite Sisko moments in the season is this scene with Bashir, which I quote in full because it's funny:

BASHIR: He's lying.
SISKO: Is that an opinion, or do you have evidence to support it?
BASHIR: I have Garak.
SISKO: Garak.
BASHIR: He seems to think there's more going on here than we realise.
SISKO: What exactly does he think is going on?
BASHIR: I'm not sure. He doesn't actually tell me what he really thinks. I sort of have to deduce it.
SISKO: So, you deduced that Garak thinks Dukat is lying about something you're not sure of and you proceeded to interrupt my conversation to confront him about whatever that may be.
BASHIR: I'm sorry, Commander. It just seemed an opportune --
SISKO: Don't apologise. It's been the high point of my day. Don't do it again.

That Bashir turns his initial, embarrassing attempt to extract information out of Dukat into the victorious win he has at the end of the episode, while still basically acting out Garak's interests for him, is a lot of fun.

I don't really feel I need to elaborate further on why Garak and Dukat's personalities are so appealing to have in an episode. My favourite Garak moment is when he bursts out laughing, nearly choking on Dukat's ridiculous "THINK OF THE CHILDREN" passion for helping the orphans of Cardassia, and the follow-up question, in which he asks Bashir for a single trait to describe the Cardassians and settles, somewhat improbably, on "attention to detail."

The Bashir/Garak/Dukat material is a delight from start to finish, and *most* of the Rugal material is fine. If only Sisko's decision at the end weren't rendered with no explanation.... I don't even mind main characters making clearly wrong decisions, but some reasons would be nice. In spite of that, I think this episode can hang onto a marginal 3.5 stars, though it's on the border with 3 stars.
MsV - Wed, Aug 26, 2015 - 11:58am (USA Central)
To William B, I enjoyed reading your lengthy but well expressed post. I have found it very difficult to understand how you didn't take a personal stance on the Rugal portion of your post. I'll tell you why I looked at this from a personal view point; I am a mother, if someone stole my baby from me and stuck him in an orphanage, allowing my enemy to raise him, I would have been crushed. While adding insult to injury, my child thinks I am a butcher, and hates who he is. I will assume I still had some sanity left and reluctantly allowed Sisko to intervene, there would be nothing he could say but take your child home.

I would not share him with anyone. I would try everything I could to get those 8 years back. We would have extensive counseling, I would introduce him to "good" Cardassians. I would find a priest to cast those demons out of him. I am saying Aint no mountain high enough to keep him from me and to teach him to love himself. That Bajoran father was so full of hate, he poisoned Rugal's view of himself. In my opinion, that's worse than a beating.

PaDar should not have been on Bajor, but since he was there was no reason for Dukat to do this to the man or his son. Personally, the show would have ended because Dukat would be dead.
William B - Wed, Aug 26, 2015 - 12:13pm (USA Central)
@MsV, thank you. I understand and respect what you say here -- but I disagree and I come about it from a very different perspective. I am not sure what to say about my not explaining my stance well enough or emotionally enough regarding Rugal. My personal take is that it seems as if Rugal's adopted parents raised him and gave him love, and Rugal clearly wants to stay with them. Rugal seems to me to be well old enough to make his own decisions. I do think his adopted parents told him awful things about Cardassians, and that has affected Rugal's psyche, but that doesn't mean that his adoptive parents are wrong. Given that Pa'Dar had no responsibility for his son being taken from him, I don't hold Pa'Dar in any contempt and nor is there any reason he should *not* want to recover his son. But Rugal's wishes should come first, unless he truly has been brainwashed by the Bajorans -- which is, yes, a possibility worth examining, but which I object.

Here is my *personal* perspective, and maybe this will help explain things: my parents divorced when I was very young. My father was very abusive. My mother took me away in the middle of the night. My father very much believed that she had no right to take me away. Now, I *did* continue seeing him (visitation) for several years, but eventually he and I lost contact. Nowadays, I am told he tells other people that my mother denied him visitation. My mother did not deny him visitation, but she did tell me enough about what he was like for me to not want to see him. I would say that this has had some negative impacts on me; that my mother hates my father for what he has done to her is not always easy for me, particularly when I see some of his traits in me. I think she could have dealt with the emotional dynamics much more delicately with me than she did. But the bottom line is that she was trying her best to be honest with me about a very difficult situation, and she is the person who gave me the greatest care. My father may well have loved me, and may still do so, but he is/was also a dangerous person, who treated my primary caregiver very badly.

There are many key differences in our situations, and I am not claiming that they are the same. But I sympathize most with Rugal and I think his right to make the decision about where to go trumps other concerns. His having developed self-hatred of a sort as a result of what his parents told him, truthfully, about the Cardassians is tragic, but it does not mean that his parents should have told the truth either. Rugal cannot automatically be shipped off to his biological relative just because that biological relative wants to have a relationship with him, and removing him from the people who cared for him for years and years without his approval is about the worst thing I can imagine happening to him. That Rugal has some ambivalence -- with O'Brien he seems to recognize that maybe there are things about Cardassians he might want to learn more about -- complicates matters, maybe, but it doesn't change the fundamental balance.

I didn't go into this because, well, it's personal, but also because I think it's more a flaw of the episode that Sisko's reasoning isn't discussed, and thus Rugal's character arc is left floating in the wind. The episode doesn't fully deal with what this decision means for Rugal, so I skimmed over that besides pointing out what the episode was failing to do.

This is all, of course, my own personal opinion, influenced by my own experiences, and I do not claim to hold the absolute truth or to know that I am right.
Elliott - Thu, Aug 27, 2015 - 4:56pm (USA Central)
Teaser : ***, 5%

Hark! What do I see, but the return of Garak! Rejoice!

Garak toys a bit with Bashir (come on boys, hook up already!), while the latter tries to get Garak to confess his [former] status as a spy. Amid their conversation about lingering distrust between Cardassians and Bajorans, a Cardassian child (a rare sight on DS9 to be sure) arrives accompanied by a Bajoran guardian. The boy is wearing a Bajoran earring (because they ALL practise exactly the same religion, don't be stupid) and gives Garak a cold stare. Garak attempts to make, erm, conversation (“What a handsome young man you have here.”) The boy bites Garak severely on the hand. At this point, we have to assume that the boy was raised in the Catholic sect of the Bajoran uni-religion and has been conditioned to react this way to pædophilic advances...

Act 1 : **.5, 17%

Kira deduces that the boy is an orphan left behind after the Cardassians pulled out of Bajor. Apparently, many Bajorans chose to raise the orphans as their own children. Cue a message from Dukat, who learned of the “assault” on Garak before Bashir even made it up to Ops. Dukat naturally uses the event to justify his own opinion that the war-orphans are being raised to “hate their own kind.” His next bit, “Why would he attack poor Garak, an amiable fellow if ever there was one?” is difficult to scrutinise as a viewer who knows the later exploration of their history and relationship, but I'm going to try in the context of what we know at this point; Garak is the only Cardassian who chose to remain on DS9 after the Occupation; the only Cardassian we have seen arrive on DS9 so far was murdered by a Bajoran; the Cardassians actively tried to oust the Federation from Bajor by supplying the rebels in the Circle. So, Dukat finds his fellow Cardassian Garak amiable but is willing to risk his being murdered by vengeful Bajorans and makes no mention of his involvement in or collusion with the takeover of DS9 just a few episodes prior? That should be a big red flag to Sisko, but he seems to miss it entirely.

Question: Bajor has been a free nation for about a year now correct? So it's safe to assume that Rugal (the boy) was adopted by his foster parents around that time as well. Rugal is at *least* ten years old, I'd say, so how did his intense hatred for Cardassians arise in just a year's time?

Rugal's foster father makes a good case for why trauma victims like the entire Bajoran population might not make the best parents for trauma victims like the war-orphans; he made no attempt to curtail his son's hatred for his people. Now of course, no one really had a choice, but the Bajorans continue to be presented in this series like battered wives or soldiers with PTSD, in other words, not as people who should be making the kinds of decisions with which they are entrusted.

Bashir strikes up a conversation with Rugal's foster father's travelling companion trying to learn more. The companion reveals the other side to his foster parents' attitude of acceptance—the constant abuse by other traumatised Bajorans who view his as “Cardassian scum...Rugal is their revenge, their revenge against all Cardassians.”

And again, I'm stumped by legal questions: Sisko insists (nay, demands) that Rugal be kept under Keiko's watch while they investigate claims about Rugal's mistreatment. Okay, surely the treatment of foster children is entirely a civil matter and thus the purview of the civilian (Bajoran) government, meaning whoever replaced Jarro should be making this call, correct, or at least Kira? It seems highly unlikely that the Bajoran government, such as it is, would sanction the separation of child and parent on the grounds that the Bajorans are brutalising a Cardassain! So, is this a Federation initiative? Is Sisko doing this to appease Dukat? How does the Bajoran government feel about that? They've had a say every other time Sisko has stepped in during civil matters haven't they? Remember this kind of thing when criticising Voyager's issues with addressing the Maquis...

Act 2 : **.5, 17%

Bashir it seems has completely accepted the premise that Rugal's life was in jeopardy while he remained on Bajor, disclosing to Garak his feelings that “a wounded hand is certainly worth saving a boy's life.” A priceless moment follows when Garak bursts out laughing at the suggestion that he and Dukat were friends. Garak points out the obvious to Bashir : “Do you think we simply forgot about those poor orphans when we left Bajor?” It turns out Dukat was in charge of the Cardassian withdrawal; the same man who is so eager to bring home the war-orphans is the one who purposefully left them behind.

Dukat and Sisko are discussing the details of determining Rugal's parentage when Bashir pipes in and directly addresses Dukat, prompting an hilarious grimace from Sisko. Dukat claims that he was ordered to withdraw and to leave the orphans behind. William B's quote above follows, and I fully concur that it's a golden moment in this episode.

And the writers decide to remind us they hate us by continuing to present Miles as the regressed trauma victim he was in the first part of “The Wounded:” by having him utter a statement so baldly racist that Keiko has to point out how “ugly” it was.

I have made statements before alluding to the ineptitude of DS9's writers in questioning the Star Trek ethos and this is a prime example. It's one thing to say, “The Roddenberry human seems too perfect. I'm going to use our show to expose cracks in the veneer that reveal a more complex truth to this Universe,” and quite another to say, “The Roddenberry human seems too perfect. I'm going to have one of them exhibit a racism on par with your average Klan member.” Subtlety, thy name is DS9.

Anyway, at least Keiko continues to be my hero on this series, having absolutely no tolerance for Miles' character assassination, I mean character growth. Ah, but we get this great moment where both Rugal and O'Brien push away their Cardassian meal which Keiko thoughtfully prepared and lock eyes, creating a bond between them. Nothing like blind, hateful bigotry to bring people together!

I apologise that this act seems to keep inviting digressions, but I can't help myself. Later that night, O'Brien comments to Rugal that it must be hard living amongst Bajorans as a Cardassian, to which the boy responds, “It's not my fault! I was born that way.” The immediate association this brings to mind is, of course, homosexuality. O'Brien uncomfortably responds that there's “nothing wrong with being Cardassian,” (rather tepidly, but at least he says it). Rugal is convinced (by his adopted parents) that there *is* something wrong with it. After all, Cardassians occupied Bajor and all but destroyed their society. The allegorical translation is that Rugal's parents have told him that the way he is is wrong, but not his fault, akin to “you didn't ask to be born as a sinful homosexual, but you are.” I can't think of anything more damaging to a child's psyche than this kind of taught self-hatred. Bear this in mind.

Act 3 : ***.5, 17%

“Come doctor. Get dressed. We need to be going,” cooed the mischievous tailor to his sleeping companion...

Bashir, unsure, but titillated, awakens his commander. Benjamin greets the young doctor in his velvet, barely-there robes. He is clearly unhappy with the young man. He might need to be punished.

“I'm waiting,” he says.

Commence the fan fiction!

Dukat, who is apparently content to sit dressed in his military uniform at his desk during every waking and unwaking hour, calls Commander Naughty Robes to inform him that he has discovered Rugal's biological parentage. Dukat has sent the boy's bio father to DS9 to collect him. In light of this mysterious behaviour, Sisko authorises Bashir and Garak to travel (alone) to Bajor. Ahem.

At the orphanage, Garak is his usual magnanimous self, making friends...it's all pretty hilarious stuff. During the humorous search, a few Cardassian orphans emerge and ask if Garak is going to return them to Cardassia, jack-knifing a bit of pathos into the mix. Quite a different take from Rugal's, I see.

Act 4 : ***, 17%

Bashir has had enough work for the day. He orders the computer shut down all engines, dims the lights and turns his heavy gaze to Garak...

Actually, he's angry with Garak for “playing games” with the lives of the abandoned children on Bajor and Garak returns to his Socratic method. His “I believe in coincidences. Coincidences happen every day. But I don't trust coincidences,” is worth the price of admission here. It turns out Rugal's father is a political enemy of Dukat's and thus, it appears that Dukat has been manipulating the situation with Rugal since before the Cardassian withdrawal.

Pa'dar (the biodad) arrives and, for not the first time, Sisko has sent O'Brien, his engineer, to greet a foreign visitor. Geez.

O'Brien warns Biodad about Rugal's prejudices, and Biodad is clearly a social conservative when it comes to Cardassian culture, disgraced that he has not been able to raise his son. Rugal is brought in by Keiko, who tries to facilitate the beginnings of a bond between Biodad and his son. Alas, Rugal has been too indoctrinated against his people to allow himself to be open to his father's overtures.

Sisko agrees to arbitrate the dispute between the dads as to Rugal's custody. Aren't there any lawyers in the Federation? Why is it that command officers end up fighting legal disputes in civilian cases so often?

Odo calls in to inform Sisko that Dukat has arrived on DS9.

Duhn duhn dunn!!!!!

Act 5 : *.5, 17%

Dukat does his best Helen Lovejoy “What about the children!?” while Garak makes a realisation: Dukat must have purged Rugal's adoption file.

Bashir contacts Rugal's adopting agent, who reports that Rugal was brought to the orphange by a female Cardassian solider serving on Tarak Nor (DS9 before it was DS9, of course).

Considering Sisko's, “don't do it again,” from before, he sure takes Bashir's interruption of the trial rather easily...Bashir begins to unravel Dukat's scheme: he had Rugal stolen from Biodad and planted as an orphan on Bajor in order to “someday humiliate” Biodad (there's a hearing taking place on Cardassia and apparently Dukat would benefit from Biodad's career ending). Except, the only real evidence Bashir has in the testimony of the social worker. Anyone ever heard of circumstantial evidence? Eh, whatever. Dukat leaves in a huff, so we can assume it's all true.

As William B. pointed out, Sisko's decision regarding Rugal's custody is not even glossed over, it's just skipped entirely.

There's a little coda with Bashir and Garak. Something about crumbs...

Episode as Functionary : **, 10%

I actually find this episode very difficult to rate. As William B. rightfully complained, the meatier, emotionally complex story of Rugal is sacrificed to the political story with Dukat, Bashir and Garak. But the latter story is so much better executed and enjoyable, I almost want to forgive them. I'm reminded of Star Trek IX, where complex issues are brought up, glossed over and basically forgotten in order to have a “fun and sexy” romp in space. In the end though, too much of the story here is devoted to the meatier issues and the better B story (though it's technically not a separate story) is not nearly as amusing as it thinks it is, though it does have some notably brilliant moments. For me this story's value is in furthering my own Bashir/Garak fanfic and for reminding me that Keiko is awesome. But really, as intended, the episode is actually and tragically a failure. I have no idea what to think about Rugal or the issue of wartime orphans other than what I might care to make up in my mind (or observe as speculated by others). Dukat's political duplicity is nothing new. The real success here is introducing us more fully to Garak, which earns this episode its points.

Final Score : **.5
William B - Thu, Aug 27, 2015 - 8:22pm (USA Central)
@Elliott, it's funny that I agree with most of your review and still rate the episode more highly. Your post (and MsV's comment to me) did make me realize that I gave a bit of the short shrift (originally) in talking about why I think Rugal's desire to stay with his parents probably should be respected.

First point: I assumed that the Rugal was adopted before the end of the Occupation. We know he was dropped off by Dukat's lackey eight years ago, at the Bajoran orphanage. We know that the Bajorans ran some functions in the Occupation, and this is probably one of them.

That Rugal bit another Cardassian is a big, neon sign pointing at big self-hatred, and it's hard to believe his parents did not indoctrinate him with race-hatred, especially when they say things like YOU CAN TRUST THEM, THEY'RE HUMANS, NOT CARDASSIANS -- which does make it very much seem like he is in need of some real counseling, and maybe even some stable foster care, maybe part time. However, the choice is still kind of between Bajoran parents who do seem to love him, with big blinders, and a Cardassian father he has not seen in years, and who was an active, high-level political participant in a huge machine of destruction, i.e. the Occupation. That his Bajoran parents are unconcerned about his hatred of Cardassians is a huge red flag that they are not fully fit parents, but I am not sure that it's cause to take Rugal away against his wishes -- and especially not to remove him to Cardassia which is itself repressive, anti-orphan, and to Pa'Dar who we also know has little interest in helping the Cardassian orphans beyond his son, and so is also likely to send his son signals that he dislikes him for his Bajoran-ness. It's a bad situation, and short of letting Keiko or another enlightened (?) neutral person with no cause to hate or disrespect Cardassians or Bajorans or orpahns raise him, nowhere will result in the best outcome for Rugal, which means that his preferences rule even though those preferences are obviously going to be dominated by some of the unhealthy things he's been told. Rugal, and those he represents, are in quite a bad spot -- despised by Bajorans as Cardassians, despised by Cardassians as orphans.

I do think that the writing and acting around Rugal is strong enough to get to some of these complexities -- though I'd have to rewatch to talk about this closely. I mean, Rugal biting Garak is a very weird, off-putting way to start the episode, and makes his more nuanced, reasonable response later a bit odd -- so it's not like it's perfect. However, neither his Bajoran parents nor Pa'Dar are particularly well developed, so that his character exists somewhat in isolation and it is a bit hard to evaluate the larger social forces at work that act to squeeze the kid out to an unhappy place.

"I have no idea what to think about Rugal or the issue of wartime orphans other than what I might care to make up in my mind (or observe as speculated by others)."

And that's the crux of it. I feel that the episode did give enough for Rugal to come alive in the ways I articulte here, for me -- but I also know I'm bringing my own baggage and history to it, and the episode's running off for fun times with Garak and Bashir, while I'm certainly not complaining in those scenes in and of themselves, do mean that I can't say with much certainty what is actually going on. I also feel frustrated with DS9 sometimes because I can't quite tell if what I'm seeing is ambiguity or sloppiness -- which makes episodes like this hard to rate. (For the record, Blood Oath comes to mind as another where I can't quite tell what to think about the ostensible central character -- Jadzia, there -- but I like the episode so much that I am tempted to overlook it, and mostly do, provisionally.)

I really agree about O'Brien. O'Brien's casual racism is so bizarre, especially because he wasn't even like that in the beginning of The Wounded, where he was understandably wary and standoffish with Cardassian soldiers rather than using racial epithets about teenagers -- and there he had already gotten to "It's not you I hate, Cardassian" within about a day.
Elliott - Fri, Aug 28, 2015 - 10:20am (USA Central)
@William B. : Episodes like this are exactly why I chose to do the act by act reviews. I think I enjoyed the episode as much as you did, but, as the "Episode as Functionary" paragraph points out, I do think the episode failed at what it had set out to do overall. Sometimes that's just the way these things go--I have similar feelings about VOY episodes like "Fair Haven." Unlike many, I generally enjoy the interaction of the characters there and find the story understated but pleasant. I do agree with most however who say the premise of the episode is completely flawed. I suspect my review when we get there will be similar to this one.

"I also feel frustrated with DS9 sometimes because I can't quite tell if what I'm seeing is ambiguity or sloppiness -- which makes episodes like this hard to rate."

I have gone on the record about this before--I don't really think it's either most of the time. Or rather, it *is* ambiguity over sloppiness, but the ambiguity is there for its own sake rather than because it makes any sense. It's a kind of slight-of-hand magic trick meant to mimic depth or complexity, but too often it's really just a bit of audience pandering or writers' righteousness. The early seasons aren't so egregious in these tricks but it starts to get really frustrating during S5-7.
William B - Fri, Aug 28, 2015 - 12:18pm (USA Central)
I remember enjoying Fair Haven when it aired and then agreeing when I read the negative reviews a few days later, actually (I have not revisited it any time recently), so I can see that as another example.

I was curious a while back when an episode might have an "Episode Functionary" rating significantly different than an act-by-act rating, and this seems like a good example. It really is, to me, a very good episode hampered by a frustrating non-ending -- but it's not as simple as that, because it's not like one could really fix the episode's problems by rewriting the last few minutes.

Actually, what may have helped the episode is simply to have the decision be taken out of Sisko's hands for some reason. The Prime Directive causes a lot of headaches for fans and the series, but one advantage of it narratively (in addition to its various other advantages) is that it also allows tragedies to unfold without (necessarily) forcing our heroes into making bad decisions (or glossing over the ambiguous decisions they make). It wouldn't remove the episode's problems, but having Rugal unhappily go off with his father, uncertain of what lies in store for him, would be a more satisfying ending if this was *also* the result of the larger sociopolitical machine that unscrupulous characters like Dukat manipulate for their gain, rather than because Sisko decided it offscreen for some reason.
MsV - Thu, Sep 3, 2015 - 8:41am (USA Central)
William B, Thank you for sharing you personal experience. I will be brief, as I truly understand what you went through when your parents divorced. I had a similar experience after my divorce. I said nothing to my son until he was a about 5 and he asked me where was his daddy. I told him that he lived across town and I didn't know why he didn't come to see him but he could come anytime he wanted to see him. I gave him all the love I had, I even attempted to watch football and baseball with him. (I never liked sports) I refused to unload all of our garbage on my son. I remarried when he was 6 to a wonderful man that doesn't care for Star Trek at all. My second husband came in like a straight arrow,he told my son that he would be his dad and he would never have to look for him because he would always be there; He has kept his word. Ex- husband took us to court to re-gain his parenting rights, when my son was 15. My ex was rejected by my son because he started accusing me of keeping them apart. I took this approach because I wasn't going to be the villain, I let him learn about his dad on his own.

@Elliot I like your "Acts" I agreed with most of it especially about Dukat sitting at his desk in his uniform at any hour day or night. Also when you asked "aren't there any lawyers in the Federation" I think they could have gotten that Admiral from TNG "Drumhead" to arbitrate and it really would have been a fiasco.

@William B, I agree they should have had Sisko give a more detailed explanation of his decision to give rugal back to his father, but I don't think Rugal is capable to making this decision because he doesn't have all the pieces to the puzzle, when he goes home with the butcher he will find that all Cardassians are not the same.
Rush - Tue, Sep 15, 2015 - 11:04am (USA Central)
Contemporary Western legal practice only considers the well-being of the child. It's tragic what happened to Pa'Dar, but it doesn't matter at this point.

Rugel is loved by his parents and Bajoran society seems pretty accepting of Cardassian orphans. Uprooting him from this environment against his will can hardly be called "healing process".

Sure, everybody could do a better job at not being racist and separating what *some* Cardassians do from the whole of the Cardassian people. But most Cardassians depicted on the show thus far, including Pa'Dar (just watch his reaction) seem to look down on Bajorans universally, too.
So after eight years of hating Cardassians, the boy will now spend the next eight learning to hate Bajorans.

There's also the fact that he is handed over to a totalitarian regime. One, where he was already used once to get to his father and might very well be again - it's seems rather commonplace on Cardassia.

Lastly, it was never explored whether or not Pa'Dar is actually a good father.

In the end, the motives of giving Rugel to his father seem racist: Each to his own.
JMT - Mon, Oct 12, 2015 - 5:15pm (USA Central)
One thing I'll say that DS9 has over TNG is the use of child actors. I was also impressed with how pulled into the Garak/Bashir/Dukat dynamic I became. I'm viewing this for the first time so I don't know how everything is going to turn out, but neither Garak nor Dukat really strike me as having anybody but their own interests at heart.

I disagreed with Sisko's choice, and I can certainly see the other side of the issue, but it's disconcerting that the authors felt no need to explain his position. Maybe this is meant to make the Sisko character come off as wise and mysterious, but without the explanation the decision comes off as arbitrary.
Del_Duio - Tue, Oct 13, 2015 - 11:05am (USA Central)
JMT, you're right- if you don't count Molly O'Brien. Yeesh!
Diamond Dave - Tue, Nov 10, 2015 - 1:50pm (USA Central)
Strong episode. We deal with a number of sophisticated themes in a balanced way, all underpinned by intriguing political machinations.

Garak is of course a joy - his beaming face behind Dukat towards the end a particularly pleasure. Once again we see Cardassians portrayed as family centred rather than simple comic book villains. O'Brien has to deal with his own prejudices. And it all comes to a conclusion where there are no perfect answers. 3.5 stars.
Barney Holmes - Wed, Nov 11, 2015 - 5:22am (USA Central)
Found this page after wondering about the ending. Took me a while, but it seems obvious that, even though Dukat did not get what he wanted (or did he?), the consequences if his actions forced Sisko into his funal decision. I think its deliberately left unclear. Notice Bashir's and Garaks talk of "coincidences", and his final words about "crumbs on the table" representing evidence that Bashir is more than capable if putting together ... just as we are. That's what I liked bout this episode, its not all spelt out ... and remember when it was made ... well before 911, Iraq, WoT and what we now casually dismiss as scheming politicians. Back in 93 we were all the good guys after the fall of the Berlin Wall ! But the writers of this episode seemed a bit wiser.

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