The Cardassians kidnap Kira and surgically alter her appearance into that of a Cardassian. Then they tell her she's really an undercover Cardassian spy named Iliana Ghemor, whose real memory had been erased and original appearance changed to Bajoran so she could infiltrate Bajor. Now they want the information she was to gather.
"Second Skin" proves itself as an atypical drama when it could've been a complete failure. The writers have crafted the story such that it appears to the audience the Cardassians might very well be telling the truth. While the episode is, in a way, a series of fabrications that try to convince us that it's going to completely rewrite Kira's backstory, it works because of its emotional sincerity. Sure, by the end we find out that, yes, the Cardassians were lying and, no, Kira isn't really a Cardassian. But the episode doesn't really rely on the identity gag because it reveals true substance as it unfolds.
It's a terrific story with some great dramatic moments, with the added bonus of a satisfying conclusion—a refreshing cheat-free venture into Cardassian political problems.
Although the episode spends plenty of time trying to convince us Kira is a Cardassian—and does so quite well by offering so much indicative evidence that even I was having brief second thoughts—the heart of the episode really lies in the characters.
It's really about how Kira finally accepts a lie after having it drilled into her head over and over. It also gives Kira a chance to develop a friendship with Cardassian Ghemor (Lawrence Pressman), who adamantly claims he's her father. The scenes between Kira and Ghemor are right on target, because they're both victims of the same deception—the underhanded plotting by Cardassian Entek (Gregory Sierra) to expose Ghemor as a traitor trying to bring change to Cardassian society.
Ghemor did indeed have an undercover daughter on Bajor named Iliana, and Entek uses Kira's resemblance to Iliana as a ploy to manipulate Ghemor.
Entek is a member of the Obsidian Order, a powerful, all-knowing Cardassian variation of Big Brother. He's the worst type of villain—the kind who claims to be your friend and then stabs you in the back. The Obsidian Order also has the resources to make a ruse seem disturbingly real, as Entek offers the initially disbelieving Kira so much evidence she eventually cracks and accepts the lies as truths.
Both Visitor and Pressman turn in moving performances, and newcomer David Bell's score is a majestic and emotional triumph, breaking the predominant monotony turned out many weeks by Trek music veterans McCarthy and Chattaway at the demand of the producers—music that, quite frankly, I'm sick of.
Further propelling the story is a B-plot with Sisko taking the Defiant to track Kira down with the help of Garak and Odo. Robinson, as always, gets some of the best-timed lines and most interesting dialogue. (His character has emerged as one of the cast's best, and I say it's time to put his credit in the opening title with everyone else's.) A scene where they charge in to the rescue works surprisingly well, and the potentially obvious gag where Odo uses his morphing ability to foil Entek is so well-executed that I almost wanted to cheer.Another interesting part of "Second Skin" is the rare look into Cardassian civilization, which, based on what Star Trek has offered so far, seems like a civilization inspired from Orwell's 1984. As seen here and before, the Cardassians' Obsidian Order bares many obvious similarities to Big Brother; those who oppose it are destroyed. As seen in "Tribunal," any innocent person can be guilty of a crime at the government's discretion. Subtle visuals such as a large telescreen mounted on the side of a Cardassian building are also reminiscent of Orwellian motifs. Picard's torture in TNG's "Chain of Command II" was nearly a total reenactment of Orwell's torture scene near the end of his novel. In "Chain of Command II," Gul Madred tortures Picard into believing there are five lights when in reality there are only four. In 1984, Orwell's hero is forced into believing his torturer is holding up five fingers when in reality he is holding up just four. Coincidence?
Very interesting. All around, a very well-done Trek.