Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Second Skin"

***1/2

Air date: 10/24/1994
Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by Les Landau

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Treason, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder." — Garak

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.

Previous episode: Equilibrium
Next episode: The Abandoned

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36 comments on this review

Jayson - Sun, Jun 8, 2008 - 9:18pm (USA Central)
This was a steller outing for DS9 in that it plays to its true strengths, its characters and what makes them tick. It amazes me after two years we are still getting to know Kira and what drives her.

I also loved that we started getting more into Cardassian society which form me, its really wonderful getting to know an alien culture and have it seem creditble.

Finally, this episode sported another outstanding performance by Andrew Robinson especially when he kills Entek and simply says "What a pity, I rather liked him" and casually walks away.
Jakob M. Mokoru - Sun, Jan 11, 2009 - 12:05pm (USA Central)
Really, really fantastic episode with outstanding acting. Especially the Cardies were great (I'll include Kira in this group for this episode). Nearly everything fits - although I'm still asking myself: Who was the dead girl Entek produced as evidence of the "real Kiras" death?
Jayson - Sat, Jun 20, 2009 - 1:56am (USA Central)
I was recently reading through the DS9 Companion and apparently the original ending of this episode was more ambiguous in that Doctor Bashire couldn't determine with 100% accuracy that Kira was Bajoran.
Nic - Wed, Oct 28, 2009 - 8:39pm (USA Central)
Yes, Robert Hewitt Wolfe said that originally he wanted it to be unclear to underline the theme of "it doesn't matter who you've been, it only matters who you are." (which contradicts Dax's line in the previous episode). I'm REALLY GLAD they didn't use this ending, it would be totally ridiculous for Bashir to not be able to tell the difference between a Bajoran and a Cardassian, it's probably the kind of thing a first year medical student can do.
James - Thu, Mar 4, 2010 - 4:23am (USA Central)
@Nic : To be fair, he DID mix up a preganglionic fibre for a postganglionic nerve. I wouldn't put too much stock in Bashir's medical expertise... ;)
Nic - Tue, Apr 27, 2010 - 2:14pm (USA Central)
I hope I'm not giving anything away, but Bashir mixed those up ON PURPOSE to avoid being first in his class.
double m - Tue, May 18, 2010 - 2:24pm (USA Central)
Wow Kira was really hot as cardassiana. I like very much the cardi girls, they look somehow very perverse in their gothic emo look :)))
conroy - Tue, Jun 1, 2010 - 12:59pm (USA Central)
I just watched this episode again for the first time in a year or two. It is still very entertaining and I was surprised to pick up on a few things that I missed the first couple of times.

Here's a sad thought that no one has mentioned so far, in regards to what has become of Gul Ghemor's daughter?

Perhaps, it is this obvious: The body of the "real" Kira, belongs to Iliana Ghemor, post surgery.

The idea didn't occur to me until I read Jammer's review.

"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."

Iliana studied under, and trusted Entek - to her own peril. The Obsidian Order knows exactly where Iliana is, and has accounted for all of their agents.
Dan - Thu, Oct 7, 2010 - 1:14am (USA Central)
Reasonably entertaining, but the utter implausibility of it all kept me from getting too excited. Kira accepts that the technology exists to alter a Cardassian's anatomy (external and internal) so completely that routine Starfleet medical exams reveal nothing amiss? The Obsidian Order prefers this complex, unlikely-to-succeed scheme to the many far-simpler alternatives (use an actor or a hologram; give the real Iliana a placebo; catch Ghemor by, I dunno, spying)? Bajor and Starfleet are willing to accept this major incursion into their turf with zero consequences? Not buying any of it.
Kei - Thu, Dec 2, 2010 - 1:15pm (USA Central)
The DS9 Relaunch novels The Soul Key and Fearful Symmetry expanded on this episode quite a bit. It reveals where they got the body for the dead Kira, as well as what happened to the original Iliana Ghemor. Both are relatively short books -- you'll be able to get through them rather quickly. Don't wanna give any more spoilers here...
Elliott - Sun, Dec 12, 2010 - 1:15am (USA Central)
Now here's an episode that's trying so very hard, and has the potential for a lot more than we get...

There's a lot that's good about this episode; much of the mood painting (Iliana's room is very carefully designed, the mirror in apposed to the window overlooking Cardassia); Garak as usual is far more interesting as a character and better executed as an actor than any of the main cast, but a lot is simply extinguished in terms of drama. First of all, the conversations between Ghemor and Entek clearly point the way at a deception. I can see in that instance it was the fault of the execution (wooden acting) which failed to convince. Since we had just gotten Troi made into a Romulan the previous year, it wasn't such a huge shock to see Kira as a Cardassian either, and the show relied too heavily on that shock-value reveal. The show should have been about Kira coming to terms with her hatred of Cardassians by standing in their shoes for a while, but it quickly goes to the old torture trick looming and becomes a story about how scary the Obsidian Order is. The result is a couple of overacted scenes with Kira meant to portray some sort of emotional schism which are severely forced and unconvincing. For a FAR better execution of this idea, see Voyager's "Faces." DS9 is unapologetic about it's increased sabotage of basic tenants of Star Trek premises. How is the world are we to be convinced that not only is Starfleet okay with Sisko's blackmailing and covert infiltration of Cardassia, they HELPED him by creating false records? What kind of twisted Starfleet is this? Kira isn't even a member of the Federation, how can this be justified? The issue is glaring, but doesn't get adressed at all. Now, the episode really doesn't have room for it, but it amounts to another unexplained change in the continuity of the Star Trek Universe to allow DS9 to make its point that Gene was wrong.
Nick M - Mon, Dec 13, 2010 - 10:02am (USA Central)
double m said something I have been thinking for a while. Am I like the only person that has a thing for Cardassian women? There is a really odd sexiness to them, and Kira looked so amazing as a Cardassian! The jusge in the O-Brien episode was also quite sexy. I am not sure who I find more appealing, from a male-fantasy POV, Vulcan women or Cardassian women.

Any thoughts about this silly, yet valid question?
Jay - Sat, Jan 1, 2011 - 1:11am (USA Central)
What is it about Star Trek women that makes alien races want to kidnap and surgically alter them?...first Troi and now Kira.
Jayson - Sat, Jan 1, 2011 - 1:52am (USA Central)
Jay, in both cases there was a political motivation and in both said cases, the story for both woman was fairly good. Though for Kira it was nothing new but with Deanna it was very rare.
Nic - Wed, Feb 2, 2011 - 9:40am (USA Central)
I'm still wondering how Entek knew about Kira accidentally killing a mother cat thinking it was a Cardassian.
Overthinker - Tue, Feb 22, 2011 - 10:46am (USA Central)
Nic: Here's an interesting thought. Assuming that Entek was correct when he said they implanted Iliana with memories, why not implant Kira with this memory as well? In other words, Entek knew she had that memory as *he* gave it to her....

Nick M: You are not alone. Vulcans over Cardies, but Cardy women are disturbingly hot. More than Klingon, definitely, and the less said about Feregnhi women the better....
enniofan - Sat, Apr 9, 2011 - 8:41pm (USA Central)
I freaking love Garak.
Jayson - Wed, May 4, 2011 - 12:43am (USA Central)
"Pitty, I rather liked him" is the best Garak line in 7 seasons. Also, I recall reading at memory alpha about the producers really wanted to keep the actor and the character Entek around but if Garak doesn't kill him then it takes some of the edge away from Garak.
Captain Tripps - Sat, Sep 17, 2011 - 4:48pm (USA Central)
I thought a major point was made that Kira never DID believe them, she never completely fell for it. She just softened up when she realized that Ghemor believed it.
Jay - Thu, Jun 21, 2012 - 11:24pm (USA Central)
The best hgarak line, I think, is in "Rocks and SHoals", when he and Nog are walking and suddenly Garak gets a funny feeling, and when Nog inquires, he goes "I'm not sure". Seconds later the Jem Hadar do their stealth approach and surround them and he deadpans "Now I'm sure".
Jack - Mon, Nov 26, 2012 - 2:05pm (USA Central)
Yeah it would have been ridiculous to have Bashir unable to determine for sure if Kira was Bajoran or Cardassian, particularly since a few months later, in VOY's State Of Flux, Voyager's Doctor was able to say with certainly that Seska was Cardassian, rather than a Bajoran with Cardassian blood factors.
Comp625 - Thu, Jan 17, 2013 - 11:56am (USA Central)
This was a GREAT episode and better executed than the very comparable (and equally enjoyable) "Face of the Enemy" from TNG.

Like Jammer said, the unfolding events of the episode made me believe, even if only briefly, that perhaps Kira was truly a Cardassian. Just the look in her eyes, her body language and her tone of voice -- Kira was slowly, but surely, breaking. Kudos to Nana Visitor for an excellent performance.

I also want to applaud the writers and producers for their great work; they knew viewers wouldn't easily buy into the "Kira as a Cardassian" concept, so they spent very little time trying to find out her true physiology (e.g. having Bashier run a slew of technobabble DNA tests). Doing so would have been implausible and utterly absurd. Instead, the DS9 crew was busy traveling to Cardassia to rescue Kira, while Kira was a simply plot vehicle that allowed viewers a better glimpse into the Cardassian political atmosphere.

Kudos to Garak/Andrew Robinson, as well. His character is VERY enjoyable, believable and memorable to watch. His exchange with Sisko about getting caught was fantastic and ranks up there as one of my favorite Garak moments, thus far.

GARAK: I'll go along on your fool's errand, but I want one thing to be perfectly clear. I have no intention of sacrificing my life to save yours. If it looks like we're in danger of being captured, if there's any signs of trouble at all, you're on your own.
SISKO: Mister Garak, I believe that's the first completely honest thing you've ever said to me.

My only two (minor) gripes with the episode are as follows:

- Echoing Jakob Mokoru's comment, I wish the episode addressed the unveiled dead body. I bet that limited screen/dialogue time made this difficult, but I was curious if the body was a clone, or if Kira had a twin that she didn't know about. Nevertheless, it does add clout behind the Obsidian Order's ability to successfully pull off their scare tactics and other means of psychological terror.

- How does the Federation continuously infilitrate Cardassia Prime without any problems? In "The Wire," Bashier easily got into Enabran Tain's home (granted, Tain preemptively warned the military of Bashier's arrival). In "Tribunal," Sisko popped into the court room with O'Brien and Odo without any explanation. In this episode, did they use the cloaking device to hide in orbit around Cardassia? If so, did the Romulans allow the Federation to keep the cloaking device? If there wasn't a cloaking device involved, how did they remain undetected? I know Garak fooled Gul Benil with his Alpha Red priority mission clearance, but surely he didn't fool the entire military?

Minor nitpicks aside, this was an overall well done episode. VERY well done.

My rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars (teethering towards a 4 out of 4)
J - Tue, Aug 6, 2013 - 1:49pm (USA Central)
Nick M and double m, you are definitely NOT the only fellas with a thing for Cardassian women. I'll also add that I was a big fan of the scientists in "Destiny".
David J - Thu, Aug 15, 2013 - 3:32pm (USA Central)
I think they should've killed off Ghemor after he left the station. Blown up his ship or something. Give a little more credit to the obsidian order. They just got severely embarrassed and kind of written off with that scene on cardassia.
Kotas - Tue, Oct 22, 2013 - 6:35pm (USA Central)

A good episode; Kira seems to have a lot of them. Is it crazy that I liked Kira as a Cardassian?

7/10
Jack - Fri, Jan 31, 2014 - 2:19pm (USA Central)
Kind of strange fro Kira to say that she dislikes holodecks because anything worth doing there i worth doing in the real world. Except...the holodeck is instant access, without a commute. And the holodeck has safeties, which she should especially like because her very next comment is concern about crashing.
Dusty - Fri, Feb 14, 2014 - 12:16am (USA Central)
A very good episode. Kira looked pretty cool as a faux-Cardassian. At first I thought Ghemor and Entek were playing good cop/bad cop, attempting to brainwash her and get her to reveal inside information about DS9 and Bajor, but it turned out Ghemor wasn't in on it and really thought she was his daughter. A very nice touch, and I liked the ending. I hope they meet again.
Vylora - Thu, Feb 20, 2014 - 2:23pm (USA Central)
I don't see how DS9 was out to "prove Roddenberry was wrong". Granted I believe their was a bit unrealistic over-optimism at times but even the original series had some pretty decently fleshed out grey areas in a few eps. I think a lot of the misconception is not fully understanding the how's and whys DS9 is different than other series and thus seems an antithesis to the original vision.

In DS9 their still IS federation ships out there exploring and encountering new things and learning from them. Their IS lives that are being lived on single ships that are going to be what we saw on other series. DS9 is vastly different because it's under different circumstances. They are on a space station that was owned by a species that brutally occupied another species. The story goes from there and unfolds creatively and more or less logically from that basis while still having plots involving other cultures and internal character studies.

I'm glad that there's another story told here. Very glad. Of course it's not perfect but then I couldn't write it any better. If I want to see stories of a crew slapped on a ship going from one place to the next, where it's much easier to have issues disappear at warp speed til the next system or whatever, then I'll watch one of the other shows. I get that they're a bit different as TNG is a good extension of TOS, VOY is a decent rehash but far from home, and ENT is a different timeline. And I get some different things were tried, especially ENT. But DS9 really knocked it out of the park with really creating a 'melting pot' and expanding on the interactions from there.

Roddenberry wasn't being proved wrong. His universe, thankfully, just expanded its palette.
NCC-1701-Z - Wed, Apr 2, 2014 - 5:58pm (USA Central)
The moment when Garak busts out the "Alpha Red priority mission" to get past the patrol probably ranks somewhere in the Top 5 Garak moments of all time. Number 1 for me would be every scene involving Garak in S6's "In The Pale Moonlight" ("...and the self respect of one Starfleet officer" still gives me shivers to this day).
Quarkissnyder - Mon, Apr 14, 2014 - 9:58pm (USA Central)
While this episode was enjoyable, it had huge plot holes. Why did the Bajoran woman just happen to contact Kira at the beginning of the episode, just when the Cardassians wanted to kidnap her? If she had been working for the Cardassians, then she wouldn't have contacted Sisko when Kira didn't show up. The Cardassians did not need the backstory of Kira just learning that she had supposedly been in the prison.

The idea that in ten years Kira never had a check up, which would have easily revealed that she was Cardassian, is silly.

Why would Kira's interrogator be asking stupid questions that Cardassia easily has the answers to? Wouldn't that tip Kira off that they don't actually want information from her?

I like to think that this episode is actually leading to a triple cross. Kira's "father" is a double agent. The bracelet he gives her is a spy device. His overwrought warning about Garak then takes on a different meaning altogether. It would have made the episode a lot more interesting.
Quarkissnyder - Mon, Apr 14, 2014 - 10:16pm (USA Central)
Also, why does Garak kill the guy instead of stun him? Why does Sisko not have a problem with this?
Robert - Wed, Apr 16, 2014 - 11:35am (USA Central)
"Why did the Bajoran woman just happen to contact Kira at the beginning of the episode, just when the Cardassians wanted to kidnap her? If she had been working for the Cardassians, then she wouldn't have contacted Sisko when Kira didn't show up. The Cardassians did not need the backstory of Kira just learning that she had supposedly been in the prison. "

It's pretty obvious that SOMEBODY was working for the Cardassians, but I doubt it was that woman. The Kobliad woman who kidnaps her watches the communication at the beginning of the episode. Most likely whomever assigned the Bajoran to research Elimspur was working for the Cardassians, even if the woman who contacted Kira was not. The events were clearly not random (as you could see by the Kobliad woman observing) they were planned in some way.

"The idea that in ten years Kira never had a check up, which would have easily revealed that she was Cardassian, is silly."

I believe in Voyager Seska (who was also genetically altered to be Bajoran) scanned as Bajoran to most superficial scans... it wasn't until the doctor kept poking that he discovered she was Cardassian. And she tried to lie it away, claiming a transfusion from a Cardassian caused the readings. The doctor saw through it, but she clearly felt she had enough Bajoran DNA for it to be worth a try. And Voyager (at it's time) was state of the art. DS9 was likely using a lot of old Bajoran equipment and before DS9 she was likely getting even crappier check ups. Voyager's Second Son shows a race genetically altering Harry to not appear human as well. The original ending was going to have the doctor not be able to verify one way or the other.... so clearly the writers thought this tech was good enough to fool medical equipment (or at least it could be).

"Why would Kira's interrogator be asking stupid questions that Cardassia easily has the answers to? Wouldn't that tip Kira off that they don't actually want information from her?"

As far as I know interrogators almost ALWAYS start with the easy stuff. If you're not even willing to admit you've been in Ops, of course you're not going to tell them anything useful. You'd start with the basics (stuff she knows you know), move onto intermediate (stuff she doesn't know if you know) and move on from there. The idea being that there is no point in starting off with things you can't verify....

"I like to think that this episode is actually leading to a triple cross. Kira's "father" is a double agent. The bracelet he gives her is a spy device. His overwrought warning about Garak then takes on a different meaning altogether. It would have made the episode a lot more interesting. "

Have you seen the followup to this episode yet?

"Also, why does Garak kill the guy instead of stun him? Why does Sisko not have a problem with this?"

Considering Sisko later decks Garak for something similar, I agree with you here 100%. It was good for Garak's character to be established with the kind of edge that could just murder somebody like that for the hell of it, but it weakens Sisko's character a bit that he doesn't even so much as grumble about it. I mean.... in the end there's not much he could do. The man just saved his first officer and I HIGHLY doubt that there would be any real consequences for what Garak did... but Sisko is explosive enough (and presumably against murder) that I find it hard to believe nothing came of this. Maybe off screen....
Rivus - Wed, Apr 16, 2014 - 6:26pm (USA Central)
I like to think that the body's purpose was to instill a sense of ambiguity, that it was meant as a side dish for viewers who tried to piece the whole thing together in their heads. I, for one, feel that Ghemor was 99% certain that the dead body was, in fact, his actual daughter. Of course, now that he cannot return to Cardassia Prime, he will never know for sure. It was for this reason that my eyes got a bit cloudy when he gave back the family jewel. Then, of course, he says he hopes he'll find her some day, but again, I think the line was meant, once again, for the sake of ambiguity. It could very well be that he KNOWS he will never find her. That the order would be so cold as to use Ghemor's famillial emotions against him to an end, and that on Cardassia trials are already decided before they begin, I wouldn't put it past them to keep the fake corpse when it was finally time for a new trial to get the people all riled up. They probably knew Ghemor was a traitor from day 1, and the cameras that weren't on? ... Yeaaah I doubt that. Also, the comment about Garak, while could easily put the Legate into question, it could at the same time simply add more depth to DS9's ambiguity figurehead himself.

All in all, "Face of the Enemy" obviously comes to mind (possibly the only Troi episode I actually really enjoyed), but also "Frame of Mind", with the plot centering around trying to convince a main character that their life is a lie. To me, combining two of my favorite TNG episodes together and then having Garak come in and say what pretty much everyone in this comments section was thinking...

" Major, I don't think I've ever seen you looking so ravishing."
Rivus - Wed, Apr 16, 2014 - 6:31pm (USA Central)
*FOR when it was finally time for a new trial to get the people all riled up

But yeah, 4 stars for me, this was excellent. Oh and to the ones questioning Sisko's capacity for blackmail... Episode 1. Quark.
Yanks - Thu, Jul 17, 2014 - 6:55am (USA Central)
Why did Garak kill Entek?

He didn't want the OO to know that he was the one that saved Kira. Also, Entek did draw a weapon on him. Pick whichever one suits you.

It's obvious that the OO set this whole thing up. The "alien woman" was obviously working for the OO and it was her tasking to notify them when Kira found out about the records mismatch.

I enjoyed this episode.

Why use Kira to act as Ghemor's daughter? She resembled his real daughter. He is a member of the Central Command. The OO couldn't even turn on their listening devices without his permission. They needed him to reveal himself as a dissident. They knew Kira wouldn't break. Hence this whole plan.

Funniest exchange?

"KIRA: Don't worry, he's on our side. I think. Come on.
GARAK: Major, I don't think I've ever seen you looking so ravishing."

Best line?

"GARAK: Treason, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder."

Wonderful episode. I won't go 4 stars, but a solid 3.5 for me.
Jack - Wed, Aug 20, 2014 - 3:52pm (USA Central)
Yanks said: He didn't want the OO to know that he was the one that saved Kira.

Entek entered the room with a couple of henchmen with him, and they weren't killed. Surely they saw Garak.

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