Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Cardassian Plot Thickens With Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's "Cardassians!"

The Good: Characters, Acting
The Bad: Convoluted plot/sense that it has been done before.
The Basics: Part of the essential Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "Cardassians" contains enough in the thematic issues to be enjoyed by a wider audience.

In one of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's most underrated episodes (probably because it has a plot that is very similar to Star Trek The Next Generation's "Suddenly Human," reviewed here!) two of the best characters return: the Cardassian tailor Garak and Gul Dukat. The episode is called "Cardassians" and there are a lot of them in this episode. This marks an interesting moment for Star Trek Deep Space Nine as it takes a somewhat standard plot that has been done before and remakes it with the flavor and timbre of Star Trek Deep Space Nine.

A Cardassian boy who appears on the station with a Bajoran, who is his adopted father. When the boy assaults Garak - who is having lunch with Bashir - the issue of abandoned Cardassian children comes to the forefront. While Sisko discovers the boy's biological father is a prominent Cardassian politician who is still alive, Bashir and Garak delve into the political motivations for the abandonment of the children (in the process uncovering a web of political treachery that is often confusing), and O'Brien takes in the Cardassian boy in a real twist of character. Gul Dukat takes a special interest in the boy and in Garak's involvement in the case, coming to the station to observe Commander Sisko as he essentially arbitrates an adoption case, implying that there is a lot more going on than anyone knows.

While occasionally obvious in its themes, the episode is strong in character and acting. Actually, the writing in this episode is surprisingly strong and the impromptu custody hearing makes the first stitches in a much larger tapestry.

Outside all of the political machinations going on in this episode, the impressive thing about "Cardassians" is how character-focused the episode is. What is heavily a Bashir/Garak episode offers Chief O'Brien one of the best chances for emotional growth throughout the series. As a man who watched one of his former crews slaughtered by Cardassians, O'Brien is a character who (seldom) hides a deep wound toward the Cardassian people. In this episode, he confronts those feelings and is forced to address his own prejudices.

Additionally, it's refreshing to see both Garak and Gul Dukat back on the station and this episode sets up an animosity between the two. It also offers Dr. Bashir a chance to do something other than burst around enthusiastically like a child (though he does that here, too). Getting Bashir off-station and in the field doing actual research reinforces the value of his - often underrated - character.

While the supporting roles are well acted by their respective actors, it is Colm Meany who rules this episode. Every scene he is in as Chief O'Brien he's gold, making it one of his best performances that does not rely on O'Brien suffering. Meany is understated and quiet in a lot of his interactions and he has to deliver some difficult (prejudiced) lines in character to his character's wife and Meany never slips. Meany and Rosalind Chao (Keiko O'Brien) play off one another in a scene that could seem stilted and forced, but they pull off well, relying on their on-screen, adult chemistry.

There's a surprising bit more to the episode than just the obvious things for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fans to enjoy. The ideas of adoption and abandonment, sacrifice and politics are fairly universal and this episode does a rather thorough exploration of all of those.

In a lot of ways, this is the last set-up episode in the Bajoran/Cardassian plot, but it doesn't feel that way. It's like the last seeds are being planted (by having Garak and Gul Dukat) but at the same time, something is growing (in that issues from the Occupation are being dealt with). It's a very good episode for more than just Star Trek Deep Space Nine fans.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Second Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the sophomore season by clicking here!


Check out how this episode stacks up against other episodes and movies in the franchise and visit their reviews through the index page here!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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