Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch: “Cardassians”

Written by Gene Wolande & John Wright and James Crocker
Directed by Cliff Bole
Season 2, Episode 5
Production episode 40512-425
Original air date: October 24, 1993
Stardate: 47177.2

Station log: Bashir and Garak share a drink in the replimat where they see a trader bringing a Bajoran man and a Cardassian child on board. The child is wearing a Bajoran earring, and Garak, intrigued, walks over to say hello. The boy responds by biting Garak’s hand. When Bashir tells the senior staff about it in ops, Kira explains that the boy’s probably one of the many orphans left behind when the Cardassians pulled out.

Dukat calls Sisko to ask about the incident. Sisko is surprised Dukat knows about it so soon, given that Sisko himself only just found out. However, Dukat goes on at (great) length to Sisko on the subject of war orphans and the need to bring them home, and he asks Sisko to investigate the incident and report back to him so he can use it in his fight to get the orphans returned to Cardassia where they belong, not being raised by Bajorans to hate their own kind.

Sisko and Bashir talk to Proka Migdal, the father of the boy, whose name is Rugal. As far as he and his wife are concerned, Rugal is their son. They took him in because they didn’t hold a boy responsible for the crimes of his people.

Bashir then talks to the trader who brought Proka and Rugal on board, who reluctantly tells Bashir that he offered to help Proka find a job, but he also describes an abusive situation where Proka and his wife torment Rugal, and allow other Bajorans to taunt and beat him just for being Cardassian. “He’s their revenge.”

Proka denies it vehemently, but Sisko has to investigate and until that’s done, Sisko asks that Rugal stay with the O’Briens until it’s all cleared up. Proka reluctantly agrees, telling Rugal that they won’t hurt him—“They’re humans, not Cardassians.”

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Cardassians

Garak visits Bashir for a followup on his hand, and the doctor mentions Dukat’s interest in passing. Garak laughs derisively at the notion of Dukat being concerned for Garak’s well being, and points out that the person in charge of the withdrawal from Bajor was, in fact, Dukat. So making sure all Cardassians, including orphans, came home would’ve been his responsibility.

Bashir comes to ops and interrupts a conversation between Dukat and Sisko, asking him why Dukat left the orphans behind. Dukat claims he was ordered to by the civilian authorities. Bashir, though, was under the impression that the civilian government had no authority over military operations. However, Dukat insists that the decision to pull out of Bajor was the civilian authority’s, as was the decision to leave the orphans behind. After Dukat signs off, Bashir insists he’s lying, but Sisko points out that there’s no evidence to support that notion, just half-assed notions from Garak.

O’Brien comes home to discover that Rugal and Molly were playing together, which appalls him. Keiko prepares a Cardassian dish, and neither O’Brien nor Rugal are willing to eat it. Later that night, Rugal tells O’Brien that he wants to go home to Bajor. He hates Cardassians, he hates being a Cardassian, and he forces O’Brien to admit to his own prejudices (to himself, at least, not out loud to Rugal).

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Cardassians

Garak wakes Bashir in the middle of the night saying that they need to go to Bajor. Bashir wakes Sisko up to request a runabout, to which Sisko responds with a symphony in snark, especially since Garak didn’t tell Bashir why. (“Well, by all means. Will one runabout be enough?”) But then Dukat calls, apologizing for the late hour, saying that they’ve identified Rugal as being the son of Kotan Pa’Dar, a prominent member of the civilian government, and the former exarch of a settlement on Bajor. Rugal was believed killed during a terrorist attack eight years earlier. Pa’Dar’s on his way to the station to reclaim his son, but Sisko doesn’t think it’s that simple. The trader who made the accusation about Rugal being abused has disappeared, and there’s no other evidence to support it.

Bashir figures that Garak also heard that Rugal was Pa’Dar’s son, so Sisko grants permission for them to go to Bajor. They go to an orphanage in the Tozhat province to find records of Rugal’s adoption, but the computers are down, and have been for some time. An orphanage filled with Cardassian children isn’t a priority for repair crews, but Garak offers to fix it (thus adding fuel to Bashir’s mental fire that says Garak’s a spy). Garak downloads all the orphanage data to a clip and then they leave—before sadly informing the Cardassian children in the orphanage that he’s not there to take them home.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Cardassians

Garak finally admits to Bashir what’s going on—mostly because Bashir stops the runabout and shuts down his computer search and won’t start either one up until Garak stops being opaque—explaining that Pa’Dar was one of the ones who made the decision to withdraw from Bajor, which cost Dukat his job as prefect. And now this political enemy of Dukat’s suddenly has a long-lost son, whose existence was revealed partly due to Dukat’s machinations.

Pa’Dar arrives on Deep Space 9 and goes to the O’Brien quarters. O’Brien talks to him for a bit, to prepare him for what Rugal has grown into. Pa’Dar explains how he has disgraced himself by allowing his son to be lost to him—family is paramount on Cardassia. Finally, Keiko brings Rugal in, and Pa’Dar is devastated to learn that Rugal doesn’t remember him at all, nor does he want to see pictures of himself as a child. He hates Pa’Dar and refuses to go back to Cardassia—as far as he’s concerned, Pa’Dar’s son did die eight years ago.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Cardassians

While Bashir and Garak don’t find a file on Rugal—Dukat isn’t sloppy enough to leave evidence—they do find the person who was in charge of paperwork at the time, and she remembers Rugal because he was such an odd case: their only boy at the time, he had a name (most didn’t), and he was brought in, not by a Bajoran, but by a Cardassian military officer assigned to the command post at Terok Nor—which is what DS9 was called when it was a Cardassian station, the commanding officer of which was the prefect of Bajor, Gul Dukat.

Sisko agrees to be the arbiter for a custody hearing between Pa’Dar and Proka. Dukat arrives on the station, which raises everyone’s hackles. Sisko questions Pa’Dar, then Rugal, then O’Brien. Bashir and Garak then enter and Bashir asks if he may pose a few questions. There’s an inquiry back on Cardassia about an attempted military coup, which Pa’Dar is leading and which Dukat is a target of. However, when the revelation that Pa’Dar let his son be raised by Bajorans goes public, it will kill his career—and the inquiry. Dukat doesn’t admit to this, of course, but he also leaves the hearing in a huff.

In the end, Sisko finds in favor of Pa’Dar. Rugal was a political pawn in a long game by Dukat and Sisko feels it’s important to undo that damage. Thanks to Bashir’s revelations, Dukat will never let this go public, so Pa’Dar’s career is saved.

For Cardassia!: The decision to pull out of Bajor was made by the Cardassian civilian government (which will later be identified as the Detapa Council), and Dukat (for obvious reasons) objected to it.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Cardassians

Plain, simple: Garak’s back, and his decision to say hi to a kid winds up unraveling a rather nasty conspiracy. This is the first hint that he and Dukat have a past. He and Bashir have been meeting regularly at the replimat sinced “Past Prologue.”

Keep your ears open: “So you deduced that Garak thinks Dukat is lying about something you’re not sure of. Then you proceeded to interrupt my conversation to confront him about whatever that might be.”

“I’m sorry, Commander, it just seemed like an opportune—”

“Don’t apologize. It’s been the high point of my day. Don’t do it again.”

Sisko giving Bashir the velvet glove over the iron fist.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Cardassians

Welcome aboard: Andrew J. Robinson returns as Garak, firmly establishing his role as recurring, while other recurring guests Rosalind Chao (Keiko) and Marc Alaimo (Dukat) are also present. Vidal Peterson, having played D’Tan in “Unification II” on TNG, plays Rugal here, and longtime character actor Terrence Evans returns as Proka, having played one of Mullibok’s mute friends in “Progress”; he’ll also be in Voyager’s “Nemesis.”

And then we have this episode’s Robert Knepper moment as Robert Mandan, probably best known for his role as the womanizing Chester Tate on Soap, plays Pa’Dar. (Confused? Don’t be!)

Trivial matters: This episode establishes that the station’s designation while under Cardassian command was Terok Nor.

The importance Cardassian culture places on family was established back in “Chain of Command, Part II” on TNG, and it comes heavily into play here.

The background for this episode can be found in the Terok Nor novels, Day of the Vipers by James Swallow and Night of the Wolves and Dawn of the Eagles by S.D. Perry & Britta Dennison. Pa’Dar appears in all three, and the explosion in which Pa’Dar believed Rugal to be killed dramatized in the last book.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Cardassians

Una McCormack followed Rugal’s life after this episode in her novel The Never-Ending Sacrifice, which starts right after Rugal goes to Cardassia and continues to show the events of the subsequent eight years through his eyes.

Walk with the Prophets: “I don’t trust coincidences.” There are aspects of this episode that are brilliant. First and foremost is the triumphant return of Garak, rescued from the potential obscurity of being that one-off guest everyone thought was cool and instead being established as one of DS9’s many wonderful recurring characters. Garak continues to deny that he’s a spy, continues to drop hints and obfuscate and lie rather than be straightforward, and continues to ultimately get what he wants in the end. And Andrew Robinson and Siddig el-Fadil continue to sparkle in every scene they have together.

Related to that is the welcome maturation of Bashir from the eager naïf of season one into the more confident young man of season two, who holds his own with Garak (less so with Sisko, whose taking down of the still-a-bit-too-overeager doctor in ops and in his quarters are both magnificent).

Keiko also gets one of her best scenes when she calls O’Brien on his racism. It’s not a particularly pleasant aspect of O’Brien’s character, and it’s given us some ugly moments, notably in “The Wounded,” and we get it again here. The moment when she smacks him down is a triumph, and it forces O’Brien to see Rugal as a person rather than a Cardassian.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Cardassians

And we got lots of cool political stuff involving Cardassians and Bajorans, which is always welcome. The scheming, the political jockeying, the decisions made by powerful people that have unintended consequences to the people on the ground, and so much more. The issue of Cardassian war orphans is a really good one, and the show missed a bet by not coming back to it. There’s some compelling stuff here.

Yet I come away from this episode annoyed and frustrated. For starters, where’s Kira in all this? Aside from a brief bit of exposition and an approving nod to Bashir after he interrupts Sisko and Dukat’s conversation, she’s utterly absent from an episode that she should be front and center of, especially given that she was actually there.

But the biggest issue is that they totally blew the ending. I keep going over the episode and wonder on what Sisko based his decision to separate Rugal from his family and send him to Cardassia to live with his biological father. Pa’Dar wants his son back because that’s what his society tells him to do. Proka wants his son back because he loves him. For that matter, Rugal himself has made it abundantly clear, not once, but many times that he hates Cardassians, loves his parents, and wants to go back to Bajor. O’Brien tells Rugal that his wishes are important, but Sisko shows no evidence of caring about the boy’s desires in his role as arbiter. Is whatever political gain Sisko might get from doing Pa’Dar a favor worth breaking up a loving family? It’s “Suddenly Human” all over again, except without the stabbing-incident-induced realization that nurture is at least as important as nature (and without anybody getting splurted in the face with ice cream).

Worse, this rather important resolution to the plotline that’s been going on all episode is made in a log entry voiceover, as if it’s an afterthought, the episode spending far too much time on the Bashir-Garak bromance and the labyrinthine plotting of Dukat to have leverage on his political enemies, and not enough on Sisko’s decision, and the impact it has on Rugal and on Proka (and in general on Bajor). And in the end, there are still Cardassian orphans stuck on Bajor who want to go home (the scene where they ask Garak if he’s there to take them is heartbreaking).

In the end, Sisko becomes just another powerful person whose decisions have unintended consequences to the people on the ground. We expect that of Pa’Dar and Dukat; our hero is supposed to be better than that, and we’re given absolutely no good reason why he isn’t.

Warp factor rating: 5

Rewatcher’s note: I’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign for a graphic novel based on the universe of my novel Dragon Precinct and its sequels. Art will be by JK Woodward (the artist on the Star Trek/Doctor Who crossover comic book). Please check it out and spread the word!

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be at OSFest 6 in Omaha, Nebraska as one of the Author Guests of Honor this weekend. Come by and see him! His schedule is here.


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