Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch: “Second Skin”

“Second Skin”
Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by Les Landau
Season 3, Episode 5
Production episode 40512-451
Original air date: October 24, 1994
Stardate: unknown

Station log: Kira gets a call from the Bajoran Central Archives. A woman there is doing a study on the Elemspur Detention Center and wants to ask Kira a few questions. Kira’s happy to help, but she was never at Elemspur. However, the archivist has a detailed record showing that Kira was detained at Elemspur for seven days—something Kira herself has no memory of.

And then the camera pans up to a woman we’ve never seen before looking on mysteriously. That isn’t foreshadowy at all!

Kira and Odo go over the records. Kira’s quite sure the records are fake, as she remembers that week, and the weeks around it, clearly. The entire Shakaar resistance cell was hunkered down in the Dakhur Hills with no power cells for their phasers, very little food, and constantly hiding in caves from Cardassian sensor sweeps. She was not in a detention center.

Three people were listed as cellmates of hers, and one is still alive. They contact him, and he recognizes her, saying he last saw her being dragged out of the cell by Cardassians. Fed up, Kira boards a transport to Bajor to figure out what’s going on. Also boarding the transport: the mystery woman who watched Kira take the call from the archives.

Bashir meets Garak in the replimat, and the tailor laments that he’s only left the station once in the past three years (in “Cardassians”), though he loves to travel. However space, he cautions, is dangerous.

As if to prove Garak’s point, the archivist calls DS9 saying that Kira never arrived for her appointment. No one’s seen her since she landed on Bajor.

Kira is awakened with a hypo administered by the mysterious woman. Looking in a mirror, she sees herself as a Cardassian. She’s, to say the least, livid, not aided by the very calm reasonable tone adopted by the Caradassian in the room, an Obsidian Order agent named Entek. He insists that she’s a Cardassian deep-cover agent named Iliana Ghemor, and this is her extraction. He’s not interrogating her or hurting her, he’s just welcoming her home. Such long-term operatives have their memories altered so they won’t be discovered, so he doesn’t expect Kira to believe that the truth until the memory block is removed, but that could take time.

And it’s a good thing he doesn’t expect that, because Kira is a most recalcitrant prisoner. But Entek insists that ten years ago they kidnapped a Bajoran terrorist and replaced her with Iliana. Also the room she’s in isn’t a prison: it’s her room, the one she grew up in. He leaves for her a recording of a statement Iliana made before going on her assignment.

Dax and Odo do a thorough investigation of the area around Elemspur. Only one witness thinks he might have seen Kira, and Dax found an electrostatic charge, indicating she might have been beamed away (or also possibly indicating that she was disintegrated by a phaser or disruptor on the high setting).

Entek introduces Kira to Iliana’s father: Legate Tekeny Ghemor. There’s no love lost between Ghemor and Entek, and Ghemor is particularly pissed at being kept waiting in his own house. However, he’s overjoyed to see his daughter again. Kira, though, insists that her father died on Bajor fighting Cardassians. Ghemor asks that she consider herself a guest in the house until her memories return. To punctuate the point, he brings her breakfast—which interrupts Kira’s search for the Obsidian Order surveillance device, which Ghemor happily tells her is in the corner by the window. It’s also not active, as he’s a member of Central Command. He even made her Bajoran food for breakfast, knowing that was what she’d be used to. Ghemor talks about his daughter, wishing she’d become an artist rather than an agent of the Order, but she wanted to serve Cardassia; tellingly, Ghemor muses that Cardassia could use fewer agents and more artists.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Second Skin

Ghemor compares her stubbornness to that of her mother, but Kira insists her mother was an icon painter who died when she was three, not an inquisitor at a Cardassian university. Kira’s also impressed with how talented Ghemor’s act is.

Garak has heard from friends in Cardassia that Kira is being held by the Obsidian Order. He shares this with Bashir, who shares it with Sisko, who drags Garak into Odo’s office. They’re mounting a rescue mission, with a disguised Defiant (O’Brien’s modified the shield so they’ll look like a Kobheerian freighter), faked transit documents, and the very reluctant cooperation of Garak, who only goes along because Sisko threatens to give in to those Bajoran ministers who want Garak kicked off the station, a request they’ll relent on if he proves useful in rescuing a major in the Bajoran Militia from Cardassian clutches. (“Commander, this is extortion,” Garak says, to which Sisko’s smiling reply is, “Yes, it is.”)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Second Skin

Entek insists on interrogating Kira. Ghemor is not happy, as her memories haven’t returned yet. That concerns Entek, as it’s been two days, and memories usually come back in a couple of hours. Entek can’t wait any longer. Ghemor reminds Kira that he’ll be in the next room, but Entek insists he won’t hurt her, she’s one of their own. Ghemor snidely tells Entek that he’ll be in the next room to remind him of that in case he forgets.

Kira spews some magnificent bullshit in response to Entek’s questions (she wasn’t allowed in Ops, there are 30,000 Starfleet personnel assigned, etc.). Entek decides to show her something that will convince her: the corpse of a ten-years-younger Kira Nerys, cryogenically stored in case it was needed. Kira insists it’s fake, but then Entek tells her a story about her youth, which Kira insists she never told anyone. But Entek knows it also, because he put it in her head.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Second Skin

Then he asks the most important question: if she wasn’t Entek’s operative, why would he be playing this game?

Kira tires to escape, but she trips a silent alarm, which alerts Ghemor. He says that he won’t let the Order harm her no matter what. He also urges her to listen to the recording Entek left for her, which she does. She sees a patriotic Cardassian who wants her parents to be proud of her, and who believes that the terrorism on Bajor needs to be stopped.

The Defiant is in Cardassian space, and being hailed by two Galor-class ships. There’s heavy Maquis activity in the area, so they’re boarding all ships. If they get too close, they’ll be identifiable as a Starfleet vessel rather than the Kobheerian freighter they’re pretending to be. Garak, however, is able to get them out of it with an Obsidian Order code that he’s obviously been holding up his sleeve for a while.

Kira is devastated by the recording, as she’s finally starting to believe this might be true. But she still can’t answer any questions. Before Entek’s interrogation gets any more intense, Ghemor interrupts. Entek insists this is Order business, and that they have autonomy, but Ghemor reminds him that it’s his house, and the Order’s autonomy is at the sufferance of the Central Command. Entek says that the next session will happen in Order facilities.

When Kira starts to break down, overwhelmed by the possibility that she really is a Cardassian agent, Ghemor realizes he has to get her away from Cardassia rather than let Entek get his hands on her. Kira doesn’t understand why he’d do that, but Ghemor insists that she’s his daughter. He’d do anything to protect her, even if it means losing her all over again. Ghemor brings a Cardassian named Ari who can get her out of Cardassian space. (He also gives her a piece of his wife’s jewelry, a bracelet he wishes his daughter to have.) Ari, Kira realizes, is part of the dissident movement, and so is Ghemor.

Then Kira puts it all together: they’re not after Kira, they’re after Ghemor. They likely suspect his dissident leanings, but they can’t have any evidence, as he’s too well protected. But if they catch him smuggling his daughter out of Cardassia, that’ll be all the evidence they need. Entek enters the room and confirms it, with two assistants, all three of them holding weapons. Ari is killed, and Entek announces that they’ve broken the dissident movement and exposed a traitor in Central Command.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Second Skin

But then Sisko and Garak come in armed, joined by Odo. Entek and his agents reluctantly drop their weapons. The three of them rescue Kira as well as Ghemor, amidst more than one pithy comment by Garak, with Garak shooting Entek on the way out the door. (“A pity. I rather liked him.”)

Back on the station, Kira is restored to her original face, with Bashir assuring her that she’s totally Bajoran, and the alterations were surgical. Ghemor has accepted sanctuary on a neutral planet, and he hopes to one day find his real daughter. He also insists that she keep the bracelet, since Kira’s the closest thing to family he has left right now.

The Sisko is of Bajor: Sisko magnificently manipulates Garak in much the same way he manipulated Quark in “Emissary.” He’s just as unapologetic, and even more blunt than he was two years ago.

Don’t ask my opinion next time: Kira handles her imprisonment with gusto, not budging an inch with either Entek or Ghemor. It isn’t until she sees the recording of Iliana that she starts to lose it, but she also instantly figures out Entek’s plan once she realizes that Ghemor is a dissident. The one thing we don’t know is how Entek knew about her childhood memory, but he could’ve gotten that out of her with truth drugs before her “official” waking up in the Ghemor house. (We’ve seen Cardassians use such in the past, notably in “Chain of Command, Part II.”)

The slug in your belly: Dax is all set to take Kira anti-gravity sailing in the holosuite when the plot kicks in. It’s part of her ongoing plot to get Kira to loosen up, and it’s to Kira’s credit that she’s trying even though she thinks it’s dumb.

Preservation of mass and energy is for wimps: Odo poses as a bag that Sisko tosses casually to the floor when he and Garak burst into the Ghemor house. Entek glances at it as it lands near him, and then he forgets about it, allowing Odo to change into his humanoid form and disarm Entek from behind. It’s one of the more clever uses of Odo’s shapechanging.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Second Skin

Plain, simple: Garak still has some friends on Cardassia, which is how he finds out about what happened to Kira, though he’s only willing to go along on the rescue when he’s blackmailed by Sisko. He gets most of the episode’s best lines—calling Kira ravishing in her Cardassian face, snarking off Entek, his dismissing his use of an Obsidian Order code as something he overheard while hemming trousers, etc.—and pretty much saves the day.

For Cardassia! We learn that the Cardassian dissident movement, previously seen in “Profit and Loss” and TNG’s “Lower Decks,” has at least one high-ranking legate in its ranks, though it no longer has him by episode’s end. The tension between Central Command and the Obsidian Order is on full display here, with representatives of both believing their organization to be the core of Cardassian values and the other to be full of bastards.

Victory is life: Garak’s shop hours have been curtailed somewhat as the Dominion threat has been bad for business.

Tough little ship: The Defiant’s shields are modified by O’Brien (off-camera, as Colm Meaney isn’t in this episode) to make it look like a Kobheerian freighter on long-range sensors. However, this doesn’t explain how they went into orbit of Cardassia Prime without anyone noticing, and one wonders if Sisko bent the rules and used the cloaking device once they got to Cardassia.

What happens on the holosuite stays on the holosuite: Kira believes that anything you can do in a holosuite could be better done in the real world. Quark tries to convince her of the joy of holosuites, but he only gets as far as “I could—” before Kira interrupts with, “You could, but you’d live to regret it.”

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Second Skin

Keep your ears open: “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 sign of trouble at all, you’re on your own.”

“Mr. Garak, I believe that’s the first completely honest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

“How perceptive of you, Commander.”

Garak and Sisko, both speaking truth.

Welcome aboard: The great Gregory Sierra plays Entek (I don’t know what I love him most for, his role on the first couple of seasons of Barney Miller, or his supporting roles in Sanford and Son or Soap*), and the great Lawrence Pressman makes the first of two appearances as Ghemor, returning to the role in “Ties of Blood and Water”; he’ll be back in a different role as a changeling disguised as a Federation ambassador in “The Adversary.”

*This makes Sierra the second ex-Soapstar to play a Cardassian, the last being Robert Mandan in “Cardassians.”

Plus, of course, Andrew J. Robinson returns as Garak and Nana Visitor does double duty, also playing the image of Iliana on the recording.

Trivial matters: The Ghemor family will continue to be important in the post-finale DS9 fiction. Two Ghemors will lead post-war Cardassia at various times, and the real Iliana Ghemor causes serious problems for the crew (in several different universes) in Warpath, Fearful Symmetry, and The Soul Key.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Second Skin

Your humble rewatcher showed Entek (giving him the first name of Corbin, which actually came from this episode’s script, though it was never spoken onscreen) through the first couple of decades of his career as an Obsidian Order agent in the Lost Era novel The Art of the Impossible. He also appeared in Andrew J. Robinson’s Garak-focused novel A Stitch in Time and Fearful Symmetry by Olivia Woods.

Thought was given to making Entek a recurring character, but it was decided to have Garak kill him to remind the audience that, as entertaining as Garak is, he’s not a good guy and not a nice guy (Ghemor’s speech to Kira at the end regarding Garak had a similar design).

Thought was also given to keeping it vague as to whether or not Kira was a Cardassian agent in disguise, and dealing with the issue of identity, and that she is Kira Nerys now regardless.

The original pitch for this was to have O’Brien discover that he’s been a deep-cover Cardassian agent all this time (just as his shipmate Boone was in “Tribunal”), but it was changed when the producers realized they’d have to explain how he and Keiko had a human child.

Kira will turn out to have been mistaken about her mother’s fate, as she’ll learn in “Wrongs Darker than Death or Night.”

Garak refers to the Defiant cabins as “claustrophobic.” It will be revealed in “In Purgatory’s Shadow” that Garak is actually claustrophobic.

Bashir and Garak discuss the former’s trip to Klaestron IV, the same world whose inhabitants accused Dax of murder in the episode “Dax.”

Walk with the Prophets: “Treason, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.” Until the end, this is a perfect episode. There’s intrigue, there’s suspense, there’s politics, there’s questions, and, best of all, both Nana Visitor and Andrew J. Robinson get to compete to see who’s the snottiest, the former when Kira’s failing to be convinced that she’s a deep-cover agent, the latter just in a normal day for Garak. I particularly enjoy the deeper look into the Central Command/Obsidian Order dynamic, as we continue last season’s deeper look into internal Cardassian politics.

Until the end, there isn’t a wrong note hit, from Gregory Sierra and Lawrence Pressman’s not-even-a-little-veiled hostility to the Defiant crew bluffing their way through Cardassian space to the fast and furious one-liners from Garak to Nana Visitor’s superb interactions with everyone she’s onscreen with. It’s really a tour de force for Visitor, not just for what she does while slathered in Cardassian makeup, but for how she’s paired up with a wide variety of people—Dax, Quark, Odo, Sisko, Ghemor, Entek—and shines in every single scene, from her comfortable friendships with Dax and Odo to her casual contempt for Quark to her more aggressive contempt for Entek. Best of all, though, is the way her relationship with Ghemor grows over the course of the episode, as the very thing that Entek wants—for Ghemor to really believe that this is his daughter—has a profound effect on Kira. When she finally does lose it—beaten down by the lookalike corpse Entek showed her and Iliana’s recording—it’s Ghemor’s lap she falls into, and even through her agony, she’s genuinely touched that Ghemor would do whatever he has to to see that she’s safe. By the end, Ghemor is still speaking to her as if she’s his daughter, but by this point Kira’s responding in kind.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on Tor.com: Second Skin

But the end kinda blows it a little. Not Entek’s plan as such. As stated, it’s actually rather a good plan, a clever way to get Ghemor to expose himself. But what doesn’t make any sense is that there’s an Obsidian Order agent out there who looks exactly like Kira and has her exact voice. It’s ridiculously convenient and an absurd coincidence. Kira mentions to Ghemor at the end that she “resembles” Iliana, but it goes much deeper than that. Visitor gets points for making Iliana’s speaking patterns different from Kira’s, but the whole setup still cuts off the air supply to my disbelief.

And, of course, there’s a part of me that wishes they had gone the whole way and had Kira be a deep-cover agent. But that was probably too much to hope for, and it’s not like the character wasn’t already the strongest character in the ensemble, so why mess with a good thing? I also wish they had kept Entek around, as he was an excellent character well played by someone in Sierra who’s been a top character actor for as long as I’ve been alive.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that the episode as a whole is brilliant, brilliantly scripted, brilliantly directed, brilliantly executed.

 

Warp factor rating: 9


Keith R.A. DeCandido will be signing at the Enigma Bookstore in Queens, New York on Saturday 2 November at 7 PM, alongside fellow scribes David Mack and Aaron Rosenberg. There’ll be giveaways and a special exclusive preview of The Klingon Art of War.

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