“In the Cards”
Written by Truly Barr Clark & Scott Neal and Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Michael Dorn
Season 5, Episode 25
Production episode 40510-523
Original air date: June 9, 1997
Station log: Dinner at the Sisko cabin is a morbid affair. The U.S.S. Tian An Men has gone missing, the latest in a series of ships to disappear near the Cardassian border. Sisko’s attempts to change the subject are an abject failure. The mood is oppressive and awkward and depressing and maudlin, and the cherry on top of the whole thing: after everyone leaves, Sisko is informed that Winn is coming to the station in the morning.
Jake, meanwhile, is worried about his father. Usually the captain is the one who cheers everyone up when they’re down, but he’s just as worried about the Dominion as everyone else.
Quark is running an auction for the Bajorans of some items salvaged off a derelict freighter. Most of it is junk, but as Jake and Nog peruse the lots, they see a mint-condition 1951 Willie Mays rookie card. Jake decides that it’s just the thing to cheer his father up, and he’s going to get it for him. The teaser ends with those fateful words, “How hard can that be?”
Jake’s first stumbling block is that, as a citizen of the Federation, he doesn’t actually have any money. Nog has five bars of latinum stowed under his bed, and Jake guilts Nog into using his money to bid on the card. (Nog’s initial staunch refusal wilts under Jake’s very unsubtle reminder of how Sisko sponsored his Academy application and believed in him when no one else would and so on until Nog gives in.)
Winn meets with Sisko and they take a walk along the Promenade. Winn is meeting with Weyoun—a meeting requested by the Dominion—and she expresses concern that growing tensions between the Federation and the Dominion will result in Bajor’s destruction. Sisko for once agrees with her, and promises to do everything he can to safeguard Bajor.
Quark’s auction is going poorly. The bids are low, the crowd unenthusiastic. However, Jake and Nog perk up when the lot containing the Mays rookie card (as well as a bunch of other items) comes up. However, Jake is hugely outbid by a human named Giger, who makes a preemptive bid of ten bars.
Jake refuses to give up, convinced that he’s meant to give that card to his father. So they approach Giger, but he not only won’t even talk to them, he accuses them of being part of the soulless minions of orthodoxy, says several other impressively crazy things, then buggers off to his quarters. However, he relents and offers to meet with Jake and Nog.
Giger has filled his quarters with a ton of equipment. After doing a background check on Jake and Nog, he has decided that they’re not with the soulless minions of orthodoxy, and so is willing to trade the card for a list of items. He needs them to construct a machine that will cure the true cause of death: cellular ennui. Cells do the same thing every day from conception onward, until they get fed up and give up and just stop. Giger is convinced that if he can learn to teach cells new mitochondrial tricks, he can cure death. It’s taken him fifteen years and the loss of his reputation (to say the least), but he’s almost finished his cellular regeneration and entertainment system. He needs a few more things he can’t get his hands on, and he figures the station commander’s son and a promising young cadet could probably succeed where he has failed. Jake and Nog are iffy because Giger’s very obviously nuts, but they go for it.
One part O’Brien can get for them, but it involves scrounging for a part that he doesn’t have time to look for. However, once Nog and Jake offer to take over his shift so he can go kayaking on the holosuite, he’s willing to find it and have it sent to them.
Next on the list is something medical, which Bashir is willing to get for them in exchange for retrieving Kukalaka, his childhood teddy bear, from Leeta, who never gave it back after she and Bashir split up. Nog sneaks into her quarters and steals it while she sleeps.
Weyoun arrives on the station, greeted by Sisko, who is totally not happy to see him, though Weyoun is thrilled to be back on the station and chatting with Sisko—and the Vorta’s very disappointed at how cranky Sisko is. After Weyoun meets with Winn, the kai tells Sisko that Weyoun has offered to sign a nonaggression pact with Bajor. Winn is seriously considering it, especially after Sisko told them not to join the Federation. Sisko tells her to stall, to keep Bajor’s options open until they reach a crisis point.
Jake delivers half the items to Giger, including something that makes one of his machines hum loud enough to be heard by Weyoun in the quarters right above. Meanwhile, they’re continuing to do favors, mostly because Jake refuses to allow Nog to say why they need this stuff, as he wants it to be a surprise. So Jake is punching up Kira’s speech to the agricultural society with some humor while Nog is listening to Worf’s operas to filter out the subharmonic distortion.
Unfortunately, when they bring the last of the items to Giger’s cabin, they find an empty room. And Odo has no record of anyone using those quarters. Jake then sees that Winn is speaking to the vedek Jake was initially bidding against, who probably wanted the Bajoran mandala in the lot. Jake thinks that Winn may have had Giger kidnapped to get the mandala back, which is a bit extreme—more so when they actually accuse the kai of kidnapping and thievery. That gets them seriously reamed out by Sisko and confined to quarters, especially when Jake refuses to tell the truth, preferring to let his father think they got drunk in Quark’s.
Then they’re unexpectedly transported to Weyoun’s quarters and held at gunpoint by his Jem’Hadar. Weyoun wants the truth as to why they’ve been meeting with Giger and the entire senior staff, not to mention Winn after her meeting with Weyoun. Weyoun has already kidnapped Giger. They tell Weyoun the truth, which he doesn’t believe—so Jake spins an elaborate story about how they’re working for Starfleet Intelligence investigating this “Willie Mays,” who didn’t exist in any historical record until a few days ago. He must be a time traveler wreaking havoc on the timestream, and he must be stopped!
At that point, Weyoun buys the first story, to Jake and Nog’s relief, and he also is fascinated by Giger’s research. He lets Jake and Nog go so he and Giger can discuss immortality and creative genetics—and Weyoun gives them the card, too.
Sisko makes a captain’s log, noting that everyone seems to be in a better mood. O’Brien has gone kayaking, Bashir has his teddy bear, Worf is greatly enjoying his remastered opera, Kira’s speech is a big hit—and Sisko loves his baseball card. (Leeta, though, isn’t too happy, as she simply cannot find Kukalaka. But she’s an evil teddy bear thief, and therefore deserves what she gets…)
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Giger’s theory is that cells need to be excited and entertained so they won’t die of ennui. For some inexplicable reason, he has been unable to gain traction with this theory among the greater scientific community.
The Sisko is of Bajor: Sisko’s attempts to cheer the crew by inviting them to dinner and talk about subjects like trips to Bajor or babies walking are abject failures, and Sisko himself is in an awful mood, tearing into both Weyoun and his son and Nog.
Don’t ask my opinion next time: When Kira escorts Winn to Sisko’s office, Winn then turns to Kira and says, “You may leave now, child,” and Kira thanks her in the snottiest, screw-you-iest manner possible.
Rules of Acquisition: Initially, Jake is bidding against a Bajoran vedek. Nog confidently tells Jake that he’ll bow out at two bars. When Jake questions this, Nog just stares at him and says, “I am still a Ferengi.”
Victory is life: The Dominion is offering a nonaggression pact with Bajor. It’s unclear why they’re offering it (they could very easily conquer Bajor, after all), though it makes perfect sense that Bajor would take it.
Keep your ears open:“I’m not crazy—I’m just a little obsessed.”
Jake showing remarkable self-awareness, and Nog thinking he’s not showing enough.
Welcome aboard: Aron Eisenberg is back for the third week in a row as Nog. Other recurring regulars who pop in include Louise Fletcher as Winn, Jeffrey Combs as Weyoun, and Chase Masterson as Leeta.
Plus we have the great Canadian character actor Brian Markinson as Giger. Markinson was seen as the ill-fated Vorin in TNG’s “Homeward” and twice played Lieutenant Durst on Voyager in “Cathexis” and “Faces”—in the former, he also played Chakotay (kinda—Chakotay was possessing Durst), and in the latter, he also played Sulan.
Trivial matters: This episode is Michael Dorn’s first directorial credit. He’ll go on to direct two more DS9 episodes, as well as an episode of Enterprise. After directing an episode focused on a Willie Mays baseball card, he’ll appear as an analogue of Mays in “Far Beyond the Stars.”
Brian Markinson’s character was given the name of Giger solely in order to make the “Lions and Gigers and bears” “Oh my” gag work.
This episode introduces a nonaggression pact between Bajor and the Dominion, which will happen next time in “Call to Arms,” and which was foreseen as necessary by Sisko in “Rapture,” when he said that Bajor had to stand alone or it would fall. The nonaggression pact will keep Bajor out of the hostilities between the Dominion and the remaining Alpha Quadrant powers.
Jake’s line about how humans “work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity” is a riff on Picard’s similar line in First Contact, also scripted by Ronald D. Moore. Moore said in an AOL chat in 1999: “I take great glee at mocking my own work.”
This episode was likely at least in part inspired by the M*A*S*H episode “The Price of Tomato Juice,” in which Radar gets involved in a chain of favors in order to get regular tomato juice for Colonel Potter.
One of the other items in the lot with the card is a pre-Surak Vulcan bracelet. Surak was established in “The Savage Curtain” on the original series as the founder of modern Vulcan philosophies of logic and suppression of emotion. Another item was a transtator, which was established in the original series’ “A Piece of the Action” as the basis for most 23rd-century technology. A third item was a matador painting that Morn is seen walking out of the auction having purchased. That painting will play a role in “Who Mourns for Morn?”
Kukalaka was first mentioned in “The Quickening” as the teddy bear on which Bashir performed his first-ever surgery as a child. This is the first time the bear has been seen. He’ll be seen again in “Inquisition.” Leeta and Bashir broke up in “Let He Who is Without Sin…,” and it seemed to be an amicable split, but that was before the bear thievery was revealed…
The Tian An Men, named after the plaza where a famous student demonstration took place in 1989, was first mentioned in TNG’s “Redemption II” (also a Moore script), and will finally be seen in “Tears of the Prophets.” The ship also appears in the novel The 34th Rule by Armin Shimerman, David R. George III, and Eric A. Stillwell and in the videogame Klingon Academy.
Walk with the Prophets: “The entire future of the galaxy may depend on us tracking down Willie Mays—and stopping him.” I absolutely adore this episode. Part of it is that we’ve been spending this show watching Jake and Nog grow up. And here they actually graduate to the A-plot, after spending so much time in the first few seasons being B-plot fodder (“A Man Alone,” “Progress,” “The Storyteller,” etc.).
Of course, their B-plots were often for comic relief purposes, and their A-plot is also, but it’s more a case of comic relief after a lot of heavy stuff, and in preparation for even heavier stuff. And it works. The depression the crew feels in Sisko’s quarters at the top of the episode is palpable—and understandable, given what’s been happening since Cardassia joined the Dominion in “By Inferno’s Light.”
I’ve been saying all along that one of the cornerstones of DS9 is the Sisko family dynamic, and we see it beautifully here, with the added bonus of the superlative chemistry that Cirroc Lofton and Aron Eisenberg have developed over five years. Seeing Jake want so desperately to do something good for his father, and to find the perfect gift only to find it constantly out of his reach is heartbreaking, and you find yourself rooting for Jake against all odds, from the harmless, hilarious lunacy of Giger to the very real danger of Winn and Weyoun.
In particular, though, what I like about this episode is that it reminds me of me. I’m a generally optimistic, happy person. I don’t hang onto bad moods for very long. (Indeed, while I was in the midst of doing this rewatch, something happened that put me in an incredibly foul mood, but after an hour or so, it passed and I am back to my usual chirpy self.) Generally when I encounter someone in a bad mood my instinct is to try to cheer that person up so they aren’t unhappy anymore. (This doesn’t always work, nor is it always appreciated…)
So I felt what Jake was feeling, could empathize with his desire to do something for his father, and understood why it was so important that he get that, especially knowing that the gift would be just the right thing for him.
And along the way, they got to do a bunch of mitzvahs, which were probably even more beneficial to Kira, Worf, Bashir, and O’Brien than the card was to Sisko.
This episode is the perfect quiet, sweet, delightful episode prior to the craziness that’s about to kick in with the next episode and last through the beginning of season six. It’s not just the calm before the storm, but the chance to relax and enjoy yourself before the storm.
Warp factor rating: 9
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be at Shore Leave 36 this weekend at the Hunt Valley Inn just north of Baltimore. Other guests include Trek actors Leonard Nimoy (via Skype) and Robert Picardo, Stargate actors Richard Dean Anderson, Teryl Rothery, and Michael Welch, Torchwood actor Eve Myles, and Grimm actor Silas Weir Mitchell; fellow Trek novelists Christopher L. Bennett, Kirsten Beyer, Greg Cox, Peter David, Kevin Dilmore, Michael Jan Friedman, Dave Galanter, Robert Greenberger, Jeffrey Lang, William Leisner, David Mack, Melissa Scott, Dayton Ward, Howard Weinstein, and David Niall Wilson; plus a ton more author guests, science guests, artist guests, and performers (among the latter, your humble rewatcher’s band Boogie Knights). Click here for more info.