In my write-up for “The Search” last time out, I talked about stories that gradually pile on disorder until things are so divergent they’d actually change the premise of the show, which jolts you as viewer out of willful suspension of disbelief. “Second Skin” is another premise trick: introducing a radical change immediately, which you know is BS, so the arc of the show is more about untangling the mystery. (Another classic Trek in this vein is, obviously, SPACE LINCOLN.) Here: Kira wakes up…as a Cardassian! This isn’t even the first time they’ve gone to this well: Troi woke up as a Romulan in some TNG episode that, if I was a paid and/or skillful reviewer of Trek episodes, I would go re-watch to compare and contrast here. Since I am neither, I will not do that.
I won’t go into the whole plot thread, suffice to say, I thought it was well-plotted and it’s a good mind twister even though you know everything’s going back to normal around the 40 minute mark. Somehow. And it does! Memory Alpha tells me that Robert Hewitt Wolfe wanted it to feel like a Philip K. Dick story, and I think he succeeds. Just enough details add up to make one occasionally think, well, maybe it’s true? Memory Alpha also says Wolfe originally thought they’d have O’Brien get the Cardassian treatment, but they couldn’t explain how he’d have managed to father a human child if he was a secret Cardassian. (Which exposes the one flaw in this whole premise: certainly Kira has been to a doctor, ever? Bashir never thought to be like, “Hey, uh, did you know you’re a Cardassian?”) But I think it’s a stronger show with Kira anyway. Besides the way more horrifying experience for the thoroughly Bajoran Kira to contemplate being a secret Cardassian, the pseudo-father-daughter relationship she develops with her fake Cardassian Dad works surprisingly well. I can’t imagine the same emotional connection would’ve happened with O’Brien. Plus it would’ve just been another O’Brien Must Suffer episode.
Garak is a super secret reverse double agent: Essentially the wrap-up here hinges on Garak’s continued inscrutability. Again a Cardassian tells someone not to trust him. Such a strange thing. Not sure if I really understand how this can make sense yet. If he has genuinely betrayed Cardassia (as covered in “The Wire”), wouldn’t they have already hunted him down? It’s been established that sufficiently motivated Cardassian bigwigs will arrange a show trial even if they don’t really have solid evidence. Even if there’s a good reason to just exile him (considered a worse punishment, perhaps), what’s in it for Cardassians to warn Federation people? Unless they are hoping that planting doubt will help neutralize any help he might offer the Federation while in exile. Maybe that does make sense, really, but there’s probably more to the story. More than the alternate possibility, that he’s a legit Cardassian agent. He keeps helping the Federation and obviously is no friend to Dukat. Best guess at this point is that is that the betrayal & exile situation is mostly true. I’d guess he’s been caught within competing factions within the Cardassian government, so he has both supporters and detractors. We are also slowly learning Dukat doesn’t have the clout he once did, so there’s more to come here, I’m sure.
Overall: Extremely solid episode. Some holes in the premise but it works really well. 4 out of 5.
S3E6, “The Abandoned” (story: D. Thomas Maio and Steve Warnek)
“The Abandoned” posits the old nature-vs.-nurture question, but for Jem’Hadar, and it turns out that for genetically-engineered creatures designed for killing, the answer is totally nature, and that nature is for killing.
This is really just a character-building episode. Here’s what’s covered:
- Jem’Hadar kids: they grow fast, implanted with an enzyme to keep them under control, and all they want to do is fight. It reminds me of this bit from Aqua Teen Hunger Force where Frylock puts Carl’s head onto a mass of eyes. Shake says, “Is he going to be able to chase us? Because if I woke up looking like that, I would just run towards the nearing living thing and kill it.” That is pretty much the Jem’Hadar programming.
- However: this episode comes off as mostly sad. Odo wants to this one to be saved, raised in a helpful environment where he can do something other than violence. Unfortunately, his overwhelming need is to find his people and fight everything else, and nothing Odo can do will stop it.
- It’s a largely sad one for Odo as well. He takes to the boy and is trusted at least a little as an outsider ally. But it’s not a natural setup and won’t work out. So for the second time in the series, Odo has a new young friend that he loses. I’m not sure if this or the virtual girl from “Shadowplay” is sadder. Probably “Shadowplay”. Harder to form an emotional connection with an ultraviolent Jem’Hadar when even a simple walk around the promenade is like herding a wild animal.
- Meanwhile, Jake is growing up and dating a dabo girl several years older than him. But she actually charms Sisko at dinner, so it’s all good. Mostly this thread is about Jake growing up and Sisko sensing a natural shift away from the close relationship they had when Jake was a kid.
So in conclusion: the Jem’Hadar are really really scary death machines, and Jake isn’t a kid anymore.
Odo’s Biology Corner: Odo is moving beyond a bucket in the security office to full quarters in order to explore his true nature in private. Knock before entering, probably.
Overall: Not really any story per se but effective and interesting. 3 out of 5.
S3E7, “Civil Defense” (story: Mike Krohn)
As noted, I do not get paid to write reviews of Star Trek episodes for a living, despite the extreme quality and insight which I produce. Instead I develop web sites and manage some back-end systems. In this line of work, there are many opportunities to make very bad errors which can ruin your day. I have sent servers into infinite loops, overwritten database tables (as a colleague and I used to remind each other frequently, like unto an heroic war remembrance, “Remember your WHERE clauses”), and profoundly botched file permission changes to the point where I myself could no longer edit them. Anyone in this line of work has similar stories. “Civil Defense” is the Trek version of this. One would think this would happen like, daily, with these unfathomably complex systems integrated into every conceivable function of the station. But it’s a good thing it doesn’t because when it happens to me, a website goes down for a few minutes while I frantically restore backups. When it happens on DS9 the station actively tries to murder them.
Cardassians, as is well-established at this point, are (1) brutal authoritarians and (2) extreme planners. It’s also been established that the Cardassians left behind plenty of programmatic cruft in DS9’s mainframe. An outcome of this combination, as seen here, is an exhaustively well-thought out contingency-handling subroutine that disables the station in the event of trouble. The DS9ers manage to trip the program, which interprets their actions as some sort of prison riot, and to sum up, their day doesn’t turn out too well.
This episode maybe comes across as a little more funny than really intended. I think it must have been at least somewhat intentional, especially while the program is on a lower defense level and mostly they are just getting locked into or out of stuff. From there, basically everything that can go wrong does—which as a concept has to have some comic intent or it’s just cruel—but beyond the surface laffs the entire station is in pretty serious peril. Every brilliant idea to circumvent the problem is met with even harsher defenses: including but not limited to poison gas, electronic shocks, replicated laser mines. Dukat even gets in on it personally. The system fires off a latent notice about the situation and he eventually turns up personally to enjoy some taunting—and also to try leveraging the mess for Cardassian gain.
I think my favorite thing was how Dukat had a pre-recorded message for every minor infringement. I mean, he really thought through this potential uprising. But this just turns out to be Cardassian SOP I guess, as revealed by his boss’ pre-recorded message in case Dukat himself tried to flee the station during a riot. These people think of everything. Cardassian parties must be amazing.
Special bonus: Some end-of-episode closing comic banter (a classic TOS trope) between Odo and Quark.
Overall: Honestly a pretty delightful character episode all around, if a bit ridiculous. 4 out of 5.
S3E8, “Meridian” (story: Hilary J. Bader and Evan Carlos Somers)
Two threads. One is bad. One is really really bad.
A. This is the bad one. Some of the crew is out on a Gamma Quadrant exploratory mission when a planet materializes out of thin air right in front of them. They meet a small community on the surface. Oh no! They’ll be evil! No. Wait. Actually they are super nice. They explain that something in this system regularly hurtles their planet into an alternate dimension of pure consciousness and like, what can you do? They just enjoy their brief stopovers in the material world as they can. Actually this is a great premise! Only, as a book. One could really dig into the consequences of this, how it affects different people who want to join up or leave. In one part of one TV show, nah.
There’s just no time to get into anything interesting. Instead it hammers in a Dax love story. A Meridian dude takes her tree climbing and she agrees to abandon her entire life up to that point to join their society. (Keep this idea for a date handy, I guess.) So she has prolonged tearful goodbyes with everyone. Then she undergoes some kind of transporter re-phasing which is supposed to prepare her to enter the pure consciousness dimension with him. Only…she doesn’t? It doesn’t work and she’s left behind. She is devastated. There is no explanation. Credits roll.
I know they’re not all going to be winners on a show with 173 episodes. But nothing makes sense here. Obviously the ending doesn’t. The episode doesn’t end so much as stop bothering to try. I’m going to hope this was a bad week of production meetings and not a trend of things to come. Just as bad is having a character do something bizarre and out of character to churn up some drama. Dax has her impulsive side but, I dunno. Characters giving up their Federation lives for a sudden love interest is more of a TOS thing. It’s not believable at all in the scope of like three scenes. The scenes where she says goodbye to everyone are touching, but that’s to the actors’ credit. We all know she’s not going anywhere. Why don’t they work in a long arc next time someone is actually leaving the show, which would 100% make sense?
B. Back on the station, Quark is creepily trying to create a holosuite porn program of Kira by special request of an even creepier stalker. Yup. It is so much worse than the under-developed, improbably silly A story. This is probably the ickiest, least tasteful, pointless story thus far in the series.
The less said about this half, the better. The mysteriously wealthy stalker character is completely abhorrent, but he’s a villain, so he’ll face justice, yes? Nope. Quark just goes along with it. “The things I do for money,” he says. Hey maybe instead Quark could have surprised everyone and tricked the stalker into some legal entanglement, redeeming himself and pocketing his cash in the process. Quark has absolutely seen The Sting, it must be a beloved Ferengi classic. Let’s make this happen. But the DS9 showrunners did not and this is what we got.
Quark being who/what he is, maybe that would be out of character. But Odo and Kira’s responses are thoroughly out of character. They sniff out the scheme right from the start and have a brilliant chance to catch Quark and end his criminal malfeasance once and for all. So they arrest him and restore law and order, fulfilling their personal and professional dreams. Oh wait, no, actually they use the opportunity for an epic prank. Oy. Maybe they felt like Quark is so squirrelly no charges would stick, or he’d just continue being a nuisance from jail. Better to ruin his business instead, but I suspect nothing will really come from it and we’ll all just forget about this sorry episode.
Odo’s Biology Corner: Odo cannot eat and doesn’t have a sense of taste anyway. Kira badgers him to do so anyway, which strikes me as culturally insensitive.
Morn watch: No appearance, but his name is invoked by Quark to lure Kira down to the bar. There wasn’t much to like about this episode at all, but Kira rushing down to Quark’s because she thinks Morn wants to talk to her provided a brief moment of pleasure.
Overall: Two very poor stories by the standard of this show, gerrymandered into one episode. “Meridian” is a bad TV hazardous containment area best avoided. 0 out of 5.