Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Deep Space Nine--"Cardassians"

The most important factor in making the aftermath of the Bajoran Occupation intriguing is putting a personal face on it. Up until now, DS9 has not done a very good job of personalizing the Cardassians outside of “Duet,” an episode I raved about last week. We never even learned the name of the Gul who was arming The Circle in the opening trilogy of the second season. But with “Cardassians,” that changes when the focus shifts to Garak, Dukat, and the Cardassian side of the occupation and its aftermath.

The Cardassians have been one dimensional, villains on both TNG and DS9 thus far. You could describe them in one of two ways; either mustache twirling villains or sadistic monsters. The former is often laughable. Gene Roddenberry himself was not happy with how one dimensional they were presented in their TNG premiere and Roddenberry was not exactly keen on character development period. The lattter-their sadism--is something more problematic.

For one, it is not going to end just yet. In at least one more episode this season, the torture of a captive solely for the sake of torture will be presented on O‘Brien. Thankfully, it will fade off to any future instances serving as a necessary plot point or, in the case of Garek interrogating Odo at one point, Garek will feel remorse for his actions. Similar instances have a lot to make up for.

The brutalizing that Cardassians takeso much thrill in a reflection on some of the worst aspects of human nature. There is a prurient thrill for damaged people to inflict pain on others. It is sexual. There really is no difference between Jeffery Dahmer committing his weird crimes and the repressed Islamic jihadists who enjoy stoning woman. They get the same high from it. To have to relate that to recurring villains on what should not be a perverted show, but still views sex in immature ways, is disturbing.

So I am glad the focus is shifting away from the primal portrait of Cardassians into more multidimensional, palace intrigue type fare.

“Cardassians” gives it a good shot. I do find the plot a bit implausible in places. The idea of war orphans being left behind on Bajor by the fleeing Cardassians is a good idea in dramatic terms. That many have been adopted by Bajorans, many of whom so far have had an understandable, but damaging hatred for Cardassians as a race, shows some growth. There are rough edges that will never be smoothed in the real world, but for a series with an optimistic view of the future, there has to be some sense the baorans can have some healing.

I like how the war orphans serve as a catalyst to explore how all the different races feel about one another. In “Cardassians,” we explore the self-loathing of the Cardassian children left behind, O’Brien’s lingering animosity from fighting them in the war, and even how Pa’Dar is grateful to the adoptive Bajoan father to his long lost son, Rugal. The resolution presents the Cardassians as sympathetic characters, which is not easy to do considering all I laid out above.

All that makes up for the implausibly complicated plot of Dukat kidnapping Pa’Dar’s believed to be dead son eight years ago. How exactly could that remain covered up/ if the Cardassians are so devoted to family, surely the war orphans would be a huge issue. It would not take too long before someone demanded action. Rugal would have been found. Dukat did not want that. He wanted to hurt Pa’Dar by making him believe his son as dead, not embarrass him by having the plot see the light of day. It was all covered up by the end, so both Pa’Dar and Dukat get off scott free. The only one who lose out are Rugal’s adopted parents and, of course, all the other war orphans left behind.

I liked “Cardassians” anyway for the groundwork it lays. The Cardassians become better villains. The animosity between Garak and Dukat will be fun to watch play out. I enjoy the friendship between Garak and Bashir, too. It will be quite a while before Bashir comes ito his own, but his friendships with Garak and O’Brien are the most entertaining aspects of his overall story arc.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

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