When our gentle station Cardassian tailor gets his hand bitten - by a Cardassian child - it opens the door to a web of intrigue which potentially might change the political game being played around DS9.
Initially I thought this was going to be a Bashir episode; it mutated delightfully into far more of a Bashir/Garak episode, with a nice healthy dollop of the O'Briens thrown in. Who is Garak? What does he believe? Why does he do what he does? Bashir is our gateway to these questions. When Bajoran conservatives, the Migdals, who've adopted a Cardassian war refugee, Rugal, come aboard the station, Bashir gets the chance for some answers. Or does he? What they find is a Cardassian raised to hate Cardassians.
Have you ever heard of the baby doll test? It's been repeated several times in America. Show a mixed group of black and white children a doll, and they'll decide if it's good based on its color. Black or white, research shows young Americans have been trained by our culture to identify the skin color black with "badness" and the skin color white with "goodness." I saw a video of some of the children in one of those studies, and their faces kept flipping in the background as I watched Rugal throughout the episode.
This show is at its best when it balances the personal with the galactic soap opera. The personal, here, is concentrated in Sisko and Bashir. Bashir combines his natural curiosity, desire to do well and be praised with his intelligence and becomes detective. Despite not being 100% convinced about Garak's good intentions, he has a gut feeling - and he follows it. I think Sisko's been trusting Bashir all long and hoping he'll get to this stage, despite the occasional mocking and barbs. Plus, the constant back and forth between Bashir and Garak as they slowly work more and more closely together was, to put it mildly, hella entertaining. I didn't get to see enough of Bashir yet to like him, but I'm hoping he'll get more likable as he seasons.
The other half of the "personal" for this episode was Miles O'Brien. I'm not sure the racist soldier isn't becoming something of a stale cliché, and we've been there before with Miles. What this episode did differently was to have Keiko confront that head on, and waving Molly as a standard. When Miles disparaged Cardassians, and Keiko told him what an ugly thing that was, Miles had to deal with the ugliness she saw... and proved himself more than capable of doing so, developing a true friendship with Rugal in the process. Go, Keiko, and go, Miles. Maybe you guys fight–but the best couples make each other grow.
Both the Bajorans and Cardassians on this episode creeped me out, just as the setup did. I think that was intentional. Gul Dukat, playing politics with people's lives. Prokda Midgal, teaching Rugal his own people are creatures of horror. Rugal himself, so steeped in and so easily parroting his teachings. Rugal's Cardassian father, Pa'dar, horrified by the shock that is his son after years in Bajor. I don't think the show was necessarily trying to use a galactic setting to parallel any one particular human situation, as the Trek franchise sometimes does. I think they were trying to open the door to a deeper truth, and leave the door open.
We're left with rumblings of political turmoil on Cardassia as well as on Bajor (and will the Midgals fight for the return of Rugal? I wonder.) We're left with Garak, who's slightly clearer to us as a character, confiding in Bashir that he doesn't believe there is such a thing as truth, and giving me hope that Garak is something more than a simple double agent or Person with a Past; he's an insight into a different philosophy. We're left worrying about Rugal, who's sent home with a father he no longer remembers and a world he's never walked. Somehow the war between Bajor and Cardassia seems a tragedy with greater depth.
When the episode was done I found myself humming, and before long, well, are you surprised? It was Rodgers and Hammerstein:
You've got to be taught To hate and fear,/You've got to be taught/From year to year,/It's got to be drummed/In your dear little ear/You've got to be carefully taught./You've got to be taught to be afraid/Of people whose eyes are oddly made,/And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,/You've got to be carefully taught./You've got to be taught before it's too late,/Before you are six or seven or eight,/To hate all the people your relatives hate,/You've got to be carefully taught!
Bits and Pieces
I thought the first scene's setup was odd. How many times do aliens come up to you, put their hands on your shoulders, and tell your parents you have a handsome boy? Is strangers touching children now acceptable in the future? If it happened in the Village, I might be biting too. Even weirder is the instant response from Cardassia, and from Gul Dukat no less. Why would a child's bite cause so much drama on the sub-ethernet? I guess their both being Cardassian excuses it, and maybe it's a Cardassian cultural norm. But it continues the theme of this episode confronting very uncomfortable situations.
I thought it was odd Odo didn't know about Rugal's arrival by Bajoran transport.
I loved the bit with the Cardassian zebu meat! I wonder: are these experiences potentially really universal? Is there a tentacled alien race somewhere with folks rolling their eyes over odd and unusual food served by overeager parents?
Miles: I assume you sent Molly over to stay with the Fredericks.
Keiko: She's asleep. She and Rugal played all afternoon. He wore her out.
Miles: You let them play together?
Keiko: Why not?
Miles: The boy almost bit somebody's hand off.
Keiko: I was with them all afternoon. He's not like that. He's really very gentle.
Miles: Gentle was bred out of these Cardassians a long time ago.
Keiko: You know, that was a very ugly thing you just said.
Miles: I only said.
Keiko: I don't need to hear it twice.
Rugal: What do you think of Cardassians?
Miles: Me? Well, I can't say, really.
Rugal: Why not?
Miles: Well, you can't judge a whole race of people. You can't hate all Cardassians or all Klingons or all humans. I've met some Cardassians I didn't like, and I've met some I did. Like you.
Rugal: Do you know how many Bajorans the Cardassians murdered during the occupation? Over ten million. We had a test on it in school. I wish I wasn't Cardassian.
Bashir: You can fix computers?
Garak: I dabble with isolinear data subprocessors. It's a hobby of mine.
(A little later)
Bashir: I continue to underestimate you, Garak.
Garak: It's no more difficult than sewing on a button, actually.
If this is where DS9 is going, I'm finishing the whole series. 4 out of 4 vegan zabu dishes.