Star Trek The Next Generation: The Wounded

"I'll accept the judgment of history."

In this engrossing episode Picard must choose between his fellow Federation captains and his new allies when a Cardassian ship is mysteriously destroyed. Also: Keiko and O'Brien goodness!

I was excited to see this iteration of the Cardassians, because I hadn't seen it Way Back When and because I'm reviewing DS9 episodes, many of which feature Cardassians and Cardassia (am up to "The Maquis" right now, in case you want context for what not to mention in the comments.) Everything was fascinating for me, from the odd designs to the weird uniforms and helmets which later evolved, ever so gracefully, to what they used in DS9.

The Cardassians are at this time now distrusted allies who claim to have been attacked. From the start I was pretty convinced this was nothing but a passive aggressive attempt by the Cardassians to provoke war and assume the moral right. When one has the moral right, one makes it difficult for others to choose which side to support, making it, for a time, Earth versus Cardassia and its allies, which might be a more even match up than Cardassia vs. the Federation. In other words, it felt like them gambling on champion vs. champion so they could take out and even replace Earth as the center of the Federation without going through the pesky business of war. I had a whole theory set up because, like Picard, it made me squirm to think of one of Starfleet's captains going rogue. And of a new war, so soon on the footsteps of the destruction wreaked by the Borg. I had this figured out by the end of the teaser. So much for theories.

"Ah, Cardassians. Can't trust 'em any."
I personally wasn't prepared by how sympathetic I was for the Cardassians initially. It seems to be a quality of the race: that sort of wounded look a bully has when accused of doing something wrong. What they don't expect are genuine responses, like that of O'Brien. His confession about a Cardassian being his first kill was almost heartbreaking. I was fairly well seduced into admitting Cardassian innocence.

I didn't expect to also get a great episode about O'Brien and Keiko, which this was. Don't you love how Troi lets O'Brien know she's there to talk to, but he actually talks to his wife? In fact the whole confession to the visiting Cardassian comes out of his discussion. I've had discussions about things like that with my husband. True relationships aren't about the union of like souls but the hard work of two distinct individuals to lower walls and build trust so that such union–and such evolution–is possible. You see things differently, "as my two eyes in one make sight," and this new perspective enables new understanding and new choices. This episode does a great job of showing how Keiko and Miles are dancing the dance of marriage.

In the end my distrust of the Cardassians is somewhat justified–Picard obtains an almost-admission that they are indeed re-arming–but I can't fault how Picard approaches this: as two separate problems. Had any evidence been held by Maxwell, the situation would be different, and we might be at war. All Picard can do is deal with Maxwell, then look Gul in the eye and say "We know," loudly enough so the Gul believes it.

After all, Picard's not Gul-lible.

Bits and Pieces

I believe this is the first time the Cardassians have appeared on The Next Generation. Isn't this also the first O'Brien centric episode?

Gul Macet looks familiar because Mark Alaimo later became Gul Dukat. I guess they changed the name because of the whole no-facial-hair-much-better-makeup thing.

I also liked how Troi came off in her brief appearance early on - it was more what I thought a ship's counselor should be.

There's a DS9 episode, "Rivals," where Keiko girds her husband for war when he goes to compete against Julian. When I think about that episode in context with this, that moment has so much more depth as a showing of her understanding of Miles and his military background, but maintenance of her own culture. A rare instance of watching an episode in one series that totally changes your—hey, look, Ma, it's a PARALLEL!

So the Cardassians arrive in the Trek Universe displaying a capacity for treachery and manipulation. They're like more serious Ferengi at this point.


O'Brien: Keiko, I've been thinking. You've been introducing me to all this wonderful food that you're accustomed to. I'd like to do the same. Isn't that what marriage is about? Sharing?
Keiko: What kind of foods?
O'Brien: Scalloped potatoes, mutton shanks, oxtails and cabbage.
Keiko: Kind of heavy.
O'Brien: Oh, you'll love it, I promise. I can still remember the aromas when my mother was cooking.
Keiko: She cooked?
O'Brien: She didn't believe in a replicator. She thought real food was more nutritious.
Keiko: She handled real meat? She touched it and cut it?

O'Brien: I was on Setlik three with Captain Maxwell the morning after the massacre. We were too late, of course. Almost everyone was dead.
Daro: That was a terrible mistake. We were told the outpost was a launching place for a massive attack against us.
O'Brien: The only people left alive were in an outlying district of the settlement. I was sent there with a squad to reinforce them. Cardassians were advancing on us, moving through the streets, destroying, killing. I was with a group of women and children when two Cardassian soldiers burst in. I stunned one of them. The other jumped me. We struggled. One of the women threw me a phaser, and I fired. The phaser was set at maximum. The man just incinerated, there before my eyes. I'd never killed anything before. When I was a kid, I'd worry about swatting a mosquito. It's not you I hate, Cardassian. I hate what I became because of you.


A wonderful and squirmy episode of TNG with nobody being morally very much in the clear, and Picard caught between a rock and a hard place, and the cast just being a great ensemble. Five out of five rampaging war-weary Starship Captains.


Dustin said...

The DS9 novels explain that Macet and Dukat look alike because they are brothers. Sure, it's not cannon, but I always liked that explanation.

At least once in DS9, the Minstrel Boy theme is used as a music cue for Chief Obrien.

Thankfully, the Cardassian helmets and facial hair are never seen again after this episode.

Billie Doux said...

This is an impressive episode, with many issues surrounding war and peace and racial hatred that weren't satisfactorily resolved. I kept thinking that it was a damned good thing for the Federation that Picard was there to handle it the way he did. Imagine the mess that would have occurred if a much lesser man had been in charge. (I kept thinking of how Donald Trump would have handled it.)

Much set-up for DS9, yes, and how lovely that O'Brien and Keiko were easily able to carry an episode. I'm also fond of Marc Alaimo as our favorite Cardassian on DS9, and it was fun to see the nucleus of his character. And O'Brien and Maxwell singing the Minstrel Boy song together was surprisingly powerful. I actually teared up.

Terrific review, Joseph, of a complicated episode.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

One of my favorite episodes, actually. It was obvious how great Alaimo was in the role from the start, he just made "Cardassian" into his own role with the very first episode. I loved his interaction with Patrick and in a way I'm sorry we didn't get to see more of it.

This episode really did a lot to sell the ambivalent mindframe of Miles and that served him very well during Deep Space Nine.