Deep Space Nine: s02e05 – ‘Cardassians’

I was intrigued by the title of this episode, and found myself reflecting that in the first season, we didn’t really get to know much about the Cardassians, other than their role as all-purpose baddies, pop-up villains. That they had their subtleties was obvious from Gul Dukat and, to a lesser extent, the mysterious Garak (an ongoingly excellent portrayal by Andrew Robinson, all avuncular twinkles and self-depracation unless pursuing his indecipherable aims), was clear. But as a people, they were opaque, beyond their military reputation.

I was hoping for something that gave a greater insight into the Cardassians as a race, and I suppose that I got it, though it was almost incidental to a story that started out thought-provoking, but which didn’t have a real answer to its own dilemma and ended up fudging its ending by making an almost arbitrary decision.

The episode centred on Rugal, a twelve-year old Cardassian war orphan adopted by a Bajoran couple, who claimed to love him dearly, as mush as if he were their own flesh and blood, but who had raised him to hate, fear and despise his own race (and by extension himself).

There was a clear race symbol there: it was altogether too easy to see Rugel as a black child brought up by white Ku Klux Klan members, or a Jew raised by Nazis. And though Rugal seemed to love his ‘father’ as much as the man claimed to love him, there were accusations from a businessman who had seen the family together on Bajor of brutal brainwashing.

No sooner had Rugal announced himself as a problem by biting Garak’s hand in the open than Gul Dukat himself was on the sub-space blower to Sisko, dripping with insincerity about those poor war orphans and how they had to be brought home, especially Rugal. Of course there was an ulterior motive, simply from the fact of it being Gul Dukat, and that meant kindly old uncle Garak leading the suspicious but outmatched Doctor Bashir by the nose to uncover, and foil that plan.

It turned out that Rugal – the son of a prominent Cardassian civil leader and political opponent of Dukat – was not an orphan at all. His father, Kotan Pad’har, thought him dead, killed in a Bajoran resistance raid that had killed the boys mother. Kotan was overjoyed to find his son alive, though it would finish him as a politician once it got out: the strength and value Cardassians put on the family and all its generations meant that his failure to find his son then, his effective abandonment of him, would ruin him.

Bashir and Garak’s investigations uncovered the fact that Rugal had been deliberately left by a Cardassian officer under Dukat’s command, to be used if just such an eventuality pertained. Sisko, who had been asked to arbitrate, Solomon-like, on Rugal’s fate, opted to restore the lad to his natural father, and his race, despite the overwhelming loathing Rugal felt for them.

It was never going to be an easy answer, and the episode did very little to argue the central, moral point of what was best for Rugal: Sisko signed off with the hope that his ‘healing’ could begin. It was obvious that he had been brainwashed, that his Bajoran ‘parents’ had poured all their hatred and loathing into Rugal, though there was never any follow up on whether or not it had been done brutally or lovingly. Either way, it was a wrong that deserved to be rectified, but it paid little heed to Rugal himself: a lifetime of trauma looked to be ahead.

Besides, Kotan was at least as happy about saving his career and couldn’t really give a damn about the other, genuine Cardassian orphans still in misery on Bajor.

By refusing to tackle the subject on any level other than an acute hook for a dramatic episode, DS9 fudged the issue and I was quite disappointed. Nevertheless, the episode did function on the same higher level season 2 had established, which points to better things ahead.