In this episode, “Second Skin,” everyone is wearing a second skin. Garak’s facade as a simple tailor is becoming increasingly tattered as he reveals the stone-hearted spy underneath. Sisko impersonates a Kobheerian (and wears civvies for no real reason), while the Defiant appears as a Kobheerian freighter. Odo impersonates a bag . . . okay, that one is a little less compelling, granted. The most important of the second skins exist in the main plot, which comes off like an episode of The Americans written by Philip K. Dick.
It begins when a Bajoran researcher contacts Kira about her time in a Cardassian prison called Elemspur. Problem is, Kira was never at Elemspur, and she has rather strong memories of hiding out in a series of caves at the time she was supposedly there with the rest of the Shakaar resistance cell. She had several cellmates -- and, apparently, Cardassian prisons weren’t gender segregated, which seems like a bad idea -- and the only one left alive remembers her. (I’m not sure why she doesn’t call any of her old pals in the Resistance to verify her presence . . . well, actually I do. There would be no episode if she did.) So, she’s off to Elemspur to find out what she can. She doesn’t make it.
Kira awakens in darkness, and it’s almost like that scene in Back to the Future, but instead of Lea Thompson creepily calling her Calvin, there’s Entek, an agent of the Obsidian Order welcoming her home. He claims that she was a deep cover operative named Iliana Ghemor, surgically altered to appear Bajoran and implanted with detailed false memories. To prove it, he produces the corpse of the “real” Kira Nerys. Kira has also been surgically altered -- or restored, if you believe Entek -- to her Cardassian state. I feel like there’s a moment that occurs with all Trek fans, when you look at one of the more-alien aliens. I’m not talking Vulcans or Trill or even Bajorans. I’m talking Klingons, Cardassians, that kind of thing. Anyway, when you look at one of them and think, “Yeah, s/he is pretty hot.” It’s a disturbing moment, but it happens to all of us. It happened to me here. At least until I start to imagine all the scaly ridges that must be in the fun spots and have to bleach my brain.
Where the hell was I? Right. Kira Cardassian, who really does sound like she needs a reality show, or at least an NBA player to date. That Kevin Durant seems nice. Entek leaves behind a recording that Iliana made before she left, and it hangs over Kira like a blade. Watching it is acknowledgement that the insane story Entek is telling her might have some truth to it, but the curiosity is killing her. Eventually, she does watch the video, and Iliana is a dead ringer for a Cardassianized Kira, down to the voice. What really makes no sense, and lends credence to Entek’s version of things, is why the Order would go after Kira. Seriously, she’s a terrible target for this kind of thing. Even acknowledging that the Cardassian Empire has yet to develop the superstitious dread of Sisko that will be the only thing that spares their race, Kira is an extremely important official in the Bajoran Provisional Government with deep ties to Starfleet.
Those ties almost instantly pay dividends when Garak informs Bashir of Kira’s location. While it’s clear Garak would rather be kept out of it, Sisko shanghais (using some very un-Starfleet-like, but very Sisko-like extortion tactics) the tailor on a rescue mission. This is when they impersonate a Kobheerian freighter to get past a Cardassian checkpoint. The ruse fails, forcing them to drop the act, and let Garak talk. He blusters past the picket by using a working Cardassian code. Of course, Garak just brushes this off as “something I heard while hemming someone’s trousers.”
Meanwhile, Kira meets the man in whose house she’s staying. Legate Tekeny Ghemor is a member of the Central Command and Iliana’s father. He treats Kira like a beloved daughter, even remembering that she would probably prefer Bajoran food. She refuses the hasperat -- that’s a spicy Bajoran burrito, and yes, I’m totally serious -- because she assumes Ghemor is complicit in her predicament. The longer she stays, the more she begins to see that Ghemor’s care for her is more than an act, culminating in his willingness to let her go rather than cause her any more pain.
Entek continues to try to interrogate Kira, growing more frustrated as she stonewalls him. In the beginning, she gives flippant answers, but as the emotional toll of being this person increases, she’s reduced to simple catatonia. Those familiar with Cardassian interrogation techniques might be confused at the lack of torture. As the “daughter” of someone from Central Command, she’s not to be touched, but as they continue to get nothing, this will change. (Ghemor’s lofty position is underlined, and 1984 given a subtle shout-out, when he informs Kira exactly where the Obsidian Order surveillance devices are, and the fact that they’re only on when he wants them to be.) When it becomes clear that Kira is headed for torture, Ghemor has seen enough, and his second skin drops.
He made an offhanded comment early in the episode about how Cardassia needs more artists, the implication being “and a few less Obsidian Order spooks.” When it comes time for Kira to flee, Ghemor is revealed as an important member of the Cardassian Dissident Movement, a good man caught in an impossible position. This is when Kira susses out the Order’s true plan. Kira was never the target and only useful due to her resemblance to Iliana. They wanted Ghemor, suspecting he was a dissident, but he was protected by his position. If he betrayed Cardassia, they could interrogate him, convict him, and then try him. (If that sounds weird, there’s another review you should read.) They used Kira rather than Iliana, because the drugs would not restore her memories, while Iliana would get hers back and cooperate with the Order.
Yeah, it’s a pretty deep con. When Ghemor has his man ready to spirit Kira away, though, the plan has succeeded. Entek shows up with some goons and promptly takes Kira and Ghemor hostage. Fortunately, Sisko arrives with Garak at the same time. Sisko nonchalantly tosses the bag he was carrying on the floor behind Entek, and it’s a pretty slick move when the bag turns out to be Odo, who swiftly disarms the Cardassian.
Garak isn’t done being awesome, though. He really can’t help it. First, he flirts with the Cardassianized Kira, then trades barbs with Entek before killing him. They give Garak the classic heroic dodge of Entek going for a concealed weapon, but Garak’s utter lack of affect helps underline the brutality. He even finishes up with the offhanded, “A pity. I rather liked him.”
Ghemor flees with the heroes, and he is now an official exile. He receives asylum from the Mathenites, and this is literally the first and last time they were ever mentioned in Trek canon. He and Kira have a sweet moment just before he departs the station, as, while he holds out hope that Iliana is alive, he considers the former Bajoran freedom fighter the closest thing he has to family. Kira, whose orphan status has been brought up in the episode, clearly feels the same. This is not an episode, or a moment, that would have made any sense without Season One’s “Duet,” and thus points out DS9’s increased reliance on character development. Kira learned that some Cardassians were good, and with that, she is able to see the soft heart beating inside this former member of Central Command. As he departs for the Mathenite homeworld, he leaves her with a bit of fatherly advice: “That Garak fellow who helped you, who helped us . . . don’t trust him, Nerys, ever. He’s a dangerous man, and he’d betray you and all your friends in an instant if he thought it would help him.”
The best part is that Garak would agree with this assessment 100%.
Next up: Odo handles a Jem’Hadar baby, and now the mom won’t take him back.