So, it should come as no surprise to any of you that I, not just an avid Trekkie (or Trekker, I don’t really care about this particular label) but a dyed-in-the-wool Niner, might have some hobbies that, in years past, would bestow upon me the label of geek. I alluded to it above. Did you catch it? Yeah, I’ve been playing tabletop roleplaying games since I was seven years old. I still play, though age has turned my primary outlet into play-by-post Pathfinder games (which are super fun, so shut up). The reason I bring this up is that the last time I watched this particular episode, I was showing it to a GM to explain the kinds of security measures I wanted to build in my character’s lab. Yeah . . . I play a lot of mad scientists, which also probably doesn’t come as much of a shock.
So, what were these security measures I thought were awesome enough to import into a Mage: the Ascension game? Cardassian ones. Designed to quell an uprising of Bajoran slave labor. Man . . . that character was kind of insane. Yeesh.
O’Brien, with his trusty assistant Jake, is retrofitting one of the ore processing centers. I really enjoy this scene, because I like that a) we’re actually seeing those ore processing centers that DS9 was built to house and b) it’s a new part of the station that makes the whole thing feel bigger. Unusual in the clean Trek production design, it’s also suitably grimy, and I suspect they repurposed part of the sets from the mirror universe episode. Sisko comes down to get Jake for dinner, and in some monumental bad timing, they trip some old Cardassian program still lurking in the station’s computer that makes DS9 think it’s suffering through a Bajoran worker revolt. The room locks down and a recording of Gul Dukat appears on the screen demanding that the workers surrender.
Unfortunately, there’s no one to surrender to, and the computer is left to assume that the Bajorans have decided to go down with the ship. Sisko, Jake, and O’Brien manage to escape the room as gas is being released to kill them all. Of course, now the computer believes the workers have escaped and are running amok on the station. The whole place gets locked down. Bashir, Dax, and Kira are up in Ops, while Odo and Quark are in Odo’s office. As the heroes try to solve the problem, Dukat’s recordings get increasingly condescending (That’s his version of frustration.), and the situation gets worse and worse.
Garak arrives at Ops, genially using a code (and more or less dropping the pretense that he didn’t at least used to be someone) that can get him through the forcefields. Unfortunately, his codes aren’t enough to do much more than move about and look around. He eventually determines what’s happening but can’t do much about it. When he attempts to impersonate Dukat, that’s when things get really bad, and the replicator produces some kind of disruptor drone, which starts shooting up Ops like a drunk cowboy. It’s later revealed that the drone is programed not to fire on Cardassians (It scans their DNA.), and this was the feature that so enamored me.
Right as things are at their worst, Dukat beams onto Ops. He tells everyone about his weird-ass day. He was just minding his own business, patrolling the DMZ, and he gets a distress call from himself about some kind of worker revolt. He’s clearly enjoying himself, standing right next to the drone as it whizzes disruptor beams by his head. When I showed this to my friend, he goes, “Is this guy the villain?” I winced and went, “These words don’t really apply to Dukat.” Dukat is only too pleased to help, in exchange for the establishment of a permanent garrison of Cardassian troops on the station. When Kira refuses, Dukat decides to let her think it over and beams back to his ship. Or tries to. In the episode’s best joke, the computer assumes this is Dukat abandoning his post in an act of cowardice, and a recording of Legate Kell appears on screen to deliver an epic slapdown of the Cardassian and inform him that the station’s self-destruct is now engaged.
Dukat is now forced to work with the heroes to solve the problem, and they do, with some heroics from Sisko, who shuts the reactor overload into the shields, and Jake, who saves O’Brien’s life. That Jake . . . he’s a good kid.
The action provides a wonderful backdrop to the best moments in the episode, which are the characters bouncing off one another in a time of stress. Odo and Quark have nothing to do with the plot -- they’re hopelessly trapped, as apparently the Cardassians were rather paranoid about their gelatinous security chief. They mostly snipe at each other, but the dialogue is sharp and both actors have such great chemistry that it works as a great breather between the action scenes. We also get the first mention of Quark’s cousin Gaila (He owns a moon!), who will serve as the Joneses that Quark can’t keep up with and eventual guest star in some later episodes.
We also get more between Dukat and Garak, elaborating on the rivalry that was hinted at in “Cardassians.” Seems Dukat’s own father was convicted by one of those kangaroo courts the Cardassians love so much. It casts Dukat’s praise of them in “The Maquis, Part II” in a much darker light. Does he really think they’re great, in which case that his father is a traitor to the state -- and remember how important both family and the state are to a Cardassian psyche. Or was that mere lip service to a human rival, talking up one’s own culture at the expense of another? Or does Dukat fear that fate, as well, and finds himself compelled to sing their praises on the off chance there’s an Obsidian Order listening device around? Here, Garak uses it to needle Dukat about his father’s ultimate fate. Dukat, though, is far too interested in flirting with Kira, something Garak calls out immediately. It’s played for laughs, and Kira is suitably frustrated and disgusted by the advances.
Yet that is a disturbing implication. Nana Visitor did not like the way this was framed, as during the Occupation Dukat could have just had her. That would have been it. She believed that Kira should have been panicked and sickened, and it’s hard to argue with that character interpretation. I’m not certain if DS9’s writing staff was entirely dudes, but this, along with another plot thread that was debated between Visitor and Behr, certainly implies a lack of female voices. That’s not to say the scene doesn’t work, but it does on the back of some shaky motivation. The other disturbing implication is that the Bajorans revolted enough to require not only recorded messages, but automatic gas sprayers. This calls to mind the Holocaust, one of the obvious inspirations for the story. Though the dialogue does mention the plight of the workers (O’Brien and Jake both discuss the hellish conditions in hushed tones.), the gas is processed more as a hazard and less a horrifying war crime.
There’s still fun to be had, even in the middle of this metaphor. One of my favorite parts of fiction are “Stuff That Must Have Happened” scenes. These are the kinds of scenes that exist between the stuff we actually see. In well-crafted stories, these scenes might be ridiculous (That’s probably why we don’t see them.), but they’re at least logical. Think of the Robot Chicken sketch of Vader calling the Emperor to tell him the Death Star blew up. Ridiculous, but it makes sense. Contrast this to the part in The Dark Knight when Joker throws Rachel out the window. They were in a tower. There was no helicopter. That means that the Joker, at some point, passes Batman on the street, in the lobby, or in the stairwell. Makes no sense.
But here, we have the majesty of Dukat’s recordings. He seems to have them for every conceivable contingency. No matter what happens, Dukat’s face pops up on the computer, and in his faintly disappointed, lecturing tone, he tells the Bajorans what they should do. He’s not mad. He’s just disappointed. So, in the Stuff That Must Have Happened, Dukat spent a day recording these things. He probably had a script that was handed to him. Maybe a subordinate was by the replicator for craft services. There are so many questions here! Oh, Dukat. You are as wacky as you are monstrous.
Next up: The worst episode in the series.