The Future Will Be Carpeted: An Analysis of ‘Deep Space Nine (S4E13)’

“There was a time when the mere mention of my race inspired fear. And now, we’re a beaten people. Afraid to fight back because we don’t want to lose what little is left . . . I am the only Cardassian left. And, if no one else will stand against the Klingons, I will.”
     -- Gul Dukat

All of the best villains assume they are heroes. If they have to undertake actions others would find distasteful or even evil, it is the fault of even worse enemies laying in wait from the shadows. The extreme actions are necessary, and only the villain can truly understand them. This might sound strange when you apply it to a war criminal like Darth Vader or Thulsa Doom (or someone not played by James Earl Jones, I guess), but it’s also the reason that when you’re speeding through traffic, it’s because you’re late for an important meeting (with your toilet, because let’s be honest here), but when it’s someone else, it’s because they’re an uncaring maniac. This is called the fundamental attribution error, and it basically means any one of us could theoretically become a genocidal madman.

Gul Dukat never thinks of himself as a bad guy. He knows that he should, and often puts on a pantomime of regret, for the benefit of someone he wants to impress, the usual targets being Sisko, Ziyal, and especially Kira. He wants them to see what the desperation of the Occupation forced an otherwise good man into doing. Now, free of all that, he can lead the life of achievement he was always meant to.

The problem is, in the ruthlessly bureaucratic Cardassian culture, Dukat has failure stamped across that spoon on his forehead. He was in charge of Bajor when Cardassia was forced to withdraw. While he can’t really be blamed for that, this is a Stalinist culture we’re talking about, so he pretty much was. Right when he was able to claw his way back to the top by throwing his support behind the revolutionary government, he brings home a fresh disgrace: his illegitimate half-Bajoran daughter, Tora Ziyal. The second season episode “Cardassians” was all about Dukat using a scandal like this in an attempt to take down a rival, so his present downfall has more than a whiff of karma about it.

He’s reduced to piloting a Cardassian cargo ship, which Kira learns when he shows up to the station as her ride. She’s going to meet with a group of Cardassian and Bajoran diplomats, ready to share intelligence on the Klingons. It’s a pretty weird situation for Kira to be in, but ever since joining the military, she has been forced into a more diplomatic role.

Dukat spends the trip sleazing all over Kira while she reconnects with Ziyal. When they arrive, they find that the Cardassian base has been destroyed and everyone inside -- Cardassian and Bajoran -- has been killed. A Klingon Bird of Prey decloaks, scans them, and moves off. Dukat fires phasers, but the attack is so pathetic it can’t even break the unshielded ship’s hull. As a final insult, the Klingons fly directly over the freighter and warp away.

Dukat, humiliated and defeated, lets Central Command know about the destruction and the Klingon raider operating behind Cardassian lines. The nearest Cardassian warship is three days away, and by the time they show up, the Klingons will be gone, hitting another target. Kira, who had been begging Dukat to stand down in the first encounter, now wants to hunt the Bird of Prey down and make them pay. She suggests taking one of the station’s disruptors and installing it into the cargo bay. Dukat protests. The cargo bay wasn’t designed for this, and neither was the disruptor. Kira is back in her old Resistance days, using what they have to best effect.

Kira wears the uniform of a soldier, but she isn’t one. Or at least, she isn’t naturally one. She is a resistance fighter, or as many characters will say, a terrorist. It’s a bit odd to see this word thrown about so casually, though when it is said, there is usually some extra venom to it. In fairness, the description is an apt one: Kira killed Cardassian civilians in her time, and targeting civilians is the common metric of the terrorist.

Dukat and Kira deduce the Bird of Prey’s next target and create a false dilithium signature for their ship, flying there and simply waiting as bait. It works, and they cripple the Klingon ship before quickly beaming over to engineering and swapping crews with the transporter. (If it sounds familiar, Kirk does the same thing in Search for Spock.) Dukat and Kira stand on the bridge, flush with victory, now looking at the disabled Cardassian freighter now filled with over thirty Klingons. Kira is celebratory. Dukat contemplates the ship, and with a press of a button, destroys it. “Was that really necessary?” a flabbergasted Kira asks.

“You’re the terrorist,” he says with chilling serenity. “You tell me.”

Dukat, now with a captured Bird of Prey absolutely stuffed with useful intelligence, enough, Kira notes, to mount a nasty counterattack, contacts Central Command. Instead of putting him at the head of a new Cardassian battle fleet, they order him home. There will be no attack. He begins the mother of all Cardassian rants, from which the episode quote is drawn (which, incidentally, is a paraphrase of a quote by the great Sitting Bull). Cardassians love to hear themselves talk, and Dukat is the most Cardassian of all, so this rant is something to behold. He bitterly dismisses his people as cowards, pledges to attack the Klingons on his own if he has to, and asks Kira to join him. He claims to only want her expertise, but the truth is a narcissist like Dukat can’t stand that someone hates him. She eventually turns him down and gets him to agree to send Ziyal to live with her on the station. Kira sees herself in the young half-Bajoran, and she doesn’t want Ziyal to have the same hard life she did.

In the duration of the series, this is the defining Dukat episode. It’s also my favorite of the fourth season. While Dukat had been getting softer and more humanized (Sorry for the racism.), this episode managed to walk the tightrope between both extremes. He has elements of the kinder, gentler Dukat in the way his daughter speaks about him or the passion he has about who his people used to be. There’s also the psychopath who coldly executes almost forty Klingons. It’s also worth noting that the first thing he mentions about his race is that they used to be spoken of with fear. So, we’re not talking about everyone hugging.

It’s also a hugely important episode for continuity. Dukat’s second in command, Damar, is introduced here. Though it’s a relatively quiet introduction for such an important character, they had big plans, and the director shoots him like a major character, with close ups and reaction shots. This isn’t the last of Dukat in his pirate Bird of Prey -- still the coolest ship design Star Trek ever managed. It’s the pirate’s life for him, and it’s pretty darn cool.

Dukat managed to be both humanized and inhumanized in this hour, shown to have the potential to be good, but pushed to greater evil. This episode is the externalization of the fundamental attribution error, as, in his situation, would we do any less?

Next up: Worf rufies his brother.

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