The short answer is, who knows? And, there’s no way I’m going to answer it in a review of an episode of 1995 television. I only bring it up because this is what this episode, in both the A and B plots, finds itself concerned with. What is not surprising, though perhaps a bit disappointing, is the way the prejudices of the time bleed through and infect what should be a far-future relatively free of such things. It’s even more stark in contrast with next week’s episode, which tackles the one taboo Trek has historically been squeamish about.
The B plot confronts gender politics right there in the text. Sisko and Kasidy’s relationship is going well, but the long-distance aspects are tough. So, she finds a solution: accept a job from the Bajoran government as a freighter captain, and she can live locally, even on DS9 itself. Sisko finds himself blindsided and reacts with insufficient enthusiasm. What follows is some relatively limp relationship bickering and counseling, in which we wonder how much more trouble Sisko will be in if he said it was a “big step” or a “very big step.” The only one who enlivens things is Quark, who embarks on a deliciously wrongheaded rant about how dating is a war and women are the enemy.
The unfortunate part of all this is the idea that Sisko must throw himself at the mercy of Kasidy for inadvertently offending her and admit all wrongdoing. I could be totally wrong here, but I always thought this exaggerated attitude of “respect” was a tad bit condescending. This idea that women were inherently irrational, and that men had to publicly humble themselves as part of the pantomime of relationship. It seemed like a bone tossed to women, “Look, we’re still going to pay you seventy cents on the dollar for your work, but, occasionally, we’ll kiss your asses if we think you’re acting crazy. Cool? Cool.”
That it should be in the far future when gender equality is more or less assumed is kind of sad. Look at the other cultures on display. The Bajorans, for one, show an astonishing amount of gender equality. The Cardassians, on the other hand, not so much. Remember, the women we see in public settings are spies and scientists (and to be fair, Cardassian men are considered too lunkheaded for intellectual pursuits). To a Cardassian, family is paramount, and it’s not hard to draw a parallel. After all, those who most loudly trumpet “family values” tend to be the ones most concerned with stripping the rights from women.
Cardassian family values (established in the second season episode, “Cardassians”) dovetails with a more nuanced characterization of Gul Dukat (established in the two-parter, “The Maquis”) to produce a pretty fascinating hour. Kira has been on a six-year quest to find a Cardassian prison ship, the Ravinok, which was lost and likely wrecked. Onboard was the man who recruited her into the Shakaar Resistance Cell. When she gets the first promising lead in some time, she goes looking. Only the Cardassian government has heard about it and wants to send a representative along. That representative is inevitably Gul Dukat.
Dukat has his own reasons for going. He had a Bajoran mistress, and with her, a half-Cardassian daughter, Tora Ziyal. He plans to find them, if they’re still alive, and kill them himself, ostensibly to spare them the pain of intolerance, but really to safeguard his now more precarious position. They find the survivors of the Ravinok now toiling on a hellish world mining dilithium for the Breen (a great, villainous race who will figure quite largely in DS9’s endgame), and Dukat learns that while his mistress is dead, his daughter is alive and was praying for his return. He can’t bring himself to kill her and resolves, instead, to take her back to Cardassia, where his political career will likely be ruined. Remember, that was the entire plot of “Cardassia,” only Dukat was on the other side of things.
The truly interesting part comes early in the episode when Dukat casually starts sleazing on Kira. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Major, but I’ve always admired you. You are an embodiment of the new Bajor, a Bajoran born out of the ashes of the Occupation, a Bajoran tempered in Cardassian steel . . . I know you find this hard to accept, but I believe that in some ways, the Occupation actually helped Bajor.”
“Which part? The massacres or the strip mining?” Kira sneers.
She’s right, of course. The question is, is Dukat as well? I am a big fan of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast, and when he kicked off his recent five-part episode on the Mongols (called, appropriately enough for this space, “Wrath of the Khans”), he speculated on the soothing power of history. Divorce yourself in time long enough, and slaughter begins to look a lot like progress. Carlin’s point is that any of the great “civilizing” periods throughout history were unmitigated bloodbaths. It’s only about five or six hundred years later, once we can no longer draw a direct connection to the dead, that we reinterpret them in a more favorable light.
Dukat points out that the Bajorans were an isolationist, contemplative race when the Cardassians arrived, and now they’re a vital people who are quite willing to face hell because they’ve already seen it. Considering Bajor had spaceworthy vessels before Cardassia but never did much with them, he might have a point, though it is a hollow one. Besides, Dukat is a profoundly self-serving man, always ready to interpret his own actions in the most noble ways, and cast himself as a sort of Batman to Sisko’s overly naïve Superman. Not to completely scramble my ‘90s pop culture references, but in this episode, he is more akin to Frasier Crane in the pilot of his eponymous show. All Frasier wants from his father is a thank you (which he gets in the series finale, because awwwww). All Dukat wants is for Kira to like and respect him. What he doesn’t understand is that he’s Space Hitler, and Kira is a Space Israeli.
Dukat, however, is nothing if not persistent.
Next up: Dax confronts the final Trill taboo.