The imaginatively titled “Cardassians” is a solid story about innocent bystanders whose lives are upended by political gerrymandering. There are the Cardassian War Orphans, most notably the young Rugal, who are ripped away from the lives and families they know on Bajor in order to cover up a potential scandal involving a number of military higher-ups. But there is also the crew of Deep Space 9, namely Commander Sisko, who end up tasked with the unpleasant duty of uprooting these children from their homes as part of their jobs in order to avoid a diplomatic incident.
Like last season’s “Progress”, “Cardassians” examines the repercussions of life for administrators and local officials trying to do their best to represent their people, but who are ultimately at the whims of powerful governments and other systems of centralized authority who wish to consolidate power regardless of whether or not it serves the best interests of those who live under them. There’s no way to argue that being forcibly relocated to Cardassia, a planetary society he fears, distrusts and doesn’t even know, is going to be a net benefit for Rugal, so I’m not going to address it. Apart from the false equivalence in critiquing Rugal’s hatred of the Cardassians by paralleling it with the decades of brutal oppression those selfsame people inflicted on the Bajorans, there’s also the rather uglier implication that adopted children are always better off with their biological parents in every circumstance (the episode by no means endorses this perspective, but it doesn’t do enough to refute it either). But ultimately, this is a story about the Deep Space 9 crew having their hands tied in order to prevent them from making the obviously correct choice and exploring how to react to a situation like that.
The regulars themselves are a slightly mixed bag on this front…Commander Sisko is generally excellent, as are Garak and Doctor Bashir, but I disagree with some of how Miles O’Brien is written. His speech to Rugal near the end about how it’s wrong to write off an entire people with generalizations, stating that he himself has met some Cardassians he liked and some he didn’t, is beautiful knowing his backstory and an utterly perfect Star Trek moment. Or at least it would be if the chief’s history with the Federation-Cardassian War and the dismissive speciesist feelings he once suffered as a result of it were left unspoken and implied. Instead, the scene earlier in the episode where Miles expresses concern to Keiko about Molly associating with Rugal sort of undermines that moment’s effectiveness for me.
I know it was meant to show moral ambiguity and that racism is difficult to overcome overnight and how even good people can slip back into bad habits from time to time. But the thing is I don’t agree that was a good call. That’s not a Star Trek: The Next Generation message. This series is supposed to be showing us how we can *overcome* our various foibles and vices.…