Episode 3.5: Second Skin

Cardassian deception is unlike most deceptions seen elsewhere in DS9 (ie the Founders, the Maquis) or even in our common experience.  Cardassian deception is so deep that it seeks to alter an individual’s perception of reality.  This makes them brilliant antagonists.  Consider Duet (1.19), where Marritza attempted to change who he was emotionally and physically to match a reality where his superior was duly punished for his crimes.  To cross series, think of the iconic TNG episode Chain of Command, Part 2 (Ep. 6.11) where Gul Madred tries to convince Picard that there are 5 lights instead of 4 (Side note:  Easily in my Top 5 TNG episodes).  Tribunal (Ep. 2.25) where the trial is meant to declare a new reality where O’Brien was guilty, because the state is never wrong.  This is insidious and requires a culture-wide, deep commitment to order and control.

Kira’s sense of identity is rock-solid.  She fought in a rebellion to declare her planet’s independence.  Those experiences harden a person’s perception of self.  Alongside her faith, Kira’s solid sense of identity is why I like her character so much.  She doesn’t need to figure herself out; rather, she’s trying to navigate life as best as she can.  To use an analogy, she knows her boat very well, and this enables her to look to the horizon with determination.  I strongly identify with these sentiments.  Entek attacks this utterly foundational aspect of her identity, that of being a once-oppressed but now-freed Bajoran.  He brutally weaves element after element of near-truth that almost convinces Kira she isn’t even the same species that she’s always known.  As with all good deceptions, Entek doesn’t claim anything outside the bounds of the power of the Obsidian Order, which he uses to systematically strip Kira of her identity.  Intriguingly, he starts simply by changing her face and treating her with respect.  With each additional element (Illiana’s father, the body, the recording), Kira’s resolve degrades.  What is real?  Could the absurd actually be true?  When Kira breaks the mirror, that is symbolic of her will breaking.  Had Ghemor not attempted to get her off Cardassia, Kira would have surrendered at the next meeting with Entek.  She faced total immersion in this deception, and no one could stand against that.  At the end, there is another parallel with Duet (Ep. 1.19).  Kira sees the true honor that Ghemor has, once again looking past his outer skin and into his inner character.  In a poetic twist, the Cardassian Tekeny Ghemor becomes a father figure to Kira, who lost her own father to the Cardassians.  She even wants him to stay.  Ghemor will return, to my delight.

There is tremendous power in being able to weave the strands of history.  Even without the power of the Obsidian Order, simply being able to selectively prune facts out of a story strongly influences where the listener ends up emotionally.  This is why a telling of history or any current event *simply is not just a retelling of facts*.  Immense care must be taken to curate the facts into a coherent narrative that truly gives justice to the individuals and motivations involved.  Historical and current events, in the fullest sense, are narratives supported by facts.  And Entek goes beyond even this by abandoning facts altogether to weave a narrative of his choosing.  Interestingly, this remains a current issue (is there anything new under the sun?); our current media are talking about a post-truth politics.  The way some politicians talk, they desire reality itself to be remodeled to a narrative of their choosing.  This leads to control, then oppression.  I am immensely concerned that we are on this path.  Hope lies in the journalists and the historians.  They are the gatekeepers of these narratives, and they are the best firewall against this reforging of history.  As citizens, we are responsible for broadening our horizons and listening, but those professions have a unique duty.

Back to this episode, the dissident movement grows.  Legate Ghemor is painted, at least by Entek, as a key figure in the movement.  And the movement is feared by those in power.  The Obsidian Order goes to great length to find a Bajoran who both looks like Illiana and provide the elements to convince Ghemor his daughter was in danger.  Even though Kira was nearly surrendered, the Order’s target was Ghemor.  Once again, an excellent misdirection at the episode level.  To maintain the narratives that the Order wants, they must rule with an iron fist.  Alternative thought simply cannot be tolerated.  It is here that, I think, Garak unofficially becomes part of the dissident movement.  Along with his actions in Profit and Loss (Ep. 2.18), Garak purposefully rescues dissidents.  In both episodes, he kills an official of the state!  Garak is in his element here, using his connections and information to guide an outcome that he desires.  He is at his most confident when he’s facing down Entek and destroying the Order’s plans.  Ghemor’s ending warning is meant both for Kira and the viewer.  Garak is on the side of the DS9 crew for now, but his desires are not their desires.  They’ve seen how powerful he is, and he cannot be underestimated.

Random Thoughts:  1) I’m a biostatistician, and the issue of properly telling a narrative with facts is immensely important to me.  I must judge the important components to relay to listeners so that an issue, from all sides, is fully represented.  I love this episode.  On the Excellent Episodes list, without blinking.  2) I’m very sad Entek is dead; he was a fantastic character.  The actor, Gregory Sierra, is another in the line of great guest actors on DS9.  He has no accolades, but has a very wide set of credits to his name.  3) The actor for Ghemor, Lawrence Pressman, is in the same vein.  Excellent actor with many credits across a lot of film disciplines.  I’m very glad he returns.  4) I now have two episodes on my Excellent Episodes list that feature honorable Cardassians and a deep, reality altering deception.  The other is Duet (Ep. 1.19).  5) Kira’s dislike of holosuites is mentioned for the first time.  6) I can’t remember if this is the first, but her history is clearly laid out.  From the Dakhur province and a member of the Shakaar resistance cell.  7) Robert Hewitt Wolfe wrote this one.  One of the best early writers for DS9.  8) Kira took public transit to Bajor.  Convenient for the plot, but I guess it fits since she’s not a Federation crew member, and thus cannot easily get a runabout for personal use (like O’Brien did in Tribunal, Ep. 2.25).  9) Hearing Nana Visitor’s voice out of a Cardassian is weird.  Gets me every time.  10) Kira is connected to art again.  It’s a neat theme they weave for Kira.  The what-ifs of life and how she could have turned out without the Occupation.  11) I like how, when Kira sees her own body, her voice cracks.  Symbolic of her resolve starting to crack too.  Nice touch.  12) Like her father, Illiana has a good heart.  She went to stop violence on Bajor.  13) So many good lines from Garak.  “Treason, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.”  14) Garak’s stretching is legs is likely due to his claustrophobia, not any sort of espionage.  The first indication that Garak has these issues.  15) I don’t normally like to include thoughts that I didn’t create while watching, but I read this from the DS9 Companion afterwards, and I liked it quite a lot.  Wolfe was very proud of the many elements of “second skins” he wove through the episode.  Kira, obviously.  But also Ghemor appears to be for the Cardassian government, but is really against it; the Defiant appears a freighter, but is a warship; Garak is appears a tailor, but really a spy; Sisko appears a Khobeerian and Odo a bag.  Several small deceptions to establish thematic continuity.

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~ by Joshua Black on November 26, 2016.

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