In which Deep Space Nine shows us its true potential for the first time.
Kira opens mid-sentence with a bit of a puzzler. “We never cared what we did as long as it annoyed the grown-ups.” I say that this is a puzzler because we also have a little insight into what Ro Larren’s childhood in the Resistance was like, and she doesn’t emphasize the whimsical. Jadzia, or at least one of Dax’s previous hosts, was a champion winder-breaker. But as they go about their duties and chat, a freighter delivers a patient who has a medical condition called Kalla-Nohra, which Kira recognizes with a kind of slow horror.
Kalla-Nohra is apparently a condition that is only known to occur in survivors of a particular disaster in a particular labor camp. Its sufferers are an inspiring symbol to Bajorans… when its sufferers aren’t Cardassians. Put it this way. Imagine finding out someone who survived Aushwitz is suffering from symptoms of acute malnutrition and then when you get to the hospital it turns out Rudolf Höss hasn’t been eating his asparagus. Kira is… displeased.
The Cardassian patient tries to scamper away and is quickly apprehended. Kira accuses this Aamin Marritza of being a war criminal, based on being a Cardassian with Kalla-Nohra which, if half of Kira’s litany is true, seems like pretty solid grounds for arrest and investigation. Also, lest we forget, the station is Bajoran property and Sisko continues to throw the might of the Federation around.
Marritza claims he has a different disease that has the same symptoms and medication as Kalla-Nohra, and is a mere military file clerk who’s never even been to Bajor. Bashir, however, can tell the difference, and there is no other way for anyone to contract Kalla-Nohra than to be at the Gallitep labor camp. Kira is not flying off the handle alone – the Bajoran planetary authorities are backing her and giving Sisko his marching orders. Sisko is still unwilling to let it go until the investigation concludes, which is solid, but he’s also running into friction with his second-in-command.
So beginneth the best scene in early DS9. Kira sits down in the brig to interrogate Marritza, who’s very genial about his time as a filing clerk, although he now admits he was at Gallitep. He refuses to be intimidated, and talks about how he would have preferred not to be drafted, but if you have to be a military clerk, you should strive to be the best you can. He even got a commendation from Gul Darheel.
Just as Marritza refuses to be intimidated, Kira refuses to be distracted by antics and relentlessly drags the tone down to match all that pesky business of institutionalized torture and murder. Marritza insists that, aside from the fact that it was a labor camp, most of the horrors were perpetrated by the inmates on each other. He’s been so calm up to this point that one almost manages to be distracted from the fact that the labor camps weren’t a Bajoran invention. He also insists that the Cardassians staged the atrocities in order to inspire fear, and with that throws the accusation of vengeance back on Kira.
It just wouldn’t be a Cardassian-heavy episode if Dukat didn’t show up. Sisko’s trying to verify the identity of Marritza and Dukat is on the other end, acting like a snake. Wait, is that racist? Speciesist, or whatever? Kira wants Marritza to be guilty of something, so that Bajor can get a little closure. Sadly(?) Marritza’s story seems to be checking out. All we get is a blurry photo, but Dax’s image enhancement shows that someone else is on record. Magic image reconstruction that can create new information out of nothing reveals that Marritza is, in fact, Gul Darheel. So, yeah. Space-Rudolf-Höss is in the brig messing with Kira’s head.
Kira runs back to the Brig to keep Marritza/Darheel updated, and all he does is taunt, and it’s an incredible performance. His soliloquy and Kira’s mounting look of absolute horror, talking about what a glorious leader he was and how no tribunal can possibly change the fact of the camp, and the occupation… and then just the barest hint of worry at the end.
Kira has no response to this but to kind of mentally collapse in Odo’s office. She was prepared for him to grovel, to beg for his life, to feel shame for his actions. Not for him to believe they were right. For all her bravado and for all the action she saw in the resistance, this looks like the first time Kira’s ever actually come face to face with a monster.
Odo is commiserating with her, but picks up on the fact that Darheel knew one critical detail he’d have no reason to know. Cue the creeping strings, and Kira now has something she can focus on, instead of letting Darheel run the show. Odo looks through off-station requests concerning Kira, and a bunch of convenient witnesses and survivors of Gallitep show up to see justice done. He also runs down some other leads, including requesting information from Dukat that Darheel is dead (and whose funeral Dukat personally attended) and that Kira’s file was accessed by Marritza.
Kira and ‘Darheel’ are still going at it. While the Bajoran resistance killed Cardassian civilians for the survival of the Bajoran species, ‘Darheel’ justifies the Bajoran genocide on the basis that Cardassia needed the resources. This more or less fits with Gul Madred’s statements in Chain of Command. Darheel wasn’t at Gallitep when the accident occurred and therefore couldn’t possibly have the disease he has, and the man now claiming to be Darheel seems to have deliberately gotten himself nabbed. And Bashir finds in Marritza’s medical records that he’s been taking a drug typically used after plastic surgery.
Now that Kira has the truth and is no longer playing the game he wants, he refuses to take part. He gets out the rest of his planned monologue before breaking down and letting the file clerk who couldn’t bear to hear the screaming out at last. When Kira understands and tries to let him go, Marritza refuses, because he believes Cardassia needs to take some measure of responsibility for its crimes against Bajor, and he’s eager to step up. Kira refuses to let him, on the basis that people like him should stick around to teach others how to be decent.
You’d almost think that that’s how the episode ends – with Marritza slowly building a movement back on Cardassia, but in the last 35 seconds the writers of this episode decide to give you one final reminder, as if the entire plot so far weren’t enough, that this is not TNG.