In which a Cardassian orphan appears, a difficult custody hearing is had, and a chess-master is revealed.
Bashir and Garak are enjoying a drink together, and chatting about the day. We also get a very important question answered – on a Bajoran station, who goes to a Cardassian tailor? Julian is still convinced Garak is a spy, but the conversation is quickly diverted when Garak spots a Cardassian child in Bajoran clothing and wearing a Bajoran earring. You can pretty much immediately imagine the backstory, but you probably won’t have to, because the kid goes nuts when Garak gets close, and bikes Garak’s hand. To be fair, Garak is basically the physical embodiment of Stranger Danger.
Bashir is late to work because of this, and feels the need to mention this thing to the Ops staff. And Kira just throws out ‘yeah, Bajorans took care of Cardassian orphans. What were we going to do, not take care of them?’ After that three-parter where Bajoran separatists tried to kill Starfleet personnel, it’s nice to hear her be so casual about it, but Bashir can be forgiven for his surprise. Of course, this heartening moment is immediately glossed over because Dukat… on Cardassia, is calling about the very incident that made Bashir late for work not two minutes ago. Sisko hangs a lampshade on how fast Dukat got the news, but let’s think about this.
If Garak is spying for the Cardassians, he’s either the worst spy ever or Dukat is trying to get him killed. It’s been twenty minutes, tops, since Garak got bitten, Bashir took him down to the infirmary and got a nurse to wave a lightbulb over his hand, and then Bashir showed up at Ops. In that time, someone called Cardassia and got word to Dukat that Garak was attacked. Dukat then spent at least five minutes scheming about how he can be the biggest douchebag about this, and calls Sisko. Now, if Garak was a spy for the Cardassians, he just blew his cover because there’s very little reason to suspect anyone else of spying for the Cardassians and having channels up to Dukat. So either Garak did absolutely no math about the future of his cover identity, Dukat wants Garak outed in a way that is plausibly deniable, or there’s some rando on the station taking Cardassian contracts.
And Dukat does appear to know about the Cardassian war orphans and have an agenda about it. He wants to bring the war orphans home, because he’s afraid they’re being raised to hate Cardassians. The old man seems to genuinely care for the boy, but has also told the truth about what his people did on, or perhaps to Bajor.
Bashir has taken up the case. We find him interviewing Fat Hellboy about the incident, because Fat Hellboy knows some things about the family. And Fat Hellboy tells a different story – that the boy is being mistreated by his parents, and so Sisko has to take the Rugel boy away from his parents, at least until such time as this whole thing is figured out. Child abuse is a hell of a topic to take on. Also, at the end of the scene, Sisko gives the old Bajoran this Look which is somewhere between ‘as a father I sympathize with you but this is regulations’ and ‘as a father if I find out you have been mistreating this boy I will shove you out an airlock.’
So apaprently Bashir didn’t actually even bother treating Garak’s hand. They’re getting to that now, after something like a day and a half, and Bashir mentions that Dukat was so concered for Garak’s well-being and the war orphan situation. Garak immediately gets the joke, and tries to gently guide Bashir towards the realization that the typical German Cardassian efficiency with which Dukat would have organized the departure from Bajor would not have had him just forgetting about all those children. Which leads to Bashir interrupting a conference call between Sisko and Dukat.
Sisko is not at all pleased when he gets the story. Nor is O’Brien when he finds out that Rugel was playing with Molly now that he’s in the care of Keiko. It really isn’t anyone’s fault, but I had managed to forget that O’Brien hates Cardassians more than Kira does, apparently. The fact that Keiko made Cardassian Blue Stew for the two people who can’t stand anything Cardassian can only add to the awkwardness, but at least it gets O’Brien to see past the scales.
Late at night, Bashir awakens to see Garak smiling at him. It’s even creepier than it sounds, and he convinces Bashir that they need to go to Bajor. It never rains but it pours – Dukat calls with the news that the Rugel’s biological father is a prominent politician. At least this means Bashir has a reason to go to Bajor with Garak and scare the local population. They don’t find the right file, but they do find a bunch of other war orphans, some of whom seem to want to go to Cardassia. Bashir is done with the games, and Garak has to guide him towards the right answer.
It’s a political game – Dukat is using Rugel to get political revenge against the civilian leader who organized the evacuation from Bajor. It’s unclear as to what the endgame is, though, unless it’s simply to use the boy as leverage to get… what? Dukat doesn’t have the control necessary for leverage. Maybe he just wants to destroy the guy’s life out of spite.
Rugel’s father gives a big impassioned speech about how important family is on Cardassia. Which fits in with other things we’ve seen. Remember Gul Madred even participated in Bring Your Daughter To Work day. It’s possibly even more culturally significant to Cardassians than humans.
Now that Rugel has made his intentions to stay on Bajor plain, both of the kid’s dads petition Sisko to be a neutral-ish arbiter over the fate of the child. Also, Gul Dukat has shown up just to make things even more intense. Garak plays some mental chess against Dukat’s past and finds out that Rugal was the only Cardassian orphan who was brought in by a Cardassian – a military officer and one attached to Terok Nor (that’s the Cardassian name for the station that would become Deep Space Nine) so apparently Dukat set this up eight years ago as a time bomb to sink the guy just in case he ever needed to. Like if there was ever about to be an inquiry into the Cardassian involvement in the arms sales to the Bajoran nationalists.
So it’s all very convoluted and satisfying,except that Rugel’s wishes are totally steamrolled and he gets sent back to Cardassia, but here’s the really important takeaway here: Gul Dukat’s reach and foresight are, for the purposes of this show, infinite. Eight years ago he set contingencies into motion and then managed to trigger them somehow – by the seemingly random occurrence of a man taking his son to see the wormhole and then biting Garak – at exactly the right time to assist him in a time of political stress. The fact that he doesn’t seem to have succeeded is not comforting to those who suspect he might have other plans in motion.