In which Miles eats kelp, confronts his past, and isn’t quite as over it as he thinks he is.
The Enterprise is out mapping near the Cardassian sector. Apparently there has been a war on that we never heard of. This in itself tells us that either the Federation is so large that pulling the Enterprise in would have been a waste of time, or that there has been a long tail-end to the war into peace. Both are fairly plausible, although I seem to recall that if you get Miles Edward O’Brien drunk he’ll give you a long and sordid history of the Cardassian War. I am, however, getting ahead of myself. Absinthe will do that.
In fact, Picard was last here on the Stargazer trying to make overtures toward peace, and the Cardassians shot at him with his shields down and he still managed to escape in a Constellation-class. Given that our primary Starfleet reference points are a battleship and an overengineered luxury liner, the Constellations tend to seem like a puppy that someone forgot to close the fence on. In turn, this doesn’t give us a whole lot of respect for the strength of Cardassian ships.
O’Brien is, in fact, sitting in his quarters with his new wife Keiko and complaining about Japanese cuisine. His idea of a hearty breakfast is scalloped potatoes and corned beef hash, not kelp loaf. This is because O’Brien’s mother is one of those people who didn’t believe in Replicator technology. I can’t help feeling like the current incarnation of this technology must be relatively recent – introduced during her lifetime, perhaps. The adoption curve and common objections seem to parallel the science oven microwave. Similarly, Keiko is horrified by the thought of a human touching raw meat with their hands.
The Cardassians show up and open fire, and do negligable damage to the Enterprise before she gets her shields up. Picard disables it with a few quarter-second phaser bursts, at which point Gul Macetdecides he’s willing to talk, although he thinks they’re at war again. He also thinks a Federation starship destroyed their science station recently, but he distinguishes his species from a certain other bumpy-headed species I could name by admitting that talking is probably better than pushing a conflict with a ship that just disabled him without breaking a sweat.
It turns out that the admiralty confirms that Captain Benajmen Maxwell of the Phoenix did, in fact, attack a Cardassian outpost, and it’s now up to Picard to track them down and preserve the peace, since the Federation is not prepared for another war. This lends credence to the notion that the war was devastating but has wound down over the years such that the Enterprise never needed to be deployed. Picard will be taking three Cardassians on board as observers to see fair play.
Worf posts guards on some sensitive areas of the ship, Troi is tasked with making sure the crew doesn’t get too riled up, and it turns out that O’Brien served with Maxwell in the pastm so Picard will be interviewing him. Of course, O’Brien is also there to beam the Cardassians on board, and Troi picks up her first real hint of unease.
Technical details break. Geordi mentions that the sensors can scan in a radius of ten light-years, which lets them scan one sector per day. Since at maximum warp a ship can travel about 7 light-years per day, this actually means that the long-range sensors ought to give over 24 hours warning when the Enterprise is at rest, and 12 hours warning if it’s moving at maximum warp itself.
It also turns out Maxwell lost his family in a Cardassian sabotage action against a Federation outpost, and O’Brien is holding onto a lot of hostility from the war. Which makes things super awkward when the Cardassian aides follow him into the turbolift. He’s being a dutiful officer, but he’s not exactly embracing the peace process.
O’Brien has created a potato casserole for Keiko. Apparently they got married without ever actually sharing their food, and likes his green vegetables like he likes his feelings – buried, hidden, or nonexistent.
Gul Macet is trying to get the transpoder frequency for the Phoenix, which is an entirely reasonable request under the circumstances. It’s just that, with those codes, the Cardassians will be able to do to the Phoenix what Kirk did to the Reliant – havaing a warship with remote override codes is still considered a good idea. Picard finally capitulates, having been ordered to use any means necessary to avoid reopening a war. It’s too bad for Macet that Cardassian warships are no match for a Nebula-class starship even with its shields down. This is another one of those cases where the dialogue and the plot don’t quite match, and we are forced to conclude that the Federation could easily just curbstomp whatever power is currently giving it grief and chooses not to because ethics.
I’m not complaining, just pointing out that the Federation seems to be more constrained by its own ethics than by military hardware, and remained so even in the face of devastating Cardassian stealth attacks.
O’Brien tells Picard that Ben Maxwell is the other finest captain in Starfleet, and the Cardassians must be up to something because Maxwell would never succumb to vengeance. Picard says some things that have O’Brien reexamining his attitudes, and in fact he has a drink with one of the Cardassian aides to talk about the war. The Cardassians, it turns out, had been told that Setlec 3 was a military outpost. Of course, that didn’t stop them from continuing the massacre once they found out it was a civilian colony, and O’Brien relives his first kill in a super uncomfortable scene.
Honestly, so far the Cardassians (at least, Gul Macet) appear to be acting in good faith. He seems to want peace as much as Picard, although the argument could be made by a Federation nationalist that he just knows that his people couldn’t possibly survive if the Federation wanted to win a war of extermination.
When they eventually track down the Phoenix, Maxwell agrees to come aboard. Let’s just get one thing straight. There are two possibilities here. Either Maxwell legitimately knows that the Cardassians are up to some treachery and is trying to put a stop to it, or Ben Maxwell has PTSD and is masking it well, but has a deep fixation. Either way, the first time he runs into a Cardassian on the Enterprise is not going to go well, particularly once it comes out Picard is working with them.
Maxwell insists that the Cardassians are re-arming in a private meeting with Picard, but he lacks hard evidence. He had to act, you see, because the Federation bureaucracy wouldn’t deal with the threat in time. Maxwell has a mini-meltdown, but Picard lets him return to his ship. I want to be very clear here. Maxwell agrees to return to his ship, and says he understands that his orders are to return to starbase. Do you know what he hasn’t said? That he’s going to follow them. For lying, he knew, was a sin.
They’re almost back to Federation space when the Phoenix breaks off to take out another Cardassian vessel, and the Enterprise goes into pursuit. Picard must now call on Maxwell’s former tactical officer to determine what Maxwell is going to do. Maxwell has engaged a Cardassian supply freighter and urges Picard to board it and see what they’re carrying. O’Brien uses his magic transporter knowledge to get over to the Phoenix and try to talk to Maxwell. In the end, he’s able to talk Maxwell down into surrender.
That said, Picard seems to be harboring the same suspicions that Maxwell had – the transport ship was suspicious, the outposts are suspiciousm and Picard chose peace not because he trusted the Cardassians, but because he would rather have peace than war. That said, ominous things are on the horizon.
As species introductions go, this is one of the better ones. It ranks up there with “Balance of Terror,” though it doesn’t stand out as much by virtue of being among other good episodes. As far as racist general characterizations of other species and their mono-cultures, we get the sense of Cardassains as smooth, professional, and as devious if not moreso than the Romulans we’ve come across so far.