Category Archives: Cardassian

“The Chase”

Early attempts at ‘Hands Across America’ didn’t go well.

Picard’s former archaeology professor and mentor, Galen (Norman Lloyd) asks Picard to join him on a super-secret mission. It would mean leaving the Enterprise, so Picard passes, and a disappointed Galen moves on. He is later killed when his shuttle is attacked, and Picard takes on the mysterious mission — which seems to be aimed at gathering DNA fragments from various worlds. Soon, the Klingons and Cardassians are involved (they apparently learned of Galen’s mission) and Picard gets the two rivals to work together. After some prerequisite deception — the Cardies try to sabotage the Enterprise and the Klingon captain (John Cothrantries to bribe Data — they all end up on a lifeless planet, where the last remaining DNA fragment is found. Then, the Romulans show up — they’d been shadowing the Enterprise — and a faceoff appears imminent. As the parties squabble with weapons drawn, Picard and Crusher extract the DNA and it activates an ancient hologram (Salome Jens) who tells the group that long ago her people spread their genetic material throughout space — possibly creating the bipeds we see all over Trek and hinting at the possibility that the races are somewhat related. The Klingons and Cardassians are unmoved, but the episode ends with the Romulan commander contacting Picard, saying perhaps they’re not that different after all.

“This artifact is priceless — but I’ll probably just leave it in the rubble after the ship crashes.”

Why it’s important

One of Star Trek’s biggest conceits has always been that most aliens look (basically) human. Aside from face makeup, Romulans, Klingons, Cardassians, etc., all have two arms and two legs. There are exceptions like the Tholians and the Sheliak. But by and large, Star Trek would be a lot harder to pull off if the aliens were more alien, so the concession is one we have to make, along the lines of the Universal Translator or Brent Spiner’s aging. This episode attempts to explain why a bunch of the aliens look the same. It’s not an ironclad explanation, as we’ll discuss. But this episode, quietly, tries to cover one piece of back story for the entire franchise.

Beyond that, this episode is quintessential Trek as told by TNG. It involves problem-solving, getting feuding aliens to work together, Picard’s ability to think big picture and the hope that the commonalities among the aliens we encounter are more important than their differences. The last shot, where Patrick Stewart plays Picard as both hopeful and amazed after his conversation with the Romulan commander, is just about perfect. In short, there might not be another TNG episode that is so TNG. This has long been one of my favorite episodes of the franchise, as it’s engaging and comes with a message without being preachy.

“Where’s Odo? I mean — we found none, like ourselves …”

What doesn’t hold up

While this episode has a lot of TNG’s strengths, it also has some of its weaknesses. This isn’t the worst example of Fun With DNA (“Unnatural Selection” or “Genesis” wins that award) but it’s in the top 10. It’s also a little too easy at the end that the last fragment would reprogram the tricorder to display the holographic image just as everyone’s got guns drawn. It works dramatically, but it’s more likely that the ancient message would have to be decoded somehow.

This episode also works for TNG, which largely takes place in the Alpha and Beta quadrants in (relatively) close proximity to Earth. But are we to believe that the ancient aliens planted DNA in the Gamma and Delta quadrants? We see bipeds from the Gamma Quadrant (on DS9) and from the Delta Quadrant (on Voyager) and we know from TNG that the Borg are essentially bipeds (a conglomeration of bipeds) from the Delta Quadrant. Maybe I could swallow that the ancient aliens had advanced propulsion, but did they have the time or interest to seed so much of the galaxy? The point is left vague as to whether all of the bipedal aliens descend from the ancient aliens, or if only some did.

Also, I’m not sure why Galen didn’t just ask Picard to help him and use the resources of the Enterprise. Galen was clearly concerned about the dangerous implications of his findings — and it’s unlikely that the Federation would have refused him (particularly if Picard vouched for him). It sets up for the drama of the first act and the mystery leading up to the conclusion, as Galen would have likely clued Picard in at some point if they were working together. It’s possible Galen didn’t want the Federation or any paramilitary organization to be part of his discovery, but he never says anything like that. And hell, the Enterprise does in a few days what Galen says would take several months!

Final thoughts

Complaints aside, I still really love this episode. It’s Picard at his best, and the guest actors are really pretty great. It’s interesting that Salome Jens shows up here as the female in the holographic projection, considering her next role is as DS9’s worst villain, the female Changeling. If this were further in Trek history — the Dominion doesn’t really pop up for another year or so — one might wonder if this were just an elaborate Dominion trick. 🙂

Coming next week …

The Klingon messiah returns. But is he still hanging with Genghis Khan?

“Chain of Command”

The galaxy’s weirdest barbershop quartet.

Part I: Picard, Crusher and Worf are assigned to a secret mission and Edward Jellico (Ronny Cox) is made captain of the Enterprise to deal with some new Cardassian tensions. Jellico’s a jerk and he ruffles everyone’s feathers, notably Riker’s. Meanwhile, Picard, Crusher and Worf leave to determine whether the Cardassians are building some super-bad weapons on a Cardassian planet. They get there and Picard is captured — and he learns there are no weapons and that the whole thing was a trap to get him.

Part II: Picard is drugged and tortured by the nasty Gul Madred (David Warner) who is intent on learning the Federation’s defense plans for a particular planet near the border, Minas Corva. The Cardies figured Picard would have known those plans as captain of the Enterprise, hence the trap. Meanwhile, Jellico and Riker clash, and Jellico relieves Riker of duty. As Picard is tortured again and again, the Enterprise learns that a fleet of Cardassian ships is in a Nebula near Minas Corva. Jellico swallows his pride and gets Riker to pilot a shuttle to lay mines on the Cardassian ships. Holding all the cards (hiyo!) Jellico forces the Cardassians to surrender. A visibly affected Picard later returns and takes back the Enterprise, but admits to Troi that he was about to cave to Madred’s torture.

“I said, ‘Get that fish out of the ready room.'”

Why it’s important

This is truly one of Trek’s darker — and best — two-parters. Stewart was never better as Picard, and the writing on the Cardassian planet (like when Picard tells Madred he pities him) was pitch perfect. Warner’s Madred was great, too. More on all of that momentarily …

Bigger picture, this really cements the Cardassians as power players on par with the Federation, Klingons and Romulans. Up until now, the Cardassians had appeared just twice and seemed more like peripheral bad guys (though well established peripheral bad guys). But this episode featured the look and feel of the Cardassians we see over the next seven years. It also likely was produced with DS9 in mind. The tensions Jellico is sent to address stem from the Cardassians redeploying forces that had withdrawn from the Bajoran sector. This two-parter aired in December 1992 and DS9’s pilot, “Emissary”, aired in early January 1993.

It is a shame we never saw Madred again, though.

“I’m taking the remote and changing the channel, human. You will now have to watch me in ‘Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.'”

What doesn’t hold up

The tension with Jellico was great — to a point. Unfortunately, the creators hammed it up too much. It’s unlikely Jellico would have been as hard-headed and that the crew (particularly Riker, Geordi and Crusher, in part two) would have been as obstinate. Even if you can shrug off Jellico’s issues, we know that the Enterprise crew is — or should be — more professional. More subtlety would have been appreciated, for almost everyone. The two exceptions are Troi (Marina Sirtis puts in a strong performance) and Data, who’s written and acted appropriately.

In fact, Jellico is actually in the right in the argument in which he relieves Riker. Picard took the assignment knowing that he’d likely be declared a renegade if he were captured. Riker accuses Jellico of trading Picard’s life to improve his bargaining position, but that’s actually what Jellico should do. We’re talking about the fate of two large space empires compared with the life of one man. It’s too bad Riker didn’t blow his top at another more reasonable time.

This episode is actually a good example of Riker-as-chowderhead that we see in TNG’s later seasons. The worst instances are in the “Times Arrow” two-parter — which we won’t review — in which Riker wants to put the lives of Data and Picard ahead of possibly thousands of people on Earth. There’s an awful line where Riker says, “What could be more important than Data?” despite the fact that the crew has learned a bunch of aliens are traveling back to the 19th century for unknown reasons. There and elsewhere in later TNG, Riker’s reactions and dialog are often used to afford other characters the opportunity to explain why tough decisions are being made. In this episode, it provides exposition as to why Picard’s life is mostly forfeit. Riker from earlier seasons would have been smarter.

It’s also a little hard to swallow that the Cardassians would go to such lengths to capture Picard, as the plan wouldn’t have had a high success rate. The idea that he’s one of very few Starfleet officers with experience in “theta band emissions” — which are part of the weapons the Cardassians were supposedly developing — is believable, I guess. But given the vastness of space, it would have been very likely that Picard wouldn’t have been around to fall for the trap. Hell, three weeks earlier (in “Rascals”) he was reduced in age to a teenager in a transporter accident! What would the Cardies have done if the effects couldn’t have been reversed — or if the Ferengi mercenaries had captured the Enterprise?

Also, I think that Riker, once again, doesn’t get the love he deserves from Starfleet. This is a guy who, you know, saved the Federation from the Borg. Even if Admiral Nechayev (Natalija Nogulich) decided on Jellico because of his experience with Cardassians, a line about how everyone appreciates what Riker had done for the Federation would have been appreciated. Hell, Jellico could have even said something about how he thinks Riker got credit that should have gone to the Enterprise crew.

One more Riker note: It’s odd that he’s considered the Enterprise’s best pilot, the “best there is”, as Geordi says. Is he really better than Data? I suppose Jellico wouldn’t have wanted to be without Data on the bridge, but still …

Final thoughts

Of course, this episode is really all about the torture scenes. Picard’s refusals to accede to Madred’s wishes — “THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!” — are a highlight of the franchise. Stewart and Warner are just so good in this episode that the stretch that is the setup for getting Picard to the planet where he’s tortured is basically worth it.

We also get the backdrop about how Cardassians treat prisoners. Their torture skills are discussed a lot on DS9. Although we saw them twice before (in “The Wounded” and “Ensign Ro”) we really didn’t know much about them. We learn a lot here, even though some of the backstory about them doesn’t mesh with what we learn later.

Of course, it’s too bad that we didn’t see Ensign Ro (Michelle Forbes) in this episode, in which her comments about Picard’s capture would have been interesting. She appeared in “Rascals”, three episodes prior to part one. It seems like she transferred off the ship shortly thereafter, as she doesn’t appear again for more than a year, in the penultimate TNG episode “Preemptive Strike”.

Coming later this week …

We learn why nearly all Star Trek aliens are bipeds. For serious.

“Ensign Ro”

“My name is Guinan. I tend bar, I co-host ‘The View’ and I listen.”

After an attack on a Federation colony, the Enterprise is asked to track down the alleged perpetrators, Bajoran terrorists. The Bajorans are (ahem) a race of refugees, forced from their homeworld (ahem) decades earlier by the Cardassians (whom we met in “The Wounded”). Admiral Kennelly (Cliff Potts) comes on board and tells Picard he must take on a Bajoran officer, the disgraced Ensign Ro Laren (Michelle Forbes). Ro has spent some time in prison after her actions resulted in the death of some officers, and her assimilation into the crew is difficult as several crew members (Riker and Geordi, notably) make it clear they object to her very presence. She helps Picard find the terrorist cell but then works separately, with direction from the admiral, to undermine the mission. Guinan befriends Ro and gets her to come clean to Picard. With Ro’s help, he uncovers a plot between the admiral and the Cardassians to flush out the Bajorans and end the terrorist threat. Picard then tells the admiral that the Cardassians used him — that the Bajorans couldn’t have attacked the Federation colony, as they don’t have the ability to travel far or fast enough to have carried it out. Picard then welcomes Ro to the crew.

Ro, Picard and Data in in a world of blankets.

Why it’s important

Ro becomes a quasi-regular over the next season-plus and shows up again in the seventh season (eight episodes in all). She was a nice addition to the cast that, too often, had no conflict and could be kinda dull. But, really, the setup here between the Cardassians and the Bajorans is key — despite the rough edges we’ve come to expect with the TNG/DS9 handoffs.

The Cardassian look is still off here — we see the weird uniforms from “The Wounded” again — but this episode kept the Cardassians from being one-off baddies that we never see again. So, good on that.

Lastly, this is one of the clearest examples — though not really the first — of the Federation bending overly backwards to make a connection with a former foe (or, to generally avoid conflict). We saw a bit of this in “The Wounded”, when Picard is told to avoid a war at all cost because Starfleet isn’t in the position to deal with the conflict, a possible allusion to the aftermath of losing 40 ships to the Borg.

But, going forward, the Federation really does some odd things to appease the Cardassians. In finalizing the treaty, they agree to put a bunch of Federation colonies in Cardassian space and a bunch of Cardassian colonies in Federation space, which was a pretty clear tactical fail. And it spurred the terrorist Maquis into action.

I’m glad that it’s always made clear that the Federation doesn’t attack first, as it really does fit with Roddenberry’s vision in the best possible way. But does the Federation have to be so appeasing that it does dumb things — like conspiring with Cardassians in this episode to kill some fairly harmless Bajorans?

Mr. Mott, the best barber in Starfleet, makes one of his few on-screen appearances.

What doesn’t hold up

Well, put simply, the Bajoran back story is pretty much completely redone for DS9, much like our buddies, the Trill. The look of the Bajorans stays and the Cardassian occupation is still a key point. But the result of the occupation totally changes.

In “Ensign Ro”, Bajorans — or “the Bajora” as they’re called here — are essentially gypsies. They’ve been forced to relocate to worlds all over the quadrant because the Cardassians annexed their homeworld. That, of course, makes this episode possible, because the Bajoran refugees aren’t  in Cardassian space, where Picard and Co. couldn’t reach them. The Bajorans here are apparently just around Cardassian territory — and their proximity (presumably) allows them to carry out terrorist actions.

But in DS9, the back story is VERY different. We don’t really hear about Bajoran refugees. It’s possible they existed, but given the Bajoran-heavy storylines in early DS9, there’s no indication that Bajorans returned to Bajor en masse — as they don’t appear to have really left at all. Instead, we hear about Bajorans who were essentially slaves to the Cardassians in the Bajoran system. The resistance fighters were terrorists (like those we see here), but they weren’t operating on far-flung moons in other systems. They were (as far as we ever see) restricted to Bajor and its moons.

Couldn’t the terrorists have gone back and forth between Bajor and other systems? Well, the information that proved the Bajora’s innocence here (that they couldn’t travel at warp speed to get to the colony that was destroyed) and information to that effect in DS9 (Bajoran ships that we see are all impulse-powered, though they know about warp drive) would indicate that the Bajoran terrorists would have been restricted to one system, be it Bajor or elsewhere.

Now, an obvious question remains: If the Bajorans that we see in this episode aren’t capable of traveling at warp, why would the Cardassians see them as a threat? At least on DS9, you could see how the Bajorans could travel the system and actually cause problems for a nearby occupying force. But if the Bajorans are spread out among several systems and are limited to impulse speeds, the Cardassians shouldn’t be at all bothered by them. It would take YEARS for a Bajoran terrorist ship to get close to Cardassian targets (presuming that Bajorans aren’t gypsies on Cardassian planets). And if other Bajoran terrorist than the ones we see in this episode could travel at warp, why are the Cardassians busy going after the cell we see in this episode? Wouldn’t they have other hasperat to fry?

Final thoughts

It’s not a huge thing, but apparently Worf and Ro attended Starfleet Academy at the same time, with Worf graduating in 2361 and Ro graduating in 2362. Given both their personalities, it’s not hard to imagine that they weren’t social types who wouldn’t have associated with other students, let alone each other — and we have no real idea how many students attend the academy at the same time. However, it would have been interesting had the connection been made in the episode, with a line of dialog from either character. FWIW, Riker and Geordi both graduated in 2357 (making Riker’s officiousness to Geordi in “Encounter at Farpoint” strange in retrospect) a year before Worf and Ro started at the Academy.

Coming next week …

Riker intimidates a Ferengi, Troi flirts with a Zakdorn and Worf sings Klingon opera in a bar. Oh, and Picard meets Spock or something.

“The Wounded”

They are Cardassians, and it is a long story.

The Enterprise is called on to stop the seemingly unprovoked attacks on Cardassian targets by the starship Phoenix. The Cardassians and the Federation have a peace treaty, but they had military dealings in the past. After a brief battle with a Cardassian ship, the Enterprise takes on three Cardassian officers as they pursue the renegade Phoenix. Turns out Chief O’Brien (Colm Meaney) served under the Phoenix’s commander, Captain Benjamin Maxwell (Bob Gunton, otherwise known as the warden in “The Shawshank Redemption”), and O’Brien has some issues with Cardassians from those days. The Enterprise tracks down the Phoenix and Picard confronts Maxwell, who believes some of the recent actions by the Cardassians are evidence that they’re prepping for military action. Maxwell (convinced Picard is a feckless bureaucrat) finds a Cardassian supply ship that is strangely shielded from scans. He tells Picard he’ll destroy the ship unless the Enterprise boards it to prove his theory. O’Brien saves the day when he finds a way to beam through the Phoenix’s shields and successfully talks Maxwell down. With the Phoenix no longer a threat, Picard tells the Cardassian commander, Gul Macet (Marc Alaimo) that he believes Maxwell was right in his suspicions, though wrong in his actions — and that the Federation will be watching.

You know, Chief, after I get busted out of Starfleet, I’d really love to make it into a movie that’s on TBS, TNT, AMC and any other basic-cable channel at least once a day.

Why it’s important

The introduction of the Cardassians — even though they’re a little rough around the edges here, as we’ll discuss — is hugely important. They become major players in the Alpha Quadrant (on par with the Klingons and Romulans) and their decades-long occupation of Bajor is the backdrop for DS9. They become one of Trek’s most interesting species and are the baddies in one of TNG’s best showings, the “Chain of Command” two-parter in the sixth season.

The treaty between the Cardassians and the Federation also spawns the terrorist group the Maquis, which we see in late TNG, throughout much of DS9 and as a major part of Voyager. Essentially, the treaty put some Cardassian planets in the Federation and some Federation planets in Cardassia. When Federation colonists grew angry at the rule of the Cardassians, they created the Maquis to fight back.

For DS9, the Federation’s closest outpost to the border, that opened up stories beyond the Bajoran political strife of the first and early second seasons. The Maquis attacks were later part of the destabilization of Cardassia that led to the decision by series regular Gul Dukat (also played by Marc Alaimo) to have the empire join the Dominion — an aggressive organization from the Gamma Quadrant with eyes on taking over the Alpha Quadrant. Shortly thereafter, the Dominion and the Federation went to war, the central plot of DS9’s final two seasons.

Voyager, of course, was on a mission to stop a Maquis ship (led by former Starfleet officer Chakotay) when it was swept into the Delta Quadrant. When the Maquis ship (also taken to the Delta Quadrant) was destroyed, the Starfleet and Maquis crews merged on Voyager and learned to work together (too easily, but we’ll get to that later).

Back to this episode, it was nice to see Maxwell give Riker some props for, you know, stopping the Borg. It’s a quick moment when Riker meets Maxwell in the transporter room, but it’s a good bit of continuity — the likes of which should have been more prevalent. Riker did, you know, save Earth and likely the Federation with his leadership. Why we don’t see more of this in TNG is really a mystery. If anything, Riker’s place as a hot commodity within Starfleet seems to diminish after “The Best of Both Worlds”. It takes another 12 years, in the last TNG film (“Star Trek: Nemesis”) before we see any indication that he’s offered his own command again. Prior to the Borg incident, he had been offered three ships in a span of like four years!

In this episode, the Borg incident is referenced (indirectly) when a Starfleet admiral tells Picard just how important it is for the Federation to keep the peace with the Cardassians. Essentially, he says that he doesn’t “have to tell” Picard how the Federation isn’t ready for another war. The likely implication is that Picard already knows (from his own awful experiences) that the fleet isn’t at full strength. Of course, this brings us back to the point of whether 40 ships is really THAT big of a dent in Starfleet. TNG would seem to indicate that it is. DS9? Not so much.

‘Gul Du-what?’

What doesn’t hold up

The size and scope of the Cardassian Union/Empire — both labels are used going forward — in this episode doesn’t really match what we see later. Picard has a log entry mentioning the “Cardassian sector.” Based on what we see later in TNG and on DS9, the Cardassians control MUCH more than one sector — even if their empire isn’t as big as the Federation (or, necessarily, the territories of the Klingons and Romulans). The standard Cardassian arrogance that we see in later episodes — a trademark of most Cardassian characters — isn’t quite there yet, either. Of course, it’s possible that not all or most Cardassians act the same.

The look of the Cardassians isn’t quite right yet. The uniforms, particularly the really goofy head gear, aren’t well conceived — and the look vanishes around the time of DS9. That’s not a big thing, except that in DS9 episodes that flash back to events prior to this episode, the makeup and gear is more in keeping with what see in late TNG and DS9. This isn’t unprecedented but it is worth noting. I wonder if the creators originally intended for the Cardassians to continue to be key players or if they were set to be one-off baddies like the dudes in “Suddenly Human”.

Speaking of which, that episode, this one and DS9’s “The Adversary” indicate that the Federation had three pretty substantial wars within the past 20 years (not involving the Klingons or Romulans). That really stands in contrast to the peace-loving stuff we see in early TNG. Plus, it’s hard to imagine that we wouldn’t have heard of any of these races prior to the episodes referencing the previous wars. More on this point in later reviews.

Lastly, the dialog at the beginning of the episode about the Cardassians is odd. Troi (in reaction to Worf’s standard distrust) says that the Cardassians are Federation allies as a result of the new treaty — and what we see in this episode sort of jibes with that. But, later, the treaty seems more about the ending of hostilities, rather than the establishment of an alliance. Maybe Troi was just confused?

Final thoughts

This episode really cements O’Brien — and his wife, Keiko (Rosalind Chao) to a lesser degree — as more than just a background character. His past with the Cardassians set him up to be a natural fit on DS9, which gives us the wonderful Colm Meaney playing a main character for most of the next decade. What would DS9 have been without the annual “O’Brien suffers” episode?

This is also our first look at a Nebula-class starship, a cool design that’s sort of the 24th-century version of the Miranda-class vessels (like the Reliant from “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”). It’s a cool look that pops up a bunch in TNG and DS9. And, of course, we see the Cardassian Galor-class warship for the first time, too — though we don’t hear its classification until later.

Coming next week …

Riker has relations with Lilith from “Cheers”. No, really.