Dr. Bashir is talking with Garak in the Replimat when a Bajoran man and a Cardassian boy enter. Garak, curious, tries to approach the boy and is bitten. A preliminary investigation suggests that the boy, Rugal, is a war orphan who was left behind by the Cardassians after the Occupation and subsequently adopted by a Bajoran family. Almost as soon as Bashir informs Sisko of the assault on Garak, Gul Dukat contacts the station, expressing his concern about the orphans on Bajor and his wish to repatriate them. Dukat raises the possibility that the Bajorans are raising these Cardassian children to hate their own people and asks for an investigation. While Rugal's Bajoran father tells Sisko that he's been treating the boy well - and Rugal seems to prefer staying on Bajor - an alien trader, Zolan, contradicts that story, alleging abuse. Sisko temporarily puts Rugal in the custody of the O’Briens, where, in a late night conversation with the Chief, Rugal reveals that he feels more Bajoran than he does Cardassian.
Ultimately, it comes to light that Rugal is the son of a prominent Cardassian civilian, Kotan Pa’Dar, and is not an orphan at all. Pa’Dar comes to the station to claim his son, and Sisko agrees to arbitrate between Pa’Dar and Proka, Rugal’s adoptive father. Dukat, suspiciously, also appears for the hearing. As all of this is developing, Garak, believing that Dukat’s sudden interest in the plight of Cardassian war orphans is too coincidental, enlists the help of Bashir in a private investigation of his own, pointing out to Bashir that, among other things, Dukat and Pa’Dar are political enemies. Garak’s probes eventually reveal that Rugal was brought to a Bajoran resettlement center by a military officer attached to Terok Nor (DS9). Bashir returns to the station with this evidence and suggests that Dukat arranged for Rugal’s abandonment in order to embarrass Pa’Dar; Dukat leaves without confirming or denying the charge. Sisko ultimately decides to return Rugal to Pa’Dar, but Rugal is quite unhappy with the arrangement.
Overall: 6.3 – Focuses too much on the conspiracy involved and not enough on the moral question raised when we are asked to consider removing a child from the home he prefers and returning him to his biological parent.
First, the good: In this episode, the writers begin to paint a far richer portrait of Cardassian society. We learn, for example, that the Cardassians value family very highly, to the point that failing to do one’s duty in relation to family is grounds for public humiliation. We also discover that the Cardassian Empire is not quite so monolithic as it might at first appear – that there is ongoing tension between the military and the civilian leadership. This is continuing the shift in portrayal that started with Duet: the Cardassians are increasingly becoming far more than ordinary villains, gaining dimension and nuance.
However, I hate that Sisko’s final decision happened entirely off-screen. As I will discuss further below, the fact that we did not get to see the deliberations between Proka and Pa’Dar leaves me very uncomfortable with the verdict.
Andrew Robinson and Marc Alaimo were, as usual, excellent, and I also liked Robert Mandan as Pa’Dar. On the other hand, I found Terrence Evans completely unconvincing as Proka – he overplayed the anger with the Cardassians and did not effectively convey his affection for Rugal.
As indicated above, this episode leaves me torn, perhaps because I am not entirely convinced that biological family unity should trump all other considerations. There has been at least one case in the recent past in which an illiberal government demanded we return a child to his biological parent - despite that child’s being happy and well cared for in the U.S. – in the name of said family unity, and neither I nor, I dare say, the Cuban-American population of Florida was pleased with the ultimate outcome. Granted, Pa’Dar comes across as an honorable, upstanding man – and he certainly was not at fault for the loss of his son – but is it really the best thing for Rugal to wrench him from the only home he remembers? The episode presents the affirmative as a foregone conclusion, but I don’t think that it is.
GARAK: "Really, Doctor, must we always play this game? I am no more a spy than you are a..."
BASHIR: "...a doctor." – Heh. Excellent rejoinder.
SISKO: "What exactly does [Garak] think is going on?"
BASHIR: "I'm not sure. He doesn't really tell me what he thinks... I sort of have to... deduce it."
SISKO: "Ah, so you deduced that Garak thinks that Dukat is lying about something you're not sure of. Then you proceeded to interrupt my conversation to confront him about whatever that might be."
BASHIR: "I'm sorry, Commander. It just seemed like an opportune -"
SISKO: "Don't apologize, Doctor, it's been the high point of my day. Don't do it again." – We enjoy confronting Dukat, but there is a protocol.
SISKO: "I assume this couldn't wait until morning."
BASHIR: "No, sir. I need to use a runabout."
SISKO: "... I'm waiting."
BASHIR: "It's Garak, sir. He wants to go to Bajor."
SISKO: "Bajor. For what?"
BASHIR: "He wouldn't tell me."
SISKO: "Well, by all means. Will one runabout be enough?" – Hee. Sisko’s been having this problem a lot lately.