In the fifth episode of the third season of Deep Space Nine, HOW DOES THIS SHOW CONTINUE TO BE SO MESSED UP? Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of gas lighting, non-consensual medical procedures.
This is how you do episodic television, y’all.
I recognize the immense challenge that comes with writing stories that must soar, entertain, and then satisfy with only forty-odd minutes to do so. I definitely think that The Next Generation improved upon this format when compared to its predecessor, and I enjoyed a great deal of the show for giving me plenty of killer stories. BUT LOOK AT WHAT DEEP SPACE NINE DOES WITH JUST ONE EPISODE. Let’s discuss why this episode rules so much.
I genuinely don’t think this episode would have worked as well as it did if it had been placed earlier in the show’s run. Now that we’re over two seasons of Deep Space Nine, Kira’s identity has been more established. We understand her dedication to Bajor, we recognize why it’s been important for her to be unapologetically Bajoran aboard Deep Space Nine, and we know exactly what kind of person she is. Thus, when Entek begins to insist that Kira is a Cardassian who has been on a long undercover mission for Cardassian, the very idea of this is offensive to us. It’s impossible. There is no possible way this can be true, and the audience knows this. Kira Nerys is a revolutionary. She fought and suffered for Bajor. To claim that she really worked for Cardassia the whole time? GET THAT SHIT OUT OF HERE.
Therefore, as each new piece of “evidence” rolls in, we become more horrified. We watch as Kira herself is faced with the terrible chance that she is not who she thought she was.
And really, that’ll always be the most horrifying part of this. Entek actively gaslights Kira throughout “Second Skin,” constructing an elaborate and disturbing alternate reality that he then forces upon her. If you’ve ever been the victim of gaslighting, then you know how insidious and painful the experience is. You know how scary it is to be told that your understanding of your life is wrong, that your memory is wrong and flawed, that you are objectively “wrong” about what you think.
In that sense, then, I found Kira’s outright refusal to accept Entek or Ghemor to work as a power fantasy, mostly because I wish I had been as forceful about rejecting the same act when it was done to me. Now, I realize it’s not entirely fruitful to compare one’s own abuse to someone else’s. IT IS USUALLY A DISASTROUS THING. But the reason I found this empowering is because it was so fulfilling to watch her resist, to maintain that her life was hers and that it did not belong to anyone else. Even when it came to Ghemor (who confused me more than anyone else here), she resisted. Ghemor appeared to have a genuine love for Kira (who he knows as Iliana), and he never once tried to hurt her. Even though he may have had the best of intentions, she knew he had some part in this nightmare, and she fought back.
I think it’s a testament to the intensity of this episode that about halfway into this, I began to worry that Kira wasn’t being tricked and that this would be part of a larger character arc for her. LOOK, IT IS NOT OUT OF THE REALM OF POSSIBILITY FOR THIS MESSED-UP SHOW. Just look what the writers did with Odo a few episodes ago! So I started rethinking “Second Skin.” What if this was who she really was? What if Ghemor was telling the truth? Granted, there’s a moment in the video below where I reasoned that this had to all be fake. It had to, or else all my terrible fears would come true. Seriously, how messed up would that have been? What if your identity was crafted by someone else?
The key that helped Kira unravel all of this was in Ghemor, and it was in his genuine nature. Unlike Entek, he felt too real. He seemed to believe that this was his daughter, and he treated her as such. He shielded her from the Order’s interrogation, and he protected her from getting hurt. Could that have been part of Entek’s act? Sure, but he didn’t exactly seem like an incredible actor or manipulator like Entek did. It was easy to be suspicion of Entek, but Ghemor? What was his gain? Was he acting for the state?
What an incredible resolution, though. Kira was never truly the target for manipulation; it was Ghemor. Oh my god, can this please be the start of a Cardassian dissident plot??? PLEASE? Because I love the idea that there are Cardassians who want a different life under their government, and I love the idea even more that they’d be willing to work secretly under the Order to try and subvert them. Yes?????
Of course, I can’t address that plot without talking about Garak, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite secondary characters in the Star Trek universe. LIKE, EVER. Perhaps Ghemor is right and Garak is most interested in keeping himself safe. However, I’m more inclined to believe that he has the best interests of Cardassian at heart, even if that means he stands in opposition to the Order and Central command. An independent thinker is the most dangerous thing to those in power of Cardassia, and that perfectly describes Garak. Here, he purposely tells Julian about Kira’s possible location, well aware that Julian would bring this back to Sisko. He acts surprised and outraged to be on the receiving end of extortion, but Garak is too intentional. He knew he could get off Deep Space Nine, and he certainly wanted to be a part of that final confrontation. Maybe his act is selfish, a chance to get revenge in a small way against the organization that guaranteed his exile. But I suspect that he also wants to topple the Order and Central Command, and this allowed him to make another crack in their foundation.
The video for “Second Skin” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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