the story: A Cardassian orphan raised by Bajorans becomes caught in the middle of continuing efforts to heal old wounds.
what it's all about: "Cardassians" on the surface seems like a somewhat unnecessary duplication of Next Generation's "Suddenly Human." I mean, it's pretty much exactly the same story. But the thing "Cardassians" proves is that Deep Space Nine's interest in grounding stories in a continuing background, rather than the traditional serialized format of the franchise where most episodes can be viewed in a vacuum, has considerable merit to it, and it's arguably the first episode of the series to prove so.
Like the second season in general, it's a tentative step forward into the full potential the series was going to explore later. It's Garak and Dukat, two diametrically opposed Cardassians who nonetheless represented the best of the series in their own ways, tentatively working their way into the tapestry Deep Space Nine was still just beginning to weave, in a story that doesn't necessarily need either of them, except to give depth to the Cardassian side of things, when it would've been much easier to simply dismiss them as the back guys. That's the series in a nutshell, everything you need to know to understand why so many fans have come to love it over the years.
"Cardassians" otherwise is not something to make too big a deal about, but it certainly deserves credit for helping the series become the best possible version of itself. Incidentally, for those interested in seeing what happens to the Cardassian youth caught in the middle of this episode's dilemma, they should definitely check out Una McCormick's insightful novel The Never-Ending Sacrifice.
- franchise - I'll dock it here just because I don't want to say it's a classic.
- series - Though it's hugely important to the series.
- character - Certainly for the recurring Cardassians in the series.
- essential - Note "hugely" important above.
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)