the story: Cardassian agents try to convince Bajoran that she's been one of their own all along.
what it's all about: At first blush "Second Skin" probably looks all too similar to Next Generation's "Face of the Enemy," which was itself a classic episode. But it's got far more in common with that series' "The Defector," and with Deep Space Nine's own "Duet" and "Necessary Evil." In short, it's another textbook example of things being far more complicated than they seem.
And let's be honest, no one watching this episode will ever think Kira, a Bajoran if there ever was one, is really Cardassian. So if that's not the point, what is? To find out why they want her to think so, and the thing is, it's not even about Kira, but about the father of the woman they want her think she is. Therein lies material for some truly heartbreaking drama. One of the episodes of Voyager that fans never had a problem getting behind was "Resistance," in which Janeway is befriended by a man who confuses her for his daughter, which becomes achingly poignant by its conclusion. That's exactly what "Second Skin" is all about.
It's also about how Cardassian culture works. Cardassians should have been obvious clear-cut villains in this series; their horrid Occupation was the reason the Bajorans were in such a bad place at the start of it, and even in Next Generation had been fairly consistently portrayed as such ("The Wounded" is an exception, as is the ending of "Lower Decks"), and yet throughout this and the fourth season great pains are made in various ways to try and prove otherwise. This is arguably the most successful such effort.
(It should also be acknowledged that a second season episode, "Second Sight," has an incredibly similar title, as you can see. But the two stories couldn't be more different.)
Kira was always such an interesting character, and although she was portrayed as the consummate Bajoran (with all due apologies to Ro Laren) she had a remarkable ability to rethink her conclusions, and when I link "Second Skin" with the earlier "Duet" and "Necessary Evil," this is exactly what I mean. It's sometimes so easy to focus on the things that create gulfs between us, but it takes real courage to admit it's just never quite that simple.
"Second Skin" also tries to set up doubt about the character of Garak, because later in the season we seem to see that fulfilled. You should have doubt about that.
- franchise - A true Star Trek classic study about prejudice.
- series - A crucial addition to Deep Space Nine's own legacy in that regard.
- character - So of course it features Kira. They always seem to, don't they?
- essential - Don't let any confusion you might have over a similarly-named episode fool you, this one's as memorable as they come.
Andrew Robinson (Garak)