Bashir and Garak see a Bajoran man with a Cardassian boy on the promenade and intrigued Garak walks over to them to introduce himself. When he touches the boy's shoulder, he gets bitten in his hand. Bashir tells Sisko about the incident, and just at the same time Gul Dukat is making a call to ask about the boy, who must be one of the Cardassian orphans that were left behind when the occupation forces withdrew from Bajor. He is terrible ashamed of this humiliation for the Cardassian people and galantly makes it his personal mission to see the forgotten orphans returned to Cardassia. Sisko tells him to hold his horses, because he first needs to determine if there are grounds to take the boy from his new family.
Garak does not believe for one moment that Dukat is acting out of compassion, or that he didn't know about the abandoned children, and so Bashir goes around asking some questions about the boy. The captain of the ship on which the boy arrived implies that the Cardassian children are being mistreated by the Bajorans that care for them, so for the time being it is decided that the boy should stay with Miss O'Brien until they have determined what is really going on and what should happen with him. While this is a somewhat reasonable approach, Miss O'Brien happens to live with Mister O'Brien, who does have quite the history with Cardassians himself and so far has never been hiding his prejudices. Being raised Bajoran, the boy shares their perceptions of them and really doesn't want to go to Cardassia or see any other Cardassians. O'Brien tries his best to assure him that everything will be fine, but finds it really hard to make convincing arguments that living with his relatives on Cardassian will be better that living among Bajorans.
Dukat had the boy's DNA checked in the Cardassian databases and discovered that his father is one of the members of the Cardassian government, who is already on his way to the station. Garak is not surprised by that, because Dukat is an old enemy of the government and the politician in question was one of the key people who ordered the military to end the occupation of Bajor. Garak and Bashir go to Bajor to check the records at the orphanage where the boy was adopted, and after Garak quickly fixes the broken computer, he finds that the boy's file is missing.
The father arrives on the station and first has a short talk with O'Brien who tries to be supportive while still opening the topic that going to Cardassia might not be the best thing for the boy. The father tells him that he has to have his son back at any cost, because his culture values family over everything. Even if it means that he will be publicly disgraced for having failed to find his lost son after his house was destroyed by Bajoran rebels. He meets his son, but not surprisingly the boy does not want to go with him. The father and the Bajoran man disagree over where the boy should live, but they both agree that Sisko should run the custody hearing. And shortly after Dukat arrives at the station to take part in the hearing, claiming that the future of the abandoned children is a matter so close to his heart.
Garak doesn't find the file, but manages to find the Bajoran social worker who took the boy in at the orphanage. And she is able to tell him and Bashir that the boy was brought to them by a Cardassian officer from the Cardassian station. Bashir goes to the custody hearing and requests that he may ask some questions. He lays out that the boy's father was responsible for ending the occupation, which made Dukat lose his job as governor of Bajor. And it was someone of Dukat's staff who gave the boy to an orphanage, of which any documentation has disappeared. Now that the boy has been found, the father will soon loose his entire reputation and political power. Just while he is conducting a government investigation into the Cardassian's military's attempts to sponsor the coup on Bajor that would have expelled the Federation from the region and made a new occupation of Bajor possible. Dukat has nothing to say about that and flees the scene.
In the end, it is decided that the boy should go to Cardassia, but the father is quite certain that Dukat won't leak anything about that to the public. A society that looks very harshly on men failing to do anything possible to protect their families probably will also have some opinions about men going after their rivals' children for revenge.
Cardassian episode #2
Another great episode. This one really manages to tell two interesting stories at the same time and make them both build on each other.
Sisko, and perhaps more importantly O'Brien, are dealing with a social issue. Custody for the boy is not a clear answer, as both men seem like they would care very well for him. Life on Bajor as a young Cardassian would surely be very tough and possibly even get harder as he gets older, but at the same time he is really uncomfortable with Cardassian culture and society and wants nothing to do with it. He likes his Bajoran family and does not want to live with his Bajoran father. You can argue for both sides and have a personal opinion which one would be better for him, but it is very clear that there is no obvious good and bad choice. That makes this an actual conundrum while also avoiding sappy drama.
O'Brien finds himself in a position where he has to face his prejudices in a way like never before. At first he gets rather anxious about a Cardassian being in the same place as his young daughter, but he quickly overcomes that and sees the boy as a person who is completely different than the Cardassian soldiers he had been dealing with. It appears that his own moral values make him think that it's wrong to have a child raised in a foreign culture and kept separated from his relatives. But the fact that his relatives are Cardassians and he would be growing up on Cardassia makes this a real ethical conflict for him.
The third social aspect in this part of the episode is the insight it gives into Cardassian government and society. When the father arrives he turns out to be a very reasonable and cordial man. He has a high ranking position in the Cardassian government, and he was personally involved in forcing the military to end the occupation of Bajor while currently leading an investigation of the military engaging into apparently illegal operations in foreign territories. There is a strong implication that the civilian society of Cardassia is rather different than what we've seen from the military so far, and that they are pretty fed up with activities of the High Command themselves. And when the father talks about Cardassian values, he talks about things that O'Brien very much approves of, showing the similarities to the Federation rather than the differences.
This is the second episode that deals with Cardassian society, and both of them provide more evidence of how awful the military is and simultaneously showing how much many Cardassians are appalled by this themselves. I like that.
The other half of the episode is Bashir and Garak going on an adventure of conspiracy and investigation. We had a bit of that way back in S1E2, but here it's an even bigger part and even more fun. Unless I missed it, I think this is actually only the second time Garak appeared at all. And once again, there is very little ambiguity about Garak's background. It's not exactly clear what he did in the past, but he is obviously an expert of investigation with considerable technical skills about computers, and his interest in the whole situation seems to be very much focused on Dukat's involvement. The welbeing of the orphans does not really seem to concern him very much, though he doesn't do anything that would make him see heartless. At the end of the episode, Bashir asks him what his stakes in all of this were, to which he replies that he already has all the needed information and can surely figure it out himself. Garak here is fun and clever, but not yet at the level of a snarking genius.
What really impresses me is how this episode is doing so many things at the same time and manages to very elegantly weave them together into a cohesive whole. I think O'Brien doesn't have any real interaction with Sisko, Bashir, and Garak, and the later two are completely uninvolved in the custody question. But still both stories keep supporting each other with additional context. That's actually really elegant writing.