|Kira as a Cardassian.|
"Treason, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder."
-Garak, the most consistently quotable character in the whole Trek universe.
Kira is contacted by a Bajoran scholar, who is researching a Cardassian prison camp from the Occupation. Cardassian records show that Kira was an inmate there - something she has no recollection of. She assumes a records glitch, until she contacts the sole survivor from that week. When the man confirms that Kira was with him at the prison, she decides to go to the prison's visitor's center to investigate. Are the records mistaken, or was something done to her memory?
She never reaches her destination. When she awakens, she is not on Bajor, but on Cardassia. She is told that she has been working undercover for the Obsidian Order, a ten-year mission in which her memories were altered along with her appearance, to make her an undetectable agent within the Bajoran resistance. It goes without saying that Kira doesn't believe a word. But if this is a deception, what could the Cardassians possibly hope to gain from it?
Commander Sisko: When he receives information that Kira is being held by the Obsidian Order, he doesn't dither around with Starfleet channels. I don't think he has any remaining faith in Starfleet's ability to act decisively. Instead, he goes straight to Garak, directly extorting the tailor/spy for his help. When Garak calls him on the extortion, Sisko barely hesitates in acknowledging it. He doesn't even blink as he fixes Garak with a glare that makes sure the Cardassian knows that he is not bluffing.
Major Kira: It's been said that if a lie is simply repeated often enough, in the absence of the truth a person will believe the lie. Without rushing to any real-life examples, Kira's reactions to her situation are a disturbing example of this. She spends most of the episode stubbornly refusing to buy into her new Cardassian identity. The Obsidian Order never comes close to convincing her. But the decent Legate Ghemor (Lawrence Pressman), her counterpart's father, is so consistently good to her over the course of the episode that his gentleness makes her doubt. She never fully buys into the lie - Kira's simply too smart and too stubborn to stay broken long - but she does have a moment in which she seems to believe the lie more than the truth. Only when all the pieces finally come together does she realize what the Obsidian Order's actual agenda is. At that point, she figures it out very quickly - but still too late, had she been left entirely to her own devices.
Garak: Practically seems like a regular by this point. Even though he really hasn't been in that many episodes (even this season, he's only at two appearances out of five shows), he just makes such a strong impression every time he turns up. Here, we get more hints about his past. It's indicated that he stays on Deep Space 9 because it is the only place he is safe. Julian jokingly wonders if the Obsidian Order would have him killed if he left the station. From the way Sisko blackmails Garak into assisting with the rescue, I'd say that's not far from the truth. The episode ends with a warning about Garak, from the honorable Legate Ghemor to Kira: "Don't trust him, Nerys, ever! He's a dangerous man, and he'd betray you and all your friends in an instant if he thought it would help him."
Cardassians: We continue to see how fragmented Cardassian society is. All the power is concentrated in the hands of the Obsidian Order and the Central Command. One senses that the Order would as soon see that balance shift firmly in its own direction. With dissidents clearly gaining some influential friends among Cardassian society, it is clear that something major will have to happen on Cardassia before the series runs its course. Either the dissidents will succeed in pushing for a more open society, or the Obsidian Order will clamp down harder on its own people - with a civil war seeming an almost certain result.
A Kira-centric episode, focused on the Cardassian Occupation, with a script by Robert Hewitt Wolfe (In the Hands of the Prophets, The Wire, The Collaborator, among others). The question was never whether Second Skin would be good. It was merely a question of how good it would be.
With a strong script and typically dynamic direction by Les Landau, the answer is: Very good indeed. The teleplay wisely doesn't overplay the question of whether or not Kira is a Cardassian spy. Obviously, she's not (heck, we've already seen that her mirror universe counterpart is a Bajoran). Instead, the episode plays with the question of why this game is being played on her. The result allows Nana Visitor to give a typically emotional performance, all without sacrificing Kira's inherent intelligence and wariness. The answers, when they come, fit perfectly with what we've seen and with what we've heard of the Obsidian Order in earlier episodes, making for a tidy structure.
Legate Ghemor (Lawrence Pressman) and his actual daughter show us a different Cardassian face than what we've normally encountered. Ghemor is, in Kira's words, "an honorable man," and clearly an excellent father as well. When Kira views the recording the real Iliana made prior to her assignment, she sees an earnest young woman, committed to doing what is right to stop the "terrorism on Bajor." Clearly, the terrorism and violence occurring on the occupied world were used by the Cardassian government to "sell" the Occupation back home. Though Iliana clearly bought that line completely, that makes her merely young, earnest, and naive. In her determination to simply make her parents proud of her, and her worries over her parents' reactions to her choice, she is instantly relatable even though we only see that one brief clip of her. It would be interesting to revisit this thread, to see what became of the real Iliana.
The episode falls short of full marks for two reasons. The set-up is unnecessarily convoluted. It would have been sufficient to have opened with Kira on Cardassia, with scenes on the station telling us that she had disappeared on Bajor. The "Kira's memory" bit does little except delay the real meat of the episode. Also, the timing of the rescue ends up being far too convenient to be entirely plausible. These aren't big issues - the opening is actually fairly well done, even intriguing, and credibility issues with the rescue are quickly glossed over when Garak begins being massively entertaining. But Deep Space 9 has set the bar pretty high for "full marks" episodes. Though still an excellent episode, this falls just short of that mark, leaving it with a still-strong:
Overall Rating: 9/10