|Jake plans to buy the perfect gift for his father...|
As Starfleet ships begin "disappearing" near the Cardassian (read: Dominion) border, the mood on the station grows grim. The clouds of war are closing in, and Sisko sees no way out. His mood is not helped by a visit from Kai Winn, visiting the station to meet with Weyoun (Jeffrey Combs) to discuss a non-aggression pact between the Dominon and Bajor - a move that would effectively isolate Bajor from the Federation.
Meanwhile, Jake decides he needs to cheer his father up. When he learns that Quark is hosting an auction that includes a rare Willie Mays baseball card, he enlists Nog to help him buy the card. But Dr. Elias Giger (Brian Markinson) outbids them for the lot that includes the card. Giger does agree to let them have their prize... but only if they assist him with his experiments, involving the use of a "Cellular Regeneration and Entertainment Chamber," designed to keep the body's cells from becoming bored, thus granting immortality!
It is blatantly obvious that Giger is a lunatic, but he appears to be a harmless one. So Jake and Nog agree, and their efforts to secure a list of needed supplies for Giger leave them performing errands for practically every member of the command crew. Once they've gathered all the supplies, they return to Giger's quarters... only to discover that the man has vanished!
Capt. Sisko: In a foul mood, and with good reason. The background situation is bad enough, even before Kai Winn announces her visit. He has to acknowledge to Winn that in the event of a Dominion attack, he could not guarantee Bajor's defense - not if core Federation worlds were targeted at the same time. The best advice he can give Winn is to stall for time, in hopes that a solution will present itself before the moment of crisis arrives. It's not much of a solution, and both he and Winn know it.
Jake: Between this episode and Nor the Battle to the Strong, Cirroc Lofton has gotten some very strong material this season, despite being absent for a lot of it. The earlier episode focused on Jake's shame over his own, very human fear in the face of brutal combat. That episode ended with his father comforting him and expressing pride in him. This one sees Jake determined to do something to help his father, who has been there for him every time he's needed him. The ending to the earlier episode and the entirety of The Visitor give credibility to Jake's actions, even as they become ever more obsessive. Lofton overplays some of the comedy moments, but remains a likable performer throughout.
Nog: In the broadest scenes, though, it is very obvious that Aron Eisenberg's comedy instincts are much sharper than Cirroc Lofton's. Eisenberg never goes over-the-top, even when reacting to a mad scientist's plans to entertain his cells into immortality. Nog comes across very well, too. He argues with Jake every step of the way, particularly when his friend's obsession starts to look ever so slightly like its own form of lunacy. But at every critical juncture, he supports Jake, even when his support leads to three uncomfortable encounters with three people you don't want to have mad at you: Winn, Sisko, and Weyoun.
Weyoun: This is only Weyoun's third appearance, and he's already made his mark as yet another of the wonderfully rich recurring characters this show has created. His affable, even gregarious, interactions with others are fun in themselves, but the way actor Jeffrey Combs manages to never let Weyoun's smile reach his eyes really sells the character. He is amusing, but also menacing. When Sisko meets him at the airlock, he gives Weyoun the full force of his blunt disapproval: "I don't like the Dominion; I don't like what it stands for; and I don't like you!" Most would wilt under the force of Sisko's glare. Weyoun simply feigns hurt and says that he's sorry to hear that, since he expects they will be seeing much more of each other. Weyoun comes off the clear winner in the exchange, making him all the more formidable going into negotiations with Winn.
Kai Winn: You know things are bad when Kai Winn is one of the more sympathetic characters! She is out of her depth with Weyoun and the Dominion, and she knows it. For once, she is completely honest with Sisko. She doesn't know what to do about Weyoun's offer, and she doesn't know whether war or peaceful subjugation to the Dominion would be worse for Bajor. She actually turns to him for advice, and accepts what little advice he can give. When Weyoun compliments her on how much they have in common, Winn touches his ear to measure his pagh, and is chilled by what she sees in him. Her voice is calm, but she is clearly shaken as she replies: "No. We are nothing alike."
In the Cards has every reason to not work. It has an "A" plot and a "B" plot that are radically different in tone: Jake and Nog's comic antics trying to get their hands on a baseball card, and Sisko's attempts to advise Kai Winn regarding negotiations with the Dominion as the clouds of war close in on them. Though it's the best of the Star Trek shows, Deep Space 9 has often struggled with "A" and "B" plots that differ in tone, and this episode offers two story strands that could not be more different.
With Ronald D. Moore scripting at the top of his game and Michael Dorn showing startling confidence as director, the episode is another gem in a season that has been a veritable treasure trove. The plots are balanced in such a way that not only do they not intrude on each other, each story is able to enhance the other. The material with Sisko, Winn, and Weyoun feels all the more doom-laden contrasted with Jake and Nog's bumbling. The comedy is all the funnier unfolding against a potentially apocalyptic backdrop.
A lot of what makes this work so well is how perfectly judged the cuts from one story to the other are. Both stories begin in the opening scene. We see the station command staff at their most depressed, with Sisko struggling to find anything to talk about other than the Dominion, and Odo revealing that the station's population is the most panicked it has been since the end of the Cardassian Occupation. Jake and Nog observe this behavior, and Jake determines to do something to cheer his father up. Two plots spring from the same seed.
For the first half, the two stories have no plot connection, supporting each other mainly through contrast. The insane Dr. Giger babbles about "soulless minions of Orthodoxy," then we cut to the arrival of Weyoun and the Dominion. Jake and Nog are reduced to stealing back Dr. Bashir's teddy bear from his ex-girlfriend, at the same time that Sisko and Kai Winn discuss the very bad options Bajor has been left with. The silliest moments move right into the darkest moments.
If the whole episode had gone like that, it would actually have worked just fine. But then the script ups the ante by actually connecting the two stories. At first, it's minor: Weyoun becomes suspicous of Dr. Giger's experiments, fearing some unspecified threat; after Giger disappears, Jake and Nog suspect Winn of having a hand in it. Then the stories truly intersect, in a way that's ridiculous yet entirely satisfying. It's all tied together by a charming epilogue that leaves me ready to move immediately to the season finale - Exactly as its makers intended, no doubt.
In the end, I would sum up my thoughts about In the Cards with two statements: First, that when the final fade-out came, I actually applauded the episode; and second, that it has been too long since a Star Trek episode gave me the level of pleasure I received watching this.
Overall Rating: 10/10.
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