Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Wounded

**** (4 stars out of 5)
Celebrate St. Patrick's Day with a fantastic O'Brien episode!

Join us in the Cardassian Sector AKA Sector 21505, nearly a year after the Federation and the Cardassian Union achieved peace for all time.

Since the audience has never heard of them, Picard regales us with a tale of that bygone era when he pulled that 'lowering-shields-as-a-gesture-of-trust' bit (that worked once on the Romulans) with a Cardassian warship. Only THAT time, Stargazer lost all its weapons, turned tail, and fled.

Worf doesn't think much of the peace treaty. "Trust is earned, not given away," he declares.

Carnivore O'Brien (whose mother didn't use a replicator and instilled a love of meat, muffins, and ox tails in her boy Miles) is contending with the kelp and green leaves of his new lady wife, Keiko. Perhaps they will find some sort of food truce in their honeymoon bedroom phase.

No such truce is likely with Gul Macet, a gruff Cardassian whose unique sense of fashion has him wearing the skeleton of a football helmet. (For the first and last time.)

The Phoenix under Captain Ben Maxwell has gone on a rogue killing spree in Cardassian territory. O'Brien served as Maxwell's tactical officer on the Rutledge, and fought alongside him. Back in the day, Maxwell lost his family in a Cardassian militia attack on the civilians of Setlik III.

The Cardassian underlings, called Glinns, invite O'Brien to drink with them in Ten-Forward. But the Irishman's only genial while following orders: in his free time he's not bloody likely to hang out with a spoonhead.

Miles tries to convince Keiko that he's not harbouring any resentment. But he's serving up some simmering racism with his scalloped potatoes. "You learn to watch your back around those people."

At Macet's goading, Picard gives up the transponder prefix codes of the Phoenix to the Cardassians, but Maxwell defeats them anyway, and their little supply ship, too. 650 Cardies dead in seconds. Some might call it an appalling massacre. Certain collapsed civilizations around the Cardassian Union might call it... a good start.

O'Brien drinks with Glinn Daro after all, trying to apologize for popping off. Daro regards Setlik as a terrible mistake. When it comes to terrible mistakes, O'Brien has his share: he never killed anything before Setlik, he was even reluctant to swat mosquitos as a boy. But when a desperate woman tossed him a phaser set on maximum, her Cardassian attacker was incinerated. "It's not you I hate, Cardassian. I hate what I became because of you."

Old 'Muttonchops' Macet reprimands Glinn Telle for prying into Enterprise files. No doubt Macet's clean-shaven relatives are Hard-assians, too. Maybe he's got an identical cousin laying down the law on some deep space station, somewhere. Macet just has that face and voice that seems familiar... only less muttonchoppy.

Maxwell is convinced the Cardassians are re-arming, and he can't wait around for the Starfleet bureaucrats to notice. Picard does not agree, and maverick Maxwell does not like to be contradicted. "Smells musty in here... like a bureaucrat's office."

Boy, he's got your number, Picard! But don't change a hair on your diplomatic head. I bet you smell fine: like unsweetened tea, old books, and fence-sitting.

Picard orders Maxwell to turn himself in, and tries to escort them to Starbase 211. But Phoenix veers off to find new victims.

O'Brien beams aboard to talk and sing Maxwell down. Hands down BEST scene of the episode.

"The Wounded" is a sharp turn away from the inclusiveness, tolerance, and forgiveness that Federation culture espouses. The introduction of the well-spoken but often slimy and merciless Cardassians is the introduction of a villain that will keep on giving for years to come. Adding some dark corners to utopia certainly opens up more story opportunities. And O'Brien was exactly the right human for the job:

'For the great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry,
And all their songs are sad.'

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