Cardassia was never great

blog-header“Duet,” the 18th episode of Deep Space Nine, is often talked about as one of the finest pieces of television ever produced on Star Trek. To be honest, I was only humoring my boyfriend until this episode by watching Deep Space Nine.  I remember looking at him and him looking at me and us staring at each other, speechless, before turning back to the television.

The plot begins simple enough: Major Kira Nerys of Bajor thinks she has nabbed a war criminal from the Cardassian Occupation of her planet. And then it quickly becomes so much more complicated, in ways the viewer is not expecting. The episode is about dealing with a convoluted and painful past on both a personal and patriotic level. What will it take for Cardassia to admit it’s wrongdoings during the occupation? How will admitting guilt help anyone?

I watched this episode for the first time just weeks after Donald Trump was confirmed as the Republican Party’s pick for the presidential race. What incredible timing. Cardassia, in the show, has this conquerer-complex, in that it feels it must establish itself as a power within the Alpha Quadrant by colonizing other star systems. In this case, that meant Bajor. It was expelled, but only after forty years of occupation that was by no means peaceful or easy for the Bajorans. The whole, “Make America Great Again” slogan felt suspiciously similar to the Cardassian ideal of “retaking” what was once theirs.

So much of what the phrase “Make America Great Again” embodies isn’t just economic prowess, it’s also a twisted-kind of political pride. “Duet” is about the isolation that xenophobia and nationalism not only enforces, but creates. Major Kira practically hungers for retribution from her war criminal, so much so that Major Jadzia Dax, her best friend, starts to worry about her.

Kira says, “As far as I’m concerned, if he was at Gallitep [ a labor camp ], he is guilty. They’re all guilty. His punishment will let Bajor feel some… satisfaction.” She directly addresses her planet’s need for reparations. The occupation ended some time ago, but it still rebuilding from more than forty years of suffering.

Dax, the eternal voice of morality and long-term-consequences, says, “It sounds like you’re trying too hard to believe what you’re saying. You already know, if you punish him without reason, it won’t mean anything. And you already know, vengeance… isn’t enough.”

The war criminal isn’t who he says he is. In fact, he’s just a lowly file clerk, who worked for the infamous war criminal. He has surgically altered himself specifically for the purpose of being arrested and convicted in a Bajoran court. He feels the guilt of his inaction during the occupation, and sees the Bajoran need for closure.

We see Kira grow and understand that reconciling the two planets isn’t as simple as killing off a few war criminals. Instead, she tells Marritza to go back to Cardassia and be a voice for Bajor there.

“Make America Great Again” to me seems like a message of nostalgia. It also seems oversimplified. In “Duet,” Kira and Marritza together realize that to make a difference and heal their own country’s scars they must acknowledge their wrongdoings and aspire to a new ideal. Both cultures, of Bajor’s anger and Cardassia’s refusal to admit fault, need to change in order for both move on.

This is a powerful message of not only forgiveness, but the kind of galvanization that can’t fit on the brim of a trucker cap. It’s not black and white, or a matter of pretending nothing ever happened. What needs to happen between the fictional places of Bajor and Cardassia is much more complicated than that. So I can only imagine how difficult it would be for someone that’s real, like us.

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