Plot Synopsis: When Captain Benjamin Maxwell apparently goes rogue, the Enterprise is ordered to apprehend him before his actions result in another war between the Federation and the Cardassian Union.
Plot A and B Analysis: This teaser has some action: The Enterprise is mapping near the Cardassian Union, which has only within the last year settled on a peace treaty with the Federation. Chief O’Brien and his new wife are eating some weird breakfast, then she promises him sex before the ship gets attacked. The Cardassians claim a Federation starship recently wiped out one of their science stations. Plot A is about these new Cardassian folks and captain Maxwell, of the Phoenix; there is no plot B. Things look more and more grim as the plot progresses: Maxwell appears to be hunting a supply ship, ignores the Enterprise‘s hails, and wipes out a warship and the supply ship, all while the Cardassian captain watches. When we finally meet him we can see he’s jumping at shadows, and is probably driven by the deaths of his family at Cardassian hands. Meanwhile O’Brien has to wrestle with his own feelings about the Cardassians, who he fought at Maxwell’s side years ago. Meanwhile Picard is charged with keeping the peace “no matter what the cost.” This is a well-scripted episode that moves at a goodly pace and comes to an unfortunate, if not slightly tragic, end.
Favorite Scenes: There are a couple. One is in O’Brien’s and Keiko’s quarters, talking about how people shouldn’t have hard feelings against their former enemies now that there’s peace–this is following a scene where O’Brien got in the face of a Cardassian just for asking him to have a drink. I do like the scene at the end when O’Brien and Maxwell end up softly singing that battle hymn together. It could’ve been cheesy, but I thought it served its purpose well. My favorite is O’Brien’s monologue, which best captures what this episode is about. He and the same Cardassian are sitting in Ten Forward talking about a massacre at which O’Brien was present:
O’Brien: I was with a group of women and children when two Cardassian soldiers burst in. I stunned one of them. The other one jumped me. We struggled. One of the women threw me a phaser, and I fired. *pauses and takes a drink* The phaser was set at maximum. The man just–just incinerated there before my eyes. I’d never killed anything before. When I was a kid, I’d worry about swatting a mosquito.
O’Brien: *gets up from the bar, and looks at him*: It’s not you I hate, Cardassian. I hate what I became, because of you.
Use of Cast/Characters: Gates had this episode off. Levar has exactly one line, and it’s from off-screen. Picard has a quite a bit to do this episode. He handles another delicate situation with solid confidence, makes a couple of tough decisions and gives Maxwell about as much slack as humanly possible. How he handles Maxwell when they first meet in his ready room is a good scene. Riker, Troi, Data, Worf, they don’t have much to do at all. Colm Meaney does a good job and we learn a lot more about his background, which is nice. Not a lot is asked of him dramatically here though. Rosalind Chao plays Keiko, and she’s fine. Marc Alaimo plays Gul Macet, and does a good job. Good enough, in fact, that he’ll be tapped to play Gul Dukat all through DS9.
Blu Ray Version: In this episode the Cardassian ship fires pink disruptor beams, as opposed to the amber color we see in every subsequent appearance. On one hand it’s true to the episode to keep it pink, on the other they could’ve changed it to amber to more fit continuity. There are also several minor deleted scenes. The first one is just an extended version of the scene where Picard is consulting with his officers about how to treat the Cardassians while on board. Not much there. The second takes place right before O’Brien beams the Cardassians on board, it’s just as couple of lines from Riker, not much. The third is when O’Brien and Keiko are having dinner, and is another extended scene, almost nothing as well. A fourth scene is right after Picard tells Worf to transmit the shield prefix codes of the Phoenix to the Cardassians. It’s just a couple of more lines, nickel-and-diming us. A fifth scene is right after Maxwell beams on board, and there’s a bit of a staring contest between him and Gul Macet. The sixth and final scene right afterward, when Picard and Maxwell meet. Again, just another line or two. IMO none of them are worth seeing.
Nitpicks: The Cardassian makeup looks good, but those dorky helmets and lobster-like uniforms don’t do them any favors. Given how often they appear later on I wish the staff had put more thought into the starship design, it doesn’t impress. In fact, how is it that we had much of a war with them at all if we can essentially take them out at will? Poor O’Brien. He used to be Maxwell’s former tactical officer, in the TNG pilot he was at Ops on the bridge, and now he’s reduced to being a transporter chief. His career is headed the wrong way!
Overall Impression: This episode is good, but could have been better. As an adult I want to see some of the combat that gets referred to, instead of some 80’s video-game like display. It would have done a better of job carrying the emotional impact of what Maxwell was doing. Even when the Cardassians are attacking the Enterprise we get to see two shots, total. There are some good points, though: the characterizations from O’Brien and Maxwell are nice, and the introduction of some new villains. The Cardassians are legitimate potential adversaries even if they are a bit under-powered, and they’re not written as two-dimensional. Another is the theme of this episode, which resonates with a previous one, The Hunted, about what happens to soldiers when the war is over. In this one a Starfleet captain can’t let the war go and almost starts another one as a result. In fact it’s this theme I like most about the episode. I rate this episode 3 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: This is where we meet the Cardassians for the first time. The audience must have responded well to them, because they are encountered later in the series and are the main adversaries throughout Deep Space 9. They are at their least powerful here, easily dispatched by Federation starships. When we meet them later they will have somehow gotten a boost, as their ships are more formidable. The name of the song O’Brien sings is The Minstrel Boy, which goes back to 1798. This is also the first time we see a Nebula-class starship, in this case the Phoenix.
Missable/Unmissable? It’s missable, but it is a pretty good episode. This is where we are introduced to the Cardassians, who will recur later and become someone you need to be familiar with. The next episode is pretty good also, and is one of the most-watched episodes in the history of Star Trek.