The Cardassian who once thought Kira was his daughter comes to the station to impart information to her, but caring for him reminds Kira painfully of her own father.
Plot Summary: Cardassian dissident Tekeny Ghemor comes to the station and is warmly greeted by Kira, who has kept up with his whereabouts since she was kidnapped by Cardassian agents and surgically altered to look like his long-lost daughter in an attempt to expose his anti-government connections. Kira hopes that Ghemor will lead a resistance movement to break down the alliance between Dukat and the Dominion, but Ghemor reveals that he has a terminal illness. Because his own daughter has never been found, he asks Kira to perform shri-tal, a ritual in which the dying impart secrets for their surviving family members to use against their enemies. Though Kira is reluctant, Sisko convinces her that this is an opportunity to gather valuable information about Dukat, who calls to demand Ghemor’s return to Cardassia. Bashir sets up medical equipment to allow Ghemor to speak comfortably, but as she watches Ghemor struggle with his illness, she is haunted by memories of her own father, who was shot by Cardassians and begged her to stay by his side when she chose to avenge his death rather than remaining to ease his suffering. While Ghemor names Dukat’s political enemies, Dukat himself arrives in a warship, demanding that Ghemor return to Cardassia. Though Dukat promises a pardon and a reunion with the missing daughter whom Kira was once forced to impersonate, Ghemor refuses to leave, so Dukat reveals to Kira the fact that during the Occupation, Ghemor took part in the massacre of monks at a Bajoran monastery. At first Kira refuses to forgive Ghemor, but Odo points out that Ghemor was very young when the massacre took place and wonders if Kira is using this ancient history as an excuse to avoid the dying man. Kira admits that she couldn’t face her own father’s death and, when pressured by Bashir, agrees to stay with Ghemor so he can die in peace. Dukat wants to return the body to Cardassia in an attempt to prove that in the end, Ghemor accepted the legitimacy of Dukat’s government, but Kira buries Ghemor on Bajor next to her own father.
Analysis: I don’t love “Ties of Blood and Water” as much as I feel like I should – it is, after all, an episode focused entirely on Kira, which finally gives us some details about her family and her personal suffering during the Occupation. When I first saw it, I wasn’t impressed with its storytelling, since so much of the exposition consists of people telling Kira and by extension the audience how we should be feeling instead of creating drama to evoke those feelings. Now that we know much more about Kira and what happened to her family during the Occupation, I’m also irritated that every major storyline focused on her relationship with her parents is dominated so thoroughly by Cardassians instead of Bajorans. Of course the Occupation touched on every aspect of Kira’s youth, but we only see her father here in dim comparison to Ghemor, and when we finally get to know Kira’s mother, it will be as Dukat’s lover. Given the long history we get to witness between Sisko and his father, plus the fascinating interactions we’ve recently witnessed among Bashir and his parents plus Odo and his “father,” I feel rather cheated of a meaningful history of Kira’s family. We’ve seen her in relation to father figures before, from Mullibok, the Bajoran who didn’t want to evacuate his home on a Bajoran moon, to Shakaar, who was Kira’s mentor long before he was her lover, and she seems drawn to powerful men, though it’s not clear whether that’s a means of maintaining her own autonomy – Bareil who nurtured her spirituality and had ambitions to be Kai, Odo who protected her from the Cardassians and insists on honesty from her no matter the circumstances, Sisko who is her Emissary as well as her commanding officer. There are moments when she seems unnervingly drawn to Dukat’s magnetism as well, though thankfully this isn’t one of those times. But I’d have hoped that an episode exploring Kira’s relationships with her real father and this adoptive one would offer more insight into how she interacts and negotiates with forceful men in a galaxy where patriarchal cultures like the Klingons and Ferengi still have great influence.
“Second Skin” is one of my favorite DS9 episodes, so of course I’m delighted to see Ghemor again, even if it’s predictable from minutes into the episode that he’ll be dying and will have arrived to unburden himself to his substitute daughter. The initial scenes establishing the intimacy between the two of them seem a bit strained until it’s revealed that they haven’t actually kept in close contact all this time; rather, they’ve been keeping tabs on one another from afar, and neither is entirely comfortable with the thought that the other may have heard gossip and innuendo. Kira is delighted to introduce Kirayoshi, her almost-son, to Ghemor, her almost-father, but she’s far less comfortable when the subject of her romance with Shakaar comes up. Again, it’s hard to tell whether that’s because it’s a father figure asking about her sex life or whether it’s because Ghemor is a Cardassian who was once part of an Occupation force where Bajoran women were degraded sexually by his people. Ghemor’s choice to keep his distance becomes much clearer once Dukat reveals the secret he’s kept from Kira, that he took part in an attack years before on what he perceived as a religious group hiding weapons for resistance fighters, though he knows full well that Kira saw it as the slaughter of defenseless monks helping people whose lands were under illegal occupation. Once she knows, Ghemor makes no attempt to justify his actions; he acknowledges that the Cardassians were the monsters there and says he wishes he’d never joined the military. When she won’t accept his apology, he believes it’s because of his own actions, but Odo knows her well enough to realize that something else must be going on. He’s clearly worried about her, since unlike Bashir he asks questions rather than offering prescriptions, pointing out that if Ghemor’s war record was of tantamount concern to her, she would have looked it up by herself a long time ago. You’d think after all this time Bashir would be both a better counselor and a better friend, trying to get to the bottom of Kira’s reluctance, though in the end she returns to Ghemor not because of the doctor’s orders but despite them.
So how come the plot feels so contrived to me? I’m sorry the writers felt it necessary to rehash so much from “Second Skin,” which takes time away when we could have seen some flashbacks with Kira and her father in happier times. She tells us he was strong for her, but telling and showing don’t provide the same conviction, nor the same drama. We have no idea whether he was proud or terrified to have a daughter in the Resistance, nor how much his encouragement influenced her choices. And we don’t hear anything insightful from Ghemor either; we’re told by Sisko that he is providing valuable intelligence, yet most of what we overhear concerns petty matters like which bureaucrats hated Dukat, not how the backstabbing and conniving in the Cardassian government allows it to operate. Though Lawrence Pressman tries to show us Ghemor’s suffering, his illness seems primarily to cause shortness of breath and painful muscle spasms – he isn’t foggy or forgetful, there’s no bleeding or vomiting, we don’t get any sense of how physically and emotionally draining it can be to take care of a dying parent. And as delightful as it is to see Weyoun back from the dead as a clone, the writers squander an opportunity for thematic convergence by showing him having fun at Dabo and scoffing at Sisko’s posturing with Dukat. The discovery that the Dominion bureaucrats can’t easily be poisoned, and can easily be brought back as duplicates, represents an enormous difference between the Vorta and the Cardassians, which it might be possible to exploit and certainly calls for some discussion about what attachment to a person might mean when another copy of him can be created when needed. Instead Weyoun’s presence seems gratuitous, just a way of reminding us that in addition to being the butcher of Bajorans, Dukat has entered an alliance that will soon be deadly for Starfleet as well. For a single instant, the first time I saw “Second Skin,” I thought Dukat was refusing a drink not because he’d poisoned Ghemor’s Kanar but because he was a changeling, a possibility I wish the writers had dragged out. It would have shed new light on all the changing relationships instead of cutting off one of Kira’s most interesting relationships without fully exploring the reasons it really mattered to her.