Jake wants to buy a rare baseball card to cheer up his father, but has to lie, cheat, manipulate people, and risk an interstellar incident in order to get it.
Plot Summary: After a depressing dinner party at which all anyone can think about is the impending conflict with the Dominion, Jake decides to cheer his father up. When he learns that Quark will auction off a cache of antiques including an ancient Willie Mays rookie baseball card, he convinces Nog to give him the money to bid on the lot including the card, but a strange scientist bids double what they can afford. To their surprise, Dr. Giger later contacts them, offering to trade the card for engineering and medical equipment to develop a machine that he claims is the key to eternal life, since it will prevent cells from becoming “bored” and decaying. Jake persuades Nog to help him do extra work for O’Brien, retrieve Bashir’s teddy bear from Leeta, and various other tasks to convince people to give them the necessary equipment. At the same time, Kai Winn meets with Weyoun to open negotiations to keep Bajor safe from a Dominion invasion, telling Sisko that he made this necessary when he prevented Bajor from joining the Federation because of a warning from the Prophets. Sisko advises her to stall before signing any pact with the Dominion. When Jake and Nog bring the trade equipment to Giger, they find that he is gone and that Odo can find no trace of Giger even being on the station. Because Giger was paranoid about religious fanatics threatening his work, they suspect Kai Winn, but when they accuse her of kidnapping Giger, they are detained and confined to quarters by a furious Sisko. Then they are abducted onto a Jem’Hadar ship, where Weyoun demands to know what plot the young men and Giger have concocted. Because Weyoun won’t believe the truth, Jake claims that they work for Starfleet Intelligence, investigating a possible time-traveling Willie Mays – a tale so preposterous that Weyoun decides they were telling the truth in the first place and lets them have the baseball card. While the Dominion investigates whether Giger has in fact discovered the secret to immortality, Jake finally cheers up his father with the card.
Analysis: Fans who love the Ben-and-Jake père-et-fils relationship find this episode charming, but it felt fluffy and hollow when it first aired and now it feels like a time-waster leading into the Dominion War arc that drives the final two seasons of DS9. The storyline involves too much telling and not enough showing, as Jake talks to distraction about his concern for his father, which at one point he even calls an obsession – yeesh, Jake really needs a social life – while the significant storyline about Bajor’s relationship with the Dominion, in which the extraordinary Louise Fletcher and Jeffrey Combs face off against one another as Winn and Weyoun, gets shunted to the side. So much screen time feels wasted in things like O’Brien explaining why he can’t go find them a Cardassian power cell and Giger describing the nonsensical science of his device, which could have been justified if it had turned out that he was in fact up to something dangerous or treasonous, but not when it’s all silliness. The fact that everything turns out all right in the end doesn’t lead to feeling good but feeling cheated, like we were introduced to a creepy character who makes creepy demands for no particular reason. If Jake trying to please Sisko isn’t quite as annoying as Wesley Crusher trying to please Picard, it’s because Jake has always been written solidly as a real teenager, here participating in the age-old tradition of bonding with his father over sports; his goal in choosing the gift isn’t to impress anyone, though his paranoia that someone on the station will spoil the surprise becomes ridiculous, particularly since he’s asking professionals to trust him with scientific equipment without explaining what it’s for. It would have served everyone right if Giger was building a bomb.
And as I said, the theme of this episode seems to be that Jake really needs to get a life, because he’s looking more like the kid from two years ago who only wants to please his father than the young man who’s put his foot down and decided to enter a creative profession rather than to join Starfleet. If Dad is depressed, why doesn’t this young man whom Kira enlists to polish her speeches write something for him about how much Benjamin Sisko means to him and to everyone else on the station? Fine, it’s sappy, but Jake has never been one of those kids who hates hugging his dad or saying the L word to him. Sisko may love baseball, but he’s not overly invested in material possessions; the baseball on his desk is a symbol to him of where he comes from and where he belongs, not a prized collectible. Since Jake is still a teenager, he’s certainly entitled to squabble with his roommate and wheedle his friends, but to capitalize on his father’s name and position, and possibly put the station at risk, does not seem in keeping with the things he learned about himself in the war zone in “Nor the Battle To the Strong.” (I won’t even get into the creepiness of Nog creeping into the quarters of a sleeping woman to steal Bashir’s teddy bear out of her arms…the arms of Bashir’s former lover, Nog’s own father’s current lover.)
These young men who ostensibly want to impress nearly trigger diplomatic incidents with both Bajor and the Dominion. For all of Quark’s faults, he can keep a secret; Jake could have confided in him about desperately wanting that baseball card, and Quark surely would have come up with a deal. As unpleasant as it might be to have to beg, borrow, and steal things for Quark, it would present fewer unknowns that a paranoid mad scientist. We’re not supposed to overthink Jake’s accusations against the Kai, which is played for humor as Sisko growls and fumes while seemingly the Kai lets it go as a youthful prank even if letting things go is hardly Winn’s style. Can anyone truly believe she’s going to forgive and forget a challenge by the son of the Emissary? Which do we think Sisko would prefer in the end: a baseball card or the Kai’s willingness to stall Weyoun’s demands? No wonder the Kai is nervous about trusting the Federation to put Bajor’s interests at the forefront. Jake behaves more like a Ferengi than the generous Nog, who responds to Jake’s guilt trip and agrees to use his life savings for the man who got him into Starfleet Academy. That should mean nearly as much to Sisko as a gift from his son. I appreciate that the producers are no longer laughing at fans who keep their collectibles in plastic like they did with Quark and his action figures, but with war brewing and Bajor caught between two galactic powers, it feels like the focus of “In the Cards” – Jake’s farcical obsession, and O’Brien’s wish to ride the rapids, Worf’s need for perfect opera recordings, Julian missing his teddy bear – is more than a little off.