Welcome to Watch Club, a Syfy Wire segment where we revisit the best stories at the times when we need them the most. Whether you're intimately familiar or new to the story, this is your chance to enjoy something that's important and relevant to the world we're living in now, something you can share and talk about with your friends and fellow fans.
For out third installment, we return to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I know, I know. That was fast. What can I say? My wife had never watched DS9 before, we wound up binging it, and surprising no one, it remains perhaps even more relevant now than it did some two decades earlier.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Deep Space Nine is the third live-action Star Trek series. It centers around the titular space station, its inhabits, the nearby planet of Bajor (which had previously been under a prolonged occupation by an alien race called the Cardassians) and the only known stable wormhole which leads to the Gamma Quadrant.
Captain Benjamin Sisko, a single father who discovered the wormhole and has become both Starfleet's liaison to Bajor and the Delta quadrant as well as the reluctant emissary between the aliens living within the wormhole and the Bajorans who view them as their gods.
Jake Sisko, Benjamin's son, whose focus is more on writing than serving Starfleet.
Odo, the shapeshifting security chief on Deep Space Nine who discovered that his people, The Founders, are the leaders The Dominion.
Major Kira Nerys, Ben Sisko's second-in-command and a former Bajoran freedom fighter turned Bajoran representative to the Federation.
Quark, a Ferengi who runs a bar on Deep Space Nine. He is constantly in search of profit, often by any means necessary.
Nog, Quark's nephew and the very first Ferengi Starfleet cadet. He was aided by Captain Sisko to gain admittance into Starfleet and is now serving on DS9 while rooming with his best friend, Jake Sisko.
Chief Miles O'Brien, father, husband, and chief engineer. Miles is taken to simple pleasure like playing darts, drinking, and trips to the holosuite, often with this best friend ...
Doctor Julian Bashir, genius and expert physician. He is very smart but is often taken to talking too much.
Worf, former security chief on the Enterprise D, he now lives aboard DS9's ship, the Defiant.
Weyoun, a Vorta who acts as representative for The Dominion during negotiations.
Kai Winn, the current leader of Bajor's primary religious order. She was selected through somewhat nefarious means. Winn is extremely conservative and is often distrustful of Sisko and the Federation. She sometimes seems more interested in her own personal power than the safety of Bajor.
PREVIOUSLY ON DEEP SPACE NINE
Things have not gone well for The Federation. As they struggle with micro-aggressions between themselves and The Dominion, it has become more and more clear that all-out war is inevitable. Not only that, but as people begin to flee the station, it is becoming very likely that the Federation may have to cede Deep Space Nine back to the Cardassians. Recently Bajor was about to join the Federation, but Captain Benjamin Sisko, who'd previously championed their joining, had a vision heralding the dangers of Bajor becoming a Federation world. This leaves all of Bajor in a very dangerous situation: The Dominion could attack at any moment and The Federation has no obligation to protect their planet.
THE PLOT AND WHAT MAKES IT GREAT
Most Star Trek episodes from the '90s era have a serious A plot with a less serious (and sometimes even comedic) B plot. "In the Cards" is a rare example wherein the opposite is true. The A-plot seems very simple: in order to cheer up his father, Jake enlists the help of Nog to purchase a Willie Mays baseball card at an auction being held at Quark's bar. When a mysterious stranger, Elias Giger, buys the lot containing the card from under them, Jake and Nog must go through a series of (sometimes ridiculous) trials to get the card back.
The B-plot, conversely, is seemingly much more complex. Captain Sisko is stressed because of the oncoming Dominion war growing out of already deadly skirmishes with The Dominion. His entire crew is working triple time to prepare as Kai Winn arrives on the station. She is there to speak with Weyoun, a representative for The Dominion (and total d-bag) about Bajor signing an non-aggressive pact with The Dominion.
One of Deep Space Nine's strengths and challenges is how serious it tends to get the further into the story you go. Once the war with The Dominion is in full swing, it's very hard to concentrate on much else. What makes "In the Cards" so important is that it circles the wagons and reminds us why we love all of these characters and why we relate to them as an audience.
"In the Cards" also carries with it the benefit of being mostly light-hearted. Because Giger, as a character, is largely ridiculous in his efforts to discover the key to immortality, we never have to stress too much about him. And while Jake's desire to get that Willie Mays baseball card for his father is very noble, it won't make or break the future of the Federation.
So what we get, first and foremost, is a look into the microcosm of each character's lives through the lens of Jake and Nog. Whether it's the Chief's need to run the rapids in the holosuite, Bashir needing his stuffed bear, Worf needing his Klingon opera's audio corrected or Kira's public speaking woes, each favor Jake and Nog do to get that baseball card reveals something likable and core to the main cast of Deep Space Nine.
Meanwhile, we also get the most likable versions I think we ever see of both Winn and Weyoun. Winn is genuine here in her desire to work with Sisko and find the best solution to keep Bajor safe as war looms. For all the times I thought Winn was in it purely for herself, throughout "In the Cards" it is clear that she genuinely loves the people of Bajor and also genuinely respects Sisko and the Federation.
But best of all is Weyoun, who plays himself as a bit of a fool this episode while trying to discover nefarious purpose where none exists. Whether it's Weyoun's suspicion that Giger's machine is a danger to him or his belief that Jake and Nog are up to something (why else would they be taking meetings with every major member of DS9's crew), there's something nice about watching a villain trip themselves up. And, in the end, Weyoun even shows a glimmer of kindness. After all, he is the one who finally puts that baseball card in Jake's hands at last.
Deep Space Nine as a show was about to enter quite a sea change. Once war begins, there's significantly less room for silliness, so "In the Cards," is actually very important in its own way. It needs to remind us how charming this cast is and it needs to remind us that, no matter how dark things get, this is still Star Trek.
WHY DOES IN THE CARDS MATTER NOW
You know, when I set out to talk about this episode, it was mostly simply that it's one of the best Star Trek episodes that never gets referred to as one of Star Trek's best episodes. And, growing out of that, I thought "In the Cards" is noteworthy because it has the rare ability to be both a throw-away and central to the core plot.
So much of today's television struggles with the formula of serialized-yet-episodic writing. Netflix and other streaming shows often eschew this formula entirely. Yet I would maintain it is essential. After all, not every day of your real life contains some huge element to it which carries on towards the long-term "plot" of your personal existence. Ship in a bottle episodes, ones where it's more about circling the wagons and reminding us why we like these characters so much in the first place, are becoming a bit of a lost art. Even Deep Space Nine itself struggled to have light-hearted romps like this once it entered its sixth season.
But it's essential, I think, to be able to tell these one-and-done stories that make us smile, especially when there's serious storytelling on the horizon. As Sisko says at the end of "In the Cards," "Even in the darkest moments, you can always find something that'll make you smile." And, indeed, this was the moment I think when DS9 fans really need that smile, because what comes next will undoubtedly wipe it from their faces.
There is one other thing about "In the Cards" which I think is notable and even important right now: it reminds us that the opposition, no matter how dangerous, are still people. There are so many occasions before and after "In the Cards" where Weyoun and Winn prove themselves to be manipulative and malicious, but for this brief moment, they are no more or less flawed than anyone else. Whether it's Winn struggling to find a way to protect Bajour or Weyoun having a humorous interest in explorations of immortality, neither of them seems all that bad throughout "In the Cards."
And while there will be plenty of time for us to go to war with one another and while I think some kind of much more dangerous conflict is just on our horizon, it is more important than ever to remember that we're all only human in the end. Each of us is mostly just trying to protect the ones they love; each is capable of being funny and adorable and empathized with. There will always be time to fight, but there are very few occasions to smile. Ultimately, "In the Cards" is about taking those opportunities where you can.