Star Trek Retro Review: "In the Cards" (DS9) | Bottle Episodes

Ah yes, another of Star Trek’s heavy-handed lesson episodes. This time it’s, “Even in times of war, one cannot deny the healing power of sports memorabilia.” How many times have we heard that one? This is a review of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “In the Cards.” If you have not seen this episode, and you don’t want to know what happens in it, be warned: spoilers beyond this point! Yes, “In the Cards,” the tender and affecting story of a child who wants to do something nice for their parent, and in said pursuit runs afoul of

some aliens who are about to embark on a galaxy-conquering campaign of interplanetary destruction — a tale as old as time. We open on a dinner party in Captain Sisko’s quarters, and wow it is bleak. Everybody’s all mopey because the Dominion has joined forces with Cardassia and is now lurking on the edge of the Federation, and Starfleet is losing contact with ships along the border and doing nothing about it, and Odo’s like “Things on the station feel just like they did before the Cardassians were forced to abandon it” — it’s just not a very fun hang

at Sisko’s place tonight, ya know? And things get worse when, after everyone leaves, Sisko gets a page from ops telling him that Kai Winn is on her

way, and will be here to meet with him tomorrow! Oh, boy! Kai Winn! Jake and Nog are hanging out at Quark’s, and Jake is worried about his dad — he seems so depressed! Nog’s like, “Everybody’s depressed — we’re about to be invaded by a fascist empire ruled by evil shapeshifters and clones who employ armies of nigh unkillable reptilian super-soldiers.” Jake’s like, “Yeah, if only I could do something to

cheer up my dad . . .” Then, Quark enters with the answer to Jake’s prayers. “Hey, kids,” Quark says, “I hope I’ll see you tomorrow at the auction! We’re selling off a bunch of rare artifacts recovered from a derelict freighter. Here’s a list — pick out something nice and come tomorrow and give me money for it! Give me money!” Nog reads out the list of items to be auctioned, and it doesn’t sound too impressive — until he gets to the line about the 20th century human baseball card. Jake snatches the list like “Baseball card? .

. . Oh my god, it’s a mint condition 1951 rookie card — of Willie Mays!” “Say who?” “Say Willie!” Say hey! Swingin’ at the plate. Say hey — say who? Say Willie! That Giants kid is great! Jake is determined to win this baseball card for his dad — it’s the perfect gift, because Ben Sisko’s love of baseball is so strong it can even make him forget about the fact that his entire civilization is living on borrowed time. Same, by the way. Whenever I get a bit down about our increasingly rapid slide toward totalitarianism, environmental catastrophe,

and ultimately extinction, I just think of Eddie Murray. There’s just one problem with Jake’s plan to bid on the Willie Mays card at the auction — it requires money. And Jake’s a human — he doesn’t have any money. Fortunately, what he does have is a Ferengi best friend with a piggy bank full of space gold. Nog is reluctant at first, but Jake reminds Nog of how supportive Captain Sisko has been of Nog’s entry into Starfleet even though he’s a big-eared, snaggle-toothed alien freak, and guilt trips him into it, so Nog goes “Fine, I’ll use my

space gold to buy the baseball card for your dad.” Alas, it is not to be — though they bid on the Willie Mays card when it comes up at the auction the next day, Jake and Nog lose out to this guy, who offers up a whopping ten bars of space gold for the trunk that includes the baseball card. Jake and Nog approach him afterwards, but he seems a little . . . high strung. “Who sent you?” he demands to know. “I’m not interested in whatever it is you want with me — I’ve done nothing wrong!

I haven’t broken any laws! Except perhaps . . . the laws of nature.” And with that, this totally normal guy exits through the elevator. Meanwhile, Kai Winn has arrived on the station, and it turns out she’s here for a meeting with Weyoun on some Dominion-related business. Sisko meets Weyoun at the airlock, and Weyoun is all smiles as usual, and Sisko’s like “Welcome to the station. I hate you.” “And when you say that you hate me, you mean . . . ?” “. . . that I hate you, and everything you stand for, and that you’re

here, and that you’re even alive.” “So you’re saying you . . . like me?” Elsewhere, Nog runs up to Jake all excited like “Guess what? Dr. Giger wants to meet with us!” “Dr. Jeffrey Geiger, the original lead protagonist of Chicago Hope? That’s amazing, I’ve always wanted to meet him! That show was never the same after he left.” “I think the creative decline of the show was also due to the departure of David E. Kelley as executive producer and primary writer, Jake.” “True — John Tinker was a competent writer and producer, but he lacked the distinctive

voice and singularity of vision which Kelley brought to the show. However, I don’t think the impact of the emotionally fraught intensity Mandy Patinkin brought to the show as Dr. Geiger should be understated.” “I agree, Jake — television is a highly collaborative medium, perhaps the most collaborative art form of all, and the success or failure of a given project can never be attributed to the presence or absence of one particular artist. It seems that the root of our dispute is the relative importance we respectively attach to the contributions of Kelley as creator, writer, and executive producer,

and Patinkin-as-Geiger as the star.” “That does seem to summarize the situation quite succinctly. What does Jeffrey Geiger want to meet with us about, anyway?” “Oh, it’s not Jeffrey Geiger — it’s that guy from the auction who bought the baseball card. His name is Giger, too.” “Really?” “Yes! It’s spelled differently but pronounced the same, so the difference will be imperceptible to those watching the show.” “How enchanting!” They meet with Dr. Giger and, like the other Dr. Geiger, he’s a little bit of a weirdo. He doesn’t want to sell the Willie Mays card to Jake and Nog,

but he is willing to trade it in exchange for a series of items he requires to complete work on his greatest invention: the Cellular Regeneration and Entertainment Chamber! Jake’s like, “What’s it do? Is it some kind of egg cooker? Or egg timer?” Giger’s like, “No, what you do is, you lay in it for eight hours a day, and it sends a signal through your body that stimulates the nuclei of all your cells, which enables you to live forever, because I’ve discovered that the cause of death is cellular boredom.” Jake and Nog are like, “Oh. Neat.”

This Dr. Giger — like the other Dr. Geiger — is obviously crazy, but he seems like a harmless kook, so Jake and Nog take the list of items he wants in exchange for the card, and they get to work. And I do mean work — they find themselves doing favors for most of the station’s senior staff in order to obtain the various things Giger has asked for. They do a technobabble thing in a cargo bay for Chief O’Brien in exchange for another technobabble thing. Nog cleans up the audio on Worf’s Klingon opera tapes, Jake rewrites

a speech for Major Kira. Nog breaks into Leeta’s quarters to steal back Dr. Bashir’s teddy bear, which she never returned after they broke up. Bad form on Leeta’s part, by the way — but ultimately Bashir’s fault — you don’t lend someone your stuffed animals, dude! Ever! That level of trust does not exist! Kai Winn drops by Sisko’s office to tell him about her meeting with Weyoun. The Dominion has offered to sign a non-aggression treaty with Bajor, and Winn is seriously considering it. When Sisko asks why, Winn says “Because I want to guarantee that not a

single Dominion soldier ever sets foot on Bajor. Can the Federation make me that guarantee? Can you promise that Starfleet would defend Bajor even if it meant sacrificing one of your core worlds, like Vulcan? Or Andor? Or Berengaria?” Sisko’s like, “We’d definitely give up Andor — nobody but the really hardcore nerds gives a shit about it. And I’m pretty sure you made that last one up.” Sisko urges Winn not to sign anything yet, to stall, because there’s a moment of crisis coming, but it’s not here yet, and Bajor can’t afford to commit itself to anything until

the moment of truth arrives. Winn’s like, “All right, whatever.” Jake delivers the supplies they’ve obtained so far to Dr. Giger, who plugs one of them into his machine to make it light up and hum, much to his delight. But it turns out that Weyoun is staying in the room just above Giger’s, and he hears that humming sound, too, and he’s like “What’s all that humming about? Where there’s humming there are hummers, and I don’t like the thought of hummers being exchanged in my vicinity.” Later, Jake and Nog return to Giger’s quarters to find them deserted.

Odo tells them there’s no record of anyone named Giger being in those quarters. Jake goes slightly conspiracy theorist and jumps to the conclusion that Kai Winn is somehow responsible, since one of her priests was also bidding on the trunk with the baseball card at the auction. Maybe she had Giger disappeared. So, Jake and Nog confront Winn with this accusation, which lands them in Captain Sisko’s office in front of an enraged Captain Sisko. Sisko demands to know why Jake and Nog accused the Pope of Bajor of kidnapping and burglary. Nog starts to explain, but Jake —

still wanting the Willie Mays card to be a fun surprise to cheer up his dad — cuts Nog off and says “We were drunk! Yeah! That’s it. We got drunk and decided it would be fun to accuse a religious leader of multiple felonies — apparently people used to do it all the time, and they were usually right!” Sisko angrily confines Jake and Nog to their quarters, but while they’re on the elevator on the way home they are beamed away! They materialize on Weyoun’s ship. And Weyoun is there like “What’s your connection to Dr. Giger? Because

he’s been running weird experiments right below my quarters, and you two have met with practically every senior officer on this station, plus Kai Winn, and if you’re planning some kind of assassination plot against me I need to know about it so I can call home and have them wake up my next clone.” Jake tries to explain that he and Nog were just trying to get Giger to give them the baseball card, but Weyoun doesn’t believe them. So, Jake tries another story — he tells Weyoun that he and Nog are actually agents of Starfleet intelligence, and

that Willie Mays is a time traveler who suddenly appeared in historical records yesterday. “That card is our only evidence,” Jake says. “We don’t know who this man is or what he’s planning, but the fate of the galaxy may depend on catching Willie Mays.” Weyoun’s like “I believe you.” “You do?” “I believe the first story,” Weyoun clarifies. “Not the stuff about having to catch Willie Mays — for one thing, you’d never catch him — he was one of the greatest base runners of all time.” Weyoun gives Jake and Nog the baseball card and releases them, then

invites Dr. Giger to have a chat about this intriguing hummer machine of his . . . We get a montage of the senior staff enjoying the benefits they got from their trades with Jake and Nog, including Weyoun about to receive a hummer from Giger, and then Jake presents the Willie Mays card to Sisko, who receives it with a smile and gives his son a big hug. “Even in the darkest moments,” Sisko tells us through a captain’s log voiceover, “you can always find something that will make you smile.” The end! Wholesome! Technically speaking, this is a

near perfect bottle show — the only major player who isn’t a regular or previously established recurring cast member is Brian Markinson as Dr. Giger, the story is set entirely on the station, except for that one scene near the end aboard Weyoun’s ship, which I’m pretty sure is a redress of an existing set, and there are almost no effects shots. Artistically speaking, this is a near perfect show, period. Deep Space Nine balanced humor and drama more expertly than any Star Trek series ever has, and “In the Cards” is a wonderful example of that. At this point

in the series, the threat of the Dominion has been looming for years. Full-on war between the Dominion and the Federation hasn’t broken out yet, but it’s about to. Things are dark and on the cusp of getting much darker — but in the midst of that falling darkness comes this patch of sunlight, a goofy, self-deprecating, and ultimately sweet episode about Jake wanting to do something nice for his dad, and Nog getting dragged along like the good friend he is. The episode, written by Ronald D. Moore from a story by Truly Barr Clark and Scott Neal, and

directed by Worf himself, Michael Dorn, does an excellent job of piling on complications and raising the stakes for Jake and Nog as they get pulled deeper and deeper into a scheme that started out as a simple attempt to buy a baseball card. Jake’s first attempt to get the card at the auction fails, but like so many great comedy protagonists before him, instead of accepting defeat and pivoting to something else, Jake refuses to take no for an answer and pushes on. Next to him the entire time is Nog, who, like so many great comedy sidekicks before

him, keeps reminding Jake that none of this needs to be this hard — if they just told people they were trying to do something nice for Captain Sisko, the others would probably be happy to help instead of forcing them to exchange favors for the items they need. That doesn’t work for Jake, though — he doesn’t just want to get a baseball card for his dad — he wants it to be a surprise. Jake doesn’t just want to do something nice — he wants it to be perfect. The obsessive pursuit of perfection is such a reliable

engine for comedy — chasing perfection is the ultimate fool’s errand. Anyone fool enough to try it is only going to find the water over their head getting deeper, and deeper, until disaster becomes inevitable. Jake starts out wanting a baseball card, and winds up being brought before one of the head space nazis on the eve of an interplanetary war — that’s comedy! One of the most delightful things about the episode is how it uses that comedy specifically to poke fun at Star Trek itself. There’s Jake describing the Federation’s money-less economy, using the same lofty phrasing employed

by Captain Picard in Star Trek: First Contact — “We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity” — only to have Nog scoff at the very idea. There’s Dr. Giger’s ludicrous Cellular Entertainment Center — and kudos to the writers for coming up with some bullshit imaginary science wacky enough to actually come across as a crackpot theory in the context of all the other bullshit imaginary science in Star Trek that we’re meant to take seriously — that is genuinely impressive. And Giger’s “death is caused by our cells getting bored” concept is genuinely funny, as is

his sincere but totally unwarranted paranoia about “the soulless minions of orthodoxy” trying to stop him from pursuing his totally real and legitimate work. Louise Fletcher as Kai Winn is always a welcome presence. She’s mostly here for reasons related to the larger plot of the season involving the coming war, but she makes the most of her time. Her dismissive “That will be all, my child” to blow off Kira when she arrives in Sisko’s office is great, as is the way she takes Weyoun’s ear to read his soul before informing him “We have nothing in common” in

that pleasant but icy way she has. Though he’s only in it for a few scenes, this is also a great Weyoun episode. Jeffrey Combs is rightly celebrated for how prolific and diverse his Star Trek appearances have been over the years — for me, Weyoun is his best character because he allows us to see Combs’s versatility represented in a single individual. That versatility is on display in this episode. We see the fawning, obsequious Weyoun when he arrives at the station and tries to put a positive spin on Sisko’s unconcealed dislike of him. We see the stern,

authoritative, threatening Weyoun when he confronts Jake and Nog about what he believes to be a plot against him involving the senior staff and Kai Winn. We see the self-servingly benevolent Weyoun when he realizes there is no plot after all, and magnanimously allows Jake and Nog to leave with the baseball card. And, we get just a hint of the credulous doofus Weyoun when he seems genuinely interested in Dr. Giger’s bullshit cellular entertainment machine. Combs is able to shift from one mode to another throughout the episode, sometimes within the same scene, effortlessly, and his comic timing, as

always, is flawless. Speaking of shifting modes, after spending the better part of an hour telling us a funny, cheeky, occasionally very broad, story, the episode manages to end on a purely earnest note. And that ending works, because the creators of Deep Space Nine — in front of and behind the camera — have done their work. They’ve established these characters, and their relationships, so that when Jake and Nog finally present the Willie Mays card to Captain Sisko, after all the wackiness that has led up to that moment, the moment itself plays as genuine and heartfelt, because

what motivated Jake and Nog to endure that wackiness was a simple desire to do something nice for Jake’s dad — an act of love. That’s what it’s all about. Ridiculous, hilarious love. Those are my thoughts on “In the Cards.” What do you think of this episode? Please share your thoughts with me in the comments. If you’d like to support this channel — and I sure wish you would, if you can afford it — you can do so by becoming a patron at, becoming a channel member by clicking the join button, or by making a

one-time gift by clicking the thanks button, or via PayPal or Venmo — links are in the description! Next week this batch of Star Trek bottle show reviews continues as we hop over to Star Trek: Voyager and take a look at that series’ first bottle episode, and its second episode overall — “Parallax.” See you then. Thanks for watching, and take care everybody!

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