“In the Cards”

Two-Year Mission says: Jeffrey Combs alert!

While I’ve expressed my admiration for the circumspect nature of Netflix’s episode description for Deep Space Nine, occasionally the fact that they only summarize the introductory segment before the opening sequence can work against them. This episode’s description, for example, led me to expect an episode centered around Quark and baseball — possibly my least favorite things about DS9. But no, Quark quickly vanishes, and while a baseball card plays a big role in the story, it’s more of a MacGuffin than anything else.

Instead, this turns out to be a vaguely comedic episode featuring Nog and Jake Sisko. I still can’t believe how much I like those kids. At the outset of the series, Nog was like a concentrated dose of everything annoying about the way the Ferengi are written, and Jake threatened to be inverse-Wesley Crusher, with tedious apathy replacing annoying eagerness. Instead, both have grown into far stronger characters, with Nog working extra hard to prove himself as a Starfleet cadet and Jake drawn to writing rather than the standard cliché of a Starfleet kid aspiring to command his own starship someday. And both kids have great relationships with their fathers — especially Jake, who shares a comfortable sort of affection with a man who often seems distant and intimidating to others.

In fact, the Siskos’ relationship drives this episode: The captain has allowed his crew’s ennui (mostly likely resulting from the constant will-they-won’t-they tension of the Dominion presence on Cardassia) to sap his own spirits, and Jake wants to cheer him up. His solution: Buy a Willy Mays baseball card at auction. This sets into motion a sequence of events that involves the most ridiculous theory of immortality in living memory, a trading chain sidequest that would make a Zelda game proud, inadvertently solving the personal woes of everyone on the station, and accidentally becoming entangled with an effort by Vorta commander Weyoun — Jeffrey Combs once again — to convince Bajor to side with the Dominion.

Although the writing thinks it’s a little punchier than it actually is, there are a few good jokes here. One involves a surprise teleportation, and another makes you wonder if the entire episode was a shaggy-dog setup for a Wizard of Oz reference. Jake’s quick-thinking (if not precisely convincing) lies deserve commendation, too. Still, even if the jokes don’t always land, there’s something to be said for an episode that manages to be a lighthearted bit of fluff (centered around a pair of secondary characters with only tangential connections to the series’ primary narrative arc) and, at the same time, shuffles pieces around the board in a way that still bumps into the goofy, well-intended escapades of a couple of teenagers.