I confess, I very nearly opted to write about “Data’s Day,” which is a perfectly lovely little episode told entirely from Data’s perspective, but while I do encourage you to give it a watch, I think “The Wounded” to be a much stronger episode. Thematically, “The Wounded” concerns the after-effects of conflict, specifically how does a soldier in a conflict go from conceiving of the opposing side as an enemy to interacting with them on a daily basis in a peaceful context. The episode explores these themes through the experiences of Chief O’Brien, Captain Benjamin Maxwell, and to a lesser extent, Glinn Daro. Moreover, this episode introduces the Cardassians who will not only be a recurring presence in TNG but who will later feature much more significantly in DS9.
The basic plot is that while the Enterprise performs some mapping in an area near the Federation/Cardassian border, a Cardassian ship appears and opens fire on the Enterprise, requiring Picard to retaliate. Once the Cardassian ship has sustained damage, its commander, Gul Macet, answers Picard’s hail and informs him that Macet’s aggression is retaliation for the destruction of a science outpost in the Cuellar system by a Federation ship. That Federation ship, as it happens, is the U.S.S. Phoenix, captained by Benjamin Maxwell under whom O’Brien served as tactical officer. Pursuant to Starfleet orders, Picard invites Macet and two Glinns aboard to observe while the Enterprisepursues the Phoenix. They find the Phoenix attacking a Cardassian supply convoy just in time to watch as the Phoenix destroys the Cardassian ships. Picard orders the Enterprise to intercept the Phoenix. After some wrangling back and forth with Macet regarding the Phoenix’s prefix code, the Enterprise intercepts the Phoenix.
Maxwell beams aboard and meets with Picard, claiming that he destroyed the supply ship because it carried weapons as cargo and that the Cuellar station was a military outpost rather than a science station. While troubled by Maxwell’s assertions, Picard nonetheless orders Maxwell to report to Starbase 211, escorted by the Enterprise. Maxwell agrees, only to have the Phoenix break formation and heads toward yet another Cardassian supply ship. When the Enteprise catches up to the Phoenix, Maxwell demands that Picard board the supply ship to see for himself that the Cardassians are secretly re-arming their colonists on the border. Picard refuses and sends O’Brien to thePhoenix to convince Maxwell to stand down. O’Brien is successful, and the Enterprise and Phoenix prepare to depart. Before leaving, however, Picard calls Gul Macet to inform him that he finds supply ships equipped with the means to shield them from sensors to be very suspicious and to tell him that he should inform his superiors that Starfleet and the Federation will be watching.
What’s great about “The Wounded” is not just that the episode finally gives Colm Meaney some material to develop Miles O’Brien as a character but rather just how much background story we get. From Picard’s anecdote about fleeing a Cardassian ship in the Stargazer to O’Brien’s tense recollections of his experiences during the Massacre of Setlik III, the script reveals not only that there was a war with the Cardassian Union but also the emotional costs of that conflict. This episode establishes the distinctly anti-Cardassian bias that will nearly result in O’Brien’s death in “Tribunal,” but more importantly, the episode gives us necessary context for O’Brien’s distrust.
The events of Setlik III constitute the catalyst for the entire episode; the massacre there is the wound visited upon O’Brien, Maxwell, and even apparently Glinn Daro, indicating that both sides lost something during that massacre. O’Brien lost his innocence and his friend Will “Stompie” Kayden. Maxwell lost his wife and children, and Daro serves as a stand-in for Cardassian shame. All he can offer as a rationale for the attack on the colony and slaughter of its noncombatant citizens is that the information the Cardassian soldiers were given was that the colony was a staging area for a massive attack on Cardassian forces. There’s enough heartbreak here to serve as a satisfactory motivation for Maxwell’s rampage, but the episode is not content to rest on its proverbial laurels. “The Wounded” is not just about the ramifications of Setlik III but rather the question of how a soldier reintegrates into a peaceful society while being surrounded by people who were previously the enemy.
O’Brien admits to Daro that he hates not the Cardassians but what the war made him, and it’s not difficult to assume that his experiences on Setlik III prompted his shift from tactical to engineering. As a character, he clearly still wrestles with how to make peace with his own anger. He even asks Keiko how hatred for the Cardassians can remain now that the war is over. Maxwell, who uses the rampage to avenge his family, seems caught in his soldier’s mindset, goes so far as to ask O’Brien what’s happening to the war. Of course, there is no war. The Federation and the Cardassians have a treaty and are nominally at peace, but the episode does not let us discount Maxwell. As it happens, he’s correct. O’Brien speaks for the audience when he admits that while he knows Maxwell’s rampage was wrong, he still respects Maxwell the man.
I want to segue a bit into discussing Picard’s role in this episode. He’s truly at his best here, fielding Macet’s running commentary with grace and giving ground to the Cardassians only when absolutely necessary. Moreover, when O’Brien explains to Maxwell that Picard will fire upon the Phoenix if necessary, Maxwell believes him. By proxy, therefore, the audience realizes, too, to what ends Picard will go in order to maintain this peace. Of course, we already know how ruthless Picard can be from “Time Squared,” but we haven’t seen that Picard in a while. “The Wounded” serves up a refresher course in Picard’s implacability. Lastly, when bidding adieu to Macet, the icy menace Picard projects should have left frost on Macet’s terrible uniform, but the absolute greatest moment occurs when Picard turns his back on the Cardassian gul. It’s a most Victorian slight and more effective for it.
Rating: Four cups of earl grey tea and a saucer
Stray Thoughts From the Couch:
- If you thought you recognized Gul Macet’s voice and unctuous manner, you’re right. Marc Alaimo would go on to feature prominently as Gul Dukat in Deep Space Nine. He also appeared as the first Romulan seen in TNG.
- I’m deeply glad that they did away with this look for the Cardassians in DS9. The little beard-thing is terrible, and that head dress worn in the ship is just ridiculous.
- I have to say, I’m with O’Brien regarding the plankton loaf. There’s no part of that that sounds appetizing, and I do love that we get a glimpse into O’Brien’s and Keiko’s early marriage.
- Lastly, the use of the “The Minstrel Boy” is inspired, both for the haunting melody and for its subject matter. As an aside, I’d comment on the plot convenience of the prefix codes, but that’s pretty low-hanging fruit.