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Best Garak episode of DS9: Improbable Cause/The Die is Cast

June 24, 2013

Plot: Garak blows up his own shop after seeing an alien on the station who looked at him funny/wanted to kill him. Odo gets pulled in and the two of them end up on a Romulan Warbird, in the middle of a Tal Shiar/ Obsidian Order pre-emptive attack on the Dominion.
[Tal Shiar/Obsidian Order = Romulan/Cardassian NSA]

Subplot: Bashir gets some chocolates from Garak then gives them back as if it’s a present he’s actually bought. Eddington reminds everyone he’s still there by sabotaging the Defiant. Sisko and co take the defiant into the Gamma Quadrant to rescue Odo and Garak. Rom has a wank in Holosuite 2.

How does it start?

With a five minute conversation between Bashir and Garak, during one of their lunches. Garak says Julius Caesar was a clown, Bashir counters with something that will play out in the second part of the episode.

Bashir: Caesar couldn’t conceive that his best friend would betray him, that’s why it’s such a tragedy.
Garak: Farce is more like it.

What’s so good about this scene?

Almost everything, except for the ‘hunger of humans’ dialogue by Garak. Bashir does okay with his part, but he’s only really as good as the Cardassian opposite him. It’s Garak that brings all the provocative lines: his rejection of Shakespeare, his observations on human society, his depression when forced to remember what he does for a living.

Bashir: Maybe you could mend those trousers I dropped off last week.
Garak: Ugh. [Sean Penn face] Tomorrow.

Andrew Robinson, like most of the other recurring actors on DS9, really is on top of his game. Yup, he has a great character to play with, but the way he delivers his lines and judges his pauses is brilliant.


1] His expression when Bashir wants him to mend his pants.

From talking about a great General like Julius Caesar to fixing holes in human pants. You can see the self-disgust on Garak’s face as he pictures those pants waiting for him back in the shop. It’s no accident that he goes straight back to talking about something else, even something that he has no particular interest in.

2] The scene with Odo in the security office.

Look at the placement of the characters. Garak sits comfortably in Odo’s chair for the first part of the scene, in control, he thinks…Odo circles him like a shark [a shark that’s good at investigating]…
…then Odo grabs the chair and yanks Garak into reality, telling him he knows he blew up his own shop…then smirking when Garak is stumped and adding: ‘Well, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that expression before.’
Realising he’s not in control, Garak stands up, circles the desk then tells part of the truth, that other spies in the Obsidian Order have been wiped out and he doesn’t know why.
There’s a pause in this moment that lasts a few seconds and lesser actors would probably have filled it. That’s the difference between okay and very good, in my view: the astute management of pauses between dialogue.
Andrew Robinson is very good at this.

3] The smugness of Garak when he meets Tain [Old boss of the Obsidian Order, ruthless, looks like Toad of Toad Hall] and gets his old job back

Well, he’s always been smug, but in this scene’s it’s coupled with the return of genuine power. Before this, he was reduced to being caustic and taking cheap shots at Gul Dukat, but by the end of this scene he’s taking aim at the head of the Tal Shiar, on his own ship. It’s funny to note that at the start of the scene, when Garak is brought in as a prisoner, he knows nothing and by the end of the scene he probably knows more than anyone else. This is pure Garak.

4] The smugness chipped away during the interrogation of Odo

Garak uses advanced Romulan technology/a spray-painted cardboard box to stop Odo from changing shape…and before long he starts to look the way he always looks when he’s sick: like a homeless Michael Douglas.
The Garak of old [from what we think we know of him…or what we believe a member of the Obsidian Order would be capable of] would have taken Odo apart without remorse. But this version of Garak has spent three years with the sentimentality of Trek avatar, Dr Bashir. He’s just not capable of taking apart someone he knows and respects anymore.
When he tells Odo he doesn’t want to see him hurt, we believe him.

5] Garak and Odo in the runabout

After escaping from the big Romulan ship, Garak begs Odo for forgiveness. It seems that their situation is hopeless so the fact that Garak is going on about this is significant. He thinks they’re both gonna die and he’s ashamed of what he did, possibly what he did before his exile too. It’s hard to say for sure how apologetic he truly is as in Season Four he’s firmly back in his pragmatic, cynical, ‘I’ll shoot Dukat in the back’ mould…but it’s likely this is still a turning point for him. He’s no longer 100% ruthless as he was before his exile…he’s now down by at least 40%.

Garak’s great, but what about the episode?

It’s very good. The first part is enigmatic enough…we don’t really know what’s going on or where it’s going to lead, mostly because there’s been no suggestion of a Tal Shiar/Obsidian Order mission up to this point.
This is something DS9 does really well…it keeps you guessing all the way. Another good example is Gul Dukat’s alliance with the Dominion in Season Five.
It’s refreshing to see a show treating its recurring characters so well. Not only are they given decent episodes, but they get a life beyond that too. It may not have been shown, but Dukat wasn’t just sitting on his ass back in Cardassia when he was away from the station…he was plotting, following a direction his character would naturally take.
It’s the same with the Obsidian Order and the Tal Shiar. We never saw much of them, only rumours really, but it makes perfect sense that they would be plotting against the Dominion, the only surprise being that they would work together to do it.

What else?

It’s the little things that also make this episode a great one.

The Flaxian assassin is more than a match for Odo.

Odo manages to trick the assassin into revealing himself by threatening to mix the guy’s liquids in front of him [to create a lethal toxin], but the assassin avoids confessing by saying ‘he simply thought the two liquids would create a bad fragrance’. Even one scene characters are given something to work with and a large degree of intelligence. This is a staple of DS9 and what most other Trek shows either leave out or do badly. Well, the other shows give some intelligent side characters, but only if they’re crucial to the plot. E.g. Captain Jellico in ‘Chain of Command’.

Eddington’s sabotage of the Defiant.

He may be a nothing character [or under-developed at least], but this is a clever move by the writers. It establishes Eddington as a Starfleet flunkie who isn’t really part of the family, which both foreshadows and deflects suspicion of him from being a Maquis traitor in Season Four.
Foreshadow = he’s not really part of the crew, he’s an outsider
Deflection = He loves Starfleet, he’d never join the Maquis.

Odo’s Cardassian informant

This scene’s set in a dark cave, with the Cardassian covered in shadow on higher ground, suggesting he’s a high ranking official and knows more than Odo does. I think this is called ‘mise-en-scene’, but I’m not sure.

Mise-en-scene = where the placement of characters or objects in the scene have some importance or meaning.
Mise-en-scene = bullshit term created by the French to make their films seem more important than they really are.
Mise-en-scene = film concept that often gets defined badly by the media, which then trickles down to the general public, which gets all its word definitions from the media, and recycled until the only thing everyone knows is that it’s French and it’s bullshit.
Mise-en-scene = the decoration of a Star Trek set to make it look exactly like the cave from ‘Chain of Command’ and ‘Heart of Stone’ and ‘The Search: Part 2’ and ‘Time’s Arrow’ and ‘Captain’s Holiday’ and…
Mise-en-scene = a kind of plant
Mise-en-scene = …

Fuck it, back to the cave scene…
We don’t see who this Cardassian in the cave is and we never will find out. Like I said above, this is something DS9 does really well. Just like ‘Game of Thrones’, it creates a sense of history, in the show and with the characters, that is unrivalled, talking about things that we never see and characters that may only ever have one scene.

The Romulan on skype

Sisko talks to the Romulan lady online and she’s as secretive and dry as most other Romulans we’ve seen on Trek [except that mad bastard, Shinzon, and that other mad bastard, Eric Bana]. The best part is when she mistakes Garak for a cobbler, showing that Garak was right…the Tal Shiar isn’t quite as efficient as the Obsidian Order.
The second best part is when Sisko and Odo talk about Garak after the Romulan’s logged off.

Sisko: What do we know about Garak? We can assume he was at one point in the past an operative of the Obsidian Order.
Odo: More than assume, I think it’s highly likely.
Sisko: Agreed. We also know that he was exiled for some reason and he hasn’t left the station since he’s been here, which suggests a threat against his life.
Odo: Or he has nowhere to go.
Sisko: Perhaps.
Odo: Let me waterboard him, Captain.
Sisko: Constable…
Odo: Sorry.

I like these scenes in Trek, they seem natural, and because they’re deconstructing an interesting character like Garak, I like it twice as much as I normally would.
Also, it shows that the characters have been thinking about Garak before, as we are given new information. We know he hasn’t left the station since he’s been here.
Again, DS9 shows an intelligence that old Trek series never did. It establishes continuity and dances with it. TNG rarely ever did this, except for a few moments with Picard and his flute. Maybe the development of the Klingon Empire too…but apart from that, when it came to the main characters, nothing, no follow up at all.

Wanking Rom

First knob shot on Trek. Controversial.


The plotting of this episode is brilliant, as is the character work, even the minor ones. In short, Garak never was given enough to do on Trek, even though he was given quite a lot.
Is a two-line conclusion enough?
Okay, how about a new Trek series with a main cast character possessing the depth and intelligence of Garak?

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