Deep Space Nine: s02e22 – The Wire


Do not trust this Cardassian further than a trebuchet could fling him

The choice of this episode’s title, though apt to the story in more senses than one, is nevertheless unfortunate since it can only make me think of David Simon’s deservedly legendary series set in Baltimore. Which has nothing to do with this episode, of course.

‘The Wire’ is basically a two-hander, with walk-ons for nearly all the cast. But it’s Doctor Bashir and the mysterious Garak, Cardassian exile, tailor and all-round enigma. The plot is simple: whilst queuing for their weekly lunch, Garak experiences sharp pains in the head, that he refuses to allow Bashir to treat, or even investigate. Bashir refuses to accept rebuff. Through Odo he learns that Garak is dealing with Quark to obtain a piece of Cardassian bio-technology that is highly classified and has links with the Obsidian Order (a central spy ring of which Garak was formerly a member).

Garak has a seizure and is taken to the Infirmary  where Bashir discovers he has a piece of bio-technology implanted long ago in his brain; the same piece Garak has been trying to obtain. It is an ingenious device rendering its host immune to torture by converting the pain into pleasure. Unfortunately, it is breaking down: in order to combat the pain of exile,the daily torture of his life on DS9, Garak has ended up switching the device on permanently; hence its deterioration.

In order to save Garak’s life, Bashir tracks down Enabran Tain, the ‘retired’ head of the Obsidian Order,and obtains from his the bio-information that will reverse the device’s effect. Tain does this not out of compassion, or in memory of old relationships, but to extend Garak’s life in exile, in daily torture, unable ever to return to Cardassia. Garak makes a full recovery, restored to his old, elusive, enigmatic self.

The point of the story is to explore Garak’s background, whilst giving Julian Bashir a feature opportunity that explores his commitment to his craft, and to a man that he does not trust, yet whom he likes, and thinks of as a friend. Bashir is determined to save Garak’s life, not merely because it is his professional and personal duty but because, in the face of a changing sequence of horrific confessions, he refusesto give up on Garak himself, even when the Cardassian is most set on alienating the Doctor.

We learn about Garak’s background, about how he was not merely a member of the Obsidian Order but a natural for the job and right hand man to Enabran Tain himself. And we learn of the horrific atrocity that caused his disgrace and exile.

And then we learn that it wasn’t like that at all, that in a moment of weakness brought on by personal discomfort, Garak let Bajoran children escape.

And then we learn that it wasn’t like that at all, that Garak tried to frame his best friend and boyhood chum Elim for the atrocity, only to find Elim had the same idea in respect of his old buddy, Garak, and got there first.

And then we learn, from a theoretically more objective source, that it wasn’t like that at all, that Elim is Garak’s first name…

In short, we don’t really learn anything at all, not that we can trust, except that Garak is a masterful and shameless liar, and even then we have to take Tain’s word for it, and if you think we can’t trust Garak… By this point, even the most secure points, such as Garak having been a member of the Obsidian Order, and being in exile, are not things in which we feel safe in believing.

A seriously good episode which expanded upon the mysterious Garak and gave us multiple insights into who and what he is, what he thinks and how he feels, not a one of which we can be sure of. On the other hand, we do know Bashir a bit better for this.

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4 thoughts on “Deep Space Nine: s02e22 – The Wire

  1. Garak is perfectly played by Andrew Robinson throughout the series. Nothing is ever as it seems and you never know whether it’s the truth or not. “They’re all true.” “Even the lies?” “Especially the lies.”
    I think I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating, thanks to being a “stationary show” the need and use of a recurring cast paid huge dividends for the show. To me they brought more to the show than most of the main cast.

    Going back to your last week’s review. I actually enjoy a mixture of stand alone and ongoing episodes. While I don’t watch a whole lot of new series, The Walking Dead and Preacher are about it off the top of my head, I do agree modern sensibilities have spoiled us.

    And now I think about it, Rick Berman, The Executive Producer and main force of Star Trek from TNG through Enterprise, was against longer forming arcs, more specifically serializations and liked self contained stories. It was part of the era, that people seeing the episode, who’ve never watched before, or reruns would be confused if they hadn’t seen other episodes. He faced a lot of venom, when I started becoming a fan and really rightfully so. He was more worried about the mythical casual viewer than understanding that the average Trek viewer was smarter and more demanding.
    Season 3 of DS9 was the season when Voyager started, which took up most of Berman’s time and effort. Not coincidentally, as good as it’s second season was, that’s when DS9 started finding itself ever better. “Blood Oath” was the start of sweet run at the end of this season, with one, maybe two not great, but still good/average episodes.

  2. Fair points. To be honest, and purely selfish, I couldn’t care less about the mythical casual viewer, it’s my entertainment I’m talking about. I get your point about mixing serial and stand-alone episodes, something that I think my current obsession, ‘Person of Interest’, does/did very well. But the very points you make about DS9’s success being founded on a rich recurring cast are to me the growing frustration of massive opportunity deliberately being strangled.

    1. Voyager should have been the same way, if not more so. A ship flung far away with no Federation around. A strong and same recurring cast/background characters since they had no real replacements if someone died. And as they went through and left certain areas, guests recurred a few times if that. The whole premise screamed that what happened and where they went and were going mattered from week to week. But nope stand alone episodes, with some psuedo-continuity in places.

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