People have been telling me that the last few episodes of season 3 are where Deep Space Nine really gets good, and this two parter, and especially the latter half thereof, is ample evidence that they were right. The last few weeks have been strong episodes, focusing on individuals, though I still feel that last week’s missed a trick, and for a large part of ‘Improbable Cause’, this run looked to be being maintained.
This time, the central role looked to be the enigma that is Elim Garak (Andrew Robinson appearing several weeks in a row in his guest spot). At first, everything seemed to be an elaboration on his self-sustaining mystery (I couldn’t help but think last week that the Mirror Universe Garak was considerably dull as an out-and-out Cardassian bastard). You had Bashir and Garak debating Shakespeare at lunch, you had Bashir’s ongoing suspicion our favourite Cardassian is more than just a tailor in exile, and then you had an explosion: Garak’s shop. With Garak in it.
This brought Odo into the spotlight, in his investigative capacity. There’s a professional assassin who arrived on DS9 about 45 minutes ahead of the bomb, and evidence of Romulan culpability. But the assassin is a professional poisoner, and the Romulans blow his ship to buggery the moment it leaves the station, so what the hell is going on?
And why won’t Garak admit that he blew his own shop up?
Garak is being typically ingenuous, keeping everything under his hat, but convincing no-one (there’s a glorious little moment of insight into his character when the exasperated Bashir tells him the story of the Boy who cried Wolf, to illustrate why people end up not believing liars even when they tell the truth, and Garak extracts a completely different moral: don’t keep telling the same lie).
But even his sang-froid is challenged when he learns that several other members of the Obsidian Order have died that past week – and he knows them all.
So Garak takes a trip to visit his old mentor and boss, Enabran Tain, the only Obsidian Order head to ever retire alive, who may also be in danger. This is despite Tain being the one who secured Garak’s exile. Odo insists on accompanying him. So far, very intriguing, and impossible to see where this might be leading.
Until a Romulan Warbird decloaks above the runabout, locks it with a tractor beam, and takes Garak on board. To meet Tain. There is a combined Romulan/Cardassian war fleet, an unofficial alliance assembled by Tain. They’re going to go through the wormhole, into the Gamma Quadrant, and attack and destroy the Founders’ planet, ending forever the menace of the Dominion. Odo, being a Changeling, will be a useful captive.
And Garak,since he’s escaped being killed, can become Tain’s second-in-command. he can return from exile, he can serve Cardassia again.
To Odo’s surprise, Garak accepts, eagerly.
But suddenly, the stakes have been multiplied out of all proportion, and the story has been catapulted onto a very large stage indeed, and Deep Space Nine is swimming into waters of astonishing significance.
This makes the second part, ‘The Die is Cast’ a story of an entirely different magnitude, in which large things happen. Bashir is trying to turn O’Brien into a very inadequate Garak-substitute as a lunch companion when suddenly the Romulan/Cardassian fleet starts decloaking all around them and heading down the wormhole. It’s red alert and priority comms with Starfleet Command, who, once Tain makes an announcement of his plans, sets DS9 on a defensive war footing: a fleet warping in, the ‘Defiant’ on defensive duties for the station.
But Odo’s out there, and Sisko seeks permission to go rescue him. This is formally, and very directly denied, in terms that make Sisko’s immediate defiance of them a potential court martial issue for the entire senior staff, who volunteer as one.
This includes Odo’s number two, Starfleet Security Chief Commander Eddington, although he’s only going because he’s under direct orders from Admiral Todman to stop Sisko, which he does by sabotaging the Defiant’s cloak once in the Gamma Quadrant. All in a very gentlemanly fashion, with his word of honour not to interfere further.
This side-trip serves to delay the Defiant’s arrival until it can become a deus ex machina, but the larger story seres to more than occupy our time. Garak’s being very relaxed and cheerful, almost nostalgic, about his restoration to grace, though he’s less than whole-hearted about having to interrogate Odo for something withheld about the Founders. It would appear that Garak’s carefully constructed persona as an innocuous small businessman is becoming somewhat real.
But in order to gain Tain’s trust, Garak has to get something. Using an experimental device that prevents Odo shapeshifting – shortly before he needs to transform into his liquid self – Garak successfully tortures Odo, whose form becomes increasingly – and horrifyingly – more raddled, ragged and deformed. Garak pleads for something, a lie even, to justify him ending the torture, but gets something true: that Odo longs to return to his people, to join in the Great Link. Garak releases him from the locking device.
Now the attack begins. Firepower is poured down on the planet, but the readings of lifeforms are unchanged. Too late, with a bloody massive fleet of Jem’Hadar ships decloaking all around them, Tain realises it was all a trap. Garak realises it too, and decides to get himself and Odo out. But he can only do so with the aid of Romulan captain Lovok, who is not a Romulan at all, but a Founder. The Dominion has encouraged and aided Tain’s plan so as to draw in and deciimate Cardassia and the Romulan Empire. That only leaves the Federation and the Klingon Empire, and they don’t consider them enemies who will last much longer.
Odo is again offered the chance to join the Founders. Despite his words to Garak, he again refuses. Garak, meanwhile, considers it his duty to try to get Tain out, no matter than Tain’s mind has snapped, so Odo has to knock him out to get him out, just in time for the Defiant to beam the pair out of the battle and shoot for safety.
Phew. But the status quo has been shifted, massively, and twenty-odd years on, one belated part of the audience is thinking what a bloody good episode that was, and if they really can keep up that standard…
But, soft. Sisko gets away with it, this time, with a warning from Todman that if he does anything like that again, he’s either going to get court-martialed, or promoted! And as for Garak, in a beautifully directed scene, he surveys the wreckage of his shop, picks up ruined fabric, polishes a blackened mirror, and beholds a distorted reflect of Odo, offscreen. Beautifully, Odo stays at that distance, as the two converse. It appears Garak has left a certain detail out of his report, for which Odo is grateful. As for his future, it appears Quark wants to take over the unit and open a massage parlour. But Odo thinks Sisko would be much more amenable to a tailor’s shop…
A beautifully poised ending. And if it recreates the status quo, for once that’s no bad thing. We now know rather more about Garak than we’d ideally wish to if his enigma is to be perpetrated, but his enigma, and his air of innocence, is entirely too delightful for us to want to lose it.
And the Dominion threat starts to loom ever nearer.