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.