|Garak lashes out at Dr. Bashir.|
Garak is unwell. He's uncharacteristically short-tempered, his skin is clammy, and he is having regular headaches. Despite this, he resists Dr. Bashir's attempts to get him to the infirmary for a check up. Instead, he goes to Quark, making clandestine arrangements for a secret piece of Cardassian biotech - so secret that not even Quark's contacts will be able to obtain it.
When Garak collapses, Bashir discovers there is an implant inside Garak's head, connected to his entire central nervous system. He confronts Garak, who confesses that the implant was put there by the Obsidian Order, the Cardassian secret police. It was designed to make Garak immune to torture, by increasing his body's production of endorphins. Pain literally becomes pleasure. But the device "was never designed for continuous use," Garak tells Bashir. Finding his exile to the Bajoran-controlled Deep Space 9 to be a living torture, Garak simply switched the device on and left it run. Now it is malfunctioning, and Garak insists that there is nothing Bashir can do to help him...
Commander Sisko: Barely present, though he does amusingly describe his yelling at an admiral (from the previous episode, perhaps?) as expressing his opinion, "loudly."
Dr. Bashir: After being an insufferably boor for the bulk of the first season, Dr. Bashir has grown into a strong character in Season Two. This episode gives him a particularly meaty role, showcasing his dedication to his patients and the strength of his friendship. He refuses to allow Garak to push him away, either when Garak tells him the most brutal version of his story or when he physically assaults him. He also refuses to allow Odo to intimidate him into questioning Garak while he's still in critical condition. By the end, Bashir knows that he hasn't learned much about Garak, with the connection to the Obsidian Order probably being the only new information truly confirmed. But he seems willing to accept the subterfuge and contradictions as simply part and parcel of a friendship with Garak.
Quark: Gleeful at the prospect of making the elusive Garak into one of his clients, and perhaps at the idea of repaying Garak for his mercy. Whether hoping for future business, repaying a personal debt, or a bit of both, Quark does his very best to assist Garak - though when the words, "Obsidian Order" are mentioned by his Cardassian contact, his self-preservation instincts kick in very, very quickly.
Garak: Garak hasn't actually been in very many episodes, with this being his fourth appearance in more than 40 shows, but he already feels like an integral part of the show. Between the shaded writing of the character and the performance by Andrew Robinson, which I think may be the very best work of Robinson's long career, he is a character who is as fascinatingly complex as he is fun to watch. We learn a lot about Garak's past in this episode... though most of it contradicts itself.
Garak was exiled in disgrace to Deep Space 9, after having been a powerful figure within the Obsidian Order. That much we know for sure. We don't know which of Garak's other stories are true, though - the one in which he was exiled for showing mercy, or the one in which he was exiled for being relentlessly merciless. It seems entirely possible that both incidents he related are true, and simply occurred on different occasions. It is certain, however, that Garak was an influential figure, and that his existence has not simply been forgotten back on the home to which he can never return. I look forward to his next appearance, though I'm guessing that won't occur until next season.
"My dear doctor, (the stories are) all true... especially the lies." The odd, mistrustful friendship between Garak and Bashir is the focus of this episode. After the teaser, the episode begins with Dax observing that Bashir and Garak aren't really friends, they simply have lunch together once a week. The episode then moves on to firmly establish that Bashir's friendship with Garak is genuine. Bashir may not truly know Garak, with even the end leaving him (and us) with a mass of contradictions.
Though a Garak-centered episode is always good news, The Wire is a particularly fine show. It's a character-centered episode that doesn't feel the need to graft on some extra, external threat to the station. This story is about the relationship between Bashir and Garak, and the contradictions of Garak's past. There's no looming military threat tenuously tied to Garak's implant. It's all character-centric, and remains that way. It's a very tightly-focused episode as a result, and that focus combines with excellent acting by Andrew Robinson and Siddig El-Fadil to make this one of the best of the season.
It's also an expertly-structured script, with the stakes rising steadily throughout. Bashir overcomes the barriers Garak throws in front of him, only to encounter new barriers due to the lack of medical information about Cardassians. Given that we've seen him treat Cardassians before, I'd have thought he'd have developed a lot of that information by now - but the episode's so good that I'm more than willing to let that slide. Bashir's commitment is tested at every point. He must overcome Garak's resistance, he must face down Odo at one point. Finally, he is forced to go to Cardassian space to confront a particularly infamous Cardassian (wonderfully played by Paul Dooley). And even at the end, neither he nor we know what crimes Garak is truly guilty of.
Dooley's cameo, by the way, is yet another instance in which Deep Space 9 has lured terrific character actors into its fold. All the Trek shows have had snared strong guest stars, probably a tribue to the franchise's iconic status even when it was in its dying days. But Deep Space 9 seems to get this calibre of actor more regularly than other Trek shows, and gets more out of their casting as well. I can't help but think that the show's consistently fine character writing - which far outstrips that of any other Trek, at any point in the franchise's history - probably has something to do with that.
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