The Future Will Be Carpeted: An Analysis of ‘Deep Space Nine (S5E14)’

“Sentiment is the greatest weakness of all.”
    -- Elim Garak


From the writers’ perspective, the story of the fifth season has been getting DS9 back on track. The fourth season was designed to bring in new viewers, and it did that by becoming more like other Trek installments, pushing the Dominion into the background in favor of the more recognizable Klingons. At this point, the brass was well and truly concentrating on Voyager, either pleased with the increased viewership of their odd stationary offspring, or resigned to the modest audience they already had. When I watched DS9 for the first time, week-to-week, I could not have been more happy that we were back to the good stuff. Especially because they decided to kick off the Dominion War in a two-parter, that a) prominently featured my favorite character and b) was a direct sequel to my favorite episode(s) of season 3.

Those episodes were the two-parter “Improbable Cause” and “The Die is Cast,” where Enabran Tain, former head of the Obsidian Order teamed up with the Romulan Tal’Shiar to destroy the Great Link. Instead, it turned out to be a set up, the Dominion eliminating two of the four organizations it determined could be a threat when they invaded the Alpha Quadrant (leaving the Federation and the Klingon Empire). Tain was Garak’s mentor, and the man who forced him into exile, so the usually coldly logical tailor had an uncharacteristically emotional response. He jumped at Tain’s invitation to join him and desperately tried to curry favor with the old man, nearly dying when he refused to leave Tain to an exploding ship. It was up to Odo to save Garak’s life, and this was after he (albeit reluctantly) tortured the constable.

This week’s episode is the first part of a two-parter that is more or less a direct sequel to those two. When DS9 gets a mysterious Cardassian code from the Gamma Quadrant, Dax, O’Brien, and Kira (who has lots of practical experience with Cardassian codes) try to crack it. When they can’t, they hit on the next best solution: their pal Garak. Garak takes one look and instantly dismisses it as an old planetary survey, then promptly tries to sneak off the station. Dr. Bashir catches him and forces him to come clean to Sisko. The code was invented by Tain and Garak, and all it contains are some coordinates and a single word, repeated over and over: “Alive.”

Sisko agrees to send Garak to check it out, but wisely he’s sending along Worf, which leads to Worf promising Sisko that at the first sign of betrayal, he’ll kill Garak. “I assume that’s a joke,” Sisko says mildly. “We will see,” says Worf. Before they can go, both have to say goodbye to their ladies. Dax refuses to play the role of the par’Mach’kai nobly wishing her man a glorious death. No, she’s had seven lifetimes to learn what’s important, and so she teases him by borrowing all his operas with the implicit threat of possibly losing them if he doesn’t get back soon. This is the best kind of Dax, when she embraces her role as the immortal trickster-mentor and pushes the more pigheaded characters in the proper direction.

Garak has to say goodbye to Ziyal, Gul Dukat’s half-Bajoran daughter. Seems the friendship they struck up in last season’s “For the Cause” has been going strong. It’s obvious Ziyal has developed feelings for him, but in true Garak fashion, he deflects. His comments have the sting of self-loathing, but it’s clear that Garak is uncomfortable with the idea of someone he genuinely likes trusting a man as dangerous as he. Yes, it’s a bit of a paradox, but that’s our Garak. Since he does genuinely like Ziyal, he’d much rather she stay far away from him.

Something he has in common with both Kira and her father, Dukat. Space Hitler has returned to DS9, and what’s the first thing he sees but Garak -- a man responsible for Dukat’s father’s execution -- holding hands with the only child who will still speak to him. He flips out, first on Garak himself, then with a chilling conversation with Kira. For Kira, it’s a profoundly empowering moment. This is the face of the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor threatening her life, and she calmly sips her coffee and informs him that such threats no longer carry a lot of weight. It’s a subtly heroic moment, made so much more so by the utter lack of violence. This is Kira at the end of her struggle, calmly explaining to the bogeyman that he just doesn’t have claws anymore.

Garak and Worf depart for the Alpha Quadrant. Along the way, the writers give the two characters a chance to butt heads. It’s a nice change from their last confrontation in the season four finale “Broken Link,” when Worf caught Garak sabotaging the Defiant. It’s also worth noting that Garak was doing this because the Female Changeling told him that everyone in Tain’s fleet was dead -- a lie exposed in this episode. Garak spins a tale about wanting to join Starfleet to atone, and once he has Worf on the hook, takes it a step too far and exposes the lie. This leads to one of Garak’s finest quotes: “Lying is a skill like any other, and if you want to maintain a level of excellence, you have to practice constantly.” It’s my hope that these reviews will eventually be the largest repository of Garak bon mots on the internet.

The two of them enter a nebula, hoping this will mask their approach as they go deeper into Dominion space and find that it’s occupied. A massive Dominion fleet, clearly poised for invasion, waiting there. Worf and Garak get captured -- not before getting a garbled warning message out -- and are thrown into a prison camp on an airless asteroid. It just so happens to be the same camp where Tain is locked up. Who knows, maybe the Jem’Hadar take so few prisoners that’s the only camp they need. Actually, that makes a chilling amount of sense.

The inmates are a rainbow quilt of Alpha Quadrant species, including some familiar faces. Other than Tain, who is on his death bed, we’re also introduced to General Martok. Apparently, we never met the real one, as he has no memory of Worf but admits to having heard of him, so the man Worf confronted in “The Way of the Warrior” is the Changeling who is eventually unmasked and killed in “Apocalypse Rising.”

The biggest shock, though, is that Dr. Bashir is in the camp. This is despite Bashir being on DS9 at that very moment. Prisoner Bashir is even wearing the old-style uniforms. Right around “The Ascent,” DS9 switched over to uniform gray tops with undershirts the color of the character’s department (rather than the colored tops with lavender undershirts). The uniforms are also a little more fitted, although I suspect that might be them suddenly realizing they’d cast Terry Farrell and had put her in a sack for four seasons. In any case, this somewhat narrows down Bashir’s abduction time, and it implies that it was actually a Changeling impersonator who performed successful(!) brain surgery on Captain Sisko and failed to save the baby Changeling. This minor logic snarl is the kind of thing you get in long-form fiction. Bashir’s presence in the second half of the story is good enough that you can excuse it.

Garak finally gets a moment with Tain. The old man has gone blind as death is imminent and asks if they’re alone. Garak lies and says they are, but his dear friend Bashir is present, and that shows just how deeply the Cardassian has come to care for the human. Then, Garak begs Tain to acknowledge the fact that they are father and son. Remember the Cardassian obsession with the sanctity of family in season two’s “Cardassians?” Remember Garak’s uncharacteristic sentimentality in “The Die is Cast?” Now all of it gains the perfect context. This was the father Garak desperately wanted to please but never could, the same man who stripped him of power and exiled him. And lastly, remember the nickname Garak claimed he and his friend Elim had gained in “The Wire”: the Sons of Tain. There’s no way the writers planned for this, but that doesn’t diminish the achievement. This is one of the most rewarding aspects of long-form fiction, when the accidental alchemy of storytelling manufactures a perfect moment.

Tain, even on his deathbed, refuses to directly call Garak his son. Instead, he tells the story of a nice day (“the only day,” as Garak calls it) the two of them spent together when Garak was four years old. Tain was proud of Garak that day for showing perseverance, and even held the boy’s hand. This is likely the only open display of affection Garak ever received from his father. Then, Tain dies. As Martok and Worf enter, Garak is newly steeled. His business is done. Time to break out.

Meanwhile, to stop the Dominion fleet, the crew hits on the insane plan to collapse the wormhole. The Bashir Changeling sabotaged the emitter array, and the desperate gambit fails. The episode ends with the Dominion fleet spilling into the Alpha Quadrant, and the only thing standing against it is DS9, reinforcements two days away, and Dukat’s Klingon Bird of Prey.


Next up: TO BE CONTINUED

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