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The Future Will Be Carpeted: An Analysis of ‘Deep Space Nine (S2E22)’

“Out of all the stories you told me, which ones were true and which ones weren’t?”
“My dear doctor, they’re all true.”
“Even the lies?”
“Especially the lies.”
     — Dr. Bashir and Garak

I’ve made no secret of my love for plain, simple Garak, the Cardassian tailor who might be in exile, might be a spy, or as he suggested to Dr. Bashir in a previous episode, might be a spy in exile. It should come as no shock that this is my favorite hour of the second season. Oh, there are episodes more important to continuity, ones that are thematically richer, and ones with actual space battles. None of that compares with the chance to get the origin story of DS9’s most enigmatic inhabitant. Well, kind of. Nothing is ever plain and simple with Garak.

The wary friendship between Garak and Bashir that started way back in the second episode ever is still going strong. They’ve fallen into a relaxed routine of once-a-week lunches and pleasant conversation. This week, they’re discussing The Never Ending Sacrifice, which Garak calls the finest Cardassian novel ever written, and a great example of the repetitive epic, a genre native to Cardassia and my nightmares. Apparently, it’s about seven generations of the same family who live selfless lives devoted to the state, and then they die. I love little glimpses into alien cultures like this one and can comfort myself that maybe my books aren’t for humans. I’m just waiting for a small, but devoted, Romulan following that should materialize in the next two hundred years or so. Fingers crossed!

The point of this scene is that Garak grows progressively more irritable, while intimating that he has a headache, before storming away. After witnessing Garak conducting some kind of late-night business deal with Quark, Bashir grows even more concerned. Later, Quark summons Bashir to the bar to find a sloppily drunk Garak (supposedly drinking kanar, but that’s always been shown as a brownish, syrupy liquid — Dukat has some in the previous episode — and here it’s a milky blue) who rants a little bit before collapsing in a seizure. He basically goes full Lohan in the space of a couple minutes. Bashir carts his pal off to the infirmary and finds the cause of the problem: a device implanted in Garak’s brain with filaments extending through the nervous system. Based on the scarring, it’s been in there for years. Bashir hypothesizes that it’s some kind of punishment device and calls in Odo, the local expert in Cardassian justice.

Odo monitors Quark’s secret communications, so if Garak is trying to get some Cardassian tech to fix or remove the device (which seems like the purpose of that late-night deal), then he’s going to be talking to someone on Cardassia Prime. Sure enough, he gets in touch with the hilariously named Boheeka (Ask a military pal, and it’s usually spelled differently.) and gives him the code for the piece of biotech Garak wants. Boheeka inputs the code and promptly freaks out as his terminal glows an angry red. His career is over, and at this point, he’s praying that “they” won’t find out that he was looking for a highly classified piece of biotech. The “they” in question are the Obsidian Order, the Cardassian secret police who are even more dreaded than the Romulan Tal Shiar.

Bashir finds that Garak has checked himself out of the infirmary and is in his quarters, self-medicating with truly terrifying levels of anesthetic. Bashir confronts the tailor with what he’s found. Garak laughs at the idea that it’s a punishment device, and instead reveals its true purpose. Under torture, it’s intended to stimulate his pleasure centers, making him immune to torture and super, super creepy all at the same time. It was implanted by Enabran Tain, the head of the Obsidian Order, and who we will come to know as the kind of magnificent bastard that defines the Cardassian race.

As it turns out, station life is unpleasant for a Cardassian. It’s too cold, too bright, and being surrounded by Bajorans isn’t fun when you used to be one of the oppressors. Garak is the last Nazi at a bar mitzvah, and he’s not welcome. So, Garak has been using it recreationally, and now it’s killing him because he just left it on all the time. (It’s perhaps worth noting here that the timelines do not quite match up, but nothing with Garak ever does.)

Sensing that this is the time to get some answers, Bashir demands to know why Garak was exiled, and we get the first of his origin stories. He claims to have been a Gul in the Cardassian Mechanized Infantry. In the final days of the Occupation, his aid, Elim, tracked some escaped prisoners to a shuttle bound for Terok Nor. Garak destroyed the shuttle, killing the prisoners, but also the daughter of an important Cardassian official. For the last, he was stripped of rank and exiled. Bashir reassures Garak, that regardless of this sin, he will remain committed to helping him.

Garak’s second origin story has a stronger ring of truth to it, mostly because no one would believe he was a military man for an instant. He claims to have been Enabran Tain’s protege. Just before the Cardassian withdrawal, Garak and Elim were interrogating five Bajoran children who clearly had no connection to anything. He was hungry, cold, and tired, and the entire thing was meaningless. He gave them some money and kicked them out, while Elim looked on in shocked horror. This disgrace is worse than the last one, because Garak shirked his duty to the state, something none of the seven protagonists of The Never Ending Sacrifice would have done.

His final origin story is given on what appears to be his deathbed. Another seizure has incapacitated him, and Bashir is no closer to discovering a cure. Garak now claims that Elim wasn’t his aid; he was his friend. They were like brothers, and they served Tain in the Obsidian Order, even becoming known as the Sons of Tain. (Put a pin in that one, folks.) “Even the Guls feared us,” Garak says, perhaps shedding some light on Dukat’s loathing for him. A scandal took them down when someone in the Order was accused of freeing Bajoran prisoners. Garak framed Elim for the crime only to find that Elim had already done the same, and better, to Garak. The dying tailor begs for Bashir’s forgiveness. Someone has to. In the spirit of friendship, Bashir grants this.

With nowhere else to turn, Bashir goes to the planet that Garak said Tain retired on. There, he’s met by the man himself. I don’t know if it’s intentional, but the performance of Paul Dooley and the descriptions of Tain’s informal power make him sound like J. Edgar Hoover. So, maybe this is the form of the Destructor, I guess is what I’m trying to say here. Tain shows himself to still be a terrifying badass when he offers Bashir some Tarkaleon tea, even knowing how the good doctor takes his favorite beverage. Tain readily surrenders the information that will save Garak’s life, claiming to want Garak to live a long, unpleasant life. Still unsure about the stories his friend told, Bashir inquires about the guest star they all had in common, the mysterious Elim.

Tain laughs. “Elim is Garak’s first name.”

That line was one of the first serious gut punches televised narrative ever gave me. It yanked the rug out from under the entire hour. Yet the final exchange, which I pulled for the episode’s quote shines more light on it. Apparently, a lot of fans were upset with this hour, as it didn’t definitively reveal Garak’s past. Yet the man himself admits — and based on some later revelations, this is confirmed — that the lies are more true than the facts. We don’t know what happened, and we never will with a hundred percent degree of certainty, but that’s Garak. It is the most persistent lie, the largest one that is exposed as false, that tells the deepest truth.

Even if all we know for certain is that Garak is his last name.

Next up: A trip to Bizarro!




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