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Retro Review: Improbable Cause/The Die Is Cast

Posted by Michelle - 21/12/12 at 07:12 pm


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 03 Episode: 21 (s03e21)

Original US airdate: 05/01/1995

An attack on Garak’s shop sets off a chain of events that sends Garak back to the Obsidian Order as the Cardassians and Romulans launch an attack on the Founders.

Plot Summary: Shortly after lunching with Garak, Bashir witnesses an explosion in the tailor’s shop that leaves Garak injured. O’Brien and Odo conclude that the blast was a deliberate attack and suspect that a visiting Flaxian assassin was hired to kill Garak. Though the Flaxian claims innocence, Odo finds Garak even less forthcoming about why anyone would want to kill him. The shapeshifter releases the Flaxian so he can have him followed, only to find Garak waiting in his runabout. The two tail the Flaxian ship but it explodes just before going to warp speed. When the crew determines that a Romulan trigger set off the explosion, Odo concludes that the Romulans were likely behind the attack on Garak. A secret informant corroborates this information and tells him that five former Obsidian Order operatives all died on the same day. When Odo shows Garak the list of the dead operatives, Garak insists that they were friends, not former colleagues, which makes an enraged Odo accuse Garak of blowing up his own shop just to get Odo involved in learning who has been killing off onetime Obsidian Order elite. Garak explains that he and the dead Cardassians were all disciples of Order leader Enabran Tain, who has disappeared as well. Odo accompanies Garak to find Tain’s safe house, but before they can get there, a Romulan warbird captures them. They are greeted by Tain, who admits that he was behind the attempt to kill Garak but now he thinks Garak could be an asset in his current scheme: he has forged an alliance between the Obsidian Order and the Tal Shiar, hoping that the Cardassian and Romulan intelligence agencies can do what their governments have been too cowardly to do and neutralize the Dominion by wiping out the Founders. After his fleet of warships accomplishes this goal, Tain intends to take over the Order again, which is why he targeted all former colleagues who know his weaknesses. Garak accepts Tain’s offer to work together again.

Tain and Colonel Lovok of the Tal Shiar command a fleet of cloaked Romulan ships headed for the Gamma Quadrant. Their particle emissions alert Deep Space Nine to their presence, and though Sisko is ordered by Admiral Toddman to remain in the Alpha Quadrant and prepare for retaliatory Jem’Hadar attacks, he tells his senior staff that he intends to take the Defiant to search for Odo. Tain tests Garak’s resolve by asking that he interrogate Odo, saying that if Garak resists, he’ll leave Odo to the Romulans, even though Garak is certain that Odo has no information about the Founders that Starfleet hasn’t already shared. While Garak uses a prototype device to prevent Odo from shapeshifting, leaving Odo in agony when it is time for him to regenerate, Sisko follows the fleet through the wormhole, only to learn that Eddington has sabotaged the cloaking device under orders from Toddman to stop Sisko from interfering in the Gamma Quadrant. Anguished by the agony he is causing Odo, Garak begs him to reveal any secrets he’s hiding. When Odo confesses that he wants to go home to the Great Link to rejoin his people, Garak realizes that Odo truly has no useful strategic secrets and lets him regenerate. Tain orders Odo’s execution, but Lovok insists that the Romulans have the right to study the shapeshifter first. The fleet reaches the Founders’ planet in the Omarion Nebula and begins to destroy its core, but the surface life signs don’t change, and Garak realizes that they are looking at false sensor readings – the planet is deserted. The Founders’ trap closes as hundreds of Jem’Hadar ships surround the fleet. Garak rescues Odo with the help of Lovok, who reveals that he, too, is a shapeshifter who learned of Tain’s plan and supported it so that the Founders could eradicate the Obsidian Order and Tal Shiar. Refusing once again to join the Founders, Odo flees with Garak in the runabout, which is rescued by the Defiant during the Jem’Hadar attack that obliterates Tain’s fleet. Starfleet elects not to punish Sisko’s crew and Garak elects to keep Odo’s secret.

Analysis: We’ve been due a major Garak episode since “The Wire,” and “Improbable Cause” is clever enough to bring back Enabran Tain, Garak’s not-yet-acknowledged father and, as Odo surmises, worst enemy. Andrew Robinson is one of those actors who has chemistry with every single person with whom he shares the screen – like John de Lancie, he raises everybody’s game – and because Garak is in a combative relationship with pretty much all the characters, even his ostensible friend Bashir, his presence brings energy and excitement to all his episodes. I love that this two-parter kicks off with a domestic scene between Garak and Bashir, quarreling over whether the latter has been so busy that he’s been blowing off meals with Garak; Bashir gets there late, but Garak has to stall to keep him there anyway so that everyone knows where he’s been spotted right before his shop blows up. Meanwhile, they’re arguing about whether Julius Caesar is more of a boring farce than a tragedy, since it’s obvious to Garak from the beginning that Brutus is going to kill his friend and mentor. Both the humor and the action remain at the same high level throughout “Improbable Cause,” as Garak fumbles to enlist Odo’s help in figuring out who’s trying to kill him – and while Bashir tries to keep things friendly, telling Garak the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf (which Garak thinks is a warning not about telling too many lies, but about telling the same lie twice), Odo has no reason to be amiable and gets to unleash the sort of anger he usually reserves for violent criminals or meddling Ferengi. There’s really not a dull moment, and that’s even before we know the story’s actually about a planned invasion of the Gamma Quadrant by the Cardassian and Romulan intelligence agencies.

The second half of the two-parter isn’t as strong as the first, partly because “The Die Is Cast” tries to pack so much into a single installment – a brief onscreen battle, and we’re supposed to believe that the entire combined Cardassian-Romulan fleet has been wiped out? – and partly because the regular characters aren’t at their best. Sure, it’s funny when Sisko all but orders Kira to pretend that a message from Starfleet is garbled, but Sisko’s really not very impressive. He’s already been quite liberal about loaning runabouts to whoever is asking, without demanding to know things like how Odo knows his secret source can be trusted and what debt that guy owes Odo anyway. But the always troublesome wild card Eddington sabotages the Defiant right under Sisko’s nose, and instead of giving him the lecture about loyalty and incarceration that Eddington so richly deserves, Sisko decides to trust him and puts him right back at his post! Kira is hardly in these episodes except as a joke when Odo asks Garak who would want to kill him – sure, we think of her when Garak asks Odo whether he really cares about anyone and again when Garak demands to know Odo’s deepest secrets, but neither she nor by extension the Bajorans are given much of a role in the story in which the Cardassians may bring a Dominion attack force to Bajor’s doorstep. Dax and O’Brien do their jobs efficiently, but all we really learn about either is that Bashir considers O’Brien a poor substitute for Garak as a lunch date and O’Brien can’t tell when a guy from security has been meddling with the precious cloaking device. On the other hand, “The Die Is Cast” is more interesting visually than “Improbable Cause,” which almost seems like a low-budget episode – the post-bomb shop doesn’t have enough wreckage (which I guess makes sense once we realize Garak himself blew it up), the room in which Odo questions the Flaxian doesn’t seem like a security cell, the Romulan ship pops out rather cheesily. In the sequel episode, the visuals of Odo’s disintegration under torture – a visual precursor to the Founders’ disease which will be so important in later seasons – are superb all by themselves.

When I first saw these episodes, I was troubled by various inconsistencies – the fact that the Romulans, who at first personally guarded the Defiant’s cloaking device, had no plan for tracking the ship or disabling the device if it was used against them, the fact that Sisko let his entire command crew go along on a renegade mission to rescue Odo that could have gotten them all court-martialed and left the station defenseless during a potential Jem’Hadar attack, the fact that Sisko stuck his neck so far out for Odo in the first place when at the start of the season he refused to do just that and debated with Kira about precisely how important Odo’s role was. Eddington reappears just long enough to betray everyone (and stand up for Starfleet, which he will dramatically betray later). And why do the Cardassians need a stasis field to pick off individual Founders if they intend to wipe all of them out in a single attack — did they use the Bajoran studies of Odo to construct it? Odo, at least, is in terrific form, reminding me of how much his character has developed since “Necessary Evil” – he can play the good cop without forgetting that he has allied himself with darkness, and his deepest secrets are entirely of an intimate nature, apolitical and outside justice. I thought when these episodes first aired that it would turn out Tain was Garak’s father, though slating his own son to die along with all the others who know too much about him (and putting the loyal Mila on the same list, though that might just have been to test Garak) seems cruel even by the standards of, say, Dukat, whose rise to power becomes much easier to explain with so much of the Obsidian Order wiped out. The Cardassian and Romulan governments come off looking pretty pathetic, as does a timid, unprepared Starfleet Command. One admiral gets to make the call that the station, Bajor, and the wormhole should be left to the mercy of the Dominion? At least Sisko can think for himself, even if he goes running off unnecessarily on a mission probably best deputized to Kira and Dax so he can prepare the defense forces back home.

Odo’s confession that he wants to go home is the emotional high point of these episodes, even more than Garak’s realization that he truly can never go home again. For both these men, “home” clearly is not where it used to be. I dislike the fact that it took a torture sequence for Odo to realize how much he and Garak have in common, it feels a bit too much like Stockholm Syndrome, but the characters and actors play so beautifully off each other that I still want to see them have those lunches where Odo won’t eat and Garak will suggest that he’s hacked the station security files, which would be an entertaining counterpoint to Garak’s books-and-food-porn breakfasts with Bashir (eat my isolinear rod if I don’t come back, hahaha). Tain’s motto may be “Always burn your bridges behind you,” but it’s clearly not Garak’s. He’s obviously not happy about having to torture Odo even before it starts, while Odo is mocking him, “Oh nooo, you’re going to torture me, pleeeease have mercy.” He clearly despises himself during the interrogation, even pleading with Odo to lie to make it stop. The Romulan colonel who’s really a shapeshifter makes no sense to me here; if he’d demanded to carry out the interrogation himself, he could have put into practice the refrain that no changeling has ever harmed another, but he lets Garak do it, then demands to know why Garak was protecting Odo through the torture and afterward. Has Garak made a friend among the Founders? Is this why the Founders will later decide that perhaps the Cardassians can be trusted as allies, despite how they treat their own?

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  • Guest

    “the fact that the Romulans, who at first personally guarded the Defiant’s cloaking device, had no plan for tracking the ship or disabling the device if it was used against them”

    This was the case since “The Enterprise Incident,” so it should be regarded as consistent.

    “the fact that Sisko stuck his neck so far out for Odo in the first place when at the start of the season he refused to do just that and debated with Kira about precisely how important Odo’s role was”

    You didn’t think Kira made an impression?

    “And why do the Cardassians need a stasis field to pick off individual Founders if they intend to wipe all of them out in a single attack”

    I would imagine it is to pick out the infiltrators already within their government, about which they are paranoid in traditional Cardassian fashion.

  • AirElephant

    A few reviews ago, one of the commenters pointed out Michelle’s near obsession with perceived sexual overtones in the Trek series. At the time I kind of blew it off, but I also mentioned that the sexualization of Trek wasn’t something I really noticed. But, thanks to those comments, I’m now (unfortunately) very attuned to the bizarre lengths to which Michelle goes to connect her own preoccupation with sex with each of these reviews.

    The statement “…Garak’s books-and-food-porn breakfasts with Bashir (eat my isolinear rod if I don’t come back, hahaha).” just seems so much of a stretch that I have to call it out as I shake my head that this connection crossed anyone’s mind at all. Was it truly their intent that such a connection would even have been made? Was it somehow a subconscious impulse? I’d dearly love to talk to the writers of the episode to see if this was even their intent. It’d sure go a long way towards helping me to determine if it’s me who’s simply too much of a rube to see the obvious, or if it’s Michelle who might benefit from a visit to a Freudian psychologist.

    As to the rest of the review, I found the episode enjoyable. Any time I get to see more Garak, Odo, or yes even Quark, I’m a happy guy. All three actors were charming, versatile, and fascinating in a way that many of the primary characters (Bashir, Dax, and Kira) often weren’t.

    The problem with analyzing these episodes too closely is that it’s very, very clear that the writers often favored expediency over logic. I can’t begin to calculate the number of obvious, intentional errors in these shows, ranging from the inconsistent use of force fields, to ridiculous lapses in security, to even basic defensive tactics. However, had logic been followed, the resulting television would have been very boring. For example, if the Romulans had a backup protocol to track cloaked ships (which of course any reasonable society would), there would have been no dramatic arc. (I agree, though, that it makes for lazy writing and I’ve always wondered what a show would look like if every decision had been thoroughly thought out to eliminate the need for stupid decisions, coincidence, or luck.)

    Overall, I liked the episode for the character interactions. I liked it less for the lack of logic. But I accept it as a pretty typical Star Trek episode that moves the ball forward by maturing the relationship between Garak and Odo, explaining more of Garak’s motivations with regard to Inabrin Tain, and by setting up the chain of events in the final seasons by substantially weakening both the Cardassians and the Romulans. There was a lot accomplished in this episode, so at the very least I admire the ambition, if not entirely the execution.

  • hostile_17

    It’s a personal review – not a Wikipedia article. Read or move on.

  • hostile_17

    I loved these episodes… for me this was when DS9 really started to kick off. Shifting political allegiances, treachery, great character moments… top stuff.

  • AirElephant

    Wow. Thin-skinned much? I thought that the purpose of allowing comments was to welcome dissenting views, thereby generating site hits, debate, and revenue. Clearly, this is a personal sandbox and I’m not welcome to bring my own toys.

    I suppose if all you want is consensus, then perhaps it’s truly best I move on. Thanks for the advice, Moderator. I’ll just remove this from my bookmarks and go to the professional sites that Trek Today clearly cribs from, like Star Trek.com, where the “reviews” typically don’t devolve into sexual tangents.

  • Mike

    And this was his comment… not a Wikipedia article… Read, respond, or don’t… it’s what the comments section is for… Strangely enough, it’s not for you to try to bully people out of commenting when that’s what they wish to do. Hostile, indeed.

  • Enterprise1981

    I just saw the line about eating the rod if Garak didn’t come back for what it was at the time–as typical Garak humor. These days, we can thank “South Park”, “Two and a Half Men” and “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” for making almost any turn of phrase into a double entendre.

  • Guest

    Why is a mod actively discouraging use of the comments section? You should really reconsider who you’re making a moderator, TrekToday.

  • Mike

    Personally, I’d hate to see you go, as you provide some of the more entertaining and intelligent commentary.

  • SJStar

    IMO, Michelle interprets “The Spy Who Loved Me” differently than most. Garak is as complex and intriguing as Ian Fleming’s book version of James Bond. Bashir is just caught in the romance of this intrigue, and just explores Garak’s complexity is his vain attempt to understand his psychology. (It explains his curiosity too with Section 31 and his fantasy spy dramas.) Torture is also one of the perverse parts of this story – either extracting information or finding secrets – and it is what spies do. There are aspects, too of sadomasochism – and an insight of Garak’s many perversions. (It is not necessarily sexual though.)

    Interesting too is that sex between individuals is normally characterised via not the physical act per se, but is really a complex process occurring in the brain. There is no overt sexual overtones here other than exploring and grasping someone else’s complex mind. The only romance in this DS9 story here is the deep complexity of spies and spying – a common exploration in television by the way. I.e. Nikita (both the old and new series.)

  • hostile_17

    You’re clearly too fragile, first of all to cope with the review then to cope with my tiny comment.

    Cya! Enjoy StarTrek.com.

  • hostile_17

    It’s just one can only read the same thing said over and over again. And this poster by his/her own admission knew the deal with these reviews.

    Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results

  • Mike

    What a jerk. Something tells me you weren’t asked to be a moderator of this place to be a jackass and discourage discussion. How long are the people that actually run this site going to let responses like these go on from your representatives? Whether you like the comments or not, the response has been extremely unprofessional and undeserved. A-hole.

  • Mike

    One could say the same of the reviews themselves. They’re clearly detached… a ton of people have said as much, and yet, they’re still detached. That people want to express their own opinions in a comments section, which is inherently an opinions section, isn’t really surprising, is it? And that the commenters are almost universally disgusted by Michelle’s continued slash-fic take on Trek, her opinion is no more valid than any of ours. If you don’t want our opinions shared, I suggest you speak to your administrator about going back to the system TrekToday used for YEARS which did not allow for replies. They do allow replies now, and I don’t recall seeing it posted anywhere that this is a fascist regime and only the opinions agreed to by the administration are allowed… in fact, the very existence of a comments section implies otherwise. So, you’ll have to excuse us for using a comments section as something other than a way to pat you all on the backs… which, I guess, was the intent of the comments section… except it wasn’t…

  • hostile_17

    I’m not bulying anyone deary. If you think that’s bullying… please.

    Just because Disqus puts ‘mod’ next my name just means every thing I say is moderating, no more than my comments about this episode weren’t moderating. I’d delete your comment if I was moderation.

    It was my opinion, I expressed it.

  • hostile_17

    But as an addition, I am sorry for the confusion… it’s a pain that Diqus put mod there. My quick five word replied has balooned out of all proportion as you’ve taken it as some offiical position when it’s not. It was a throwaway comment to one part of your lengthy review.

  • Mike

    So, are you the moderator of this discussion board or not? If you aren’t, then they should consider removing that label. If you are they should reconsider that position, as, whether in an official capacity or not, trying to quash discussion at a board isn’t the role of anyone, let alone the moderator… unless said discussion is out of line… and the only one out of line here, as far as I can tell, has been you… Oh, and it was 12 words and it wasn’t my review. So……..

  • hostile_17

    Disqus added it, it wasn’t my choice.

    Look I apologised… but if you want to carry bickering on be my guest. Quash discussion. If you can be QUASHED from a few words, get a bloody spine.

  • Mike

    Well, that was as clear as mud. Disqus added it. Not likely. Disqus isn’t in the habit of making random people mods at various boards. Someone made you a mod and thus someone gave you that icon… and if you’re a moderator here then you should treat the public with a degree of professionalism and respect… But it’s a simple question: Are you a moderator here or not?
    If you are, you should be more respectful and encourage discussion, not discourage it, and if you are not, then the icon needs removed.
    And as far as your apology goes, let’s be clear: You apologized for confusing us (which you didn’t really do), but you did not apologize for being a jerk that was trying to shut down discussion. So, I’m sorry if you’re incapable of basic polite human interaction…. see… I apologized, too.