Retro Review: The Wire


By unraveling some of the secrets of the Cardassian’s past, Bashir fights to save Garak from an experimental brain implant that is slowly killing him.

Plot Summary: While discussing Cardassian literature with Dr. Bashir, Garak appears to be in pain and flees the Promenade. Suspicious, Bashir keeps an eye on him and discovers that Garak is trying to do business with Quark, who later calls Bashir for help when an intoxicated Garak refuses to leave the bar. Though Garak resists Bashir’s help, he collapses and is taken to the infirmary, where Bashir discovers that Garak has an electronic implant in his brain. When Bashir asks Odo if he knows anything about Garak’s medical history, Odo enables Bashir to eavesdrop on Quark as the Ferengi tries to make a deal with a Cardassian who is appalled to discover that the technology Quark wants has been labeled classified by the Obsidian Order, Cardassia’s vicious intelligence agency. Bashir leans from Garak that the implant was designed to enable its user to withstand torture by giving him pleasurable endorphins, but Garak has been using it continually in exile and is now taking huge doses of tranquilizers as it slowly breaks down. When Bashir offers medical help, Garak says that he deserves to die, having been responsible for destroying a ship carrying nearly 100 Cardassians including his friend Elim. Bashir insists on treating Garak anyway, though Garak’s story keeps changing, first claiming that Elim was his aide when he freed Bajoran children they were meant to torture, then saying that he and Elim were both proteges of Obsidian Order leader Enabran Tain, who had Garak exiled when Elim framed Garak for releasing Bajoran prisoners. Though tests show that Garak is dying, Garak refuses to let Bashir turn the implant back on, so Bashir decides to find Tain for help in treating Garak’s condition. Tain does not try to evade Bashir, though he says that if the doctor truly cared about Garak, he would let Garak die rather than suffer in exile, though since Tain believes that Garak deserves his pain, he agrees to help Bashir treat Garak. When Bashir asks about Elim, Tain reveals that Elim is Garak’s own first name. Once Garak recovers, he asks Bashir over a friendly lunch why Odo now believes Garak was a member of the Obsidian Order. Though Bashir presses for the truth, Garak insists that everything he has told Bashir was true, especially the lies.

Analysis: During Deep Space Nine‘s first season, the writers had an unfortunate tendency to dump backstory about the major characters within stories, having Kira tell us about her past in the Bajoran Resistance in long speeches or having Bashir talk to to O’Brien about his Academy days. Well into the second season, Dax was still going on on at length about things she did as Curzon and the rest of her previous hosts. While some of this exposition was necessary to flesh out the characters and their motivations, it often resulted in clumsy storytelling of the sort where an audience is abruptly ordered to accept certain facts because someone announced that they were true rather than being shown how these characters developed and how their motivations have been shaped. In this regard, many of the secondary characters received much more interesting treatments – perhaps because the writers had not yet decided how to use all of them, but they certainly knew who generated sparks with the regulars and whose interactions inspired engrossing episodes. Garak the plain, simple tailor is perhaps the finest example of such a secondary character. His very existence on the station evokes strong reactions in most of the regulars, for different reasons – Odo is distrustful, Kira even more so, Sisko resents him, Quark hopes to exploit him, Bashir is curious and a bit admiring. Garak’s unique situation as a Cardassian who may always have wanted justice for the Bajorans or who may have been one of the worst abusers of all means that his very presence makes any situation more unpredictable and therefore intriguing. When I first reviewed this episode the week it aired, I was frustrated that the writers continued to withhold so much information, suspecting that they hadn’t really worked out who Garak was. That may have been true, but looking back after the end of the series, the strategy of not-telling pays off brilliantly.

This is our first in-depth glimpse at the complexities of Garak’s past and his psyche, tossing out all sorts of details that become valuable later. It doesn’t matter whether the writers had already decided if Tain and Garak should be father and son or if they just wanted the possibility of a mentoring relationship gone wrong; it doesn’t matter whether they had a full outline of Garak’s real past when they scripted Garak’s lies. Having the layers peeled back bit by bit is ultimately much more satisfying than having any particular episode provide solid information about Garak, particularly in the hands of an actor who makes the ambiguities look not like holes in characterization but like deliberate blind spots and secrets. Among the extraordinary group of performers who make up Deep Space Nine‘s supporting cast, Andrew Robinson stands out not only because of the number of episodes in which Garak plays a major role, but because of the complexity of the character Robinson develops. “The Wire” is one of his finest episodes, though I would be remiss if I didn’t note that it’s one of Alexander Siddig’s finest too, and the chemistry generated in their two-man drama make it riveting to rewatch even once one knows most of the truths behind Garak’s stories. What seems obvious upon rewatching is that Garak isn’t manipulating Bashir for some grand Cardassian scheme but because he’s desperately lonely, looking for someone with whom he can share some part of his story, even a part that isn’t factually true. The opening scene finds Bashir admitting that great Cardassian literature about duty and sacrifice bores him, while Garak, who has always seemed to be the least self-sacrificing and most opportunistic of Cardassians, defends the epic against Federation judgments even as he anticipates enjoying Federation food. Whether these meals and debates represent a real friendship or merely a way of passing time, neither man is ready to admit, and Garak becomes extremely defensive when Bashir tries to speak as a friend or as a doctor…any position that puts them on equal footing.

The episode plods a bit during the medical scenes, since the scientific details of the implant aren’t all that interesting; it’s the psychological effects and the reasons it was put there in the first place that matter. If other Cardassians have this implant, surely Garak isn’t the only one who’s abused it and become addicted. What sort of recreation someone would enjoy when pain brings a guarantee of endorphin-fueled pleasure? Is Garak ashamed of this weakness or only of its discovery? Is it Bashir’s clinical detachment as a doctor that he values in a companion, or is it Bashir’s comparative innocence to people like Garak and Kira and Odo, who are accustomed to seeing suffering while Bashir still believes he can and should try to put a stop to it? Bashir seems horrified on both a personal and professional level when Garak lashes out at him, particularly by the stories of cruelty he tells, but he doesn’t flee and he keeps his judgments mostly to himself. He’s grown up a lot in a year on the station, unafraid to challenge Odo, able to laugh at O’Brien’s eye-rolling, not flirting with Dax when he has an opportunity. The fact that he approaches Tain himself and not through one of the more experienced Starfleet officers shows both his own increasing confidence and Sisko’s willingness to trust him on such a mission; I’m not sure I’d have let any of my officers go looking for a former Cardassian operative whether I believed Garak’s story or not. I wish the scene with Tain were longer and hinted just a bit more at Tain’s position – even if the writers had no intention at the time of ever bringing the character back, the fact that he knows Bashir’s yet-unspoken middle name is pretty creepy. But it’s fine that he doesn’t give us any major revelations about Garak besides another name. It leaves so much more to be discovered later.

What do you think? Chat with other fans in the Star Trek: Deep Space nine forum at The Trek BBS.

Michelle Erica Green


Michelle Erica Green

Writer, mother, reader, traveler, teacher, partner, photographer, activist, friend, fangirl, student, critic, citizen, environmentalist, feminist, vegetarian, enthusiast. TrekToday staffer for many years, former news reporter, current retro reviewer.

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