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?