Chronologically, "Face Value" is the earliest of the stories, taking place during the last few episodes of the series while Garak, Damar, and Kira were trapped on Cardassia. "The Lotus Flower" is set after the events of A Stitch in Time but definitely before "The Calling." There will be spoilers for events in the show and novels, so for those not wanting that, #sorrynotsorry. I think the biggest take-away here is the abrupt change in tone from the end of "The Lotus Flower" to the beginning of "The Calling," and how "The Calling" leaves Garak as a character, person, and Cardassian. All of these stories help to flesh out Garak, though, and show how he deals with being back on a Cardassia that is much different than the one he'd hoped would be waiting at the end of his exile. So without further hesitation, to the reviews!
"Face Value" by Una McCormack (from Prophecy and Change)
As I said in the intro, this story is set during the last few episodes of the series, where Garak, Damar, and Kira are all trapped in the basement of Garak's boyhood home trying to still fight while also avoiding Dominion detection. This is much more a Damar story than it is a Garak story, but it's one that does shed some new light on Garak as a player on Cardassia and what he's willing to do for his home. Namely, I love how the story does show that Garak is never really quiet about his allegiance. It's something that comes up a lot because especially Federation people tend to assume that he's "on their side" because his goals might match up with theirs. This was something that we saw in "Empok Nor" where he was dealing with the weirdness of people thinking of him as an ally when he's never really secret about being a patriot and loving Cardassia. And this doesn't mean that the Federation's vision for what's best for Cardassia meets up with his own. He keeps his own council on what is best for his home and his people, and it's something that he certainly struggles with, but he acts when he feels he should and he's not all that haunted by what he does.
Instead he's haunted by what could have been, haunted by the absences that fill his life, the people who are no longer with him. Again and again through these stories we'll see that Garak is a survivor, and in many ways prides himself on being a survivor, and yet it also means that he outlives everyone around him. His family. His friends. His enemies. Here he stands with Damar not because he necessarily believes in Damar or likes Damar or even has forgiven Damar from Ziyal and everything. He's team Damar because Damar can maybe save Cardassia. Or course, that all goes to shit. Part of why the whole thing with Cardassia is so tragic is because no one really seems free from these terrible things in their past. Damar has done awful things. So has Garak. And yet they somehow need to steer Cardassia in a new, better direction. This story does a great job of showing just how frought a proposition that is, because take away all the corruption and pain and abuse and what is left of Cardassia isn't really enough to make a functioning government out of. And that's something that we'll keep coming back to. For now, though, it's a great story that deepens that closing sequence on Cardassia surrounding the fall of the Dominion.
"The Lotus Flower" by Una McCormack (from Worlds of Star Trek DS9: Cardassia)
Here is far and away the most happy and hopeful of the stories this go-around, with a piece that follows Keiko and Miles O'Brien on Cardassia under the democratic rule of Alon Ghemor. This follows fairly closely, then, after the close of A Stitch in Time, which saw the lead-up to the election that got Ghemor in power. Of course, things are not going all that smoothly even with the democracy kind-of working, as the feeling on the ground of Cardassia is that too much is changing and where old hatreds trump new hope. Part of what made A Stitch in Time interesting was that it introduced the Oralian Way, a religion that teaches an alternative to the xenophobic and imperial tendencies present in much of Cardassian culture. It wasn't tolerated in any of the governments during the show, and yet following the fall of Cardassia and its attempt to rise from the ashes, it plays an incredibly important roll in offering an alternative to the same old cycle of hate and corruption that led Cardassia into ruin in the first place.
The story here follows the reaction to the Oralian Way gaining a bit more prominence and acceptance on Cardassia. And it contrasts it with the One True Way, a conservative and reactionary group that aim to "preserve what remains" of Cardassian principles. In the middle of all of this is a moment of crisis in this new democratic government, where Ghemor has to support either a Federation-backed science project that will seek to completely change Cardassian weather patterns to aide in the recovery, or to back a more militaristic project that might give Cardassia the means to expand again. And I love the many parallels in the text, the way the story shows this tipping point where pretty much all of Cardassia knows that change has to happen to survive but doesn't want the change to be too much, too challenging to their beliefs. And here Garak again shows that he believes quite strongly in a full change for Cardassia, not just governmentally but philosophically. The people need to move forward and reclaim the lost history that the Oralian Way as preserved. One that shows how Cardassians are stronger when working with other races instead of seeing themselves as superior to everyone else.
And there is a great conversation between Keiko and the mother of a radicalized One True Way member about language and about being primed for manipulation. It really does examine how much responsibility must be borne by parents and other role models who are belligerently against change or difference. How, essentially, conservatism primes people to be manipulated into violence because it teaches them this very strict right and wrong, this very strict moral superiority. And hatred is at the heart of that, whether or not people want to admit it. Here, though the mother was not for violence per se, she was for the suppression of people and ideas, was for a half-hearted change that is not possible on Cardassia. What Garak knows and other people are so slow to accept is that things need to shift drastically, and those that are standing in the way of that are only prolonging the hurt and making any hope of healing impossible. That said, the story does end rather optimistically, with some glimmer that maybe Cardassia is on its way to recovery.
"The Calling" by Andrew J. Robinson (from Prophecy and Change)
And then, of course, this happens. Can I say first that I am personally offended and outraged that there is no recording of "The Dream Box" which apparently was performed by Robinson and Siddig and I WANT TO SEE SO BAD! Apparently it features Cardassia being plagued by a terrible...well, plague, and Garak needing to reach out to Bashir to find a cure. Only the only way he has to reach out is with the ancient piece of Oralian technology that might or might not be something that teleports him across the galaxy. And here we have again a story that is framed as a letter from Garak to Bashir, which is a very popular frame for Garak stories. Things on Cardassia...have gotten much worse. Alon Ghemor has been assassinated for trying to strengthen Cardassia/Federation ties and much of the democratic movement is gone. In its place is a barely-operating new Obsidian Order and a Garak who has lost so much of his faith that things will get better, that Cardassia is worth saving. And here we get to see a lot of his survivor's guilt. Once again, everyone around him is dead or gone. Damar. Ghemor. He's seeing that Cardassia just eats up and spits out people trying to do good. And he's pissed.
I love his speech to the assembled Cardassians when he basically calls them all out, that if they want to put their desire for vengeance over the hope for Cardassia then they'll have to be the one on the top of the heap of bodies knowing that this is the end. That feels so much like where he is in this story. Even Bashir is gone from him. The most he has is Parmak and Pythas Lok, and Pythas is mostly done with trying to help him. The action here is that Garak burns out and needs to be retired, because he's lost his faith, and yet again the Oralian Way provides him with a way forward again, a way to renew his faith and both reclaim his own past, the past of Cardassia, and a future where hope is alive. It's a future where Garak has to stop using other people to do what is right. He needs to put on a new mask, that of leadership, and put himself forward as the face of a new Cardassia.
Another thing that I love about the story is FINALLY CONFIRMED BI-NESS OF GARAK with the confession that he was in love with both Paladine and Barkan, which was brushed in A Stitch in Time but not quite so explicitly as here. I feel like here we see Garak getting ready to cleanse himself of some of his old life and old ways and move on its a new world. Part of that seems to be about leaving Bashir behind, as the letter is in some ways a termination (or at least large shift) of their relationship. He's finding his faith again and even in the middle of all the death and chaos around him knows that healing is possible. That hope is possible. It's not really a happy ending, but it is a fitting one for both Cardassia and Garak. In some ways this is his lowest moment, and that's saying something for a man who has struggled greatly with his actions and the fate of his people. But it leaves me very excited to see where he goes as a character from there!
Okay and there you have it! Please join me again next month when I'll hopefully be rejoined by Nicasio Andres Reed in looking at another bundle of Garak-y DS9 episodes, these centered on Garak's interactions with other Cardassians.