Thursday, August 31, 2017

YEAR OF GARAK, part 8: "Improbable Cause," "The Die is Cast," "In Purgatory's Shadow," & "By Inferno's Light"

The Year of Garak keeps rolling on! For those just tuning in, the Year of Garak is an exploration of whatever Garak texts I can find. Whether episodes from Deep Space 9, tie-in novels, or fanfiction, I'm casting a wide net trying to find more with my favorite plain, simple Cardassian. If you want to catch up, here's links to the previous posts: January | February | March | April | May | June | July.

I'm joined again today by SFF poet, writer, and all around awesome person Nicasio Andres Reed. Today we're looking at four pivotal episodes from Deep Space 9, or really two sets of 2-part episodes. We get to see Garak at his cleverest and most cruel, but also at his lowest and most vulnerable. So let's get down to it, shall we!

Also, in case you forgot...

Nicasio Andres Reed is a Filipino-American writer and poet whose work has appeared in Queers Destroy Science Fiction, Uncanny Magazine, Strange Horizons, Shimmer, Liminality, Inkscrawl, and Beyond: The Queer Sci-Fi and Fantasy Comics Anthology. Nico currently lives in Madison, WI. Find him on Twitter @NicasioSilang.

And now, to the discussion!
CP: So finally, two separate 2-part episodes that are pretty solidly ALL ABOUT GARAK. I have to say, these make up a huge reason why I think that DS9 is the best Trek, because there’s such a payoff to plot things over such a long period of time. But here, at last, some of our burning Garak questions were answered. Watching these episodes back to back, it’s almost surprising that they were filmed years apart. They flow so well, and I just love them. But instead of just gushing all over I should probably do something constructive (though I reserve the right to gush more at any point!).

For Garak, I feel like here we see him finally dealing with his exile and what it’s meant for him. Separated from Cardassia for so long, he’s felt such a longing to return. And here he (kind of) gets his chance. Only, it seems, to remind him not of all the things he missed, but of all the ways it never really fit him. Sure, there are the moments of laughter with Tain, but I feel like so much of this was building to that moment in “In Purgatory’s Shadow” where he lets Bashir sit in on Tain’s death. That here we see how much of Garak’s wanting to return wasn’t about Cardassia, but about him trying to earn the love of his father--a father who was all too willing to use his son as a weapon and tool his entire life, who fucking tried to have him killed so he could step back into his old job. It’s so fucking tragic, and I feel so much for Garak, wanting this thing he can’t have, learning that for all he yearned for Cardassia, the first chance he gets he runs back to his friends, who do actually care for him. And ahh, I’m off to weep quietly into my coffee.

NR: THESE EPISODES ARE SO GOOD!! And I agree, the long-term payoff really sets them apart. For Garak, for the overall season arcs, hell, for the overall series arc. It’s not hard to draw a direct line from these to the last handful of episodes of the show. From the prison cell and Garak’s dying father, to Cardassia and his mother’s basement. And even, where the hearts and mind of Cardassia are concerned, from Tain to Damar.

Two beats always strike me particularly in these episodes.

First, the agonizing torture scene, and Garak pleading with Odo to give him something, anything, Garak still trapped in thinking that only Odo’s surrender can release them both, still unwilling to simply stop playing by Tain’s rules, to finally let go of being Tain’s animal. We’ve known that Garak assassinated people before this, but the mystique of the Obsidian Order had two pillars, and this is the first time (the only time?) we actually see him torturing someone. It’s a gutting scene, Odo has nothing useful to give except his emotional shame. This, he wrenches out of himself in a shot of the both of them, close on by Star Trek standards, Odo’s flesh rotting off, Garak’s expression dire, a monstrous intimacy. 

And when finally Odo gives him the confession, too personal to be of any use at all, when Garak turns off the torture device, and Odo collapses into his bucket and Garak into his chair, it’s clear that it wasn’t worth it. Take it in counterpoint to Sisko’s sign-off at the end of “In The Pale Moonlight”, having ordered unconscionable acts, and finding that he can live with it, sitting up straight, looking his decisions, and us the audience, in the eye. Garak, instead, is shot from above, small in the frame, bent over the table, head in his hands. Hiding, shaken. It’s relatively rare for Trek to give you a shot of the shape of a space, but here we get the smallness of the room, the lack of windows, the closed space.

CP: Yes! That moment where he’s alone after the interrogation, head in his hands, is a very powerful one, especially after everything. Part of why I love the sequence is really everything that happens between Garak and Odo leading up to it. That moment where Odo confronts Garak with how he knows Garak has manipulated the situation is great. But more than that, the entire idea of Garak blowing up his shop, which has been his life for the entirety of his exile. I like how Robinson wrote about that in A Stitch in Time, having Garak embrace the shop in order to basically spite his enemies. But there’s also something there, that lingering idea that this is what Garak’s life could have been with a different father. Without Tain. It’s something that resonates with Garak, whose father-figure growing up was a gardener and spurned working as an assassin. He was a plain, simple gardener, and regardless of the direction that Garak’s life has gone, I do feel like there is a part of him always yearning to be the plain, simple man he often pretends to be.

Blowing up his shop is a big deal, after all, even if it is to avoid being killed. This is Garak, and there had to have been other ways to deal with the assassin. No, he chose that moment to blow up his shop perhaps because he was ready to confront his past, to come out of exile. And he does. And it goes...exactly as he wanted it to. I cannot imagine Garak could have imagined a better outcome, in fact, than finding Tain back in power and to be offered a seat at the table again. It’s the fairy tale ending he wanted. And yet, right, there’s Odo. This reminder. This person telling him that he’s not this man. And Garak having to confront the fact that he is and he isn’t. That he can’t wash away what he’s been, what he’s done, but at the same time that he is different, that he doesn’t believe in it as he once did. That his loyalty is split, and for all that he’s supposed to be happy about what’s happening, he isn’t. No, he doesn’t care really that they’re off to murder the Founders. But somewhere in the back of his mind he seems to be mourning his shop and those simple, petty lunches at the replimat.

Which again, I just love how these episodes are framed. It opens with his obvious frustrations, with his almost gleeful destruction of his shop. And it ends with him in the rubble, seeing Odo in the reflection of a mirror. I love that, because in some ways to me it implies that here Garak is, looking through a portal to what could have been. Seeing the life he could have lived if he hadn’t been Tain’s son. A plain, simple tailor. And a good one. With friends, and trust, and some measure of honor. Instead what he has is ash and rubble and exile. And he has to set to rebuilding himself, his entire life. And just oh glob the first two-parter is just so good for that, showing him pulled between his duty as a Cardassian and his desires as a person. And all of it flawed, brutal, betrayed and betraying. Ahh, it’s just so good!

NR: So good! And yes, exactly, re: blowing up his tailor’s shop. Like he tells us, everything is true, even the lies, so somewhere he is plain, simple, Garak. And the bombing is maybe the inevitable conclusion to the scathing disgust he expressed in “The Wire” for succumbing to such a life, to such affections and to the need for companionship. A last ditch effort to sever himself from that self. SHOCKINGLY, this does not work! Note to self: score one for my therapist’s evaluation of my more esoteric life plans.

The ending of “The Die is Cast”, with Odo coming to this understanding of Garak, and even (completely unnecessary) sympathy for him, is such a deft character note. At this point we’ve yet to see Odo’s level of complicity in the Cardassian rule of Terok Nor, the guilt he carries from that, but what we do get is Odo comparing his desire to return to the Founder homeworld to Garak’s longing for a return to Tain’s side, and acceptance by the Cardassian state. That guilty, buried desire that feels so inescapable. It’s a credit to the show that we do see a resolution of that driving desire for the both of them, right at the end of the series. But yeah, watching just the torture scene, it’s horrific to think that Odo would forgive that, and would not just continue to work with Garak in the future, but make an overture of friendship so soon after. It’s stomach-turning, but it works. It’s a sort of Le Carre style friendship, between operatives who know that nothing can really be forgiven or moved past, both the things that matter and the things that are lost to the smudging of history.

I want to call attention to the first exchange between Garak and Tain in “In Purgatory’s Shadow”, when Garak and Worf arrive at the prison. It’s just so gutting to me, especially in light of these two earlier episodes.
MARTOK: He was convinced that you would come.
GARAK: He knew I had no choice. Tain. Tain, I'm here.
TAIN: My message. It got through?
GARAK: It did.
TAIN: Where are the others?
GARAK: There are no others. Just Commander Worf and me.
TAIN: You allowed yourselves to be taken prisoner? I taught you better than that. Living on that station has dulled your wits.
GARAK: That's it? After I've come all this way, after all I've been through, that's all you have to say to me?
TAIN: What do you want me to say?
GARAK: I want you to say thank you, Elim. Your loyalty is most gratifying. I knew I could count on you.
TAIN: But I couldn't count on you, could I? All you've done is to doom us both.
Good God. First off, that Garak believes he had no choice but to come. Like, of course he believed that, but also wow, that’s sad. This is two seasons after “The Die is Cast”, this is after “The Way of the Warrior”, after “Things Past”. (On a super sad-to-me note, it’s also after “Our Man Bashir”, the turning point in Garak and Bashir’s relationship.) For Garak to acknowledge outright that he was powerless to ignore Tain, and also that he still craves Tain’s honest praise, I feel like making him say it aloud is a cruelty in itself. And that reply. That is some dirty laundry to air in front of other people, guys. 

CP: Oh glob, the Garak/Tain in “In Purgatory’s Shadow” just hits so hard, especially after all that went down in “The Die is Cast.” Tain is such a fucking Cardassian. Even after everything, even having lived in a prison camp for years, after losing everything, he’s still loyal only to himself and, through that, to the idea of Cardassia. I can’t shake the feeling that he knew exactly what he was doing when he sent the message. He wasn’t asking Garak to come save him--he was asking Garak to come hear that final confession, to share that moment with him. And Garak, yeah, fuck, that whole exchange is just so wrenching. We hear again and again with Cardassians that “the family is everything,” and here I think we see what that means for Garak. He goes when he is called, even if it means losing everything. It’s why he risks breaking his exile to look for Tain the first time and it’s when he gets captured looking for him the second time. And all without acknowledgement. I love how he brings Bashir into that moment of Tain’s death, too, because it’s his small way to rebel against the man who hurt him so, by letting a human, a Federation officer, witness his final confession.

(And okay, quick aside because I saw Martok’s name, but I love him so much. He’s the most Klingon Klingon I think in the entire series. And I love when he speaks of Garak’s fear as being a foe worthy of honoring. Which seems at first like such an un-Klingon thing to say, but I think really fits with their ethos, because often times fear and trauma are the hardest battles. And I’m not sure why I wanted to point to that except that it’s a lovely sentiment and it will be a battle Garak wages for a long time after this, after his claustrophobia returns, pretty much through the series and into the reconstruction of Cardassia.)

And while we’re talking about that confession, fuck. Okay, so in the first 2-parter we saw Garak and Tain talk about old times. About torture and about the work and things like that. Tain basically still grooming Garak to be the man they both know he’s not entirely comfortable being. Yes, he’s very good at it, but there’s this whole dance of Tain never really trusting Garak. Not with his life. But rather not trusting Garak to really believe in the work. So there’s the constant testing and testing that leads to the interrogation of Odo in “The Die is Cast” and it rears up again when Tain is dying and makes Garak promise to get revenge on the Dominion. He still doesn’t trust Garak to be cruel enough, to be vicious enough for what Tain wants. For what Tain feels is necessary. And what comes out of it is that last moment of Tain remembering Garak as a son. Oh glob when Garak says “How could I forget? It was the only day.” Just...fuck. Tain, with his dying breath, reminds Garak that what makes him a good son is destroying himself to try and please his father. A father who locked him in closets, who never acknowledged him, who tried to have him killed. That Garak is so desperate for something and yet you can almost see him rolling his eyes, knowing he’s never going to get what he wants. That his hopes for this moment will be crushed. Tain’s final words: “I was very proud of you that day.” Like, even dying he has to remind Garak that he’s not proud of him now. That Garak has to work for it, keep throwing himself at the task, the job. And Garak, smiling, knowing all of this, knowing that he still will because the family is everything. Just. Fuck.

NR: I know I harp on Garak/Bashir a lot, but lord, it’s so intimate to allow Bashir to stay during that deathbed confession. Such a revealing conversation that lays Garak and Tain’s relationship bare in a way that Garak himself likely couldn’t or wouldn’t by simply explaining it. It’s a brave thing, to let yourself be seen like that. I don’t think I could do it. A lot about bravery in that two-parter especially, between Garak in that scene, Garak in the wall space, Worf going out again and again to fight and buy them time.

(Martok is so great, and he is among my favorite Klingons. I rotate who my favorite Klingon is between Martok, Grilka, Worf, and Gowron. I refuse to choose among them, or to rank them. I refuse.)

CP: And I just love how these episodes further Garak's arc. By the end of them he's pretty firmly made his bed wrt who he stands with. Still an exile, he's not nearly so alone, and of course he'll have to deal with that, with the prospect of "fitting in" among this strange bunch of mostly humans. There's that scene we talked about before where it's him, Bashir, O'Brien, & Odo all making holosuite plans later that sets up the internal conflict he has between being...not trusted, but wholly accepted, and being the perpetual outsider/exile. Even as his relationship with Bashir changes. Even as everything falls apart.

These episodes also have one of my absolute favorite Garak/Bashir moments, when Garak is in the infirmary and Bashir tells him the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf and Garak just completely takes ownership of the story. Ahhh, Cardassian retellings of human children's stories should be a thing. I would read an entire collection. But I love how it frames Garak's relationship with the truth, and by extension with intimacy. When he lets Bashir sit in on his final moment with his father, it's so intimate a move, even as it's still Garak not really being honest. It's still a pageant in some ways, a play. But it's revealing still, and it shows that Garak is very much like that lonely boy with his flock of sheep, wanting desperately to be noticed, to be loved. And even with his and Bashir's relationship entering into new territory, it informs on how he'll move forward as a Cardassian and an individual, working openly for the Federation and Damar's resistance to try and save his home.


There you have it! Another month down, another amazing Garak-y discussion. Please check back in next month when we'll be looking at a longer piece of Garak fanfiction by Una McCormack. Until then, excelsior!


No comments:

Post a Comment