Star Trek Deep Space Nine: The Wire

"Never the truth when a lie will do."

When Garak starts behaving oddly, Bashir's concern takes their lunchtime bromance to a whole new level - and he must unravel the mystery which is his friend, in order the preserve that friend's life.

This episode seems like a simple locked-room medical mystery. Bashir is presented with two problems. One is the medical mystery of a friend who's seizing in pain and possibly about to die. One is the history of his friend Garak, a spy not known for telling the truth. The answer to these mysteries each lies in the heart of the other, and this episode is carried neither by action nor technobabble, but by the true portrayal of two alien races trying to connect and connecting whether or not they truly each understand the other.

Take the opening salvo into Cardassian literature. Both identify completely different literary qualities to look out for. For Garak it's how the characters exemplify the culture. For Bashir it's how the literature gives access to the full lives of the characters. Lay your money and take your choice, but as it does now and then with the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition, DS9 does a convincing job of laying the framework for an alien way of thinking that makes far more sense to me than Darmok and Jalad at Tanagara.

Bashir knows something is wrong with Garak immediately, despite Garak's protests, and the dance between the two leads to a series of back and forths which end predictably with Garak in the infirmary.Nothing can stop their interspecies bromance. In the process we learn some sort of maybe truths. Garak was maybe a Gul and competitive member of the Obsidian Order–and, it seems, probably freed Bajorans out of what I read as what could be guilt and discomfort. Throughout we come to realize that all the friends and coworkers Garak claims to have been betrayed by are (probably) echoes of himself. We never learn the exact truth but I think Bashir sees beyond words to the truth of this odd friend he cares so much for. The scenes between the two are a little overwritten perhaps but saved by some truly excellent acting. When you get down to it the episode mostly has two men talking and a short trip to a room by spaceship and it manages to be entertaining nonetheless. (Although every clip of the usual crew also has its typical panache - the sight of Quark smoothly slipping away alcohol from behind Bashir's back will remain with me.)

The final visit to Enabran Tain risked much and gained little. Maybe. We learn that Garak is Elim. We learn he had a fanatical devotion to the Order and didn't need to be asked to insert the wire which caused the problems he currently has. And Bashir (and the Federation, presumably) now have much more access to information about Cardassian biochemistry.

If there's anything that fails about this episode, it's that it feels too soon after Duet from Season One. In that episode another Cardassian works out their psychological guilt from the war. Which makes me wonder... Exactly how split are the Cardassians? And along what lines? In my notes to this episode I wrote that it seemed ironic how a society whose culture produced so much trauma managed to reach spacegoing levels.

Commander's Log

I am savoring this series! It feels as if it's hit some sort of stride at the end of this season. The ensemble has become a true vehicle for individual episodes and for the Story as a whole.

Why did Garak get the implant? I think we could put it together. It has nothing to do with the environment of the station. It had to do with his continuing guilt over his actions in the war. He became a technodrug addict to deal with the strength of his own emotions.


Bashir may be a doctor and not a botanist, as the image above shows, but he is definitely a psychologist, and the quality of the acting in this episode... when a good actor performs, you sense a weight of history and purpose behind them which doesn't need to be said and explained. I felt like there was a whole past and philosophy to the kind of medicine Bashir practiced which included therapy and emotionally connecting to the patient. And I loved the shoutout to McCoy (who once said he was not a psychiatrist, in "The City on the Edge of Forever.")

Throughout I was thinking, what a nice little standalone. Then there was something. At the end of the episode, Garak gives Bashir a Cardassian 'science fiction novel' set in the future about a postulated war between the Klingons and Cardassians. And, after all, what does the title of this episode mean? Maybe it's the wire. Maybe it's Garak himself. And aren't the Cardassians up to something, like the Maquis two-parter showed? I could be reading too much into it, but kind of hoping Garak becomes spy-boy for Sisko at some point. Either way, the show is practically blaring war-is-coming alarms at us at this point.

Overheard by the Universal Translator

Garak: Oh, please, Doctor. I'm suffering enough without having to listen to your smug Federation sympathy. Do you think because we have lunch together once a week, you know me? You couldn't even begin to fathom what I'm capable of.
Bashir: I'm a doctor. You're my patient. That's all I need to know.
Garak: Wrong again. You need to know who you're trying to save.

Garak: I've given you all the answers I'm capable of.
Bashir: You gave me answers, all right, but they were all different. What I want to know is of all the stories you told me, which ones were true and which ones weren't?
Garak: My dear Doctor, they're all true.
Bashir: Even the lies?
Garak: Especially the lies.

Overall

A strange and powerful episode, which I imagine is going to have repercussions in the time to come. Five out of five spiky alien plants.

8 comments:

Victoria Grossack said...

An episode that really does start to show more of the complexity of DS9, and allows Bashir to shine. He is annoying in earlier episodes, but here we see the distance he will travel - figuratively and literally - to save a patient and a friend.

And what a hell it must be for Garak (who has more hell to come). Isn't it nice that DS9 has a few characters who are maladjusted?

Thanks for the review.

JRS said...

I love the fact that we have 'real' characters on this show. Kira, O'Brien... they're all highly complex.

Kayne said...

Ok, so it's 2017. Can I give a DS9 a try if I never watched it or is it really way outdated? I must say I guite enjoyed watching Babylon 5 about 10 years ago...

Mark Greig said...

Kayne, of all the Trek I think DS9 is the one that has actually aged the best, both in terms of its storytelling and its visuals. So I would definitely recommend giving it a go.

Victoria Grossack said...

I think it's the best of the Treks and that it has aged very well. Perhaps the music could be better, and during the first two seasons there are a couple of dud episodes, so be patient.

Kayne said...

Thank you people :)

Skye maidstone said...

DS9 is currently (new series soon!) my favourite of all the incarnations. I totally agree that it really starts to kick into gear around the middle to end of season 2. S1 has a lot of weak episodes as do all the treks.

magritte said...

Kayne, I also think DS9 feels much less dated than TNG or even Voyager, more like a contemporary show (special effects aside) in a lot of ways. Sure, it has off episodes, but it's a good cast of characters and the Cardassians are by far the most interesting "antagonist race" Stark Trek has given us. This episode--like almost all the Cardassian-centric episodes--was very good.