Star Trek Deep Space Nine: The Die is Cast

Odo: "I want to go home."

By nature I love brevity: Alea jacta est.* And how irretrievably cast that die is. A superb conclusion to an excellent setup.

One of the most basic human desires is the desire for home. And it's not just ours: we see it in countless species of animal. Home is a fundamental part of who we are, and when we are apart from it, we aren't quite the same. The old saying that 'Home is where the heart is' rings true to us because our concept of home does not simply extend to the place we sleep. Home is the place where we feel most comfortable. It is the place where we are most accepted, where we feel at ease. Home is the place, to put it as the Prophets did way back in 'Emissary', where we exist. The reason Sisko was so restless no matter where he went at the time of that episode was because his home was still on that ship with Jennifer. Because he could never return there, he was away from home all the time. His emotional journey in 'Emissary' was to move on from the death of his wife and find a new home.

In this episode, its central characters struggle with their desire to return home. Odo and Garak are the only two characters on DS9 at this point whose home is not on the station. Garak is exiled from Cardassia, the place he calls home, by his former mentor, and he has to live on a station among humans. The station formerly belonged to his people, so every day he is reminded of the home he has lost. But he knows he can never go back. And Odo may love his friends and have a fulfilling job, but he never quite fits in around the solids. He may not see their fear of the unknown as a reason to hate them, as his people do, but he recognizes that he's not exactly as intrinsically accepted as a home requires. He longs to be with people like him, who will unquestioningly and naturally accept him in a way even Major Kira can't quite do. But Odo refuses to return home because his people's actions are so horrifying. He will not join them as long as they persist in their hatred of and relentless need to dominate the solids.

We open this episode in a similar way to the opening of 'Improbable Cause': Bashir is eating lunch with someone. But where the opening of 'Cause' was filled with lively discussion about literary works, Bashir's lunch with O'Brien is wrought with worried speculation on the precarious situation we were left in after last episode. At least, Bashir is worriedly speculating. O'Brien, ever the man to take things in stride, recognizes that he has no information, and that speculating about it will only make the suspense worse. Where the opening of 'Cause' fools us into letting down our guard with friendly debate, the opening of 'The Die is Cast' is tense from the get-go. I mentioned last time that the big episodes don't feel big at first. This one does, because it is the second episode of a two-parter. In any event, O'Brien is soon called to investigate some strange sensor readings near the station, and our story is underway.

The DS9 crew are surprised to find that their sensor readings are from a cloaked fleet of ships. But their surprise deepens extremely when they discover that some of the cloaked ships are Cardassian. The fleet promptly flies straight through the wormhole into the Gamma Quadrant, and Sisko orders Starfleet notified immediately.

We then jump to Garak and Odo, still aboard Tain's Romulan Warbird. Garak is settling back into his old position as Tain's right hand man. His mentor has offered him a chance to return after all these years, and he's taken it. His exile, he believes, can be ended, and he can finally return home. Tain introduces Garak to Lovok, the Romulan in charge. Garak is then given the task of interrogating Odo, in order to find out whatever else he might know about the Founders' homeworld. The plan is to bombard them from orbit and take out the Great Link. We are treated to a tale in this early scene from Garak's glory days. He interrogated a prisoner by simply sitting and staring at the man. After four hours, the prisoner told them everything. This sets the stage nicely for Garak's interrogation skill. We know he's very good because of Tain's story, and Garak is exactly the sort of person we can believe would be a great interrogator. We assume he'll be brutal to Odo.

This is reinforced by the first of the interrogation scenes. Odo mocks Garak's skill, and Garak simply waves it off. He introduces us to the device he will use; it stops Odo from being able to change his form. From Odo's understated reaction (Garak: "Tell me, what will happen if you can't revert to a liquid state?" Odo: "I don't know."), we can guess this will be very bad. And Garak seems sure it will get the information out of Odo in no time. But we've also just seen in a prior scene that Garak was reluctant to interrogate Odo. He claims he simply doesn't think Odo has the information they want to know, but Tain and the audience can both see that's not the case.

Meanwhile, on the Starfleet side of things, the DS9 crew has received their orders. They are to stay put until a task force can arrive to go after the Romulan-Cardassian fleet. But Sisko is sure Odo and Garak are with that fleet, and the task force won't get there fast enough. To Starfleet Security Chief Eddington's dismay, he decides to disobey a direct order and go after them in the Defiant. They launch and cloak. But a little ways into the Gamma Quadrant, their cloaking device breaks down mysteriously. Eddington reveals he's sabotaged it, under direct order from the Admiral. He's damaged the cloak, but not the weapons or the engines, he explains. They'll have to return to Deep Space Nine. But Sisko won't have it. He sends O'Brien to fix the device, and reprimands Eddington. A few scenes later, O'Brien has the cloak fixed, and they are able to get underway again, just in time to meet the final battle.

This brings us to the episode's centerpiece: Garak's interrogation of Odo. Odo is looking ragged and disheveled, unable to hold his form but unable to let it go. Garak tells him it will all be over as soon as he gets what he wants to know. Odo further mocks Garak, pointing out that this is what he has wanted all along: his old job and life back. Here he is again, interrogating a prisoner for Cardassia. Garak insists this is not his choice; he's doing it because duty demands it. Screaming in pain, barely holding it together, Odo continues to mock his torturer until he is in the corner curled up in a ball. Garak makes his protests in increasingly desperate fashion, until finally he can't take it any more. Now Garak is no longer in control. He's the one begging Odo to tell him something, anything, so he can end it all. And Odo, doubled over in pain, manages to tell him that he wants to go home to his people. Garak shuts the device off and sits down, his head in his hands, as Odo melts into his bucket.

This is the defining moment of the episode for both of them. Garak is beginning to see that he can never really go back to his old life anymore. He doesn't get the pleasure from it that he once did. The terrible things he used to love he now must do to people he cares about, and it's tearing him up inside. It is at this moment that his concept of home is severed from the Obsidian Order. But it's not severed from Tain yet.

Odo, on the other hand, has never admitted to anyone that he wants to join his people. In 'The Search, Part Two', we saw him wrestle with the discovery that his people are not who he thinks they are, but he firmly turned his back on them after that. We haven't seen this desire yet, but we can certainly see it in Odo's character. Odo longs, deep within his heart, to go to his people and live with them, but he knows he can never do that in good conscience. This is the heartbreaking truth behind Odo's mask. And now he's being dragged to his people's homeworld, the place he longs to be, with a fleet seeking to kill them all.

Up on the Romulan bridge, the fleet has arrived at the Founders' world. Sensors indicate many lifeforms down below - the Founders. The bombardment starts, and the first volley takes out 30% of the planet's crust. But something's wrong. There's no change in the number of lifeforms on the planet's surface. This is, of course, impossible. At least a few changelings should have died. Garak examines the sensor data and discovers the planet is emitting false readings. And at that moment, before they can escape, one hundred fifty Jem'Hadar fighters come streaming out from behind the planet. It's a trap, and the Dominion has been lying in wait all along.

Chaos ensues among the fleet. The Jem'Hadar are ripping the Romulans and Cardassians to shreds, and Garak urges Lovok to pull the fleet back. They can't, Lovok explains. There's no way out of this. He promptly rushes for the engine room, leaving Tain in command. After a brief conversation between Garak and Tain, Garak exits too. He goes to Odo's cell and they make for their runabout. But Lovok steps from the shadows into their way. He gives them the code to access the runabout. His reason: no changeling has ever harmed another. Lovok has been a spy all along, bringing the plan to fruition so they could eliminate the Cardassians and the Romulans as Alpha Quadrant threats. As of that moment, the changeling explains, the only threats to the Dominion in the Alpha Quadrant are the Federation and the Klingons.

Garak sends Odo to the runabout, and he tries to get Tain to come with them. Tain just sits there, unable to deal with his defeat. He's getting old, he says. He should have seen it coming. He refuses to go with Garak and Odo, and Garak's final tie to his previous home is broken. The Defiant shows up and saves Garak and Odo, then returns to the station. The entire Romulan-Cardassian fleet is destroyed.

And in the episode's closing moments, Odo visits Garak in the ruins of the tailor's shop. Through the conversation, Garak reveals his decision to rebuild the shop and continue to live aboard the station. He's chosen, for better or for worse, that his home for now is here on DS9.

Pensees:

-Quark wanted to buy Garak's shop and turn it into an Argelian massage facility. Sounds... florid.

-The battle scene at the end is amazing, but it's just a taste of some great action sequences to come. Stay tuned, folks. It's gonna be quite a ride.

-That quantum stasis field generator is really handy against the Changelings. It would be a great thing to have on hand whenever the Dominion chooses to ramp up their Cold War with the Alpha Quadrant into an actual war.

-Lovok's changeling status was hinted at by his behavior earlier in the episode. On second viewing, I noticed, but I failed to see it the first time around.

*the Latin for 'The Die is Cast', if you didn't know.

Quotes:

O'Brien: "Look, Julian, you said you wanted to have lunch. Well, we're having lunch."
Bashir: "Well, yes. I was hoping for a little more conversation with my plomeek soup."
O'Brien: "Ah, my mother taught me that if you try to combine talking and eating, you'll end up doing neither very well."

Tain: "Do you remember getting that confession out of Dr. Parmak?"
Garak: "I never even touched him."
Tain: "That was the beauty of it. You just sat there for, what, three hours?"
Garak: "Four."
Tain: "And after four hours of sitting there watching you stare at him, he broke down and confessed."
Garak: "I was good, wasn't I?"

Kira: "What makes you think we'll trust you again?"
Eddington: "Because I give you my word."
Sisko: "I make it a policy never to question the word of someone who wears that uniform. Don't make me change that policy."
Oof. That one hurts.

Garak: "You want to return to the Founders?"
Odo: "Yes."
Garak: "I thought you turned your back on them."
Odo: "I did, but they're still my people. I tried to deny it. I tried to forget. But I can't. They're my people, and I want to be with them in the Great Link."
Garak: "I knew there was something you were holding back."
Odo: "And now you've found it. I hope it's useful."

Tain: "How could this be? What could have happened?"
Garak: "I'm afraid the fault, dear Tain, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."
Tain: "What?"
Garak: "Just something I learned from Dr. Bashir."

Tain: "I underestimated the Founders. I should've seen it coming. There was a time when nothing got past me. You remember, don't you, Elim?"
Garak: "Yes, I do! But right now, we have to go!"
Tain: "Go where? Back to Mila and my quiet retirement? I don't think so. I must be getting old. I let my pride override my instinct."

Tain: "These Founders, Elim, they're very good. Next time we should be more careful."

Admiral Toddman, to Sisko: "If you pull a stunt like that again, I'll court-martial you, or I'll promote you. Either way, you'll be in a lot of trouble."

Garak: "Do you know what the sad part is, Odo? I'm a very good tailor."
Odo: "Garak, I was thinking that you and I should have breakfast together sometime."
Garak: "Why, Constable, I thought you didn't eat."
Odo: "I don't."

6 out of 6 Argelian massage facilities

---
CoramDeo does not have a water buffalo, and he wants to know why.

3 comments:

Denes House said...

Insightful comments about the nature of "home" and how each character is longing for theirs. Makes you wonder if Garak can truly choose to make the station his home - can any of us choose it? Or is "home" something that happens to you along the way?

Great review.

And this is one of the best episodes of DS9, and of all of Trek. The sequences where Odo is literally falling apart, disintegrating into ragged shreds, are horrifying. The interplay between Odo and Garak, and Garak and Tain, is riveting. And the battle sequences were the best Trek had ever seen - up to that point.

magritte said...

Almost every episode that has a lot of Garak is great. He's the most fascinating character in Star Trek canon. I hadn't thought so much about the "home" theme when I watched it--it's an interesting take.

I've been starting into TNG lately, and it occurred to me that DS9 episodes featuring the Cardassians are as consistently successful as episodes with the Ferengi in TNG were not. It's also surprising to me in retrospect that DS9 got less love from the fanbase at the time, given how poor a lot of early TNG episodes were. Maybe it was because where TNG was failing was often where it was most slavishly following the original series formulas,. whereas DS9 established itself as a different kind of Star Trek right from the get go.

s franmaid said...

Nice review! I always felt this was around the time DS9 became awesome and took over as my favourite of all the Treks.

The destruction of the galaxy class ship with a suicide run at the end of the previous season started to hint how great it was about to become