Episode 3.20: Improbable Cause

I’ve always considered Season 3 as when DS9 begins to establish itself as the greatest show of all time.  The season is anchored twice, once in the first half and again in the second half, by two fantastic two-episode stories: Past Tense Pt. 1/2 (Ep. 3.11/12) and Improbable Cause/The Die is Cast (Ep. 3.20/21).  While I don’t want to get ahead of myself, in The Die is Cast, the utter brilliance of the Dominion is revealed as an intelligent, dangerous, and worthy enemy to the Federation.  These two episodes fit DS9’s motif a bit better than Past Tense, as these are serial episodes instead of a cliffhanger two-parter.  In fact, the plot of this serial is set up in prior episodes.  In Visionary (Ep. 3.17), the Romulans gain full access to the intelligence they need to conduct this operation.  In Defiant (Ep. 3.9), the creation of the Obsidian Order fleet is revealed, but not explained.  This first episode focuses on Odo and Garak, and the intrigue that draws them into the plot to attack the Founders.  Interestingly, their involvement was not desired by Tain.  Garak becomes a powerful ally for Tain, though it only lasts a single episode.  Garak is clever and resourceful; had he been with Tain earlier, I speculate the Founder plot would have been disrupted.

Odo is intelligent here in several ways.  He obviously figures out Garak blew up his own shop very early on (he realizes this once he learns the Flaxxian is a poisoner, not a saboteur), but he also is wise enough to keep this information to himself.  He doesn’t obfuscate what he knows; Odo reminds us (and Garak) how much he loathes the verbal games Garak plays with Bashir and Tain.  Instead, he informs Garak of this knowledge when it would be most useful to Odo to do so.  Once Odo knows that the game is much larger than a simple assassination attempt, Odo turns up the heat on Garak with this revelation.   Odo’s detective work here is something he’s cultivated over years.  He’s observed Garak and slowly put together information about him, probably also assessing the amount of truth in any given piece of information.  After discussing events with his contact from Cardassia, Odo realizes this is more than attempted murder.  But Odo is invested in justice on the grand scale, and so he continues work on the case.  A key aspect of Garak that Odo has figured out by this episode is that Garak only works in lies.  When Garak says he doesn’t know something, that is a strong indicator of truth, since if Garak did know something, he would instantly spin a lie about it.  The trick is figuring out what portions of Garak’s lies are actually truth.

The scene where Garak and Odo analyze each other is fantastic.  Both are skilled observers with strong deductive minds.  While Garak’s past is never truly confirmed, I believe that Odo’s assessment here is accurate; this fits with the flow of Odo’s successes in this episode, and it fits the facts we garner about Garak throughout the series.  Garak is Tain’s son (Odo’s claim that Garak feels something for Tain, confirmed in Purgatory’s Shadow, Ep 5.14), Tain caused Garak’ exile, and Garak was Tain’s protégé.  Garak’s assessment of Odo is more haphazard, I think, because Garak’s observations over the years were incidental, while Odo was intentional about Garak.  Garak makes an reference to Kira which implies he knows the one-sided attraction is there.  He also expertly manipulated Odo into getting involved, and he knows how deeply Odo cares for justice.

Up until this point in the series, we’ve only seen a fraction of Garak’s resourcefulness and cleverness.  In these two episodes, both of these traits are fully brought to bear.  Not only does he know the assassination is coming (presumably by knowing the other operatives died earlier that day), but he is able to rig his deception before he even meets Bashir for lunch.  He knows the key players he needs involved (here, Odo) and exactly how to manipulate them.  Garak did a similar thing to Bashir with the war orphans in Cardassians (Ep. 2.5).

What I find truly ingenious about having Garak blow up his own shop is that even a literary device itself is designed to deceive the viewer.  In the opening scene, Garak and Bashir are discussing Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and Garak chastises Caeser for his failure to see the betrayal until the knife itself is in his back.  When Garak’s shop explodes, and for most of the episode, the viewer is lead to believe that Garak failed to see the bomb before it blew up in his presence.  The metaphor of the lunchtime topic sets up the viewer to think that Garak failed to see his betrayal.  While Garak deceives the crew, so do the writers decieve the viewers.

Garak and Bashir’s exchange in the infirmary is one of my favorites of the series.  The way Garak turns the morale of the story to his interpretation impressed me.  Bashir is trying to offer Garak some advice that would actually help him get the help he needs, but Bashir doesn’t truly yet understand how the Cardassian mind works.  Garak’s interpretation keeps the story completely intact, yet simply changes what the boy “should” have done.  This represents how Garak himself lies; he takes near complete truth and spins only a small component to set others on the track that he wants.  I’ve used this scene in some of my teaching to show how easily our morals can be twisted.  As we’ve heard from Garak in the past, truth is in the eye of the beholder.

Random Thoughts:  1) Odo’s network as a detective is vast.  His contacts stretch even to Cardassia, and with such integrity that the contact is willing to stay indebted to Odo in exchange for another favor.  2) Garak was truly surprised that Odo figured out he blew up his own shop.  The look on his face is priceless, and Andrew Robinson (the actor who plays Garak) does a fantastic job of covering his initial surprise with a poor attempt at stoicism.  3) Never confirmed for Garak, but it is a strong belief of mine that Mila is Garak’s mother.  He holds an affection for her that is quite unique.  4) Bashir shows some true friendship to Garak by returning the chocolates.  In this small way, he does know his lunchtime companion.  5) The bit about the wall panel and eating the isolinear rod is highly amusing.  6) Tain and Garak verbally sparring is quite fun to watch.  I love how Garak slides an excellent racial slur in there, and Tain is able to deflect it simply by naming it and naming the effect it was intended to have.  7) Garak empathically tells Tain that he didn’t betray him in his heart.  Whatever it was, Garak feels betrayed by the exile as much as Tain was directly betrayed by Garak.  8) Garak officially ends his exile.

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~ by Joshua Black on April 3, 2017.

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