3.20: “Improbable Cause”

Synopsis: Following an explosion on the Promenade, Garak and Odo discover a joint plan by the Obsidian Order and the Romulan Tal Shiar to stage a preemptive strike against the Founders.

Ah, the Tal Shiar and the Obsidian Order: two great tastes that taste like hubris and attempted genocide together.

As I mentioned when I was on Antimatter Pod recently, the Romulans never quite grabbed me the way they have some of my friends because, well, when it comes to Star Trek aliens

  • with totalitarian governments and secret dissident movements
  • and with incredibly powerful intelligence machines
  • and also cultures that place a high value on privacy, if not outright secrecy
  • whose relations with the Federation have historically been somewhere between “shaky nonaggression pact” and “active war”
  • and who generally act like smug dicks

the Cardassians are always going to come first in my heart. If it weren’t for them, though, I would probably be all over the Romulans. Seeing the Tal Shiar and the Obsidian Order attempt to work together is — actually really fun? Not least because it’s clear from the jump that neither side has the slightest bit of trust for the other.

Apparently this was originally meant to be a single episode — Garak’s trolling Bashir with the isolinear rod was initially played in seriousness, with him instructing Bashir to deliver the rod to Sisko; it would contain information that Sisko would then pass to Starfleet. Garak informing Tain of this contingency plan — that damaging information about him and/or the Order and/or Cardassia would be released to Starfleet if Garak didn’t return to the station — would prompt Tain to release him and Odo. The writers felt it was a weak ending; I don’t know that I’d go that far, but it’s certainly less interesting than what happens with the second part.

We also get answers here to the questions raised in “Defiant”, where it became clear that the Obsidian Order was far busier, and had far more resources at its disposal, than either the Central Command or the Detapa Council knew. With “Defiant”, the writers didn’t really have any specific idea of why the Order was secretly building ships and amassing resources beyond, as René Echevarria put it, “a vague idea of a first strike”, apparently, but when they decided to do a Garak episode, it seemed like a good opportunity to do more. I find the payoff here incredibly satisfying, though granted, I’m biased, since of course I am pretty much always in favor of Cardassian intrigue.

I’ll probably discuss this more extensively in the post for the next part, since it’s made much more obvious there, but even in this first part, it’s fascinating to watch the way they’re setting up parallels between Odo and Garak — the outsiders, the exiles, who are mistrustful of and mistrusted by almost everyone on all sides and who have, by necessity, become observers of those around them. Tain’s “That is what you’ve been waiting for, isn’t it? To end your exile? To come back into the fold?” could just as easily have been spoken by one of the Founders to Odo.

Some performance notes

Paul Dooley really does a fantastic job with the character of Tain — he’s such a striking presence each time that it’s surprising to remember he only appears in a total of four episodes. As I noted briefly in response to “The Wire”, he imparts just the slightest hint of menace to Tain’s avuncular manner — just enough to be unsettling, even flat-out chilling; just enough to remind you that this guy is still capable of being incredibly dangerous. His delivery to Odo of “I think you’ll find when I have something to say, you won’t have any trouble understanding it” is friggin’ perfect.

Andrew Robinson also brings his A game in these two episodes: the way Garak’s composure slips with his protest of “I never betrayed you! At least, not in my heart!” always sticks with me. The second part goes even further in pushing Garak and showing the depth of his internal conflict, and this is a great preview.

I was struck, also, by the scene in the wardroom after the Flaxian’s ship was destroyed, when Garak was simply standing there, back to the senior staff, staring into the middle distance. He seems to be…in shock? Even when he joins in the discussion, he still seems genuinely unsettled, hasn’t quite regained his usual composure. I walked away with the impression that maybe the scale of what they’ve stumbled onto is just starting to dawn on him, or even that he hadn’t quite believed it was real until then.

Finally, I could watch Garak and Sisko’s interactions forever, honestly. Over the course of the show, I get the impression that Garak regards Sisko very differently from just about anyone else on the station; I might even say that he respects Sisko in a way he doesn’t the others, views him as something of an equal.

Other notes

  • I actually always forget that Mila being Garak’s mother is never explicitly spelled out on the show, only in Andrew Robinson’s novel, which, like other tie-in material, exists in that “if it’s not explicitly contradicted by the show(s) then sure, you can take it as canon if you want to” space.
  • I really like the makeup design for the Flaxian assassin, sort of catfish-like.
  • That whole Cardassian Deep Throat meeting Odo has is interesting.
  • Cutting from Sisko saying “I don’t expect [the Romulans] to be entirely forthcoming” to a Romulan official calmly saying “yes, we destroyed the Flaxian’s ship” is such a great little bit of comedy in the middle of what’s otherwise a pretty serious couple of episodes.

Horniness rankings

  1. Garak and Bashir’s flirting is just absurdly blatant. I mean.
  2. I maintain that Garak is not not interested in Sisko, as well.
  3. Garak, like most Cardassians, is also extremely horny for Drama and Intrigue.

One thought on “3.20: “Improbable Cause”

  1. Great episode, one of the best set-up pieces in the series and also a very solid standalone story. I don’t think there’s an off note sounded anywhere in the dialogue. The exchange between Garak and Bashir on the boy who cried wolf; “the truth is usually just an excuse for a lack of imagination”; and Odo’s line about the Romulans: “Considering those uniforms of theirs, you’d think they’d appreciate a good tailor.” (I also love how meta the last quote is; apparently Ronald D. Moore hated the original TNG Romulan uniform costumes and, indeed, new ones show up for the first time in this very episode… although I think it takes until “Picard” for them to finally turn their back on shoulder pads, in the Zhat Vash anyway.)

    I also like how they never explain (at least I don’t think they ever explain) the identity of Odo’s Cardassian contact or the nature of their debt/relationship. That’s the kind of thing that works best when you don’t really get into details about it – just let it stand as a part of the story that builds mystery while it advances the plot.

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