3.21: “The Die is Cast”

Synopsis: Loyalties are tested when the Obsidian Order and the Tal Shiar attack the Founders, and Starfleet orders Sisko not to get involved.

You know, I complained about this a bit during my recent appearance on Antimatter Pod, but this is an even more appropriate time for it: so, Michael Chabon has mentioned that they had really wanted to do more with Deep Space Nine in the first season of Star Trek: Picard, but that it just wasn’t possible, because DS9 is more self-contained and less connected to other series. Which…I kind of get; it really did have its own thing going on, both story-wise and tonally. But on the other hand…

(Here, I cut several paragraphs going into more detail about why I don’t feel like that holds water, plus a number of possible ways Picard could have, like, acknowledged that the events of Deep Space Nine happened beyond a throwaway mention of Quark. I’d just like some credit for my restraint.)

Leaving aside all the other possibilities, Deep Space Nine did a lot with the Romulans, and arguably did at least as much with the Tal Shiar and Romulan intelligence in particular as The Next Generation did. Most salient for this post, we’re told at the end that the Battle of the Omarion Nebula was for the Tal Shiar and the Obsidian Order what Wolf 359 was for the Federation, that both organizations have been devastated. The power vacuum left on Cardassia is massive, destabilizing things enough that the dissident movement is actually able to form a new civilian government. The battle is so damaging that the Founders no longer consider the Cardassians or Romulans a threat to them in the Alpha Quadrant. I have a hard time believing the devastation of the Tal Shiar didn’t have enormous repercussions for Romulus, as well.

(I also refuse to believe that at least one of Picard’s ex-Tal Shiar husband and wife live-in housekeepers/estate managers/caretakers doesn’t know Garak, but that is, perhaps, another story.)

Garak though!!!!

While Garak’s been in other episodes since last season’s “The Wire”, this is a lot more development than he’s gotten since that one. Robinson was strong in “Improbable Cause”, but he’s even better in this one. It becomes increasingly clear throughout just how much he’s changed, that as much as he misses his home and his people, he can’t simply pick up where he left off. Even during his early conversation with Tain, there are moments where Garak is clearly waiting for the other shoe to drop — it’s obvious that as much as he wants this, a part of him doesn’t truly believe it will be this easy.

Later in the series, Dax will remark to Worf that she doesn’t think he’s as traditional a Klingon as he thinks he is; I’ve said something similar in the past of Quark, that he’s not nearly as traditional a Ferengi as he thinks he is or wants to be; here, we see that the same is true of Garak — and, as well, of Odo, whose dark secret turns out to be that, deep down, a part of him still feels that he belongs with his people. Something that was hinted at last episode here comes to the fore, emotionally, with the show getting clearer and clearer about the parallels it’s drawing between Odo and Garak. That’s an enormous part of what makes the moment when Odo breaks, and Garak’s increasing (and increasingly visible) distress over the entire situation, so compelling. He wants to go home, even though he knows he shouldn’t, that his people are doing terrible things — and, of course, wanting to go home is precisely the reason that Garak is in this situation in the first place, too. He believed — or at least, he wanted to believe — that it could really be that simple, even that this might be the right thing to do, that perhaps he could make things better.

And, you know, it’s hard to feel sorry for someone who’s torturing another person, but Robinson manages to play Garak’s mounting distress in such a way that it’s clear this is traumatic for him as well. It was one thing to remember how good he was at it over drinks with Tain, but when it comes to actually doing it, suddenly, it’s no longer easy, no longer feels like the right thing to do. I’ve noted before that I tend to enjoy it when Star Trek does its “you and I are of a kind” thing, and these two episodes are a really great example. The parallels between Garak and Odo become clearer and clearer, until, in the last shot of “The Die is Cast”, each of them is literally the other’s reflection in a mirror.

Returning to the subject of Garak alone — I love the character for a lot of reasons, but especially because it’s so interesting to watch his evolution as someone who’s sort of…dragged, often in spite of his own best efforts, into being a better person over the course of the show. I’ve referenced Nicasio Silang’s lovely essay You have only your trust in me previously, but it contains this wonderful summary of Garak’s character arc, and how strange a dynamic it can be to find oneself among good people when one’s spent all of one’s life on one’s guard:

[Garak] came from a society, a family, and an organization that valued paranoia and distrust, had these values baked into his bones. Over the course of seven seasons, members of the crew gradually decide he’s one of theirs now, and that they will trust him. Garak rails against this treatment, at his worst he spits in its face, mocks it, rejects it as hopelessly naïve. But they just keep placing their trust in him and expecting him to do the same of them. Even when he fails them, they recognize the failure and then offer trust again. There’s something so achingly hopeful about watching that work.

One of the reasons I find Garak so interesting, I think, is that — well, it’s hard not to see a lot of myself in him. As a white American, I’ve had to unlearn a lot assumptions my society taught me from a very early age about my place in the world, what other people owe to me, and what I owe to them. It’s a difficult process, one that I’ll never really complete. I’ve mentioned before that a lot about Bajoran culture, and Kira’s journey, resonates with me as a Jewish woman, but if I’m being honest with myself, there’s a lot in Cardassian society that looks pretty familiar to me here in the United States in 2020, too. Kira is what I aspire to be, what I am at my best moments, but Garak is much closer to my day-to-day reality, and watching him reckon with his own place in the culture he came from, with what is expected of him as part of that culture, is incredibly striking.

Speaking of divided loyalties

Eddington actually does something interesting here, for the first time since he was introduced! I…really wish Eddington were more compelling. He’s nowhere near as wooden as Bareil, of course, but has a similar problem for me, where I just never quite feel as invested in his story or his relationship with Sisko as I’d like to. It doesn’t help that they don’t really bother giving him any kind of personality or character development until he actually breaks from Starfleet.

It’s interesting, though, that he comes down here on the “I have orders from Starfleet and I will carry them out” side, to the point of sabotaging the Defiant, in light of how his story will ultimately play out. Has he joined the Maquis yet? Is this misdirection, an attempt to make sure he’s the last person any of the crew might suspect of being Maquis? Of course, what isn’t stated aloud in Starfleet’s “let them give it a shot” stance is that if the Dominion wins, that makes the Cardassians and the Romulans much less of a threat, and the Maquis can probably get on board with that. (Is Admiral Toddman part involved with the Maquis, perhaps?)

Miscellany

First of all, the effects in this episode are really great — specifically, I was so impressed by the makeup/costume during Odo’s “disintegration”, the way that both makeup and costume appear to be made of the same matieral. It also reinforces the scene’s climactic moment, reinforcing Odo’s non-humanness, reminding us that what appear to be skin and clothing aren’t, at all.

The battle scene was also an impressive achievement — it’s easy to take a big space battle scene for granted now, but this was more ships than the show had ever had onscreen at once before. Until reading about what an endeavor it was for the effects team, I had forgotten just how cool it was, as a kid, to see Deep Space Nine‘s battle scenes, how really unusual they were for a TV show.

A couple other notes:

  • “Do you remember a young gul named Dukat?” “Dukat?” LOL Tain didn’t remember him at first, I just really love when it’s made clear that Dukat is nowhere near as important or interesting as he thinks he is.
  • “Admiral Toddman” is disproportionately amusing to me. Just, like, the combination of the name and the title. I can’t explain it, it just is.
  • “How long until you can fix it?” “About ten hours.” “You’ve got two. On your way.” god I love Sisko so much

Horniness rankings

There is appallingly little horniness in this episode. I mean, it’s a good episode and all but I really expect everyone to be more hornt. Honorable mention to Julian, who is pining for Garak, and also to Garak, who quotes the play Bashir gave him to read in the middle of disaster. And of course, as ever, Cardassians in general remain horny for drama, which, #relatable.

2 thoughts on “3.21: “The Die is Cast”

  1. One of my favorite things about this episode is Starfleet deciding to let the Cardassian/Romulan attack on the Founders go forward. It foreshadows a lot of other ethically questionable decisions that Starfleet and the Federation are going to make later in the series, and it’s presented in a way that makes a disquieting amount of sense. It’s not cast as an evil plot or the machination of a power hungry antagonist character; it’s a calculated, reasoned decision that frankly is pretty understandable. From this, to Admiral Leyton’s power grab on Earth, to the raids on Jem’Hadar ketrocel white facilities (a type of warfare intended specifically to kill the Jem’Hadar), to Sisko’s embrace of the underhanded to bring the Romulans into the war, and finally to the ultimate abandonment of Federation ideals in pursuit of survival – Section 31 turning to biological warfare to commit genocide against the Founders itself. All of these build logically on one another and make sense as presented, and they all stem from this point in the series, in my view. And they are all horrible things, things that Starfleet officers or the Federation should never contemplate – but they all end up on the table because here, in this moment, Starfleet decided that inaction in the face of a genocidal first strike against a *possible* enemy (they aren’t even at war yet) was OK. (And like you point out, maybe even win-win. Either the Cardassians and the Romulans eliminate the Dominion, or the Dominion knocks both of them down several pegs, and the Federation may still hold out hope, at this point, that it can negotiate an accord with the Dominion.)

    It’s a lot. And possibly I’m drawing too many spurious connections between these themes, but I really see this as one of the first times when this kind of thinking carries the day in the show.

    I have to admit I never thought about the idea that Eddington’s part (or Admiral Toddman’s) in the plot might be motivated by ties to the Maquis, but that’s probably because I forgot Eddington was in the episode, because as per usual in most of his appearances before the Les Miserables episode, he’s entirely forgettable. I had also forgotten that the massacre had that major of an impact on the Cardassians… and, well, really, I am not sure that makes sense. The whole point was that the Obsidian Order was building extra resources for this operation, on top of whatever they had lying around normally (although as Dukat pointed out they weren’t supposed to have anything lying around normally), so even if they lost their entire fleet in the operation I don’t see why that means the organization itself fell apart. Also, it wasn’t *that* many ships. It couldn’t have been more than a fraction of Cardassia’s fleet, unless their fleet is extremely small, which seems unlikely. (In “Discovery,” Control states that Starfleet operates over 7,000 vessels, and that’s 100 years before this. Wolf 359 destroyed 40 ships, and Shelby said they’d “have the fleet back up in less than a year.” I think it can be assumed that major galactic powers on par with the Federation would have comparably sized fleets.) I just don’t understand why it had that big and wide of an impact. Maybe later episodes explain it better than I’m remembering now.

    “…Dukat?” LOL. That said, I felt some of the mystique of Tain was lost in this episode. He is just slightly too cartoonishly evil when chuckling with Garak about the good old days, although Paul Dooley moves it back to good when he reluctantly concludes Mila will have to be eliminated in order for him to return to his old position.

    I also love how the show presents the changeling disguised as Colonel Lobok as so seamlessly integrated into the plan that not only does Tain not question him, neither do any of the Romulans. It’s the first time we’ve seen a changeling infiltrate an Alpha Quadrant power like this, and their success is alarmingly good – helps make later infiltration/disguise plots (Krajensky, Martok) believable and dangerous. (One wonders how they got so good at it, considering there had been no contact between the Dominion and any of these powers until earlier this year; the Founders must be deeply intuitive. Even detailed intelligence reports don’t really give you the kind of information you need to impersonate someone and fool their close contacts. It may be unsurprising that they succeeded in an authoritarian and conformist culture like the Tal Shiar, but they do a really good job with a Federation ambassador later this season too.)

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    1. It’s the first time we’ve seen a changeling infiltrate an Alpha Quadrant power like this, and their success is alarmingly good – helps make later infiltration/disguise plots (Krajensky, Martok) believable and dangerous.

      Oh dang, you’re right — I’ve had, like, two different rewatches going on at different paces, the one for this blog where I watch and take notes on a couple of episodes a week, and then a more binge-watch-paced one that I got sucked into with my mother, so I didn’t really appreciate that this was the first time we’ve seen a “the Founders have successfully infiltrated an Alpha Quadrant power” plot point.

      Also good point on the Obsidian Order and the scale of the destruction, especially in light of the comparison to Wolf 359, which, you’re right, wasn’t actually a huge percentage of the fleet, and looms large in the franchise more for its personal significance to both Picard and Sisko than as a massive tactical defeat for Starfleet. The only thing I can think of is that the Order and/or the Tal Shiar may have been sure enough of their victory that a lot of people pretty high up the ladder in each organization were present. Or, at least in the case of the Obsidian Order, just a lot of their people period: since the fleet was such a secret, they couldn’t exactly go on a huge recruiting drive for people to crew the ships, so might have had to divert a lot of people from other operations to this one.

      …but they all end up on the table because here, in this moment, Starfleet decided that inaction in the face of a genocidal first strike against a *possible* enemy (they aren’t even at war yet) was OK.

      YES, and lord, that’s one more point on my list of reasons why Chabon’s “we just didn’t see any way to tie Picard to DS9″ doesn’t really hold water for me. Hell, there’s a pretty good parallel between this episode, when the Federation decides to let two races it’s on, at best, cool terms with attempt the genocide of a third, and the event that prompted Picard’s resignation “because it was no longer Starfleet”, when they abandoned the effort to evacuate Romulus — the Federation didn’t commit genocide itself, certainly, but it made a deliberate decision not to help the Romulans, either. (Though, since Discovery has the Federation on the verge of committing genocide to end the war with the Klingons, it’s possible Picard is just taking a somewhat rosy view of its history — or, more generously, thought that the Federation had learned from that and progressed beyond it.)

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