WARNING: If you continue along this course, you will encounter spoilers for DS9's "Improbable Cause" -- and improbable though this may sound, you could endanger your health by doing so. Please exercise caution.
In brief: Yes. Like that. More, please.
Brief summary: Garak's shop is destroyed by an explosion, prompting Odo to begin an investigation which leads to more and more startling revelations.
Now I'm almost prepared to forgive DS9 for "Life Support". Not that this show is in any way connected to that travesty, mind you, but I'm much more convinced that the episode in question was the low point of a fluke than a sign of a long-term trend. "Improbable Cause" was far and away the best thing DS9 has done this season, and quite possibly the best "galactic intrigue" show in Trek history. Virtually nothing was out of place, from the largest plot point to the slightest detail.
One of the fascinating things about "Improbable Cause" was that it's very nearly as shifty as Garak himself. Although you'd think a Garak-centered 2-part story would enlighten us quite a bit about our "simple tailor" friend, what we've seen so far has told us nothing we didn't already know, or at least suspect. We already knew he was a former Obsidian Order member, and that he was once close to Enabran Tain, and that Tain felt betrayed by Garak in some way. None of that is new -- all we got here was confirmation. But, despite that, I didn't feel the slightest bit cheated by "Improbable Cause". On the contrary -- at the moment, my appetite is quite solidly whetted for more.
"Improbable Cause" was probably the most densely plotted episode to remain coherent that Trek has seen in a long time. (Some shows, like "Redemption, Part II" in TNG, had an awful lot of stuff happening -- but it felt thrown together. This didn't.) Ideas and elements were drawn together from a wide variety of shows throughout DS9's history, from the obvious ("The Search" and "The Wire"), to the not so obvious ("Visionary", showing the Romulans' worry about the Dominion; "Defiant", noting the fleet buildup the Order had been making; and even "Necessary Evil", in referring back to Odo's performing the "Cardassian neck trick"). More importantly, however, these elements were brought together in ways that made sense; so much sense, in fact, that you wonder why you didn't see it coming yourself. The Obsidian Order, after all, has been compared to the Tal Shiar, its Romulan counterpart, before -- so it's not surprising to envision an alliance between them if the Romulans become desperate enough.
As well as making excellent use of the past, however, the episode also suggests a great deal in the series' near future, and it's there that I confess to some slight worries. Trek has certainly presented buildups to Major Events [tm] in the past before, the Klingon civil war being an example that comes readily to mind. Most of the time, though, what has happened has been either something quick, dirty, and over in a show, or a sudden backing away from the brink for not particularly satisfying reasons. "Improbable Cause" is among the best buildups to an event I think I've ever seen on Trek -- and it's making me hope for a conclusion that will be equally strong. I strongly hope not to be led astray on this.
At any rate, back to the show itself, and to Garak in particular. Although Garak has been used for some not particularly well-done purposes ("Profit and Loss" comes to mind as a depressing example, though there are others), both the character and Andrew Robinson's performance usually manages to brighten up even episodes that are otherwise weak (such as "Distant Voices" just two weeks ago). Here, though, we had Garak and Robinson at their absolute top form. Here, we don't get Garak sitting on the sidelines and lobbing bon mots onto unsuspecting passers-by; he can't simply be an enigmatic figure helping Bashir for unknown purposes (as he was in "Cardassians"). Here, the situation is directly revolving around him, no matter how he struggles to avoid it (or pretends to, at any rate), and he can't quite get away with lying all the time.
This isn't to say he doesn't try, though. :-) In fact, two of the best scenes of the show revolve around Garak and honesty. The first is Bashir's recounting of "the boy who cried wolf", which while good in and of itself becomes a terrific scene when Garak provides an alternate interpretation to the story -- "that you should never tell the same lie twice". The second scene is stronger still; it's the moment when Odo finally has enough of Garak's dissembling and cuts to the chase -- "You blew up your own shop, Garak!" Once again, I'd underestimated Garak -- although he obviously knew more than he was telling, I hadn't given a moment's thought to the possibility that he himself set those events into motion (particularly since he seemed so unwilling to cooperate). I'm not sure I agree with Odo that the look on Garak's face is surprise; rather, it seems to me that it's a look of a trapped person, who finally realizes he has to answer with the truth. Regardless of what the look is, however, the scene is stunning.
There are very few scenes that aren't, however, and it's a credit both to the writers (Robert Lederman & David R. Long for the story, Rene Echevarria for the script) and to director Avery Brooks that everything is paced so beautifully. The scene where Odo meets his Cardassian source is among the more uniquely directed pieces of work I've seen in Trek work; while the eyes-only shots of the informant didn't always seem to mesh with what he was saying, the impact was really in no way lessened. (In fact, at times it almost seemed to add to the
unreality of the situation.) Many scenes are just as well presented, however, from the slow spiraling away from Garak during Sisko's conference with his staff to the fact that the final act consisted of only one scene, that being a full seven minutes long. That's almost verging on the theatrical rather than television -- but given the talent present in that scene, being more theatre-oriented than television-oriented is hardly a problem.
I could go on about "Improbable Cause" for a lot longer than this, but I'm not sure there's much need to. Suffice it to say that the show really had no wrong notes, and a hell of a lot of right ones -- it's kept me the most riveted of any Trek episode I can remember this year. If the conclusion is equally strong, it may well turn out to be the strongest 2-parter in Trek history.
So, let's move to a number of short takes:
-- The opening scene, discussing Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar", was, I suspect, an example of putting literary references to good use. Although the scene itself was fine even in a vacuum, I'm willing to bet that Caesar/Brutus will see some parallels next week. (The question is who gets to be Caesar and who gets to be Brutus -- or whether, as a colleague of mine suggested, both Tain and Garak play Brutus. Brr.)
-- It's extremely difficult for me to justify my statements above about two scenes being "two of the strongest of the show", because quite frankly, I think all of them were strong. (Okay, maybe the one discussion with the Tal Shiar operative was a little weak, but only a little.)
-- It seems entirely possible to me that, if they so desired, the DS9 staff might be taking the opportunity next week to wipe out two of the show's albatrosses from the start of the season. The Founders have already been mentioned as an obvious target, and may well get destroyed; but this could end up removing the Defiant from the picture as well. I, for one, would shed no tears were this to be true, as I think both steps were mistakes.
-- Odo's meeting with his source raises a LOT of questions. Who is this source? How long have they known each other? How did the source become indebted to Odo initially? Just how highly placed is he? I want to see more of this source -- soon.
-- The dialogue was more barbed here than usual, which is entirely fitting given the circumstances. Nevertheless, lines like "Are you trying to say that I have no sense of honor?" "Well, that remains to be seen." definitely made me sit up and take notice. (It doesn't look quite so good in writing as it sounds on screen, though, so don't take my word for it.)
-- It's interesting to see Rene Echevarria's name turn up here, as he also wrote one of TNG's more gripping "intrigue" shows, namely "The Mind's Eye". Just a thought.
That should pretty much cover it. It's been three days since I saw "Improbable Cause", and I'm still excited about it -- here's hoping I get just as excited next week.
So, to wrap up:
Writing: Phenomenal. Elements from everywhere woven into a plausible, seamless whole, and suggesting a lot of future paths.
Directing: Brooks has definitely improved -- this was riveting.
Acting: No complaints whatsoever, and praise for pretty much everyone.
OVERALL: An extremely enthusiastic 10. Onwards!
As the title says (and as Caesar says), "the die is cast."
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Always burn your bridges behind you; you never know who might be trying to follow."
-- Enabran Tain