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The Wire

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WARNING: Spoilers for DS9's "The Wire" are definitely within. Be warned.

Wow. Another keeper -- amazingly good.

In fact, the only problem I had with it was the ending, and that's more of a frustration than a real problem.

Yet again, a major Cardassian guest character (or two of them, this time, not counting the fellow Quark talked to, who was also quite good) proves to be one of the best things that has ever happened to DS9. For two weeks, we've been treated to Sisko/Dukat conversations that are as riveting as they come; now, we get lots of Bashir/Garak interplay that's nearly as good. Garak is by far one of DS9's best characters, but he's usually a pleasant enough fellow with his own enigmatic reasons. Now, we got a taste of his darker side, which is much, much darker than I think most of us would have guessed. We also get an explanation for why he seems so doggone pleasant in an environment which generally doesn't make Cardassians happy. Very interesting, all told.

I was originally a bit worried when I heard Garak's story about "the kind of man you're trying to save". I thought it was a bit much to have the whole truth of Garak's past spilled out this early (early? he's been around for a year! Okay, so I enjoy being strung along like this. :-) ). I also thought it was a bit strained to use the old "well, I'm dying, so I'll tell you the truth" cliche -- granted, it's better than the "well, YOU'RE dying, so I'll tell you the truth" bit, but it's still iffy.

However, my fears were assuaged when Garak kept changing his story. Now I'm in the opposite position: I want to know how much of it is accurate! Regardless, that sort of ambiguity absolutely defines Garak, and it was a relief to see that it wasn't lost even on his deathbed.

The one revelation that absolutely is true, clearly, is that he was at some point a valuable member of the Obsidian Order, and that he must have done something to fall out of favor and "earn" exile. Exactly what that something is is still very much in question, but that much I think we can trust. None of that, however, is much of a surprise, even down to the neural implant (which strikes me as a particularly Cardassian tool). It's all extremely interesting, but not surprising.

The way in which the Order was introduced, however, was marvelous in the extreme. Quark's conversation with Glinn Boheeka was delightfully sleazy, and even though I didn't particularly expect Boheeka to be able to find what Quark wanted, I was relaxed about it. Then, suddenly, Boheeka gets about as panicked as I have ever seen a Cardassian get -- even Gul Madred wasn't that upset when Picard broke through his defenses in "Chain of Command". "What the HELL?" was the thought that came to mind -- what could make a seasoned military officer in the Cardassian military that panicked?

Apparently, the Obsidian Order can. The discussion about it right afterward, combined with Enabran Tain's casual knowledge of everything about Bashir later, made it pretty clear how far their influence extends, and just how worrying a thing that is. (The fact that Odo admires their efficiency is also a worry, but one I'll deal with shortly.) The reference back to the Tal Shiar from TNG's "Face of the Enemy" was also good -- we saw firsthand what kind of power they command and reactions they provoke, and to think about a group even more intimidating is pretty eerie.

Odo, however, was even more disturbing in some ways. He's the first regular character on Trek of any era to have an absolutely sinister side that I wouldn't want to get anywhere near. His interest in interviewing Garak
about his unsolved cases is legitimate enough, but his insistence on doing it right then even if (or especially if) it might hasten Garak's death was quite alarming. ("Babylon 5" did something similar a week or two ago, but with a different ending, which may be why Odo's interest got my attention so strongly.) Even more disturbing, however, was his routine bugging of everything Quark says and does. Bashir's reaction was right on target ("is
that legal?"), and Odo's response ("it's in the best interest of station security") is in my opinion NOT a justification. This fits in nicely with his "safe at any cost" personality, but it gives me the willies to a certain
extent, particularly when he seems willing to extend that treatment to anyone if he needs to (his reaction Bashir's worry about the bugs being a prime example). I like having the character on the show -- but I'm not sure I like the character himself any more. Brrrrrrrrrr.

Then, we have Bashir. This was some of the best writing the character's ever had, and was probably Siddig el Fadil's best performance on DS9 so far. While there were certainly some good comic moments ("in my expert medical opinion, I'd say it's ... sick" coming to mind), his serious ones worked just as well, and we could literally see a lot of his illusions being shattered as he heard Garak's first story. Bashir really is still very young, and experiences such as this will probably make him do a lot of growing up in the next few years. More power to it.

(Note: his line about being a pest was absolutely spot-on. "Did anyone ever tell you that you are an infuriating pest?" "Chief O'Brien, all the time, and I don't pay any attention to him, either." Yay, Julian!)

Then, there's also Enabran Tain, yet another in the long line of Cardassians Tim Wants to See Again. (Given that Paul Dooley's a reasonably big name, I don't know what the odds are, but I can dream.) Even as a retired head of the Order, he was pretty disturbing -- I have to wonder what he was like at the peak of his power. He could give Dukat lessons on making people comfortable while killing them, I suspect; certainly, I never trusted him for a second even while he was smiling and helping Bashir. I don't know exactly why he did choose to help Garak, whether it was out of genuine feeling for him or his expressed wish to give Garak a longer lifetime in hell (meaning the station). I'm not sure I want to know, but either way it gives us something more to wonder about.

The ending left me with a slightly sour taste, but is easily fixable in later shows. Basically, the rest of "The Wire" suggested that once Garak got over the loss of the implant he would probably still have a somewhat darker outlook on life -- he might still be mostly the same old Garak, but he would not be the openly pleasant, ready-with-a-knowing-smile Garak we've always been used to. The ending suggested otherwise; it suggested that Garak made it through the withdrawal and is Just Fine Now [TM]. That's a little too pat for my tastes. I want to see some repercussions of this, even if they're subtle (especially if they're subtle, actually!).

There's not much else lengthy to say about "The Wire". I was expecting something a bit lighter and less interesting than I got, from the preview; what I got was stark, bitter, brutal -- and absolutely riveting from
beginning to end. Garak's breakdown was wrenching.

So, a set of short points:

-- On the Unanswered Garak Questions List:
What did he do to get exiled, exactly?
Why is he so opposed to Gul Dukat in particular? (His initial story here would have helped explain it, but the others wouldn't.)
What is the information he carried that was so vital to the Order? (This one I wouldn't be surprised to see answered at some point.)

-- Before we found out that Elim was Garak's first name, I was reading the story a bit differently. When Garak said, "Elim was not my aide; he was ...my friend," I was ready to swear that the reference was to the two being
lovers. Later events blew that theory aside, but it's to the show's credit that they could even risk people making that inference without worrying about repercussions.

-- We saw almost nothing of regulars beyond Bashir, Odo and Quark. That's not a problem, but it's interesting to note. (Sisko's one major line about expressing his opinions loudly was a scream.)

-- I liked the Keiko reference quite a bit as well. Nice to realize that the recurring characters exist off-screen...

That's about it. "The Wire" is the fourth straight great DS9; I hope it can continue to the end of the season.

So, wrapping up:

Plot: Great. Absolutely riveting.
Plot Handling: Major praise for Kim Friedman in her directing debut (at least for Trek). The scenes in Garak's quarters were masterful.
Characterization: Excellent. The ending is worrying, but that's all -- and the willingness to make Odo this worrying is impressive in itself.

OVERALL: 9.5. Keep it up...

NEXT WEEK:

Mirror, mirror, on the wall...

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
BITNET: tlynch@citjulie
INTERNET: tly...@juliet.caltech.edu
UUCP: ...!ucbvax!tlynch%juliet.caltech....@hamlet.caltech.edu
"Doctor, did anyone ever tell you that you are an infuriating pest?"
"Chief O'Brien, all the time, and I don't pay any attention to him, either."
-- Garak and Bashir

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