the story: Bashir learns about as much about Garak as anyone will ever truly know.
what it's all about: This episode right here, "The Wire," is Deep Space Nine in a nutshell: it's the first time the series does what only it could in this franchise, which is devote a whole episode exclusively to a recurring character. It's one thing, like Next Generation's "Ensign Ro," to heavily feature a new character to help set them up, but until the penultimate episode of that series, "Preemptive Strike," Ro never received that kind of treatment again. Now, by the time "The Wire" first aired, Garak had already made a few appearances, all of them teasing the big mystery of just who and what he really is, a mere "plain and simple" tailor as he suggests, or perhaps a former Cardassian spy, which is what intrigues Bashir so much about him.
The fact that Garak is able to occupy a spot as neither a good nor bad guy in the series for the duration of the series (comes in handy for "In the Pale Moonlight"), is what the series is ultimately all about, the ability to interpret Star Trek past the simplicities it had once and would generally be again (the third season of Enterprise was a big challenge of that, too). "The Wire," in fact, is what happens when the series realizes what it is, something the second season had been struggling with from the start, trying to do something new but not quite realizing what that something should be. Well, that something new looks a lot like "The Wire."
Bashir benefits a great deal from his relationship with Garak, of course. At first a cocksure recent graduate of Starfleet's medical program, he had a lot to learn, and by this point he'd already learned a lot through his emerging friendship with O'Brien, who he at least had serving in Starfleet as a shared experience. But Garak is that big enigma, the lone Cardassian occupant of the station, a reminder of the past who tries to keep to himself as much as possible, keeping himself busy, having friendly conversations with Bashir, sure, but...What's the truth about him??? This is the episode where we come closest to finding out, in the whole of the series. It's not just a matter of whether or not he was a spy (he was) but why he stopped being one, and whether it's worth having sympathy for him.
The episode concludes, rightly, that it is worth it. "Duet" from the first season showed what a "good" Cardassian looked like, one so riddled with guilt about the Bajoran Occupation he was willing to impersonate, like a warped version of "The Conscience of the King" from the original series, a bad guy just so someone would be punished for the atrocities his people had carried out. But "The Wire" is more subtle. By the time Garak's secret, not what he used to do but why he's been in so much pain, the sympathy he evokes is earned, is as real as anything this franchise has ever accomplished.
If the series can produce something like this for a recurring character, when it's finally figured itself out, "The Wire" is really saying, just imagine what's in store later in the series. This one's what it's all about, folks.
- franchise - As good as storytelling gets in Star Trek.
- series - The sheer confidence of the storytelling endlessly enriches Deep Space Nine as a whole.
- character - This is why everyone loves Garak, and Deep Space Nine recurring characters in general.
- essential - Proves this series does characters better than any other Star Trek.
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Paul Dooley (Tain)