Monday, December 12, 2016

Deep Space Nine 3x20 "Improbable Cause"

rating: ****

the story: Garak's shop is destroyed in an explosion, and Odo attempts to learn how it happened.

what it's all about: "Improbable Cause," and its sequel "The Die is Cast," is essentially a continuation of the second season episode "The Wire," the one where the Cardassian tailor Garak finally stands exposed as anything but "plain and simple," as he'd tried to argue in his earlier appearances.  It's also the culmination of a whole series of hints and suggestions about whether or not the audience should really trust him, however jovial and innocuous he may appear, and as such represents the first time Deep Space Nine's serialized storytelling reaches a climax.

We'll confine our thoughts to "Cause" rather than discuss it in conjunction with "Cast," and so that means not just talking about Garak but Odo, who until this episode had begun to hurtle every more deliberately to a fairly narrowly-confined arc concerning his people, the Founders, and Kira, with whom he would eventually form a romantic relationship.  Yet he remains constable aboard the station, too, and as such is responsible for law (toward which he is ambivalent, unless it's his law) and order (which he holds as a kind of religion).  Usually that means butting heads with Quark, but "Cause" (and especially "Cast") finds Odo matching wits with perhaps his ultimate opponent Garak.  For all his love of order, Odo is actually once of the biggest proponents of ambiguity in a whole series of ambiguous characters and situations, none of which really match the mercurial Garak, who by the end of the series remains as decidedly invested in his own particular interests, whatever they may be, as he ever was.

So to see these two forces of nature finally collide is to witness one of the great events of the series take place, another decided feather in the cap of the ambitious third season overhaul that saw a dramatic leap into Deep Space Nine's full potential.

And it seems so simple, and because it seems so simple, of course it involves Garak, who along with all his other attributes is also his biggest enemy, a man of infinite self-loathing and -sabotage.  Fans typically associate "The Wire" as his greatest appearance, but really it's the one-two punch of "Cause" and "Cast."  Bashir was always far too trusting (if not to say gullible, as we'd learn definitively in his most ambiguous tales, featuring Section 31, later in the series, none of which, strangely, involving Garak) to provide the effect the one great Cardassian in the whole franchise worth rooting for needed so much to blossom.  So again, enter: Odo.

Odo's investigations tended to produce great material, besides, with the previous season's "Necessary Evil" providing the best standalone example.  The security chiefs in other Star Treks never really got to have this level of fun.  As such, that's another level of how well and how completely this particular series in the franchise worked.  Because there were so many such elements, it's far too easy to gloss over them.  And yet when another series hits one note relentlessly, however brilliantly, you can see the extent to which one-note storytelling resonates.  In that regard, you can probably see one of the many reasons Arthur Conan Doyle wanted so desperately to end the adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  I'm not saying Odo is Sherlock Holmes, or that "Cause" can be mistaken for a truly great mystery, but for its relentless focus on known characters, known characteristics, its resonance works on a different level entirely.

All of which makes the end of the episode more of a punch to the gut...But more on that later.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - One of the great mysteries of all Star Trek reaches a climax.
  • series - A sequel to an earlier episode without really having to make it obvious.
  • character - A portrait in full of Garak, and Odo.
  • essential - A hugely underrated moment in the series.
notable guest-stars:
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Paul Dooley (Tain)

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