Monday, February 13, 2017

Deep Space Nine 5x14 "In Purgatory's Shadow"

rating: ****

the story: Garak receives word that his mentor Tain is alive after all, but finding out for sure leads him directly into a Dominion trap...

what it's all about: This is the unofficial start of the Dominion War.  It's also the culmination of all Garak's appearances to this point in the series. 

It's funny, but after the awkwardness introduced into the series by a studio interested in the familiar (bringing in the Klingons for the fourth season), all the scrambling to rediscover the beating heart of Deep Space Nine led to a remarkable turn of events: two dramatic reveals in this episode help drive the significance of not only what has come before, but what will come later.  In a way, the episode is also a preview of Ron Moore's later Battlestar Galactica reboot, where a series of big reveals across the span of that series constantly rewrote the book on what fans did and did not know about the characters they were following, with many of them turning out to be Cylon sleeper agents.  Moore wasn't by any means the sole creative voice behind Deep Space Nine (to my mind a series defined by its remarkable stable of writers, which included Moore but also, among others, the ones responsible for "Purgatory," Robert Hewitt Wolfe and Ira Steven Behr, the latter of whom was arguably the most important and driving voice for the whole thing), but he was clearly inspired by the material most fans don't even realize he had anything to do with.  Ask any fan and they'll tell you Moore's main contribution to Star Trek lore was his expansion of Klingon culture.  But I ask you, do you see Klingons represented in his Battlestar Galactica?  Or changelings?

Anyway, the two characters rediscovered in this episode are Martok, who had made two prior appearances, and Bashir.  Martok was by far the more successful discovery, as he goes on to become a major recurring character and the most important Deep Space Nine element of Next Generation transplant Worf's legacy.  Bashir, meanwhile, is thrown in as more of a curveball.  There's no foreshadowing of this one, and to make it work you have to do a lot of mental gymnastics with his appearances earlier in the season, and still be left guessing as to when the switch was made.  It's another of the clumsy creative decisions that plagued the transition from what the studio had forced upon the series to the Dominion War that would come to define it. 

But putting aside Founder (the aforesaid changelings, and runners of the Dominion) shenanigans, this is a Garak episode.  Going back to his breakthrough appearance in "The Wire" at the tail-end of the second season, this "plain, simple," Cardassian tailor had come to define the intangible qualities of the series.  In the third season, his leading role in the "Improbable Cause"/"The Die is Cast" two-part episode, which was the prequel material for "Purgatory" and its "By Inferno's Light" follow-up, was the material that most advanced the Dominion arc to that point, so it's only fitting that he's also at the center of the discovery that the evil alliance is finally moving forward with its plans at invasion, first hinted at in the third season premiere "The Search," which had been far less conclusive in where things would be headed.

Garak became for Deep Space Nine what Guinan had been in Next Generation, the intriguing character in need of an explanation, and when that explanation finally came (Guinan's, alas, remained somewhat ambiguous, atypical of her series and therefore indicative of its general lack of interest in advancing much beyond episodic material), a clue as to where everything would go. 

It's ironic that it wasn't Moore who wrote this, because the impact of "Purgatory" is very similar to Moore's Klingon work in galvanizing a series.  It's perhaps not a coincidence that the Klingon material previously foisted on Deep Space Nine is roundly perfected as it's put in entirely new context, led by Worf being given material that seems relevant to a bold new direction, not only for him but, again, for the series.  Tellingly, this is material later echoed in the war arc itself, as was the best of the fifth season in general.  Aside from his relationship with Dax, Worf stubbornly remained aloof from the things happening around him, until he's paired with Garak to find out what Garak found out.  In this context he meets the real Martok, rather than the changeling imposter from their previous encounters.  It also feels like the first time, above and beyond Martok, that Worf is presented as a Klingon without needing other Klingons around to help prove it.  But more on that next episode.

Garak's arc across the two episodes is pretty evenly split between the one involving his mentor ("Purgatory") and what amounts to a second exile ("Inferno"), which itself serves as a link to Worf, too, who had been twice-exiled from his people as well (the second time during his Deep Space Nine debut in "Way of the Warrior").  In contrast, Dukat is about to return home, back to a villainous role the series had consciously drifted away from in that all-important third season.  But, more on that next episode...

Making her debut this episode is the last actress to play Tora Ziyal, Dukat's daughter: Melanie Smith.  The character, like Martok, had appeared several times already, but had never really stuck.  It's another way of seeing "Purgatory" as a definitive changing point.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Part of the tradition of game-changing episodes.
  • series - The Dominion War arc all but begins.
  • character - Significant to Garak, to Worf, to Martok, to...
  • essential - A truly defining moment.
notable guest-stars:
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Paul Dooley (Tain)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Melanie Smith (Ziyal)
James Horan


  1. Elim Garak played by Andrew Robinson acting career was originally dead in the water thanks to Dirty Harry's fearsome Scorpio Killer...leaving Robinson typecast but fortunately along came the Cardassian.

  2. I think possibly he might also have been pigeonholed as Liberace, whom he also famously played. It's tough to be a character actor sometimes...


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