While sparring with Bashir over literature, Garak gets unusually cranky and headachy, but insists he’s fine.
Bashir pays a house call to Dax’s quarters, where he treats a plant that’s languishing because it’s away from its natural environment (an apt metaphor for Garak’s situation). This bit not only delivers exposition as Bashir talks to Dax about his arms-length friendship with the mysterious Garak, but also neatly establishes something that we take for granted some 30 years later — that Bashir can diagnose and treat an alien plant he’s never seen before, because he has access to a good database: “It’s all there on the screen.”
Because the plot requires it, Bashir happens to be strolling past Quark’s at closing time, when he overhears Quark reassuring an anxious Garak that “you’ll get your merchandise.”
A brief exchange with O’Brien establishes that the Cardassians wiped the medical files before they abandoned the station, so Bashir has little hope of treating Garak without his cooperation.
When a drunk and belligerent Garak makes a scene in Quark’s, Bashir tries to get him back to his quarters, via the infirmary, but Garak collapses.
In the infirmary, Odo and Bashir inspect a scanner readout that shows a device implanted in Garak’s skull. Odo suspects it’s a long-distance punishment device, but Bashir believes it was implanted years ago, before Garak was apparently(?) exiled(?) to the station. To determine how Quark is involved, Odo invites Bashir to listen in on Quark’s supposedly secret subspace communications.
Promising a handsome latinum payment, Quark passes a requisition code to a Cardassian contact, who learns the code is part of a classified project; even knowing that code could cause him career-ending trouble.
This is, I think, the first reference in the series to the Obsidian Order, the secret police of Cardassia.
Garak, who was supposed to be unconscious in the infirmary, has “checked out.” Bashir finds him with a hypospray, injecting himself with dangerous amounts of anesthetics.
The infodump happens. A notably subdued, angry Garak reports the device is actually designed to help Cardassians withstand torture by supplying a temporary jolt of endorphins; but Garak has been using it constantly for the last two years, to help him deal with the misery of being exiled to DS9.
Garak is looking considerably less bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, as he tells a story about how he carried out orders that led to the destruction of a Cardassian shuttle that may have contained escaped Bajoran prisoners, and that definitely contained his own aide Elim, and the daughter of a prominent Cardassian official.
Bashir firmly denies Odo’s request to interrogate Garak, and settles down to care for his patient (as a series of cross-fades indicate the passage of time).
When Garak awakens sobbing, he tells another story; just before the Cardassian withdrawal, he was in charge of interrogating Bajoran children, and he shocked his aide Elim when he suddenly decided to let the children go. He seems to be working as hard as he can to make himself repugnant to Bashir, and claiming he’s disgusted with himself for showing mercy on the prisoners, which destroyed his career.
Later, in the infirmary, Garak tells yet another story… he says that Elim was not his aide, but a childhood friend, whom Garak framed for the crime of letting prisoners escape.
Obviously Garak can’t both have killed his aide Elim after framing his best friend Elim for the same incident, but because Garak had been earlier singing the praises of the Cardassian “repetitive epic,” my head-canon is that Bashir realizes Garak isn’t exactly lying, and the latter seems grateful that Bashir gets at the core:
Bashir: Why are you telling me this?
Garak: So that you can forgive me. Why else? I need to know that someone forgives me.
This episode nicely showcases the talented Andrew Robinson’s performance as Garak. I appreciate that Garak’s motives and even his method of obtaining absolution through complex, shifting cover stories harmonizes nicely with the methods of the guilt-ridden Cardassian we met in s1e18 “Duet.”
The act where I expect to find the climax seemed a bit off. Bashir beams down to the living room of the retired former leader of the Obsidian Order, Tain, who gives an extensive infodump that both clarifies and complicates our understanding of Garak.
I felt a bit cheated that we learned so much about Garak through an extensive infodump, delivered by a character we’ve never seen before. Too much telling, not enough showing.
We’re not meant to ask how Bashir justified his request for this little outing, or what it might mean to the fragile peace between the Federation and Cardassia.
I did like Tain’s final revelation about the character Elim, and the final scene that shows Garak and Bashir settling back into their routine.
Bashir: Of all the stories you told me, which ones were true and which ones weren’t?
Garak: My dear doctor, they’re all true.
Bashir: Even the lies?
Garak: Especially the lies.
It’s a satisfying ending that makes me want much more of Garak. I’m also curious about the relationship between Garak and Tain. (A quick check of the Trek nerd databases reveals that Tain returns in several episodes.)