After the recap of S3E20 “Improbable Cause,” we see Bashir, clearly missing Garak, holding forth on the decline of modern theatre during lunch with O’Brien, who kinda sorta pretends to listen.
But this is the teaser for the second half of a two-parter, and there’s a plot to jump-start. A fleet of Romulans and Cardassians decloaks and enters the wormhole.
Garak bonds with his old mentor Tain, who promises Garak power. Tain’s story of Garak drawing a confession from a suspect without actually torturing him and Garak’s diplomatic defense of Tain’s housekeeper Mila (one of Garak’s informers from the previous episode) set Garak up for a loyalty test — he must convince Odo to divulge information about the Founders’ defenses.
Odo is of course unwilling to cooperate, and tries to convince Garak that Tain is their common enemy.
In the DS9 wardroom, the senior staff is watching an intercepted message from Tain, announcing that factions within the Cardassian and Romulan empires have taken it upon themselves to launch a first strike against the Founders’ homeworld. Defying the orders of this week’s random hardass admiral, Sisko asks for volunteers to join him on the Defiant for an unsanctioned rescue mission.
Eddington voices a token objection, but shows up on the Defiant with everyone else. They don’t seem to notice that the camera angles are framing him suspiciously. As the voice of the Starfleet command structure, he is the antagonist in the B-plot, which invites us to consider Sisko & Co. in parallel with the Obsidian Order and the Tal Shiar, as splinter groups opposed to the official government.
Noting that Garak seems reluctant to interrogate Odo, Tain threatens to turn the prisoner over to the Romulans, and Garak agrees to try again. Conveniently for the plot, it’s almost time for Odo to revert to his liquid from, and the Cardassians encourage Garak to try out their new anti-shapeshifting widget. Garak clearly doesn’t want to hurt Odo, but the prisoner refuses to give away even a scrap of information, which complicates the power dynamic. If there’s ever a moment when we see the “real” Garak, it’s the moment when he pleads with Odo lie to him so he has an excuse to save his life. Good makeup, CGI, music, acting and writing all contribute to an effective scene.
When Garak says Odo “never broke,” Tain orders Odo’s death, but both Garak and Lovok object, for different reasons.
The assault on the Founders homeworld proceeds as planned… until it doesn’t.
I recall, when I first saw this episode 30 years ago, being impressed by the big battle sequences, which feature complex motion-control shots of detailed models that spin and bank in the foreground, with scores of more static (but still impressive) ships in the background. There were still a few budget-saving moments where characters look at computer readouts and talk about things that would have been too expensive to show, but the battle sequences were stunning for a weekly TV show.
Tain wants to retreat and regroup, but Lovok orders the fleet to remain. Stunned, Tain wonders how they could have fallen for this trap. Garak, who in Part 1 questioned Julian’s reverence for Shakespeare, paraphrases lines that Cassius spoke to his fellow conspirator Brutus in Julius Ceasar: “The fault, dear Tain, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves.”
Garak takes advantage of chaos on the bridge to slip away, overpowering a guard and trying to rescue Odo.
There are a few good plot twists left, including a revelation about the informant, Tain’s reaction when Garak tries once more to earn his mentor’s approval, and Odo and Garak sharing what they believe to be a final moment of mutual respect; but this the second half of a two-parter, so we have time for some more action sequences featuring the Defiant, a reunion, a brief infodump in the commander’s office, and a final scene in which a humbled and repentant Garak returns to the wreckage of his shop and laments to Odo, “I’m a very good tailor.”
The more we learn about Tain, and the less mysterious his hold on Garak becomes, the less interesting I find it. Ultimately Tain is the macguffin that forces Garak to act, and the structure of the show has to be about how series regular Odo reacts to Garak’s reaction to the macguffin. The B plot with Eddington and Sisko helps set up the fourth season story arc, but takes up time that prevents us from caring that much about Tain, which makes Garak seem so obviously wrong that it’s hard to sympathize with his motives; nevertheless, watching Garak face the consequences of his actions, and learning more about Odo’s wishes and the methods of the Founders, provided some welcome emotional context for all the pew-pew.