Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 5, Episode 14
I said it recently, and I’ll say it again – Deep Space Nine has the best two-parters (and they really knock it out of the park with the episode titles). Nowhere is this more apparent than in Season 5, which started out with an awesome conclusion to one, ends with another, and has what is probably my favorite two-part of the series right in the middle of the season. “In Purgatory’s Shadow” and “By Inferno’s Light” are an incredible double-whammy of epic proportions that represent all the strengths and idiosyncrasies of this stellar Star Trek series.
I always mentally lump this two-parter in with the one in Season 3 – “Improbable Cause / The Die is Cast.” They’re both super awesome and big mid-season adventures that foreground Garak and a hapless companion against the backdrop of larger goings-on with the Dominion. And they both feature the same big player in Garak’s personal life (more on that in a bit). If I wanted to be super duper critical (and I certainly do sometimes), I could ding these episodes for being so reminsiscent of the ones in Season 3. But although the basic bones are the same, “Shadow / Light” up the ante in all respects – both in smaller character moments and in larger interstellar matters. It’s endemic of DS9’s tremendous strengths that there’s so much rich material going on in the foreground and background and at such diametrically opposed scales. Focusing an episode just on Garak’s complicated relationship with Tain wouldn’t be a bad idea, nor would one that depicts the finally realized Dominion invasion of the Alpha Quadrant. But smashing them together seems an especially brilliant move, and the sum is much greater than its parts.
There’s just so much going on in these two episodes and it’s all great. It begins quietly as Odo is settling into being a Changeling once again – he’s getting rid of all of his old furniture as Kira observes. It doesn’t really have anything to do with the larger plot, but it’s a nice bit of continuity and provides some good character moments. Odo is embarrassed when Kira finds a book he was reading on how to land a partner, but she encourages him to keep looking despite his new/old state of being.
The station intercepts a Cardassian transmission from the Gamma Quadrant that they can’t make sense of. Odo suggest that Garak should try to decode it. In a clever transition, Garak drops in on Ziyal and Bashir, casually explaining that the signal was simply a boring, automated planetary survey from years ago and nothing of any concern. Structurally, it’s a nice way to skip some extraneous scenes and help move the story along quickly. However, Garak clearly has plans in mind as he sneaks aboard a runabout with the intention of stealing it before being caught red-handed by Bashir.
Garak admits that the signal was actually from his old mentor Enabran Tain – who was last seen in the failed attack on the Founders’ homeworld by the Romulan Tal Shiar and Cardassian Obsidian Order. We had seen Garak’s intense curiosity at whether or not there were any Cardassian survivors in the Season 4 finale “Broken Link.” When told by the Female Changeling that they were all dead, it sent Garak into an unhinged fury that caused him to try to commandeer the Defiant’s weapons (and deliver a decent beatdown to Worf) in a suicidal attempt to destroy the Great Link. In typical Garak fashion, he never once mentioned Tain then, and instead characterized his concern for all the Cardassians that participated in the assault. As always, the direct approach is the one that Garak never takes, and we finally begin to realize why he went so nuts in “Broken Link” – he was vengefully grieving for Tain.
But now that Tain is apparently alive, he immediately tries to steal a Starfleet ship to go and find him. Bashir hauls him before Sisko, who agrees to let Garak go… with Worf. As with pairing him with Odo back in Season 3, Worf provides another great foil to Garak’s nuttiness. Worf is the ultimate straight man and has almost zero sense of humor, and Garak is someone genetically incapable of being straight (( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)).
(I say “almost” no sense of humor, but Worf gets one of his funniest lines in the entire show when Sisko sees him off. Sisko tells him to be careful and Worf casually states he’ll kill Garak at the first sign of trouble but promises to return the body intact. LOL. But it’s also not a joke, which is what makes it funny.)
Speaking of seeing off, Ziyal sits with Garak at Quark’s and tries to express her feelings for him. Garak brushes off her affections for him, which hurts her feelings. Her crush on Garak as a character trait isn’t something I liked, but at the same time I admire the show for having him flatly rebuff her at every turn. The age difference between the two gives a weird vibe. This is the third (and final) actress to portray her character, and she seems the most mature of the three. The first one was practically a child, and if we mentally substitute her in this storyline… yech.
Of course, young people often get crushes on people that are too old for them and Garak behaves responsibly by cutting her ambitions off, but still. Why make that part of her story? Ziyal was a likable but undercooked character and giving her a requisite romantic storyline because she’s a woman seems endemic of Star Trek’s sexism and simplistic attitude towards its female characters. Like Kes and Neelix, I think a sibling dynamic would have been a better choice, putting Garak in an older brother-type role. As it is, she seems really deadset on her feelings towards Garak and it makes her seem kind of naive and foolish as a result.
Their talk is interrupted when Dukat barges in and hauls Garak by the collar over the railing for getting close to his daughter. Garak nonchalantly dares Dukat to drop him, threatening that Ziyal would never forgive him for doing so. There’s a lot of weird uncomfortable energy around Ziyal where Dukat is concerned as well, but it’s a nice moment for Garak and I love how he handles it. Dukat has no choice but to back down. “You know, I think that actually helped my back,” Garak chirps. LOL. I always love seeing him run circles around Dukat.
Dukat later drops in on Kira, and expresses his disappointment that she’s allowed Ziyal to fraternize with a sworn enemy of his family. He has a grave, foreboding energy (that certainly isn’t a prelude to a shocking turn of events whatsoever) and there’s nary a trace of his trademark obsequiousness or pushy flirtation. Kira is completely unapologetic in that wonderful way of hers, and emphasizes that she took Ziyal under her wing for Ziyal’s sake, not Dukat’s. She admits that she doesn’t care that much for Garak either (she physically threatened him when Ziyal started sniffing around Garak), and even that their friendship may be a mistake. But it’s her mistake to make.
The duality of these two peoples’ attitudes towards Ziyal could not be further apart. Dukat is a sick narcissist and only views her as a prop in his own life, while Kira recognizes and defends her autonomy as an adult. Dukat misses the entire point of the conversation and darkly says that he won’t forget this. A totally nonplussed Kira shrugs at his wimpy threat. Words can’t express how much I love her IDGAF attitude. She smarmily matches his gaze but as soon as he leaves her shoulders sag and she relaxes her defenses. Dealing with this dickhead clearly takes something out of her, as it would for any woman.
On the runabout, hijinks are at full capacity. Worf is dismayed that Garak wants to join Starfleet academy as he views his application. Garak gives an exhaustive explanation of why and seems to sway Worf, but when he suggest that he skip the lower ranks entirely, Worf realizes it’s all bullshit and demands to know what the whole point was. To which Garak explains that lying is a skill that needs to be practiced. *Chef’s kiss.*
However, the fun times end when Worf stops the ship. He doesn’t want to go any further, as the signal is emanating from deep within Dominion space and he was ordered to turn around and not engage them. Garak impresses on him the need to rescue any survivors – not just Cardassian, but Bajoran and Federation – as it’s the honorable thing to do. “You use that word, but you have no idea what it means,” Worf astutely grumbles. “True, but you do,” Garak replies ingeniously. It works on the Klingon, and they travel through a nebula to obscure their presence.
But the fun times take yet another nosedive when the nebula turns out to be buzzing with Dominion ships. They turn tail and try to escape (Worf believes the fleet to be an invasion heading for the wormhole), but the runabout is quickly overtaken. Jem’Hadar beam aboard, and in his most chipper tone, Garak asks “Could one of you point us in the direction of the wormhole?” LOL. One of the soldiers responds with a rifle butt to the face.
Worf and Garak are beamed aboard an asteroid prison, Internment Camp 371. The Jem’Hadar in charge Ikat’ika (I love Jem’Hadar names) tells them that they’re now prisoners of the Dominion and that there’s no escape except death. Fun!
On the station, the crew receives Worf’s distress signal and along with the destruction of their listening posts in the Gamma Quadrant (and Kira returning aboard the Defiant), believe that the Dominion invasion is finally happening. The staff meets (along with Dukat), and Sisko lays out the shitty situation they’re in. The Cardassians are in shambles between their conflicts with the Klingons and Maquis, the Federation is still reeling from the latest Borg attack, and no one is ready to mount a defense against the Dominion. The only way to survive is to destroy the wormhole so that the Dominion can’t enter the Alpha Quadrant.
Meanwhile in prison, Worf and Garak acclimate to their new home. It’s a harsh and grey metal hell (filled with captured Romulans and Cardassians), and they come upon a losing Klingon fighting a Jem’Hadar in a ring. It turns out to be General Martok – the real one (and missing an eye). It confirms that this is the first time we’ve seen the real guy, as he has no memory of meeting Worf. Ikat’ika forbiddingly tells Worf that his fight is just beginning. Martok somehow recognizes Garak, and takes them to their barrack where they find a sick and dying Tain.
Tain asks where the rest of the rescue party is, but Garak informs him that it’s just him. Tain doesn’t mince any words and expresses his disappointment. Garak is hurt by his lack of gratitude, but Tain observes that all he’s done is doom them both to death in he Dominion prison. Cool, you’re welcome.
Martok explains to Worf and Garak that Tain was able to modify the life support system in the wall to be a transmitter. It took him months of crawling into the wall and rewiring it to send a distress signal. Martok is impressed with the ingenuity of Cardassians.
So here’s where we have to talk about Martok and how he’s just the fucking coolest. He’s one of the best, most lasting changes these episodes make to the show. In his previous appearances he seemed like a pretty typical Klingon – aggressive and dickish. But the real Martok turns out to be an incredibly cool and solid dude, and bereft of the haughty racial superiority that’s a Klingon trademark. It’s a character trait that persist throughout his appearances – he’s a pretty egalitarian guy, and grants respect to anyone regardless of their species or standing – human, Cardassian, Ferengi. He’s the Ultimate Bro. Hertzler’s performance is infectious, and he imbues Martok with a crusty raucousness as well as a rough decency that makes him one of the good guys.
A Romulan woman interrupts them to say that someone is being released from solitary confinement. Who, you may ask? Why, Dr. Julian Bashir! Garak and Worf are shocked to see the filthy doctor – in the older style uniform no less, which places his capture some time back. That’s… not good.
As I pointed out in “Rapture,” the logic of this is difficult to reconcile (as it wasn’t planned out ahead of time by the writers), but as a pure WTF moment, it’s a pretty great plot twist. Siddig is able to actually portray the Changeling imposter aboard the station with a different attitude now, and there’s a noticeable smugness and malevolence to Bashir that’s chilling and creates tension.
Bashir confirms he was captured over a month ago, and Martok explains his similar fate and shame at the damage his replacement has done. Bashir can only imagine what his replacement is up to, which prompts a jump cut to Fake Bashir as he enters Ops to bring a hardworking Dax and O’Brien some sandwiches. It’s unnerving to see the imposter go completely unnoticed, as well as him not standing in the way of the crew’s efforts at all.
Dukat is leaving the station and wants Ziyal to go back to Cardassia with him, but she’s insistent on staying. No other place besides DS9 could be her home, as she doesn’t feel she has a place on Bajor or Cardassia. It furthers the theme of the station as a home for outcasts, and she fits in among the ranks of Odo, Worf, Nog, Garak. Dukat is insistent that things will change on Cardassia, but doesn’t elaborate what he means when she presses him. Dialing up the pressure, she doesn’t budge and Dukat accuses her of staying because of “that despicable tailor,” which I just love. He gives up and tells her to stay and “be damned.” Father of the year material!
Garak rants to Bashir about how ungrateful and unforgiving Tain is, and regrets the effort he’s expended to find him. It’s nice to see Garak’s facade break, and him expressing his hurt feelings to his friend Bashir. Martok comes and gravely tells Garak that if he wants to say anything to Tain, he should do it now.
This is easily one of my top 5 favorite scenes in the show and it’s remarkable. Robinson gave a tour-de-force performance in “The Wire,” but I’d say what he does here is just as good and far more subtle. Tain’s in bad shape and the end is near. He can’t see anymore, and Garak assures him that they’re alone as Bashir sits nearby. There’s something heartwarming about Garak including Bashir in this incredibly revealing moment – his services as a doctor aren’t needed anymore, but his moral support as a friend is why he seems to be there. Tain dreamily asks about old associates who need to be dealt with, and Garak humors him by telling him they’re all taken care of. Something about the way he says “Years ago…” gets to me.
Tain makes Garak promise him that he’ll escape and get revenge on the Dominion. Paul Dooley is great here, as well. Garak agrees, but only if Tain acknowledges him not as a subordinate… but as his son. It’s not a totally shocking revelation in hindsight, although I do remember being surprised by it. The age difference of the actors was fairly nebulous and there wasn’t any hint of the true nature of their relationship in their last meeting. But why else would Garak put so much stock in what Tain thinks of him? Or risk his life at the faintest chance of rescuing him? It’s not the dedication one would show a mentor or teacher, but a father.
But not much of a father, and Tain reflexively claims that Garak isn’t his son. Tain is a dark, devious, and twisted man who dedicated his life to murder and deceit, so any hopes of a warm and fuzzy reconciliation are a pipe dream. Tain wishes aloud that he had killed Garak’s mother before he was born, and curses that Garak was always his biggest weakness. Garak almost laughs, as it’s apparently something he’s heard many times before. Holy yikes.
Tain recalls a day they once spent in the country (“The only day,” Garak notes). A five year old Garak tried to ride some beast but kept getting thrown off, only to keep trying. Garak remembers them holding hands as he limped home. “I was very proud of you… that day,” Tain says as he dies. There’s something monumentally fucked up about him qualifying that remark – with his dying breath he says something nice but has to also get a dig at him in the process. But that’s Tain. Or was. His fucked up life has come to and end, and that tiny morsel of acknowledgment and affection Garak always yearned for has come and gone.
It says a lot that Garak chose to include Bashir in this moment, and reveal to him one of his deepest and darkest secrets. It’s in line with his indirect, zig-zag way of doing things that makes him such a fascinating and compelling character. Covering up the body of his father, Garak simply tells his cellmates that his business here is concluded. Worf focuses their attention on busting out of this joint.
On the station, the crew is busily preparing to destroy the wormhole as the Dominion fleet approaches its mouth. Fake Bashir is right there, creepily playing the part and vocally giving encouragement. It’s so weird. But the station’s equipment goes kablooey and their plan doesn’t work. The wormhole opens and dozens of Dominion ships pour through…
“In Purgatory’s Shadow” is a great start to a longer story, as well as an emotionally satisfying and self-contained tale in itself. Focusing on the series’ most enigmatic character is always a winning strategy and the episode serves Garak well by teasing out another huge, foundational component to his persona. While in the background, huge matters of interstellar importance play out that will shape the rest of the show. It all makes for an exciting and complex hour and displays the peak sci-fi storytelling that made Deep Space Nine so great.
- The episode name-drops Lenara Kaaaaahhhhn as the one who comes up with a way to seal the wormhole.
- Impersonating the chief medical office seems absolutely batty. The Changeling could have replaced any random crewmember, or just posed as one of the many random aliens that are always strolling around. As it is, Fake Bashir doesn’t really do anything with the position he’s in. Of course he sabotages the crew’s plan behind the scenes, but it doesn’t really seem necessary to be Bashir to do that. He continues to interact with the crew without missing a beat and ABSOLUTELY NO ONE IS THE WISER. Not even Garak! Or O’Brien! The more I think about it the less sense it makes (and the dumber it makes everyone else look).
- In Tain’s first appearance in “The Wire,” Bashir was the one who made contact with him and he seemed vaguely impressed with the young doctor’s brashness (if eventually annoyed). So it’s funny they both wind up in the same prison, but the episode doesn’t emphasize this at all.
- Bashir casually mentions that the Breen have no blood. Just another nutty Breen fact Trek has been dropping since The Next Generation. Impressively, as much as these guys get featured in future episodes of Deep Space Nine, we learn almost nothing substantive about them.
- Sisko mentions that Starfleet reinforcements are two days away. HA HA, OF COURSE THEY ARE. WHY ON BAJOR WOULD THEY BE CLOSER.