Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"The Wire"


Air date: 5/9/1994
Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by Kim Friedman

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"The Wire" is one of the season's most focused character shows, featuring plot elements that actually tie into the real story (rather than sabotaging the main drive of the drama as episodes like "Alternate" and "Playing God" did). It's also the long-awaited episode that strongly hints at (although doesn't fully reveal) the mysterious backstory of "plain, simple Garak."

The mystery begins to unravel when an anti-torture device implanted in Garak's brain begins to malfunction, putting his life in jeopardy. The only option is to remove the implant, which means unavoidable withdrawal symptoms because of Garak's physical dependency on the implant's effects. But this story isn't about the life-or-death struggle; it's about Garak's mysterious exile and what the exile has done to him emotionally. He's a tortured person in an environment he finds contemptible, and only the implant has allowed him to retain the calm, amiable surface. But without the implant, Garak's dark side emerges.

The premise is fundamentally simple, and that's why it works: Just confine some good actors to a room and reveal the inner truths of the characters (if Garak's lies can be called truths). Andrew Robinson's performance is a powerhouse with versatility. But nor should El Fadil's turn as the puzzled but doggedly determined Bashir be overlooked. A powerful direction by Kim Friedman, who slowly builds the dramatic intensity in gutsy crescendos, adds mood and atmosphere.

The intentionally vague backstory reveals the possibility for countless dark chapters in Garak's past; he was clearly involved with the nefarious Obsidian Order, the all-knowing "Big Brother"-type intelligence organization of Cardassia. Garak's lapses into fury and pain lead him to reveal to Bashir several reasons that "explain" why he was exiled—though he dissembles and changes his story so many times that it's impossible for Bashir (or us) to know what's a lie and what's the truth.

Eventually, Bashir goes to the retired Enabran Tain (Paul Dooley)—the former head of the Obsidian Order—for answers to Garak's condition, and finds some interesting insights about Garak in the process. There's a lot of interesting substance about Garak and the Cardassian mentality in this story, though it's hard to know exactly what to make of it. But that's the point. Some puzzles are supposed to remain unsolved, and Garak—as well as Enabran Tain in his showcase scene—is such a fascinating puzzle to watch unfold on the screen that it's enlightening whether we get all the answers or not.

Previous episode: The Maquis, Part II
Next episode: Crossover

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18 comments on this review

John - Sat, Jun 16, 2012 - 3:47am (USA Central)
This was always a favourite of mine. Plays out in a similar (though slightly less dramatic) way to Duet from Season 1. In effect, it's a script that could easily be written for the stage and allows some of Trek's Shakespearean actors to do their thing.
Moegreen - Thu, Jul 19, 2012 - 8:24pm (USA Central)
One of the best episodes, up there with Whispers, Duets etc. Deserving of a 4, in my opinion.
Elliott - Sat, Aug 11, 2012 - 1:45pm (USA Central)
This is the only episode of the season meriting 4 stars. Performance, mood, character and story are in perfect balance here, and Garak proves his worth to the cast beyond any doubt--his character is more interesting, nuanced, sophisticated and elegantly portrayed than any of the main cast except maybe Odo. Bravo, Mr Robinson.
Moegreen - Mon, Sep 10, 2012 - 6:39am (USA Central)
This has to be 4 stars.
Zane314 - Mon, Dec 10, 2012 - 6:27pm (USA Central)
The Wire is a 4 star masterpiece. This episode epitomizes why Andrew J Robinson is my favorite DS9 actor. He's so intense, natural and believable telling his 3 stories in The Wire. Then the wrap up with him saying they're all true, especially the lies. Excellent writing for a pitch perfect performance.
Asian James - Fri, Jan 11, 2013 - 9:25am (USA Central)
In rewatching DS9, I am actually surprised that Garak has been underused to this point (especially since he was introduced very early in Season 1). I'm glad that Garak/Andrew J. Robinson was finally given the limelight in "The Wire," making it one of my personal favorite episodes in Season 2. Credit goes to Kim Friedman's direction with the camera angles and overall scene setup, and I also loved the equally superb dialogue that Robert Hewitt Wolfe crafted for Garak, Bashier and Tain.

Furthermore, most DS9 episodes thus far have felt at least a little "cheezy." To Jammer's recurring point, the cheezy factor sometimes stems from the B-plot of an episode ruining the drama behind the A-plot. Or the acting is a little stiff, which detracts from the watchability of the episode. Or worst off, the writing of the A-plot is poor to begin with (see: "Profit & Loss"). Like "The Maquis" before it, "The Wire" helps to change the tone of DS9; the dark side of the series is finally showing itself.

Interestingly enough, my girlfriend (who is watching DS9 for the first time) disagrees. She thought it was pointless since it didn't progress the story at all. The frustration came about when she was left with not having learned anything about Garak. I told her that she learned more than she thinks...

According to Memory-Alpha, my girlfriend is not alone in her sentiments: "Although the producers were extremely happy with how this episode turned out, they were disappointed to discover that many fans felt let down because they hadn't learned anything new about Garak."

Regardless, my personal rating: 4 out of 4 stars.
Grumpy - Fri, Jan 11, 2013 - 4:01pm (USA Central)
Contrarily, this fan was disappointed because, despite the large regular ensemble, this episode focused on a guest character. I felt my time had been wasted, simply because Robinson wasn't billed in the main credits. Shows the power of paratext to shape a viewer's expectations. (I suppose I'd view it differently now.)
Comp625 - Mon, Jan 14, 2013 - 12:30pm (USA Central)
@Grumpy - I think that's why I enjoyed "The Wire" so much. In retrospectively looking at DS9, it has one of the strongest recurring character list out of all Trek's. To name a few:

- Garak
- Dukat
- Winn
- Martok
- Weyoun

To acheive greatness in developing these recurring characters, the writers took an extreme risk with this episode. This episode also strengthed the Bashier/Garak relationship that has been somewhat forgotten since Garak was only featured once in Season 1, despite having lunch with Bashier at least once a week. That's what makes "The Wire" a very successful episode, though I do see how people are divided.
K'lang - Mon, Jul 22, 2013 - 11:06am (USA Central)
Agree with the review. I would like to note one more thing here, that is, in end Garak gives a Cardassian story to Bashir about Klingon - Cardassian war set in the future. This is quite prescient of events to come later. Also interesting when Bashir asks who is going to win.
Kotas - Tue, Oct 22, 2013 - 4:59pm (USA Central)

A great episode that does a lot for Garak's character.

Blake W - Tue, Dec 17, 2013 - 2:44pm (USA Central)
This episode truly demonstrates the talent / skill of DS9's writers. Network TV nowadays would never allow something like this to air because 85%-95% of viewers wouldn't understand the story. I fell into that percentage, and it looks like everyone here (including the reviewer) fell into that percentage. But thank God for the internet, because someone who understood the story posted a comment on youtube:

"All the stories Garak tells in this episode are true...He did kill a shipload of civilians... He thought it was his duty to The Obsidian Order and Tain...but Garak has a conscience...and after this he stopped believing in the occupation...He began freeing Bajoran prisoners...He probably helped the Bajorans in some way ( the betrayal of Tain )..." - ShareTheMike

It's still crazy for me to read that comment... All the pieces were right in front of us (like Garak said at the end of the episode) and everything suddenly seems so obvious.

So, Garak slaughters a bunch of civilians, finds himself asking, "what's the point of any of this?" He becomes unstable & frees prisoners, he goes out of his way to frame himself (part of the unstable behavior). Tane interprets this behavior as betrayal (in "The Die is Cast" Garak says, "I never betrayed you... at least not in my heart"). Instead of blaming himself for how he raised Garak, he completely blames Garak (very Tywin Lannister-like). But some part of Tane knows Garak became unstable, he just doesn't believe in showing empathy.

The DS9 writers did such a fantastic job with the Tane character. As far as Tane was concerned, regardless of whether or not Garak intended to betray him, his actions resulted in what is "technically" betrayal; so he was exiled as punishment (but not put to death since he really wasn't a traitor). The entire thing is just amazing writing; even though I didn't figure it out, I'm so glad the writers never explained themselves. It just seems so fitting for a story about Garak's history: here's the information, it's up to you to figure it out.
Vylora - Wed, Feb 19, 2014 - 8:49pm (USA Central)
4 stars and a turtle! (:
Yanks - Tue, Jul 1, 2014 - 7:02am (USA Central)
My personal favorite DS9 episode!

Anything centered around Garak is going to get high marks from me. Such an outstanding character.

I think SF Debris reviews this episode best, especially the reasoning behind the last "version" Garak gave Bashir for why he was exiled.

(I tried to include a link to the vid, but I guess you can't do that)

Garak's final version of why he was exiled includes the location of the retired Enabran Tain. The only one that could save Garak. So, as Garak does so well, he got Bashir to do exactly what he wanted him to do without asking him.

Bashir's commitment to Garak is commendable.

We are introduced to the "Obsidian Order" and meet another outstanding reoccurring character in DS9 - Tain.

Then of course, this historic exchange between Bashir and Garak at the end.

"BASHIR: You gave me answers, all right, but they were all different. What I want to know is 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."

That's so "Garak".

5 out of 4 stars for me.
Dusty - Thu, Nov 13, 2014 - 10:28am (USA Central)
I love it. Well-acted, complex, engrossing and thought-provoking. Garak is a fascinating person, a maze of mysteries and contradictions hidden behind a facade of shrewd self-discipline. The writers revealed just enough information to make the episode work, using his character to maximum effect without sacrificing what makes him special.

While I always liked Garak, this was the first time I didn't DISlike Bashir's character in an episode. He is pretty much all Garak has as far as friends go on this station. Bashir understands this and does everything he can to help. That is an admirable quality.
zprime - Sun, Jan 11, 2015 - 11:26am (USA Central)
Ever since TNG I didnt like the Cardassians. They seemed very bland alien of the week bent on evil blah blah blah. Even most of the epsoides of the bajorian resistance fighting the Cardassians I always found bland. However Garrek & Tain have changed my mind on the while race. Hell even Du kut gets very interesting. If there was a series of just the politics of Cardassia id give it a shot. They really fleshed it out & the Obsidian Order came across as both brutal & gentle. If that makes sense. I think the look of race always made me think of them as clunky & chuncky. But DS9 really made me appreciate the characters. Good stuff.
Brian S - Mon, Jan 12, 2015 - 5:42pm (USA Central)
@Asian James - "Interestingly enough, my girlfriend (who is watching DS9 for the first time) disagrees. She thought it was pointless since it didn't progress the story at all. The frustration came about when she was left with not having learned anything about Garak. I told her that she learned more than she thinks..."

You're right. I don't remember how I felt when I first watched this episode in its original airing 20 years ago, but going back and watching them all now, this episode is concrete evidence to me of something that none of the other Star Trek series did particularly well.....establishing back story for use in later arcs.

Most Star Trek episodes throughout the entire franchise provide little to no foreshadowing. Sure, later episodes might draw upon earlier ones, and one early season plot might lead to a series of events later in that same season, but in general this kind of long-arching development that I loved about DS9 and am appreciating even more now. Other Trek iterations paint one picture in an episode, then later episodes would build on that picture and maybe add in some minor details. DS9 paints the details, then fills in the picture later. It just requires some patience and delayed gratification to get the rest filled in.

I know I'm responding to your post 2 years after the fact, so I can only presume the two of you finished watching the series by now (if you're still even together-LOL). But this episode was arguably one of the best at providing the outer details, while leaving the rest of the picture to be filled in later (or at least more of the picture, since you never see the whole thing). The biggest question I have is whether the writers had a set backstory for Garak that they purposefully intended to flesh out over time, or if this episode was done as a way to leave them some creative wiggle room that they could more easily play with in the future. Either way, it was brilliantly done.

The exchange between Bashir and Garak identifies this beautifully, and provides an awesome writer's wink at people like your girlfriend who feel they didn't learn anything about Garak. That exchange might as well have gone....

VIEWER: The story was pointless. We didn't learn anything truthful about Garak.
DS9 WRITERS: My dear Viewer, everything in that episode about Garak was true.
VIEWER: Even the lies?
DS9 WRITERS: *Especially* the lies!

And that is the truth. The actual truth is only a matter of perspective (a recurring theme itself throughout the series). What matters in this episode are the details, which Garak keeps imploring Bashir (and us!) to pay attention to.....

You learn that he DID work for the Obsidian Order. You see the first signs of his relationship with Tain, and Tain's with Garak. You see that he wasn't just a spy, but a very important and powerfully connected one.

And while you can't actually fully believe what Garak says, given Garak's penchant for fabricating lies out of the truth (including his explicit statement that his lies ARE the truth) and given the number of actions he takes throughout the series *against* the Cardassian Empire, and his general lack of any animosity and even some empathy for the Bajoran people, I think one can reasonably infer that his "lies" about his actions on Bajor in this episode (especially since all 3 of his own stated reasons for exile involve some variation of NOT killing Bajoran resistance fighters when he had the chance) probably bore some measure of truth to them. The specific reason for his exile is trivial. It's probably enough to assume that he simply engaged in some compassionate behavior during the Occupation in violation of a brutal directive from the Order (likely something involving either innocent civilians or children), and that his disobedient act in betrayal of his duty was enough to get him exiled. As Tain alludes to in this episode, if he *really* wanted Garak killed, it probably would have been done....which also offers a foreshadow on Tain's "fondness" for Garak.
Robrow - Sat, Feb 14, 2015 - 8:45am (USA Central)
Just watched it for the first time. And I agree, it's up there with Duet as an indisputably great episode of the series. There's more to say about Garak, but I need to think about it. But I needed to say, wow. That was wonderful drama.
MsV - Mon, Feb 16, 2015 - 7:36pm (USA Central)
I have always liked Andrew Robinson, but it took me a while to warm up to Garak, he was not a favorite of mine, like Quark. Loved the actors, but not the characters. I did warm up to Garak, but never Quark.

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