Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Improbable Cause"


Air date: 4/24/1995
Teleplay by Rene Echevarria
Story by Robert Lederman & David R. Long
Directed by Avery Brooks

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"The truth is usually just an excuse for lack of imagination." — Garak

When Garak's shop mysteriously explodes, Odo opens an investigation into why someone would want to kill DS9's enigmatic tailor. The result is one of the series' best outings, with terrific performances and outstanding direction from Avery Brooks, as Odo learns this mystery runs much deeper than it initially appears.

The creative team again takes a serious look at Garak and his obscure history, with an insightful follow-up to last season's "The Wire." If "Wire" was supposition, "Improbable" is confirmation. At the same time, the writers provide satisfying follow-ups to plot threads from both "The Search" and "Defiant." Rene Echevarria delivers the season's most deftly written story, balancing elements of intrigue and substantial character development into a phenomenal package characterized by the most brilliant dialogue ever sported on the series.

Odo's investigation first leads him to a Flaxian suspect who was quite possibly hired to assassinate the Cardassian exile. But the question remains: Why would anyone want to kill Garak? Part of the problem with Odo's investigation lies within Garak's mysterious past and his talent for "spinning out elaborate webs of lies." Garak maintains that he has no idea why anyone would want to kill him—just a mere tailor. However, Garak, being the puzzle he always is, must surely be hiding something. (After all, as Garak puts it, "The truth is usually just an excuse for lack of imagination.") This leads Odo to begin the investigation with Garak himself.

Odo sticks to Garak through much of the episode, pressing him for more information. The pairing of these two characters makes for one unforgettable scene after another. This installment is wall-to-wall with great lines. These two are an absolute joy to watch, with their entertainingly expansive vocabularies and use of deadpan understatement. Auberjonois and Robinson both turn in superb performances, having full command over their elaborate dialogue and effectively utilizing their vocal talents and facial expressions.

Meanwhile, the plot takes on a startling revelation with each succeeding scene. Odo has O'Brien rig the Flaxian's ship with a tracking device so he can follow it with a Runabout. Upon arriving in the Runabout, Odo discovers Garak waiting there. After a humorous exchange, Odo reluctantly allows Garak to remain on board for the "interesting trip" and begins pursuit. But as the Flaxian engages his warp engines, his ship explodes. Odo's understatement of the year: "Well, it seems that our 'interesting trip' has been cut short."

Evidence suggests that the Romulans hired the Flaxian to kill Garak, then blew up the Flaxian after his failure, but Odo still has no idea why the Romulans would want Garak dead in the first place. This leads Odo to take a Runabout to talk to a mysterious Cardassian "contact" from the Central Command who may have useful information. This is a very ominous and effective scene, with appropriate lighting and a mysterious, full-sounding score by David Bell. Odo's contact proves to be an interesting puzzle. He's undoubtedly indebted to Odo from a previous favor, and their discussion reveals another clue into the plot. The contact speaks of cloaked Romulan activity near the Cardassian border which seems to suggest some sort of preamble to an invasion. Whoa.

But the missing clue is Garak. Odo's contact also supplies the names of five Cardassians who died the same day Garak's shop exploded, and not surprisingly, Garak had previous ties with them. When Odo returns to the station with these names, Garak finally talks of his past.

Garak and the five deceased were powerful associates of Enabran Tain (Paul Dooley), the retired former head of the Obsidian Order (also established in "Wire"). As for why the Romulans would want these former Obsidian members killed, Garak doesn't know. "But Tain might," he says.

Since Garak has an idea where Tain may be lying low, this allows another Runabout trip for Odo and Garak. Here, there's a fascinating discussion between these two characters that reveals some of the more private aspects of their personalities, and it's quite easy to see that both are truly lonely characters.

Suddenly, in the middle of Cardassian space, a Romulan Warbird decloaks and snags the Runabout with a tractor beam. Odo and Garak are taken aboard the ship and find themselves face to face with...Enabran Tain. Tain has some revelations of his own. He was the one who killed his five former associates for fear of those with knowledge of him and his past. He has a rule: "Always burn your bridges behind you. You never know who might be trying to follow." Further, Tain tells Garak of his plan to end retirement, and has joined the Obsidian Order with the Romulan's Tal Shiar, planning to take a fleet into the Gamma Quadrant and wipe out the Founders of the Dominion. (Remember the fleet of Obsidian ships being built in "Defiant"? Bingo.)

Tain decides to give Garak a second chance by forgiving his betrayal (one element which still remains a mystery) and offering him the opportunity to join him. Garak accepts, deciding it's time to end his exile. So much for "plain, simple Garak."

If part two lives up to this half, this may prove to be the best two-part arc of the series, because "Improbable" is the season's most brilliant episode, with a fascinating intrigue plot, great dialogue, engaging character interaction, flawless pacing, and an impressive scope that takes us on several short adventures away from DS9 and ends on a Romulan Warbird. What more could you ask for? And, for once, let's give an A+ to the preview team, whose strikingly intense tour de force preview for part two is unmatched by any Trek preview I've ever seen.

We're talking quality here.

Previous episode: Through the Looking Glass
Next episode: The Die Is Cast

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21 comments on this review

Daniel Lebovic - Mon, Mar 9, 2009 - 12:32am (USA Central)
I still do not understand precisely WHY Garak wanted to pique Odo's curiosity such that Odo would eventually want to enter the Gamma Quadrant with him. What exactly did he think Odo would be interested in (Garak having not known in advance for sure that he would meet and ally himself with Enabram Tain?) Why EXACTLY did Garak want Odo to launch an investigation with Garak as the target? The only purpose (one would think) of getting Odo to investigate is to somehow have Odo around to provide useful information at some point. But it was anything but inevitable that Odo would end up being in that position (which he was, in part II, when Tain sought for him to be interrogated). Other explanations seem rather... feeble. Garak wanted Odo simply to meet his father? To go on a pleasure trip? To share some interesting information?

Garak never had a plan until the end of episode 1, but before that, he wanted Odo to get involved in his.... plan that he didn't have. I don't get it...
Anlyn - Thu, Mar 19, 2009 - 8:49am (USA Central)
I just watched this last night (going through a personal DS9 marathon), and to answer your question, Daniel...I'm pretty sure it's established that Garak found out about the Flaxian's plan to poison him. So in order to save his own life and find out who wants to kill him, he blows up his shop in a way that guarantees that Odo gets involved. After all, Odo suspects Garak is part of the Order, and Garak knows Odo suspects that, so what better way to ensure an investigation takes place? Garak knew Odo wouldn't be able to resist.
Alexey Bogatiryov - Mon, Mar 23, 2009 - 1:08am (USA Central)
When this episode aired, this was the point at which I was hooked on DS9 and would not miss it for the world. No better storyline and characterizations as the one that got rolling in the third season have ever been made. I will go out on a limb and declare that DS9 still remains superior to BSG!
Destructor - Sun, Jul 5, 2009 - 7:19pm (USA Central)
I'm surprised this got a higher rating than 'The Die Is Cast'. For all the dialogue, very little actually happens in this episode- it's really a prelude to the, in my opinion, much better follow-up.
gion - Mon, Feb 22, 2010 - 4:33am (USA Central)
Maybe it's all prelude, but it's very good prelude. Garak is at the top of his game here and every scene with him and Odo s a lust to behold. I can watch their scenes over and over again.
Will - Thu, Jun 17, 2010 - 1:14pm (USA Central)
It was nice DS9 had recurring characters who played a substantial role in the big picture. Over on Voyager, what do we get? Lieutenant Ayala grinning like an idiot from the background.
Nic - Wed, Mar 23, 2011 - 9:03am (USA Central)
Fantastic episode. I would rank it next to BOBW, the difference being in this case that Part II is better than Part I.

Daniel: I don't think Garak knew at the beginning WHO was trying to kill him. Even when he found out it was the Romulans who were behind it, he had no idea WHY. So I think he was just trying to avoid being killed by having Odo start an investigation before the assassin had a chance to act. The only way to do that (in his eyes) was to blow up his own shop.

Alexey: I haven't finished BSG yet, but I can't imagine ever loving it as much as I love DS9.
Stubb - Tue, Jun 28, 2011 - 12:18pm (USA Central)
I also adore the writing and dialogue in this episode. "Julius Caesar" being my favorite Shakespeare play, it was a pleasure to watch Garak and Bashir spar over it at lunch, only to have Garak do an about-face and approvingly quote the play near the end of Part II. ("'The fault is not in the stars, dear Tain, but in ourselves.' Something I learned from Dr. Bashir.") Great way to tie up beginning and end, spread over two full episodes.
The mystery and intrigue of the Cardassians, and Garak's character in particular, have allowed DS9 to age VERY well.
John - Mon, Aug 6, 2012 - 3:23am (USA Central)
The best episode of the season by a mile for me.
Steve - Fri, Aug 10, 2012 - 1:52am (USA Central)
While I do criticize plot twists that don't make sense (see my comment on "Duet"), this time all the plot twists really do make sense. Remember, Garek is just trying to stay alive. He saw the Flaxian assassin and knew he was in trouble. And he didn't want to go to Odo perhaps out of pride. So being the dramatic person he is, he blows up his own shop prompting an investigation and forcing the Flaxian to abandon his plans. At this point I'm speculating, but I think the Romulans may have assumed the Flaxian blew up his shop and were pissed that their assassin was so sloppy. I sincerely doubt that Garek knew that blowing up his shop would eventually lead him to Tain. Again, he was just trying to stay alive.

Great writing. The plot twists are plentiful and make sense. Great acting as well.
Moegreen - Thu, Sep 27, 2012 - 5:09pm (USA Central)
Alexey, I agree
Kotas - Wed, Oct 23, 2013 - 8:57am (USA Central)

Great episode with some good development for Odo and Garak.

Galaktikhonk - Sun, Nov 3, 2013 - 12:53pm (USA Central)
A pure joy to watch that show, in particular of course the interactions between Bashir and Garak. My favorite piece of dialogue:

Bashir: "But the point is: If you lie all the time, nobody is going to believe you, even when you're telling the truth"

Garak: "Are you sure, that's the point, doctor?"

Bashir: "Of course, what else could it be?"

Garak: "That you should never tell the same lie twice..."
Galaktikhonk - Sun, Nov 3, 2013 - 12:55pm (USA Central)
What Andrew Robinson and the writers behind him offered throughout the series is simply outstanding. I personally enjoy every second of that character, especially his puzzling background and magnificent eloquence.

It's a shame that Robinson (as far as I can see) never was even considered for any kind of award for his performance. But we got used to that, it's Star Trek - 'Science Fiction' - how can that compete with a series like 'Picket Fences' or 'Chicago Hope' (that eventually got at least nominations)...
Vylora - Sat, Feb 22, 2014 - 12:08am (USA Central)
Phenomenal. 4 stars.
Alex - Wed, Feb 26, 2014 - 2:11pm (USA Central)
Still I don't understand why Andrew Robinson's Garack was never officially added to the cast. I'm sure by this time when the show originally aired his character became a big favorite of DS9 fans. Andrew stole the show in almost every scene he was in. And it seemed like his screen time increased with every new season. Why did he never get added to the main cast?
Quarkissnyder - Fri, Jul 11, 2014 - 10:03pm (USA Central)
I was pleasantly surprised at how great this episode turned out because it started off so dull. How much longer can they talk about food? How many minutes can it take Julian to tell the story of the boy who cried wolf? But I loved Odo yelling at Garack, and the ending was superb.
Yanks - Fri, Aug 1, 2014 - 1:05pm (USA Central)
Wow! It amazes me that the same folks that can give us the ‘mirror’ crap can turn right around and give us this tremendous effort.

Note to DS9 writers.... if you want to make an episode a classic, give Garak more lines.

Just a fantastic episode and I believe this is DS9 at its best.

I'm so glad I didn't need to wait a week when I first saw this. Thank god for DVD's.

Jammer, it's easy to make a good preview of a great episode. :-)

EASY 4 stars from me, 5 if I could.
NCC-1701-Z - Wed, Oct 1, 2014 - 10:35pm (USA Central)
"You both go to such lengths to conceal the true meaning of your words you end up saying nothing" - Odo

That goes for too many people nowadays.

I miss the days when shows slowed down for a good conversation. For me it's like leaving downtown and going out to the countryside. Odo and Garak together = classic. So many good lines, they alone make the episode worth watching.

Odo: "I find it odd that a conduit running behind Garak's shop should just happen to overload."

Garak re-interpreting the story of the boy who cried wolf. HILARIOUS!

Sisko: "I don't expect [the Romulans] to be entirely forthcoming."
[cut to later]
Romulan: "Yes, we destroyed the Flaxian's ship."

Garak: "It seems that our interesting trip has been cut short."

Odo: "If he did know, he'd already be spinning out an elaborate web of lies to cover up the truth."

Odo: "Given those uniforms of theirs, you'd think they'd appreciate a good tailor."

Garak: "Behind that panel is a compartment containing an isolinear rod. If I'm not back within 78 hours, I want you to take that rod ... and eat it."

Great setup episode. One of Trek's best, and part 2 is even better.
NCC-1701-Z - Wed, Oct 1, 2014 - 10:51pm (USA Central)
Interesting fact from Memory Alpha: This was originally intended to be a one-parter, and it would have ended with the rod Garak told Bashir about being real and Garak threatening Tain that its contents would be revealed to Starfleet if he didn't let them go.

Boy, am I glad they didn't go with that ending. It does make Garak's "If I'm not back within 78 hours, I want you to take that rod...and eat it" quote twice as funny though. I'm a sucker for in-jokes and meta-commentary.
Charles - Wed, Dec 10, 2014 - 11:05am (USA Central)
What I love about DS9 is the Cardassians. They're the only really well-developed alien race ever made on Star Trek.

They are all-around different. I love the discussions about the difference between Cardassian and human literature for example. Or the way they conduct trials - finally, a society that is truly, entirely different, and yet is big and powerful. The vulcans could have been that, but apart from "no emotion", their society was never really developed.

I LOVED the boy who cried wolf tale: Garek's immediate interpretation of it is so Cardassian, so him, so alien. Or the Cardassian adage about burning your bridges: Taking something we (Western 21st century humans) take for granted and common sense and turning it on its head while still making complete sense.

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