"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.
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