Ah, Mister Garak. Armed with an arsenal of half-truths and clever comebacks, the delightfully devious Cardassian remains a fan-favorite character to this day.
Garak's mysterious past became the talk of the station in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's early seasons, and the Promenade's resident tailor employed his linguistic magic to keep his new neighbors unaware of his true history. Garak's tall tales stand as intricate masterpieces that entertained audiences even after the operative's actual Obsidian Order ties were revealed during the series. Let's dive in and reminisce over some of the mischievous spy's most finely spun fables.
In search of information about an orphaned Cardassian named Rugal, Bashir feigned disbelief when Garak offered to repair a Bajoran resettlement center's computer terminal so that the pair could access its files. Garak's flippant reply preceded a humorous exchange which found the doctor questioning why his friend carried around a mechanical monocle that proved useful in examining the computer's issues. Always quick on his feet, the Cardassian responded that the intricate device was merely a tailoring tool that allowed him to practice his profession on the go.
“I just caught Garak snooping
around the access corridor outside the main phaser banks.”
“I was merely taking a stroll to stretch my legs.
The quarters on this ‘vessel’ are rather claustrophobic.”
— Odo and Garak in “Second Skin”
On a mission to rescue Kira from Cardassian captivity, Odo understandably found Garak's presence near the U.S.S. Defiant's classified systems to be quite suspicious. The tailor's explanation did little to assuage the constable’s misgivings, but the remark signified Garak's personal style when it came to crafting his fabrications. While he clearly intended to misguide the Starfleet crew, Garak wrapped his lie in the truth: he genuinely suffered from claustrophobia. Although this fact was not disclosed until the episode “By Inferno's Light,” the connection endures as a vital element of the Cardassian's character.
“If you go into my quarters and examine the bulkhead next to the replicator, you'll notice there's a false panel. Behind that panel is a compartment containing an isolinear rod. If I'm not back within seventy-eight hours, I want you to take that rod... and eat it.”
— Garak to Bashir in “Improbable Cause”
Before leaving on a dangerous excursion with Odo, Garak enjoyed a moment of levity as he briefly convinced the station's doctor that he had an important mission for him. The former spy did not continue the ruse for long, but he clearly savored his ability to toy with his friend's expectations. Garak's willingness to admit that this statement was a joke also subtly demonstrated the authentic bond he had established with Bashir.
During a secret incursion into Cardassian space, the U.S.S. Defiant was confronted by a Galor-class warship that would have scuttled the Starfleet crew's hope of finding Kira. Already on the Bridge due to his run-in with Odo, Garak stepped up and authoritatively delivered a clearance code that sent the Cardassian ship's commander scurrying away in retreat. When Sisko offered his thanks, Garak once again fell back upon his tried and true disguise as a garment-maker and casually claimed he had overheard the classified information. A simple tailor, indeed.
“I think you spotted him on the station and then blew up your own shop
so that I'd begin an investigation!”
“That seems like a very elaborate way to get you involved.
If I needed your help, I could have just asked.”
— Odo and Garak in “Improbable Cause”
The search for the perpetrator who tried to murder Garak led Odo to a Flaxian assassin, but the killer's preferred method of poisoning his victims did not correlate with the bombing of the Cardassian's shop. The constable wisely deduced that Garak had anticipated the Flaxian's intentions and hoped to grab Odo's attention with his self-destructive act. The Changeling's shocking declaration placed Garak on the defensive, a position that the tailor was not accustomed to experiencing. Nevertheless, the startling truth of the matter piled even more layers of intrigue upon Garak's already shady persona.
Facing the unenviable choice between dying or breaking a contract with another Ferengi, Quark opted to adhere to the Rules of Acquisition and planned to hire Garak to kill him in as painless a fashion as possible. The Cardassian's reputation as a lethal operative had been bolstered greatly by this point in the series, yet Garak could not resist the opportunity to have a little fun with the station's bartender and joke about his storied resume. The quip became even more poignant when paired with events that would take place in the fourth season finale “Broken Link,” which took place right after this episode.
When Captain Sisko needed to transport an ailing Odo to the Dominion for treatment, he enlisted Garak to serve as a diversion for the Changeling during the difficult journey. In fact, Garak admitted he would be willing to manifest his infamous innuendos to keep Odo guessing throughout the trip. The Cardassian's comment about taking care of toxic flora proved to be a clever callback to his discussion with Quark in “Body Parts,” but it also prompted Odo to remember that a Romulan proconsul had been poisoned during that time period. The implication that Garak took part in the assassination highlighted the Cardassian's ability to keep Odo's mind off of his own failing health.
“Could this attempt on your life
have anything to do with
the reason you were exiled from Cardassia?”
“I seriously doubt
the Finance Ministry would try to have me killed
for failure to pay my taxes.”
— Sisko and Garak in “Improbable Cause”
Searching for answers in the aftermath of the attack on Garak's shop, Sisko probed the tailor for information regarding the circumstances surrounding his exile. The Cardassian's insistence that his expulsion from his homeworld focused on such an innocuous charge was perfectly delivered with an innocent deadpan, but both Sisko and Odo expressed doubt over the claim's verity. Garak stuck to his story, humorously arguing that his tax troubles continued to be a source of embarrassment for him.
“Elim destroyed me. Before I knew what was going on,
I was sentenced to exile. And the irony is, I deserved it.
Oh, not for the reasons they claimed,
but because of what I had tried to do to Elim... my best friend.”
— Garak in “The Wire”
In a rare moment of vulnerability, Garak appeared to finally divulge the truth behind his falling out with the Cardassian Union to Dr. Bashir. Garak's account of his conflict with his old friend and colleague Elim shifted each time he recited the story, but he settled on a version that involved an effort to frame Elim for the escape of several Bajoran prisoners. Garak explained that Elim managed to point the finger at him first, bringing Garak's tenure in the Obsidian Order to an unceremonious conclusion. Of course, Enabran Tain later exposed the lie when he informed Bashir that Elim was actually the tailor's first name. Only Elim Garak could weave such an ingenious and twisted narrative at a time when he believed his death was imminent.
What better way to top off our list than to start at the beginning? Garak concluded his very first discussion with Bashir by asserting that he was but a simple man, a misdirection that set the tone for the Cardassian's later appearances and kept the good doctor off balance. Garak's insincere smirk seemed to indicate that he hoped Bashir would doubt his words the instant he spoke them. One could not dream of a more appropriate piece of dialogue to introduce such a complex character.
This article was originally published on February 14, 2021.
Jay Stobie (he/him) is a freelance writer and consultant who has contributed articles to StarTrek.com, Star Trek Explorer, and Star Trek Magazine, as well as to Star Wars Insider and StarWars.com. Jay can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @StobiesGalaxy.