Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch: “Improbable Cause”

“Improbable Cause”
Written by Robert Lederman & David R. Long and Rene Echevarria
Directed by Avery Brooks
Season 3, Episode 20
Production episode 40512-465
Original air date: April 24, 1995
Stardate: unknown

Station log. Garak and Bashir argue over Shakespeare, with Garak complaining that he saw Brutus’s betrayal coming a mile off, so why didn’t Caesar, the leader of a great empire, see it? They modulate to discussing human tendency to rush through their meals, and then go their separate ways. A few minutes later, Bashir’s conversation with Kira about visiting dignitaries is interrupted by an explosion in Garak’s shop—with Garak in it.

After Bashir whisks Garak to the infirmary, O’Brien and Odo assess the damage. The explosion was caused by a rupture in a conduit that overloaded; O’Brien detects nitrilin, which Odo thinks is an indicator of a micro-explosive.

Garak, of course, can’t think of anyone who would wish him harm. He also denies that he was in the Obsidian Order, and insists that his exile was due to not paying his taxes. Odo goes off to pursue the bullshit leads Garak gives him (dissatisfied customers, someone he owes money to, Kira), and Garak wonders why nobody believes him even when he’s being honest. Bashir tells him the story of the boy who cried wolf, with the moral that if you lie all the time, no one will believe you when you tell the truth. Garak, though, thinks there’s another moral: never tell the same lie twice.

Star Trek Deep Space Nine Improbable Cause

Later, Odo summons Garak to his office to look at the passenger manifests of ships that came recently to the station. While he does so, O’Brien has a follow-up report: he’s found the remains of something Odo recognizes as a pheremonic sensor, one attuned to go off upon detecting a particular species. In this case, likely Cardassian (a good trigger, since Garak’s the only one of his species currently living on the station). Said scanners are favored by Flaxians, and there’s one on the station, Retaya, whom Odo interrogates. He’s a merchant who deals in fabrics and fragrances, and Odo quickly determines that he’s a poisoner, using his perfumes and colognes—harmless while separate, deadly when mixed.

Odo has O’Brien put a tracker on the Flaxian’s ship. Odo gets into the Rio Grande—where Garak is already waiting. Odo doesn’t particularly want Garak’s company, but Garak stubbornly refuses to leave, and the Flaxian is getting away, so Odo reluctantly takes him along. They don’t get very far, as the Flaxian ship explodes when it goes into warp.

Star Trek Deep Space Nine Improbable Cause

It looks like a simple malfunction, but O’Brien’s tracker’s telemetry reveals a forced neutrino inversion right before the explosion, which indicates a Romulan explosion. Garak has no idea why the Romulans would want him dead—and the fact that he simply says he has no idea indicates to Odo that he’s telling the truth, because if he did know, he’d be spinning an elaborate web of lies on the subject.

Sisko and Odo contact the Tal Shiar, who freely admit that they killed Retaya, as he was wanted for capital crimes against the Romulan Empire. But that doesn’t explain why the Romulans would hire the Flaxian to kill Garak—Odo doesn’t even know for sure that that’s the situation. Questioning Garak is a fruitless endeavor, and questioning the Obsidian Order about someone who may or may not be a former agent is just as fruitless, but Odo does have a source he can call on. He takes a runabout to a planet that has the same cave set as every other planet in the Star Trek universe, and meets with an informant, who refuses to let Odo see him, as he changed his appearance since last they met, and he doesn’t want Odo to see his new face.

Star Trek Deep Space Nine Improbable Cause

The informant confirms that the Romulans targeted Garak. In addition, there has been odd Romulan activity near the Cardassian border, and five other former operatives of the Obsidian Order died in the last day, three of natural causes, two from accidents. The informant gives Odo a list of the five operatives, and Odo agrees that providing him with this list satisfies the informant’s debt to Odo.

Garak is, in fact, thrilled to see that those five operatives, all well known to him, are dead. He still insists he wasn’t part of the Order, but then Odo drops the bombshell: Garak blew up the shop, not the Flaxian. The Flaxian’s a poisoner, not a bomber; Garak spotted the assassin, and blew up the shop so that Odo would start an investigation.

Star Trek Deep Space Nine Improbable Cause

Finally, Garak admits that all six of the operatives in question were the most trusted advisors of Enabran Tain, the retired head of the Order—who may also be a target. Garak contacts Tain’s home, and speaks to his housekeeper, Mila. Garak is obviously quite fond of Mila, and she urges Garak to help Tain, who left suddenly the day before without telling her where.

Bashir sees Garak off as he and Odo take a runabout. They head to a safehouse of Tain’s that Garak isn’t supposed to know about. Odo deduces that Tain was Garak’s mentor, and that despite Tain’s being the one responsible for Garak’s exile, he’s still willing to risk his life to help Tain.

When they arrive at the safehouse’s location, a Romulan warbird decloaks and locks on with a tractor beam. Odo tries to get out a distress signal, but the Romulans jam it, so it may not have gotten through. Two Romulans beam over and take Odo and Garak on board—to Tain, who’s waiting at a desk. “So glad you came—saves me the trouble of sending someone else to kill you.”

Star Trek Deep Space Nine Improbable Cause

Tain has come out of retirement and he’s leading a joint Romulan/Cardassian task force into the Gamma Quadrant to attack the Dominion. Garak didn’t think anyone in Central Command had the balls to do this—and he’s right. It’s a collaboration between the Order and the Tal Shiar, not involving either nation’s military. The Order has been building ships in the Orias system for months (as we saw in “Defiant”), and their plan is to bombard the Founders’ homeworld. The Romulans learned the location of it from Starfleet, thanks to the latter sharing intelligence, and they shared it with the Order.

Garak is more concerned with matters closer to home: why Tain ordered him and the other five killed. Tain says that he plans to stay un-retired, so he needed those six killed because they know too much. But Tain is impressed with how Garak avoided being assassinated, and so he gives him two options: freely go back to Deep Space 9 without further attempts on his life, or rejoin Tain in the Order.

It’s not even a choice: Garak takes Tain’s hand, proudly declaring, “I’m back.”

To be continued…

Star Trek Deep Space Nine Improbable Cause

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Flaxian assassins use pheromone detectors in order to acquire their targets, while Romulans use neutrino inversion in their explosives (kinda disappointed they didn’t find a molecular-decay detonator, just for consistency’s sake with the last Romulan explosive we saw in TNG’s “Reunion”).

Preservation of matter and energy is for wimps. Odo kicks seventeen kinds of ass in this episode, masterfully interrogating Retaya (his banter on the subject of buying perfume for a lady friend is delightful), figuring out that Garak blew up his own shop (something Garak’s mentor didn’t even realize), calling in a favor from a Cardassian informant, and figuring out Garak’s motivations for helping Tain.

Plain, simple. Garak only kicks fifteen kinds of ass. He does a beautiful job of getting Odo to take the investigation seriously (just asking for help wouldn’t work, after all, because nobody would believe him), and his alternate moral for the boy who cried wolf is a masterstroke, but he’s actually surprised a couple of times: when Retaya is killed, when Odo figures out that he blew up the shop, and when Tain turns out to be all right. He also wonders if Odo actually cares about anyone, and doesn’t get anything out of him, with Odo just saying that if there was such a person, he wouldn’t tell Garak about it.

For Cardassia! Tain is the only head of the Obsidian Order ever to live long enough to retire. And he doesn’t stay retired, as he’s conceived an audacious plan to wipe out the Dominion threat before it can really kick in.

Star Trek Deep Space Nine Improbable Cause

Keep your ears open.

“Is there anything you need me to do while you’re gone?”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. Any unfinished business?”

“Actually, Doctor, there is something.”

“Oh? What?”

“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 78 hours, I want you to take that rod, and eat it.”

“Eat it?”


“You’re joking.”

“Yes, Doctor, I am.”

Bashir being friendly and Garak being mischievous, while subverting the clichés of television. (The irony being when this was a one-part episode, that isolinear rod was an important piece of information that Bashir was to release if Garak wasn’t back in 78 hours, but the writers couldn’t make that work without it being hokey.)

Star Trek Deep Space Nine Improbable Cause

Welcome aboard. More Andrew J. Robinson! That’s three in a row for Garak (in some form or other), with the added bonus of the triumphant return of Paul Dooley as Tain, last seen in “The Wire.” Both will be back for “The Die is Cast” next time.

Carlos LaCamara plays Retaya, Darwyn Carson plays the Tal Shiar operative, and Julianna McCarthy makes the first of three appearances as Mila, Tain’s housekeeper, a role she’ll return to in the final two episodes of the series, “The Dogs of War” and “What You Leave Behind.”

And finally, the great Joseph Ruskin makes a mostly vocal appearance (which is fine, as Ruskin has one of the best voices ever) as Odo’s informant. Ruskin previously appeared as Tumek in “The House of Quark” as well as Galt in the original series’ “The Gamesters of Triskelion.” He’ll be back as Tumek in “Looking for par’Mach in All the Wrong Places,” and also appear in Star Trek: Insurrection, Voyager’s “Gravity,” and Enterprise’s “Broken Bow.”

EDITED TO ADD: After this post went live, I learned that Ruskin died of natural causes at the age of 89 this week. Rest in peace, O ye of the awesome voice…

Star Trek Deep Space Nine Improbable Cause

Trivial matters: The original intent was for this to be a single episode, and was supposed to be a sequel to “Second Skin,” with the assassin targeting Garak because he killed Entek in that episode. It was changed to instead be a sequel to “Defiant,” explaining what the titular ship found in the Orias system after Tom Riker stole it, but the writing staff continued to struggle with the ending, until Michael Piller suggested making it a two-parter.

That suggestion was Piller’s last as co-executive producer of the show. He cut back to the title of creative consultant starting with this episode, focusing his energies on Voyager and a Western he and Bill Dial created called Legend for UPN. (Legend was actually quite excellent, but tragically short-lived. It starred Richard Dean Anderson—between MacGyver and Stargate SG1—as an author and John deLancie—Q his own self—as an inventor.) Ira Steven Behr had already more or less taken over the writers room this season anyhow, with Piller’s focus on getting Voyager launched, and with this episode it becomes official.

That suggestion also mucked with the production order, as the decision to make this a two-parter was made when “Through the Looking Glass” was already in pre-production. As a result, this episode was filmed first, then “Looking Glass,” then “The Die is Cast.”

This is the first Trek two-parter where each episode had a different title, a tradition DS9 would continue henceforth (although the two-hour episodes “The Way of the Warrior” and “What You Leave Behind” would be broken into same-titled two-parters for syndication), and which would also be used a few times in Enterprise’s fourth season.

Mila appears extensively in Andrew J. Robinson’s “autobiography” of Garak, A Stitch in Time, which reveals why Garak is so fond of her. She also appears in the short story “Face Value” by Una McCormack in the Prophecy and Change anthology.

This episode not only establishes just what it was the Obsidian Order was building in the Orias system in “Defiant,” but also explains how the Order knew about the Defiant’s cloaking device in that episode.

We also see a new Tal Shiar uniform, different (and less shoulder-paddy) from the one worn by Troi in “Face of the Enemy.” This was apparently done at the rather loud request of Ronald D. Moore.

Walk with the Prophets. “The truth is usually just an excuse for a lack of imagination.” A great episode that sets the stage for another great episode, which will in turn set the stage for the series going forward.

Star Trek Deep Space Nine Improbable Cause

But to start, we get a magnificent study of two of the best characters on the show, Odo and Garak, who are both much more alike than they seem at first (which will be even more explicit in the next part).

Most of the episode is a straight-up whodunit plot, but what’s fun about it is that who is less important than the why, and what was done turns out to be, as Joseph Ruskin’s informant (whom I really wish we’d seen more of) puts it, a small piece of a bigger puzzle. And the plot unfolds so wonderfully, from Garak’s obfuscation to Odo’s interrogation of the Flaxian to some cracks in Garak’s assured armor (the biggest being his conversation with Mila, the first sign we’ve ever seen that Garak actually cares about anyone).

Indeed, there so many great Garak moments here, from his reinterpretation of the boy who cried wolf (one of the great moments in all Trek history, that) to his broad smile when O’Brien finds the pheromone detector to his gleeful tweaking of Bashir when he and Odo head out to his detailed psychological profile of Odo (which is only about half right, unlike Odo’s similar examination of Garak, which is on the nose).

And then we get the truth, hinted at in “The Wire” and “Second Skin,” and brought to the fore here: Garak was indeed an agent of the Order, and it was Tain, his former boss, who exiled him to Terok Nor (later Deep Space 9) for betraying him. The exact nature of the betrayal is never spelled out (here or in “The Die is Cast”), but Tain’s willing to forget it and put him back in the saddle.

A saddle that Garak gleefully jumps into, just as the Tal Shiar and the Obsidian Order are planning a big-ass strike at the Dominion. On the one hand, Garak shaking Tain’s hand seems like a minor cliffhanger as these things go, but the implications of what’s about to happen next are staggering—but we’ll cover that more next time…


Warp factor rating: 10

Keith R.A. DeCandido wishes everyone the happiest of new years and fondest wishes for a truly spectacular 2014.


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