Friday, June 30, 2017

YEAR OF GARAK, Part 6: "Cardassians," "Profit and Loss," "Civil Defense," "Second Skin," & "The Way of the Warrior"

Yes, I made a Year of Garak graphic. It called to me. 
Welcome back! The year of Garak officially reaches its halfway point this month with its sixth installment. For those just tuning in, I've been looking at various Garak media, from short stories to novels to the original DS9 episodes. Basically, if it's got Garak, I want to examine it, because I love Garak and something needs to distract me from...other things 2017 has brought with it. If you want to catch up, here's links to the previous posts: January | February | March | April | May.

I'm joined again today by SFF poet, writer, and all around awesome person Nicasio Andres Reed. We're looking at a whole slew of episodes from DS9 so SPOILERS apply. Feel free to jump into the comments (they are moderated so it might take a little while for them to show up but I will try my best to check in regularly). Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the discussion!

Oh, and in case you don't remember from last time...

Nicasio Andres Reed is a Filipino-American writer and poet whose work has appeared in Queers Destroy Science Fiction, Uncanny Magazine, Strange Horizons, Shimmer, Liminality, Inkscrawl, and Beyond: The Queer Sci-Fi and Fantasy Comics Anthology. Nico currently lives in Madison, WI. Find him on Twitter @NicasioSilang.

And now, to the discussion!

CP: So these episodes are a bit more what I would consider Garak dealing with other Cardassians, often specifically with Dukat but also with others. These also represent something of a pattern we see with Garak’s character and his relationship to Cardassia, namely that he is a patriot but very often at odds with the commands he is given and the corruption with which is the government is managed. Or, one could say, we get to see Garak kill other Cardassians to protect mainly non-Cardassians in service of his vision of Cardassia, which is very interesting to me. Because Garak is so isolated, and because his vision of Cardassia is not really one that people get to see, his love for his home is one that I think many people have trouble with. Why, when his home has such huge and obvious problems, is he still such a patriot? Why, when his home has exiled him and betrayed him and betrayed him a few more times, does he still fight for it?

I’m reminded in some ways about how, here in the U.S., it’s such a conflicting thing to consider oneself a patriot. Where we see that mentality voiced, it’s so often part of a nationalistic, violent, racist impulse. Conservatives get to be patriots, but we all recognize that a lot of that title has to do with hate and bigotry. It harkens back to a “good old days” of Americans “winning” against the British, against the Native Americans, against the land itself. And I think that Star Trek, and especially DS9, is dubious of that mentality. You see Sisko love the Federation, but also recognize that it has problems, and at times does work against its interests to do what’s right. But Garak is a patriot and basically says as much, and yet for him there is no (or seems to be little or less) conflict between being a patriot and (often) hating its government. Because he’s in love with the art, with the culture, with the history. He loves Cardassia, even if it doesn’t always love him back, because he sees the beauty of it and because he believes that it will always survive because it always has. And I think these episodes do a good job of showing how he can change masks, working both for and against Cardassian governments, while still being in love with Cardassia, while still being a patriot.

But sorry, I’ve opened on a rant. Your first thoughts?

NR: Lord, what a fraught topic. I suppose the easiest way out is to draw a distinction between patriotism and nationalism, an attachment to your homeland as opposed to an attachment to your nation, and thus your government. But that doesn’t work out neatly mapped onto Garak, nor for Sisko, nor does it generally in the real world.

There’s a (to me) very Catholic duality to holding in your heart the love of the homeland along with knowledge of its fallibility. Fallibility, here, meaning everything from imperfections to actual horrors. You can accept the dual nature of that love and hope to see the nation strive towards perfection, so folding that imperfect striving into your definition of patriotism. It’s a stance I’ve often seen from the conquerors of the world, the colonial powers, and Cardassia is certainly in a post-colonial era, its borders beaten back, its sense of national pride challenged. Maybe a post-WWII Britain or Japan analogue, at the closest? Powers that once swaggered through the world, or the quadrant, now humbled in the public eye. Garak has such a black humor about his interactions with other Cardassians, with Dukat in particular, that seems to come from the attempt to reconcile both his personal setbacks and that of the empire itself.

CP: I think that post-colonial idea is definitely something that I find in Cardassia throughout DS9 and I think it’s interesting with Garak that he was exiled at what might be seen as the height of Cardassian power. So there’s also this sense that he has (for me at least) that the Cardassia that exiled him deserves to hurt, to be punished for turning its back on him, and it’s something he gets to feel almost vindicated in as Cardassia goes through so many upheavals and losses throughout the show. I get this feeling from his interactions with other Cardassians (and especially Dukat) that what he’s waiting for is this moment when everyone will “wake up” and realize that he can save them. He’s been waiting in exile and he sees it as having let him escape the taint of failure and decline that he’s witnessed in Cardassia. So for him this idea that people must be waiting for him, or someone like him, is strong.

And I think that in some ways, then, he’s held onto a rather protective role with regards to Cardassia, that he’s protecting some “pure” version of it, which is only even his version of it, which has always been one at odds with the popular and “official” Cardassia. We’re seen throughout the series and books that Garak has always been something of an outsider, and that Cardassia punishes outsiders, and so Garak has attempted, imo, to reframe himself as more Cardassian than Cardassia. He’s more into the art, more into the politics, more into the masks and the pageantry. He’s in many ways the best Cardassian because these episodes are all about him being better than other Cardassians. Shrewder, certainly. More willing to kill first. He has this vast skill set because he wants to prove he can do it all himself and yet he’s still alone. Even before his exile he was alone and in some ways I see his exile as simply making external what has always been in his heart. And so him using his skills against other Cardassians is his way of trying to assert his vision of Cardassia and his place within it. All the while the actual result of his actions is typically to thwart the ambitions of the ruling party, and thereby proving that he’s more Cardassian than they are. He just keeps waiting for the time when he’ll be asked to return, cheered to return, and unfortunately for him that moment really doesn’t come until the Cardassia of his heart is dead, and there’s no one left to cheer.

NR: That is some of the saddest shit I have ever read, and I love it/you/Garak/Cardassians, oh god. And I think you’ve hit on something that’s curious at first glance, but seems inevitable later, in “Cardassians”-- how Garak is invested in sorting through the bureaucratic corruption that saw baby Rugal initially separated from his Cardassian family,  but displays an otherwise detached view towards the children at the orphanage. Certainly it isn’t within his reach to repatriate them all, at least not within easy reach, but any concern he expresses over them is at the political situation that led to their predicament. They are, somewhat, in his position. Exiled, and waiting for a resolution that may never come. But Garak, that we have seen, does not have much of a nurturing instinct, and he doesn’t imagine himself their savior. They’re a symptom, something to be cited in negotiation for his deserved place.

Oh my god, did you read The Never Ending Sacrifice yet?? Oh my god, Rugal, oh my god. Okay okay anyway.

More Cardassian than Cardassia makes me want to do a comparative Garak-and-Cardassia vs Worf-and-The-Klingon-Empire study. I think it would conclude that Worf ends up with a healthier sense of self, but Gark with a sense of “winning” that particular inner battle. And I suppose who’s to say which is the better outcome.

Speaking of Worf, “Way of the Warrior” has one of my favorite moments in the show: Sisko calling Garak in to take his measurements during a high-level meeting, so that he can unsubtly leak to Garak that Cardassia will soon be invaded. In terms of political intrigue, it’s hilariously heavy-handed, but it gets the point across, and is a classic, defining Sisko move. And, lord, the moment you see on Garak’s face that the floor has dropped out from under him. You know how wrenching it is when he reaches out to Gul Dukat, of all people.

CP: I have just started The Never Ending Sacrifice and I am SO EXCITED about it! I also love “Way of the Warrior” as doing a lot of interesting things with Garak, especially because he’s expecting so hard for this to be the moment that he breaks through. That olive branch to Dukat seems to be Garak biting the bullet as it were and hoping that he will finally be let back in, even if it means in Dukat’s shadow (probably so that he can undermine and destroy him in time, but that he’s willing to swallow his pride that far at least). And I love that later in the show Garak will point to that moment where they’re fighting side by side and regret not killing Dukat (in “Call to Arms,” I believe), which would have prevented a lot of grief. But as we keep returning to, the Garak of “Way of the Warrior” hadn’t yet faced the worse of his demons, was still living with this belief that everything would play out as usual, that he’d have a chance to rise again in the cycle of Cardassian power shifts.

But to linger on Garak and Dukat, because that’s a relationship that comes up again and again and seems to very much reveal a lot about the characters and about Cardassia. Because throughout the show we see Dukat, the slimiest bastard of the galaxy, fail upward. Every time it seems like he’s finally going to get what’s coming to him, he manages to land not just on his feet but better off than before. Every disaster turns into a promotion for him, and it’s only possible because of the Cardassian system that values not necessarily Garak’s brand of clever but rather the more open, brutal duplicity of a bully, the person who will punch the weaker kids and then lie about it to the teacher and be believed every time. He’s not Garak, who lives for a challenge and in some ways his own inner code of what’s best for Cardassia. No, Dukat is out for his own pleasure and power. He’s a rapist, for all that he romanticises it, for all that most everyone around him excuses and romanticises it as well. And we see between Dukat and Garak the sides of Cardassia and the struggle for the soul of Cardassia, which of course Dukat wins in the short term to genocidal results.

The battle, though, is amazing and entertaining and captures almost everything about Cardassia for me. The moment in “Civil Defense” where Garak calls out Dukat’s obvious sexual interest in Kira is one of those moments that I just love. In part because it obviously disgusts Garak so much (even as he’s heavy-flirting with Bashir like THE ENTIRE TIME) because he knows Dukat’s patterns and he wants to have that moment of pantsing the bully, who can’t react while everyone’s looking. And in part because it shows that he sees through Dukat’s bullshit and wants everyone else to as well. The rest of the crew really doesn’t understand Cardassian flirting, but we do see that it has a lot to do with aggression (which becomes canon when Miles and Gilora have their misunderstanding in “Destiny”), so in some ways Garak is trying to warn Kira here that what she sees as open hostility is actually getting Dukat off.

And as you say, “Cardassians” is entirely a Dukat vs. Garak episode, where Garak scores off of Dukat’s sloppiness, which Garak believes should lead to his ruin. Oh glob I’m going there but I see then in Garak some of the same bewilderment that has played out in the U.S. where he believes that Cardassia should be smart enough to see through Dukat, to know what an awful leader he would make. And yet every time there is a choice or a crisis, Cardassia chooses Dukat. Not because they are inherently stupid or evil, but because the toxicity and deceit and corruption is too institutional, the philosophy too xenophobic, imperial, and violent. And for all that Garak is a master of subtlety, what he sees again and again (as maybe some in the U.S. have learned) is that it’s very very hard for subtle to win out in a popularity contest against bold, charismatic abuse.

NR: This is an opportune time to recommend the Twitter accounts @realRealDukat (with such classics as “The reason that Capt Sisko did NOTHING about Romulans after being notified by Section 31 of meddling is that he expected Janeway would win.”), and @RikerGoogling (asking the important questions like “is pon farr a pre-existing condition”).

I think you’re absolutely right that at least part of the root of Garak evergreen bafflement at Dukat failing up all his life is a refusal to believe that intelligence doesn’t always prevail. Is intelligence the right word? Anyone can claim patriotism, and Dukat always does. And a sound strategy could be defined as a winning one, which Dukat’s often are. Subtlety, as you say, is a good summation of Garak’s approach, something clean and well-maneuvered, a passage of politics that doesn’t ripple the surface. That Dukat can simply bluster his way through the quadrant, brash, rude, and yet somehow thriving, is an affront.

Garak’s goals aren’t the Federation’s, but you see a similar, very American-progressive attitude from them, when confronted with the likes of Dukat. There’s this absolute refusal to believe that cruelty, that bullying, can prevail. And so when it does, they are all the more devastated. Not just by the violence, but by the shattering of their social contract. The Federation’s narrative is one of ever-upward progress towards a conflict-free utopia, a benign assimilation that has little tolerance for the mess that comes naturally to a diversity of species and cultures living under one galactic roof. Garak, in a similar way, craves the normalcy of social order, because within its confines, he is an expert. And what an affront, to not come out ahead of the likes of Dukat, who is every fuckin guy who has “politically incorrect” in his Twitter bio, who is exactly who he appears to be.

Pivoting just a bit-- the Cardassian dissident movement comes up for the first time in “Profit and Loss”, in the person and associates of Natima Lang, who we’ll see more of in The Never Ending Sacrifice. I’m hoping that in McCormack’s just-released Enigma Tales, we get a bit of how Garak views the movement after war and during the reconstruction of Cardassia Prime. We see him in this episode dismissive of them. They’re an annoyance, they’re ineffectual, they’re putting their lives at risk for no gain. Their goals are nothing less than a sea change in Cardassian politics and governance, and the overall narrative arc seems to suggest that such a thing isn’t possible without the cleansing fire of the invasion and a massive loss of life. I don’t really have a point here, I’m just kinda depressed by it.

CP: (Enigma Tales might be sitting right next to me RIGHT NOW and I am so excited to read it. I’m actually in the middle of The Never Ending Sacrifice and I do love the Lang stuff in that so far)

All the yes to everything you just said. I actually think that we see Garak change a whole lot with regards to Cardassian resistance over the course of the show. In “Profit and Loss” yes, he’s dismissive and cold, choosing to “do the right thing” mostly out of spite. Similarly, in “Second Skin,” we see him helping Kira because he’s forced to (though I get the feeling he does revel in going home, if briefly, and in proving himself more cunning and quick than this most recent iteration of the Obsidian Order). But in both he brushes against the resistance. I actually love how he treats the “Government in Exile” in Hollow Men, where he’s so disappointed in them. They’re too idealistic, and he finds that a grave weakness because it was always punished so hard in him. His father obviously took great pains to make sure Garak regretted his every kindness, and so while he does seem drawn to valuing rule that benefits all people, he also looks down on democracy, which so often allows corruption to flourish.

I love how it’s complicated by Garak’s later rise after the Dominion War and how he comes to be a believer to the cause that Lang and Ghemor fought for. And I like how even as he’s being thrust into a leadership role he rebels and sinks back a bit into his bitter disillusionment at democracy and any government that seems to prefer corruption over ability. I’m actually really excited to see how The Crimson Shadow will play into this as well, from what I’ve heard of that book. But throughout these episodes what I keep coming back to is the way that this Garak (leading up to the Dominion War) is both in love with Cardassia (it’s art, it’s music, it’s architecture) but rather at odds with Cardassians. He’s a man who believes he knows what’s best for them, but isn’t charismatic in the right way to inspire confidence. He’s too open about the masks he wears, and this puts people off, as much as it also allows him to move through the shadows with grace and deadly skill. It’s a side of Garak that comes out most when he’s interacting with other Cardassians, and it’s a facet of the character that I love gets so thoroughly wrecked and rebuilt over the course of the show and the extended canon.


So okay, there it is! I want to thank Nicasio for being awesome and continuing the Garak conversation and I want to thank everyone who has been reading and enjoying these. Next month Nicasio and I will be back to talk about a not-incredibly-Garak-heavy-but-still-very-Cardassian novel The Never Ending Sacrifice by Una McCormack. Stay tuned!

No comments:

Post a Comment