Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Probable Great: "Improbable Cause"

The Good: Acting, Plot, Level of character, Mood of intrigue
The Bad: Almost imperceptible pacing issues
The Basics: When Garak is nearly killed, Odo begins an investigation in an episode that moves from crime drama to epic search.

Fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine knew something was going on in the third season. Things were happening right and left in the episodes that had the feeling of building to something. In the second season, there was a faint thread of the Dominion which grew into the big villain in the season finale. In the third season, which I would have titled "The Dominion Advance," the Dominion has been revealed and various groups have begun reacting to the threat. While the Romulans are desperate to learn all they can about it ("Visionary"), it appears that the Cardassians are too involved in their own problems to even notice ("Second Skin" and "Defiant"). In the first of two parts near the end of the third season, the viewers learn something completely different.

In "Improbable Cause," the viewer learns all is not as it seems. When Garak returns to his tailor shop one afternoon on Deep Space Nine, it promptly explodes, nearly killing the tailor. As Odo investigates the attempt on Garak's life, he discovers a Flaxian assassin aboard the station who he follows just long enough to witness the death of. Soon after, Odo and Garak learn the Flaxian was sent by the Romulans and Garak is at a loss as to why the Romulans might want him dead. Odo discovers that at the same time Garak was nearly assassinated, several other Cardassians were also killed. Recognizing the other victims as former associates of his, Garak and Odo leave the station to find Enabren Tain, former head of the Obsidian Order. Desperate to find his mentor, Garak and Odo soon find themselves in a situation far beyond their experience.

Despite my love for this episode, I must admit that at moments, it does feel like it is a set up to something else and as a result, there are moments that seem to be a little slower than others. The only one that sticks out is the scene where Odo visits his Cardassian informant to learn about the other deaths. That scene, while intriguing, also has the feeling of being somewhat gratuitous, somewhat added on.

But "Improbable Cause" is one of the real gems of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The dialog between Odo and the Flaxian is worth the price of the video alone. It's a sharply written piece and it captures perfectly the way individuals interact. Every time one of the characters speaks, there's a very organic feeling, a very genuine sense of two people interacting that is often overstated in other movies or television shows.

The winner in "Improbable Cause," outside the sense of movement and the mood that convinces the viewer right away that this is an episode where things are going to happen, is character. As it ought to be, this is a work that highlights individual characters working hard to solve a dilemma and no character benefits more from that than Odo. In this episode, we see Odo do actual detective work which is important because it has been so long since we've seen Odo as a Security Chief as opposed to the resident shapeshifter. Here, he uses reasoning and cunning as his tools to track down the truth and when he finds it, it's surprising to all of us.

Outside Odo and his search for the truth, the episode is all about Garak. Here we learn crucial pieces of his past in a coherent way. Unlike the second season episode "The Wire," "Improbable Cause" makes explicit several things about Garak's life as a spy for the Obsidian Order and here he is irrevocably tied to that nefarious organization. After two and a half years of waiting for concrete answers, here we get them. Add to that, this is a wonderful opportunity to finally see Garak and his mentor, Tain, together.

There are three great actors acting up to their caliber in this episode and it would be wrong not to portray their successes as going a long way to making this episode a success. The first is Paul Dooley, who reprises his role of Enabren Tain. Once again he plays Tain as cunning, devious and subtle, far beyond the simple demands of the lines in the script. Dooley infuses Tain with a strange combination of grandfatherly charm and lethal coolness. His use of body language and eyes in the final scenes of the episode make this one work.

The real credit ought to go to Rene Auberjonois and Andrew Robinson. These gentlemen play Odo and Garak, respectively and here they are given a chance to delve into their characters with gusto. Robinson adds veils to his shadowy character by playing Garak as uncertain for the first time in the series. Stripping away that usual reticent role, Robinson creates forced expressions for Garak as he struggles to seek and conceal the truth. This is no small feat considering how much make-up he is forced to endure for the role. Similarly encumbered, but no less brilliant, is Rene Auberjonois. We've seen him track down crimes before (the second season's perfect episode "Necessary Evil" being a poignant example), but here there's a fervor to him that Auberjonois allows to come to the surface for the first time. Instead of simply feeling like another case, the way Auberjonois moves his body and makes his gestures forceful and important changes the energy of the piece.

This is the first part of a two-part episode and while it feels like it is building toward something, it does not so much feel like a setup episode. Unfortunately, if you do enjoy this episode and wish to purchase the second part to view, you are not looking for episode 66, but rather 67. Production concerns for the second part pushed it back an episode and unfortunately, the packaging on none of the three episodes (the interloping episode 66 does not mention its status) reflects this.

This is a perfect episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, when viewed with its conclusion and it largely acts as a payoff to the loyal fans who have been watching the series and wondering what will come next. It does represent an almost impossible place for a non-fan to jump into the series and understand everything. It makes references to other episodes and other events in the Star Trek universe and it would be quite overwhelming to those who are not used to complex science fiction plots. But for those who are, this is an example of how wonderful science fiction can be when it is executed with intelligence.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Third Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the breakout season by clicking here!

For other works with Joseph Ruskin, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Star Trek: Insurrection
“The House Of Quark”
“The Gamesters Of Triskelion”


For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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