Sunday, March 17, 2019

Star Trek's Garak

One of my favorite characters in all of Star Trek is Mr. Garak. Garak was a former spy living in disgraced exile on Deep Space 9. He was a gifted gardner, of orchids especially, and had become an accomplished tailor. He didn't seem to realize his best days were in those professions rather than in his time spent in treachery and intrigue. What a life!

Elim Garak, whose name should have been Elim Tain, grew up in mystery even within his own family. It seemed he was always trying to figure out exactly what was going on. He was mostly alone, the kind of alone where you are surrounded but no one is looking your way. He had his precious orchids, a pet lizard for a friend, and a beautiful woman who eventually cost him everything. 

Garak knows things no one knows, important codes, devious people who can help him save the quadrant, and more than his share of other bad guys he needs to avoid. He was a beloved character, a fan favorite, myself included, but the character himself relinquished so much in the service of the state it's hard to see him as triumphant, though he fooled some of us into thinking he was. To me, he never seems weak or in need. I don't pity Garak. He seems two steps ahead, always, always figuring it out before me. But in the wonderful novel, "A Stitch in Time" (magnificently written by Andrew J. Robinson, the actor who portrayed Garak), we are given more detail about his life. In the novel he comes into focus as an aching, searching soul. That is not how a Cardassian would see himself, of course, but how a human would. Star Trek tells us stories about people out there to tell us about ourselves. 

What was it all for? At the end of Deep Space 9, Cardassia is all but destroyed and Garak returns home to help rebuild. His old house is rubble. Everyone's houses are rubble. He begins to stack his debris in elaborate piles, making an at first unintentional monument. It becomes a place to grieve and to heal, the tailor's monument, his way of offering some solace to a people he never could bring himself to be a part of until all was lost. 

Why am I writing about this?

Garak's pretend father had a secret faith. He believed in a religion, for lack of a better word, of the people who lived many eons past on the planet of Cardassia. His belief was against the law. He only shared it with Garak on his death bed and in this faith was the only place Garak seemed to find peace. Something beyond himself. Something he did not know all about already, but something that knew him, called him, and welcomed him. He embraced it only because he could not resist it. He was freed by something he had not known was real before he encountered it. It was the first enough he had found.

The book ended too abruptly for me and, apparently, there are more. I'll be reading. I feel like Garak is an old friend and I'm rooting for him. And us.