- First appearance: “Past Prologue”-Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (S1 Ep. 2, 1993)
- Last appearance: “What You Leave Behind”-Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (S7 Ep. 26 & 27, 1999)
- Portrayed by Andrew J. Robinson
Elim Garak is quite possibly one of the most complex and intriguing characters ever created for the Star Trek universe. He was devious and underhanded yet had a clear set of principles (dare I say moral code?) that he followed even if it wasn’t one that most people would adhere to or could quite understand. There was nuance in the man that allowed him to do things and go places that other Star Trek characters could not.
A liar. A spy. A thief. A murderer. Dangerous if you were a hindrance to his goals. A friend if he could use you. The simple tailor of the rundown outpost of DS9 was not necessarily a danger but he was also not someone to fully trust. That much was evident in his interactions with Bashir (Alexander Siddig) which were also some very acting moments and as engaging as any visual element of the show.
Garak was more plot device than character allowing certain elements of the episode to advance or the connected narrative of later episodes to move forward. The thing about the character was that I don’t think anyone on the show really had any deep thoughts about his background. There is no handy biography on Elim Garak. Perhaps because he started out as a one-off character that was supposed to show up and never be seen again. Check out “Past Prologue” and see if that makes sense but shows were like that back then. Given the implications of his initial appearance he should have been a permanent character and as I understand it the producers liked Andrew Robinson’s work and kept bringing him and his character back.
For a Cardassian Garrick was a good man. For a human he was a terrible and quite evil individual. While willing to kill and be underhanded he had some kind of morality. There was a line even he wouldn’t cross. Strongly implied that was what sent him to DS9 was a refusal to kill some Bajoran children though exactly the circumstances behind that and how it possibly intersected with Gul Dukat (Marc Alaimo) was never made clear. The only thing that saved him was his association with the head of the feared Obsidian Order Enabran Tain (Paul Dooley) which apparently cost that individual their leadership there.
He hid behind lies and halftruths making understanding him clearly virtually impossible. “Never tell the truth when a lie will do,” Tain quoted him as saying and in that simple sentence you get much of the character. Yet that is not his totality.
He cared about his people and his homeworld and while he was devious and treacherous and rather dangerous it was all done to assist them and keep them free and return them to the greatness he thought they deserved. In that he was a patriot and a good man. As a character he allowed us an alternative view that we may not have agreed with but added depth to the story. He was the alien that allowed us to examine things much like Spock did in TOS but in a completely different way.
Sprinkled through TNG and DS9 were elements of Cardassian culture and discussions of Cardassians and I argue that even Garak was quite possibly the ideal Cardassian. Underhanded, devious, double-dealing but with loyalty to his planet. Aside from not having any illegitimate children (which was almost a given in their culture) he was what Cardassians wanted to be.
And as the show went on he was shown to be capable of some level of love-at least in the instance of Gul Dukat’s daughter Tora Ziyal. Given the character you have to wonder was that as much because she was the only Cardassian available as well as such a relationship would clearly upset Dukat (they were after all enemies for reasons that were never quite clear).
And he had a tragic side. He sought to be the ideal Cardassian as much as because that’s what you would want to be in whatever culture you were raised in but also because he sought to please his father Enabran Tain. He sought his love and approval and even acknowledgement that he was his son (which did not come until moments before Tain’s death). He was forced to live among a people that hated him because of his species and go nowhere else under threat of death. That is depressing.
Towards the end of the show though he realized (to me anyway) that the Cardassia that he was of and from was coming to an end and a new Cardassia was going to arrive whether it wanted to or not. There’s a certain sadness in that. Yet he stepped up and worked to bring that about otherwise nothing would be left.
Garak is a complex and sophisticated character. While as much plot device as he was character he is probably one of the most intriguing and complex individuals to ever be crafted for Star Trek.