Character profiles: Elim Garak

I’ve been thinking about the moral and psychological import of fictional characters, and for a good while, I’ve been thinking about writing on this blog about them. Characters I like or find influential; characters who seem powerful or exhibit an attitude towards life that is particularly striking. I thought I would start off by Elim Garak, of the Star Trek Deep Space Nine Series.

Elim Garak

The Cardassian species possess characteristics which seem to be a potential next step in human development. Contrasted to the other species in the Star Trek universe, they seem to appear as a ‘middle-way’, yet are also candidates for extremities for character in their own right. Not overly focused on violence like the Klingons, nor do they place fundamental importance to rationality like the Vulcans; Cardassians exhibit aggression, however in a more subtle and less open way than the Klingons. The Cardassians are also educated to a high degree; a gender divide exists among their species, in that the females are predominantly scientists and engineers, while politico-military roles are largely filled by men.

Elim Garak is both the exemplar of his species and yet an exile. Garak is deceptive and ought not to be trusted. However, his default attitude towards unfamiliars is friendliness. Garak is for the most part, stoic about his true emotions and reveals very little. A master of interpersonal psychology, Garak is the perfect espionage archetype.

A motto of Garak is: never tell the truth when a lie will do. Garak’s philosophy, as a spy is that, among enemies, neutrals and even those of one’s side: do not reveal too much, as information is power. When one is politically or socially powerless as he: exiled by his government and in the custody by unfriendly powers, he uses information, by the witholding, extraction, and false face, as his power.

What is most interesting about Garak is the mystery around him: he never reveals his true feelings or agenda. Often among people who know some of his secrets, he refuses to confirm them. A witty glow about him even among those who are suspicious of him; nothing is more aggrivating than not being disclosed information. Garak is a person who may be useful when an enemy, or antagonistic if an ally; his mystery is sustained as he internalises the psychological doctrines of the Cardassians.

Garak is an archetypal individual who would thrive in those times between overt war and peace; the realistic and uncomfortable cease fires and difficult and unstable neutral political relationships.


One thought on “Character profiles: Elim Garak

  1. Garak is perhaps my favourite character in DS9, but what makes this character – and indeed, almost all of the stories in DS9, work is the pairings of characters. Garak’s usual foil, Julian Bashir, provides the ethical counterpoint to Garak, and no more so than in “Our Man Bashir”, and their friendship is carefully developed and quite believable. When, in later episodes, Garak is partnered with other members of the regular cast, it allows for very unusual situations (such as the pairing of Garak and Worf in “In Purgatory’s Shadow” et al.)

    Garak is clearly a consequentialist (he is willing to eliminate the Founders without hesitation), yet he has a conscience that never quite goes away, and the implication (never resolved) is that it is precisely Garak’s conscience which has caused him to be exiled. It is this juxtaposition which elevates Garak to another level in terms of character, and I would say also removes him from being a mere archetype.

    Best wishes!

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