During this discussion, Garak seems unusually testy. Insulting Bashir over his dislike of the novel, whining about long lines at the Replomat, and experiencing a notable pain in his head. Bashir notes he looks ill, but Garak storms off when he tries taking him to the infirmary.
While walking the promenade late that night, Bashir catches Quark and Garak conversing. He questions the shifty Ferengi over what they were talking about, but Quark insists Garak was just looking for a sizing scanner for his shop.
The next day, after a futile attempt to find some old Cardassian files, Bashir is summoned to Quarks. There's Garak, blitzed out of his gray gourd and refusing to leave. Bashir takes his latest bottle and tries convincing him to leave. In the middle of their argument, Garak suffers a seizure and collapses.
In the med-bay, the source of Garak's bizarre behavior has been discovered. A mysterious cranial implant is wreaking havoc in his head. Bashir asks Odo if he knows anything, having been on the station when it was still Terok Nor, but he doesn't know anything.
At the mention of Quark however, Odo has something. That something being numerous transmissions to Cardassia Prime over the last few days.
Monitoring the crooked barkeep that night, he contacts a Cardassian officer named Boheeka. The two share some laughs, but soon get to business. Quark is looking for something. An installation schematic for a piece of Cardassian biotechnology. Sending him the requisition code, Boheeka says it will be a cinch...
Until a blinking red light spoils the mood. Turns out Quark is looking for classified information. Boheeka can barely hide his fear of the Obsidian Order tracking him down and terminates the transmission. The young doctor soon learns that this group is the feared Secret Police of the Cardassian Union, its ever watchful eyes and ears. Odo and Bashir speculate the Obsidian Order may have put the device in Garak's head.
Returning to the infirmary, Bashir is short one Garak, who appears to have checked himself out. Tracking him to his quarters, he finds Garak shot up with enough tranquilizer to knock out a rhino. How he's still talking astounds Bashir. The truth comes out then and there.
Before his exile, Garak had an endorphin emitter inserted into his head by the Obsidian Order. The device was designed to stimulate the pleasure center of his brain if captured, effectively making him immune to torture. Well, he found some torture alright: exile on DS9.
Unable to stand his existence there, he rigged up a device to activate the implant at his leisure. A few minutes a day at first, but overtime he became completely dependent on it. Now it's breaking down, and he's not taking the endorphin withdrawal well.
In the midst of his episode, Garak reveals the source of his exile: He was a former Cardassian Gul, who destroyed a ship containing escaped Bajoran prisoners...and his aide Elim, 97 civilians, and the daughter of a prominent military official. It's a clear attempt by Garak to make the young doctor forget about him, to ignore the ailment of a clearly evil man. Nevertheless, Bashir still wants to help him, and starts by using Garak's device to deactivate the implant.
After shooing away Odo, Bashir settles in for a long night with an unconscious Garak. He awakens later that night, weeping like a madman. He's in a state of Tranquil Fury, smashing vases and overturning tables while claiming he feels more clear-headed than ever...and that his story about the shuttle was a lie.
The real reason he was banished was for freeing several Bajoran children he was supposed to interrogate. He knew they knew nothing, and set them free back to the streets. He didn't commit an atrocity—rather, his eternal regret is not committing one. After a brief tussle with Bashir, he has another seizure. In the infirmary yet again, Garak reveals the real real reason he was exiled.
The story about someone setting the young Bajorans free was true, but no one knew who. Being a typical Obsidian Order member, Garak set out to frame his friend Elim...except Elim beat him to the framing. Betrayed by Elim, Garak was exiled to DS9.
There's only one person who can fix this: Enabran Tain, former head of the Obsidian Order. Traveling to the colony Tain is retired on, he's surprised to find the Cardassian waiting for him. And even more surprised Tain knows a lot about Bashir. Even how he takes his tea.
After a menacing back and forth, Tain gives him the info to save Garak. Not out of sympathy, but because Garak leading a trite existence on DS9 is a worse punishment than dying. Before he leaves, Bashir inquires about Elim. This gets a laugh out of Tain. The reason? "Elim" is Garak's first name. Meaning even that story was a lie.
Garak is fixed up, and Bashir and him have their usual lunch meeting. Bashir is rather annoyed that he still can't tell which story about Garak's past is true. His response?
- Garak: My dear Doctor, they're all true.Bashir: Even the lies?Garak: Especially the lies.
- Addled Addict: Keeping his endorphin implant active for nearly two years has made Garak physically dependent on it. When the implant breaks down and stops working, Garak becomes increasingly unstable due to the withdrawal. And that's before going into the physical injuries to his brain resulting from the implant decaying...
- Addiction Displacement: Garak attempts this in the first third of the episode, trying to duplicate the effects of the endorphin-producing implant by getting incredibly drunk, and then injecting massive doses of a powerful anesthetic. Neither method works, much to his dismay.
- Affably Evil: Enabran Tain is a semi-pleasant individual... who's also former head of the Cardassian equivalent of the KGB, and enjoys seeing Garak suffer in exile.
- Batman Gambit: After the story of the shuttle fails to deter Bashir, Garak's next story paints himself in a truly hideous light by saying he wishes he had tortured and executed a bunch of orphaned street urchins. (It still doesn't get Bashir to leave.)
- Beneath the Mask: Subverted; Garak apparently reveals what lies beneath 'plain simple Garak', but he covers it in lies so Bashir can't get a proper handle on him.
- Big Brother Is Watching:
- Odo covertly monitors all of Quark's outgoing communications. He makes sure to sidestep the pesky question of its legality.
- On a far more nefarious and sinister level, this episode introduces the Obsidian Order, who serve as the Secret Police and State Sec of the Cardassian Empire. Odo explains that "a Cardassian cannot eat dinner without his dish being meticulously noted and recorded by the Order."
- Enabran Tain is a living embodiment of this. Not only did he know Bashir was coming, along with how he takes his Tarkalean tea and even his middle name (Subatoi), but he's apparently keeping tabs on how Garak is doing.
- Blatant Lies: Garak telling Bashir that he's in perfect health while having obvious pain spasms.
- Brick Joke:
- At the end of the episode, Odo apparently did get around to questioning Garak about those unsolved cases.
- When the Obsidian Order is first introduced, Odo states that the Order is so efficient that they catalogue even the meals of those they surveil. When Bashir visits the retired head of the Obsidian Order, he demonstrates that he does indeed know what Bashir's favorite beverage is, and just how he likes it.
- Broken Pedestal:
- Garak tells Julian a story about having killed innocent people in an effort to dissuade him from investigating his implant. Bashir remains determined to treat him regardless.
- When he's preparing to die he tells another story about how he betrayed his best friend only to find that his friend had done the same thing. However, he feels he deserved it for betraying his friend in the first place.
- Comically Missing the Point: Bashir takes a bottle off Garak and hides it behind his back, whereupon Quark slips off with it. Bashir then uses both hands to gesture to Garak, greatly confusing him over how he made the bottle disappear.
- Consummate Liar: There's a reason Garak provides the page quote. Even as he suffers overwhelming pain to the point of seizures, he continues to concoct elaborate, detailed lies about his past, then lies about those lies, and maintains elements of consistency between them. And he sells all his stories with seemingly genuine emotion that make you believe him up until he starts spinning another one.
- Cruel Mercy: Tain's reason for helping Bashir save Garak's life is because he doesn't want to allow Garak a quick and painless death; rather, he wants Garak to live out his life in exile on Deep Space Nine, surrounded by people who despise him, miserable out of his wits, and always knowing that Cardassia would be forever out of his reach.
- Determinator: Apart from the plain medical difficulty, Garak continually tries to make the idealistic, compassionate Bashir so disgusted that he'll reject Garak. Bashir refuses to abandon him no matter how monstrously Garak paints himself — he's Bashir's patient, and that's that.
- Determined Doctor: Despite Garak's vulgar, vitriolic and even violent insistence, Bashir stubbornly refuses to give up on trying to save him.
- Didn't Think This Through: Bashir's plan to get hold of the medical knowledge he needs is to take a runabout to Cardassian space, beam right into the living room of a retired Secret Police chief, and try to log into his computer. Good thing Tain is affable and impressed by Bashir's audacity.
- Drowning My Sorrows: With a malfunctioning implant, Garak tries to replicate its effects with bottle after bottle of kanar.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Odo refers to the Cardassian interstellar nation-state as the "Cardassian Empire", no doubt going along with the neighboring Klingon Empire and Romulan Star Empire. Later episodes would settle on the name "Cardassian Union".
- Electric Instant Gratification: Being a multi-talented spy, Garak was given a device in his brain that releases good-time feeling juice in order to counteract torture. Turns out life with the Federation sucked so hard, he turned it on manually — and eventually he stopped turning it off. Addiction swiftly followed.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The book that Garak lends Bashir is called a "repetitive epic," which is characterized by repeating themes and plot elements. Apparently, this is a very popular genre on Cardassia.
- Fantastic Drug: The endorphin emitter basically works as this.
- Fate Worse than Death: Why Tain gives Bashir the information he needs to save Garak — so he can continue living on a station where he's endlessly miserable.
- Headache of Doom: Garak first realizes that the implant is starting to break down when he begins suffering crippling headaches.
- How the Mighty Have Fallen: Garak was once the right hand man of Enabran Tain, whose power was feared even by the Cardassian Central Command.
- I Have This Friend...: As Garak is telling Bashir three contradictory stories about how he came to be exiled, he often includes a character named 'Elim', who is either an aide that Garak killed along with a transport full of Bajoran civilians, or a childhood friend and fellow Obsidian Order member whom Garak tried to frame for releasing Bajoran prisoners but was in turn betrayed and framed by Elim instead. It turns out 'Elim' is Garak's first name, and one interpretation could be that Garak committed some if not all of the atrocities he mentioned, and 'Elim' is a representation of his own conflicted feelings over being exiled from his beloved nation despite his service, and the guilt he feels from torturing his supposed enemies.
- I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder: In this case, Bashir isn't a botanist.
- Insistent Terminology: Sisko hasn't been yelling at any admirals; he's just been expressing his feelings. Loudly.
- Instant Sedation: Averted. In an effort to ease his pain, Garak injects himself with enough sedative to knock out an Algorian mammoth. Either due to Cardassian resistance or his own messed-up brain, it doesn't work in the slightest.
- Jitter Cam: During Garak's withdrawal Freak Out the camera can't seem to stay still, indicating his unstable state of mind, though it eventually slows down.
- Kick the Dog: Some of Garak's stories about himself have this as their point. The others have Pet the Dog, but with Garak saying how he regrets doing so.
- Mandatory Line: In multiple cases; Kira and Sisko only appear for a few seconds each, Kira getting just one line before the opening credits while Sisko is seen just before he leaves the infirmary having had his shoulder treated (following an argument with Starfleet admirals). O'Brien and Dax fare little better, each only appearing in a single scene. Of the whole main cast, the only main characters who have any bearing on the episode's plot are Bashir, Odo and Quark.
- Meaningful Name: "Boheeka" is similar to the military acronym "bohica" or "bend over here it comes again". Considering what the Obsidian Order is about to do to him, it's entirely applicable.
- Multiple-Choice Past: Garak tells several contradictory stories about his past and how he came to be on DS9. At the end of the episode, we still don't know which (if any) is the truth note .
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Sure, Bashir, why not spill the name of a man terrified of the Obsidian Order to Enabran Tain himself?
- Considering Tain already knew Bashir was coming, and even how he took his tea, who's to say he didn't already know the officer's name?
- Noodle Incident: You have to wonder what got Sisko so mad that he yelled at an admiral loudly enough to injure himself.
- Oh, Crap!: Boheeka is absolutely terrified when he realizes that his search for the equipment has triggered a security alert from the Obsidian Order.
- Pet the Dog: Some of Garak's stories about himself as their point. The others have Kick the Dog.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: In the midst of his withdrawal agonies, Garak says he's disgusted that his life has been so reduced he considers lunch with Bashir to be the high point of his week, and that he hates Bashir and his Federation sensibilities. Bashir calmly says he's sorry Garak feels that way.
- Retired Monster: Tain may be long retired, but he's still an ace at gathering information on any and everyone, especially when someone makes an impulsive, last-minute trip to visit him, and even gives the military a heads-up so there are no surprises at the border.
- Tantrum Throwing: Garak trashes his quarters during an argument with Bashir.
- Time Passes Montage: Bashir keeping vigil over the ailing Garak.
- Too Kinky to Torture: Garak has an implant in his brain that is wired to stimulate the pleasure centers of his brain to produce large amounts of endorphins whenever Garak suffers strong physical pain. Originally, it was meant to "protect" Garak against physical torture. During his exile among Bajorans (who hate Cardassians), humans and other aliens, Garak built a device that allowed him to remotely control the implant and turn it on or off whenever he wanted. At first, Garak had merely planned on using the implant from time to time, whenever the stress and depression of eking out an existence as a humble tailor on a space station among hostile aliens became too much for him. But one day, as he admits to Dr. Bashir, he turned the implant on and never turned it off; he became addicted to the high endorphin levels.
- Undiscriminating Addict: Garak is revealed to have been coping with life on the station by means of an anti-torture implant that floods his body with endorphins. However, after two years of continuous use, the implant finally breaks down and Garak is forced to make do with any substitutes he can get his hands on until replacement parts arrive, resulting in him drinking his way through about half of Quark's stock of kanar. After being hospitalized due to a seizure, he steps up his efforts by stealing sedatives from the infirmary — and taking near-fatal doses. In both cases, Garak barely feels anything, and makes it clear that this means his body is now terminally dependent on the implant.
- Undying Loyalty: Garak demonstrates he is a firm believer in loyalty to the Cardassian state with one of his favorite novels being about generations of family devoting their lives to its service. As much as he hates his exile, he chose to escape the pain through addiction rather than use the information he had to cute a deal with the Federation.
- Unperson: Bashir asks what happens if "someone eats something that doesn't meet with the Obsidian Order's approval." Odo replies that people have disappeared for less.
- Villainous Breakdown: It's debatable how much of it was genuine, but Garak clearly has a meltdown during his withdrawal from the endorphin emitter.
- Wham Line: "Doctor, Elim is Garak's first name."
- Your Favorite: Enabran Tain serves this to Bashir, also demonstrating the truth to the stories about the Obsidian Order.