No Star Trek show has stood the test of time better than Deep Space Nine, which tackled everything from post-occupation tensions to religion to one of the Federation's most devastating wars. But in between the drama and the baseball games, DS9 was a pleasant little story about everyday life on a space station, as secret spies rubbed shoulders with outcasts and Starfleet officers alike, making for Trek's most fascinating character study. One of the most enduringly popular characters was Garak, the Cardassian operative turned simple tailor, who also happens to be one of #StarTrek's few canon #LGBT characters.
Why Andrew Robinsons Played Garak As Pansexual
Before Star Trek: Discovery cast their first openly gay character, and before Sulu's husband turned up in Star Trek: Beyond, Trek already had a long tradition of subtextual queer characters. From Garak's first introduction in Deep Space Nine, it was obvious that he did not subscribe to human confines of sexuality. At the time, Garak's pansexuality remained performative over textual, but actor Andrew Robinson later penned canon short stories and novels that confirmed his character's sexuality.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Andrew Robinson at #LFCC, and he gave us some insight into why he made this choice for the character — as Garak's pansexuality was never written into the script:
"I was trying to think 'what is an alien, what is a Cardassian,' you know I had no idea. So I just tried to go as much against the grain, as much against human stereotype as possible. And especially in America, there is so much about sexuality that is outside the normative heterosexual category, that I thought really… I hope it really upsets people too."
As Robinson told us, he was trying to create an alien and alienating persona for Garak, one that would undermine and subvert the audience's expectations. And yet, just as Garak has always floated between the lines of good and bad, there were those in the audience who did not find him strange, but familiar. I asked Robinson what he thought of the hope he inspired in some fans, as they saw themselves reflected in Garak's character:
"Well that was the thing that surprised me. That kind of response from people who are glad to see, you know, that there was that kind of representation."
Since appearing on Deep Space Nine, Robinson has spoken many times about how pleased he was to provide that representation at a time when television was even more restricted than it is today.
Thankfully, Robinson never faced any kind of push-back from the execs on his performance of Garak:
"No, I must say that they didn’t, no-one ever tried to damp down, you know, what I was doing. It was the very first episode when Bashir meets Garak, and you saw Garak’s delight when he saw Bashir. And then finding out that Bashir was more than just a piece candy, it became deeper than that."
The relationship between Garak and Doctor Bashir is undeniably one of the most important parts of Garak's character arc, and the Cardassian's attraction to the human doctor was clear from their very first meeting. As Robinson said, their relationship really did deepen, and it's unfortunate that the show — still a product of the 1990s — wasn't able to explore this as a romance. However, it's good to know that Robinson faced no personal pressure to change his performance of Garak, which ranged from suavely seductive to genuinely frightening.
What Andrew Robinson Wants To See In Discovery
With #StarTrekDiscovery airing in just over a month, we asked Robinson what he's hoping to see happen in the show — and his answer was very pertinent:
"I just hope that there’s an imaginative moving forward. I just hope that it represents the world we live in now, because we’re so fucked up right now. It’s so incredibly upsetting, what’s happening everywhere."
Like the legions of fans who are equally eager and cautious of Discovery, Robinson expressed his desire for the new show to stay true to the franchise's most beloved tradition:
"So I hope they maintain that Star Trek tradition of trying to be relevant, in terms of who we are, where we are, where we’re going, and what’s happening."
Billed as a grittier Star Trek that nonetheless stays true to Gene Roddenberry's vision of a utopian future, Discovery seems to be a true successor to Deep Space Nine, as both shows sought to make social comments while upholding the ideals of the Federation. As Robinson points out, we have never been in more need of a hopeful future to strive towards, and it's high time we have a reminder that humanity can, and should do better, as long as we put the work in.
Thankfully, recent reports and interviews with Discovery's cast points towards this show fulfilling all of Robinson's — and our — hopes, as it is slated to make comments about humanity's flaws just as much as it reveals how we can thrive. But even if Discovery doesn't live up to our expectations, we can always rewatch our favorite treks through the stars — and Robinson's nuanced and urbane performance will continue to delight fans, even as the franchise forges forward into a new age.
Tell us in the comments: Which is your favorite Garak-focused episode of Deep Space Nine?