8 comments on “Is Garak a Good Character? Part 1: What Is a Good Character?

  1. If there’s a term to distinguish between characters who progress through the grand story and characters who remain static scenery or props, then I don’t know it; “protagonists” and “supporting cast” don’t quite capture what you’re describing.

    • For a character to have agency or an arc, they don’t really need to progress through ‘the grand story.’ Background characters can have an arc as simple as changing their minds. A lot of extras on the radiation planet did that in TNG’s “Ensigns of Command.” They even had agency in that they don’t want to die and take actions to support that. I think every character, even minor ones, can have some agency. Maybe the agency we expect scales with how much we see of them. Maybe Garak’s agency just doesn’t match what we see of him.

      Even characters who are killed to show the size of the threat don’t have to be without agency or without dynamism (should have probably used that instead of ‘growth’). A faceless character who’s stomped as they run down a street is bad. A character who helps another person up, even if it slows them down has agency. A character who moves from denial to acceptance has an arc. A character who shifts from trying to save themselves and their kid versus just their kid has both. I’m gonna talk about 9/11 briefly; I think one of the more horrific things about it was watching people jump out of windows. Lots of people died in fires, collapsing buildings, and clouds of debris, and we watched the jumpers physically die (I mean, I didn’t) while most of the other victims died “off camera.” But we also saw them exercise an agency that humanized them and made it that much worse.

      • It’s not easy to call out moments of dynamism in Garak’s character, partly because it’s been too long since I watched the show and partly because his character is inherently mysterious and enigmatic to the viewer, but I thought his character did change over the long term.

        I think you’re right that he doesn’t develop with regard to his apparent story objectives; within the story of any given episode he seems to show agency, but we get no sign of agency between episodes the way we do for other characters.

        • He gets dragged along on a lot of things to solve “Cardassian problems.” But there are times where he takes the reins. There was the time he attempted genocide against The Founders, one time early on he actively worked against Dukat (possibly his first appearance?), and he tries to exit the holosuite without Julian in “Our Man Bashir.”

          I don’t know if abandoning the station counts, but he’s along for the ride on the episodes after that, including “Rocks and Shoals.” In “The Wire” and the therapy one with Ezri, he’s responding to what’s happening, even if he’s caused it and it’s up to our young Starfleet doctors to fix him.

          He does have agency within episodes (I don’t know if “Empok Nor” counts), but my unscientific call is that he’s generally (as befits a supporting character) supporting others or reacting to preserve his status quo, not having the agency of overcoming conflicts.

          Maybe it’s a salient point that under this model, only characters who have a consistent character to engage with and solve problems can be “good characters.” Garak, who avoids many of the conflicts presented in DS9 unless they threaten his personal security, would be a ‘bad character’ under that model.

          On the other hand, I think it’s fair to create a character and write a context where that character has things that they do and skills to engage them. I mean, maybe he’s underwritten in that perspective, but that just means his character doesn’t entirely fit the story they’re telling.

          • All sounds right. Basically same issue as getting a PC engaged with an RPG plot.

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  4. Touche. Sound arguments. Keep up the good spirit.

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