Last Time, on this comment: Garak has lots of context, but no agency. He is a very big archetype, but he isn’t relatable. He’s fuckin’ consistent, but his character arc only twitches slightly upward in the last scene of the damned series.
And now, the conclusion:
Garak is efficacious, don’t get me wrong, he gets shit done. But given that his motivation is to GET BACK TO CARDASSIA, he’s fucking god-awful at it. Not in that he refuses to shoot people or slit throats to get what he wants–though he’s inconsistent at that (like when he lets the Cardassians go in “Cardassians”). No, this genius, wheels-within-wheels mastermind doesn’t come up with a single fucking plan to get himself back to Cardassia. He lives at the pivot point of the fucking galaxy and sits there hemming trousers while looking across the Promenade at Quark who’s swimming in the opportunities available. The one time he has a chance in hell of getting back into the good graces are after he panics, blows up his shop, and then stumbles ass-first into boss-daddy’s half-baked return to glory.
He does have internal conflicts that he struggles with Garak has a conscience and he fights it. He’s a smart enough man to see the benefits of Federation society and the flaws of Cardassian society. So much so that after a certain point he doth protest too much when he says the opposite. It’s great stuff.
This is a reddit post that I went all-in on so now it’s also a blog post.
Quality is subject to taste, so “best character” is subjective. Despite a literal interpretation which implies an objective truth, each person’s best character is actually their favorite character. Changing someone’s mind on this isn’t a matter of debating established fact; it’s a matter of contradicting what fundamentally appeals to someone and even if you’re invited, it’s a presumptuous thing to do.
But if we imagine that there’s an objective basis for character quality, we have to separate it from the subjectiveness of writing, acting, and directing, insofar as those things do not affect how effectively the story expresses the character’s qualities.
A quick search around the internet doesn’t reveal much about objective measuring of what makes a good character. This means that the internet hasn’t quite reached ‘peak internet’ yet, but it also means that this discussion requires creating broad versions of what measures do exist and then applying them to Star Trek characters.
Agency versus Context
Characters have agency, a place within the story that drives them to interact with the story. Neelix is considered a flawed character because he doesn’t have a place within Voyager’s overall story. He’s crammed into whatever space fits and suffers because of it. Captain Picard, however, fits into the specific story of “Best of Both Worlds” very well in that he’s a natural choice for the Borg to target and he has goals and the agency to move towards them. Even after he fails and is assimilated, he still fights the Borg, even if that fight is a simple as a single tear.