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Garak and Bashir: The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Relationship That Should’ve Been

Bashir and Garak in formal wear as Bashir lifts a martini glass to Garak in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Although fans have been shipping characters together since the Star Trek franchise began, one popular same-sex relationship almost saw canon representation onscreen. This is the story of Julian Bashir and Elim Garak—the gay relationship on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that never was.

For more than 50 years, the Star Trek franchise has stood as a landmark for diversity when it comes to television. The Original Series saw women in a position of authority, a Japanese helmsman, a sympathetic Russian character during the red scare, and one of the first interracial kisses in television history. Later series like Deep Space Nine and Voyager respectively introduced a black man and a woman as captains—which broke even more new ground.

To many fans, one of the major draws of Star Trek has always been its willingness to champion diversity and boldly go where other shows cowered away. However, in terms of diversity and representation, there is one glaring area in which, until very recently, Star Trek has lacked: sexuality.

Fans have been vocal about the distinct lack of LGBTQ+ representation in Star Trek since as early as The Next Generation. One episode, which would act as an allegory to the AIDS crisis, was notoriously scrapped after producer Rick Berman opposed the concept—not wanting to touch on such a “risqué” idea that could offend the sensibilities of viewing audiences. But it didn’t end there. In fact, it wasn’t until 2017—51 years after Star Trek first began—that Star Trek introduced a canonical romantic relationship between two characters of the same sex.

However, in another world, this might not have been the case.

It all began with the introduction of Elim Garak who, by all accounts, was supposed to be a one-off character. A mysterious Cardassian tailor living aboard Deep Space Nine, Garak was supposed to show up; make conversation with the station’s doctor, Julian Bashir, to help move the plot along; and then bow out—never to be seen again. But when the writers of Deep Space Nine saw actor Andrew Robinson bringing Garak to life, they knew they had the makings of a great character on their hands.

So, thankfully, they decided to keep him around. Over the course of Deep Space Nine’s run, Garak made thirty-three appearances and is generally regarded as one of the most interesting and complex characters that Star Trek has ever produced. However, fans weren’t just drawn to Garak because of his charismatic personality—many viewers seemed to have picked up on a certain chemistry between Garak and the aforementioned Doctor Bashir.

Bashir, the other half of the relationship, was initially planned to be the show’s “ladies’ man.” Constantly chasing after a different woman every week, Bashir was a young, handsome, intelligent doctor with a passion for his work and an inability to understand when he was being rejected. So, when the writers decided to give Bashir the expositional scenes with Garak, I can’t imagine that they could have predicted what would happen next.

Almost immediately, fans picked up on the sparks that flew between Bashir and Garak during their introduction. In Andrew Robinson’s own words, when Garak first sees Bashir, he describes the look on his face as “wanting to eat him.” The tension is palpable. Garak is knowing, mysterious, and seems to be playing with the young doctor. Bashir looks flustered and innocent—unsure of how to respond to the thinly veiled advances from this mysterious Cardassian.

However, the scene ends, and the plot moves forward. But for Garak and Bashir, the story doesn’t end there. The duo begins having daily lunches together, engaging in frequent arguments over literature. To those unfamiliar with Deep Space Nine, this might seem like friendly banter, if not for the fact that a few seasons later, the show goes to the effort of explicitly explaining that for Cardassians, arguing is akin to mating behavior.

Episode after episode of lunch dates and playful banter finally came to a head in the season two episode “The Wire.” In it, Bashir supports Garak through a painful withdrawal and helps him cure a crippling addiction to painkillers. The entirety of the episode is dedicated to the relationship between the two of them, and Bashir spends hours at Garak’s bedside, standing vigil even when Garak is unconscious.

For fans of the relationship, it seemed like things couldn’t get any better. After all, such an emotionally charged episode could only naturally progress into the duo solidifying their relationship, right? Wrong. Mysteriously, after “The Wire” aired, the two began to have fewer and fewer scenes together. Out of the blue, a beautiful young Cardassian woman named Ziyal was written in as a love interest for Garak, and Bashir suddenly struck up a close friendship with Chief Engineer Miles O’Brien.

To some viewers, the characters seemed to have just drifted apart, but over the years, the cast and crew of the show have made it clear that this wasn’t the case. Interviews over the years at various cons have brought to light the fact that executive producer Rick Berman (the same producer who canned the TNG AIDS episode) told Deep Space Nine’s writers to stop giving Garak and Bashir scenes together. Andrew Robinson was reportedly told to “tone down” his portrayal.

In Robinson’s own words during an Amazon.com interview, “I started out playing Garak as someone who doesn’t have a defined sexuality. He’s not gay, he’s not straight, it’s a non-issue for him. Basically, his sexuality is inclusive. But—it’s Star Trek and there were a couple of things working against that. Originally … I loved the man’s absolute fearlessness about presenting himself to an attractive Human being. The fact that the attractive Human being is a man (Bashir) doesn’t make any difference to him. For the most part, the writers supported the character beautifully, but in that area, they just made a choice they didn’t want to go there, and if they don’t want to go there I can’t, because the writing doesn’t support it.”

In the recent Deep Space Nine documentary What We Left Behind, showrunner/executive producer Ira Steven Behr admitted that he felt that Deep Space Nine should have pursued Garak and Bashir’s relationship after “The Wire” and let their narrative run its course. While the pair may not be Star Trek’s first canonical gay relationship, they will always be remembered as the romance that could have been.

(image: CBS)

Lauren Coates is a film and Chicago-based student with a weakness for junk food, a passion for film & television, and a constant yearning to be at Disney World. You can find her on Twitter @laurenjcoates and read more of her work on Culturess.

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