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Star Trek Deep Space Nine: In The Pale Moonlight

It was like I had stepped through a door and locked it behind me. I was going to bring the Romulans into the war.

What does the Commander of one of the most powerful Stations in one of the most ethical organizations in the Galaxy do when he's faced with the need to commit an immoral act that might just save the Federation?

This may be one of my favorite Deep Space Nine stories – definitely in the top five. The episode takes the frame of a Captain's Log from Sisko, one which continues in narrative form throughout as he reviews a sequence of events which led to... well, we'll get to that. Sisko's narration is calm, almost too serene, the military role he falls into almost naturally as breathing. From the very first word I'm entranced.

At the same time I particularly loved how it's almost as if Sisko is flirting with breaking the fourth wall in this episode, the way he talks directly to the audience as he states everything calmly and clearly for the record or for a psychologist. Whatever's happened this time, he's not forgiving himself. He never is.

Star Trek, at its best, is always about wrestling with morality. This episode is no exception. It seems that the whole thing starts with the dead; the bodies are piling up. The casualty lists for the Dominion War moved me, as did Dax's reaction and how she and Worf interacted – and clearly Sisko gets an idea here designed to help stop the dying (on the side of the Federation, at least). But whoa, what an idea. Bring the Romulans into the war? That seems like piling faults on top of a single virtue, doesn't it? Sisko's discussion with Dax rifles through the options quickly. There isn't an ideological reason for the Romulans to join the war, or a financial reason, or an ethical reason under Romulan ethics. In the end it seems the only practical approach is to convince the Romulans to be afraid – that the Dominion is going to attack them, after mopping the floor with the Federation and other opponents.

This is a huge ethical issue for a Federation that has a do-not-interfere clause, that tries to leave developing races alone, that tries to act in an ethical way and end war. The goal is good: reduce the death and suffering of an entire quadrant. The means is deception, and essentially turning a planet of people into a weapon. The excuse is that the good of the results outweighs the bad of the means taken to get those results.

So what does this mean for Sisko, Deep Space Nine and Star Trek?

Sisko has broken the rules in the past. This time it's bigger. An entire race is involved. Okay. At the same time this is more than just the self-respect of one Starfleet officer. This is someone who had to mentally twist himself into knots to make himself able to break the rules in the way he just did. Even then it took partnering with Garak to achieve his goals. Sisko says he can live with it, but I wonder.

For Deep Space Nine, as Sisko says: well, this could be the turning point in the Dominion war, and fifteen Dominion bases are already attacked. The Alpha quadrant suddenly has a whole bunch more firepower. And maybe, just maybe, those names coming in on the daily will lessen to a point it'll be bearable.

For Star Trek? Has a Captain or Commander at the heart of one of these series ever committed such horrific deception to serve the Federation's own ends? In TNG there were some episodes, notably "Homeward," where a species' survival depended on what the Trek crew did and the crew almost allowed the entire species to die because it interfered with Trek, or Federation morality. Even that was better than intentional deception.

And yet, at the same time, I'd be lying if I said my heart didn't jump at the end of the episode, knowing that Sisko, his team, the entire Federation, may have a chance.

Havered in the Holodeck

Sisko: Do you intend to press charges?
Quark: You bet I do.
Sisko: What will it take, er, to, er, convince you otherwise?
Quark: Are you offering me a bribe? I knew it. Captain, I've always liked you. I suspected that somewhere deep down in your heart of hearts there was a tiny bit of Ferengi just waiting to get out.
Sisko: What's your price?
Quark: Well, let's start with replacing my clothes and M'Pella's clothes.
Sisko: All right.
Quark: I'm not finished. I think I should be compensated for the loss of business I suffered today, which I calculate as no less than five bars of gold pressed latinum.
Sisko: Done.
Quark: I'm also having a problem with station security. They're holding some cargo containers which I've been waiting for because of some missing import licence or something.
Sisko: I'll handle it. Anything else?
Quark: No. I think we can call it a bribe. And thank you, Captain. Thank you for restoring my faith in the ninety eighth Rule of Acquisition. Every man has his price.

Overall

Five out of five fingers squeezing sympathy out of my heart with passionate Captain's Logs.

1 comment:

Victoria Grossack said...

Absolutely one of the best episodes of all time. I have always wondered what the Romulans would do if they found out.

This, with the previous episode, show that sometimes the means justify the ends - or at least that is Sisko's attitude, as he believes he can live with it.

Thanks for the review!