It’s a faaaaaaaake!!
“In the Pale Moonlight”
I was surprised, after viewing this episode, to discover some people consider it the best hour of Deep Space Nine ever put to film — or, indeed, the single best Star Trek episode ever. It’s a very interesting (and daring) episode for sure, but I don’t think I’d quite put it quite that high, personally.
The title of “In the Pale Moonlight” hints at the episode’s theme, i.e. making a deal with a proverbial devil. The devil-dancer in question is Captain Sisko, with Garak as his accomplice, and the entire episode plays out as a recorded confessional-slash-flashback. It also breaks with decades of Trek convention by effectively breaking the fourth wall; the framing device here involves Sisko recording a personal log in which he comes clean about a moral compromise he’s made, but the staging and direction place Avery Brooks in a way that makes it appear that he’s talking to the viewer most of the time. I’ve never seen this technique used in Trek, and it creates an uncomfortable sort of intimacy as Sisko lays out the path by which he ended up committing the most underhanded deed of his career.
That’s the other daring part: Desperate to push back the Dominion (who have just taken key Federation world Betazed), Sisko decides the most sensible course of action is to persuade the Romulans to break from their non-interference pact with the Dominion and stand with the combined Federation/Klingon coalition to protect the Alpha Quadrant. We know that the Dominion will definitely not continue to leave the Romulans alone once the Alpha Quadrant falls, but the Romulans don’t have the experience with the Dominion that Sisko does and have their own reasons not to join the Alpha Quadrant defense. So, Sisko decides to play the game the way the Romulans themselves would and win them over with subterfuge.
This involves a complicated plot in which Garak calls in his chips to recruit someone to craft a forged Cardassian transmission. The simulation depicts Weyoun and Damar conspiring to take down the Romulans once the Federation front is conquered. It’s a fake message, and the the process of creating it forces Sisko to make one unpleasant choice after another. Still, despite all the lines Sisko crosses in order to create this deception, the hardline Romulan ambassador Sisko had hoped to woo spots the forgery without too much trouble, meaning everything Sisko did was for nothing.
Or… not. Thanks to Garak’s behind-the-scenes ruthlessness, the ambassador dies under suspicious circumstances in a way that guarantees suspicion will fall upon the Dominion. And the only other person to know about the forgery — the forger himself — dies as well. An enraged Sisko assaults Garak for his murderous machinations, but Garak rebuts his rage by calmly pointing out the fact that if Sisko hadn’t wanted to get things done by any means possible, he wouldn’t have recruited Garak. And Sisko, reflecting (to the audience) in his quarters, accepts the truth of Garak’s retort and realizes that he’d have done it all over again if he had to. A couple of deaths and one man’s soul seem a small price to pay to protect this corner of the galaxy, after all.
I’m not really sure how I feel about this turn of events, especially coming so soon after the revelation of Section 31’s existence. But I suppose that was the point of “In the Pale Moonlight” — it’s meant to be troubling and difficult.
And now, for something completely different. Bashir creates a complex holographic lounge singer program for the Holo-Suite — a Tony Bennett type named Vic Fontaine. This goes in an unexpected direction (at least for me) when Fontaine calls out Odo’s unrequited affection for Kira, then coaches him on how to pitch his woo. Surprisingly, this episode changes the romantic status quo aboard Deep Space 9 by way of a cute conspiracy that sees Fontaine tricking Odo and Kira into going out with “holographic simulations” of the other… simulations that are, in fact, the actual people. It’s a sweet, simple episode that finally lets Odo (and for that matter, Kira) find a little happiness in the midst of all this conflict. I approve.
As a side note, I ended up watching the second half of this episode after exercising rather than during my workout, and my wife happened to catch most of it. She’s not much for sci-fi but is a sucker for romance, so this episode piqued her interest and she came away with, I suspect, a rather distorted view of what DS9 is like.
One of those Big Plot episodes, “The Reckoning” has to do with the wormhole entities and Sisko’s role as Emissary. (Since I’ve read ahead in the syllabus, I realize this episode, like “Change of Heart,” was mostly about lining things up for the season finale.) The Bajorans find an aeon-old relic whose inscriptions refer to the Emissary, and Sisko takes it back to DS9 for study. This doesn’t sit well with Bajor’s spiritual leader, the passive-aggressive Kai Winn, who feels Sisko has taken advantage of his position and acted inappropriately. The outbreak of natural disasters on Bajor would seem to back her up; so, Sisko agrees (reluctantly) to return the relic. But Sisko gonna Sisko, and he ultimately ends up smashing the thing in a fit of frustration over the “Prophets'” ever-vague expectations for his role in Bajor’s future… which was the plan the Prophets had set for him all along.
In the process, Sisko releases an evil entity — a Pah Wraith — that’s been sealed away for all these millennia. This results in a showdown on the Promenade as the wraith possesses Jake and a wormhole entity takes over Kira. They shoot laser beams at each other, but before “Kira” can successfully vanquish the wraith, their battle is interrupted by Winn. The wraith escapes to fight another day, and Winn’s pettiness is revealed: She interfered with the actions of her Prophets due to her envy at Kira and Sisko being chosen rather than herself. I’m sure that won’t come up down the line, nope.
(To this episode’s credit, the laser-beam battle was basically the same showdown that capped Wonder Woman, and it felt a lot more meaningful and tense here. There were actually stakes! Though, to be fair, Wonder Woman‘s final battle did kill Captain Kirk.)
And finally, one in the “war is hell” genre. “Valiant” brings, I believe, the saga of the elite Red Squad training group (introduced way back in The Next Generation) to a rather bleak end. Jake and Nog find themselves aboard a sister ship to Defiant, called Valiant, which has spent the better part of a year behind enemy lines. Originally sent out on a high-stakes training mission, Valiant barely survived a Dominion encounter eight months prior. Her ranking crew was lost in the skirmish, leaving only Red Squad recruits to survive. Rather than sensibly return to Federation space, the cadets give themselves field promotions and lurk behind the lines in an attempt to complete their mission. It sounds noble, but the kids are, well, kids. They’re driven by overconfidence and a desire to make a mark in history, not out of some determination to set things right. It’s not hard to predict that this will end in tears, and indeed, Valiant is eventually lost and only a single Red Squad cadet survives (along with Jake and Nog, who lucked into wearing plot armor).
It’s a pretty sad story, because the cocksure, self-destructive esprit de corps of Red Squad is wholly believable. The entire crew has become a sort of cultish echo chamber, feeding on their own delusions. Also, the fact that a bunch of kids are sent on a training mission that involves going deep into enemy territory to snoop out a massive experimental enemy warship speaks to the desperation of Starfleet as the war drags on and casualties mount. No surprises here, but the scenario and outcome certainly do a lot to retroactively justify things like Section 31’s dirty dealings and Sisko’s willingness to flirt with the dark side. It also answers the question of why we never see other Defiant-style ships — they’re out there, apparently, just not in visible combat roles. Oh, and I’m sure that extremely unfazed Cardassian dreadnaught will factor into the story again sooner or later.