Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In the Pale Moonlight   Rewatch 
September 5, 2016 8:29 PM - Season 6, Episode 19 - Subscribe

When you dance with the devil in the pale moonlight... the devil always leads.

Memory Alpha is willing to help you out, but are you willing to pay their price?:

- The earliest origins of this episode are to be found in a discussion amongst the writers about various pivotal moments in recent US history. One such moment was the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, when a North Vietnamese gunboat allegedly attacked a US naval vessel, leading to an increased military presence in Vietnam itself, and effectively beginning the Vietnam War. Another defining moment under discussion was the 1974 Watergate scandal, which began with five men being arrested for breaking into the Watergate complex and ended with the resignation of President Richard Nixon, who was facing an impeachment in the House of Representatives and a conviction in the Senate due to the discovery of, amongst other things, illegal political espionage, improper tax audits, unauthorized wiretapping, and secret funding hidden in Mexico. Thinking about the sheer scale of these incidents and the massive repercussions felt for years afterward by people from all walks of life, the producers asked former staff-writer and producer Peter Allan Fields to compose a story based around a political controversy involving a secret that, if discovered, could have huge consequences throughout the quadrant.

- Fields's original premise revolved around Jake "watergating" First Minister Shakaar. He discovers an undisclosed secret about Shakaar from his days in the Bajoran Resistance which, if it got out, would bring down the Shakaar government and throw Bajor into chaos. When Jake tells his father about the secret, Sisko tries to stop him from publishing it. However, when the staff-writers went to work on Fields's story, they couldn't make it work, and so they altered the basic premise to Jake discovering something about his own father. Ronald D. Moore compared this premise to the film "All the President's Men". This was the idea around which Michael Taylor composed his first draft of the script – the inherent conflict between Jake and Sisko. The story would begin when Jake tries to get an interview with Garak for the Federation News Service, but Garak is uninterested in being interviewed. Jake presses him, but Garak won't budge, and so Jake goes to his father to try to get him to put some pressure on Garak. However, Sisko tells him to stay away from Garak altogether. Intrigued, Jake begins to investigate, and he discovers that his father and Garak are involved in shady dealings and are trying to bring the Romulans into the Dominion War by lying to them about the Dominion's so-called plan to invade Romulan space. By the final draft of the script, Jake had been removed entirely. The reason for this was because the relationship between Jake and Sisko, as established in many episodes over the course of the five and a half years of the show, was simply too strong, their bond as father and son had become so pronounced that it was virtually impossible to conceive of anything destroying it, as Moore explains, "It was really no contest between Sisko and Jake, because as much as we want to, it's hard to get those two characters into conflict with each other. So it didn't really ring true. Jake was so young and Sisko was so experienced, you didn't really believe the central conflict of the show."

- According to Moore, the title of the episode was a reference to the phrase "Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?" from the film Batman.

- The last line of this episode was based on a line of the 1962 John Ford movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, which is spoken by Tom Doniphon (John Wayne); "Cold-blooded murder, but I can live with it. Hallie's happy. She wanted you alive."

- According to the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (p. 555), this episode is generally considered by both fans and staff as the darkest Star Trek episode ever made, and the one most antithetical to Gene Roddenberry's initial views of Starfleet, the Federation and 24th century Humanity.

"My father used to say that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. I laid the first stone right there. I'd committed myself. I'd pay any price; go to any lengths because my cause was righteous. My... intentions were good. In the beginning, that seemed like enough."

- Sisko

"That's why you came to me, isn't it captain? Because you knew I could do those things that you weren't capable of doing. Well, it worked. And you'll get what you wanted: a war between the Romulans and the Dominion. And if your conscience is bothering you, you should soothe it with the knowledge that you may have just saved the entire Alpha Quadrant, and all it cost was the life of one Romulan senator, one criminal... and the self-respect of one Starfleet officer. I don't know about you, but I'd call that a bargain."

- Garak

"So... I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all... I think I can live with it. And if I had to do it all over again, I would. Garak was right about one thing, a guilty conscience is a small price to pay for the safety of the Alpha Quadrant. So I will learn to live with it. Because I can live with it. I can live with it... Computer, erase that entire personal log."

- Sisko
posted by Halloween Jack (33 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Computer, erase that entire personal log.

Starfleet officers have much more trust in the Majel Barrett operating system than I do in iOS.
posted by figurant at 8:49 PM on September 5, 2016 [11 favorites]

Also, yay Stephen "It's a faaaake" McHattie
posted by figurant at 8:58 PM on September 5, 2016 [11 favorites]

S: "Who's watching Tolar?"
G: "I've locked him in his quarters. I've also left him with the distinct impression that if he attempts to force the door open, it may explode"
S: "I hope that's just an impression"
G: "It's best not to dwell on such...minutiae"

Does Sisko have his throw pillows upholstered in the same material as Quark's jacket (around 24:30 on netflix)? That cost-of-replacement-by-way-of-stabbing may not have been very tough for him to give up in negotiations. Either that, or he had those pillows made special afterwards.
posted by figurant at 9:40 PM on September 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

I feel like the thing that makes this episode amazing and memorable isn't so much that it's dark—there's probably darker Trek, though admittedly I can't think of any—but that it's philosophically bold in a way that Trek rarely is.

The choice before Sisko is:
1- the safe, typical, Starfleet choice, which fits the moral code of his society…but which will result in a titanic and potentially preventable loss of life
2- the "immoral" choice which will potentially reduce the aforementioned loss of life dramatically…but which, after choosing it, he knows that so few of his friends will understand it that he can't ever discuss it.

Regardless of which choice he makes, he knows a part of him will hate himself afterward (as his final monologue illustrates). Therefore, the right choice is clear: he cannot morally permit his concern about what others might think of him to override the actual safety of others.

That is heavy shit right there. One might assume that Star Trek is generally adept at handling moral complexity, but I actually feel that most of the time it's done in a more antiseptic way (see the forthcoming "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges"), or in a kinda clumsy way (I guess "Children of Time" is a representative example), or worse, in an outright objectionable way (see the VOY episode with the Cardassian Mengele analog, of which, at the risk of derailing, I'll just say I think the writers got the finale straight-up wrong).

This one, though, just crushes it—makes it real. Anyone who has had to make so life-alteringly-shitty a choice, and who watches this, is right there in the room with Sisko, talking to the wall. Most of the credit should go to the actors: Brooks and Robinson together are pure dynamite; you wish they'd had more "buddy" episodes. Siddig and Shimerman, too, have important scenes, and they too nail it.

If I have any quibble about the execution of this deservedly acclaimed episode, it's that the moral quandary might have been more solidly sticky if the whole scheme were a little more straightforward, more of a sure thing. But you could argue that that's the whole purpose of Garak's presence in the narrative: he's the torpedo that'll home in on engine emissions and hit its target no matter what. (Another example, then, of DS9 cashing in on the years of character development that led up to this late-stage "golden era.")
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 4:33 AM on September 6, 2016 [9 favorites]

This is my favourite ST episode bar none. I may have a rewatch when I get home to see whether I have anything more useful to add. Its a really good story that works well with the unusual approach of being led by Sisko talking straight to camera to set it out. I do find him a bit hammy but can live with that. Garak is excellent in it and the writers do an fantastic job.
posted by biffa at 7:23 AM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

My one wish for this episode is that it hadn't been built up so much for me as BESTTREKEVAR DARKSISKOISBESTSISKO.

Because it is a good episode. Great even. But I don't really consider it to be "dark" in the sense of one of our beloveds making an irredeemably evil choice. I just can't see Sisko's decision to deceive as wrong or immoral, given the circumstances. Sure -- it's probably not what Picard would have wanted him to do, but in the scenario of the show, it seemed like the right thing to do.

It would have been different if Sisko had outright asked Garak to "eliminate" Vreenak when the lie falls apart. That kind of selfish action would have crossed a line and been out of character. But he doesn't -- he knows that he took the swing and missed, and preps himself to deal with the fallout.

Garak tries to put Vreenak's murder on Sisko, but I don't buy it. If Garak had told Sisko that that was the plan, Sisko would have stopped him. Sure, Sisko is going to keep this all quiet, because he wants to end the war. And sure, Garak isn't going to punished for this, but neither did Kira, who was a terrorist that killed children.

For me, Nor Battle to the Strong is quite a bit darker (our heroes never display "cowardice"), or even Nog's depression/holoaddiction post injury in Season 7.
posted by sparklemotion at 10:14 AM on September 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

My one and only problem with this ep is, I constantly see Trek fans recommending it to people who are like "I've never watched Trek, what's a great episode to start with?" Guys! NO! This episode works because it undermines and calls into question the literally hundreds of hours of Trek that came before it. It's like telling someone who's never seen Buffy that they gotta start with The Body.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:59 AM on September 6, 2016 [14 favorites]

I don't have much to add to the discussion, because, well, we all know how good it is, and gushing on about how good it is seems redundant. So in light of the video sparklemotion (great username, btw!) linked I'd like to pose a question...

What decisions would other Trek captains have made if put in this situation?
posted by 2ht at 2:09 PM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Well, Kirk would've tried lecturing Vreenak, but it wouldn't have worked, and Vreenak would have been a hot woman, because TOS needs a new hot woman in every episode like it's friggin' Seinfeld, so Kirk would've seduced her.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:20 PM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

What decisions would other Trek captains have made if put in this situation?

I've been thinking about this -- and, yelling at Wesley aside, I am not sure that I could make a coherent case to say that Picard would have done things that much differently. He was certainly ok with the use of spy craft/deception on at least one occasion (I'm positive that there were more but my hatred for Ro Laren looms large in my mind).

Kirk wouldn't have done it, but I think TOS would have had Vreenak be convinced by some noble action the Enterprise takes (probably: kirk shows Vreenak how he could have faked the evidence, Vreenak realizes that he's been misjudging these humans all along). Nu!Kirk wouldn't have lied to Vreenak either -- but he'd say something to Star Fleet Command that would get Command to mislead the Romulans in a convenient way.

Season 2 Janeway wouldn't have done it. But I didn't stick with Voyager long enough to have a coherent sense of her moral code in the later seasons

This plan involved too much treating aliens like people for Archer to touch it. Negotiating with a Romulan? Trusting a a known criminal Cardi? The hells no.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:49 PM on September 6, 2016

I really enjoyed this episode the first time I saw it and still enjoy it today but it has never been in my top 20 of DS9.

I get what people mean by DS9 largely being antithetical to Roddenberry's vision of Trek but I feel DS9 is the most Trekian of all the series we've had. It shows disparate people, with disparate cultures and former enemies and friends finding a way to work together, not always easily, and not always in a timely fashion, but nonetheless successfully in a manner that we've only achieved here and there in the real world. It's a more nuanced and mature version of Roddenberry's vision and one that as writer and dramatist Roddenberry seemed incapable of realizing.

One small example I think back to is one of my favourite episodes, Rapture, where Kira accepts Jake's decision to have Bashir operate on Sisko despite her own belief, backed by religious conviction no less, that the surgery not take place. These sort of things happen often on DS9.

What decisions would other Trek captains have made if put in this situation?

Archer would have done the same as Sisko I feel. The Enterprise episode Damage (which features Casey Biggs no less (i.e. Damar)) as the captain of starship that Archer... I guess I shouldn't say because spoilers, but Damage is very similar to this episode in it's focus on difficult unethical decisions, not to mention it's fabulous portrayal of addiction and withdrawal symptons.
posted by juiceCake at 3:03 PM on September 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

Season 2 Janeway wouldn't have done it.

Final episode Admiral Janeway would have done it.
posted by biffa at 1:53 AM on September 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

I can definitely see Janeway doing it, and being less conflicted about it than Sisko. Janeway could be ice cold when she felt the situation demanded it. I can see Picard going either way. If he did do it, I can picture him being very cold and businesslike about it (particularly in the Roddenberry days, when he was much more of a hardass soldier type) or I can see him being absolutely distraught about violating his ideals. Kirk may well have done it without a second thought. Kirk wasn't a big fan of Romulans in general, and was fine with engaging in underhanded tactics if he felt it served the greater good. The death of one (not very sympathetic) Romulan, to save billions? That wouldn't have been much of a quandary for Jams Tiberius Kirk!

Archer? That whole series is kind of a big blur to me now. I remember Archer being mostly an affable guy (Scott Bakula is affability made flesh). If he had darker moments, they've faded in my memory.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:33 AM on September 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

TOS often flat-out ignored the rules, as with the numerous breaches of the Prime Directive; even Spock hijacked the Enterprise (and risked the death penalty, not for mutiny but for violating the quarantine of Talos IV) to bring his old captain there. (I also seem to remember Kirk resolving at least one situation while deliberately leaving it out of his official log; I thought it was "Space Seed", but that's not mentioned in the Memory Alpha summary--I may be conflating it with "Metamorphosis".) Trying to decide what each captain would have done is not as straightforward as it might seem, simply because, to some degree, you also have to go beyond individual characters to the assumptions and biases of each show. That is, the thing about using a Kirk Summation [TVTropes] is that you have to have a recipient on whom it will actually work; Sisko tries it on Gowron twice--in "The Way of the Warrior" and "Apocalypse Rising"--and gets shot down both times; it's not until "By Inferno's Light" that Gowron actually listens and reinstates the Khitomer Accords, by which time the Cardassians have already given the Dominion a foothold in the Alpha Quadrant. And it's not even that Sisko isn't persuasive--he certainly can be--but that it just wasn't that kind of situation. (It should also be noted that, in one situation in which Kirk gave a successful Kirk Summation--to Mirror-Spock in "Mirror, Mirror"--the long-term results were... not great.)

This episode is not only great in and of its own right (although I agree with showbiz_liz that it shouldn't be the first DS9 ep that people watch, and really shouldn't be watched out of context of the season), but pairs up nicely with the previous episode in its examination of Starfleet ethics, and also with "Statistical Probabilities", in terms of the two choices that CheesesOfBrazil lists above, and a different resolution to the question. I'm not saying that Bashir's choice was incorrect, as his augment-savants clearly weren't including all relevant factors in their analysis--they couldn't even take what Sarina might do into account--but Bashir's choice was before Betazed fell, and that would change an awful lot, I think; fighting the Dominion must have become a lot harder when you lost your planet of telepaths, I'd imagine. And the Romulans absolutely would have taken advantage of the situation regardless of the eventual victor, so there's that. (They certainly try to do so even when they're part of the Alliance, as we'll see soon.) One of the historical analogies that I didn't see in MA but which occurred to me was the delay in America's entry into WWII; you may know that there's a long-standing conspiracy theory that FDR knew of the attack in advance, but let it happen to bring about public support for joining the war. You can just imagine FDR sitting with a glass of something strong, muttering to himself, "I can live with it. I can live with it."

Speaking of that, big ups for performances all around. Avery Brooks does nibble on the scenery a bit, but he really shines during the quieter moments; as with Shatner, you really get a sense of the actor, not during the big barn-burner speeches, but during those lower-energy times. Bashir's disgust at what he's being asked to do is a nice bookend to his own encounter with black ops in the previous episode, and Garak also has some great moments, as well. I thought that the title of the episode was very apropos because of Garak filling the symbolic role of the devil making a deal. Think about it--he's been exiled to a place that seems like hell to him, is in a way the Prince of Lies (think of the end of "The Wire"), has a difficult relationship with his father (to say the least), who has a lot of power and can be incredibly cruel; and has an odd sort of taunting relationship with the young, idealistic Bashir. The main differences are that he doesn't become the de facto ruler of DS9 (if he had done so, forging more and stronger alliances with Quark and the other residents of the station, he might be quite a bit more like his father), and instead of him being the one to tempt Bashir into joining a secret intelligence organization, that role falls to Sloan of Section 31, while Garak does so with Sisko instead. One of the minor disappointments to me is that Garak never got directly involved with Section 31.

...that we know of, anyway.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:05 PM on September 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

One of the minor disappointments to me is that Garak never got directly involved with Section 31.

Oh man, put Robinson and Sadler in a room together and… Goddammit, now I'm mentally bro-shipping Sloan and Garak.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 12:24 PM on September 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

I wish I could relive the experience I had when I watched this for the first time ten years ago. It was such a ride in a way no Star Trek had never been, because only a serialized TV show could be. It was the same feeling from watching a really good episode of The Sopranos or Breaking Bad.

It even has a sorta' similar structure to Breaking Bad's season 4 ending: the hero is in a desperate situation, has to go through several steps to reach his goal--not all of which succeed, and he wins when someone dies by going boom boom. Both endings, Sisko deleting the log, and pan to the Lily-of-the-Valley behind Walter packed the same kind final punch.

Years ago on some other web forum, a fan wrote about wishing there had been a follow up episode where someone finds out about this and tries to blackmail Sisko. I'm glad this was never brought up again. Sisko has far too much responsibilities to linger on his guilt beyond this timeframe.
posted by riruro at 12:52 PM on September 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

As I've mentioned before, this isn't just one of my favorite episodes of Star Trek, it's one of my favorite episodes of television in general - it really left an impression when it first aired. A lot of my thoughts about it have been covered, so I'm going to be a little more scattershot:

* Under the correct circumstances, any other leader on a Trek show might have done this, but I only consider it a sure thing for a couple of them:

Kirk was perfectly willing to break any law in the pursuit of what he perceived to be the greater good. As pointed out above, the non-interference directive was really more of a suggestion in his day. The bulk of the TOS movies also leaned on him breaking the law just enough to save whatever needed saving and get busted back down from Admiral. I bet he would've felt like Sisko about it, but I have no doubt he would've pulled the trigger if and only if diplomacy failed.

Janeway would've done it without losing a moment's sleep. Sisko's actions here are nowhere near as over the line as how she dealt with the Equinox or the Temporal Prime Directive in the aforementioned finale, among many other questionable actions. (It's my feeling that the events in Caretaker were supposed to have shaken her belief in putting the law over her people. I think the whole thing was handled badly and messily - not a fan of Voyager at all - but the underlying conflict Janeway would feel made sense on paper. Also, it didn't escape my notice that Admirals on Star Trek are almost always evil, and Janeway is the only one in this group to remain an Admiral for any length of time.)

I would buy Picard making either choice, depending on external events and when it came up. During I, Borg, he passed up a similarly morally reprehensible action that could've saved at least as many lives as Sisko did here from a fate he would definitely regard as worse. On the other hand... he did already pass up one chance like this, and First Contact makes it seem like he regretted that deeply. I don't consider it a sure thing in his case, though. (IMO, Picard seemed like the captain least likely to break a rule, even in the face of certain defeat. He was also the most skilled diplomat of the bunch.)

I wasn't a big fan of Enterprise, but I saw Archer do some pretty questionable things there. Tossup?

* Vreenak's great.
This is the episode where it really, truly hit me that Romulans are just Vulcans without the religious zealotry, and that Surak was definitely wrong. It should have occurred to me *much* sooner, but it really didn't. I know I've talked about this before, but we got a lot of talk from figures like Spock and Sarek about how Vulcans just had to suppress their emotions or they'd flip out and go berserk and whatnot: see McCoy having to fake Kirk's death during Spock's pon farr, and so on.

Vreenak pretty much just sounds like a Vulcan who's willing to tell you how he really feels, instead of bottling it up. He's cold, he's rational... but he's also a dick, and in retrospect, that's how Romulans were always portrayed: Vulcans who are not repressed. (This similarity is also showcased in the 'Sisko vs. Vulcans in a baseball game,' in the other direction, IMO.)

Also, I never thought the whole 'It's a FAAAAKE!' thing was narmy - to me, that felt like Vreenak's surprise that Sisko would actually do something like that freaking him out. Like, shock at misreading both Sisko and the bigger picture so, so badly. That was compared to the 'I drink your milkshake' thing from There Will Be Blood in an earlier thread, and that's totally how I took it: that was the sound of someone just completely snapping at an unexpected contradiction. If a fellow Romulan had pulled that, I think Vreenak would've shrugged it off, made a countermove and almost certainly survived the encounter. But he expected Sisko to be on the level, and he had no idea Sisko would employ the services of someone like Garak. (I bet they did sweep for bombs before taking off, because I expect Romulans to sweep for bombs before eating a sandwich or checking their e-mail... but I don't think it ever would've occurred to Vreenak that Garak was in the mix, and that extra caution was warranted.)

* Garak is just the best.
I loved that at the same time Sisko was trying to manage the bigger picture, Garak was managing him. He knew he couldn't get Sisko to actually sign off on assassination, but he also knew Sisko wouldn't call him on it or the whole thing would've been for nothing. (Plus, I think he was willing to die over this: it was Cardassia's only hope, and that was the one place Garak never bent.)

I also appreciated them showing off just how dangerous he was. On a lot of shows, a character like Garak would get talked up: mysterious past, used to be a big deal, used to be a spy, but it'd just be an informed attribute. Not Garak. Every time Garak actually gets moving, he's every bit as capable as the backstory would lead us to believe, and it's always such a joy to watch. (See also him blowing up his own store to initiate an investigation into who might be coming for him, and so on.)

Garak is my single favorite figure in Star Trek, both for that, and for Robinson's wonderful performance.

And... gah, better get some work done, but I'll probably blather more later.
posted by mordax at 1:54 PM on September 7, 2016 [9 favorites]

I loved this episode the first couple of times I watched it, especially the first. And I loved it this time but have to agree, it didn't feel like the greatest episode of Trek ever. I think the problem is that once you have gone through the big reveal and twist you know what's going to happen, so it isn't shocking, you are pretty much waiting for it.

So much as I loved it as I just love DS9, and, as someone commented elsewhere, "spending 45 minutes in the company of some of my fave characters on one of my fave shows is never wasted time," I didn't feel this would be in my top ten DS9 episodes. It is well plotted, the dialogue is good, Sisko's talking-to-the-camera parts are excellent, the rationale he offers, after posting more casualty lists, resonates and makes sense. And Garak's reply in the above quoted conversation:

S: "Who's watching Tolar?"
G: "I've locked him in his quarters. I've also left him with the distinct impression that if he attempts to force the door open, it may explode"
S: "I hope that's just an impression"
G: "It's best not to dwell on such...minutiae"

Is perfect, such great and strong writing, really works in the show/episode/character. I agree with whoever said above about Garak that when he does stuff, he does stuff - when they go to Empok Nor he is amazing, he really does act like an assassin, he really can kill in cold blood, it isn't all just an act, and it isn't soft pedalled.
posted by marienbad at 5:11 PM on September 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

That was compared to the 'I drink your milkshake' thing from There Will Be Blood in an earlier thread

Great comparison, also inasmuch as both phrases became memes, and said memeification hurt the actual, original impact of the moment. I first saw this episode before I knew that the "FAAAKE" line had joined "KHAAAN!" in (what would then have been described as) the Trekkie-reference canon. As a result, the line punched me in the gut: I'd expected the episode to have a tidier, more TNG-ish wrap-up.

Also, it didn't escape my notice that Admirals on Star Trek are almost always evil, and Janeway is the only one in this group to remain an Admiral for any length of time.

*eyes widen* Holy shit dude.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 4:41 AM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

*eyes widen* Holy shit dude.

Casts Living Witness in a whole new light, doesn't it? (Warning: spoilers for an episode of Voyager I actually really liked.)

Hopping back to other stuff:
Fields's original premise revolved around Jake "watergating" First Minister Shakaar.

I would like to take a moment to point out that Shakaar is played by the same guy who portrayed the sex ghost in one of the worst episodes of Star Trek canon. His web page is hilarious, and I now dare you all to unsee this connection.

This was the idea around which Michael Taylor composed his first draft of the script – the inherent conflict between Jake and Sisko.

This whole thing was the most fascinating piece of this episode's trivia for me. I love hearing about ideas that didn't gel in the writer's room, and how that happens. It's also a testament to the quality of DS9 that I literally cannot picture those two coming into conflict in such an overt way, not after stuff like The Visitor.
posted by mordax at 12:32 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Season 2 Janeway wouldn't have done it. But I didn't stick with Voyager long enough to have a coherent sense of her moral code in the later seasons

Janeway doesn't have a coherent moral code. She's all Prime Directive!! one episode and trigger happy psychopath the next.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 12:51 PM on September 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also, the episode is all up in Sisko's head, but on this rewatch I was more focused in Garek. He doesn't like the Dominion, and I don't know how fond he is of the Federation (though I'm sure he likes the Federation a lot more now), and I assume a major motivation was to be a spy once again. Life as a tailor is hell to him, and this mission allows him to come out of retirement and use all his skills and connections to perform the greatest act of espionage of his life.

Garek takes the initiative right away. He suggests forging evidence and gathers whats needed, and when that fails, he has the plan B. He doesn't ask Sisko's permission to snoop around the Senator's vessel. Sisko brought Garek into this, but Garek doesn't consider Sisko his boss. That'd be in keeping with the Cardassian way, where the Obsidian Order doesn't report to the military, but looks down on it, and consider themselves (as shown in "Defiant" and its sister episodes "Improbable Cause"/"The Die is Cast"). And maybe Garek holds that attitude even more towards Starfleet, which can't even admit to being military. In conclusion, when Sisko punched him, I imagine Garek thinking, "My father warned me about working with military guys."
posted by riruro at 10:29 PM on September 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

Season 2 Janeway wouldn't have done it.

Final episode Admiral Janeway would have done it.

Year of Hell Janeway would have done it, then deleted the Doctor when he tried to object.


This is one of my two favorite episodes of DS9. The other being It's Only A Paper Moon. Garak is at his very best in this episode. They've spent five seasons calmly building his character to these moments. The " It's best not to dwell on such minutiae" line was mentioned earlier, and I love his delivery of "I'll be along shortly to say... hello" both of which always make me laugh aloud.

But his closing conversation with Sisko is simply masterful.

Garak: "If you can let your anger subside for a moment Captain, you will see that they did not die in vain! The Romulans will enter the war!"
Sisko: "There's no guarantee of that!"
Garak:: "OH, but I think that there IS. You see, when the Tal Shiar finishes examining the wreckage of Vreenak's shuttle, they'll find the burnt remnants of a Cardassian optolithic data rod that somehow miraculously survived the explosion. After painstaking forensic examination, they'll discover that the rod contains a recording of a high level Dominion meeting at which the invasion of Romulus was being planned."
Sisko: "And then they will discover that it is a FRAUD!"
Garak: No, but I don't think that they will! Because any imperfections in the forgery will thought to be as a result of the explosion!
So... with a seemingly legitimate rod in one hand, and a dead senator in the other.... I ask you Captain... what conclusions would you draw?"
Sisko: [sighs] "That Vreenak obtained the rod on Soukara, and that the Dominion killed him to prevent him from returning to Romulus with it."
Garak: "Precisely. And the more they deny it, the more the Romulans will think that they are guilty because it is exactly what they would have done in their place.
That's why you came to me. Isn't it, Captain? Because you knew I could do those things that you weren't capable of doing. Well, it worked. And you'll get what you want: a war between the Romulans and the Dominion. And if your conscience is bothering you, you should soothe it with the knowledge that you may have just saved the entire Alpha Quadrant.
And all it cost was the life of one Romulan senator, one criminal... and the self-respect of one Starfleet officer. I don't know about you, but I'd call that a bargain."

Chills. I get chills every time I watch that.

TV Tropes calls this sort of storyline a Xanatos Gambit: "A Xanatos Gambit is a plan for which all foreseeable outcomes benefit the creator — including ones that superficially appear to be failure. The creator predicts potential attempts to thwart the plan, and arranges the situation such that the creator will ultimately benefit even if their adversary "succeeds" in "stopping" them."


The best episodes of any Trek series are usually those which go into the darker places Roddenberry wanted to avoid. TNG's "Yesterday's Enterprise", TOS' "City on the Edge of Forever", VOY's "Year of Hell" and DS9's Dominion Arc. This was one of DS9's darker and more disquieting episodes, and it was spectacularly well done.
posted by zarq at 12:45 PM on September 9, 2016 [7 favorites]


imdb: "Quark's bloody shirt - the one he makes such a fuss about - is made from the same material as Captain Sisko's throw pillows."
posted by zarq at 12:46 PM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

The best episodes of any Trek series are usually those which go into the darker places Roddenberry wanted to avoid. TNG's "Yesterday's Enterprise", TOS' "City on the Edge of Forever", VOY's "Year of Hell" and DS9's Dominion Arc. This was one of DS9's darker and more disquieting episodes, and it was spectacularly well done.

I was nodding along with everything you said until you got to Year of Hell, which I regarded as a disappointing waste of my time, and then I tried to think of why that was, when every other example you offered was superb.

After some mulling, I think it's not darkness that's the secret ingredient necessarily, at least for me, but *messiness*. Roddenberry wanted things to be tidy: crews that got along, races that got along, utopia... but that's not interesting. (Ironically, TNG riffs on this a bit in The Masterpiece Society, IIRC.) The thing about good drama is, good drama is messy - it works better when the audience doesn't want to bonk the protagonist over the head for not taking the obviously correct answer.

Like... Year of Hell is dark, but it isn't really complex: Time Ahab Bad, Janeway Good. Moreover, Janeway does not - as pointed out above - really have a coherent moral philosophy to break when she's pushed into a corner. This was also the problem with Equinox, which was super dark but lacked any sort of urgency for me. As the audience, we more or less know how those stories must unfold, both from the perspective of the participants and just because of the constraints of the show itself. (Voyager won't be blown up permanently, Janeway won't lose her command, etc.)

On the other hand, I'd rate Voyager's Timeless and Living Witness as some of the best hours in Trek canon, because the problems posed in them had no good answers and the protagonists had developed personalities that gave the situations stakes for them. It didn't matter that Voyager got out of those scrapes in one piece, or that those stories didn't even really have villains per se, the protagonists were left with no truly 'right' answers, and had to make their way through it all without certainty, and that was... dunno, for lack of a better word, interesting in a way Voyager usually was not.

City on the Edge of Forever was similar, as was Yesterday's Enterprise: sacrificing people in the past to save the future isn't cut and dried, and we could argue about the virtues or dangers of it all day if we wanted to, which is... fun? Thought provoking?

... I may be rambling due to the hour. But I don't really think it was the darkness that made this one either, more that they managed to generate believable dramatic tension. This *could* have gone either way almost anywhere, and while Garak is satisfied with the outcome, the audience isn't expected to be, and that's just... good.

(Also, these threads have been so much fun. We should totally do the other shows when we run outta DS9.)
posted by mordax at 2:03 AM on September 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

My one wish for this episode is that it hadn't been built up so much for me as BESTTREKEVAR DARKSISKOISBESTSISKO.

Yeah, it was a little odd watching this one knowing ahead of time that it was a...significant episode. The title has come up often in these threads, and though I don't think I was spoiled for it, I definitely went into it with a "ok, here it finally is, let's see what the big deal is about this one" mindset.

I definitely prefer this level of grimdark-Trek over the previous episode's introduction of 'Section 31'. Sisko's moral dilemma and journey of paving that road to hell with his good intentions is much more believable to me than a super-competent super-secret 'Federation Homeland Security' organization.
posted by oh yeah! at 5:15 AM on September 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

The second scene Garak Is in is also a good one. Drops in that everyone he contacted on Cardassia died within 24 hours. Then hooks Sisko by asking him whether he's good to give up already. We only have Garak's word anything happened to his contacts, or even whether they exist, but Sisko is on the hook and Garak's plot can begin.
posted by biffa at 8:48 AM on September 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

And the more they deny it, the more the Romulans will think that they are guilty because it is exactly what they would have done in their place.

Garak's got a pretty good theory-of-mind for a tailor.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:15 PM on September 10, 2016

It is wonderful to see Garak be able to flex his muscles. He understands people so well, and expertly manipulates them based on their fear or needs. I also liked how you could track the progression of time in the changing of Garak's outfits.
posted by obol at 9:23 AM on September 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Garek takes the initiative right away.

You see, what I think makes this great is that he doesn't. He's extremely hesitant to get his contacts involved in the first scene, and while he agrees to do it, he isn't exactly all in - he's aware that this is going to be of great cost to him.

And then it's a larger cost than he was expecting when all of his contacts die. And yeah, I agree with biffa that scene was a great one - I don't doubt that Garak was manipulating Sisko at that moment, but I also got some simmering but controlled rage from Garak at that point - he wants this to succeed and is all in because he wants the dominion to pay. So he eggs Sisko on, and Sisko lets him do it.

I think it's also notable that Sisko doesn't really question what Garak has done to the ship. Sure, he asks at first, gets a somewhat shady answer, but he never follows up at all - never asks if Garak got any information off the ship, for example. He decides not to look too closely at the situation. And I do think that if the stakes weren't so high, it would definitely be in character for Sisko to not let Garak off the hook and for him to be able to find out what was going on. He didn't authorize the execution, no, but he did willfully ignore the signs.

All I really knew about this episode going in was that it was going to be one of the darkest episodes of Star Trek and that Sisko was going to make a morally ambiguous choice. And when Garak announced he would be on the ship, I honestly thought he was going to get caught, Sisko was going to refuse all knowledge of the situation, and the Romulans would see a member of the Obsidian Order (well, ex member, but still) on the ship and blame Cardassia. So I'm glad that Garak still lives.

Still, it was a very good episode, but I'm glad I didn't watch this one and the previous one back to back, otherwise I would have to hide under a blanket for a few days.
posted by dinty_moore at 2:26 PM on January 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

Something I wasn't certain of: did they actually trade the 85 Liters of biomimetic gel for the Cardassian data rod?

Garak went to great lengths in the turbolift to explain the necessity of acquiring a legitimate data-rod, says nothing of who his source is except that he trusts him and will verify the authenticity himself, and insists that the biomimetic gel is the only way to pay for it, but that the amount needed may be negotiable.

Then Dr. Bashir, in his awesome scene protesting Sisko's order, lists among the reasons that biomimetic gel is so restricted, it's use in creating organic explosives.

Then Tolar creates a perfect DeepFake of the Dominion council meeting, such that Vreenak is convinced by what he sees, but wants to investigate the rod itself. Sisko, in front of Garak, informs Tolar that he's either walking free or going back to Klingon prison. Garak immediately tells Tolar that he'll be checking in on him shortly.

Vreenak discovers that IT'S A FAAAAKE!*, but that issue had to have been with the rod itself, bot Tolar's DeepFake. No matter, by this time Garak has already presumably killed Tolar. Vreenak leaves for Soukara, has his meeting with the Dominion (and I guess at no point tells anyone on Romulus about the doin's a-transpirin' on Deep Space Nine, but fine) and Garak blows up his ship as it leaves Soukara.

What this makes me think is that Garak never attempted to find a genuine Cardassian data rod, and asking for the biomimetic gel served two purposes. 1.) it pushes Sisko past the moral even horizon in terms of being "bought in," and 2.) it provides Garak with the material to create organic explosives which he used to kill Vreenak.

Basically, yeah, as soon as Sisko goes to Garak, Garak is able to play him like a fiddle through all of these events, knowing from the beginning that he was going to kill Tolar, and knowing that he was probably going to need to kill Vreenak to sell the war. So that's what I think happened to the biomimetic gel - that trade was with Garak himself.

*For my money, this moment works in context, but is hilarious out of context, so I'm fine with the meming of it.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:39 PM on May 25, 2020 [8 favorites]

Oh, and I think Picard wouldn't have done this precisely because faced with this issue, he wouldn't have gone to Garak. He would have gone to, well, Spock, probably. He would have made an impassioned speech and used sympathetic Romulan rabble-rousers to shift public opinion in favor of the war.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:46 PM on May 25, 2020

Just re-watched it. Damn this is good.

No, Picard wouldn't have done this. This is antithetical to Picard's entire worldview. Picard is the guy who talked his basically-adopted-son into telling the truth where it wouldn't help anybody, and hurt Wesley and his teammates' careers possibly forever, because "the first duty of any Starfleet officer is to the Truth." So yeah, Picard wouldn't do this, would never have gone to Garak, none of it.

Sisko, this entire episode as soon as he first meets with Garak, is a puppet who believes he's acting of his own accord. Garak is subtle and brilliant at it, but its easy to see in retrospect: Garak waited for three days for Sisko to come and ask about progress, Garak made up stories about reaching out to contacts and them all dying at the hands of Cardassian Intel. Garak floats the idea of inviting Vreenak (the most pro-Dominan and thus presumably most pro-current-Cardassian-government senator on Romulus) for a secret meeting, suggests manufacturing evidence of a Dominion plan to attack the Romulan Empire, informs Sisko of how "nearly-impossible" it will be to obtain an Optolythic Data Rod but that he can manage it (despite his tales of Cardassian Intel killing all of his sources, Sisko is willing to bite down on this one), makes Sisko arrange to get Tolar out of Klingon death row (and Tolar is laughing about Klingon prison until he hears Garak's name, which terrifies him), Garak makes the forgery play better, having arranged for the 85 liters of biomimetic gel (great for creating organic explosives!), he TELLS SISKO that he's sneaking aboard Vreenak's ship during the meeting, and then, when the rod (not the DeepFake, the rod itself) is revealed as a fake, he kills Tomar, and Vreenak (and let's not forget those four bodyguards!) and gets the war started just the way he planned, probably in those three days of Sisko waiting for a progress update.

And then he convinces Sisko that this is, basically, what Sisko asked him to do. And maybe it was, kinda. From his first decision, Sisko was willing to put millions of Romulan lives to near-certain death in pursuit of this agenda. He was willing to sacrifice all of Garak's contacts on his original version of the plan (and didn't seem too beat-up about hearing they'd died, which they didn't.) Sisko's life-and-death morality prior to this was about vague, abstract deaths that he couldn't put a name to, vs. the names he was putting up on the wall every Friday. Garak knew better, and maybe, just maybe, Sisko did know that Garak could do what Sisko couldn't there.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:15 PM on September 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

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