Sunday, February 22, 2015

6-19. In the Pale Moonlight.

Sisko is haunted after sacrificing his
integrity for a chance at victory.


The war is going badly. The Dominion are striking at the Federation through Romulan space, thanks to the non-aggression pact the Romulans signed, and this is proving to be crippling for Starfleet - as shown by the casualty reports posted every Friday, with every Friday bringing station staff new heartache as they read the names of more friends and loved ones who are now gone forever.

Sisko is certain that the Dominion will attack Romulus as soon as the Federation is dealt with. If he can prove this, then he has a good chance of breaking that nonaggression pact and possibly even bringing the Romulans into the war. He goes to Garak, who agrees to call in favors with his Cardassian contacts. But the Dominion is as watchful as it is ruthless, and every agent Garak communicates with quickly ends up dead.

That's when Garak proposes another solution. If they can't find evidence of a Dominion plot against the Romulans, then why not fabricate some? He comes up with a plan to create an entirely authentic-seeming forged data record, to present to Sen. Vreenak (Stephen McHattie), the Romulans' most outspoken supporter of the Dominion; if they can convince Vreenak, Garak reasons, then the entire Romulan Empire will fall in line.

As the plan unfolds, Sisko is forced again and again to compromise his integrity. If the ruse succeeds, he will secure a powerful ally for the Federation. But at what point does the cost become too great?


Capt. Sisko: Avery Brooks' stagier tendencies are on full display in the framing device that sees Sisko recording his thoughts on the events after the fact. But the emoting feels entirely in-character. As Sisko recalls the story for our benefit, he wrestles with himself to decide whether the things he did were justified. He crosses one small line after another: He agrees to fake evidence; he frees forger Grathon Tlar (Howard Shangraw) to achieve this; he covers up a crime Grathon commits on the station... On and on, keeping his eyes latched to the promise of an ultimate greater good at the end. As he records his log, Sisko seems to be weighing whether his choices were correct and he should move onto his next challenge, or whether he went too far and should resign his commission. By the end, he reaches a decision... and erases his entire personal log to make sure there is no trace of what may be considered a confession.

Quark: It's critical to Sisko's plans that there be no record of Grathon's presence on the station - So when the forger physically assaults Quark, he must stop the Ferengi from pressing charges. He asks Quark what it will take to make the situation go away, and the Ferengi's eyes light up at seeing the noble Starfleet captain reduced to offering a bribe. To his credit, Quark doesn't make Sisko squirm too badly. He secures a handful of largely reasonable concessions from the captain, then lets the matter go. But the very fact of this transaction is his true reward, as he tells Sisko when their business is concluded: "Thank you for restoring my faith in the 98th RUle of Acquisition: Every man has his price."

Weyoun/Damar: Seen only in the forged holo recording - Which, as Garak gleefully notes, is made convincing with the addition of (a bit of bickering and mutual loathing quote). Casey Biggs and Jeffrey Combs do a splendid job of playing convincing replicas of Damar and Weyoun - They aren't quite the real thing, but they're very close to it... Which, for this episode's purposes, is exactly right.

Garak: I commented back in my review of Empok Nor that Garak had been allowed to become too safe a character. This episode restores him to his proper status as someone who may be an ally, but one who is as ruthless as he is formidable. Garak is a little like a dark side Jiminy Cricket on Sisko's shoulder, prodding the captain to just one more compromise... And furthering a plan of his own all the while. The best part of the episode's treatment of Garak is that every single thing he says is absolutely correct, right down to his observation that Sisko came to him because he specifically needed someone like him, someone willing to do the dark and nasty things required to make the plan work. In a very real sense, Garak is the hero of the episode, arguably the hero of the entire Dominion War... Which doesn't make him any less frightening. Just like Sisko, he would do all of this again; unlike Sisko, he isn't particularly bothered by what he had to do to make this victory possible.


"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."
-Benjamin Sisko, allowing the ends to justify the means.

Back in the Season Four finale, Broken Link, Garak was stopped and arrested while attempting to destroy the changelings' home world. Even then, it was more than clear to everyone that the war was inevitable, and potentially unwinnable. If one could step into the series now, not quite two years later, and ask the characters (even those who would have died on the planet) if they wished Garak had succeeded, I suspect most of them would say "Yes."

One of the reasons In the Pale Moonlight works so splendidly is that Sisko's desperation here has been building all season. Even after he won back the station and convinced the Prophets to keep Dominion reinforcements from coming through the wormhole, the outlook has remained bleak. In Statistical Probabilities, Bashir and his group of augments flat-out told anyone who would listen that it was a mathematical impossibility for Starfleet to win the war. In Far Beyond the Stars, the stream of bad news and casualty reports had Sisko on the brink of resigning. Starfleet has been losing the war ever since it began - So there's a ring of inevitability to the news that the Dominion has started taking control of key Federation planets.

This is what pushes Sisko to accept Garak's advice, and what keeps pushing him as he falls ever deeper into the rabbit hole of deceptions, crimes, and cover-ups. It's revealing to watch Sisko and Garak in this story. Sisko starts feeling the strain of lies almost immediately, and that strain grows throughout the episode. Garak simply takes it all in stride, moving from lie to pleasantly-worded threat to caustic observation with ease... And why not? For Sisko, this is all strange and terrible - something that has made the world of his station into a treacherous foreign land. For Garak, this is his natural habitat.

Sisko's ending speech, a bit of which is quoted above, is of course a stunner. But the entire episode is peppered with great scenes and wonderful lines, from Quark's enjoyment at Sisko's compromised integrity to the scene in which Sisko and Garak take turns threatening Grathon - Sisko hot, Garak cold, and both of them absolutely lethal.

The script is credited to Michael Taylor, who previously penned the excellent fourth season episode The Visitor. The broadcast version was heavily rewritten by Ronald D. Moore, who has penned more excellent Trek episodes than would be reasonable to list. And it's from a (radically different) story premise by Peter Allen Fields, who wrote such early gems as Duet, Necessary Evil, and Crossover. Given the pedigree, it was probably inevitable that this would be good. But it's more than just good - This is a serious candidate for the series' best episode, and an absolute cinch for any DS9 Top Five.

Indispensible viewing, by any measure.

Overall Rating: 10/10.

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