Of all the television shows I have watched throughout my life—and there have been many—the one that has had the most impact on me is Star Trek. I have watched nearly every episode of every series (still working on the Original and Animated series) and they have profoundly shaped my view of the world. So starting with today, I’d like to periodically talk about my favorite episodes and what I think makes them special.
One of the really great things about Star Trek is the fact that it is episodic. This allowed creators to dedicate entire episodes to specific issues that may have only gotten a few lines, or subtext in feature films. The last two seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine featured an ongoing plot line of the Dominion War, which allowed the show to tackle themes rarely broached in other Trek series. “In the Pale Moonlight” is one such episode, and is one of my absolute favorites.
“In the Pale Moonlight” occurs toward the end of the sixth season. At this point, things are going badly for the Federation. As Captain Sisko, a Starfleet officer, posts another casualty report, he decides that he needs to find a way to bring the Romulans into the war on his side. Sisko quickly enlists the aid of the station’s resident spy master, Garak. As the episode progresses, Sisko is forced to make more and more questionable decisions to this end, including bribery, falsifying records and transferring dangerous, controlled materials to unknown persons. Eventually the whole plot blows up in Sisko’s face and he feels that he may have personally doomed the entire Federation. In the end, the Romulans do enter the war against the Dominion, due in no small part to the machinations of Garak.
“In the Pale Moonlight” is one of the few episodes to really delve into the ethics of war. The decisions that Sisko constantly faces force him to evaluate how much he is willing to pay in order to ensure that the Romulans enter the war on the correct side. While the eventual personal cost is high, the reward for the greater good is worth it. Yes, millions of people will die in the war. Yes, several people died in the commission of the fraud, but as Star Trek is so fond of saying “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Despite all of the hand wringing and debating, Sisko finally decides he can live with all of this on his conscious because it will help win the war.
Garak is especially interesting in this episode. By this point in the show, his past as a spy is well known, but this time around the writers really dive into how far he is willing to go to accomplish his task. While he fully supports and aids Sisko in his plan, Garak also puts his own plan into motion, which is ultimately successful and far bloodier. Garak’s plot also demonstrates his ability to manipulate different situations to his advantage, as he sets up a situation that he knows will manipulate the Romulans. There is even a little optimism shown in Garak. He states that he is hopeful Sisko’s plan would work, but that he suspects it would not hold up to investigation.
I enjoy this episode for several reasons, the biggest of which is the subject matter. As I’ve said, Star Trek covers all kinds of topics, but Deep Space Nine tended to cover those that fell into gray areas, unlike The Next Generation and Original Series which usually stuck to topics that were far more black and white. I enjoy watching stories where the characters must choose between the lesser of two evils. The process by which they decide is always fascinating.
The interactions between Garak and Sisko also provide for some very interesting moments. There are several times in which Sisko finds himself questioning whether he should continue or not. Every time this happens, Garak is there to remind him of why he is attempting this plot and of the consequences of not doing it. The final thing I really liked is the method by which the story was told. The whole episode is told as though Sisko is retelling the events to his personal log. Periodically the episode would return to Sisko sitting on the couch in his quarters walking through the entire sequence of events. It also provides a logical way for Sisko to verbalize his thought process without the use of voiceovers or asides. This is definitely an episode worth checking out, especially from a series that tends to be relegated to a secondary status.