Friday, October 9, 2015

Deep Space Nine, Season 6: In the Pale Moonlight Space Nine, Season 6
"In the Pale Moonlight"
Airdate: April 15, 1998
141 of 173 produced
141 of 173 aired


Sisko's weariness over mounting Starfleet casualties in the Dominion War leads to his undertaking a morally questionable stratagem aimed at bringing the Romulan Empire into the fray.

 You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?


Kevin: I have been looking forward to this review for a long time. This is easily one of my favorite DS9 episodes, one of the best episodes of the series, and along with The Siege of AR-558, a neat encapsulation of what I see DS9 as being about. I've always seen DS9 as a necessary part of the Star Trek cannon. It takes Starfleet characters, and places them in non-Starfleet situations to see how they react. It's an interesting piece of the question about whether humanity's newfound tranquility is the result of actual growth or simply an artifact of their now perpetual material wealth. What takes this episode from one I would merely like to one I actually love is that it answers the question, at least this time, in the negative. I'll get to my issues with the creakiness of the framing sequence in a minute, but it did provide one of my favorite ideas in the episode, that not only did Sisko ultimately go along with the ethically grey plan, he asked for Garak's help knowing that's where it would go and choosing not to care. It really turns the screws on the moral questions raised by the episode and doesn't stoop to pandering or easy answers. There's a wonderful ambiguity to the phrase "I can live with it," that just ties the episode together. Is he trying to convince himself he can live with it even though he can't? Can he actually live with it and does that surprise him and his own sense of his morality? Can it be both?

Matthew: I certainly appreciate any episode or movie in which questions of whether the ends justify the means is addressed, and I enjoyed pondering it here. I might have preferred it if Sisko had taken a more active hand in Vreenak's assassination, but as you say they ultimately make a point of Sisko's culpability. As far as the broader point, I do think this story could have been told with other characters (I could absolutely see Kirk or Janeway doing this, perhaps less so Picard), but none of those episodes really had the setting or the serialized nature to do it. So I'm glad it got told here.

Kevin: The cloak and dagger stuff built really well for me. The Federation has not been doing the best job with the war all season, so the threat of Dominion forces using Romulan space as a resource feels like a credible threat, foggy 3D space geography aside. (I mean, seriously, every major power seems to have its own border with every other major power.) Even their biggest victory was a deus ex machina. These really are desperate times, and it's fun to see the desperate measures being contemplated. I'm annoyed a little that we got no look at Betazed being conquered, but it was a good call, plotwise. It's a familiar enough name and makes us wonder about a few recurring characters' fates that it had the right amount of punch. Graduating from using espionage to uncover the plot that must surely exist to manufacturing it, then to abiding an increasing list of shady dealings really built well for me. It wasn't like Garak walked in and said "Let's murder a Romulan senator and frame the Dominion, sound good?" It built with just the right tension that by the time Sisko gets to the end, we're almost as surprised as he is. And, of course, once again, we get a lovely addition of Quark to hold the mirror up to humanity's values.

Matthew: I agree on the buildup. The story did a good job of showing how one simple idea leads to a snowballing of messes and disasters. I imagine this is what working in what real intelligence is like (especially given the outcomes of some of our own recent intelligence operations). I might have liked a bit more from Garak as to why he would do such a thing, his motivations and leanings.  Why does he want nothing more than to see the Dominion destroyed? Sure, he was in a prison. But what is it about their ideology that he despises, or what about the quadrant they'd create?

Kevin: I have a few small complaints. It may more be acting choices, but I found the framing sequence of the Captain's Log to be a small degree too much. Particularly when Sisko is toasting the camera, I think it got a little far. I also wonder if Garak's plan is as foolproof as he thinks. I have to imagine the Tal'Shiar would be so surprised the randomness of it that they would at least do some digging. But these are tiny complaints. The episode is just a humdinger, and always has me on the edge of my seat.

Matthew: Personally, I liked the conceit of the log. It allows for more detailed expository dialogue that doesn't interfere with the realism of the actual scenes on display. Any problems I have with it are acting ones. I do have problems with certain aspects of the story, though. Why didn't Vreenak just phone home with the information? It's not like his shuttle exploded while leaving DS9. I agree that Garak's plan relies on too many assumptions. Why would a damaged data rod not be obviously fake? Do indications of fakeness present themselves as burn symptoms? I really like the point Garak makes - Sisko came to him because he knew the sort of answer and response he'd get, which implicates him ethically just as much if not moreso than Garak himself. It's a very Sartrean point. I didn't love Sisko punching Garak, it felt really cheap and out of character as a means of indicating anger, writing wise.

Kevin: Lastly, and not to bash on the Abrams movies gratuitously, this is how you do Star Trek in a darker environment. The world of Into Darkness contained none of the optimism that defined TOS and TNG, and watching that Kirk have to fight it was uninteresting. Here, the central plot point is watching that optimism face a meaningful test. A lot of people who dislike DS9 point to this as proof that DS9 is not "real" Trek or that by this point Braga/Moore/Piller/Berman had abandoned Rodenberry's Trek. I disagree. I think they just found a way to push that story in new directions. Sisko betraying Federation ideals is uninteresting if Federation ideals don't mean anything, and you only need to look to the Abrams movies to see what that looks like.

Matthew: I think this episode could have been improved by just a bit of that lightness - showing us someone who is disappointed by Sisko's actions, for instance. When he said "I can't even tell Dax" at the beginning, I was like, "why the hell not?" This is your closest, longest-held confidence.


Kevin: Well, Andrew Robinson should have won an Emmy for this one. There. I said it. And I'm completely serious. Robinson has always pitched Garak's lack of moral concerns as rooted in his pragmatism rather than something pathological. He enjoys achieving his ends and does not concern himself with whether the ends justify the means, but he's never depicted as capricious or cruel for its own sake. The result is a performance that puts most modern spy movies to shame. By the time he makes his "One dead senator and the self respect of one Starfleet officer speech," I remember thinking, at least for a moment, "The man has a point." It's ruthless but it's not psychotic. The ability to walk that line defines Robinson's performance and it really pays off in an episode like this.

Matthew: I loved his line reading on "I'll be along shortly to say... hello." That right there solidifies him as the most fun recurring guest star on DS9. Better than Weyoun (and JEffrey Combs was fun here), better than Dukat.

Kevin: Brooks was very good in this episode. I really bought the internal struggle. Other than a few hammier moments (see: Toasting the viewer in the Captain's Log), he really kept it nice and restrained. I liked Stephen McHattie a great deal as Vreenak. His condescension was really, really on point. My only qualm was with his reading of the line that launched a meme, "It's a FAAAAAAKE." I also want to give a quick shout out to Terry Ferrell, whose scene playing Romulan's advocate was just really fun to watch.

Matthew: I think the hammiest moment was when he shouted "people... are... dying... out... there!!" Who talks like that, in their room, alone, to a camera? Bad acting choice, IMHO. That said, I thought he was quite good generally. The only other time I felt he went over the top, and this is as much writing, was when he got all punchy with Garak. And yeah - McHattie's good work was completely undone by "It's a FAAAAAKE!"


Production Values

Kevin: We don't normally see Captains record their logs, but when we do, say Varley on the Yamato in Contagion or Zaheva on the Brattain in Night Terrors, it is a video log, so it's not out of nowhere that a log is recorded that way. It's good as framing sequences go, and gives an excuse for the monologue. It's a very theater-y device, but I love theater.

Matthew: Yeah, the basic shot was effective. I don't really understand how the camera changed to closeups in some shots, and think it broke the moment.

Kevin: For such a bottle show, I liked how we were all over the station. Quarters, corridors, turbolifts, the wardroom, Quark's, etc. I really liked the staging of the conversation in the turbolift between Garak and Sisko. I also liked the makeup work on Garak's split lip. The color and consistency of the blood were good and the injury looked genuine, for lack of a better word.

Matthew: I think this was more than a bottle show. The shot of the Romulan craft decloaking on the landing pad was one of the touches that really made the episode, not to mention looking really cool. We also got the holosuite and Garak's shop, both of which were interesting sets. So I think there was a nice visual variety that kept my interest.


Kevin: For DS9 fans, this is the reason they like it. For detractors, it's the reason they hate it. Either way, you can't deny the taut pacing, good writing, and credible development of an interesting moral quandary on display here. This is a 5, hands down.

Matthew: I don't think it's hands down, but I do think it reaches the top tenth percentile of all Trek. I think what sells me on a 5, over and above any story concerns, is the style on display. The final scene cutting to black suddenly was excellent. So that makes for a 10 from the both of us.


  1. Oh good. I was worried you would give this a 6 too :)

  2. It's the best episode of "Star Trek".

    1. While I think it's certainly in the top 10% (which is our criterion for a 5 rating), I don't think this would even crack my top 20. There's just way too much good TNG and to a lesser extent TOS that pushes this down the list for me.

      To each his own :-)

    2. Also, I think "The Visitor" is pretty easily superior. Probably also "The Siege of AR-558," but we'll see when we get there.

    3. You think there is anything in the cartoony, foam-rocks, exaggerated-facial-expressions, and-painted skies and eye liner TOS that could possibly come close to this one here? :) (Sorry, never been a big fan of TOS. I mean i watch it and think it is ok, but never cared enough. TNG is what drew me to Star Trek, not TOS).

      But yeah to each his own. For me, this is an extremely superior episode. I like watching it over and over again. Another favorite of mine, which I am going to guess you probably find average or maybe less than, is His Way.

      Interestingly, I always skip the Visitor because I find it dreadfully sentimental and annoying. Ha!

      I have gotten back into DS9 over the past 5 or 6 years. I used to watch it as a kid, but then stopped cause the Bajoran religion crap distracted me and I never made it to the good parts. I was more interested in the adventur-y VOY and TNG. But re-discovering it has been amazing. This show has so much depth and nuances.

      I guess I dont have a favorite Star Trek show. I think it is safe to say I love them equally for different reasons (except for TOS which is sort of never on my radar - so having Abrams mess with, while infuriating - didnt suck as much cause at least they didnt go fucking with the later shows. YET. Oh no...:(