Monday, January 30, 2017

Deep Space Nine, Season 7: Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges Space Nine, Season 7
"Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges"
Airdate: March 3, 1999
163 of 173 produced
164 of 173 aired


Doctor Bashir is recruited by Director Sloan to engage in intelligence work on Romulan soil.

 My research into Ancient Earth tells me that I should now say "Excellent."


Matthew: I'm a sucker for a Sloan episode. The actor is so good, and the basic premise of the shadowy organization is so ripe, that it takes a lot to screw up one of these episodes. They didn't screw it up, here. I enjoyed it from start to finish, and only had a few minor criticisms. Why do these episodes work? Twisty spy plots, change of scene for characters, and exploring the dark side of the Federation. First, the twisty spy plot - It basically made sense, that in order to protect their highly placed mole, Section 31 would wish to implicate someone else in the Romulan government. I think the point that Doctor Bashir was chosen for his anticipated moral reaction was a little flimsy, plot-wise (letting your master plan hinge on the reaction of an uninformed party seems a bit silly), but it still precipitated Sloan's claim that Section 31 was a necessary counterbalance to that morality.

Kevin: All the mechanics of the spy plot work. I think there's pretty much the correct number of double crosses. My only real quibble is Bashir shocked, SHOCKED that they are spying on an ally. Yeah, doctor. You spy on enemies to make sure they aren't too far ahead of you and you spy on friends to make sure they are keeping up their end of a deal. Sure, it should probably lack too much of the dagger in cloak and dagger, but you do it. There's Federation idealism, then there's story breaking naivete. Aside from that, everything pretty much works. The reveals all made me gasp in a fun way and even knowing the episode, I still enjoy watching it.

Matthew: This kind of plot gives us a chance to explore characters' reactions to uncustomary situations. The Doctor is presented as someone who enjoys these sorts of cloak and dagger machinations as entertainment, but is squeamish about them in reality. This plot gives him plenty to chew on, and I enjoyed seeing him try to suss it out at the end. His confrontation with Admiral Ross was well written (if not acted) and asked good ethical questions, too. Neither side of the argument is declared the winner by the episode, either, which is nice.

Kevin: Ross was a great choice as the 31 collaborator. I like that he was working with them in a marriage of convenience but not Secretly a Member the Whole Time. It made the the plot seem more realistic since there are more the one or two discreet factions at work. Ross' difficult call has notes of Sisko's in In the Pale Moonlight. I almost wish Ross or Sloan had revealed they knew about Sisko's actions and thrown it in Bashir's face.

Matthew: Episodes like this do a lot to secure DS9's reputation as "looking at the darker side of the Federation." When it comes down to it, there really aren't that many episodes, even in DS9, that portray Federation policy as doing anything unsavory or pushing ethical boundaries. But it certainly makes the whole thing more realistic when you have guys like Admiral Ross making tough calls, comparing the wrongness of setting up a foreign dignitary in order to protect an espionage source to the wrongness of thousand dying in battle. It's a tricky balance, of course. As intelligent viewers, we want Star Trek to reflect our world. But, of course, as residents of this current darkest possible timeline, we also want an escape from it. Trek splits the difference, which is a luxury of episodic television.

Kevin: If they were to make this a two parter, or otherwise revisit the story, I would have loved to have dug into Ross' rationalization and the morality of his actions. Sloan walks the line tilted a little more to the dark side. I wouldn't go so far to say he is a psychopath who enjoys hurting people, but I don't think he's necessarily bothered by it. I think the man Ross has been portrayed to be certainly embodies a fairly orthodox version of Federation morality. So knowing both arrive at the same course of action, does Ross' moral quandary make us feel differently than we do about Sloan? Should it?


Matthew: I have never bought Alexander Siddig's "angry voice." I still don't buy it here. It undercuts the climactic speech of the episode and pulls me out of the moment a bit. It's too bad, too, because his low-key smarminess works quite well for his other scenes. I particularly found his schmoozing during the mid-meeting breaks to be effective. His quiet horror at the admiral's aneurysm was really nice, too.

Kevin: When in doubt, whisper it. It's solid advice for most actors. Had he done his "Caesar can do no wrong!" line at a barely audible whisper, dripping with disdain and something like heartbreak, it would have been a much better scene.

Matthew: This show is made by its superb guest stars. William Sadler is just perfect as Sloan. You love to hate hims superior sneer, but then, you secretly kind of admire him, don't you? He's just so slick. Sadler gives him a very subtle undercurrent of vulnerability, too, like he was the guy who never had all that many friends or romantic partners while an adolescent, which made him ripe for  recruitment into the morally flexible world of intelligence work. The late, great Barry Jenner nails it with Admiral Ross, selling us on his character's moral gymnastics. John Fleck is delightfully creepy as Koval, and it's clear why he kept getting invited back (most significantly as Silik in Enterprise).

Kevin: I loved Megan Cole's austere Cretak in her first appearance, but in the end, I'm glad she was unavailable and they ended up going with Adrienne Barbeau. She did a fantastic job inhabiting the world completely and giving internal life to the character. Moreover, she made me care about her. Opposite Fleck's condescending Koval, you really feel bad she's getting the shaft, regardless of the reason. She's also the closest I've seen a Romulan infused with something akin to passion. For the people who were too much party for the Vulcans, they've always been portrayed on the tepid side. There were notes in Barbeau's performance of the Romulan commander from the Enterprise Incident, a kind of elegant self-possession, that I really responded to.

Production Values

Matthew: Well, they had a nice matte painting, and they used it. And used it. At least they gave us a few times of day. But it left me wanting a lot more, and this episode was a bit disappointing compared to TNG's "Unification." I thought the conference sets were somewhat cramped and lacked a sense of scope. Even one balcony vista or window could have opened things up. There were a lot of extras, at least.

Kevin: I would have certainly liked any other location on Romulus. I was not a big fan of the Senate room they were in. I understand that in real life, outside of a main chamber, a lot of a legislatures are basically just your average office building, but still. I wanted something a little grander. Also, I wish Garak had not been so literally correct. A gray people.

Matthew: Although it was pretty obvious that the Bellerophon's space shots were ripped straight from Voyager, I approve of their use in order to vary things up a bit. Voyager's a great looking ship with wonderful interiors, so it classed up this episode on the cheap. And hey, any time they sneak in a "Forbidden Planet" reference is A-OK with me.

Kevin: I liked the use of Voyager sets as well, certainly much more than using the Defiant. I'm glad they used the conference room rather than Janeway's ready room since that would have felt too on the nose, and I'm glad they resisted any transient impulse to use an EMH.


Matthew: A fun story is elevated by a really good guest cast into 4 territory. I think Siddig's limits as an actor and some budgetary unwillingness to really show us some satisfying views of Romulus hold this back a tad. But this is definitely not one I'd ever skip on a DS9 watch-through. And it's about freaking time they got back to Dominion War stories.

Kevin: I agree with the 4. There's a debt to the story that is really interesting and it handles some sets of twists with a light but confident hand. Add in some great guest casts, and you have a top notch episode. That made a total of 8 as we head into the home stretch.

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