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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch: “In the Pale Moonlight”


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Rereads and Rewatches Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch: “In the Pale Moonlight”


Published on October 17, 2014

“In the Pale Moonlight”
Written by Peter Allan Fields and Michael Taylor
Directed by Victor Lobl
Season 6, Episode 19
Production episode 40510-543
Original air date: April 15, 1998
Stardate: 51721.3

Station log: Sisko is dictating a personal log. It’s been two weeks since something happened that he needs to justify to himself, and that he can’t talk to anyone about it, not even Dax—but maybe he can work it through if he spells it out in his log.

Every Friday morning for the past three months, Sisko has posted a casualty list. On one particular Friday, Dax sees one of her Academy instructors, Leslie Wong, now captain of the Cairo, on the list. The Cairo went missing near the Romulan Neutral Zone, the latest in a series of attacks that have happened because the Jem’Hadar has brazenly gone through Romulan space to attack, thanks to the non-aggression pact Romulus has with the Dominion. Bashir mentions how useful it would be to get the Romulans into the war, but Dax points out that they have no reason. They’re not being threatened, and their two biggest rivals—the Klingons and the Federation—are getting their asses kicked.

This conversation flicks a switch in Sisko’s head: he is determined to get the Romulans into the war.

Sisko talks about it with Dax, with the latter role-playing a Romulan proconsul. And she does so very well, pointing out that the Romulans need evidence that the Dominion plans to attack Romulus down the road (which Sisko is assuming, but it’s a reasonable assumption as they’re unlikely to conquer Cardassia, the Federation, and the Klingons and then just leave the Romulans alone). The problem is that any such evidence is on Cardassia Prime—not the most accessible place in the galaxy as Dax points out. So Sisko goes to Garak, who is flattered that Sisko thinks so highly of him. Garak can possibly do it, but it would be a messy bloody business, and force him to call in every single favor he has left in Cardassian space. Sisko tartly says that he’s already in a messy bloody business, and he sees getting the Romulans into the war as the only way to come out of it in one piece. He’s willing to get the Romulans into the war by any means necessary. And man, is he gonna be sorry he said that…

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on In the Pale Moonlight

In his log, Sisko quotes the cliché about the road to hell being paved with good intentions, and that meeting with Garak was where he laid the first paving stone for that road.

The Dominion invades and captures Betazed. That puts them in a position to strike Vulcan, Andor, Tellar, and Alpha Centauri. It’s the deepest the Dominion has penetrated into Federation space. However, Garak has been unable to do his part, though not for lack of trying. He spoke to the last few friends he has in Cardassian space, and they were all willing to help—use of past tense because they were all killed within a day of speaking to Garak.

Sisko says he’s sorry and is about to leave, but Garak has a plan B, though he thinks Sisko won’t like it. Instead of retrieving actual evidence, Garak can, instead, manufacture evidence, which would then be presented to Senator Vreenak. Vreenak is an influential senator, the one who negotiated the non-aggression pact, and who continues to be a hardliner in maintaining peaceful relations with the Dominion. He’s also having a diplomatic meeting with Weyoun on Soukara. Garak wants Sisko to request that he make a secret detour to DS9 on the way back from that meeting to present the evidence that Garak will fake.

The forgery will be of an optolythic data rod—a rod manufactured on Cardassia for official records, and which cannot be faked. But Garak, of course, knows someone who can fake one: Grathan Tolar, currently in a Klingon prison awaiting execution. Sisko contacts Gowron to arrange for a pardon, and Tolar is effusive in his gratitude. He’s willing to do whatever Sisko wants—but as soon as Sisko mentions that Garak is involved, Tolar visibly deflates and slumps to his quarters to await further instructions.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on In the Pale Moonlight

Unfortunately, Tolar goes to Quark’s, gets very drunk, propositions M’Pella while she’s working the dabo table, takes her refusal badly, and winds up getting into a fight with Quark, which ends with the latter being stabbed. Tolar claims to be a friend of Sisko’s, which the captain denies—but he is working on a top-secret mission for Sisko, and he can’t have any record of him being on the station. Odo’s willing to go along, but only if Quark declines to press charges. So Sisko has to bribe Quark—which actually thrills him—to keep Tolar’s presence on the station a secret.

In his log, Sisko says that he should’ve ended it there, but when he got to his office there was another casualty list. People were dying every day and it has to stop, somehow. He has to keep his eye on the ball.

Garak has locked Tolar in his quarters, and given him the impression that if he tries to force the door, it will explode. (Garak is cagey on the subject of whether or not that impression is legit.) He has also found a source for the rod. It’s the only source he’s going to find (they’re hard to obtain), and he requires 200 litres of bio-mimetic gel in payment. Sisko comes very close to ending the operation right there, given how it’s a heavily controlled substance, but he gives in—though he can’t get that much gel together. Garak allows as how the amount is negotiable. Sisko’s order to Bashir to package 85 litres for interstellar transport is met with annoyance by the doctor, who insists that the order be in writing, and he’s going to file an official protest with Starfleet Medical.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on In the Pale Moonlight

Tolar has created a very convincing holoprogram of a meeting among Weyoun and several Cardassians, including Damar. It’s taken a few drafts to get it right—the final touch was petty bickering between Weyoun and Damar, which added greatly to its verisimilitude. Tolar intends to leave the station, but Sisko makes it clear that he’s not going anywhere until the rod passes muster. If Vreenak—who is en route to the station from Soukara—buys it, then Tolar will be free. If the senator doesn’t, then Sisko will give Tolar right back to the Klingons. A very frightened Tolar—who is facing both a pissed-off Sisko and a calm smiling Garak (and it’s impossible to say which is scarier)—slinks back to his quarters.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on In the Pale Moonlight

In his log, Sisko thought it was all over at that point. Starfleet Command had signed off on the plan, after all. But he still has to convince Vreenak.

When the senator arrives (with only Sisko and Garak even knowing that he’s there), Garak informs Sisko that he plans to sneak onto Vreenak’s ship and search its databanks for any useful intelligence while Sisko meets with him. Vreenak is arrogant and acerbic and obnoxious, and he makes it clear—in much the same way Dax did earlier—that the Romulans see no reason to enter the war on the side that’s clearly going to lose. Sisko points out that if they do lose the war, the Romulans will be completely surrounded by the Dominion. Then Sisko shows Vreenak the rod’s recording. Vreenak, for obvious reasons, wishes to examine it, and Sisko hands it over.

In his log, Sisko pours himself a drink, talking about how he had to wait. He tried to do paperwork, but it was hard to focus on cargo manifests and reports and such. If Vreenak saw through the fake, it would be disastrous.

Sisko meets with Vreenak, who holds up the rod and declares that it’s a fake.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on In the Pale Moonlight

In his log, Sisko says that it all blew up in his face. All his doubts, compromises, rationalizations—all for nothing. Vreenak was furious and livid and left the station in a huff.

Sisko goes back to work, posting more casualty reports and generally being miserable, when Worf reports that Starfleet Intelligence has learned that Vreenak’s shuttle was destroyed while coming home from Soukara. The Tal Shiar is investigating, but they believe it was sabotage by the Dominion.

Worf, Dax, and Bashir are thrilled. Sisko, not so much. He storms to Garak’s shop and belts him right in the face. Garak planted a bomb on Vreenak’s shuttle as a backup in case Tolar’s work wasn’t all that and a bag of chips. The Tal Shiar will then find the rod and chalk up any imperfections to bomb damage rather than forgery, and since he was coming back from Soukara with the rod, the Tal Shiar will assume that the Dominion destroyed the shuttle because he got his hands on that rod with its revelation that the Dominion plans to invade Romulus. And all this saving of the Alpha Quadrant cost, says Garak, was the life of one Romulan senator (Garak apparently forgot about his four bodyguards), one criminal (Garak had Tolar killed also), and the self-respect of a single Starfleet officer, which Garak declares to be a bargain.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on In the Pale Moonlight

Sure enough, at 0800 the next morning, the Romulan Empire declares war on the Dominion and strikes fifteen bases on the border.

In his log, Sisko holds up his drink, bitterly toasting the entry of Romulus into the war. There’s even a welcome-to-the-war party being held in the wardroom. He’s lied, he’s bribed, he’s an accessory to murder—but he thinks he can live with it. He says it several times to convince himself.

Then he instructs the computer to erase that entire personal log.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on In the Pale Moonlight

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Optolythic data rods are only created when needed, and information can only be placed on them once. They’re incredibly difficult to counterfeit.

The Sisko is of Bajor: Sisko at one points credits his father with his usual equanimity in the face of making a decision. When you’re a chef, you have to be calm, because the soufflé will rise or not regardless of whether or not you worry about it. Waiting for Vreenak he finds that patience hard to come by for the first time.

Don’t ask my opinion next time: Kira mostly gets to play messenger in this one, telling Sisko about the fall of Betazed and that the coded subspace signal he was expecting has arrived.

Preservation of mass and energy is for wimps: Odo is willing to bend the rules insofar as he gets the need to preserve security during wartime. But he’s not willing to bend so far that he’ll fail to formally arrest Tolar if Quark presses charges.

The slug in your belly: Dax does an excellent job role-playing a Romulan politician explaining why they’re staying out of the war—and, indeed, a lot of her points are repeated by Vreenak later.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on In the Pale Moonlight

There is no honor in being pummeled: When Dax is complaining about the Romulans’ remaining neutral, Worf is unusually quiet. Given that his parents were massacred by the Romulans, and his animus against them extended to refusing to do anything to save a dying Romulan’s life, his silence is bizarre, to say the least.

Rules of Acquisition: In exchange for not pressing charges after getting stabbed, Quark asks for his own clothes and M’Pella’s to be replaced, five bars of latinum to compensate him for lost business, and some cargo containers Odo is holding back because of import license issues to be taken care of. Once he declares it officially to be a bribe, Quark quotes the 98th Rule to Sisko: “Every man has his price.”

Plain, simple: Garak is initially recruited by Sisko in the hopes that he would be able to perform a covert mission, and things get out of hand pretty quickly—but Garak declares that Sisko wanted Garak involved from jump precisely because he could do things Sisko himself would be repulsed by.

Victory is life: One of the Jem’Hadar’s successful tactics has been to use Romulan space—which Starfleet and Klingon ships are forbidden by treaty from entering—as a staging area for attacks.

What happens on the holosuite, stays on the holosuite: Tolar creates a holoprogram meant to be realistic enough to look like a recording of actual events. It is demonstrated both to Sisko and later to Vreenak in one of Quark’s holosuites.

Keep your ears open: “So you’re the commander of Deep Space 9. And the Emissary to the Prophets. Decorated combat officer, widower, father, mentor—and, oh yes, the man who started the war with the Dominion. Somehow I thought you’d be taller.”

“Sorry to disappoint you.”

“To be honest, my opinion of Starfleet officers is so low, you’d have to work very hard indeed to disappoint me.”

Vreenak greeting Sisko.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on In the Pale Moonlight

Welcome aboard: The great Canadian character actor Stephen McHattie appears as Vreenak. He’ll be back on Enterprise as an alien foreman in “The Xindi.” Howard Shangraw plays Tolar, while Casey Biggs, Jeffrey Combs, and Andrew J. Robinson are back as Damar, Weyoun, and Garak (the former two as holographic re-creations, marking the second week in a row that Combs has appeared as a fake Weyoun).

Trivial matters: This episode has the Romulans declaring war on the Dominion, marking the first time in Star Trek history that the United Federation of Planets, the Klingon Empire, and the Romulan Star Empire have been formal allies. The Romulans’ non-aggression pact with the Dominion, which is abrogated in this episode, was established in “Call to Arms.”

Leslie Wong appears in your humble rewatcher’s comic one-shot Captain’s Log: Jellico, which chronicles her first mission as the first officer of the Cairo. While it’s never stated, I intended to imply that, when Jellico was assigned to the Enterprise in “Chain of Command,” Wong was given command of the Cairo, especially since New Frontier: House of Cards by Peter David established that Jellico was promoted to admiral after Picard took the Enterprise back in “Chain of Command, Part II.”

Your humble rewatcher portrayed the Dominion attack on Betazed in the short story “The Ceremony of Innocence is Drowned” in Tales of the Dominion War. The Federation re-taking Betazed was chronicled in The Battle of Betazed by Charlotte Douglas & Susan Kearny, a conflict that included both the Enterprise and the Defiant, as well as a resistance on Betazed led by Lwaxana Troi.

Garak mentions Proconsul Neral, to whom Vreenak is an aide, who was last seen in TNG’s “Unificationtwo-parter.

The Romulan side of the story, told from the perspective of Spock—still working underground on Romulus, as he was at the end of “Unification II”—was shown in Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz’s short story “Blood Sacrifice” in Tales of the Dominion War.

Una McCormack’s Hollow Men serves as a direct sequel to this episode, showing the immediate aftermath of the Romulans’ entry into the war.

The original conception of the episode was to have a horrible secret be exposed by Jake as a reporter, but the writers couldn’t make the subsequent conflict between Jake and his father work. Instead, they focused on the secret thing being exposed rather than actually having it be exposed. The short story “Stone Cold Truths” by Peter David in Tales of the Dominion War posits a future in which the Romulans discover the truth of what happened in this episode and declare war on Earth.

The title of this episode is a reference to the Joker’s line from the 1989 Batman film: “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”

Vreenak diverts to DS9 from the Dominion base on Soukara—the same planet that was the site of Worf and Dax’s ill-fated extraction mission in “Change of Heart.”

Bio-mimetic gel was first referenced in TNG’s “Force of Nature.” Its controlled status was established in “Distant Voices.”

Though Michael Taylor received sole script credit, the final draft of the script was done by Ronald D. Moore.

A much younger Vreenak appeared in David R. George III’s The Lost Era novel Serpents Among the Ruins, which chronicled the Tomed Incident (first referenced in TNG‘s “The Neutral Zone”). That novel showed the origins of the character’s animosity toward the Federation seen in this episode.

Walk with the Prophets: “It’s a faaaaaake!” It’s interesting that this episode aired right after “Inquisition,” because both episodes are about people who make unethical choices in order to bring about good results—the ends justifying the means. But while “Inquisition” had it as more of a background element to explain the existence of Section 31, we see it played out for realsies here. And we don’t have an organization that claims to be in place for the purpose of doing the nasty stuff like S31 is, we just have a Starfleet captain who is putting up appalling casualty figures once a week, who sees his side losing a war, and who must do something to fix it.

We see Star Trek captains deal with crises all the time, and we see them come up with solutions all the time. But Sisko here is faced with a crisis he can’t fix—or at least not fix easily. But it’s something that absolutely has to get done because people are dying by the shipload.

And at first it seems so simple. Get Garak to pull a rabbit out of his hat. He’s done it before—in “Second Skin,” for example—and surely the former spy can pull a covert op out of that same hat.

Casinos thrive on the fact that the human tendency is to not quit while ahead. Throw that roulette ball one more time. Play one more hand of blackjack. Pull the lever one more time and maybe this one will be the jackpot. When Garak announces that the operatives he contacted were all killed, Sisko’s ethical pot is as big as it’s going to get. Each cost seems tiny on the face of it, worth paying: the political capital needed to get a favor from Gowron, which is sufficiently minor as to happen off-screen, but still not negligible; bribing Quark to keep him from pressing charges against the forger who can’t hold his liquor; ordering Bashir to do something horribly unethical (something Bashir has already refused to do once before, which put him on a Lethean’s hit list); keep his entire senior staff in the dark about his covert meeting with a senator; and finally allowing that senator and four Romulan officers to be killed. Individually, they’re all things you can see happening, decisions Sisko can be seen to have to make in order to carry out his mission. But collectively, they add up, leading to Sisko pacing restlessly about his quarters, trying to purge the experience via reciting a log entry, drink in hand, trying so hard to convince himself that he can live with it that he needs to repeat those words three times.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch on In the Pale Moonlight

One of the things I always loved about the character of Jean-Luc Picard is that he always seemed to be one step ahead of everyone else, and always was able to find a solution. We saw it many times throughout TNG, e.g., “Hide & Q,” “The Schizoid Man,” “The Survivors,” “The Wounded,” “Power Play,” “Ship in a Bottle,” the “Gambittwo-parter, etc. (It was also turned on its ear a bit in First Contact.) However, as Sisko himself pointed out in “Q-Less,” he’s not Picard, and that’s a good thing—not that one is better than the other, but it’s good to show different captains with different styles. Where Picard is larger-than-life—and that’s part of his appeal—Sisko is much more down-to-earth—also part of his appeal. He’s just as much a hero as Picard, but he’s more flawed, more fallible, and we see that on display here. He knows he shouldn’t be doing what he’s doing, but he keeps seeing those damn casualty reports—not to mention learning of the fall of Betazed. That was a masterstroke, by the way, as up until now the battles away from the Bajoran system have taken place in locations that we don’t have much of an investment in. But Betazed is the homeworld of a Star Trek opening-credits regular and of a character who has recurred on DS9 several times. Betazed falling means something.

The yardstick that matters most, and it’s a terrible one, is how many people are getting killed. For all that The Wrath of Khan tried to invert it, Spock was basically right: more often than not, the needs of the many really do outweigh the needs of the few. War is, as Sisko and Garak both eloquently point out, a messy and bloody business. Sisko can’t save everyone—no one can. But he can do triage, put a tourniquet on the gaping wound, and at least keep the death toll lower, while also giving them a better chance to actually come out of it on the winning side.

He’s done a horrible thing. He knows he’s done a horrible thing, and it’s so horrible that the only person he can talk to about it is himself—and a computer that will gladly erase all trace of what he said. What’s admirable about this episode is not that Sisko did what he did, as it wasn’t admirable in the least, for all that it was probably necessary—it’s that he is suffering for it. Yes, he says he can live with it at the end, but he also repeats those words several times with different inflections. He isn’t saying he can live with it because he actually can live with it, he’s saying it because he’s trying (and failing) to convince himself.

What sells this episode more than anything are the performances of Avery Brooks and Andrew J. Robinson, who are both at their best. Robinson in particular deserves ample credit for his final scene when he lays out the specifics of what has happened, a rare moment of brutal honesty from the obfuscatory tailor, but a necessary bucket of ice water in Sisko’s face. And Brooks is magnificent here, covering a huge emotional range from sadness to anger to depression to annoyance to fury to resignation to frustration. Two bravura performances of a magnificent script that eloquently shows the horrors of war, not by piling bodies on top of each other, but showing the emotional and ethical cost. The war has taken many lives; in this episode, it also claims a soul.

Warp factor rating: 10

Keith R.A. DeCandido has a bunch of new things out, including Sleepy Hollow: Children of the Revolution (reviewed on this very site!), “Time Keeps on Slippin’” in the Stargate SG-1/Atlantis anthology Far Horizons, “Fish Out of Water” in the Jonathan Maberry-edited anthology Out of Tune, “Stone Cold Whodunit” in the superhero anthology With Great Power, and “Merciless,” one of the adventures in the Firefly: Echoes of War role-playing game supplement Things Don’t Go Smooth.

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Keith R.A. DeCandido


Keith R.A. DeCandido has been writing about popular culture for this site since 2011, primarily but not exclusively writing about Star Trek and screen adaptations of superhero comics. He is also the author of more than 60 novels, more than 100 short stories, and around 50 comic books, both in a variety of licensed universes from Alien to Zorro, as well as in worlds of his own creation. Read his blog, follow him on Facebook, The Site Formerly Known As Twitter, Instagram, Threads, and Blue Sky, and follow him on YouTube and Patreon.
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