For once, I’m on the side of the big battalions. Star Trek fans regard this as one of the best ever episodes, not just of Deep Space Nine but of the entire franchise, and I’m inclined to go along with them.
I knew beforehand that this was the episode in which Captain Sisko tricked the Romulan Empire into coming into the War against the Dominion, and thus tipping the balance in favour of the good guys. I hadn’t anticipated how clever the episode would prove to be, and how skillfully it would assemble its component parts to keep the audience on its toes.
The episode was structured around a confessional personal log entry by Sisko, who was clearly worked up and in the mood for berating himself. It was interspersed with the bulk of the storytelling, here presented as flashbacks. The overall impression was given, early on, that the Romulans had joined the war, but that Sisko was personally disgusted at the means which brought that about. Very intelligently, the episode was by no means so prescriptive.
It began small, with the weekly casualty lists, posted by Sisko in the wardroom. Everybody crowds round, anxious not to hear that friends, colleagues, shipmates have been killed or wounded, and invariably the news is grim. This, bitter conversations about the Romulans ‘allowing’ Dominion incursions into their territory to attack Federation ships and the dramatic fall of Betazed (Deanna Troi’s homeworld) spurs Sisko into dramatic action. He inducts Garak to bring the Romulans into the War.
The first attempt is to secure evidence from Cardassia for the invasion of the Romulan Empire. When every single one of Garak’s contacts on Cardassia are killed within twenty-four hours of being contact, our favourite tailor suggests they manufacture such evidence. There is a prominent Romulan senator, Vreenak, who can be persuaded to secretly visit DS9 en route to a Diplomatic Conference with the Cardassians, where he can be presented with expertly forged evidence.
Here begins a long sequence as, step by step, one by one, every moral principle by which Sisko – and by extension the entirety of Spacefleet – is laid to one side as the Captain pursues the goal. It’s completely Macchiavellian, even down to bribing Quark at one point. A forged Cardassian optolythic data rod is made: Weyoun and Gul Demar bicker quite convincingly and Sisko, despite his mounting doubts passes this on to the supercilious Vreenak.
Then came the twist I wasn’t expecting: Vreenak identifies the rod as a fake. It’s all blown up in Sisko’s face, especially as the Senator intends to expose and denounce everyone for this.
The next casualty list’s relatively light, but Worf brings additional news, a Romulan ship destroyed by an explosion, no survivors. It was carrying a senior Senator…
Sisko comes to the same conclusion I did, only he takes about two seconds longer, then he’s off in a raging fury to his tailor’s. Garak is unashamed and unapologetic. Yes, he suspected the rod would be exposed as a fake, and yes, he planned this all along. A senior Senator killed returning from a meeting with the Cardassians, traces of Cardassian manufacture in the remnants of the bomb, a data rod evidencing treachery, whose imperfections are no doubt the effects of the bomb…
Oh, it’s a dirty deed indeed, but it may have saved the Alpha Quadrant, and the millions of millions within it, now and forever, and for what? A dead criminal, a dead Senator… and the self-respect of a Starfleet Captain. The ends justify the means, or do they?
Balancing the scales, the price being paid is hard to dispute, but then I have the luxury of debating this as fiction. Sisko has to treat it as fact. If he had known in advance what it would entail…? But the last twist is that he would have done it all over again. And the fact of war is that he would have had to do it anyway. And Sisko can live with it. The more he says it, the more he believes it, or does he? As soon as he is done, he orders the computer to erase the entire log.
So. This is a story that touches upon morality, and how far we may sink to do the ‘wrong’ thing in pursuit of a greater aim. Morality is supposed to be absolute, especially in the Star Trek Universe: Kirk and Picard would have brushed the very idea away, like space dog-turds off the soles of their shoes. But Sisko’s in a war, and the only way to avoid having to take decisions like this, where the lives of millions hang on the purity of your convictions, is to not be in a war to begin with.
Like the best of such things, morality is not directed. We are not signposted to any idea. Instead, we test ourselves against the choices made, in the comfort of our choice having no weight whatsoever. I’d like to see an aftermath to this, in Sisko. It’s sufficiently large that, for once, we may do so.