In the Pale Moonlight-The Best Episode of all of Star Trek
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Deep Space Nine‘s Importance
The Star Trek franchise has had numerous shows and movies, with more expected. With all of these you’re bound to get some episodes or films that stand out from the rest. This can be by the affect on its universe, iconic moments, different and surprising ideas, giving timeless messages, or just through amazing storytelling.
From The Original Series to Picard, this franchise always has something to offer. But of all them, Deep Space Nine had these through most of its seven seasons.
It expanded more of its universe than previous entries, wasn’t tied down by its predecessors’ method of storytelling, andhad stories surpassing what came before and after. Especially since by its last three seasons, it saw the Federation in a large scale war against the Dominion. But, it still handled fun and lighthearted episodes that still stuck out.
Thus we get the best episode of Trek, the sixth season’s In the Pale Moonlight. Set during the Dominion War, focusing on war’s effect on the cast, and shown from Captain Sisko’s perspective as he tells the story as a personal log entry.
He feels conflicted by his decisions as the war kept getting worse. Numerous casualty lists kept being posted, with many of Sisko’s officers losing loves ones. Tired of the losses, he decides to convince the Romulans, who have formed a peace pact with the Dominion, to join their side.
Sisko asks Garak if any of his connections have any information, hoping to find even the slightest inclination of the Dominion wanting to conquer Romulus. Unfortunately, Garak’s connections are killed before getting any word.
He then suggests that they should forge a recording of the Dominion discussing an invasion of Romulus. Initially hesitant to such a deception, Sisko eventually agrees once the Dominion captures Betazed and gain a large chunk of Federation space.
The Fake Hologram
After Starfleet approves, Garak needs Grathon Tolar, a prisoner of the Klingons with an expertise in holographic forgery, released and then obtains a Cardassian secure data rod to make the fake recording seem authentic. For Sisko to obtain the data rod, he needs to trade it for some of Dr. Bashir’s bio-mimetic gel, which he is reluctant to give until ordered.
At one point, Tolar stabs Quark and Sisko has to bribe the Ferengi while ordering Odo to drop the matter so the plan can continue. Once Tolar finishes the holographic record, Garak advices Sisko to invite a highly regarded and influential Romulan senator, Vreenak, to the station and hand him the data rod, with the presumption that it was obtained from a very dangerous mission.
When Vreenak does arrive, Sisko tries to convince the Romulan himself about the possibility of the Dominion going after Romulus if they win the war. Vreenak doesn’t believe it, so Sisko hands him the data rod. Unfortunately, Vreenak figures out that it’s fake and departs furiously as he vows to expose the deception.
Garak’s Real Plan
Some time later, and with Sisko losing hope, he is told that Vreenak and his guards were killed when his ship exploded heading back to Romulus. Confronting Garak knowing full well that the explosion was his doing, the Cardassian expected the data rod wasn’t going to work.
His real plan was to set off a bomb that would be blamed on the Dominion. Even though Vreenak found flaws that exposed the recording as a fake, when Romulans find the remains of the data rod they’ll assume the flaws are due to the damage from the explosion. Thus, convincing them of the Dominion’s threat and allying with the Federation.
Garak chose Vreenak not only for his influence, but because he supported the Dominion. He also killed Tolar so as to hide his secrets and cover their tracks. Even though Sisko is disgusted by his actions, Garak points out that Sisko only asked him because he needed someone like Garak to carry out such a nefarious act as it was something he could never do.
So while Sisko had to do things that were against his moral character, such as aiding and covering up multiple murders, to him it was worth it now that the Romulans were on their side and the Federation now had a chance at winning the war and saving thousands, if not millions, of lives. Upon accepting that he can live with a guilty conscience as a small price for winning the war, Sisko ends the log and has it all erased.
Trek at its Rawest
Right from the start, Moonlight shows just how different it is with Sisko telling the story entirely from his perspective. Something that rarely, if maybe even never, has been done in the franchise.
Avery Brooks’s performance as a troubled Sisko is astounding and should be acknowledge as much as Patrick Stewart’s in First Contact. The writing by Michael Taylor and Victor Lobi’s direction help capture the gravitas of his sorrow, guilt, and acceptance.
While Andrew Robinson’s performance as Garak in this episode certainly proves how slimy he is. It says a lot when he does so many horrible things, and yet they lead to something better.
The decision of not actually showing the chaos of the Dominion War, unlike other episodes, but focusing on the tragedy of loss and how that affects morale was clever. It’s something that’s rarely seen, even today, in most mainstream media.
While many fans would argue that this episode, as well as many things in Trek made after creator Gene Roddenberry’s death in 1991, goes against his ultraistic and humanistic themes, it’s best to see this as an example that at certain times those themes can’t always apply in every aspect. That sometimes to achieve those beliefs you need to make sacrifices once in a while for the greater good. An episode like Far Beyond the Stars certainly shows that the franchise still followed Roddenberry’s vision.
In the Pale Moonlight is the best episode that the Star Trek franchise has ever done, but that shouldn’t take away from the other great stories in television and movies.
You can stream Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and most of the franchise at Netflix.
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