The episodes were Inquisition (broadcast 8 April 1998), and a week later In the Pale Moonlight (broadcast 15 April 1998). Both were part of the war-arc being followed by the consistently impressive Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
First a bit of context: Deep Space Nine had been exploring humanity as viewed through the lens of aliens. Unlike The Next Generation that portrayed the humans as being perfect, advanced, enlightened beings (with rare exceptions), and Voyager’s absolutely flaccid approach to character depth, DS9 tried to look at the darkness that the rest of the franchise avoided. A few quotes from other episodes just to help illustrate the approach taken by the writers:
Originally Posted by Quark
Let me tell you something about humans, nephew. They're a wonderful, friendly people as long as their bellies are full and their holosuites are working... but take away their creature comforts deprive them of food, sleep, sonic showers... put their lives in jeopardy over an extended period of time and those same, friendly, intelligent, wonderful people will become as nasty and as violent as the most bloodthirsty Klingon. You don't believe me? Look at those faces. Look in their eyes.
Originally Posted by Eddington
I know you. I was like you once, but then I opened my eyes. Open your eyes, Captain. Why is the Federation so obsessed about the Maquis? We've never harmed you. And yet we're constantly arrested and charged with terrorism. Starships chase us through the Badlands, and our supporters are harassed and ridiculed. Why? Because we've left the Federation, and that's the one thing you can't accept. Nobody leaves paradise. Everyone should want to be in the Federation. Hell, you even want the Cardassians to join. You're only sending them replicators so that one day they can take their rightful place on the Federation Council. You know, in some ways you're worse than the Borg. At least they tell you about their plans for assimilation. You're more insidious... you assimilate people and they don't even know it.
So, humans and humanity might not be perfect? Well, these episodes take this message and run with it, portraying the Federation as more insidious and with a capability for clandestine malevolence greater than any of the regular “bad guys” species.
[Garak takes a drink of root beer]
Quark: What do you think?
Garak: It's vile.
Quark: I know. It's so bubbly and cloying and happy.
Garak: Just like the Federation.
Quark: And you know what's really frightening? If you drink enough of it, you begin to like it.
Garak: It's insidious.
Quark: Just like the Federation.
Lets have a look shall we?
Inquisition – The eighteenth episode of the sixth season of Deep Space Nine.
(note: some of the DVD grabs above are from this episode, others are from events in future episodes that happen as a consequence of this story)
Inquisition follows a day in the life of Doctor Julian Bashir, the genetically engineered Superman who is Deep Space Nine’s physician. He’s very tired, and is suspected of being a traitor. He’s arrested, shackled, paraded through the station, condescended to by his old friends and interrogated while exhausted and suffering induced sleep deprivation.
Doctor Bashir eventually uses his enhanced perceptive abilities to realise the truth, that he is in an elaborate holodeck facade designed to provoke him into revealing his nonexistent treachery. He realises this and the hold is broken, ending the program.
The concept in itself is concerning, that Starfleet would abduct its own officers and put them under intense duress while inserted into a surreal manufactured reality to test their loyalties. It becomes apparent that Doctor Bashir has also been under non-consensual surgery to install an implant to monitor his reactions to the test.
The most shocking revelation comes at the end, when Doctor Bashir’s captors reveal themselves. They are the clandestine and long-lived secret police of the United Federation of Planets, and call themselves Section 31. We are informed that for the entire multi-century existence of the peaceful benevolent Federation, these operatives have been working behind the scenes to disarm, dismantle and destroy suspected threats. In the episode, they infer that immediate execution (“Then we would not be having this conversation”) for traitors is one of their many policies. Future episodes confirm that blackmail, threats, enabling the imprisonment of innocents, manipulating the strings of enemy governments, torture and genocide are well within their operating parameters.
This revelation changed Star Trek. Throughout the series, we have been exposed to the intelligence agencies and ruthless militia of the alien races, secure in the knowledge that future humans are too advanced and moral to take such an approach. “Inquisition” informs us that this couldn’t be further from the truth, that the humans of the Federation has the most cunning, insidious and shadowy secret police of them all. We see the famed Romulan intelligence bureau The Tal Shiar have their strings pulled easily and mechanically by a human concern they didn’t even know existed.
On the early internet, discussions flared as to the revelation of this episode. The high ground held by humanity in all previous episodes, seemed somewhat less secure. The best however was yet to come. If “Inquisition” was a megaton, the following week’s “In the Pale Moonlight” would be a thermonuclear Supernova.
In the Pale Moonlight – The nineteenth episode of the sixth season of Deep Space Nine.
In the Pale Moonlight is a story told by Captain Benjamin Sisko, the lead of Deep Space Nine. He’s alone in his quarters, talking to the emotionless and nonthinking voice of the station computer. He insists he has a dark secret to tell, one so dire he couldn’t dare relay it to his trusted colleagues or friends. With a drink in hand, he tells the computer his tale.
A few weeks ago, Captain Sisko had to read out the latest casualty figures from the ongoing Dominion War. He’s a nearly-broken man, desperate to find a way to turn the dwindling fortunes of humanity. He approaches the one person on the station capable of solving a problem no matter the cost: the resident alien tailor, Garak.
(Context: At this point in the show’s development, it is known that before he settled into tailoring, Garak was a spy, assassin, murderer and expert torturer, and did not care if his missions involved targeting the innocent or guilty)
Sisko and Garak discuss the best way of turning the war around – bring the neutral Romulan Empire into the conflict as allies. They decide the only way they can do this is to fabricate evidence that The Dominion intends to invade the Romulan homeworld.
This "dance with The Devil" leads to Sisko doing a number of things “unfitting of a Starfleet officer” including, bribery, falsifying evidence, providing a component for a weapon of mass destruction to a shady character as barter, freeing an attempted murderer, threatening to kill, arranging secret meetings, and eventually being an accessory to the murder of an innocent Romulan dignitary and his bodyguards. As a broken man, alone in his quarters and possibly half-drunk, he reflects that the scheming worked, and that the Romulans have now joined the war and are sacrificing thousands of their troops and ships because of circumstances he manufactured. He concedes at the very end, with all the murder, lies and war, that “I think I can live with it”.
The episode is still angrily debated to this day. The moral centre of the show, the Captain of the station, committing crimes far beyond most of the “bad guys of the week” in order to save the Federation. If “Inquistion” shattered the high ground the humans of Star Trek stood on, it was “In the Pale Moonlight” that nuked it.
You can still occasionally find damning opinions of these two episodes on the internet, how they “betrayed Roddenberry’s vision”, etcetera. Regardless of the consequences, the episodes are very well written and acted, and a hugely significant part of the Star Trek canon.
My reasons for making this thread are threefold:
(1) To write something about two pieces of godawesome television. I quite selfishly, enjoyed writing this.
(2) To give the underrated and underdiscussed Deep Space Nine a bit more exposure. Most threads we see are about Kirk, Picard, Star Trek 2009. The Next Generation, or how shit Voyager and Enterprise were. Deep Space Nine deserves your love, these episodes moreso.
(3) To ask GAF – is there anyone on this forum who has seen these episodes, and thinks that Star Trek is worse for them existing? That in shattering the idea that the Federation was near-perfect, they took something vital away from the franchise? This isn’t an opinion I hold, but I’m wondering if anyone on GAF does.
Thanks for reading. And if you haven’t seen them, watch “Inquisition” and “In the Pale Moonlight”, they’re bloody brilliant.