Recap: Star Trek Deep Space Nine S 06 E 19 In The Pale Moonlight

"Captain's Personal Log: Stardate 5-1-7... [unsure] 5-1-7... 4? Computer – what day is it?" "[COMPUTER VOICE] Stardate 51721.3." "It's only been two weeks... I need to talk about this. I have to justify what's happened... what I've done... at least to myself. I can't talk to anyone else... not even to Dax. Maybe if I just lay it all out in my log, it'll finally make sense... I can see where it all went wrong... where I went wrong... I suppose it started two weeks ago while I was posting the weekly casualty list in the wardroom... every Friday morning, for the past three months, I've posted the official list of Starfleet personnel killed, wounded or missing in the war. It's become something of a grim ritual around here. Not a week goes by that someone doesn't find the name of a loved one, a friend or an acquaintance on that damned list... I've grown to hate Fridays."
— Opening narration by Sisko

As the death toll mounts, Captain Sisko realizes that the only way to turn the tide of the war is to enlist the help of the Federation's oldest enemy: The Romulans. However, the Romulan Star Empire has declared neutrality. What reason could the Romulans possibly have to dirty their hands in the bloodiest war in the history of the Alpha Quadrant? Sisko's search for that reason forces him to cross one moral line after another.

This is perhaps one of the most controversial episodes of Star Trek ever produced. For some, it's one of the finest episodes in canon, showing how war is a very complex thing, and that sometimes, you must be willing to sacrifice your own morals for the sake of the greater good. For others, it's a complete slap in the face of Roddenberry's vision of the future, and an abandonment of the ideals that the Federation was built on. It's very polarizing, to say the least.

Tropes in this episode:

  • And Now For Something Completely Different: The entire episode takes the form of a captain's log entry, with the audience taking the perspective of the computer.
  • Anti-Hero: At the end of the episode, Sisko lists the numerous ways he's violated the law and his own integrity for the sake of the Federation.
  • Armor-Piercing Slap
  • Asshole Victim: Grathon Tolar. He was already slated for execution by the Klingons. While on the station, he attacked one of Quark's Dabo girls for refusing to "dance" with him (possibly attempting sexual assault, judging by the state of her clothes), and stabbed Quark for trying to defend her. Judging by how he behaved while on parole, the Klingons may have had very good reasons indeed to want him dead. Garak also may well have selected Tolar due to how expendable he was just as much as his considerable, yet "not quite up to the task" forging skills.
  • Bar Brawl: Off-screen, but recounted in detail by Odo.
  • Batman Gambit: Sisko and Garak pull one on the Romulans.
  • Big "WHAT?!": Sisko's reaction to the payment of bio-mimetic gel required for the data rod.
  • Black and White Morality: Very much Subverted.
  • Call Back: One reason why Bashir is so reluctant to prepare the biomimetic gel is that Sisko is not the first person to demand some of it from him and it turned out not to be just a friendly request the last time either.
  • Darker and Edgier: Boy is it ever.
  • Dispense With The Pleasantries: Sisko is in no mood for Garak's brand of loquaciousness.
  • Endangered Soufflé: Sisko mentions this trope while quoting his father during one of his monologues:
    "Worry and doubt are the greatest enemies of a great chef. The soufflé will either rise or it won't—there's not a damn thing you can do about it, so you might as well just sit back and wait and see what happens."
  • Expecting Someone Taller: Vreenak meeting Sisko:
    Vreenak: So you're the commander of Deep Space Nine. And the Emissary of 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.
    Sisko: Sorry to disappoint you.
    Vreenak: To be honest, my opinion of Starfleet officers is so low, you'd have to work very hard indeed to disappoint me.
  • False Flag Operation: Sisko and Garak's plan is to get the Romulans to enter the war on the Federation's side by showing them a faked recording of the Dominion planning to launch a sneak attack on Romulus.
  • Foreshadowing: Vreenak having a replicated Romulan drink, noting how while very good, he was still not fooled in that it's only an approximation and not the real thing. It foreshadows his reaction to the recording.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Sisko, especially when the Federation is backed into a corner and his forger Tolar hasn't behaved himself very well on parole. At one point, he threatens to send Tolar back to the Klingons and "tell Gowron to take his time" while executing him.
    • The point of the whole episode. Sisko does many evil things, and he will do them again, if he had to. The concluding monologue comes very close to Heel Realization.
  • How We Got Here: Sisko starts out saying things have gone wrong, we find out how very wrong indeed during the course of the show.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: A point Sisko makes in his log, and which momentarily causes him to lose his composure and start ranting.
    Sisko: That was my first moment of real doubt, when I started to wonder if the whole thing was a mistake. So I went back to my office; and there was a new casualty list waiting for me... People are dying out there... every day! Entire worlds are struggling for their freedom! And here I am still worrying about the finer points of morality! No! I... I had to keep my eye on the ball! Winning the war, stopping the bloodshed, those were the priorities! So I pushed on. And every time another doubt appeared before me, I just found another way to shove it aside.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: Elim Garak guessed the Romulan senator would realize the recording was a fake, and planted a bomb on the senator's ship ahead of time. After the senator departs from a meeting with the Dominion to return to Romulus to expose the con, Garak blows up the ship. So, when the recording is found in the wreckage, the imperfections in the forgery appear to be a result of the explosion. With a seemingly legitimate rod in one hand, and a dead senator coming from a meeting with the Dominion in the other, the Romulans promptly join the war against the Dominion, as Garak and Sisko wanted.
  • Kick the Dog: Sisko punches Garak after he realizes the Cardassian planted a bomb in Senator Vreenak's shuttle. Garak immediately calls him out on his hypocrisy.
  • Large Ham:
    • Sisko at times during his personal log monologues. And it is glorious.
    • Vreenak as well. One need only see his "It's a Faaaake!" line.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Sisko's monologue is spoken to the station computer, but most of the time he's staring directly at the camera.
  • List of Transgressions: Sisko does this for himself. It's a short list as the trope goes, but some of them are real doozies for a Starfleet Officer.
    Sisko: I lied; I cheated; I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men; I am an accessory to murder.
  • Moving the Goalposts: Even though Tolar does as he's told, Sisko refuses to let him go unless the program passes the test.
  • Not So Above It All: As so gleefully noted by Quark after Sisko bribes him to drop the charges against Tolar.
    Quark: Thank you for restoring my faith in the 98th Rule of Acquisition: "Every Man Has His Price."
  • Sarcasm Mode: Sisko's announcement of the Romulans' entry into the war, alluding to a Black and White Morality that he knows for a fact does not exist:
    Sisko: So this is a huge victory for the good guys!
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: But that doesn't mean it feels very right.
  • Shout-Out: The episode's title comes from the Joker's Catch Phrase in 1989's Batman: "Have you ever danced with the Devil in the pale moonlight?" As Garak's actor Andrew Robinson noted, the lesson Sisko learns from Garak in this episode, figuratively speaking, is "You can't go to bed with the Devil without having sex."
  • That's an Order: Sisko gives Bashir's objections to preparing the biomimetic gel short shrift, and just to show Sisko understands what a terrible risk he's taking, he already has the order ready on a PADD when Bashir asks to see it in writing.
  • The Needs of the Many: How Garak justifies killing Vreenak. In the end, Sisko is forced to accept it.
    Garak: And if your conscience is bothering you, you should soothe it with the knowledge that you may have just saved the entire Alpha Quadrant, and all it cost was the life of one Romulan senator, one criminal... and the self-respect of one Starfleet officer. I don't know about you, but I'd call that a bargain.
  • This Means War!: The Romulans declare war on the Dominion. They very nearly ended up at war with the Federation instead.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Both aspects are played straight. The plan that Sisko and Garak discuss step-by-step backfires miserably, while the plan that Garak keeps secret from Sisko (and, by extension, the audience) works perfectly. The latter part is Justified as Garak knew that Sisko would've never gone along with it.
  • Unobtanium:
    • The genuine Cardassian optolythic data rod Sisko and Garak require for their scheme is usually only manufactured by the Cardassian government on an as-needed basis. Obtaining it anywhere else requires "a small miracle".
    • The highly-controlled bio-mimetic gel they end up having to trade for the rod can be used for illegal genetic experiments and building biogenic weapons of mass destruction. It is therefore not legally available at any price.
  • Wham Line:
  • What You Are in the Dark: Sisko's delivery makes it clear that his real reason for recording the log entry is to convince himself that his actions were justified.
    Sisko: But the most damning thing of all is... I think I can live with it. And if I'd have to do it all over again... I would.
    • It's not at all clear that he succeeds.
    Sisko: So I will learn to live with it. Because I can live with it. I can live with it... Computer, erase that entire personal log.