Recap / Star Trek Deep Space Nine S 06 E 19 In The Pale Moonlight
"But the most damning thing of all? I think I can live with it..."
"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.

(Note - while the plan worked perfectly on-screen, in the Star Trek Expanded Universe the Romulans eventually uncovered the entire affair leading to all out war between the Federation and Romulan Empire making the success pyrrhic 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
  • As You Know: Played with.
    Garak: His name is Vreenak. He's been a key member of the Romulan Senate for the past fourteen years. He's Secretary of the War Plans Council, Vice Chairman of the Tal Shiar, and one of the most trusted advisors to Proconsul Neral.
    Sisko: He's also the man that negotiated the non-aggression pact with the Dominion.
    Garak: Since you're familiar with him, I'll skip the rest of his biography.
  • 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.
    • Senator Vreenak, the Smug Snake pro-Dominion senator. He knows he's on the winning team, and constantly rubs it in Sisko's face.
  • 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.
    • Speaking of Bashir, in the last episode, while talking about Section 31, he semi-rhetorically asks Sisko if The Federation is willing to compromise its principles to survive, and all Sisko can say is, "I wish I had an answer for you." Well, now he has his answer...
    • Sisko towards the end of his log mentions there's currently a party to celebrate the entrance of the Romulans in the war. Sisko's tone during the episode makes it clear he's not feeling like celebrating, but he'll go to the party. This echoes his advice to Worf at the end of "Rules of Engagement", that an officer's job is to smile to his troop even when he doesn't want to, because it keeps troop morale up.
  • Darker and Edgier: With the possible exception of DS 9's own "The Siege Of AR-558," this might be the darkest the franchise ever got.
  • Dispense with the Pleasantries: Sisko is in no mood for Garak's brand of loquaciousness.
  • The Dreaded: Tolar is sleazy and smarmy until Sisko mentions Garak. He immediately shuts up and becomes a lot more humble.
  • 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."
  • Every Man Has His Price: The 98th Rule of Acquisition, verbatim.
  • 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.
    • After the data rod is ready, Garak calmly tells Tolar that he'll be paying him a visit later. Next we hear of it, Tolar is dead.
  • 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 despicable things, and would do them again if he had to. The concluding monologue comes very close to Heel Realization.
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: Since Sisko deletes the log, only a few know what really happened.
  • 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.
  • Hypocrisy: Garak calls out Sisko for acting moral, because if he were truly moral, he wouldn't have enlisted the most amoral man on the station to do the dirty work.
  • 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.
    • Garak also says this is why Vreenak and Grathon Tolar died. He hoped the data rod would pass muster, but he quickly found Tolar's skills lacking. Killing Vreenak in a shuttle explosion makes the Dominion look even more guilty (as well as explains away the rod's imperfections), while Tolar's death ties up a problematic loose end.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Vreenak offers cold hard facts of the current situation. The Dominion has fully functional shipyards, an ever-increasing Jem'Hadar population, and a commitment to win the war at any cost, whereas the Federation is still rebuilding its shipyards, has a manpower shortage, and has even sent out peace feelers.
  • 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.
  • Killed to Uphold the Masquerade/You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: In addition to blowing up Senator Vreenak and his bodyguards, Garak arranged for his forger to die as well, leaving himself and Sisko the only people who know the real story.
  • 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."
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • The look on Sisko's face when Vreenak holds up the data rod and says, "It's a faaaake!"
    • Tolar has two. The first, when Sisko tells him Garak is waiting for him, and the second is the last time we see him:
    Garak: I'll be along shortly to...say hello.
  • Poisonous Friend: Garak is brought on board the scheme to play this role. When Sisko complains about the assassination, Garak calls him on it.
    That's why you came to me, isn't it, Captain? Because you knew I could do those things that you weren't capable of doing? Well, it worked.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: While Odo notes that Quark's chivalrous attempts to defend one of his Dabo girls from Grathon Tolar's drunken assault seems rather "uncharacteristic" of him, it's perfectly reasonable to assume that Quark was merely trying to keep his business running smoothly and therefore took issue with Grathon Tolar's making trouble for one of his employees who was (in Odo's words) "otherwise engaged" (presumably running the Dabo wheel) at the time.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Senator Vreenak is a Smug Snake, but he is at least willing to listen to Sisko's points and it's implied that had the data rod passed muster, he would've supported Romulus entering the war to help the Federation. Might not sound like much, but this is a Romulan government official we're talking about. Most wouldn't even have bothered to stop to listen a Starfleet officer.
  • Sarcasm Mode: Sisko's bitterly triumphant announcement of the Romulans' entry into the war, alluding to a Black and White Morality that, like Tolar and Vreenak, has lately been rendered another tragic casualty of this miserable war:
    Sisko: So this is a huge victory for the good guys!
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: The casualty list is a little short for a quadrant-wide war.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: But that doesn't mean it feels very right.
  • Shocking Defeat Legacy: Betazed falls to the Dominion, solidifying Sisko's resolve to see his plan to fruition.
  • 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."
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Garak has Weyoun and Damar bicker more in the holotape to make the fake strategy meeting more realistic.
  • 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.
  • That's What I Would Do: Garak ruthlessly exploits this trope, pointing out to Sisko that the Romulans will surely believe the Dominion blew up Vreenak's shuttle to stop him from bringing them its secret plans to invade the Romulan Star Empire because they would have done the exact same thing to anyone on his way to expose Romulan duplicity toward an ally.
  • 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. Garak tells Sisko it took him "a small miracle" to find one anywhere else.
    • 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 Episode: The Romulans enter and change the dynamic of the war.
  • Wham Line:
  • What the Hell, Hero?: There's some back and forth on this one. Sisko greets Garak with a backhand to the face after he realizes the Cardassian blew up Senator Vreenak's shuttle. Garak immediately calls him out for letting his temper get the better of him. Then Sisko accuses him of never being committed to his first plan at all, only intending to murder Vreenak all along, which Garak hotly denies. When he accuses Garak of murdering Tolar as well, however, and Garak rationalizes Tolar's death as another tragic "casualty" of the war, Sisko sees fit to wallop him again.
  • 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.
  • Won the War, Lost the Peace: One of the ways Sisko tries to appeal to Vreenak, by pointing out that if the Dominion wins and ends up controlling the Cardassian Union, the Federation, and the Klingon Empire, then the Romulans will find themselves facing the same opponent on each side. The term for that? "Surrounded."

"Computer – erase that entire personal log."