Computer Voice: Stardate 51721.3.
Sisko: 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.
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: Sisko's narration, which frames 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: After learning that Vreenak has been assassinated, Sisko storms into Garak's shop and sucker-punches him, then does it again as they argue.
- 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, 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.
- "Ass" in Ambassador: Vreenak is a real piece of work, and insults Sisko and all of Starfleet to his face in their very first conversation together. One of the episode's many fascinating moral ambiguities is the way that you might find yourself, almost unconsciously, cheering to find out that Garak had his ship blown up.
- Bait-and-Switch: Sisko's opening monologue makes it sound like he's going to tell the story of a terrible mistake he made, and by the time Vreenak discovers the data rod is a forgery it appears that the mistake he's confessing is his plan backfiring to cause the Romulans to join the war on the side of the Dominion. Then the truth of Garak's plan comes out and it turns out Sisko's plan worked perfectly, possibly saving the Alpha Quadrant — and he still considers it a terrible mistake. Or does he?
- Bar Brawl: Off-screen, but recounted in detail by Odo.
- Batman Gambit: Garak's ploy to pull the Romulans into the war is dependent on the Romulan government's own understanding of foreign affairs: while the Federation might believe the Dominion when they say they had nothing to do with killing a Romulan Senator to prevent a leak due to their own policies, the Romulans will assume that the Dominion would obviously kill someone to prevent a leak and then deny it, because that's exactly what the Romulans would have done in their position.
- Believing Their Own Lies: Shades of this in Sisko's log; he's obviously trying to convince himself that what he did was definitively the right thing to do, and not a huge mess of moral ambiguities. And he looks like he's failing.
- Big "WHAT?!": Sisko's reaction to the payment of bio-mimetic gel required for the data rod.
- Black and White Morality: Very much Subverted.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Many critics have noted how Sisko delivers the Captain's Log in an almost Shakespearean manner, monologuing directly into the camera about his horrible deeds, as if daring the audience to find fault with them.
- 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 into 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 troops even when he doesn't want to, because it keeps their morale up.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: Not surprisingly, the flighty bohemian planet that is Betazed stood no chance against the Dominion. The entire planet was conquered in 10 hours.
- Darker and Edgier: With the possible exception of DS9's own "The Siege Of AR-558," this might be the darkest the franchise ever got, at least prior to the launch of Star Trek: Discovery.
- Darkest Hour:
- The Dominion War is going very badly for the Federation, with heavy casualties on multiple fronts and no end in sight. It gets worse when news comes in that the Dominion has conquered Betazed (Deanna Troi's homeworld and the residence of her mother Lwaxana).
- Within the episode, Sisko is confronted by a furious Vreenak, who's discovered the data rod has been faked and intends to reveal the duplicity to the Romulan Senate.
- Deal with the Devil: This trope is applied metaphorically, both by the episode title, and by Garak making it clear from the beginning that seeking his help will be a "messy" business.
- Deconstruction: Of the concept of Space Opera warfare, and to a certain extent, the entire Star Trek franchise. In order to win a desperately needed victory against a murderous alien empire, our brave captain will: enlist the help of criminals? Order his crew to break protocol without telling them why? Bribe people to keep quiet? Instead of using space magic to save the day and retain his principles at the same time, the brave Starfleet hero will forge evidence, which then breaks and is discovered to be fake, and, then, when his sinister spymaster silences the witnesses in a False Flag Operation, he will do nothing? Yikes.
- Delivery Not Desired: Sisko pours out his guilt to his log, then erases it so there won't be any evidence of his actions.
- Dispense with the Pleasantries: Sisko is in no mood for Garak's brand of loquaciousness.Garak: I must say I'm flattered, Captain. I had no idea you held such a lofty opinion of me. Your faith in my ability to retrieve classified information from my former homeland is most gratifying.
Sisko: Mister Garak, let's dispense with the usual repartee and concentrate on the issue at hand. Can you do it or not?
- 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. Quark is pleased to see it even applies to usually high-and-mighty Starfleet officers, and takes the rare opportunity to rub it in Sisko's face.
- 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 puts aside his principles to get the Romulans to join the war against the Dominion. First a holographic recording is faked to make it appear that the Dominion were intending to attack the Romulans, and when this falls through, the Romulan ambassador is assassinated, his shuttle bombed, to make it appear that the Dominion didn't want the truth to be discovered. It is learned that Garak had, without Sisko's knowledge, set it up at a Kansas City Shuffle, realizing a "perfect" version of the fake recording was unlikely to pass inspection, but a damaged one found in the possession of a dead Romulan recently returning from Dominion space would be highly believable.
- 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."It really is a good imitation. For a moment I forget it wasn't the real thing. But only for a moment."
- 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.
- Garak also says that he wants to sneak aboard Vreenak's shuttle to gather intelligence. He does much more than that.
- At one point, Garak advises Sisko to tell the Senator that "Good men died getting this data rod," in order to make it more convincing that it's crucial evidence. This isn't long after Garak has told Sisko that all his contacts on Cardassia died trying to find actual evidence on the Dominion plotting to invade the Romulan Empire. To the careful viewer, it's the first indication that Garak's playing a deeper game.
- 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 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 he and Garak know what really happened.
- Gray and Grey Morality: Probably the messiest moral dilemma in all of DS9, and quite possibly all of Star Trek. Sisko willingly enlists the assistance of unsavory individuals, suppresses evidence of a False Flag Operation attack on a politically neutral state, and chooses to do nothing about the elimination of witnesses, all so that said politically neutral state will join his side, condemning them to terrible casualities in order to minimize his own (which are already terrible and getting worse daily). On the other side is a relentless and insatiable alien empire with superior weapons, technology, and numbers, led by a genocidal former dictator and unwilling to respond to diplomacy, that is conquering peaceful planets by the day and putting billions at stake. Sisko's monologue at the end lays it out brilliantly.
- He Knows Too Much:
- Exploited. Garak arranges Vreenak's death to look like this trope, knowing that the Romulans would find it highly believable, especially after the Dominion denies it.
- Grathon Tolar's death is a straight example of the trope, along with a case of You Have Outlived Your Usefulness.
- Hope Spot: Part of what makes this episode so brutally effective is the manner in which, at every obstacle, a safe and morally passable solution is proposed, only to fail. But the writers keep turning their screws so carefully that we don't suspect a thing and keep waiting for a morally clean resolution that never comes.
- 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 Can Live With That: Sisko, at the conclusion of his monologue. Then he orders the computer to delete the entire log.
- 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 (and explains away the rod's imperfections), while Tolar's death ties up a problematic loose end.Garak: Think of them both as "tragic victims of war".
Sisko: (punches Garak again)
- A point Sisko makes in his log, and which momentarily causes him to lose his composure and start ranting.
- I Have My Ways: Garak, as usual.Sisko: How do you know [Vreenak] will be visiting Soukara?
Garak: There are some things I'd rather not discuss.
- 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. On the other side, the Federation is still rebuilding its shipyards, has a manpower shortage due to attrition, and has already sent out peace feelers.
- Kansas City Shuffle: Elim Garak expected from the start the Romulan senator would realize the recording was a fake, and planted a bomb on the senator's ship as soon as he arrived. And in fact, after the senator departs with the fake recording to expose the perceived con on himself, Garak promptly blows up the ship. The real con was having the senator's superiors discover the recording in the wreckage of the ship of a member of their government coming back from a meeting with the Dominon, as now all the imperfections in the forgery will be assumed to be result of the explosion instead. 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.Garak: The Romulans will enter the war!Sisko: There's no guarantee of that!Garak: Oh, but I think that there is! You see, when the Tal Shiar finishes examining the wreckage of Vreenak's shuttle, they'll find the burnt remnants of a Cardassian optolythic data rod, which somehow miraculously survived the explosion. After painstaking forensic examination, they'll discover that the rod contains a recording of a high level Dominion meeting at which the invasion of Romulus was being planned.Sisko: And then they'll discover that it is a fraud!Garak: No, I don't think they will, because any imperfections in the forgery will appear to be a result of the explosion. So, with a seemingly legitimate rod in one hand, and a dead senator in the other, I ask you, Captain, what conclusion would you draw?Sisko: That Vreenak obtained the rod on Soukara, and that the Dominion killed him to prevent him from returning to Romulus with it.Garak: Precisely! And the more the Dominion protests their innocence, the more the Romulans will believe they're guilty, because it's exactly what the Romulans would have done in their place!
- 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:
- 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.
- Lethally Expensive: Garak suggests that Sisko add this detail to make his story more convincing to Vreenak.
- 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.
- A Million Is a Statistic: Only Vreenak's death wracks Sisko's conscience. The Romulan bodyguards who we saw accompanying him to the station go unmentioned.
- Moving the Goalposts: Even though Tolar does as he's told, Sisko refuses to let him go unless the program passes the test.Tolar: Well, it has been a pleasure doing business with you, gentlemen. Call me again if you ever need—
Sisko: You're not going anywhere.
Tolar: What?! What do you mean?
Sisko: I mean you're not leaving until your work is accepted by our client.
Tolar: That isn't fair! You can't keep me here against my will! I haven't done anything wrong! We had an agreement!
Sisko: (pushes Tolar up against a bulkhead) I'm making a new agreement. If that program passes inspection, you walk free, but if there's even the slightest flaw, the I will send you back to that Klingon prison and tell Gowron to take his time while he executes you.
Tolar: (terrified) All right! It will pass! You'll see. It ... will ... pass.
- 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.
- 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 — though he does point out Sisko is the one who started the war in the first place, and he takes a lot of time to gloat.
- 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."
- Shut Up, Kirk!: A morally grey version. Garak verbally unloads on Sisko when the man attacks him in his own shop, and leaves Sisko looking absolutely defeated.Garak: 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. And you'll get what you wanted: a war between the Romulans and the Dominion. 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.
- Talk to the Fist: Sisko gives Garak a very bloody lip upon realizing what his plan actually was.
- Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Garak has Weyoun and Damar bicker more in the holographic recording to make the fake strategy meeting that much 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.Sisko: Perhaps I didn't make myself clear, Doctor. This is not a request, it's an order. You will package eighty five litres of biomimetic gel for interstellar transport and deliver them to Cargo Bay 3. Is that understood?
Bashir: Yes. I'd like this order in writing, please, sir.
Sisko: (hands him a PADD) I thought you might.
- 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.
- 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.
- Not only is it highly-controlled and dangerous, it's also rare and not produced in large quantities: the contact initially asked for 200 liters of bio-mimetic gel, which Sisko balked at as absurd, because there physically isn't that much gel in the entire Bajor sector. They have to haggle the contact down to 85 liters. Sisko's eyes nearly shoot out of his head when Garak gives the figure — sort of like if, in real life, an anonymous contact didn't just ask for "a pound of uranium" but "a big dump truck full of uranium".
- War Is Hell: The meat grinder has really kicked in, with Starfleet and the Klingons suffering high casualty rates. This is best exemplified by the weekly casualty report.
- Wham Episode: The Romulans enter and change the dynamic of the war.
- Making it whammier is that Sisko lied and cheated to get them to join the war.
- Further, Sisko is expressly complicit in at least two murders, and possibly more depending on what the biomemetic gel was for, with possibilities including illegal genetic experimentation, biological weapons, and organic explosives.
- Making it whammier is that Sisko lied and cheated to get them to join the war.
- Wham Line:"It's a faaaaaaake!""Computer, erase that entire personal log."
- 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 victim" of the war, Sisko sees fit to wallop him again.
- In many ways, the entire episode is Sisko saying this to himself, questioning how a decorated Starfleet officer, committed to his oaths to Starfleet and the Federation, and a defender of the truth is responsible for the murder of at least six people in the name of getting the Romulans to join the war.
- 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 ... 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.
- It's not at all clear that he succeeds.
- 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."
- You Do NOT Want to Know: Garak invokes this when Sisko asks him how he's keeping Tolar under closer watch following Quark's stabbing.Garak: I've locked him in his quarters. I've also left him with the distinct impression that, if he attempts to force the door open, it may explode.Sisko: I hope that's just an impression.Garak: It's best not to dwell on such minutiae.
- Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Sisko is clearly disgusted when Quark approves of some of his actions (specifically, that Sisko is bribing him to not press charges against the man Sisko needs to forge the data rod). By Quark's demeanor, it's likely he did this on purpose to needle Sisko.