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

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"But the most damning thing of all? I think I can live with it... and if I had to do it all over again... I would."

Sisko: 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.

Sisko is dictating his personal log to justify the actions he's taken over the past two weeks. We flash back to two Fridays prior, when Dax and Bashir lament the friends they've spotted on the latest casualty reports. The Cardassians are cutting through Romulan space without permission to attack Federation planets, and the Starfleet officers wonder what it will take for the Romulans to break their non-aggression treaty and join against the Dominion. Narrating his personal log, Sisko says that at that moment he became determined to bring the Romulans into the war.

Sisko and Dax reason out that before the Romulans will take a side, they'll demand concrete proof that they will be next in the Dominion's crosshairs. Sisko enlists Garak to use his connections to find proof on Cardassia. While Garak works, the Dominion invade Betazed, making the situation worse than ever. Worse still, Garak reports back that all of the operatives he's contacted have been swiftly assassinated by the Dominion authorities. The former spy says that their only option is to manufacture evidence themselves. In spite of his misgivings and the catastrophe that would result if their ruse fails, Sisko agrees to this desperate plan.

Garak proposes sending an invitation to the Romulan Senator Vreenak (Stephen McHattie), the most hardline supporter of the treaty, and present him proof of a planned Dominion surprise attack. If he's convinced, then the Senate will follow. To create the fake records, they'll rescue a certain counterfeiter Grathon Tolar from a Klingon prison. And to sell the counterfeit's authenticity, they'll purchase a Cardassian optolythic data rod to put it on. His misgivings growing, Sisko nonetheless agrees to Garak's proposal, pending Starfleet approval.

Sisko takes custody of the odious Grathon Tolar and brings him to the station. When Tolar stabs Quark in the bar, Sisko offers Quark a bribe to avoid filing a criminal complaint, causing the surprised Ferengi to confirm that Every Man Has His Price. To purchase the optolythic data rod, Sisko must force Bashir against his strenuous objections to hand over 85 liters of bio-memetic gel, a highly controlled and dangerous substance. But all of this work pays off when Tolar produces a fake briefing between Weyoun and Damar in which they plan a surprise attack on Romulus. Sisko is satisfied with the results and orders it embedded into the rod.

Senator Vreenak makes a clandestine arrival on Deep Space Nine on his way back from Soukara. Already declaring the war against the Dominion to be a lost cause, he insists on seeing evidence of a Dominion betrayal just as Sisko and Dax predicted. While Garak pokes around Vreenak's ship, Sisko shows him the fake recording, and the dubious senator insists on inspecting the rod further before making any decision. Sisko knows that the fate of the Alpha Quadrant rests on whether Vreenak buys the deception. When the senator summons Sisko again, he holds up the rod and snarls, "It's a faaaaaake!"

The senator promises to tell everyone on Romulus about Sisko's ruse. So the captain must accept that not only were his conscience-testing efforts All for Nothing, but they will all but destroy any hopes for diplomacy with the Romulans. Next Friday, as Sisko grimly delivers the weekly casualty reports, Worf comes in to report one specific casualty: Senator Vreenak, whose shuttle exploded after "leaving Soukara." It doesn't take very long for Sisko to realize that Garak hid a bomb on the senator's ship while it was docked. In a fury, he storms over to Garak's shop and punches him out.

Garak manages to calm Sisko down long enough to explain himself. The bombing of Vreenak's ship with the data rod on board will look like a Dominion assassination to erase the evidence of its planned surprise attack. The damage to the rod will mask the imperfections that originally revealed it to be a forgery. Garak also hints that he killed Tolar to further cover their tracks. The spy argues that their plan has worked, and they've saved the Alpha Quadrant at the expense of one Romulan Senator, a criminal, and Sisko's own conscience. And that, Garak declares, is a bargain.

Returning to the present, Sisko closes his personal log by asserting that he did what he had to do. He stiffly cheers himself for winning the war and finishes up by asserting that he can live with what he's done. After a moment, however, he adopts a more pensive pose and asserts with less conviction that he can live with it, as if trying to convince himself. Then, of course, he orders that his entire self-incriminating personal log be promptly erased.

Tropes in this episode:

  • An Aesop: According to Andrew Robinson, the moral of the episode is "You can't go to bed with the Devil without having sex". If you've resolved yourself to crossing the line, you're going to have to jump over it, not try and nervously stick a toe across, and then a foot, and so on with the hope that you can pull it back when it gets too hot.
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: Tolar, while drunk, harassed a Dabo girl, and when Quark intervened, Tolar stabbed him. All this was notably after Tolar was informed that he was working for the station's commander and that his (much feared) old acquaintance Garak was on the station.
  • All for Nothing: After Vreenak discovers that the recording of Damar and Weyoun meeting to discuss an invasion of Romulus is a faaaaaaake, Sisko laments that all the wheeling and dealing and moral compromises amounted to nothing. Subverted, however, when Garak pulls one more rabbit out of his hat that Sisko never saw coming and which salvages the entire plan.
  • Anti-Hero: Throughout the episode, Sisko narrates how his actions conflict with his morality. He even provides a List of Transgressions at the end.
  • As You Know: Garak starts to give a biography of Vreenak for the sake of the audience, but Sisko already knows about him, so Garak skips the rest.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Grathon Tolar, a criminal on death row who proves how scummy he is by assaulting a dabo girl and stabbing Quark for defending her. We cry no tears when it's implied that Garak killed him to keep him quiet.
    • Senator Vreenak, the Smug Snake pro-Dominion senator. He knows he's on the winning team, and constantly rubs it in Sisko's face. Chances are no one mourned his demise.
  • "Ass" in Ambassador: Vreenak is a real piece of work who insults Sisko and all of Starfleet to his face in their very first conversation together. Garak even warns Sisko to expect an acerbic attitude from Vreenak before the meeting in question.
    "So you're the commander of Deep Space 9. 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."
  • Awaken the Sleeping Giant: With the Romulans freshly joining the war on the Federation-Klingon side, the Dominion advance into the Alpha Quadrant is rapidly blunted, helping turn the tide of the war.
  • Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work: Garak calls Sisko out for knowingly coming to him for precisely this reason, yet still acting outraged when he behaved as expected.
    Garak: That's why you came to me. Isn't it, captain? Because you knew I could do those things you weren't capable of doing.
  • Bait-and-Switch:
    • Sisko's opening monologue makes it sound like he's going to tell the story of a terrible mistake he made. 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 succeeded in winning Romulan support. His confession is about all the immoral things he did to achieve it.
    • When Worf comes in with a message from Starfleet, we're expecting that Vreenak has exposed Sisko's deception. Instead, it's about Vreenak's shuttle exploding.
  • Bar Brawl: Tolar's scuffle with Quark occurs off-screen, but is 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.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Romulan Empire joins the Dominion War on the side of the Federation and the Klingon Empire, but Sisko is a perpetrator and accessory to several crimes, including murder and conspiracy, and realizes that whether or not he agrees with it, he has to live with it.
  • Blatant Lies: While protesting Sisko's modification of their deal, Tolar has the gall to say that he's done nothing wrong, despite having harassed a dabo girl and attempted to kill Quark for intervening.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: Not quite "accent", but when Dax pretends to be the Romulan proconsul, her voice takes on a very Romulan tone.
  • Call-Back:
    • The U.S.S. Cairo was the ship commanded by Captain Jellico before his temporary transfer to the Enterprise-D in Next Generation's episode Chain Of Command. By this season of DS9, Jellico was no longer commanding the Cairo at the point when the ship was destroyed.
    • 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.
    • Garak makes sure to have Tolar's recording reference Dukat's breakdown and the death of Ziyal by making Damar and Weyoun argue over it.
    • 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.
  • The Chessmaster: This episode firmly cements Garak's position as one of the finest players in the franchise's history. Thanks to his maneuvering, the Federation and the Klingons gain a powerful ally in the Romulan Empire.
  • Continuity Nod:
  • Crazy-Prepared: Garak planned for Vreenak not believing the lies about the Dominion and planted a bomb on his shuttle, which both eliminates the disagreeable Senator and covers up the imperfections on the recording as mere damage from the explosion. And all that assumes that the bombing wasn't his true plan all along; after all, corpses don't need convincing.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Not surprisingly, the flighty bohemian planet that is Betazed, with its antiquated defense systems and the nearest fleet caught off-guard, stood no chance against the Dominion. The entire planet was conquered in less than 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); with that planet occupied, the Jem'Hadar are now in position to attack the core worlds of the Federation, including Vulcan, Andoria, Tellar Prime, and Alpha Centaurinote .
    • 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'll 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.
  • Devil's Advocate: Jadzia fulfills this role for Sisko in an early scene, discussing the Romulans' analysis of their situation and why they'd continue their non-aggression pact with the Dominion, despite the inevitable double-cross.
  • Didn't See That Coming:
    • Starfleet didn't anticipate the attack on Betazed would come through the Kalandra sector, as it was deemed too far from the Dominion's supply lines. The Tenth fleet being out of position on a training exercise also counts.
    • Sisko is clearly taken aback when Vreenak is assassinated and almost instantly knows what happened.
  • Dispense with the Pleasantries: When Garak launches into his same old song and dance about being a simple tailor, Sisko brusquely cuts him off and gets down to business.
    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 repartée and concentrate on the issue at hand. Can you do it or not?
  • Disproportionate Retribution: A drunken Tolar tried to get a dabo girl to dance with him; when Quark intervened on her behalf, Tolar stabbed him.
  • 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."
  • Establishing Character Moment: Vreenak's very first scene has him recite Sisko's defining deeds and qualities before smugly (though not entirely inaccurately) describing him as having started the war with the Dominion, establishing Vreenak as acerbic and arrogant, but also knowledgeable and perceptive.
  • 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.
    • It also applies doubly to the coda of the episode, with Sisko concluding that yes, his own self-respect is absolutely a fair price for the Alpha Quadrant.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Sisko attempts to really let it rip on Garak about his assassination of Vreenak, as if he firmly believes he has these. Garak goes out of his way to point out that this entire plan and operation, everything Sisko did to try to get it to work, and even enlisting Garak himself, was a complete and utter compromise of those supposed standards — and it got the job done, even if Garak had to take matters into his own hands. Hence the entire point of Sisko's self-loathing log entry.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: Sisko is such a storied figure that Vreenak remarks he expected him to be taller.
  • 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 to make it appear that the Dominion didn't want the truth to be discovered. It turns out that Garak had, without Sisko's knowledge, set up a Kansas City Shuffle: a "perfect" version of the fake recording was unlikely to pass inspection, but a damaged one found in the wreckage of a dead Romulan's shuttle that exploded while returning from Dominion space would be highly believable.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Vreenak having a replicated Romulan drink, notes that it's very good, but he can still tell that it's only an approximation. 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 Tolar, he's dead.
    • Garak says that he wants to sneak aboard Vreenak's shuttle to gather intelligence. He does much more than that.
    • When Bashir is protesting Sisko's order to hand over the bio-memetic gel, he mentions that it can be made to manufacture explosives. Garak ultimately uses explosives of some sort to blow up Vreenak's shuttle.
    • Garak tells Sisko to claim that the recording cost the lives of "ten good men" to sell it. Later, Garak actually kills at least six men (assuming one of Vreenak's bodyguards is also a shuttle pilot) to create a convincing narrative.
  • Formula-Breaking Episode: 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.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: Double Subverted. It's not at all unlikely that the Dominion would someday invade Romulus, either because they sided with the Federation or after they'd served their purpose as allies, so Garak forges evidence that shows Dominion leaders planning that very thing. Unfortunately, Vreenak discovers that it's a fake and threatens to expose it, potentially driving the Romulans closer to the Dominion rather than farther away. So Garak blows up his shuttle, making it look like the Dominion killed him for finding out the truth, ensuring that Garak's plan ultimately succeeds either way.
  • Gallows Humor: Bashir calls Jadzia's reporting of a "friend of a friend" on the casualty list with none on his end as getting the day off to "a pretty good start".
  • Godzilla Threshold: Between the increasing casualties and the fall of Betazed, Starfleet is perfectly willing to give Sisko the authority to do whatever he has to to get the Romulans to enter the war.
  • Good Is Not Soft:
    • 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 an outright 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 casualties 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's conquering peaceful planets by the day and putting billions at stake. Sisko's monologue at the end lays it out brilliantly.
    Sisko: So — I lied; I cheated; I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all? I think I can live with it. And if I had to do it all over again, I would. ... Computer, erase that entire personal log.
  • Hating on Monday: As the weekly casualty lists are delivered on Fridays, Sisko has grown to hate that day of the week.
  • 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: Midway through the episode, it looks like Sisko's plan has gone off without a hitch: They've created a perfect counterfeit on an unassailable medium and delivered it to the right person to do something about it. But everything falls apart when Vreenak delivers his Wham Line: "It's a faaaaaake!"
  • 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.
  • Hypocrite: 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 asserts that he can live with what he's done, but after saying it a few times, it looks and sounds like he's trying to convince himself.
  • 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.
  • Idiot Ball: Held firmly by Vreenak as part of the Romulan hat for secrecy and backstabbing and the sensitive position of being caught in a Federation intelligence trap that could have lead to a war. He arrives in a cloaked shuttle, and the Romulans don't realise he's visited the station or perhaps didn't want to admit to the Dominion. It also doesn't appear that he sent any messages about it before he gets blown up, which could have been Garak sabotaging the systems as part of his plot to blow up the shuttle. There's also the option that his fellow high ranking Romulans did get a message and ignored it because they agreed with Sisko that they were next and wanted to join the war, and another that Vreenak concluded that his position on joining the war was still correct but also didn't want to make the Romulan-Federation relationship worse.
  • 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.
  • It Only Works Once: Cardassian optolithic data rods function this way: once data is transcribed onto them, it cannot be overwritten or altered in any way.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Senator 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.
    • After Vreenak discovers the forgery, Sisko describes in his log how furious the senator was, before adding "I can't say I blamed him; I'd have reacted the same way."
    • Sisko calls out Garak for blowing up Vreenak's shuttle. Garak rightly points that Sisko earlier said he's prepared to do whatever it takes to bring the Romulans into the war, he knew that Garak was going to do whatever he felt was neccessary, that's why he went to him in the first place. Likewise Garak points out the deaths in the assassination of Vreenak and Sisko feeling guilty are a small price to pay in exchange for defeating the Dominion. Sisko even admits at the end that Garak was right and his own guilt is a small price to pay.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: Garak expected from the start the Romulan senator would realize the recording was a fake, and planted a bomb on Vreenak'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 Vreenak'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 a result of the explosion instead. Between the apparently genuine rod and recording and a dead Senator hastening back from Dominion space, 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: In addition to blowing up Senator Vreenak and his bodyguards, Garak arranged for Tolar to die as well, leaving himself and Sisko the only people who know the real story.
  • Large Ham:
    • Sisko verges on operatic during his personal log monologues.
    • Vreenak as well. One need only see his "It's a faaaake!" line.
    • Garak is practically foaming at the mouth when he expertly tears apart Sisko's moral outrage for the crimes that he enlisted Garak to accomplish.
  • 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. Not only that, but at the end, the second he has his log deleted, the credits come up. Since the entire episode was that log, once it's deleted, there's no more episode.
  • Lethally Expensive: Garak suggests that Sisko add this detail so as to make his story more convincing to Vreenak. On a rewatch, savvy viewers may notice that Garak had done the very same thing to Sisko when asked to find real war plans and evidently failing.
  • 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.
  • Morton's Fork: Garak sets up a rare heroic (well, mostly heroic) example for Senator Vreenak, unbeknownst to him. Either Vreenak accepts the recording as genuine and gives it to his superiors, ensuring that Garak's plan works and Romulus enters the war with the Dominion, or Garak kills him to convince Vreenak's superiors that the Dominion killed him to cover up the secret, ensuring that Garak's plan works and Romulus enters the war with the Dominion.
  • 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, then 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.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Sisko's entire log is basically this. It's subverted in the sense that the end result of this episode ends up in the Federation's favor, but Sisko is clearly battling with this aspect throughout his monologue.
  • The Needs of the Many: Garak points out that the loss of a senator and a criminal have saved the Alpha Quadrant. Sisko is forced to accept it.
  • Neutral No Longer: Thanks to Sisko and Garak's plot (with more credit to the latter), the Romulans join the war on the side of the Federation-Klingon Alliance.
  • Noodle Incident: Tolar has quite the history that isn't elaborated in this episode. Not only did he do something that warranted his execution from the Klingons that's never revealed, but his reaction to Garak being on Deep Space Nine suggests that something else went down between the two.
  • Not Me This Time: While we don't actually see it on-screen, Garak's analysis in the penultimate scene states this will happen and that the Dominion will insist they had nothing to do with Vreenak's murder. The irony, of course, is that they are innocent for once in the series (not that the Romulans believe them).
  • Not So Above It All: Quark is more pleased by the fact that it's the incorruptible Sisko offering him a bribe than the actual latinum.
  • 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.
  • Pet the Dog: In what Odo describes as "an uncharacteristic display of chivalry", Quark intervenes when a drunken Tolar harasses one of his dabo girls. It gets Quark stabbed for his trouble, but when Sisko offers to bribe him, Quark makes sure to include the damage to the dabo girl's clothes as part of his price.
  • Plausible Deniability: It's easy to miss, but nobody aside from Sisko and Garak even know that Senator Vreenak visited DS9 at all. Worf and his security officers simply seal off the area in the Habitat Ring and stay out, while Vreenak's shuttle arrives, docks and later leaves while cloaked. To anyone else, it probably looked like a security exercise, hence why Worf simply comments later on that "a high-ranking senator" was killed when his shuttle exploded, rather than naming Vreenak personally and reacting accordingly. Sisko then knows immediately that only one other person on the station even knew what went on, and promptly pays a visit to Garak to make him Talk to the Fist.
  • Psycho Supporter: Garak is brought on board the scheme to play this role. When Sisko complains about the assassination, Garak calls him on it.
  • Realpolitik:
    • Just one episode after Sisko virtually declares war on Section 31 for following the philosophy that the ends justify the means, he himself must indulge in any underhanded tactic he can to save the Alpha Quadrant.
    • This also factors into Dax's roleplay of how the Romulans are thinking—they know that the Dominion's long-term goals include conquering their Empire as well, but between the damage done to long-term rivals in the Alpha Quadrant (the Federation and the Klingons), the significant military might of the Dominion, and the lack of concrete evidence that the Dominion will betray them in the short-term, they stand to gain nothing by joining the war against the Dominion and a lot to gain by waiting to see how the war will play out.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Senator Vreenak is a Smug Snake, but he's 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 about it.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Vreenak is a key Romulan politico and the architect of the nonaggression pact with the Dominion, yet he's never been mentioned before this episode. Justified, as the Romulans have stayed out of the war since the beginning and the Federation and Klingons have understandably been focused on the Dominion and the Cardassians rather than the pointy-eared backstabbers.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: The casualty list is a little short for a quadrant-wide war, unless perhaps it's only a single page of a much larger report.
  • 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 Catchphrase 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.
  • Somebody Set Up Us the Bomb:
    • Garak implies that, to keep Tolar holed up in his quarters, he pointedly gave the criminal the impression that, if he tried to force his door open and escape, it would blow up in his face. Sisko asks Garak if "that's just an impression", to which Garak replies that "it's best not to dwell on such minutiae".
    • Garak later actually does this to Vreenak's shuttle offscreen as an insurance plan if the rod were to fail inspection. Which it does. Also implied that Garak has planned it that way from the start.
  • Spanner in the Works: In-universe example when Garak blows up Vreenak's shuttle. Garak sets up the "miraculous" survival of the data rod to be this for the Dominion "plot" to silence Vreenak.
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: One minute, Vreenak has called Sisko in for the final determination of the data rod and thusly proclaims it to be a fake in hushed anger. After Sisko goes over how bad of an outcome this was in his data log entry, Vreenak has already departed back for Romulan space, and the scene cuts to a week later as the crew discuss a report of one Romulan pod having inexplicably detonated in that exact space as Garak enacted his backup plan. This likely catches the audience off-guard as much as it does Sisko, who immediately knows what caused it and marches off to Garak to give him a piece of his mind in untethered rage.
  • Talk to the Fist: Sisko gives Garak a very bloody lip upon realizing what his plan actually was, and then punches him again when he calls Vreenak and Tolar "tragic victims of war".
  • Team Switzerland: The Romulan Star Empire and their non-aggression pact with the Dominion (at first). They even allow Dominion ships to transit their territory to perform deep strikes into Alliance core worlds like Betazed.
  • 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.
  • This Means War!: The Romulans declare war on the Dominion. They very nearly ended up at war with the Federation instead.
  • Time for Plan B: According to Garak, he hoped the forgery would be able to fool the Romulans, but since it didn't, he resorted to killing the Senator to make a set of circumstances that would make the forgery much more convincing.
  • Tranquil Fury:
    • You can see Sisko just barely keeping it in when he realizes what really has happened when Worf reports on Vreenak's death.
    • Garak himself hits this during his speech about his actions and what it meant for Sisko in the outcome, because he just got assaulted outright and has a trace of Blood from the Mouth. Amidst his grandstanding about how effective his plan would be, he delivers a scathing remark about Sisko's own self-respect being one of the costs as if to dig as deep as he could into the officer's conscience about his culpability in the matters as payback.
    • Earlier, Bashir is seething at being ordered to package and hand over eighty-five litres of a highly dangerous, tightly controlled substance to a person he is prohibited from knowing anything about. He ends up Bothering by the Book by asking for the order from Sisko in writing.
  • The Unfettered: Explicitly called out by Garak when he points out that Sisko has no moral grounds to stand on, because he knew exactly who Garak was and what he would do to succeed.
    Garak: That's why you came to me, isn't it, Captain? Because you knew that I could do those things that you weren't capable of doing.
  • 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 if he knew in advance.
  • Unobtanium:
    • The genuine Cardassian optolithic 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.note 
    • 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 for purchase or trade at any price.note 
  • Villain Has a Point: An inversion. From Vreenak's perspective, it's Sisko who's the villain (as a Starfleet officer and thus an enemy of the Star Empire). Yet, Vreenak has to concede that Sisko does raise some excellent points about the post-war fallout should the Dominion triumph (though he then undermines it by pointing out it's still ultimately just speculation and thus not enough to warrant abrogating the nonaggression pact).
  • 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. That leads to Sisko having to make some tough choices and choosing some distasteful but necessary options for what he hopes is the greater good.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Sisko turns into this with his efforts to bring the Romulans into the war against the Dominion. Garak proves to have far fewer lines he won't cross.
  • We Need to Get Proof: Dax convinces Sisko that getting the support of the Romulans requires proof that the Dominion will turn on them. It goes south when Garak's contacts are killed trying to get that proof, and goes even further sideways when Garak suggests manufacturing the proof.
  • Wham Episode: Sisko takes a big step into moral ambiguity, while the Romulans permanently change the dynamic of the war by allying with the Federation and the Klingons against the Dominion.
  • Wham Line: Several in the course of the episode.
    Vreenak: It's a faaaaaaake!
    Worf: Captain. We've just received word from Starfleet Intelligence that a Romulan shuttlecraft carrying a high-ranking senator has just been destroyed.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: Garak states that their plan only cost the lives of one Romulan senator (Vreenak) and one criminal (Tolar). The four Romulan bodyguards who accompanied the senator to the station go unmentioned.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Bashir is clearly taken aback by Sisko's insistence on surrendering the bio-mimetic gel; sounding disbelieving, he insists on receiving Sisko's orders in writing and makes it clear he'll be filing a formal protest with Starfleet (whose leadership already approved the plot anyways).
    • 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.
    • Garak points out Sisko's hypocrisy or self-delusion, saying (almost word-for-word) that deep down, Sisko knew that Garak was going to do something ruthlessly amoral to get the Romulans into the war, and that's the entire reason he hired him in the first place.
    • 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. He then commands the computer to erase the log entry.
  • Won the War, Lost the Peace: One of the ways Sisko tries to appeal to Vreenak is 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." It doesn't sway Vreenak, but he notably has no response to it and moves the conversation onto the not-quite-perfect Romulan Ale replication.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Garak does everything he can to make the data rod look authentic, but if it doesn't pass muster, he's also installed explosives in the senator's ship. Whether the counterfeit is uncovered by Vreenak or not, Garak's plan will succeed.
  • 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.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness:
    • The point of Garak killing Grathon Tolar after the forgery is finished, along with the fact that He Knows Too Much and is too unreliable to keep the truth secret.
    • Sisko highlights this to Senator Vreenak by simply saying the Dominion is trying to placate the Romulans while they battle the Klingons and the Federation, and that they intend to dispose of the Romulans once the war is over.
  • 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.


Video Example(s):


That's Why You Came to Me

In "In the Pale Moonlight," Sisko backhands Garak after learning that he was responsible for the death of the Romulan senator Vreenak, and lands another blow after figuring out that he killed the forger Tolar as well. But, as Garak points out, Sisko came to him in the first place precisely because, having tried everything else, he needed somebody that was willing to do whatever it took if he was actually going to draw the Romulans into the Dominion War.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (25 votes)

Example of:

Main / BadGuysDoTheDirtyWork

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