Bashir is attending as well, to share his expertise on Dominion biogenic weapons, among other things. Garak, who found his onetime posting there as a spy dreadfully boring, offers his condolences. He asks if Starfleet intends to do any spying of their own while they're there, which offends Bashir's propriety. Spy on an ally? Unthinkable! Garak, of course, is most disappointed by his response.
Garak isn't the only one with the idea. That night, Bashir is visited in his quarters by everyone's favorite Section 31 agent, Sloan, who "recruited" Bashir during "Inquisition". Despite all the cloak-and-dagger, his request is innocuous enough: make some private observations on the Romulans while he's at the conference. Bashir refuses, but Sloan is convinced that he'll do it anyway because the thought of being a spy is just too seductive. And with that, he's gone as quickly as he appeared.
Bashir goes straight to Sisko. His and Admiral Ross' conclusion is that Sloan's involvement does not justify making any changes to the Conference or Bashir's itinerary there. Instead, Sisko wants him to be a Double Agent, playing along with Sloan's game to get closer to Section 31. He says Starfleet Intelligence, despite its claims to the contrary, has not made any serious effort to expose them.
Bashir, Admiral Ross, and Senator Cretak share a glass of (now decriminalized) Romulan ale aboard the Bellerophon while en route to the conference. Ross doesn't handle it so well, being part of the 1% of officers who actually took the prohibition seriously. Then Sloan makes an appearance, posing as a civilian cartographer, to give Bashir some brief orders.
Sloan, of course, refuses to say why he's tagging along. Bashir consults with Ross, who finds Sloan's presence concerning — not because of what he personally might do, since his cover's access is limited, but because it implies there's more going on than just a bit of open-source intelligence gathering.
Later, Sloan meets with Bashir in private to debrief him on his first round of intelligence-gathering. Sloan has a particular interest in Koval, chairman of the Tal Shiar, who is ardently opposed to the alliance and competing with Cretak for an empty seat on the Continuing Committee. It is also rumored that he is hiding a rare and incurable disease known as Tuvan Syndrome. Sloan wants to know for sure. No wonder he chose Bashir, a genetically enhanced doctor, for this mission.
Koval approaches Bashir during the conference to ask a few questions about the Quickening, making no effort to disguise the fact that he is interested in weaponizing it. But at least Koval is talking to him, which according to Cretak is more than most people (herself included) can say.
Bashir's conclusion is that Koval may have early-stage Tuvan Syndrome, which would give him a life expectancy of 20 to 25 more years. It's clear that Sloan is interested in removing him from the picture, even more so when he asks if there are any ways to accelerate the progression of the disease. Ross is affronted by the idea that Section 31 may be plotting an assassination, though he does concede that having Koval on the Continuing Committee would be very bad for the alliance. It also stands to reason that, to have any chance of putting their plan into action, Section 31 must have an agent within the Romulan government. Bashir wants to blow the whistle on Sloan, but Ross is afraid of what that might do to the alliance.
To make matters worse, Ross suffers an aneurysm not long after. It's not serious, but until he recovers, Bashir is on his own. So he turns to the only other person he thinks he can trust: Senator Cretak. He asks her to help him get access to Koval's intelligence files. As head of the Tal Shiar, his notes would give them the best chance of finding the mole. Cretak reluctantly agrees.
But it would seem Bashir has managed to put himself on Koval's radar. He lures Bashir away from the conference to conduct a not-so-friendly interrogation. Bashir's genetic enhancements make him immune to the Romulans' infamous mind probes, but no matter. Cretak was also caught trying to hack Koval's files. Both of them are brought before the Committee, who are not pleased to hear their story, no matter how well-intentioned it may have been.
To top things off, Koval brings out a Surprise Witness: a badly-beaten Sloan. Under interrogation, they have found that there is no Section 31. Sloan, an ordinary Starfleet spy with a grudge against Koval, invented it so that he could orchestrate his own personal revenge. The Committee decides to let Bashir loose. Cretak, whatever her intentions, is in any case still guilty of treason. Sloan chooses to try to fight his way out and is executed on the spot.
But that's still not the whole story. By the time Bashir is returned to the Bellerophon, Ross is back on his feet. Bashir asks him what really happened to Sloan.
Ross admits that he was working with Sloan. The Romulan mole is none other than Koval himself, who faked both Sloan's story and his supposed death. Now that Cretak is discredited, his spot on the Committee is guaranteed, and with his established anti-alliance reputation, it will be all the more convincing when he later reverses his stance. Certainly, this is a huge win for the Federation, but Bashir is absolutely incensed that Ross, the model of a Reasonable Authority Figure, would be in bed with Section 31.
There's nothing left for Bashir to do. Back on the station, Sloan pays him one last visit, to thank him for playing the part of the Wide-Eyed Idealist so perfectly.
This episode provides examples of:
- Agree to Disagree:Sloan: Let's make a deal, doctor. I'll spare you the "ends justify the means" speech and you spare me the "we must do what's right" speech. You and I are not going to see eye to eye on this subject, so I suggest we stop discussing it.
- Batman Gambit: Being found out was part of Sloan's plan to make his man inside Romulus look even better.
- Ross's aneurysm is faked (and conveniently discussed in front of Bashir in the mess hall) so that Bashir will have no choice but to go to Cretak.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Sloan points out that Bashir always wanted to play at the spy game. Well, he certainly gets his wish.
- Both Sides Have a Point: Acknowledged by Sloan at the end, albeit in a very condescending way. The Federation needs idealistic men like Bashir to preserve its, well, ideals and it needs men like Sloan to do the dirty work that will allow those ideals to survive in a dog-eat-dog universe.
- The Chessmaster: Sloan.
- Continuity Nod: Neral is still a member of the Romulan senate, though he's the praetor now instead of just proconsul.
- The Starfleet delegation utilizes the new dress uniforms that had debuted several months earlier in Star Trek: Insurrection. This makes this episode their only appearance outside of the TNG films.
- Exact Words: Senator Cretak is a Romulan patriot. This does not mean she's a 'good guy' or 'on our side', Bashir.
- The Extremist Was Right: Sloan's plan ultimately enables a Section 31 mole (who had pretended to be a critic of the Federation) will have the clout to ensure the Romulans don't back out of the alliance.
- Faking the Dead: Sloan is seemingly vaporized by a Romulan disruptor, but he was beamed away a split-second before the blast hit.
- Foreshadowing: Sisko initially agrees with Bashir's concerns about passing any intel to Sloan is a bad idea. But he changes his mind after a conversation with Admiral Ross, who persuades Sisko that Sloan has made a misstep. He's given them a unique opportunity to try and get someone inside Section 31 and Ross convinces Sisko they should take it. It's the first clue that Ross is working with Sloan. He's ensuring that Sisko and Bashir don't accidentally sabotage the plan and that Bashir will play the part they need him to play in order to take down Cretak.
- Got Volunteered:
- Kira volunteers Worf to explain to Martok why his ship gets moved back in the repair queue in favor of the Romulans.
- Sloan volunteers Bashir for a Section 31 op. Sisko then tells Bashir to go along with it, hoping this will help them gather intel on 31.
- Gratuitous Latin: An episode title in Latin, which gets dropped, after which Bashir conveniently translates.
- I Was Never Here: Invoked by Ross after his "off-the-record" conversation with Bashir.Ross: This conversation never happened. You're dismissed.
- It's Personal: Part of the ultimate deception is stating that Sloan is a mere Federation intelligence officer who believed Koval assassinated his mentor and wanted revenge.Koval: You broke the cardinal rule of our profession. You allowed business to become personal.
- The Mole: Sisko hopes to use Bashir to learn more about Section 31 and what they're planning from the inside.
- Mole in Charge: Koval, Chairman of the Tal Shiar, is secretly working with Section 31.
- No-Sell: Bashir's genetic enhancements make him immune to Romulan mind probes.
- Pet the Dog: At least the Romulans were kind enough to return Bashir to the Bellerophon after this whole incident.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: In comparison to his last appearance, Praetor Neral is quite merciful towards Bashir. He accepts Sloan's 'death' as punishment enough and lets Bashir go back to the Federation instead of imprisoning him. Possibly justified in that Bashir did not personally learn of any Romulan state secrets during the course of his activities, and that imprisoning a citizen of the Federation might exacerbate relations with one of their wartime allies.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Sloan's final conversation with Bashir. He hints at his own failings before pointing out Bashir's."The Federation needs men like you, Doctor: men of conscience, men of principle... men who can sleep at night. You're also the reason Section 31 exists. Someone has to protect men like you from a universe that doesn't share your sense of right and wrong."
- Removing the Earpiece: Bashir and Ross remove their combadges before their off-the-record argument over the Section 31 op.
- Series Continuity Error: Bashir incorrectly says that the Quickening disease afflicted people on Boranis III. It was actually a on a planet in the Teplan system; Boranis III had been mentioned earlier in that episode.
- Suicide by Cop: Sloan's escape is set up to look like him being shot by Koval during a desperate escape attempt.
- Tautological Templar: In possibly the most scathing criticism of the Federation in the franchise, Bashir accuses the Federation of utilizing the underhanded tactics they claim to loathe, and then justifying them by saying that they are the "good guys", and thus can't do wrong.
- This Is Gonna Suck: Bashir is not happy with Sloan showing up with an assignment.
- Title Drop: By Admiral Ross, attempting to justify what happened to Julian. He doesn't take it well:Bashir: "In time of war, the law falls silent." Cicero. So is that what we have become; a 24th century Rome, driven by nothing other than the certainty that Caesar can do no wrong?
- Trespassing to Talk: Sloan does it twice, both at the beginning and the end of the episode, and while Bashir's sleeping.
- Uncertain Doom: Cretak. Admiral Ross notes that the most optimistic outcome for her is simple dismissal from the Senate. At worst, she'll be executed.
- Unwitting Pawn: Bashir and Cretak end up being this in Section 31 and Koval's scheme. When Bashir puts it all together, he's not very happy about it.
- Visionary Villain: Sloan stresses that the Romulans are only temporary allies and that they will be the greatest threat to the Federation once the Dominion War is over. That's his motivation behind this plan.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Sloan and Ross. Both want to ensure an outcome where the Dominion doesn't cut a separate peace deal with the Romulans.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Bashir chews Ross out for working with Section 31. Ross admits that he doesn't like it, but it's the only way to help end the war.
- Whole Plot Reference: Sloan's Batman Gambit is familiar to anyone who's read The Spy Who Came In from the Cold.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: Bashir - and that's what makes him so useful to Section 31 for this particular mission.