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Star Trek DS9 - Season 6 - Episode 19

Star Trek DS9 - 6x19 - In the Pale Moonlight

Originally Aired: 1998-4-15

Synopsis:
Sisko goes to great lengths to enlist Romulan support in the Dominion war. [DVD]

My Rating - 10

Fan Rating Average - 8.17

Rate episode?

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Filler Quotient: 0, not filler, do not skip this episode.
- Numerous major long term plot threads are serviced here.

Problems
None

Factoids
- This episode is the winner of my "Best Episode of DS9 Award."
- This episode is the winner of my "Best Episode Ever Award."
- This is the 143rd episode of DS9 and the 512th episode of Star Trek, not counting the films. It's the 520th episode counting the films.
- Garak's 29th episode.
- Bio memetic gel is strictly controlled by the Federation and is not for sale at any price.
- The Dominion conquers Betazed in this episode.
- The Romulans declare war on the Dominion in this episode.

Remarkable Scenes
- The teaser, showing the frustration with Romulan inaction and Sisko's determination to put an end to it.
- Dax citing to Sisko the Romulan position from their perspective, pretending to be the Romulan procouncil responding in turn to Sisko's pretend propositions.
- Sisko: "The founders see it as their sacred duty to bring order to the galaxy. Their order. Do you think they'll sit idly by while you keep your chaotic empire right next to their perfect order?"
- Sisko: "Very good old man. You would have made a decent Romulan." Dax: "I prefer the spots to the pointed ears."
- Sisko's initial conversation with Garak, enlisting his help.
- Sisko: "My father used to say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions."
- Garak outlining his plan to manufacture evidence that the Dominion is planning an attack on Romulus.
- Tolar's decidedly negative reaction to his discovery that Garak is aboard the station and that he is to work with him.
- Sisko: "What happened?" Odo: "As I understand it, Mr. Tolar there came in about two hours ago, ordered a bottle of Whelan Bitters, fifteen minutes later he ordered a second bottle, and then a third, half way through his fourth bottle, he decided to dance with Empella; she was otherwise engaged running the Dabo wheel, declined his invitation, he decided to force the issue, a brief struggle ensued, and Quark in an uncharacteristic display of Chivalry, attempted to intervene, so Tolar stabbed him."
- Quark, as part of the bribe he requests of Sisko: "I'm also having a problem station security. Some cargo containers which I've been waiting for because of some missing import license or something--" Sisko: "I'll handle it."
- Garak: "Mind if I join you?" Sisko: "Be my guest." They enter a turbolift. Sisko: "Ops." Garak: "Hold. The less I'm seen parading through ops the better." Sisko: "I couldn't agree more." Garak: "You seem angry." Sisko: "Who's watching Tolar?" 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 minutia."
- I love Sisko's initial reaction of rejection and then slow acceptable when Garak asks for bio memetic gel to purchase a genuine Cardassian optolithic data rod with.
- Bashir's objections to Sisko's request for bio memetic gel.
- The fake holo recording of Weyoun and Damar plotting against Romulus.
- Sisko freaking out at Tolar.
- Sisko's meeting with Vreenak.
- Vreenak commenting about how for a moment he almost forgot the Romulan drink wasn't the real thing. But only for a moment. Some great foreshadowing there.
- I like how Sisko's conversation with Vreenak went exactly the way Dax predicted it would.
- Vreenak watching the fake holo recording.
- Sisko: "I'm not an impatient man. I'm not one to agonize over decisions once they're made. I got that from my father. He always says worry and doubt are the greatest enemies of a great chef. The souffles will either rise or it won't. There's not a damn thing you can do about it."
- Vreenak: "It's a faaake!" One of the most legendary DS9 quotes.
- Worf delivering the news to Sisko that Vreenak's shuttle was destroyed. I love how Sisko instantly knew Garak did it.
- Sisko confronting Garak about the murder.
- Garak explaining to Sisko why the plan in fact worked perfectly; that the Romulans would in fact declare war on the Dominion.
- The final scene with Sisko trying to convince himself that he can live with what he did, then erasing the entire log entry.
- Rules of Acquisition; 98. Every man has his price.

My Review
In the Pale Moonlight exemplifies everything that made DS9 great. It's an episode in the middle of the Dominion war, which is the best arc ever written on Star Trek and it's a pivotal episode in that arc. Also, it manages to stand on its own very well; even without the backstory as a premise, it would remain most touching. For Avery Brooks puts up one of his best performances ever as Sisko in this episode behind some of the most spectacular directing ever featured on Star Trek. Moreover, the episode's narration is unique. Few, if any Star Trek episodes are told in this original manner, nor is there is a single bit of wasted dialog. Every line is carefully crafted. Every discussion is nicely pointed.

But most importantly, this episode examines the moral center of the human condition at its deepest levels. Captain Sisko is overwhelmingly distraught over the nonstop casualties the Federation is facing in the war with the Dominion. He knows that if the Federation doesn't procure an advantage, a big advantage soon, the Federation will either crumble before the Dominion, or exhaust most of its resources defeating the Dominion. To rectify this situation, Sisko decides he must determine a way to bring the Romulans into the war on the Federation's side. But convincing an empire of billions to go to war for you is no small task...

Well, that's where Mr. Garak comes in. How fitting for the best episode of DS9 to center itself around my favorite character? Sisko approaches Garak, asking him to steal proof from his former homeland that they're planning to attack Romulus so the Romulans will join the war. Garak responds by saying that such a mission would use up all the favors owed to him on Cardassia. And that would be a very messy, very bloody business. Garak asks Sisko if he's prepared to accept the consequences of his services. Sisko responds by saying he's already involved in a very messy, very bloody business. It seemed Sisko didn't realize at first the full extent of what Garak was proposing, perhaps consciously anyway, but subconsciously Sisko knew he was willing to do anything to lessen Federation casualties and if that meant cooperating with Garak in some shady business, then Sisko was willing to do it.

Even more interestingly though is Garak's plan in the first place. Garak knew exactly from the beginning that blowing up Vreenaks's shuttle and making it look like the Dominion did it would be the only way to get the Romulans to declare war on the Dominion. From the impressions I get from Garak, he'd have already done something similar to this deed by now if he had the chance. Yes, Garak skillfully manipulated all of the events of this episode to achieve the result both he and Sisko wanted, even if the means weren't quite what Sisko expected. I saw it in his eyes from his very first scene in this episode: Garak was actually using Sisko to get the Romulans into the war just as much as Sisko was consciously or unconsciously using him.

In the end, Sisko and Garak both knew the same thing: winning the war was going to require the assistance of the Romulans. And as Sisko said in DS9: Rocks and Shoals, "given the choice between us and them, there is no choice." There's no choice but to pay any price to get the Romulans on his side. In this episode of deception and great moral dilemmas we get to see the darkest side of Sisko's personality. We watch as he turns a blind eye to atrocities like murder because the "cause was righteous" and the ends most certainly justified the means.

But even when it was all over, that wasn't the end of our story. Sisko couldn't personally forgive himself for his actions and he felt that maybe recording it all in his log would make him feel better. In the final scene, Sisko tries to convince himself that he can live with what he did, but it's clear that he's having trouble doing just that. So instead of trying to live with it, he tries instead to forget it all by erasing his entire log entry. That act signifies the hypocritical nature of human morals and how easily we abandon them when the situation calls for it. That said, there is certainly enough evil done in this episode in the name of good. And so you have it, the best episode ever done on Star Trek.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Vlad on 2006-03-31 at 7:55am:
    I finally watched this last night. Is the best Star Trek episode ever? I don't know. But it made the list of my favourite episodes. And mine is a short list.

    We've always known that Sisko is human. That's not the issue here. What we come to realize, painfully so, is that he is just as flawed as any 20th century human being. Faced with the paradox "Doing something wrong to do something right", he makes a choice that will cost him his self-respect. And perhaps, it cost him our respect as well.

    Ira Behr said that Trekkies see the captains as gods. Well, this God just sinned!
  • From RichD on 2006-05-02 at 5:56pm:
    In the Pale Moonlight is an astonishing episode. It ranks in my top 5 among any of the 5 series. I remember how tense and riveted I was when I first saw this episode. A stroke of genius retelling this story through Sisko's log entry. The opening scene immediately captures your attention. We all knew one way or another, the Romulans were going to be key players in the war. What we didn't know, is that Sisko would trick them into it?! Would Picard ever do this? I doubt it. He didn't in The Wounded and he wouldn't here. I do believe Kirk would do it.
  • From JTL on 2008-08-17 at 4:37pm:
    This is without a doubt one of the best Star Trek episodes ever done. It is an excellent probe into the human system of moralities and epitomizes what this franchise is all about. Yes, "Favor the Bold" and "Sacrifice of Angels" are awesome, but if there is one postmortem episode I think Gene Roddenberry should be shown if it were at all possible it would be this one. Absolutely astounding. The best? I can't say whether it is or not. However it is very, very high on my list of great episodes.
  • From Abigail on 2008-12-17 at 2:47pm:
    Although I greatly enjoyed the plot, I thought the confession-in-personal-log style of telling the story was very cliche. I'm not so into the confessions. If I ignore that minor annoyance, though, it really was a terrific episode.
  • From Orion Pimpdaddy on 2009-05-05 at 10:00am:
    Sisko's treatment of Tolar (holding him up against the wall, threatening to send him back to the Klingons for execution) is not really consistent with his character. I think they should have cut that part out. Although, he seemed to regret it later by saying "Maybe I was under more pressure than I had realized."

    Other than that nitpic, this is an episode that never gets old.
  • From Jaap on 2010-10-31 at 4:06pm:
    The review says: "Sisko couldn't personally forgive himself for his actions and he felt that maybe recording it all in his log would make him feel better".

    I don't say I don't agree but another possibility occured to me. Sisko has grown to be a very "self-aware" person. He's very confident and has grown more confident in the years on DS9. Like he said: HE fell like he just walked through a door and locked it behind him. HE was going to get the Romulans to enter the war; HE was going to convince Vreenak; HE was going to turn the war around; HE was going to defeat the Dominion; HE was going to get the credits with SF Command (and the rest of the quadrant).

    But then... he didn't see through the plot, he was outsmarted by Garak; he didn't turn the war around but a Cardassian did.

    So i don't think it troubled him all that much that two "innocent" men got killed. Innocent people get killed by the hundreds of thousands at this stage and Sisko has - in some way - been responsible for quite a few deaths himself, just look a the Maquis.

    No, I think the thing that pains him most is the damage inflicted to his self esteem. And that's why he got what he wanted but can't be really happy about it.
  • From Tallifer on 2011-04-21 at 2:18am:
    The point of the Federation is the vision of a utopian future where men have learned to forgo money and concomitant greed, militarism and fascism; where men of all races live in harmony and peace. The moral of Kirk and Picard's inevitable victories of the warlords, maniacs and monsters of outer space was that the Good and the Just will triumph over the Wicked and the Mighty.

    If the Federation must resort to Section 31 and murder, forgery and manipulation, then it is just another sinful empire. Parallel to this is the increasing respect for the militaristic and barbaric Klingons and the selfish and honorless Ferengi through the successive generations of Star Trek.

    I did enjoy this episode, but these stories should not be told about the Federation: it would have been better to set this Deep Space Nine series in a different polity, perhaps someone neutral like the Tholians. Then the stories could be as free of utopianism as the writers want.

    0/10 despite the fun. Simply not Star Trek for me.
  • From Gul Darhe'el on 2012-04-04 at 11:01am:
    During its initial run I didn't get to see much of DS9 beyond early season 4. Also, at the time I was unsure on the direction the series was taking as I found the whole Klingon war story a bit contrived. With that being said, I was stunned at this instant classic years later catching it at random in re-runs. This episode is flawless. Every one (especially the guest stars) turned in spot on performances, the story is completely original, all of the dialogue was interesting and meaningful, I can't say enough. I love the dynamincs and conflict that arise when Sisko employs a small group of professional liars to deceive someone from an ever-skeptical and paranoid race. Simply perfect. I was even more pleasantly surprised upon purchasing the series DVD's that this episode was just one from possibly the best season of Star Trek ever done.
  • From DK on 2013-04-23 at 2:18pm:
    Tallifer got it exactly right.  I can understand making this your best episode ever but not best Star Trek.  The artistic vision of this series is most definitely different from the creators of the Star Trek universe.  I happen to like the direction this series took but it is not the "Star Trek" way.  Witness what Roddenberry did when he got a second bite at the apple and created The Next Generation and contrast it with the gritty nature of DS9.  DS9 is a fine vision of the future and a wonderful premise for a show but the differences Tallifer mentions between it and what the vision of the future the creator of Star Trek  had preclude this episode from being the best of what Star Trek has to offer (IMHO).  
    I completely understand the dilemma.  If put on the spot to name my favorite I suppose, like many others, I would choose The Wrath of Kahn.  Ricardo Mantalban was a formidable presence.  Much criticism could be leveled at TWOK too but in the end entertainment is the highest measuring stick but may be different from what Star Trek was all about.
  • From BigBoss on 2013-10-08 at 5:39pm:
    To claim that the episode doesn't mesh with Roddenberry's "Trek" is a bit of a misnomer, since Roddenberry's closest vision of Trek was Season 1 of TNG (which is almost universally derided as the worst season).

    The issue is that TNG/TOS are well, cartoonish in their morals. You can still tell a great store, but, their stories preclude the possibility of a no-win scenario. Or, to put it even more bluntly, that the only right solution is a morally corrupt one.

    This is what makes this episode, and conversly DS9, such a breath of fresh air in the series. Characters have baggage, they have decisions that they wear the repercussions of as scars, instead of everything getting neatly trimmed up at the end of each episode and perhaps not mentioned again. In TNG we never really see anyone make the tough decisions because plot contrivance always foregoes that possibility. The weight of decisions is where DS9 really shines.
  • From OmicronThetaDeltaPhi on 2014-06-29 at 9:43pm:
    Wow! This is one of those episodes where you leave the TV screen and tell yourself "Now THAT'S what a perfect 10 episode looks like".

    It's impressive. It's captivating. It's full of moral dilemmas. Bravo, Deep Space Nine!

    As for the claims of this episode being "Un-Roddenberry", I disagree. Sisko simply had no choice, but to do what he did. And he didn't do it to save his ship, or even to save the Federation. He did it to save the entire Alpha Quadrant - including those Romulans he lied to.

    And I think that the very fact that Sisko agonized over the whole affair of "presenting a lie as truth", demonstrates how far the morals of humanity have come in the 24th century. A 21st century person wouldn't even blink an eye over this, when the stakes are so high. Yet Sisko feels wretched by what he did. And Why? Because as a Starfleet officer, he values the truth. And this, in my opinion, makes this episode very Roddenberry.
  • From Phil on 2015-08-22 at 1:03am:
    I don't necessarily see this as being against the spirit of Star Trek if you frame Roddenberry's two series in a slightly different light from what's been presented in the comments so far.

    Rather than "Mankind will eventually evolve beyond militarism and pettiness" I believe the takeaway of TOS and TNG should be "if technological progress leads to eradicating scarcity, then mankind can put aside its pettiness, etc."

    This leaves room for the Dominion arc--in the first two series you never see the Federation face an existential threat that lasts more than an episode or two. Here you see what would really happen to a society that has its back against the wall, and I believe that both this portrayal and the TNG portrayal are in line with human nature--it's only the context that has changed. Technology and progress can remove the internal causes for base, primitive behavior, but they can't change human nature.
  • From Phi on 2015-09-13 at 11:56am:
    This episode also reminded me of this quotation from Frank Herbert's "God Emperor of Dune":

    "I know the evil of my ancestors because I am those people. The balance is delicate in the extreme. I know that few of you who read my words have ever thought about your ancestors this way. It has not occurred to you that your ancestors were survivors and that the survival itself sometimes involved savage decisions, a kind of wanton brutality which civilized humankind works very hard to suppress. What price will you pay for that suppression? Will you accept your own extinction?"
  • From tigertooth on 2017-01-06 at 12:10am:
    I gave this a 10 so this didn't hang me up too terribly much, but...

    One the Romulan learned the recording was a fake, wouldn't he have transmitted that info to Romulus immediately? Like even before meeting Sisko? If he does that, the whole plan flops.

    I think Garak's plan could have been identical if he had just gotten the Romulans to come to the station for any old reason. He can still hide the rod on their ship then blow them up and he gets the same result.

    Though, of course, I'd think Romulus would be wondering why the killed Romulans didn't send them a message saying they had come into possession of extremely vital information.

    But whatever. I'm not going to let that seriously get in the way of such a great episode.
  • From McCoy on 2017-03-02 at 12:49pm:
    While I love DS9, I can't agree it's the best episode ever made. DS9 has without doubt best characters in all Trek (not so boring, soulless mannekins as i.e. TNG or Voy). Even secondary characters, like Weyoun or Garak, are greatly written and performed (why they couldn't write interesting characters in other series is beyond my imagination). However, I'm not a fan of military space opera. I like different kind of s-f - speculations about "what if...", about mystery things in Universe, about human's place in Universe. But not war with aliens. You can make film about war without all that s-f stuff, it's irrelevant. And it's irrelevant here. Maybe it's good episode, mabybe Dominion story arc is good, but... It's not good s-f for me. It lacks that "something". 7/10 is max I can vote for Pale Moonlight, sorry.

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