“Take us to Cardassia, Mr. Nog.”
-- Captain Benjamin Sisko
Whenever I think about running a television show, my sphincter clenches up with the tensile strength of an industrial vice. Too many outside factors determine the stories you’re allowed to tell: your ratings, your network, your executives, your actors, and so forth and so on. Although we call them “talking props” in the industry, it turns out actors are creative folks with thoughts, ideas, and feelings about what they’re doing. And, sometimes, they just up and walk away.
“To Lisa, and the sweet sound of her voice.”
-- Chief Miles O’Brien
By this point in the series, the characters of Deep Space Nine are exhausted, and they all know one thing beyond the shadow of any doubt: It’s going to get worse before it gets better. All Sisko managed with his soul-staining gambit to pull the Romulans in has been to prolong an already brutal slugfest. The war is going to drag on, and it’s going to rack up a cost no one wants to pay.
“I am a Klingon warrior and a Starfleet officer. I have piloted starships through Dominion minefields. I have stood in battle against Kelvans twice my size. I courted and won the heart of the magnificent Jadzia Dax. If I can do these things, I can make this child go to sleep.”
-- Lt. Commander Worf
I had an elaborate reasoning behind why this episode was created. I believed it was because in season one’s “Battle Lines,” Kai Opaka handed Molly O’Brien a piece of jewelry before heading into the Gamma Quadrant to minister to Mike from Breaking Bad. The scene is played with such portent that the creators were telegraphing that this piece of jewelry would play an important part in the story.
“I know, ‘Females and finances don’t mix.’ But that can be interpreted in many different ways.”
More than any other medium, television and movies are collaborative. When everyone is on the same page, this can produce magic, as the creative processes of the entire crew is focused on adding details, depth, and meaning to the finished project. When the creative minds are at cross purposes, though, you get a mess. And when the lead actor hates a script, the director thinks it’s a dark exploration into a wounded family, and the writers think it’s a light farce, well, that’s when you get this week’s episode, “Profit and Lace.”
“We’re Red Squad and we can do anything!”
-- Captain Tim Watters
The heroes of stories almost never lose. It doesn’t matter the odds they’re up against. Doesn’t matter how badly they’re outnumbered, outgunned, or outmatched. For a story to be engaging, the hero has to be the underdog, so that when triumph inevitably occurs, it looks like the result of brains, guts, and maybe a few lucky breaks along the way. The fallout is that because we have spent our whole lives absorbing stories like this, it’s legitimately stunning to us when the underdog doesn’t pull that one miracle shot to win the big game/kill the evil despot/destroy the Death Star. We’ve forgotten the simple truth that the whole reason those victories are satisfying is that they’re so unlikely.
“You defied the will of the Prophets, and you did it because you couldn’t stand the fact that a human, an infidel, had a stronger faith than you. The Emissary was willing to sacrifice his own son to serve the Prophets.”
“My faith is as pure as the Emissary’s.”
“I think you’re confusing faith with ambition.”
-- Major Kira and Kai Winn
It’s a little awkward being both a Starfleet officer and Space Jesus. While technically the Prime Directive only applies to pre-warp cultures, becoming the messiah for an entire planet does seem to violate at least the spirit of the rule. At the very least, it’s unbecoming. There’s also not a thing they can do about it. It wasn’t like Ben Sisko showed up to DS9 and was like, “Hi, people of Bajor, I’m the Emissary of the Prophets.” No, they gave him that title all on their own.
“I do enjoy my work. But I’m afraid I’ve used it as an excuse to avoid the rest of my life.”
-- Constable Odo
Today, “shipping” is such a vital part of fandom that it hardly needs to be explained. There are huge communities dedicated to imagining two of their favorite characters in a romantic relationship. Clothing companies can sell a t-shirt with the simple idea that one day Sherlock Holmes and Watson might kiss. For a period about ten years ago, Team Edward and Team Jacob nearly tore this country apart. The vocal shipping fandom in Supernatural is partly responsible for that show’s troubling habit of stuffing its female characters into fridges.
“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. Garak was right about one thing: A guilty conscience is a small price to pay for the safety of the Alpha Quadrant. So, I will learn to live with it. Because I can live with it. I can live with it.”
-- Captain Benjamin Sisko
This is it. Right here. My favorite episode of my favorite Trek. It’s also one of, if not the darkest hour the franchise has ever produced. Too often “dark” and “good” are conflated, with people mistaking brooding for depth, but what elevates “In the Pale Moonlight” is the central question at its core. Ironically enough, it’s the same question Dr. Bashir asked of Sloan: Is it permissible to sacrifice our moral code to win a war? Bashir’s answer was vehemently in the negative, but the question never comes in that format.
“When push comes to shove, are we willing to sacrifice our principles in order to survive?”
-- Dr. Julian Bashir
Gene Roddenberry’s vision might be untenable. That’s borderline heretical to say, and as an avowed fan of the Trek franchise as a whole, I feel faintly dirty. Maybe the future as Roddenberry originally envisioned it, when interpersonal conflict had been eliminated and, as he put it, “all men are brothers,” would work. After decades of other writers grafting their own interpretations onto the whole, it began to look more and more like this utopia couldn’t function. How can the Federation stand against threats like the Romulan Empire, the Cardassian Union, the Borg, and the Dominion and still remain cleaner than Superman’s underpants?
“When I was a child, I dreamed of having enough food to eat and pretty clothes to wear, and now look at me. I have everything I ever wanted, and I feel horrible.”
-- Kira Meru
Archimedes once said, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum upon which to place it, and I shall move the world.” To him I say, give me a seat comfortable enough and a time far enough removed, and I’ll judge the world. It’s very easy to judge the actions of people in hard situations. It costs you nothing to claim you would have been the one German who would resist the Nazis. It’s simplicity itself to crow that you’d have been marching along with Dr. King in the ‘60s. The truth is far more unsettling: human beings are far more willing to live on their knees than die on their feet. Hell, we’re happy to live on our knees if it doesn’t mean being overly inconvenienced on our feet.