I’m a person who believes in Hanlon’s razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” If you start talking about the melting abilities of jet fuel, your ass better be a chemist or an engineer. This is not to say that conspiracies have never happened -- Hell, Nixon got elected on the back of a proven one -- but by and large, they are the invention of people who desperately need to find order where there’s only endless black void of entropy.
DS9, however, exists in a fictional reality. Here, conspiracies aren’t just possible, they’re practically guaranteed. While the real world might function by Hanlon’s and Occam’s and probably Batman’s Razor, fictional worlds are governed by a different set of laws. Last week, it looked like the Changelings had knocked out the global power grid of Earth, prepping the capital of the Federation for invasion, but this week, Sisko has some doubts.
Stoking those doubts is the obvious: There wasn’t an invasion. The Changelings created the perfect path to take the capital of the Federation, knocking out Earth’s defenses, communication, and infrastructure, and then . . . sat on their pseudopods? In fact, the only concrete effect is now Admiral Leyton has exactly what he wants: armed Starfleet personnel patrolling the streets.
Sisko gets his first concrete lead courtesy of his protege. Nog showed up in the previous episode in what looked like a comic side plot: As a fish out of water, he wanted Sisko’s help getting into Red Squad, the Academy’s elite group of cadets. Sisko had never heard of Red Squad before then, and what he learns is that they were demobilized right after the power outage, only to get remobilized three hours later as part of a larger mobilization of Academy personnel. Seems a little fishy, and Sisko gets confirmation when he effortlessly breaks a Red Squad cadet in an impromptu interrogation. They were behind the power outage on orders from Admiral Leyton.
This was a classic false flag operation, with Leyton using Earth fears over a Dominion invasion to stage a coup. The nice thing here is that the show goes out of its way to dispense with any mustache-twirling villainy. Once Leyton is unmasked as a traitor, he is still Sisko’s mentor and friend. The two of them go out of their way not to kill the other, and the stakes are usually confined to one or the other of them resigning (and, you know, the destruction of utopia). Sisko even points out that the traitors don’t see themselves as such; they’re only doing what they believe is necessary to safeguard the Federation.
This is where we arrive at the paradox in this pair of episodes, and illuminated in snippets of dialogue throughout. Can you save paradise by eroding it? Leyton believes that a certain amount of destruction is necessary to save what remains, while Sisko thinks that the whole point of defending something is to keep it intact at all costs. In a fictional world, there’s a very simple answer to who is right and who is wrong: Sisko is right because Sisko is always right. In the real world, it’s much more up to debate. In the wake of 9/11, we saw a good deal of our freedoms vanish on the very same altar. Pretty prescient for a show about sentient goo.
The episode quote comes from my favorite, and probably the strangest, scene in the entire two-parter. One of the major challenges of writing is oftentimes getting the hero and villain to interact. Just to have a simple face-to-face conversation. There’s always the obvious question, “Why doesn’t he just shoot him?” This is why the John McClane/Hans Gruber scene is so justifiably loved. We get an equivalent when a Changeling wearing the shape of Chief O’Brien has a chat with Sisko.
The Changeling informs Sisko that there are only four of his people on Earth, but look at the havoc they’ve already wreaked. He delivers the episode quote to Sisko, and I wished that scene were playing on the big screens in Times Square after 9/11. Far more deadly than any terrorist’s bombs is the fear caused by those bombs, a fear intentionally or unintentionally stoked by the powers that be. While I don’t, for an instant, think it was an inside job, I do think it was capitalized upon for political gains, just like every disaster, war, and attack has been since the beginning of time. Sisko, however, is made of sterner stuff. In the end, he tells his father that the Dominion might try to destroy them, but “we will not do it for them.”
In late 2001, I remember lamenting the difference in the terrified reaction of American citizens to the cheerful stoicism of the British during the blitz. It might be a difference in national character, culture, time period, or maybe just that there was no element of surprise to the Luftwaffe’s daily armageddon. It was disheartening to watch the public practically beg for freedoms to be stripped in the name of safety. Here, Joseph Sisko adopts the point of view I think we’d all hope for.
Confronted with an intergalactic evil empire led by shapeshifters who can flawlessly mimic anyone or anything, with an army of genetically-engineered super-soldiers at their beck and call, he’s scared to death. That doesn’t mean he’s going to give up living. The whole point of being scared is that you have something to lose. Seems silly to give that very thing up in the name of fear.
Next up: Shakaar comes for a visit.