This episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine stands as the magnum opus of the series. I dare say, it is also among the two or three best things ever aired in Star Trek canon. Reason being, it completely flies in the face of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the utopia that is humanity, wherein we’ve gotten past all of our problems, prejudices, avarice, all that, and moved on to something better. But in doing so, the episode shows how far one was willing to go to save that paradise Roddenberry created for us to aspire to become.
The episode is shown through the lens of a personal log being dictated by Capt. Sisko, chronicling the events of the prior couple of weeks. He is so clearly worn down and exhausted, he literally cannot even remember the date. And what a rough couple of weeks it’s been. Sisko, partly out of habit, partly out of duty, and partly out of a sense of an obligation to not forget them, posts the weekly casualty report, and grimly notes that yet another ship was lost out on patrol, and the skipper was a friend of Jadzia’s. It’s clear the Federation is losing the Dominion war, and badly. An off-hand comment about the Romulan’s signing a non-aggression with the Dominion, and how they seem to be so brazenly crossing Romulan space to attack Federation ships and outposts causes Sisko’s gears to turn… What if we could bring the Romulans into the war on the side of the Federation/Klingon alliance, he asks himself. A mock debate with Jadzia convinces him that simply talking to the Romulans would be woefully inadequate, he needs some sort of proof that the Dominion, with it’s ever growing fleet of ships, ever increasing numbers of Jem’Hadar soldiers, and increasing territory, will indeed turn their eye towards Romulus.
The Right Cardassian For the Job
Continuing with the log, Sisko approaches Garak, an exiled Cardassion, and former spymaster, to see if he, through what few of his remaining old contacts in the Obsidian Order (the Cardassian intelligence agency, whose ruthless professionalism and thoroughness would make our own CIA look like a bunch of toddlers playing in a sandbox by comparison) still remain in Cardassian space could find the evidence of Dominion duplicity being planned toward Romulus, now that the Cardassians are staunch allies of the Dominion. Making the obligatory discrete inquiries, Garak responds that they share his (and the Federation’s) desire to rid the Quadrant of the Dominion, but in a testament to the efficiency of Dominion security, every… single… one… of those contacts mysteriously died within 24 hours of speaking to Garak.
This is where Star Trek Deep Space Nine differs from most other series, in that it doesn’t shy away from the tough realities of warfare. Instead of simply washing his hands of the idea. Sisko, albeit grudgingly, listens to Garak’s idea that if they can’t FIND the evidence, perhaps they can manufacture it themselves. After internal wrangling, Sisko agrees to it, and they find a forger who specializes in holo-recreations to do the job. Sisko arranges for his release from Klingon prison, only for him to promptly get drunk at Quark’s bar, and stab Quark. Sisko, in an exceedingly uncharacteristic, and very un-Starfleet, fashion, agrees to bribe Quark so he would shut up about about the forger’s presence on the station, and not press charges.
Deeper Down the Rabbit Hole
As the personal log continues, Sisko is again forced to do something very questionable when Garak needs to procure a specific kind, and very rare, data rod to record this forgery on for the benefit of the Romulans, specifically a pro-Dominion senator named Vreenak, who, incidentally negotiated the non-aggression treaty in the first place, and takes an extremely dim view of the Federation and Starfleet officers. The payment, biomimetic gel, is strictly controlled and could be used for a myriad of terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad things, but as Garak is quick to remind Sisko, with the recent fall of Betazed, the Federation is in an even more precarious position than ever, so why would he (Sisko) be quibbling over a few liters of gel at a time like this. Sisko has the gel packaged under protest by Dr. Bashir, and they get the rod, record the forgery, with the appropriate modifications by Garak (the usual petty bickering, mutual loathing, that sort of thing, as he refers to it), and they wait for the Senator to arrive.
As promised, Senator Vreenak is every inch as acerbic and hostile towards Starfleet officers as his reputation held. He maintained the veneer of geniality towards Capt. Sisko, after pointedly dressing him down as the man who started the war with the Dominion. They discuss things over replicated Romulan Ale, which even Vreenak admits is a decent approximation for the real deal. He demands to see Sisko’s evidence of what he asserts is Dominion duplicity in the planned attack of Romulus.
The Waiting Is The Hardest Part…
As Sisko mused with increasing anxiety, he waited to hear back from Vreenak on whether he accepted the forgery cooked up by Garak’s master forger, or whether it would all blow up in his face. As he himself pointed out, he was off the hook, since Starfleet gave this whole operation its blessing, but that didn’t mean Sisko was any less anxious about it. Reason being, he was the one who’d have to walk back into that room to face the Romulan Senator, he’d be the one who’d have to explain himself if Vreenak discovered the whole thing was a fraud. Which is exactly what happened. Vreenak saw right through the façade, declaring the whole thing a fraud and telling Sisko in no uncertain terms that he would expose the whole thing to the entire Quadrant in the process.
A few days later, Worf reports during yet another weekly posting of the casualty list, that a shuttle carrying a high-ranking Romulan Senator exploded on it’s way back to Romulus. When Sisko was told it was Vreenak’s shuttle, he knew exactly what took place. Barely able to contain his rage, he stormed out of the room, straight to Garak’s shop, and proceeded to beat the living daylights out of him. Garak manages to just barely calm Sisko down enough to explain to him, that he really did hope the forgery would pass scrutiny, but on the chance it didn’t, Garak, with his usual guile, subterfuge and amoral compass, planted a bomb on the shuttle. He further explained that during the forensic exam of the wreckage, the data rod would be found, and any errors in the data would be chalked up to damage from the explosion. And since every shred of evidence points to the Dominion assassinating one of the most ardently pro-Dominion voices in the Romulan Senate for, supposedly, absconding with secret evidence showing their duplicity, voila, just as Sisko wanted, the Romulans would enter the war on the side of the Federation.
And as Garak, again, correctly points out, Sisko approached Garak because he could do the things Sisko couldn’t do, and all it cost to turn the tide of an extremely bloody, extremely messy war, was the life of one criminal, one Romulan Senator, and the self-respect of one Starfleet Captain. In Garak’s eyes, that is one hell of a bargain for saving all the hundreds of billions of lives in the Alpha Quadrant from Dominion occupation. Sisko begrudgingly mused in the log that Garak was absoltely right, that it WAS a small price to pay.
For this reason, in true Star Trek Deep Space Nine fashion, this episode stands head and shoulders above all the others in DS9 canon, because it goes to show how far a man is willing to sacrifice of himself, his dignity, his principles, to save the very thing he’s held most dear, the very thing he’s worked so hard to build and defend his entire life. Because in the end, Sisko muses that he can live with that, he can live with the cost of winning the war for such a bargain.