Written by Bradley Thompson & David Weddle
Directed by Michael Dorn
Season 6, Episode 18
Production episode 40510-542
Original air date: April 8, 1998
Station log: Bashir is running around getting himself together before heading out in the morning to present a paper at a medical conference, pausing to heal O’Brien’s latest kayak-induced dislocated shoulder.
The computer wakes Bashir at 0700, though Bashir doesn’t feel as if he’s been asleep that long, and his trip is postponed by a summons to Ops. Starfleet Internal Affairs has shown up, in the person of Deputy Director Luther Sloan, who announces that IA believes there’s a leak on DS9: someone among the senior staff is passing intelligence to the Dominion. The senior staff has all been relieved of duty, and they’re to be confined to quarters until Sloan can interview them. Sloan informs Bashir that Starfleet Medical has already been informed that Bashir won’t be going to Casperia Prime.
Bashir paces his quarters impatiently, frustrated that even his replicator has been turned off. Chandler, one of Sloan’s aides, escorts Bashir to the wardroom to be interviewed by Sloan. The first thing Sloan does is apologize for taking him away from the medical conference, which allows him to segue nicely into the last time he went to a medical conference: he was kidnapped by the Dominion and replaced with a changeling, spending five weeks in a prison camp in the Gamma Quadrant. He then mentions Bashir’s work with “the Jack pack,” talks about how he himself considered becoming a doctor, and then dismisses him—taking a breakfast order from Bashir, since the replicators were taken offline deliberately until the investigation is complete.
Chandler escorts Bashir back to his quarters, and his other aide, Kagan, brings breakfast—except Kagan screwed up and brought Bashir Worf’s meal of gagh.
Bashir starts getting suspicious when he notices that his padds have been put away, and Kukalaka has been knocked onto his side. Then he’s contacted by O’Brien, who breaks protocol to let Bashir know that O’Brien’s own interrogation was entirely about Bashir—Sloan grilled him for two hours about the doctor. Chandler and Kagan then escort Bashir back to the wardroom. Where before Sloan was friendly, had removed his uniform jacket, and was smiling a lot, now he’s in full uniform, nasty, and serious. This time Kagan and Chandler stay in the room, also. Sloan asks about Bashir’s being placed in solitary confinement while imprisoned by the Dominion, wondering if he spoke to any Vorta or Founders. He also questions the convenience of the runabout being right there for him and the other prisoners to escape to, and thinks that the Dominion left it there, along with everything they needed to escape, so that Bashir could work for them as a spy.
Bashir’s denial that he’s a spy is met with a bizarre hypothesis: that Bashir has a complex enough mind that he can compartmentalize contradictory information, what’s called engrammatic dissociation. Sloan claims that the Dominion broke Bashir during his solitary confinement and conditioned his genetically enhanced brain to be a kind of sleeper agent, acting as a spy without Bashir himself knowing it. When Bashir insists that Sloan charge him so he can respond with the benefit of counsel, Sloan gets snottily accusatory, saying Bashir thinks he’s smarter than the millions of brave men and women who’ve died fighting for the Federation, and that he’s going to get answers and lock away whatever’s left of him. Chandler and Kagan then escort Bashir in irons through the Promenade (over the angry objection of Sisko) to a holding cell. Sloan’s people are now in charge of security, with Odo confined to quarters. Chandler and Kagan take shots at Bashir, mentioning friends who died at Tyra, and when Bashir says he lost friends too, Chandler snidely says that all his friends that he lost were Jem’Hadar.
Sisko forces his way into the holding area over Chandler’s objections, requesting ten minutes alone with his officer. The captain tells Bashir that Odo has learned that Sloan’s son was killed by a Jem’Hadar attack, and that maybe Sloan believes Bashir supplied the Dominion with the intelligence necessary to carry that attack out. Sloan himself shows up to verify that that is what he thinks. Sisko points out that there’s a conflict of interest, which Sloan fobs off; Sisko then asks if Sloan has been instructed to relieve Sisko of command. When Sloan admits that he hasn’t, then Sisko makes it clear that he’ll talk to his chief medical officer whenever he damn well pleases and that he’ll sit in on any subsequent interrogations.
In their next interrogation session, Sloan dings Bashir for trying to cure the Jem’Hadar on Bopak III of their dependence of ketracel-white, and again for his giving “the Jack pack” information about the war and for their recommendation that the Federation surrender. Sisko’s objection that Bopak III happened before his allegedly being turned falls on deaf ears, but he also has to admit that he rejected the Jack pack’s recommendations, too. Sloan sees a pattern of behavior that’s impossible to ignore, not to mention the lies he told to conceal his genetic enhancements. Bashir is also forced to admit that he doesn’t know if he’d ever have revealed the truth about being genetically enhanced to Sisko if he hadn’t been found out. Sloan’s badgering has gotten so intense that even Sisko is starting to show doubts.
The next morning, Sloan gives Bashir a choice: sign a confession to being a Dominion spy or be escorted to a maximum security prison for the rest of the war. Bashir makes it abundantly clear that he won’t be picking door #1, so Sloan orders Chandler and Kagan to take him to the shuttle—at which point Bashir is beamed to a Dominion ship, where Weyoun welcomes him home. To Bashir’s shock and disgust, Weyoun is treating him like he really is the Dominion spy Sloan said he was. Now Bashir thinks that Sloan’s the true spy, and he and Weyoun are working together to frame Bashir—
—but he can’t pursue that line of questioning, as Weyoun’s ship is under attack by the Defiant. A Cardassian escorts Bashir to his cell, but then Worf and Kira beam in and shoot the Cardassian, then all three beam to the Defiant. But once he’s on the bridge, everyone is convinced that Bashir’s a traitor. Bashir pleads with everyone that he’s innocent—including O’Brien, who shrugs off Bashir’s friendly hand on his shoulder. Except that shoulder was dislocated—“playing springball,” Bashir says, and O’Brien just replies that it’s better now.
At this point, Bashir realizes that the whole thing is bullshit. At which point the Defiant bridge and crew fade away, replaced by a holodeck occupied by Sloan, who is the only part of the simulation that was real. Sloan has Bashir remove the neural implant that’s been recording his neuroelectric patterns himself. Sloan reads its telemetry, and is satisfied to see that the results are in Bashir’s favor: his loyalty to the Federation is not in doubt. They beamed him out of his quarters only an hour after he went to sleep so he’d been tired and out of sorts, and more susceptible to stress.
Sloan explains that he works for a “low-profile” branch of Starfleet Intelligence called “Section 31.” They seek out and identify threats to the Federation and deal with them quietly. Bashir is appalled, especially when Sloan reveals that they are autonomous with no oversight from anyone. He’s even more appalled to learn that Sloan is trying to recruit Bashir. Sloan thinks he’s a natural, even citing his secret-agent program as proof that he’s intrigued by covert operations. Sloan’s direct response to Bashir’s saying that the ends don’t justify the means is to ask if the patients he’s saved over his career care whether or not Bashir lied to become a doctor.
When Bashir refuses to accept recruitment, Sloan expresses confidence that Bashir will change his mind. He’s also completely unconcerned about Bashir trying to expose S31—which he says right before an aide slams a hypo into Bashir’s neck, and he falls unconscious.
Bashir wakes up on DS9 and immediately fills Sisko, Kira, and Odo in on what happened. Sisko inquired to Starfleet Command, to find that there’s no Luther Sloan in the organization, and, to his consternation, Starfleet neither confirmed nor denied the existence of S31, just said they’d look into it and get back to him. “Sounds like a coverup to me,” Kira says knowingly.
Sisko’s response to all this is to tell Bashir that the next time Sloan asks Bashir to join S31, he needs to say yes. It’s the only way to expose them.
The Sisko is of Bajor: The image of Sisko is actually pretty convincing right up until the scene on the Defiant bridge when he turns against Bashir. But he makes an excellent advocate in the holding cell and in the wardroom.
Don’t ask my opinion next time: Kira is impressed with how well Sloan covered his tracks, as they couldn’t find any trace of a transporter in Bashir’s quarters.
Preservation of mass and energy is for wimps: Odo queries Bashir as to why medical conferences are always held in tropical paradises. He also points out that the other major powers have similar organizations to S31: the Tal Shiar for the Romulans, the Obsidian Order for the Cardassians. (He doesn’t mention the Klingons, though there have been references to their intelligence organization here and there. The tie-in novels have generally referred to it as Imperial Intelligence, as coined by John M. Ford in The Final Reflection.)
Victory is life: Sloan proposes the hilarious notion that Bashir was brainwashed by the Dominion, then provides a convincing facsimile of Weyoun to help support it.
What happens on the holosuite, stays on the holosuite: Virtually the entire episode takes place on a ship’s holodeck (they used the set for Voyager’s holodeck for the final scene between Bashir and Sloan), its verisimilitude aided by Bashir’s stress levels and sleep deprivation (and food deprivation by turning off the replicators and bringing him Worf’s gagh).
Keep your ears open: “So far, your case is based on circumstantial evidence and speculation.”
“What other kind of case can I make against a man who covers his tracks so well?”
“That’s a circular argument and you know it!”
The image of Sisko arguing with Sloan—who programmed the image of Sisko, so he’s basically arguing with himself. And losing.
Welcome aboard: The big guest is, of course, the magnificent William Sadler as Sloan, a role he’ll return to in “Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges” and “Extreme Measures.” Jeffrey Combs is also back as the image of Weyoun, while Samantha Mudd and Benjamin Brown are painfully wooden as Sloan’s holographic aides.
Trivial matters: This episode introduces the shadowy Section 31 organization, which has been a controversial addition to the Star Trek universe. S31 will recur throughout the remainder of DS9, and also play a role in Enterprise, primarily through Reed and his handler Harris, and Star Trek Into Darkness.
S31 has been used in numerous bits of tie-in fiction, most notably the Section 31 miniseries in 2001, which covered the original series, TNG, DS9, and Voyager. The original series novel Cloak by S.D. Perry established that S31 was behind the mission in “The Enterprise Incident,” and also that Admiral Cartwright (who was part of the conspiracy to assassinate Chancellor Gorkon in Star Trek VI) was part of the organization. The DS9 novel Abyss by David Weddle & Jeffrey Lang established that S31 was behind Admiral Daugherty’s mission in Star Trek Insurrection. The TNG novel Rogue had S31 trying to recruit Hawk, the Enterprise conn officer from First Contact. The Voyager novel Shadow by Dean Wesley Smith & Kristine Kathryn Rusch establishes that the unnamed crewmember who died on the bridge of Voyager in the episode “Scientific Method” was in fact an S31 mole, originally placed on the ship by Sloan to gather intelligence on the Maquis.
S31 has appeared in many other tie-in works, among them the Enterprise novels The Good that Men Do and Kobayashi Maru by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin, the current run of IDW Star Trek comics, your humble rewatcher’s Articles of the Federation, the miniseries A Time to… and The Fall, and the brand-new release Section 31: Disavowed by David Mack.
The medical conference Bashir was going to is on Casperia Prime—the same location Dax suggested for her and Worf’s honeymoon in “Change of Heart.”
O’Brien’s propensity for dislocating his shoulder while kayaking was first seen in TNG’s “Transfigurations,” and has been referenced many times since on DS9.
Bashir’s being kidnapped while en route to a medical conference and imprisoned by the Dominion was established in “In Purgatory’s Shadow.” He was revealed to be genetically enhanced in “Dr. Bashir, I Presume?” and worked with other genetically enhanced folk in “Statistical Probabilities.” He and the others escaped imprisonment to the conveniently-left-behind runabout in “By Inferno’s Light”—and Sloan’s disparagement of that convenience was an amusing lampshading of that particular plot point, which many fans had derided as implausible in much the same way Sloan does.
The battle at Tyra, where the Federation suffered considerable losses, occurred in “A Time to Stand.” Bashir tried to cure the Jem’Hadar of their dependence on ketracel-white in “Hippocratic Oath.” Bashir’s interest in playing spy on the holosuite was established in “Our Man Bashir.”
Walk with the Prophets: “The ends don’t always justify the means.” Am I the only one who sees the title to this episode and immediately has the song about the Spanish Inquisition from the Mel Brooks movie History of the World, Part 1 going through his head? (“Let’s face it—you can’t Torquemada anything!”) Just me? Okay, moving on…
I have a hard time figuring out how I feel about this episode, partly because I think the introduction of Section 31 was one of the great missteps of DS9. One of Ira Steven Behr’s oft-stated goals on DS9 was to challenge the Federation’s utopia, but this failed to work because it didn’t challenge the utopia, it just provided a too-handy scapegoat for non-utopian actions by the Federation. Indeed, S31 has far too often become a writer’s crutch, a way to work around the ideal society of the Federation for the ease of storytelling.
Also, I seriously have an issue with all-powerful shadow organizations that have virtual super-powers in order to keep their existence a secret because they frankly strain credulity. People are too fallible for such perfectly competent individuals to exist without ever screwing up once. S31’s infallibility frankly irritates the crap out of me—seen here in their having taken Bashir without leaving a single scrap of evidence behind. Supposedly they always get it right and always get what they want, but what if they’re wrong? What if they get bad intel? What if they work off false information?
Anyhow, most of that is stuff that happens after this episode, which is—all by itself—quite a well-put-together little story. I remember watching it the first time and not having any idea that the whole thing was a holodeck simulation; watching it now, you can see some subtle hints that it’s not real, mostly starting with the simply dreadful performances by Chandler and Kagan, who—it becomes clear at the end—aren’t real people, and aren’t based on real ones, either. The non-Bashir roles are all small enough so that you don’t really notice how off they are—except Sisko, who becomes less convincing as time goes on, as the programmed character acts more like someone trying to help gaslight Bashir.
Best of all is that Sloan actually makes some good arguments. Bashir’s behavior can be viewed as suspect, especially when taken in toto. I especially like the fact that they copped to the absurdity of the runabout just sitting there in orbit in “By Inferno’s Light” and used it to help make the plot work better.
Credit to scripters Bradley Thompson and David Weddle (whose body of work on DS9 could charitably be called uneven), director Michael Dorn, and Alexander Siddig and William Sadler, providing what is mostly a two-person play between Sloan and Bashir, and the two actors in particular knock it out of the park. Sadler especially deserves credit for all the different modes he shows Sloan in, from bland bureaucrat to friendly questioner to nasty interrogator to true believer.
Like “The Assignment,” another Thompson/Weddle script, this one loses points for establishing something that brings the whole series down, but it’s also nowhere as dumb as that episode was.
Warp factor rating: 7
Keith R.A. DeCandido is really really tired after a long, but successful New York Comic-Con.