“Inquisition”

I'm Colonel Stuar... I mean Luther Sloa...
“I’m Colonel Stuar… I mean Luther Sloan.”

Starfleet Internal Affairs shows up on the station and appears to have Bashir in its sights. Director Sloan (William Sadler) starts asking about some questionable items in Bashir’s past and says he believes Bashir is a Dominion agent — possibly a sleeper agent. After putting the good doctor through the wringer, Bashir is beamed away by Weyoun, who says Bashir has indeed been a sleeper agent. Bashir almost buys it, but realizes it’s all an elaborate ploy by Sloan. Sloan then deactivates his holodeck and tells Bashir that he actually works for Section 31, a secret agency created to ensure the Federation’s security that has no authorization from Starfleet or the Federation Council — but that has been around for 200 years. After trying to recruit Bashir, he eventually lets him go and Bashir reports everything to Sisko. But Sisko’s inquiries about Sloan and Section 31 don’t go anywhere, and the episode ends with the idea Starfleet and the Federation are OK letting Sloan do his thing and that the Federation is not as morally pristine as we’ve been led to believe.

Why it’s important

Well, apparently, the Federation’s been propped up at least in part by a rogue organization that answers to no one for like two centuries. So, there’s that. It’s interesting that the DS9 creators pulled absolutely no punches on this one. They could have underplayed Section 31’s importance  — the episode could have ended with Sisko saying he thought Sloan’s claims were exaggerated or something — but they went for broke.

And, of course, we’ll soon learn how important Section 31 is. They play a major, major role in events that lead to the end of the Dominion War.

Weak eyes... but a fabulous talent for cooking!
“Weak eyes… but a fabulous talent for cooking!”

What doesn’t hold up

From a logic/production standpoint, this episode really doesn’t have a lot of small flaws. It’s a complex drama that works — and if you’re willing to swallow the big conceit (that a rogue organization has been part of the Federation for two centuries) then it’s great. For me, I’m torn, so even though I don’t think what I’m about to say is an indication that the episode doesn’t hold up, it makes the most sense to share my thoughts here.

This episode, in many ways, undermines a lot of what we had seen in Star Trek for the previous 30 years — particularly what had been established in the early days of TNG when humanity’s evolution was really a major emphasis. If you think back to the first couple seasons of TNG, one of the defining characteristics — other than the jumpsuits — was the talk of humanity being above a lot of things, including the kind of treachery it saw from the Ferengi and the Romulans. One wonders what Picard or Riker in, say, 2365, would have thought of Section 31. That the organization existed and had such pull for so long makes early TNG look naive and silly (not that that’s a tall order).

Of course, late TNG was starting to embrace shades of grey (not “Shades of Gray”, as that should never be embraced) with stories about the Maquis, among other topics. But DS9 ramped things up — and did so in two very consequential weeks starting with “Inquisition”. And just wait until we get to reviewing the next episode.

Don't bother looking in the Starfleet budget for these amazing leather shirts...
Don’t bother looking in the Starfleet budget for these amazing leather shirts…

Final thoughts

Interestingly, Section 31 is one of DS9’s most enduring additions to the Trek universe. It shows up on “Star Trek: Enterprise” and is even mentioned in “Star Trek Into Darkness”. That JJ Abrams would choose to bring back that element from second-generation Trek is noteworthy. It shows just how compelling Section 31 is a concept and how the Star Trek creators likely struggled to find drama in a fictional era that was supposed to be relatively conflict free among humans.

Oh, and this episode has perhaps DS9’s greatest meta moment. One of DS9’s absolute worst logical gaffes was the ridiculous idea that the Dominion would have left Worf and Garak’s runabout parked near the prison camp where Worf and Garak were sent (and where Bashir and Martok had been held) back in “In Purgatory’s Shadow and “By Inferno’s Light”. Of course, if the Dominion hadn’t done that, our heroes wouldn’t have escaped.

So, what do the DS9 creators do? They USE that gaffe as one of Sloan’s justifications for believing Bashir was working for the Dominion. Priceless.

Coming next week …

If you thought “Inquisition” rocked Trek to its core, well, hold onto your butts.

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