Star Trek: Deep Space Nine



Air date: 4/6/1998
Written by Bradley Thompson & David Weddle
Directed by Michael Dorn

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"We search out and identify potential dangers to the Federation."
"And once identified?"
"We deal with them."

— Sloan and Bashir on "Section 31"

Note: This episode was rerated from 3 to 3.5 stars when the season recap was written.

Nutshell: Good stuff. A mysterious, intriguing look at the "other side" of Starfleet.

Back during the fourth season, the episode "Paradise Lost" looked at what happened when a small piece of Starfleet decided it was going to take charge on behalf of the "best interests" of the Federation. Specifically, Admiral Leyton tried to stop the Defiant from reaching Earth. Changeling paranoia gave rise to his inappropriate decisions; he didn't want to see the end of his imposed martial rule. From his perspective, business as usual on Earth was a vulnerability.

Now we have "Inquisition," an interesting episode that again examines the darker side of Starfleet that concerns itself with intrigue and potential threats, and introduces a mysterious branch called "Section 31"—which specializes in "identifying and dealing with potential dangers to the Federation."

The story comes initially packaged as an Innocent Wrongly Accused paradigm, in which Starfleet internal affairs officer Sloan (William Sadler) arrives at DS9 to investigate a possible security leak. The episode centers on Bashir, whom Sloan is convinced is working for the Dominion. He attempts to expose Bashir as a Dominion agent, and the lengths he goes to in this endeavor venture into the territory of injustice.

Since it's vital to analysis, I might as well just say it up front: The episode's big trick is that none of Bashir's experiences through this investigation are really happening; it's all a holodeck simulation on board Sloan's ship, used as a test to determine if Bashir (whom Sloan quietly kidnapped for the purposes of finding the truth) is really a Dominion spy.

The simulation premise is a clever device, because it puts an interesting spin on the derivative idea of an Innocent Wrongly Accused. I have a few minor qualms with some of the audience deception that it inherently brings forth, the most primary qualm being the fact that, well, the whole damn thing never really happened. It's somewhat frustrating to invest time in characterizations that aren't real. In this case, everything Sisko said through Bashir's plight is merely something he "might" have said given the situation. That's kind of a shame, because I appreciated scenes such as the one where he plays hardball to get his way in talking to Bashir in private, and where he demands to sit in on Sloan's interrogations. Sisko was reasonably well written in those scenes, but it wasn't really Sisko who was being well written—it was just a hologram.

But I suppose that's only an inevitable drawback to the device. So don't get me wrong; I think much more good than ill came out of the use of the illusion device. For example, the fact that Sloan is manipulating Bashir's environment to uncover a larger truth strikes me as a very plausible (even if morally questionable) 24th-century method of interrogation—especially for interrogating someone who is as skillful and as quietly operating a "spy" as Sloan suspects Bashir is.

The simulations Sloan runs Bashir through are also interesting. While the story will have us believe they are actual events as it progresses, it's interesting to watch the episode a second time and see that some of the little details indicate Sloan was simply trying to distract Bashir with added confusion. Why, for example, were there armed officers running through the station corridors? Bashir wonders. "It's nothing you need to be concerned about," comes the answer. Why were his quarters obviously tampered with? His rights so obviously violated? Because Sloan wanted this guy to crumble, and he knew that a guilty man would do just that. Viewed as elements on their own, the plot holds together; viewed as part of Sloan's ruse, it holds together just as well, and it has the benefit of showing that Sloan isn't simply a man with a personal vendetta, but a man working to find the truth—even if his means are extreme.

The actual interrogations bring up some interesting possibilities, and I liked the story's way of having Sloan utilize Bashir's history as a means to voice his suspicions. Bashir's genetic engineering became a major issue to be taken to task, as did the fact he was in a Dominion prison a year ago (not to mention his attempt to help the Jem'Hadar in "Hippocratic Oath"). Sloan has a number of theories that seem insidiously plausible, even though he has no evidence. Given the Dominion's craftiness, however, it's hard to know which is worse: Intense witch-hunt accusations of innocent people, or the lack of pursuing very real covert Dominion threats simply because they can't be immediately proven.

Apart from this theme, however, was one of the most interesting scenes: the episode on the Dominion ship where Weyoun tries to convince Bashir that he is, in fact, a Dominion spy with suppressed memories. In all honesty, the possibility that Bashir might actually be an unwitting Dominion agent had my keen attention, though by the time it was obvious Bashir wasn't coming around I had a good idea where the story was going with it. Ah, what possibilities stories like these could take if not for the fact our heroes have to remain true good guys! (But, in all fairness, taking such a route would mean the end of Julian Bashir as we know him, so it probably wasn't a viable choice.)

Thompson & Weddle's script did another fine job of seeing a character through a high-pressure situation (a la "The Assignment" and "Business as Usual"). The Bashir of this episode, whom thanks to Alexander Siddig striking the right notes, is one who doggedly tries to proclaim his innocence on more than one occasion, but never goes over the edge into histrionics. He's a fountain of patience given the extreme situation, and I liked that he never seemed to give up and vent flat-out frustration; he always seemed on the edge of pondering the next move—defeated for now, but still ready to encounter the next stage.

On the technical side, I thought Michael Dorn, in his sophomore effort, pulled off another good direction, evoking a mysterious sense of eerieness as Bashir slowly realizes that he's into more trouble than he initially thought. (Although, I must admit I was amused by the scene on the Defiant when Worf said "You have run out of excuses, Doctor," and then walked out of the frame. I had a feeling that his next line should've been, "Now excuse me while I direct the rest of this scene.") Lending a helping hand is an effectively dark and ominous score by Dennis McCarthy.

The performances were good, particularly in the final dialog exchange between Sadler and Siddig, which managed to answer a lot of plot questions and still be convincing. Sadler's strong screen persona was evident throughout the episode, as he easily turns from a nice guy into a threatening figure from one scene to the next.

As far as Section 31 goes, I personally find the idea (and the ethical implications) of such an organization fascinating ... although I'm not so sure we needed yet another plot element to worry about on this series, especially given that we haven't seen enough recent intrigue within the Dominion War as it is—though that seems very likely to be changing soon, as early as next week. (I also wonder if the Section 31 uniforms were designed by someone who had seen Men in Black too many times.)

The ending of "Inquisition" seems to suggest we'll see these guys again—in a setting that could cause a strife internal to Starfleet itself. I'm not sure what Sisko's intentions are, but it seems to me that the writers may be opening up quite a can of worms here—and given how much we already have to deal with, I'm not so sure that's a prudent decision. It's still far too early to say, but I'd hate to see all of Section 31 boiled down to one subsequent episode in which Bashir "plays spy"; this could be much more interesting if properly integrated into the other DS9 threads.

In short, there's potential here for something neat down the road. And even if we don't get a follow-up, it's still interesting to ponder the knowledge that Section 31 is still out there, somewhere, using their covert operations and unconventional tactics to fight the Dominion. And it's also interesting to consider the episode's argument. Is Starfleet really "above" such an extreme method of protection that holds the combined power of "judge, jury, and executioner"? Sloan seems like he has good intentions, but maybe that's simply not enough. Organizations that answer to no one can be very dangerous, even if they do save so many lives and have such good intentions as Sloan claims.

The final reflection in Sisko's office was interesting, but it was executed with a lot of lengthy exposition; it seemed to me the writers were presenting obvious lessons spelled out in tidy dialog more than they were allowing the characters to say things that were natural. I can understand why that happened, though. There are many endings to Trek shows that do that, because the writers often seem like they want to present "the moral" in a conscious manner. Overall, "Inquisition" does a good job of presenting its argument. And although it isn't a groundbreaker as DS9 stories go, it's definitely an interesting and compelling ride along the way.

Next week: Sisko plans to bring the Romulans into the fold.

Previous episode: Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night
Next episode: In the Pale Moonlight

◄ Season Index

55 comments on this review

Thu, Mar 5, 2009, 12:18am (UTC -5)
Good plot, good drama, good use of the age-old dilemma of consequentialism.

Unfortunately, the concept of Section 31 is completely anti-Federation and completely anti-Roddenberry. At this point, the show stops being "Trek." I suppose I could buy it if Section 31 was brand-new, i.e., had been created to counter the Dominion threat, but to stake its origins to be concomitant with the founding of the Federation went too far.

Still, I love using Luther Sloan in my STCCG deck.
Wed, Mar 25, 2009, 5:28pm (UTC -5)
EP, if Trek is supposed to be so naive as to not allow something like Section 31, then I'm glad DS9 is nothing like Trek. I guess I don't really like Star Trek; it's too sterile and boring. DS9 is at its best during its darkest, anti-Trek moments.
Thu, Apr 30, 2009, 12:23am (UTC -5)
"Unfortunately, the concept of Section 31 is completely anti-Federation and completely anti-Roddenberry."

Really? You really are a naive little thing aren't you, EP? I wasn't so suprised to find out the Federation had an organization like this. In fact, I would have found it less believable if they DIDN'T have one.

These kinds of organizations crop up in every large governmental body. The Romulans have the Tal Shiar, the Cardassians had the Obsidian Order. Is it really so far fetched that the Federation has a similar organization?

However, unlike the Tal Shiar and the Obsidian Order, who try to actively manipulate their respective governments, Section 31 stays in the shadows and lets the Federation do its thing. They don't advertize their existance to even their own government, let alone a rival power, and they have no desire to run the Federation. They simply exist to do the things for the Federation that Starfleet is unable to do.

Overall, I don't think Section 31 undermines the "goodness" of the Federation. Instead, I think Section 31 represents an "elightened" Federation Black-Ops organization. It's what the Tal Shiar and the Obsidian Order SHOULD have been to their respective governments until they got drunk on their own power.

My point being, groups like Section 31 have been a part of government since it was invented, and will CONTINUE to be part of government even 400 years from now.
Fri, Sep 4, 2009, 11:05pm (UTC -5)
I suppose you buy into the hilariously ludicrous Roddenberry concept of evolving beyond interpersonal conflict. As long as two people exist, they will sometimes fall into conflict.
Sun, Sep 13, 2009, 4:25pm (UTC -5)
EP, I respectfully disagree.

The idealism of Star Trek had already been fully exposed in the original series, then taken to its utopian end in The Next Generation (which is where Gene cut loose with his ideology). After those two shows, what was left?

Simple; exploring the dark side of the Federation, its history and the "Star Trek" universe in general. Section 31 was just the culmination of that. Maybe it's not true to what Gene Rodenberry would have wanted, but as a viewer I think DS9's greatest strength was flipping his vision on its head.

(Firefly did a similar thing, but didn't have the scope or duration of DS9 - I prefer this).
Fri, Nov 6, 2009, 3:22pm (UTC -5)
It is a little silly to argue in favor of something like Section 31 because it is "realistic." Star Trek was never supposed to be a realistic portrait of the future, but an idealistic one. As such, the organization, if it really exists, is definitely at odds with Roddenberry's vision of that future--it was specifically chosen to be so in order to push the series in new directions.

I think fans overlook that the material reality of Section 31 was kept somewhat cloudy on DS9. Ultimately, we can wonder if it was only a small number of rogue operatives doing whatever they felt they had to do rather than a sanctioned, known entity directed by Starfleet Command. The idea was not that Section 31 was some "realistic" look at how everyone was "actually" doing business, but some who had gone too far and operated without oversight. Our heroes were firmly opposed to those actions, so the series' heart remained in the right place.
Thu, Mar 25, 2010, 8:57pm (UTC -5)
Well, I guess I'm not too much of a fan of Rodenberry's vision, since it's exactly elements like Section 31 that makes DS9 by far my favourite Star Trek series. And let's not forget that even with a more cynical view, the Federation is still a very benign force as it relies on consent rather than coercion. DS9 is just willing to expose some of the rougher edges the Federation and humans (still) have and to be critical of the Federation's moralistic tendencies.
Sun, Jul 11, 2010, 3:58pm (UTC -5)
One thing's for sure, DS9 has certainly sparked more debate about morality than any other Star Trek series, and in a way that's what Star Trek is really about: questionning our vision of "right" and "wrong."

"Conspiracy" (TNG season 1) was originally supposed to be about a military coup within Starfleet, but Gene Roddenberry would not allow it and thus the alien parasites were introduced. Based on this I am pretty sure he would have put the kai-bosh on Section 31.

Label me naive but I still believe in Gene's idealistic view of the future. I believe humans will continue to make mistakes, but that we will learn from those mistakes. I certainly believe that despite all the problems in the world today, we have improved over the last 400 years, and will continue to improve over the next 400. I believe in non-violent resistance to opression (a la Gandhi/Dalai-lama), but thanks to DS9 (and Orwell's 1984) I also understand that not everyone has the courage to suffer opression without fighting back.

Sorry for going off on a tangent there, but getting back to "Inquisition" I think it's a wondefully constructive and disturbing episode centered on my favorite character of the series. So you could say I am conflicted: on the one hand I find the fictional concept of 31 fascinating, but on the other I sincerely hope that nothing like it will exist in 400 years.
Tue, Jan 11, 2011, 2:52pm (UTC -5)
Again, DS9 takes people and ideas from the 20th-century and plops them into Gene's universe, without taking into account or acknowledging that the universe itself is impossible without the realisation of the ideals. It is the paranoia and egotism of the capitalistic 20th century which led to all those things which the federation is supposed to be against. Either humans evolve or they don't. I agree with Nic. We aren't fighting Crusades or hanging witches any more (well not all of us). We should be beyond things like internal conspiracy by the 24th century. End of discussion. If the writers wanted to take a different view of the future, write something which isn't Star Trek (yes, I know they did, but this show still exists with Star Trek on the merchandise).

People quite childishly confuse enlightenment with naïveté, itself an expression of cynicism which belongs in our past (and that in our past in the 20th/21st century).

That said, the "conspiracy theory" air of the episode is certainly infectious. No doubt, the visceral feeling of quiet dread makes the show very watchable and entertaining...but entertainment can't justify the immorality of the message.
Thu, Jan 27, 2011, 8:58pm (UTC -5)
You make some valid points, Elliott, but there is a distinction to be made between fictional characters (or organizations) who committ immoral actions and episodes with an 'immoral message'. Ferengi society is sexist, that doesn't mean Ferengi episodes have a pro-sexism message. Klingons use violence to solve all their problems, but that doesn't mean Klingon episodes are pro-violence. Similarly, I think this episode (and "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges") make it very clear that although Section 31 is part of the Federation and may have 'good intentions', the ends DON'T justify the means and as such, their actions are immoral. That's what DS9's best episodes do: explore gray-area characters who can't be pinned as 'good' or 'evil' and force you to think about the issues and make up your own mind.

In fact, the only episode I can think of right now (though there may be others) that had an 'immoral' message is "For the Uniform", where Sisko decides that to beat the 'bad guy' you have to become a bad guy, which is completely the opposite of what I believe (and, unfortunately, seems to be a predominating theorem in Hollywood these days). Oh, and there's also the last scene of "Waltz".
Fri, Jan 28, 2011, 1:22pm (UTC -5)
Interesting tidbit: over three years before this episode aired, Babylon 5 introduced a secret organization within the Earth government that was very similar to Section 31 (cf. "Spider in the Web"). Its name, coincidentally or not, was Bureau 13. (!!)
Tue, Feb 1, 2011, 8:18am (UTC -5)
Anyone who understands Roddenberry's design of 'The Federation' back in the late '60s should be able to realise that something like 'Section 31' would never be necessary in such an idealised future.

Another of Roddenberry's ideas for the Federation was that we had evolved beyond the need for money. Anybody can have anything they need, the 'system' will provide it free of charge. Technology such as replicators had become so efficient that the economic concept of 'scarcity' simply didn't exist and once that is true, currency itself becomes unnecessary.

People can argue about the 'realism' of that if they want to, but they are completely missing the point. That was what Gene wanted the Federation to be, end of story. Along with eliminating money, humans had managed to eliminate war, poverty, crime... pretty much every single negative aspect of human existence did not exist in Roddenberry's original vision of what 'The Federation' was.

This is quite easy to see in the original series, in most episodes. While there was conflict between humans and other species, the humans internally seemed to be completely at peace and united.

Of course, Gene and every writer since found it difficult to create compelling stories and characters within such a framework; conflict is essential to storytelling and suspense so even in the original series, the reality of Kirk's behaviour was often far from what you would expect from a super-enlightened race as Roddenberry designed them.

If the Federation really *was* so enlightened and peaceful, Kirk would have had brain surgery shortly after birth to change his obvious violent and irrational tendencies that were visible from examining his DNA. Right?

Roddenberry, for all his genius, wasn't quite clever enough to bring us a real believable version of this 'perfect' society that the Federation was supposed to be. For one thing, it is pretty obvious if you care to look that Human Society as shown in TOS and TNG was basically a communist, invasive hierarchy where people had no privacy and everyone worked as a cog in the giant Earth machine. Think about the sensor technologies they had in TNG; I wouldn't want to live in *that* kind of 'utopia' in a million years. No thanks.

Now, the Sci-Fi author Ian M Banks *has* managed to create a society in which technology has completely eliminated money, or 'wants' in general, where people spend their lives free to pursue whatever they like, including several gender reassignments per lifetime, practically infinite life-length, real AI that is vastly more powerful than any organic brain, and implants that let humans metabolise any drug of their choosing at will just by thinking about it... for pleasure as well as to enhance physical attributes.

This society is called the 'Culture' in his novels and by setting them in a society that is many thousands of years more evolved than our own, he is able to make all this seem quite believable.

Roddenberry's problem was that he gave just 100 years after the eugenics wars for mankind to become so enlightened, and from the comments even on this page it's obvious that people don't believe that's long enough to really transform society. If TOS was set in the year 10,000... all that utopian mumbo-jumbo would have been a lot more beleivable. But I don't think Roddenberry had the sheer imagination required to realistically portray a culture that far evolved from our own.

And the tech, makeup, and set-building of the 1960s wouldn't have allowed it either.

Anyway, back to the original point: No, 'section 31' would never have existed in Gene's original version of the Federation. But this original vision was hopelessly compromised even in the TOS run in order to come up with plots, so it's silly to expect DS9 to be more 'pure'.

In reality, the universe as portrayed in TNG, Voyager, DS9 and even Enterprise was far darker and meaner than Roddenberry's original vision of super-enlightened mankind and similarly advanced aliens. We do get Picard and others *appearing* to take the moral high ground time and again, even making quite enormous sacrifices to do so. But in reality the Federation could not exist in the universe as we see it in the various series' without being just as immoral as many of their enemies. Section 31 would *definitely* exist.
Fri, Feb 4, 2011, 2:42pm (UTC -5)

Star Trek only started to get good after Roddenberry ceased to be involved, and the writers were able to begin deconstructing the Federation.
Tue, Feb 8, 2011, 7:50pm (UTC -5)
I loved it when Sloan remarked how convenient it was for Bashir et al. that the Dominion left their runabout parked in orbit around the prison.

I know I thought the same thing at the time.
Thu, Feb 17, 2011, 5:59am (UTC -5)

Even the Culture has Special Circumstances, which does the "dirty work."

Call me cynical, but humans may evolve, eventually, but human nature will still remain. There will always be a need for a Section 31, or Special Circumstances, if nothing else to do the things necessary which can't be done by a Utopian, evolved socoety.
Tue, May 31, 2011, 3:50pm (UTC -5)
@RickMunich : human nature is not intrinsically negative; there are aspects which are hostile and selfish and aspects which are altruistic and compassionate: the question of human evolution becomes which qualities the society encourages in its citizens. If a society chooses the easy route and succumbs to its baser qualities, then yes, section 31-like organisations are necessary. If, however, one chooses to look beyond the petty and the paranoid (forcibly ignoring that which holds back our alturism), such organisations become obsolete. Such was Gene's vision.

@Nuncle : So, nothing before TNG season 5 was any good, and Enterprise was gold huh?

@Neil : No one is (or should be) suggesting that the Federation and its citizens are perfect, merely, that they attempt at all times to be altruistic. I can accept that an organisation like 31 might exist as a remnant from a previous era, but what really gets me is that people in the Federation feel that it's necessary because it makes them feel safer/less responsible.

@Nic : I wasn't purporting to take issue with the immoral characters (Sloan, eg), but rather the episode's stance that Bashir's lone attitude is foolish and naïve. It reads like a slap in the face to those of us who feel that the Star Trek vision represents the most genuine expression of human greatness--THAT is what I find immoral. It glamourises cynicism and opportunism--then again, this series has often done so in the glorification of Sisko himself.
Thu, Jul 14, 2011, 9:14am (UTC -5)
This argument is futile. Obviously the utopian and principled position of the Federation (and thus GR's grand vision) is not threatened in any way by the presence of a secret intelligence division. The whole point is that they're *bad guys* only wearing the same uniform as the good guys. (And even then the whole black-hat trope is highlighted during the end reveal when they try to recruit Bashir while wearing *evil* black leather smocks.

Drama is all about conflict. The entire Alpha quadrant isn't one big happy love-fest. The fact that some humans are willing to break violate the jus cogens in order to advance Federation interests doesn't *undermine* the principles Star Trek stands for -- it puts them into conflict.

Was Star Trek undermined when Sesca was outted as a bad guy? No. Of course not. Rogue elements don't undermine the whole -- they bring things into focus.

The best part of that conflict though is that its more nuanced and sinister and cool than many of the other plots tried. 400 episodes and 3 series later straight conflict with Klingons was long, long, overplayed. Excellent episode -- and rather chilling pre-9/11. How could there be a multi-year war on in the Star Trek universe without an 'ends justify the means' episode?
Wed, Jul 27, 2011, 1:34pm (UTC -5)

It's not the presence of S31 which threatens the "principled position of the Federation" but the attitude of Starfleet and its choice to ignore the immorality of Sloan et al. which is inexcusable.
Sat, Sep 17, 2011, 9:18pm (UTC -5)
@ Rod..yeah I think that was an in-attempt to admit how stupid that was. Voyager did it too...making fun of earlier dialogue where they had deuterium shortages.
Fri, Jul 13, 2012, 12:40am (UTC -5)
I think some are looking back at Roddenberry with rose-colored glasses. Star Trek was never presented as a pure snow-white future or even a idelistic one. Just a better, more just, future. But it was understood and all but stated several times, that times may change but people do not. i think later producers and writers went overboard on the moralising and political correctness.
Also, if Section 31 has been around for 300 years, since the birth of the Federation, who are these officers to be so-self righteoous to know better? This is a point I made on another board as well...
Sat, Jan 5, 2013, 6:34pm (UTC -5)
First off, love the episode.

About Roddenberry: Hats off to him for coming up with "Trek." But the honest truth is I don't think he even had much of a vision of the Federation, at least during the original series.

At best, it was a vague backdrop for Starfleet. And that was at best a vague backdrop for the Enterprise.

Almost no original series episodes gave you a sense of the Federation. The only one that comes to my mind as really starting to give you any notion of the Federation is "Journey to Babel."

I don't think Roddenberry had any notion or real concepts about how it worked, who was in it, etc. It just came off as little more than a United Nations in space. And I never interpreted it as some kind of Utopia -- just a better future.

"Court Martial" and their only two-parter, about Talos, gave you a little bit of an idea about Starfleet worked, but not much.

So to say something in DS9 supports or violates Roddenberry's vision strikes me as a bit funny, because frankly, Roddenberry hadn't seemed to have thought it out a whole lot at all based on the 72 episodes or so the original series.

His thoughts seemed almost exclusively on Kirk, Spock and McCoy and just moving them place to place, unconnected to anything before or after.
Tue, Mar 12, 2013, 3:43pm (UTC -5)
Just watched this again. The main problem with the episode is that it is obvious what is happening - my wife got the twist as soon as Bashir woke up tired. Trek is never very clever with its plots and since Bashir obviously can't be an agent as he's a main character (and this isn't BSG or even B5) the episodes content is rendered rather pointless. Still its carried through reliably well and the concept is interesting even if like most of DS9's threads poorly handled later on.

3 out of 5 for me
Fri, Aug 2, 2013, 7:26pm (UTC -5)
How freaking relevant is this episode now in the wake of all the recent revelations about the covert activities of the NSA?
Wed, Sep 11, 2013, 9:48pm (UTC -5)
Agree with Elliott. DS9 is at its worst when it drifts towards a kind of right-wing appologia. This episode isnt gritty or realistic, it's depressingly reactionary (in its defense, the episode knows the Section are essentially "bad guys"). Note too that Elliot specifically mentions "capitalism". Far too many Trek fanboys are pro-capitalist and franky ignorant when it comes to post-neo classical economics and economists. A post-capitalist society gets there by embracing ethics, and ethical is precisely what capitalism is not.
Sat, Nov 2, 2013, 10:53am (UTC -5)

I don't buy the concept of a secret Star Fleet agency with the authority to basically jail the senior staff of DS9. Interesting, but also frustrating, predictable (holodeck, lol) and not terribly believable.

Tue, Dec 17, 2013, 12:49am (UTC -5)
Bringing shades of grey to Star Tre and showing a world within Trek that is not the Gen's paradise, is intriguing and welcome. But to completely overthrown Trek's universe is a whole different thing.

In this episode, DS9 has really gone way too far again. Once more, the show pretty much painted a Federation and a Starfleet that are, both, simply not the same as one can find in the other Trek media. And that is disappointing: Federation and Starfleet can operate in a more dark boundary such as in DS9, but they have to be the same institutions across different shows.
Sat, Jan 11, 2014, 10:14pm (UTC -5)
Elliot's darn correct.

But complaining about Section seems a bit pointless.

DS9's ENTIRE DOMINION WAR is STUPID and contradicts the Federation ethos. The Federation would have found a way to avoid it or appease the Dominion. No enlightened society would have gone to and instigated war like the Federation did in DS9.

And spare me the "DS9 is complex because its kinda like 9/11" talk. No its not. 9/11 was caused by Western Empires putting dictators all ove the map in an attempt to stop left wing and communist (ie Federation) governments. The West is the Dominion, not the Federation. DS9's Dominion war demonstrates a very white, middle class, myopic, Western misreading of history.
Thu, Mar 27, 2014, 11:51am (UTC -5)

You're in favor of the good guys "appeasing the Dominion"? The female shapeshifter made the founders' aims. Lear in an early episode: they want to ensure their security by ruling over solids with an iron hand. And countless eps have shown HOW they rule: by tyranny and violence, using their minions - who have been bred to revere their shapeshifter masters as God.

Hitler was not satisfied with enslaving merely Czechoslovakia to his Reich. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is not satisfied with torturing only the citizens of Raqqa as they pursue their dream of a caliphate. Peacemaking and appeasement have their limits. As do liberal apologetics.
Thu, Mar 27, 2014, 5:04pm (UTC -5)
Yeesh. Since when is Syria an "Islamic" state? Did Bashar al Assad lose the civil war to the Al Qaeda-backed rebels while our attention was focused on Russia/Ukraine?

Otherwise, can we have a ban here on comparisons to Hitler. You'd think no one had heard of Godwin's Law before.
Thu, Mar 27, 2014, 8:16pm (UTC -5)
Josh, look up ISIS. Toraya isn't saying that Assad's Syria is "Islamic."
Fri, Mar 28, 2014, 7:32pm (UTC -5)
"The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is not satisfied..."

So are we talking about one state or two?

What is ISIS? Immigrant Settlement & Integration Services?

I've looked it up. I still fail to see the point Toraya was trying to make. Who is appeasing Syrian rebels? And the whole Third Reich analogy falls flat. The "appeasement" argument is just another grade 7 history lesson that oversimplifies and is used incessantly to "show" why we have to "get tough" on "tyrants" and the like.

All that aside, the others above apparently are under the impression that even a necessary war isn't stupid. It is. But it took WWII to convince most of us that global-scale conflict is something best prevented.
Sat, Mar 29, 2014, 11:15am (UTC -5)
Oy. My point: Appeasement is only possible when Team A is willing to settle for what Team B is willing to hand over. Are you playing dumb for some particular rhetorical reason?

To keep the examples in-universe: Fifty-some years ago, the peaceful Bajorans appeased the expanionist Cardassians by becoming their subjects. In this way they kept the peace, were rewarded handsomely, and lived happily ever after. Dunno why those dumb resistance fighters had to screw things up by getting all violent.

Sat, Mar 29, 2014, 7:16pm (UTC -5)
Again, what does this have to do with appeasing Syrian rebels? Nothing, as near as I can tell.

As for 1938, I'd suggest that neither Britain nor France were especially prepared for war and - at the time - German annexation of the Sudetenland seemed justifiable (sort of) from a self-determination angle. It was less than 20 years from the end of The Great War, still in living memory for every political leader then. The failure of the Munich Agreement is what led to the Anglo-Polish alliance, and it was less than a year from Munich that the war started. The usual argument that "appeasement" failed because it somehow "emboldened" Hitler is simplistic and borderline ludicrous, especially as it's applied to just about every political situation since. After all, Russia's annexation of Crimea required nothing of the sort, but Putin always had the advantage of the facts on the ground - so did Germany in 1938, and nothing about the appeasement policy allowed for the seizure of all of Czechoslovakia.

And I don't know what you're talking about with the Bajorans. It's not "appeasement" when a state falls under military occupation and its inhabitants are not able to readily expel the invaders.

To follow up further, the Federation employs agencies like Section 31 because they are not willing to let their way of life and independence be threatened by aggressors that may prove intractable. As ever, there's never been any textual evidence to suggest that the Federation has ever stopped facing these threats, nor that a bit of realpolitik is inimical to Star Trek.
Mon, Mar 31, 2014, 10:14pm (UTC -5)
Eh...Going back to the episode and the concept of good vs. evil of intelligence agencies.

Let's be honest here, Roddenberry was not enemy of War or Conflict; look at his two other pet projects: Andromeda and Earth Final Conflict as examples of military doctrine and conspiratorial groups. He just thought we could come together eventually as a people, once we recognize that the universe is too big to think of ourselves as one nation-state versus another.

Personally, I think Babylon 5 was better in this regard of how they portray our future; we won't escape nation-states even after first contact with aliens, instead we would pool our resources together in an UN-esque planetary alliance. It will take centuries or even a million years before we reach true peace with everyone.

As an inter-universal retcon, it makes sense for a lot of the loose canon in Star Trek around rogue admirals and secret weapons projects in Starfleet, including the Pegasus experiment in TNG (The novels directly linked Section 31 to that).

Section 31 is not an issue in Star Trek; it is merely an understated reality in the past that has been made overt in DS9.

I give this episode:

10/10, it finally reveals something that has been in the back of everyone's mind since TNG.
Tue, Apr 22, 2014, 2:22am (UTC -5)
Solid episode with good acting, sure it was a bit "cheaty" that it all happened on the holodeck but had me guessing for a while.
Nick P.
Mon, Apr 28, 2014, 2:25pm (UTC -5)
I disagree with anyone who thinks this one is predictable....Is it really that crazy to think DS9 would have bashir be an unwitting spy. It is this same character who was just a season ago revealed to have been impersonated for months while the real bashir was in a prison....How is programming him Geordi Laforge like really in any way unthinkable. I was actually surprised he wasn't. On to the Section 31 debate, DS9 has always been a little silly about this kind of stuff. We are made to believe that what section 31 did here was wrong, NO QUESTION, yet the very next episode Sisko is faking evidence to bring a whole empire into a war....What did section 31 do....put Bashir in a holodeck for 2 days...WOW crimes against humanity!!!! still..10/10 episode.
Thu, May 8, 2014, 11:36am (UTC -5)
I've never been a big fan of people proselytizing Roddenberry as a sort of martyr of enlightened Star Trek ideals. To indulge in such specific idealism robs one of the ability to critically think of what's being said and instead regresses the discussion to a basic, superficial level. In other words, screaming it's 'anti-Trek' or 'anti-Roddenberry' is the same as saying the point of the specific story (or the enjoyment of or the critical thinking of) is now moot and only belief in Roddenberry Almighty will save us from our sins. Yes, Roddenberry did create a wonderful sandbox for people to play in and expand upon. And, no, I don't believe that his enlightenment ideals are necessarily unrealistic. The expectations of said ideals, however, and the hedging of all bets fundamentally on them is unrealistic, inherently flawed, and, from a creative standpoint, extremely detrimental to any storytelling process.

As for this particular episode is concerned; it is very well-written, masterfully executed, and is among the high-end installments of DS9 with ramifications that will, for better and worse, see fruition down the line. The idea of Section 31 itself was not much of a shocker to me and actually made sense logically. I agree with some above comments concerning comparisons between this autonomous organization and others (Tal Shiar, Obsidian Order, etc.). They were power hungry and interfered with their respective governments to a fault where 31 is truly independent and strive to do their jobs without political agenda.

Not a classic episode, but very close and is a fantastic job all around.

3.5 stars.
Thu, May 8, 2014, 4:43pm (UTC -5)
@Vylora :

Proselytising Roddenberry is not fundamentally the issue people take on here: or perhaps better, the proselytising of "his" ideals is an emotional testament to the reaction such writing as is seen in this episode engenders. But there is an empirical argument to be made against the methods DS9's creative team often employed, without the emotional baggage.

It is perfectly logical and reasonable that Section 31 would have been founded hundreds of years in the past to protect humanity's (and later the Federation's) interests covertly. It is evident that the fully realised manifestation of Gene's philosophy did not evolve in the Star Trek universe until the 24th century. Kirk's era is clearly in a transitional phase between something what we are now and what Picard and his crew are like in TNG. So, the group's existence is not in itself even a contention against the philosophy. In fact it helps prove the veracity of Federation ideals in its relative primitivity, an artefact of a bygone era.

Where the gears start to grind is in the treatment of Sloan as a strawman. He is an antagonist whose cynicism is bepedestaled as a kind of "rational" counterweight to Bashir's idealism. But where this argument falls apart is in that what for *us* in our time is idealism is for him in his (fictional) future a tested practice and a fully integrated part of the culture. In this context, Sloan's philosophy is not only conservative, it is regressive, fundamentalist.

It's admittedly been a while since I watched this episode, but if memory serves, where I started to get really annoyed was with the main cast's (and by extension the Federation's) apathy to the inevitable, as though the idea of Section 31, while perhaps out of their mainstay doctrine, was not particularly abhorrent.

Remember when Picard and Riker exterminated the scorpion creatures in "Conspiracy"? THAT is precisely the kind of reaction learning of 31's existence should illicit in any Starfleet officer and that is where I personally have a problem with the depictions of human beings on this programme.
Sun, Jun 22, 2014, 8:00pm (UTC -5)
I loved how Sloan commented on the runabout conveniently being left unguarded in orbit around the internment camp in "By Inferno's Light". To me, that was the writers poking fun at themselves and saying "Yeah, we kinda screwed up that time."

Good episode.
Sun, Jun 22, 2014, 8:04pm (UTC -5)
Also, considering the events of the next episode, Bashir's line "But what would that say about us? That we're no different than our enemies? That when push comes to shove, we're willing to throw away our principles in order to survive?" seems very prescient. Deliberate foreshadowing on the writers' part?

Tue, Aug 19, 2014, 12:39pm (UTC -5)
Section 31 is a "Star Fleet" organization, not a Federation one. It protects Federation interests now because Earth is a member of the Federation. I don't know of any Federation Charter that authorizes an organization like section 31. (the writers even get this wrong VIA Odo's words at the end of the episode)

JAM: "Sloan has a number of theories that seem insidiously plausible, even though he has no evidence." - agree Jammer, the first time I saw this episode and Bashir is beamed up to the Domion ship with Weyoun I was thinking this could be true!

I enjoy this episode each time I see it. Our introduction to Section 31. All the performances are noteworthy. I love Sisko at the end telling Julian he will accept his next invitation.

3 stars from me.
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 3:38pm (UTC -5)
Actually, Section 31 is born of Babylon 5, where the series is based off. That's why DS9 isn't like normal Trek.

Even through that, S31 seem to be totally tacked on to me. The writers wanted to add some drama to the show and just added B5's Psi-Corps with a tweak.
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 3:41pm (UTC -5)
Oh, and yeah, Bureau 13 from B5.

It's clearly a stolen idea. But the writers forgot that you can't just tack that into a story from nowhere. There was no clue, and nothing leading up to S31... it was just "Hey, guesss whoooooooo!?"
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 4:01pm (UTC -5)
Section 31 isn't anything like the PSI-Corps.

What clues did you want? They don't operate on the front page of the "Star Fleet Journal".
Sat, Oct 4, 2014, 11:02am (UTC -5)
This is a strong episode with a surprisingly compelling twist at the end of it. It actually uses a number of Trek tropes, but does them really, really well. I generally don't recommend episodes in which Nothing Is As It Seems or So None Of This Is Real!? because the conclusion usually guts any drama that happens during the episode. But this one genuinely works because how well it's designed to take Julian to task and how actually convincing the arguments against him are.

Episodes in which nothing is as it seems, like "Whispers" or "Distant Voices", always intentionally feel off and it becomes a matter of how long it takes for the main character to crack the code (so to speak) as the weirdness piles up. But "Inquisition" feels real because Sloan's case against Julian makes sense, referencing a lot of his past actions on the series. Getting beamed to the Dominion ship works too because we already know that even our own characters - Julian especially - aren't safe from twists like this. Plus, since the weirdness involves one of the show's main storylines, and not bizarreness from out of the blue, it starts to feel genuinely heavy.

It helps that everyone involved puts in a good performance: Julian (whose looks of being defeated really ring true), "Weyoun", and especially Sloan. Sloan is probably one of the more menacing villains so far, and he's only been in one episode! William Sadler is pretty much perfect here. Probably the best guest character the show's had.

I could have done without Julian outsmarting the scenario because of Something You Can't Possibly Know, but it's also not really so bad because when he finally tears down the fiction around him he finds something so much more unexpected. Suddenly everything about the Trek, our heroes, and their way of life looks a little bit different with the implication that the Federation is a bit of a fiction itself.

This one is a strong 3 stars, but for an episode like this the individual star rating is inadequate. It suggests it's a recommended episode of the series - but really, it's essential viewing because of how much it informs the rest of the show. The thing about "Inquisition" is that its implications are far more important than the 40 minutes needed to reveal them. On its own merits, this episode is very well done. What it means to series, however, is immeasurable.
Sat, Nov 15, 2014, 9:26pm (UTC -5)
I have just one problem with this episode, why did they use Weyoun as the Vorta at the internment camp? He was not the Vorta at the camp, I can't remember his name but he was not Weyoun. Julian should have asked Sloan about this, since he didn't know about Miles accident either.
Thu, Dec 18, 2014, 1:59pm (UTC -5)
"It won't be easy. If it's true this section has existed since the birth of the Federation, they've managed to hide their tracks very well"

- Right, by telling every Tom Dick and Harry they interrogate about their existence and purpose. Surely NO ONE would have EVER heard of them by now.

Come on writers, this is ridiculous.
Brian S.
Tue, Feb 17, 2015, 4:52pm (UTC -5)
Section 31 is probably just a relatively small black ops segment of Starfleet Intelligence (Sloan did say that they are a branch of SI).

If a naval captain questioned the Defense Department about the actions of some intelligence operative, the Defense Dept would simply respond back without confirming or denying the existence of the operative or his unit. Whatever Starfleet admiral Sisko contacted probably has no control or authority over the specific operations of a highly classified wing of a relatively autonomous segment of Starfleet Intelligence, and wouldn't discuss such matters with a mere Captain anyway.

As for what Section 31 does....they probably do some of the same things our own 21st century CIA does, and with the same questionable ethics. They aren't quite the Obsidian Order, they don't seek to overtly control the entire Federation and all its citizens and military personnel. But they are willing to skirt the constitutional laws of due process and search warrants to seek out major political threats. Starfleet and Starfleet Intelligence disavows any knowledge of their existence and gives them a lot of leeway to do whatever they need to do to accomplish their goals. Is it too much leeway? Maybe. But so long as they get results (and it seems like they usually do), Starfleet and SFIntel don't bother asking too many questions or making too many complaints.

Sloan to me is very much James Bond without the cinematically provided certainty. If you think about it, Bond does act as judge, jury and executioner in all those films. He investigates perceived threats, breaks into people's homes, steals property to gather evidence, takes people against their will, interrogates them, and kills them if/when HE deems it necessary.....all without any court, judge, or lawyer. The audience just *assumes* Bond/Mi6 is always right (which I'm sure Sloan assumes about himself), and the films usually show us the evidence supporting that (or the supervillain's confession). Bond has killed evil henchmen/villains on far less circumstantial evidence than what Sloan had against Bashir.....and to Sloan's credit, he gave Bashir far more of a chance to defend himself than Tain or Garak probably would have in the old Obsidian Order. Bond doesn't carry handcuffs with him and make warrant-approved arrests, he just goes out and takes care of threats....quietly.
Brian S.
Tue, Feb 17, 2015, 7:17pm (UTC -5)
One other point......can we Trek fans PLEASE disavow ourselves of the supposed notion that Roddenberry's Trek a Utopian vision that DS9 somehow violates?

Earth itself may be generally painted as a paradise compared to what we have today where war, hunger, and poverty have been eliminated. But I have a hard time accepting that even 23rd century humans are really all that evolved when you consider that the captain of the flagship of that universe is a guy that basically beat the crap out of every alien he couldn't sleep with.

There were any number of conflicts, skirmishes, and even outright wars that broke out between the Federation, Klingons, and other powers during the run of TOS. Even in the TNG days, the threat of war with the Romulan Empire always seemed to be right around the corner.

Roddenberry Star Trek shows a Federation that is constantly on the brink of war. Earth may not be a hotbed of territorial conflict and war any more, but humans were still shown to be just as flawed and confrontational as ever when it comes to civilizations outside. By that measure, present day America is a utopian paradise because we don't have inter-state fighting any more and we only go to war against other countries. To be fair, we probably are more evolved in certain ways than some of our counterparts of the 16th/17th centuries, but we still carry a great deal of flaws that can be examined.

The 1st season of 23rd century TOS Trek showed us a Federation that declared war on Klingons, referenced prior war with the Romulans, and sought war with the Gorn. There are still human smugglers, and con artists, and space pimps (though that might have all been just Harry Mudd). Penal colony administrators who torture prisoners, a Starfleet lieutenant who fakes his own death as part of a revenge plot against his captain, humans who were only too willing to kill any alien they didn't easily understand or identify with, humans who became uncontrollably dangerous a-holes under any intoxicating substance or when given a little extra power. Even the hyper-logical half-Vulcan Spock was willing to go Grand Theft Starship and risk a death penalty just to help out a disabled officer he once served with. And just to ensure that stealing an entire starship for personal motives wasn't limited to people with Vulcan blood, Kirk did the same thing in Star Trek III. And of course, let's not forget McCoy's rather constant racist slurs against Spock. And I won't even bother addressing the myriad of human/Federation problems in TNG.

All in all, this hardly paints an evolved or enlightened portrait of humanity. If DS9 appears "darker" it may be simply because the writers examine the atrocities they use for their episode backstories rather than simply glossing over them or forgetting about them at episode's end. DS9 dives into the horrors and aftermath of 50 brutal years of Cardassian rule over Bajor. TOS takes a civilization with a centuries-old history of enslavement, persecution, and rebellion, grabs one ambassador from each side, sits them at a conference table, and wipes their hands and walks away never to return again. That isn't human idealism. That's laziness and naivete bordering on criminally negligent and ignorant.

Both Kirk and Sisko were prepared to go to war with the Klingons. The only difference is that the non-corporeal Organians stopped the war, whereas the non-corporeal Prophets stayed out of the way.
Mon, Feb 23, 2015, 12:26pm (UTC -5)
Brian S.,

Well said.


Here an exchange from that scene between Bashir and Weyoun:

"BASHIR: What truth? That you broke me when I was in the prison camp?
WEYOUN: We're not barbarians. There was no torture involved. We simply helped you to see that there's no way Starfleet can defeat the Dominion. And because you didn't want billions of Federation citizens to lose their lives needlessly, you agreed to provide us with information that would help us end this war quickly. You rose above the petty question of whose side you were on and made a moral decision. It's not surprising, really. After all, you are a doctor."

I think it's fair to read this as "you" and "we". I don't think Weyoun is being literal here. ... and Bashir was defiant where Weyoun asked him about the scone.

But good catch nonetheless.
Tue, Aug 11, 2015, 8:21am (UTC -5)
I dont understand this complaint of "all this never really happened." The writers are showing us how this what if premise would play out, they're the ones telling us this is how the characters would react.

Finally, its not all "undone" by the end because it impacts Bashir, adds Section 31 to the series & we see the regulars debating it.

The idea could've been quite bland but in the end the writing & performances take this familiar idea & make it intriguing & a lot of fun!
Fri, Jan 22, 2016, 1:36pm (UTC -5)
absolutely love the concept of section 31. kinda nice to see the Federation has more of a badass covert ops organization than the talshiar and obsidian order.

this arc is definitely my favourite.
Diamond Dave
Sat, Feb 6, 2016, 5:06am (UTC -5)
Strong Bashir episode and a bit more atmospheric than some we've seen recently. Yes, the "it was all on the holodeck" is a bit of a cheat, but it's not obvious when you are watching so I can let that slide. The argument constructed against Bashir is actually the most subversive bit, given that it actually creates a credible (if circumstantial) case that Bashir is guilty - and the tip of the hat to the orbiting runabout is a nice one. The misdirections of Bashir's rescue by the Dominion and subsequent rescue by the Defiant are also nicely played.

As to Section 31, there have been hints of a dark element to Starfleet since early TNG, so I think it fits in OK. 3 stars.
William B
Tue, Feb 16, 2016, 11:14am (UTC -5)
Hey, I like this one! (Review...eventually.) This is the first episode I ultimately recommend since "Far Beyond the Stars." I am uncertain about aspects of the revelations here, and Section 31 generally, but this has got great pacing and great material for Bashir, managing to pull together disparate strands of his character. This episode is actually pretty important for making Bashir's character arc cohere -- Bashir the doctor, Bashir the genetic freak, Bashir the man obsessed with intrigue, Bashir the pessimist, Bashir the pacifist, and Bashir the idealist are all brought together. (Actually, a lot of this is due to "Statistical Probabilities," which I also like.) I think that besides Odo, it's actually Bashir whose character growth I'm most happy with over the course of the series of the main cast.
Wed, Mar 2, 2016, 10:44pm (UTC -5)
Plot summary: DS9's writers get together and decide that the entire crew should directly contradict the very next episode following this one. Irrelevance and confusion ensues.

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