[DS9] Jammer's Review: "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges"
- Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for the episode "Inter
Arma Enim Silent Leges." If you haven't seen the show yet, beware.
Nutshell: The plot is overly complex and too perfect at times, but the
payoff polemics make it a very strong hour.
Plot description: When the mysterious Sloan attempts to recruit Bashir for
an undercover mission on Romulus, Sisko orders Bashir to go along with the
plan, in hopes of learning more about Section 31.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine -- "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges"
Airdate: 3/1/1999 (USA)
Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by David Livingston
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: ***1/2
"Let's make a deal, doctor: I'll spare you the ends-justify-the-means
speech, and you spare me the we-must-do-what's-right speech. You and I are
not going to see eye-to-eye on this subject, so I suggest we stop
discussing it." -- Sloan
The title says it all: "In time of war, the law falls silent." The plot
concocted in part by the mysterious Sloan in "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges"
is one of meticulous planning and perfect execution. Everything goes as
planned. Everything. And yet we're left with a feeling of certain dread. If
a perfect plan has to step on so many people, exploit so many innocents,
and undermine so many principles to get where it's going, how perfect is
it? If you're Sloan, you would argue that it's simply no more perfect than
the world itself.
That's the central argument of "Inter Arma...", an episode with attitudes
that grow out of out of last season's "Inquisition" and "In the Pale
Moonlight." In a way, Sloan's plot in this episode undermines everything
the Federation stands for. And in a way, it reveals an attitude that's
necessary to protect the Federation so its ideals might survive desperate
There are some who are calling DS9's exploration of these darker aspects of
the Federation a conscious dismantling of the "Gene Roddenberry idealism."
Is it? I don't think so (I'm one who thinks too much is often made of the
"Roddenberry vision" and that his intentions are sometimes viewed through
too narrow a scope), but I do think it raises the question of the *ability*
of such ideals to survive when humanity is faced with a real threat to its
existence. True idealism must be occasionally challenged for us to see what
it truly represents and how practically it can be applied. In terms of this
episode, is Section 31--that unofficial, unsanctioned, and generally
unknown power of the Federation--an organization that acts in the
Federation's best interests? A better question: Exactly how do you define
The plot of "Inter Arma..." is complex. Probably too complex, in fact, in
the sense that every bit of it is calculated ahead of time by Sloan
(William Sadler, in a performance that follows up his role in
"Inquisition," and that's magnificent in its straightforwardness). I'm not
sure how plausible it is that Sloan could anticipate every action Bashir
makes in the course of this story, but, then again, the whole point of the
episode is that Sloan is able to manipulate Bashir by understanding how his
mind works and the sense of morality from which he approaches situations.
Like in "Inquisition," Sloan takes advantage of Bashir when he is scheduled
to leave the station. This time, Bashir is to go to Romulus for a
conference. Sloan wants to use Bashir as an avenue for convenient
reconnaissance--or so he says. One can never take what Sloan says at face
value. From square one we're pretty sure there's about 100 things Sloan
knows that he's not telling Bashir. But Sisko sees this as an opportunity
to see what Section 31 is up to and who else might be working for them. It
runs far deeper than Sloan, that's for sure.
So Bashir finds himself on a starship to Romulus. One of the best qualities
of "Inter Arma..." is the way it blindsides Bashir with its steady diet of
surprises. It really puts him through a mental wringer. You see, Bashir is
also working with Admiral Ross (Barry Jenner) to investigate Sloan. Ross
and Sisko had agreed to use Bashir's recruitment by Sloan to learn the
nature of Section 31's involvement in the Romulan government. There are
suspicions that the Romulan government has an operative in its midst that
is working for Section 31.
One might wonder why--especially considering the Federation and Romulans
are allies in the effort to defeat the Dominion--Section 31 would
investigate and plot around an ally. The reason is simple: Allies are
temporary. DS9's history through the last four seasons is perfect proof of
that. The Federation has faced hostility from the Klingons, Romulans, and
Dominion. Now the Cardassians have been absorbed by the Dominion and the
Klingons, Romulans, and Federation have their own alliance. It makes
perfect sense that Section 31, given their nature, would want now to plant
their moles in the Romulan government--since, Sloan predicts, they're
destined to become the next major threat after the Dominion is forced back
to the Gamma Quadrant and the Klingons find themselves too weak to threaten
anybody. (One of many brilliantly telling exchanges: Bashir: "This war
isn't over, and you're already planning for the next!" Sloan: "Well put.")
This is all very insidious and neat to ponder. At the same time, it
challenges the morality of Starfleet up to a point: Starfleet wouldn't
dream of "approving" the actions of Section 31, yet they have absolutely no
intention of trying to stop what Section 31 does, either. As Sloan says,
the Federation may need someone like Section 31 to look at the bigger
picture. The question is where do you stand on moral ground, and can you
live with yourself? (As Sisko put it last year, "This is a huge victory for
the good guys," and he "will learn to live with it.")
The details of Sloan's plot are intriguing. I won't go into endless detail
(this is a story so complex that it would take forever to summarize), but
I'll put it in a nutshell. Sloan wants Bashir to subtly determine if a
powerful Romulan official, Senator Koval (played by John Fleck, who
appeared as a Romulan years ago in TNG's "The Mind's Eye"), has an illness
that can be carefully manipulated into sudden advancement, effectively
causing an undetectable assassination. But the plan takes a number of
twists that puts Bashir into difficult positions where he must act on his
own. Ultimately, he recruits Romulan Senator Cretak (Adrienne Barbeau,
painting a much more sympathetic character than was performed earlier this
season by Megan Cole) into helping investigate the leads and stopping the
There are twists upon twists, including an explanation of who Sloan
"really" is, which itself turns out to be completely bogus. By the time
it's all over, Sloan is presumed dead, Cretak's life is destroyed, and
Koval--who we learn is actually a Section 31 mole--has solidified his
position in the Romulan government as one skeptical of the Federation, thus
making him more powerful as a Federation operative.
The way this all plays out is perfect. Too perfect, really. But it's done
with great skill and clarity thanks to Ron Moore's script and an
atmospheric direction by David Livingston that evokes a sense of mystery
and intimidation involving Romulan society. The scene before the Romulan
senate that reveals the "plot," is impressively executed.
Meanwhile, Bashir, who is smart and resourceful, is nevertheless
manipulated like a chump. (This manipulation is effective and enlightening
concerning a set of various characters' motives and philosophies, unlike
the manipulation within Voyager's "Course: Oblivion," which was simply
So is Bashir naive for embracing his idealism and allowing himself to be
manipulated? I say no, because the whole point of the story is that moral
idealism is a choice, and Bashir is sticking by his guns in the face of
those whose actions he views as appallingly wrong. This episode isn't
subtle about its debate. That's part of why it's so powerful. When it's
done well, I'm a big fan of the Heated Substantive Argument. Seeing the
moral questions arise from the situation is interesting, but seeing the
moral questions tackled directly through a one-on-one verbal argument
between two characters can be equally interesting.
In this case, we learn that Ross had been working with Sloan to manipulate
Bashir into going through with this whole charade in the interests of
fortifying the Federation's strategic position. Bashir figures it out and
privately challenges Ross. The discussion that ensues is pure polemics, and
I appreciated the points from both sides of the table. Ross' situation
reveals a real desperation, a weakness on the part of the Federation; it's
doing what it has to in order to survive. With this war on, the ideal moral
world is simply implausible to some.
People like Bashir, who maintain their moral compass even in the depths of
this danger, deserve respect, and I appreciated the sincere respect Sloan
reveals to Bashir, even though he puts Bashir through such a devious game
to fulfill Section 31's agenda. But at the same time, who's to say that
Bashir wouldn't be tempted to work with an organization like Section 31 if
he were in Ross' pained position, ordering wave after wave of Starfleet
soldiers to their deaths?
In that way, "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges" is completely conscious with
the Roddenberry idealism. The question posed is whether that idealism can
survive a universe with such increased chaos and danger, and whether the
war will permanently change the Federation's ideals.
As a final note, let me pose a frightening question: What if Sisko knew
Ross was working with Section 31 from the beginning? It's speculation that
could very easily be false, but given the nature of the war and Sisko's
role in bringing the Romulans into it, who can say? When considering the
plausible substance of Sloan's and Ross' arguments and Sisko's own
involvement in the war since day one, could perhaps the moral rules have
been so distorted that the rules' bending is now rationalized by DS9's own
captain? It might not be the case, but I certainly think it *could* be.
"Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges" indeed.
Upcoming: Several reruns, followed by a dive into the big final stretch of
Copyright (c) 1999 by Jamahl Epsicokhan, all rights reserved. Unauthorized
reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...