In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light represent a fantastic accomplishment for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
In keeping with the television of the time, the first Star Trek show had been firmly episodic, to the point that there are arguments about the order in which episodes happened. Even in the context of the early nineties, Star Trek: The Next Generation tended to shy away from making dramatic decisions with huge consequences. The Klingon Civil War is resolved in Redemption, Part I and Redemption, Part II. The failed Romulan invasion of Vulcan in Unification, Part I and Unification, Part II is never mentioned again.
Deep Space Nine grew increasingly adventurous over the course of its run. The series had flirted with up-ending the status quo before, from the introduction of the Defiant and the Founders in The Search, Part I and The Search, Part II through to the dismantling of the Khitomer Accords in The Way of the Warrior. While those decisions had very long-term consequences for the show, their impact was not as dramatic and immediate as that seen here. Even the defeat of the Cardassians and Romulans in Improbable Cause and The Die is Cast took time to ripple down.
In contrast, In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light change a lot of what the audience think they know about Deep Space Nine. The fifth season pivots on this two-parter, which serves to enable just about every major dramatic development between this point and the end of the series. This only serves to make it all the more impressive that the two-parter is so firmly rooted in its characters and characterisation.
Like a lot of the great storytelling decisions in the middle seasons of Deep Space Nine, it seems like In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light developed almost by accident. The writing staff on Deep Space Nine had a tendency to follow a story to wherever it decided to go, instead of charting out important beats ahead of time. After all, the Romulan and Cardassian attack on the Dominion on The Die is Cast only came about because the writers couldn’t come up with a satisfying resolution to the mystery in Improbable Cause.
Of course, there is some sense that the production team had a rough idea of where they might want Deep Space Nine to go before the end of the season. Both The Ship and Rapture heavily hinted that the Federation and the Dominion would find themselves at war before the curtain drew down, with Rapture offering some ominous prophecies about the Dominion and Bajor. However, the finer mechanics of how the show would accomplish these plot beats was often left to chance and organic development.
It really seems like In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light was cobbled together from a variety of half-formed ideas sitting around the Deep Space Nine writers’ room, none of them designed to fit together and few of them originally intended to service the looming Dominion War. It is very instructive, demonstrating how the Deep Space Nine writers tended to approach writing for the show. There was a strong tendency to let character beats and plot ideas unfold in their own way, letting them service the long-form storytelling.
For example, the plot for the two-parter originally did not involve the Dominion at all. According to The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, the original plan for the story that would become In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light was to focus on the character of Michael Eddington following his arrest in For the Uniform. It would have been a jailbreak story, although the production team abandoned Eddington because they were not sure the terrorist would be a sympathetic character. However, they retained the prison break idea.
Similarly, the decision to do an episode focusing on Garak’s relationship to Enabran Tain came from a pitch by writer Judy Klass. As she told Voyages of Imagination:
“Though I did not get an on-screen credit for it, [it was] the idea that Garak was the illegitimate son of Enabran Tain, and that was one more reason why he’s a double or triple agent and a chronic liar; he has had to spend his whole life pretending not to know that the man who is his patron and a ‘friend of the family’ is his father. Robert Hewitt-Wolfe was a gentleman and called me a year after I pitched the idea as the basis for an episode to tell me they were using it, tucked inside another episode, and paying me for it.”
Klass received $1,000 for her idea, and it was woven into the fabric of the story that was being developed by the production team.
Other ideas were bubbling in the background and began to come together. The production team had enjoyed J.G. Hertzler’s performance as changeling!Martok in The Way of the Warrior and Apocalypse Rising, and were looking for a way to incorporate the character back into the show:
Somewhere along the line they said, “Worf has a friend,” meaning Martok, and that potential relationship attracted them. I had both eyes as a clone, but as the real Martok, I was a one-eyed Klingon. Ira said, “Don’t worry about that eye. We’ll give you an artificial eye so you have both eyes again.” I said, “No, no, no. Don’t do that, Ira. First of all, I don’t think a Klingon would care how many eyes he has, as long as he has one. Secondly, I just think it’s more interesting if I can be a one-eyed Klingon.” I might’ve been subconsciously thinking of Christopher Plummer as Chang.
It has been suggested that the decision to introduce the real Martok as a one-eyed Klingon was a nod by Ira Steven Behr towards Hertzler’s performance in Treasure Island: The Adventure Begins, a movie beloved by Behr’s own children. Whatever the reason, a Dominion prison camp allowed the team to bring back Tain and Martok.
Somewhere along the way, the idea of Cardassia joining the Dominion was thrown into the mix, an idea that writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe would liken to the collapse of Weimar Germany in The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion. The last element was the notion of a changeling infiltrator on the station, in the form of Julian Bashir. As Robert Hewitt Wolfe explained to Cinefantastique:
We came up with this idea of doing the prisoners of the Dominion, all these people that we disappeared over the years, and that it would be really fun to see them. Someone pitched us the idea that Garak was Tain’s son, [and] we bought a premise from her. We were never able to do the full-blown show about that. When we started talking about Tain being in this prison, it seemed like a really good place to exploit that story angle. So we used that element and combined it with some great fun escape stuff. I’ll take credit for it. I came up with the idea of finding Bashir there, as like shock of shocks. I liked the way that worked out. I was really proud of that. No one sees it coming, but it makes perfect sense. That’s the best kind of surprise, as far as I’m concerned.
It is a great example of how In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light came together; an exhilarating and thrilling whirlwind ride of plot ideas from various sources reworked and reimagined repeatedly, finely honed into an exciting and compelling ninety minutes of television. It is fascinating to think about how this sort of storytelling came about, particularly in contrast to the more structured storytelling expected in modern television.
Of course, this approach comes with its fair share of challenges and risks. Most notably, the reveal that Bashir has been replaced by a changeling in In Purgatory’s Shadow generates all sorts of potential continuity headaches when the audience try to process that idea through what they have already seen. In some respects, the decision to have Bashir abducted in his older uniform is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the fact that Bashir is in an older uniform helps to underscore the idea that time has passed since he was abducted, which helps underscore the threat.
However, the fact that the audience knows that Bashir was abducted at some point before the new uniforms were introduced means that every decision that Bashir has made since Rapture is open to interrogation and discussion. After all, changeling!Bashir could have cause no shortage of chaos in episodes like Rapture and The Begotten. As Chief Medical Officer on Deep Space Nine, he could easily have murdered Sisko during the delicate brain surgery or undermined Odo’s relationship with the baby changeling.
To be fair, open to debate in terms of continuity. Star Trek novel writer Christopher Bennett argues that Bashir would have to have been abducted much later than Rapture, even just going by time-related references within the episodes:
The uniform change was in Rapture, and Bashir was supposedly abducted 37 days before the end of By Inferno’s Light. But there’s no way that Rapture, The Darkness and the Light, The Begotten, For the Uniform, In Purgatory’s Shadow, and By Inferno’s Light could’ve all taken place within less than 37 days. According to dialogue, Darkness is at least three weeks before The Begotten, which in turn covers nearly 2 weeks. So that’s at least 33 days right there, and the events of For the Uniform and the 2-parter cover about a week each, plus however much time might have elapsed between them. (Even if we assumed 26-hour Bajoran days, 37 of those is only 40 Earth days, so that doesn’t help.) So Bashir must have been abducted after the uniform change; there’s simply no other possibility. The fact that he’s in the old uniform is a paradox.
On the other hand, it’s stated in dialogue that Kirayoshi was born “less than a month” before Purgatory. Since the 2-parter takes about a week, that pretty much requires that Bashir was abducted in between The Darkness and the Light and The Begotten. That part can’t be finessed, since the dialogue is explicit. On the one hand, Bashir had to be abducted after the uniform change, which creates a plot hole; but on the other hand, Kirayoshi had to be delivered by the changeling impostor, which creates a second plot hole. It’s a total mess — they just didn’t think through the timeline carefully when they put in the date references.
However, the writing staff ignore the explicit chronological references in the episodes and instead follow the rather straightforward narrative of events suggested by the uniform choice. Bashir was abducted at a conference at some point before Starfleet introduced their new uniforms.
The end of By Inferno’s Light suggests that Bashir was gone for about “four weeks” or “over a month.” When interrogated by Luther Sloan in Inquisition, Bashir acknowledges that he was there for “five weeks” or “thirty-seven days, actually.” Of course, these units of measurement are easily fudged, given that Deep Space Nine primarily unfolds upon a space station in a fictional region of space. Who is to say that time is measured consistently in Dominion camps or on Federation bases? Bajor has a twenty-six hour day, for example.
Asked when Bashir was abducted, Ronald D. Moore simply responded, “It would’ve been before Rapture.” Pressed on the question of whether this meant that changeling!Bashir saved Sisko’s life in Rapture, Moore acknowledged, “That’s what it means.” This is the tidiest interpretation of events, and the one clearly suggested by the decision to have Bashir wearing an older uniform in the prison camp. However, it also generates no shortage of headaches for those fans obsessed with making everything fit together logically.
The reason that changeling!Bashir generates so much confusion is quite simple. The twist was not planned particularly far in advance. According to an interview with Dreamwatch, Alexander Siddig only found out that he was playing a changeling during the production of For the Uniform:
I was told during For the Uniform where I had one scene which was played as a Changeling. They must have decided not to tip their hand at that point and give anything away so they cut the scene.
Ironically, the character does not appear at all in For the Uniform. This would not be the only time in the fifth season that the writers blindsided Siddig with a major reimagining of the character. No sooner had the real Bashir arrived back on the station at the end of By Inferno’s Light than another layer was peeled off in Doctor Bashir, I Presume.
(There is another nitpick or plothole to be found in the plotting of In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light, in that the escape plan hinges upon the runabout being left in orbit of the Dominion prison camp. Even without knowing about the transmitter, it seems strange that the Dominion would just leave the ship floating idly as a potential mechanism of escape. In fact, the runabout is such a large plot contrivance that Luther Sloan draws attention to it during his interrogation of Bashir in Inquisition.)
Still, none of these logical gaps or plot holes or inconsistencies really matter in any tangible sense. They certainly do not diminish In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light in any way, the two-parter remains one of the best Star Trek stories ever told. However, the fact that these issues exist within the story demonstrate that continuity and consistency are never as important as certain vocal strands of fandom would suggest. The key is to simply tell good stories, and hope that the audience will be swept up in the narrative.
(After all, there is a reason that fandom tends to fixate upon the continuity issues in the first two seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise while glossing over the continuity problems generated in the last year of the series. The reality seems to be that these nitpicks are simply an expression of a deeper dissatisfaction with the storytelling as a whole. Fans are quite happy to tolerate discontinuity and inconsistency in service of a story they find entertaining, but those elements become a convenient scapegoat when the narrative is deemed unsatisfactory.)
There is a lot to love about In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light. And a lot of it is simply what makes Deep Space Nine such an effective television series. The two-parter is a grand and sweeping epic that has profound consequences for the entire Star Trek universe, but it is deeply rooted in the character dynamics of the ensemble. The events of the episode shape and mould the remaining two seasons of Deep Space Nine, but the story never loses track of the individual characters caught up in the maelstrom.
Deep Space Nine is perhaps the most keenly political of Star Trek shows, and it has aged rather well in that regard. The Klingon invasion of Cardassia in The Way of the Warrior reads as a prescient commentary on the Iraq War, substituting changelings for weapons of mass destruction. The surveillance state panic of Homefront and Paradise Lost was so predictive of the War on Terror that it was largely repurposed as the plot to Star Trek Into Darkness. However, Deep Space Nine repeatedly and consciously insists that the political is ultimately personal.
Over the course of Deep Space Nine, the galaxy is thrown into turmoil. Empires rise and fall; alliances are broken; wars are waged. However, Deep Space Nine never loses sight of the people caught up at the heart of this galactic adventure. For all that Deep Space Nine is a sweeping epic, it is very firmly grounded in a cast of approximately thirty or forty characters who make the decisions that drive the various plot points. This is especially true of In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light.
For an episode with such far-reaching repercussions, In Purgatory’s Shadow starts very low key. It emphasises the people living their lives in this chaotic and turbulent universe. The opening scene finds Odo moving back into his old quarters, celebrating the return of his shapeshifting ability in The Begotten. Kira is helping him. The two touch upon a variety of topics, from Odo’s experiences as a humanoid to his romantic curiosity. It should be noted that Odo and Kira are not major players in the two-parter. Odo does not even appear in By Inferno’s Light.
As the teaser continues, its focus broadens to include the characters who will drive the plot. However, they are each introduced in scenes that emphasise their preexisting relationships and the extent to which they have integrated into life on Deep Space Nine. Garak is having coffee with Ziyal and changeling!Bashir, for example, bantering idly about his mundane day-to-day existence. “It’s a full life, if a trifle banal,” Garak reflects. Even the sting at the end of the teaser is grounded in character terms, with changeling!Bashir catching Garak trying to hijack a runabout.
When Garak asks how changeling!Bashir figured out that he would steal a runabout, changeling!Bashir points to his understanding of Garak as a person. “You said you’d given up on the Cardassian survivors who were lost in the Gamma Quadrant,” changeling!Bashir explains. “Well, Ziyal was right. You’re not the giving up sort.” It is a very accurate read on Garak’s character, although one that requires enough insight to see past Garak’s self-deprecating exterior. It would appear that on Deep Space Nine, even the changelings are keen observers of character.
In fact, one of the many clever touches across the two-parter is the recurring suggestion that changeling!Bashir has integrated so skilfully into the station’s crew because of his personability and his attention to smaller character beats. By Inferno’s Light even includes a small scene of changeling!Bashir interacting with O’Brien to underscore this. “How are Keiko and the kids?” changeling!Bashir inquires. He then explains, “Oh, by the way, I ordered two new sets of those new duridium alloy darts I told you about. They should be here next week.”
changeling!Bashir seems to understand the way that Deep Space Nine works. When O’Brien points out the incongruity of worrying about darts as the entire Alpha Quadrant seems poised to slip into chaos, changeling!Bashir responds, “Well, life must go on.” That is one of the key recurring themes of Deep Space Nine, the idea that the smaller parts of life unfold even in the midst of all these sweeping galactic events. In fact, those sweeping galactic events are often driven by those smaller parts of life.
After all, the plot of In Purgatory’s Shadow is driven by Garak’s desire to reunite with Enabran Tain. While this obviously builds off the events of Improbable Cause and The Die is Cast, it is very much a personal mission for Garak. It is driven by Garak’s own history with Tain, something that is gradually revealed over the course of the episode. “You don’t owe Tain anything,” changeling!Bashir warns Garak. “He had you exiled from Cardassia.” Garak responds, “He was my… mentor, and I’m not going to turn my back on him.”
The pause is revealing, and In Purgatory’s Shadow builds towards the eventual acknowledgement that Garak is the illegitimate son of Enabran Tain. It is an incredibly affecting scene between father and son, one just as charged as an epic confrontation between the Dominion and the Federation. “All I ask is that for this moment, let me be your son,” Garak urges his dying father. “Elim, remember that day in the country?” Tain responds. “You must have been almost five…” Garak remarks, “How can I forget it? It was the only day.”
It is a beautiful little conversation, hinging on the performances of Andrew Robinson and Paul Dooley. In Purgatory’s Shadow is invested in these little interactions as deeply as it is engaged with the galactic politics unfolding in the background. Indeed, it could reasonably be argued that Garak’s mission to reunite with his father saved the Alpha Quadrant. If Garak hadn’t have taken the runabout, it seems unlikely changeling!Bashir would have been discovered before blowing up the Bajoran sun and destroying the Federation, Klingon and Romulan fleets.
In Purgatory’s Shadow basks in these little character dynamics. It continues the trend of fleshing out Garak’s character by pairing the Cardassian spy up with another member of the ensemble. The early seasons of Deep Space Nine had treated Garak as a satellite character tethered to Bashir, as evidenced by stories like Past Prologue, Cardassians and The Wire. However, the production team gradually came to realise that Garak was far too interesting a character to confine to Bashir-centric episodes.
In the later seasons, Garak drifted away from Bashir. Our Man Bashir was effectively the duo’s last two-hander. Beginning with Improbable Cause and The Die is Cast, the writers began pairing Garak with other characters. Empok Nor finds Garak squaring off against O’Brien. In the Pale Moonlight forces Sisko to align himself with Garak. Afterimage allows Garak to bring Ezri Dax into focus. Garak even finds himself teaming up with Kira and Damar in When It Rains…
In Purgatory’s Shadow teams Garak up with Worf. It is an inspired combination, with a significant stretch of the episode devoted to Garak and Worf bantering in the runabout. There is a lot of clever character-driven dialogue here, the production team admiring the juxtaposition of the two characters. Worf has little time for Garak’s games, advising Sisko, “At the first sign of betrayal, I will kill him. But I promise to return the body intact.” For his part, Garak finds Worf an easy mark for honing his lying technique.
Attention to character is paramount, even in smaller scenes. When Worf discovers that Tain’s signal is coming from inside Dominion space, he decides to turn back. However, Garak rather slyly and skilfully manipulates Worf into pressing ahead. “The answer is out there, Commander,” Garak urges. “We just have to have the courage to find it.” He advises, “It’s the honourable thing to do.” Worf responds, “You use that word, but you have no idea what it means.” Garak admits, “Maybe not, but you do.” Sure enough, Worf presses on.
It is a lovely exchange, because it so skilfully illuminates both characters and their understanding of one another. Garak understands that Worf is motivated by Klingon concepts of honour to an insane degree; even if Worf sees through the self-serving nature of Garak’s appeal, Garak understands that honour means enough to Worf that the Klingon will press ahead. Worf is smart enough to know that he cannot take Garak’s argument at face value, with Garak cunningly disarming him by acknowledging as much but insisting that his point stands. It is a great moment.
It should also be noted that In Purgatory’s Shadow also takes the time to introduce Worf in a character-driven sequence. When Sisko decides to allow Garak to journey into the Gamma Quadrant with an escort, the episode cuts to Worf and Dax arguing about the trip. It is a somewhat unnecessary scene from a storytelling perspective, in that the episode could easily have cut from Sisko approving Garak’s mission to Worf boarding the runabout. However, the inclusion of that small character interlude serves to establish the dynamic between Worf and Dax.
There is an endearing warmth to these strange character beats, a mischievous sense of humour that sets Deep Space Nine apart from the other Star Trek spin-offs. Worf and Dax banter like an old married couple. While the plot drawing them together in Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places might have been a little clumsy, there is a sense that the characters play very well off one another. Dax refuses to admit to being sad about Worf’s departure, and instead borrows his Klingon opera collection. She threatens to begin losing it, unless he returns promptly.
Similarly, the two-parter features one of the funniest cuts in the entire fifty-year history of the franchise. As the real Bashir is rotting in a Dominion prison camp, he idly muses, “I can only imagine what my replacement is up to on the station.” The episode cuts to a shot of changeling!Bashir riding in a turbolift. He smiles menacingly as it arrives in Ops. He approaches O’Brien and Dax, looming over them. He then produces… a tray of sandwiches. He explains, “You’ve been working for sixteen hours straight. I thought you could do with some sandwiches.”
It is a great gag, if only because it so brilliantly subverts the building sense of dread. It is a very cheeky little scene to slot into middle of such an epic high-stakes episode. Certainly, Star Trek: Voyager would never have dreamed of inserting such a joke into the middle of any of its sweeping two-parters like Scorpion, Part I, Scorpion, Part II, Year of Hell, Part I, Year of Hell, Part II, The Killing Joke, Part I, The Killing Joke, Part II, Dark Frontier, Part I or Dark Frontier, Part II. However, this wry interlude is smart enough that it does not undercut the mounting tension.
Even as the stakes heighten, In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light allows time for debate and discussion that illuminates and defines the characters. When Sisko decides to seal the wormhole to prevent the arrival of the Dominion in the Alpha Quadrant, the episode does not accept his argument at face value. Instead, there is time for a quick discussion between Sisko and Kira on the matter. In the context of the story being told, these discussions are largely immaterial. However, they feel very true to the characters and the world in which they live.
“You’re going to destroy the wormhole?” Kira asks, almost horrified by the suggestion. Sisko responds, “It’s always been a final option. I’d hoped to never use it.” Kira has difficulty articulating what that actually means to her, as a Bajor who has a strong spiritual connection to the wormhole aliens. “But the Celestial Temple, the Prophets…” Sisko repeatedly frames the discussion in polite and reasonable terms, but Kira keeps returning to the point that the Federation has single-handedly decided to cut Bajor off from their gods.
Again, this is a huge and sweeping political decision that is cleverly and consciously framed in character-driven terms. It is entirely in keeping with the philosophy of Deep Space Nine that the Federation would unilaterally decide to seal the wormhole without the consent of the Bajoran people, and it makes sense to frame that decision in a quick conversation between Sisko and Kira during a wardroom meeting. It is a testament to Deep Space Nine that it finds room for these small character exchanges, even as the narrative builds momentum.
Even as events build to an epic climax, the production team never lose sight of the thing that matter. As the stakes raise, characters focus on their relationships more than on the political ramifications of their decisions. As Sisko prepares to close the wormhole, Dax gasps, “Worf…” changeling!Bashir offers, “… is a Klingon warrior. He’d understand.” As Garak plots to escape the prison in By Inferno’s Light, he reminds himself of his promise to return to Ziyal. “That young lady has had quite enough disappointments in her life without you adding to them.”
There is an incredible warmth to the show and its character interactions. Deep Space Nine is a series that is very cynical about instituations and power structures, but it tends to invest its faith in individuals. In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light are great examples of this, forming a truly epic game-changing story that never loses sight of the personal dynamics at the heart of the narrative. Deep Space Nine is fundamentally a story about people; just people who find themselves caught up in the tides of history.