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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges (Review)

Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges is a perfectly fitting penultimate episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Sure, the production team had originally planned for Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang to take the audience into the sweeping ten-hour epic that would wrap up the series. That certainly would have been a satisfying deep breath before the plunge, one last story celebrating this ensemble in a low-stakes adventure that treats them like an extended family before everything hits the fan. Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang would have been immensely fulfilling in that context.

Tribunal.

However, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges feels like a necessary episode before Deep Space Nine commits to its sprawling ten-episode-long finale. In particular, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges is the only episode of the seventh season to devote any time or any energy to the question of what happens after the Dominion War. Deep Space Nine has been so tied up in this epic existential struggle that the production team have never really acknowledged what happens when the dust settles, beyond the rolling of the closing credits and the conclusion of the series.

Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges represents the first time that Deep Space Nine has dared to look beyond the immediate status quo, to acknowledge that life will undoubtedly continue in the Alpha Quadrant after the end of What You Leave Behind. In many ways, Deep Space Nine is notable for extending a sense of political realism and pragmatism to the mechanics of the larger Star Trek universe, and Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges feels like an organic extension of that, acknowledging that events ripple beyond that arbitrary boundaries that are conveniently labelled as “endings.”

I met a man who wasn’t there.

There are any number of valid reasons why Deep Space Nine has never devoted any real energy to looking beyond the Dominion War itself. Certainly, the show has made a convincing case that winning the war is far more important than planning for an aftermath that may never come to pass. This is a life-or-death struggle for the Federation. Episodes like Statistical Probabilities and In the Pale Moonlight are predicated on the possibility that the Federation could believable lose this war. It would be a waste of energy, and a distraction, to spend time speculating on “what if.”

From a dramatic standpoint, it makes no sense to invest considerable effort in exploring what might happen in the fictional universe following the end of the Dominion War. The sixth and seventh seasons of Deep Space Nine are so firmly tied up in the Dominion War that it is impossible to get past that. Any audience member who has watched the sixth or seventh season understands that the end of Deep Space Nine must arrive intertwined with the end of the Dominion War; this is the story that Deep Space Nine is telling, and this is the story that Deep Space Nine must end.

“How long have you been sitting there?”
“Long enough.”

Ira Steven Behr acknowledged in The Fifty-Year Mission that, even though he knew it was time to end the show, there was certainly enough raw material to sustain the show past that limit of seven seasons:

Deep Space Nine could have kept going, but I kept saying, “Look, we’re greedy Americans and we’re never satisfied. We always want more. And I get that. But even is enough.” I really convinced myself of that. You know, how dare we be so greedy that we want more? But in actuality, we could have kept going. There were lots of places to go that would have been interesting. If we had done season eight, most likely it would have been the season that, given the time we would have been doing it, where a lot of fans would have thrown up their hands because we probably really would have gone for it in terms of continuing to question things.

It is possible that Behr was imagining stretching the Dominion War past the end of the seventh season, but it is also possible that Behr could have been imagining the possibilities of building a hypothetical eighth season off the back of the end of the Dominion War.

Warding off potential spoilers.

In some ways, Deep Space Nine was very lucky to end on this seventh season. The realities of television production in the nineties meant that writers and showrunners were rarely allowed to end their shows on their own terms. Networks had a vested interest in renewing successful and popular shows, which meant that any show that had a really good season was likely to get picked up for another go-round, no matter how tired the executive producers might have been.

Modern television affords producers greater freedom to end their television shows on their own terms, allowing writers to set the terms of their conclusion. During the nineties, a successful and long-running television show had to actually have a bad season and lose its core audience before it could be cancelled. Even then, cancellation tended to be announced at relatively short notice. As a rule, final seasons of television shows in the nineties tended to be bad, with no show retired at its creative peak.

Inside baseball.

As such, Deep Space Nine was afforded something of a luxury. The series had never performed particularly well in ratings, its viewing figured entering a slow and steady decline from the launch of the show. However, it was still relatively successful and insulated through the wonders of syndication. The show was not cancelled suddenly or euthanised quietly. It was never treated as a dead man walking. Deep Space Nine was allowed to run seven seasons before it was retired, much like the two other Star Trek shows with which it overlapped.

Deep Space Nine had a nice run of over one hundred and seventy episodes of television, and was allowed the time necessary to set its affairs in order. Deep Space Nine ended with considerable dignity. Notably, Deep Space Nine is the only series in the Star Trek franchise that took full advantage of this fact. Much of the seventh season season of Deep Space Nine was spent writing towards the ending of the series.

Cheers to that.

Everybody watching (and writing for) the seventh season of Deep Space Nine understands that this is the final season of the show. This is the end of the proverbial line. The production team are going to want to wrap up the show on a massive epic climax, to assure that the show ends with a “bang” rather than a “whimper.” These storytelling conventions mean that there is no real chance of Deep Space Nine wrapping up the Dominion War several episodes before the end of the year and spending a handful of episodes exploring the consequences of the conflict.

The end of Deep Space Nine is inevitably the end of the Dominion War. For the story to reach a satisfying conclusion, peace must arrive in What You Leave Behind. The advantage of having a feature-length finale means that the production team can at least front-load the conclusion, moving the end of the Dominion War towards the first half of the final episode. Still, that leaves just about enough room to explore the aftermath of the conflict in terms of individual characters and relationships, but no real opportunity to explore the political and social consequences.

Luther Sloan. Master of espionage.

Deep Space Nine has devoted a lot of time and energy to building a complex and multifaceted fictional universe, inhabited by tangible characters and populated by nuanced political entities. This world is so fascinating and so compelling that it is almost self-sustaining. Discussing his work on The X-Files, executive producer Chris Carter acknowledged that there came a point when the mythology was so interesting and rich that “these stories start to tell themselves.” If the world of a story is rich enough, it invites the audience to imagine it living on.

This is not an abstract observation. There is something of a cottage industry around extending Deep Space Nine past the events of What You Leave Behind. While Pocket Books have tried to push all of their tie-in lines forward past the canonical “last” stories featuring each Star Trek cast, their speculative eighth season of Deep Space Nine was the standard bearer for these lines. These novels have killed characters and resurrected characters, and made massive changes to the status quo, imagining a universe where things continue happening to these characters.

Getting into Bashir’s head.

When the production team reunited to produce the retrospective documentary What We Left Behind, part of the process involved bringing the writers back to throw around ideas for a hypothetical eighth season:

On top of that, Behr got some of the show’s writers together to workshop a planned eighth season, primarily the first episode, to see where the show would’ve gone after Sisko had joined the Prophets. Even though the show’s finale was near-perfect, closing many of the show’s lingering storylines, so many things could happen in the future. Would Kira and Odo ever be reunited? When would Sisko return, as promised, and would he be the same person he was before? Or is he basically full Space Jesus now?

None of this is to suggest that the series should have gone on for an eighth season. Seven seasons is a long time in television, and episodes like Prodigal Daughter, The Emperor’s New Cloak and Field of Fire suggest that the production team feel that strain.

Trial and error.

However, it is a testament to how thoroughly the production team have built up the world of Deep Space Nine, that it feels like it could sustain more stories and more ideas even without conscious sequel hooks or cliffhangers. This is part of what distinguishes Deep Space Nine from the other Star Trek shows. As the parody account demonstrates, any hypothetical eighth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation would likely continue the episodic surreality of the seventh season. It is almost impossible to imagine Star Trek: Voyager continuing past Endgame.

However, there are very real questions left dangling by the looming end of Deep Space Nine. What happens after the end of the Dominion War? Deep Space Nine has made a convincing case for the Dominion War as an epoch-shattering event, something that fundamentally alters the status quo of the shared universe. However the war ends, and the law of the shared universe suggests that a Federation victory is all but assured, there are going to be a lot of pieces left to be cleaned up.

“Who or what is a Neelix?”

Of course, the truth is that the end of the Dominion War is a logical endpoint for Deep Space Nine. One of the big recurring themes of the series is that history tends to move in arcs. The ending of the Dominion War provides a nice sense of symmetry to the series; Emissary had opened with Bajor in ruins following the Cardassian Occupation, while What You Leave Behind ends with Cardassia collapsed in the wake of a disastrous Dominion Occupation. The audience has already seen a version of that story.

Deep Space Nine has already spent seven years telling the story of a society recovering from cataclysm. The destruction of Cardassia provides an organic endpoint to the saga, almost inviting the audience to wonder about the inevitable mismatched team of Starfleet officers who will be assigned to Cardassia in the wake of this catastrophe, and the hurdles that they will face in trying to rebuild a culture in the wake of the atrocity. That story would look a lot like Deep Space Nine, but there is no real need for Deep Space Nine to repeat itself. This story has come to an end.

“Excellent.”

Of course, while stories end, the world goes on; even fictional worlds. Part of what makes Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges such a compelling penultimate episode is that it candidly acknowledges this previously unspoken truth. As the Dominion War rages, the great powers of the Alpha Quadrant must inevitably shift their focus away from the immediacy of this primal struggle for survival and towards the future. Bashir summarises this realpolitick to Sloan, early in the episode. “This war isn’t over and you’re already planning for the next.” Sloan approves, “Well put.”

Sloan has clearly begun the process of preparing for the mess that must follow this great conflict. “When the war is over, the following will happen in short order,” he advises Bashir. “The Dominion will be forced back to the Gamma Quadrant, the Cardassian Empire will be occupied, the Klingon Empire will spend the next ten years recovering from the war and won’t pose a serious threat to anyone. That leaves two powers to vie for control of the quadrant, the Federation and the Romulans.” This isn’t even long-term planning. It is medium-term planning, at worst.

Bashir is going to play ball.

This is the unfortunate political reality of war. Most major powers spend a significant portion of wartime making plans to seize the tactical advantage in the aftermath. As Carl von Clausewitz summarises in On War, wars might be read as expressions of political processes that flow both into and out of the conflicts themselves:

War is simply a continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means. We deliberately use the phrase, “with the addition of other means” because we also want to make it clear that war in itself does not suspend political intercourse or change it into something entirely different. In essentials that intercourse continues, irrespective of the means it employs. The main lines along which military events progress, and to which they are restricted, are political lines that continue throughout the war into the subsequent peace. How could it be otherwise?

In humanitarian terms, wars are horrifying and shocking and brutal. Deep Space Nine has made this case in episodes like The Siege of AR-558 and It’s Only a Paper Moon. For the individuals fighting them, wars are apocalyptic and all-consuming. However, for the political forces driving them, war is neither an interruption nor a conclusion.

“I proconsul you strongly against this plan, Sloan.”

Understandably, war tends to serve as the catalyst for major social and political chance. It is very similar to revolution. Its impact is perhaps more immediate and violent than famine or economic collapse. However, wars do not happen in isolation without reason or motivation. Even in the context of Deep Space Nine, the Dominion War did not happen in a vacuum. It was a process that built gradually from the introduction of the Jem’Hadar and the Vorta in The Jem’Hadar to the declaration of war in Call to Arms. War did not erupt randomly; it crept forward with inevitability.

Perhaps it is fair to suggest that wars accelerate political processes that are already in motion. The Russian Revolution was arguably sparked by the suffering and the humiliation inflicted by the aristocracy on the Russian people during the First World War, but was also fueled by generations of economic and social inequality. Part of Hitler’s policies were driven by fear that Germany was being outpaced as an industrial and economic power; in truth, the United States had eclipsed Germany at the dawn of the twentieth century, but the Second World War solidified it.

“Can we hurry this up? The Imperial Orchestra has booked this space for rehearsals from 2300.”

The Second World War radically altered global politics, upending the social order and dramatically changing the way that governments approached international relations. However, as Margaret McMillan argues, a lot of the trends that defined the second half of the twentieth century were already in motion before the war began:

The once great powers of Japan and Germany looked as though they would never rise again. In retrospect, of course, it is easy to see that their peoples, highly educated and skilled, possessed the capacity to rebuild their shattered societies. (And it may have been easier to build strong economies from scratch than the partially damaged ones of the victors.) Two powers, so great that the new term “superpower” had to be coined for them, dominated the world in 1945. The United States was both a military power and an economic one; the Soviet Union had only brute force and the intangible attraction of Marxist ideology to keep its own people down and manage its newly acquired empire in the heart of Europe.

The great European empires, which had controlled so much of the world, from Africa to Asia, were on their last legs and soon to disappear in the face of their own weakness and rising nationalist movements. We should not view the war as being responsible for all of this, however; the rise of the US and the Soviet Union and the weakening of the European empires had been happening long before 1939. The war acted as an accelerator.

Piers Brendon argues that the decline of the British empire can be traced back to the end of the eighteenth century. The United States had emerged as the world’s most powerful economy by the end of the nineteenth century. Of course, all of this assumes an Allied victory; historians like Richard Overy still argue that a German was possible. However, it is still an enlightening discussion.

Punchy historical summary.

Even allowing for the fact that the outcome of a given conflict is not assured, realpolitick dictates that a significant portion of any given conflict is devoted to planning for the aftermath. Sometimes that process involves planning for the next war. It has frequently been suggested that the seeds of the Cold War were sewn at the Yalta Conference, in discussions between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics over the fate of Poland when the dust settled. The Yalta Conference occurred in February 1945, three months before Germany surrendered.

Indeed, even following the German surrender, the United States immediately began the process of hoovering up talent that might be use during the now-inevitable Cold War with Russia. Operation: Paperclip began in May 1945, the same month that Germany surrendered. The United States smuggled scientists and war criminals out of Germany, believing they could provide vital scientific knowledge that would offer tactical and economic advantage in the wars to come. This would prove the cornerstone of the American space program. In its own way, the roots of Star Trek.

“I’m still a little annoyed you didn’t invite me to the baseball game. Trust me, you would have won.”

Perhaps this is the most cynical side of Deep Space Nine. A lesser story would treat the Dominion War as something that fundamentally altered the dynamics of the Alpha Quadrant as a whole. A more conventionally optimistic piece of Star Trek would use the story of the Dominion War to vow “never again”, to bring the Federation and the Romulans and the Klingons closer together, allowing the memory of all of this death and destruction to fundamentally change the underlying principles of the moral universe.

Deep Space Nine is too grounded in history and politics to buy into such an idealistic conclusion. The series is very much fascinated with the middle decades of the twentieth century, in terms of culture and in terms of politics. The series is fundamentally optimistic about people, but only to a point. In the world of Deep Space Nine, people can grow and learn and improve, but it takes time and hard work. Deep Space Nine refuses to believe that the fundamentals of human nature can suddenly and inexplicably change because people want to believe that they will.

The sleep of the just.

The First World War was supposed to be “the War to End All Wars”, but it was followed by the Second World War only twenty years later. The Second World War was immediately followed by the Cold War, which involved a series of proxy wars fought in various locations all over the planet. People looked at the horror of the holocaust and vowed “never again”; however, the world has stood by and watched ethnic cleansing continue to take place around the globe.

Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges suggests that the wheel will continue to turn after the end of the Dominion War, and that there are various political forces already trying to position themselves for the new world order. Julian Bashir finds himself recruited by Luther Sloan to gather intelligence on a trip to Romulus, information that might be tactically useful to the Federation. “You want me to spy on an ally?” Bashir asks. Sloan clarifies, “To evaluate an ally. And a temporary ally at that.” The more things change, the more they stay the same.

“I am also a bit disappointed that you didn’t invite me to the baseball game, now that you mention it.”

Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges suggests a return to the deep space cold war dynamic that has defined relations between the United Federation of Planets and the Romulan Star Empire since Balance of Terror or The Enterprise Incident. This makes sense. Any objective view of the relationship between those two powers over the course of the Star Trek franchise supports such an argument. Senator Cretak warns Bashir, “It may be impolitic to say this, but there are those who believe the alliance is merely a momentary truce.”

In many ways, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges is intended as a sequel to Inquisition. It reintroduces the character of Luther Sloan and the concept of Section 31. More than that, the episode is structured in such a way as to respond to some of the more pointed criticisms of Inquisition, and to reframe the moral dilemma at the heart of that episode. However, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges is also a very broad sequel to In the Pale Moonlight, offering a continuation of Deep Space Nine‘s exploration of the relationship between the Federation and the Romulans.

Cretaktful.

Star Trek has often struggled to properly define the Romulans. The Romulans were one of the very first “classic” aliens to appear on Star Trek, making their debut more than three months before the Klingons. However, the Romulans have been consistently underdeveloped and underexplored by the franchise. The Star Trek franchise has fleshed out aliens like the Klingons, the Ferengi, the Borg, the Cardassians, the Vulcans and the Andorians. However, the Romulans remain vague and ambiguous. They are largely defined as deep space cold warriors.

As such, the Romulans exist for stories where the production team need an iconic Star Trek villain, but without any baggage. While the primary villain of Star Trek: Nemesis was a faulty clone of Jean-Luc Picard, he was able to commandeer the Romulan Empire without any trouble. When JJ Abrams rebooted the franchise with Star Trek, he decided to pit Kirk and Spock against a crew of genocidal Romulan miners. These two feature films were clearly intended as “big” stories, but they the Romulans as little more than simple Star Trek iconography.

“Don’t worry, none of this will matter by the time that Tom Hardy shows up.”

Even Deep Space Nine has struggled somewhat to come up with an interesting approach to the Romulan Star Empire, as demonstrated by the episodes featuring the Romulans in the third season; The Search, Part I, The Search, Part II, Visionary, Improbable Cause, The Die is Cast. However, the series would eventually hit upon an interesting approach to the Romulans in In the Pale Moonlight, the episode in which Sisko and Garak effectively trick the Romulan Empire into declaring war on the Dominion.

The Next Generation treated the Romulans as a generic enemy, reintroducing them as a stalling tactic in The Neutral Zone at the end of the first season when the Ferengi had failed to click. The Romulans were perhaps an outdated counterpart to the Soviet Union, which was already in decline by the point at which they returned. On The Next Generation, the Romulans were defined by treachery and trickery; The Enemy, The DefectorData’s Day, Mind’s Eye, Redemption, Part I, Redemption, Part II, Unification, Part I, Unification, Part II.

“This isn’t the men’s bathroom at all.”

Indeed, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges makes a point to emphasise the gulf that exists between the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire. Repeatedly in the episode, Romulan characters grapple with esoteric human turns of phrase. This is not a trait specific to one particular Romulan character. Instead, it is presented as something of a cultural quirk. The universal translator allows the characters to understand one another in a literal sense, but Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges suggests that deeper meaning eludes these characters.

When Ross struggles with the Romulan ale, Bashir cheers him on. “Never say die.” Cretak is confused. “What an odd expression,” she muses. “What does it mean?” Later, Koval points out that Bashir’s stock “pleasure to meet you” is “like most human expressions, completely devoid of meaning.” Koval uses a human expression during the tribunal scene at the climax of the episode. Outlining Sloan’s motivations for this elaborate ruse, Koval explains, “In his eyes, the assassination of a Starfleet admiral was stepping over the line. Isn’t that the phrase?”

“Everything I needed to know about statescraft, I learned from Lethal Weapon II.”

In some ways, this fits with Deep Space Nine‘s recurring suggestion that there are limits to multiculturalism, an extension of the idea articulated in Chimera. More than any other Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine suggests that it is possible for societies to coexist while retaining their own distinct cultural values. However, Deep Space Nine also understands that there are certain barriers that exist, and that it may never be possible to completely integrate with and completely understand alien cultures.

Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges suggests that the Romulans retain a sense of “otherness”, despite having been around since the first season of the franchise. The Star Trek franchise is predicated on the idea of communication, the hope that different people can talk out their differences. Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges underscores the difficulty in communicating, even allowing for a plot device like “the universal translator.” It is possible for characters to understand another’s words, while still failing to grasp their meaning.

“Are you now, or have you ever been, a Rigellian?”

By the time of Deep Space Nine, the Cardassians had arguably replaced the Romulans as underhanded and untrustworthy opponents, as suggested in episodes like The HomecomingThe CircleThe Siege, Cardassians or Tribunal. The Romulans were largely redundant in that respect. However, as the production team started to add shade and ambiguity to the Federation in episodes like The Maquis, Part I, The Maquis, Part II, Homefront and Paradise Lost, the Romulans became a potentially more interesting alien species. Their redundancy became a compelling feature.

In the Pale Moonlight and Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges suggest that the Romulan Empire is actually not particularly good at being underhanded and untrustworthy, and not just because Jean-Luc Picard effortlessly exposed their scheming on a weekly basis. In the Pale Moonlight and Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges suggest that the Federation is just as effective at manipulation and counterintelligence as the Tal Shiar. In both episodes, the Federation successfully runs circles around the Romulan Star Empire, making Romulan politics dance to their tunes.

Make Romulus (interro)great again!

Both the title and the climax of Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges draw attention to this irony. Bashir quotes the title proverb at Admiral Ross, offering a paraphrased translation of a quote that Ronald D. Moore had pulled from a biography of Abraham Lincoln:

I first saw the quote as Inter Arma Silent Leges on the bookjacket of William Rehnquist’s new book on Lincoln and habeas corpus (which I didn’t buy, but might at some point). There it was translated as “In times of war the laws fall silent.” I really liked the quote and it happened to fit in perfectly with the Section 31 show was I writing. I then went to Joan Pearce, our research consultant on the show, for help with getting the quote right and she turned up Silent Enim Leges Inter Arma which she translated as “Laws are silent in time of war.” Based on my discussions with her, I discovered that the word order in Latin is flexible and that Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges was acceptable as was the translation “In time of war, the law falls silent.” I chose this title and translation because of word rhythm and dramatic construction. (The quote is from Cicero in Pro Milone Chapter Eleven.)

Bashir demands of Ross, “So is that what we have become? A twenty fourth century Rome driven by nothing more than the certainty that Caesar can do no wrong?” It is certainly an ironic climax to the episode, on multiple levels.

Succeeding through Shiar willpower.

Most obviously, there is the juxtaposition of having Bashir make this argument in orbit of Romulus. The Romulan Star Empire obviously owes a conscious debt to the Romans. Most obviously, they call themselves an Empire. Their twin homeworlds are known as Romulus and Remus. Their ruling body is the Senate. Their military ranks include the title “Centurion.” Their emblem is a bird of prey, recalling the use of the eagle in Ancient Roman culture. Bashir seems to suggest that the Federation has even usurped the title of “space!Rome” from the Romulans.

However, this clever thematic exploration of the redundancy (and ineffectiveness) of the Romulans as a twenty-fourth century “space!Rome” fits quite neatly with some of the more interesting interpretations of the Romulans over the course of the Star Trek franchise. Most notably, the Romulans have long been positioned as a conscious foil to the Federation, as a dark mirror of twentieth-century American values continued into the future.

Murder, he wrote.

The Federation is very much an extension of Kennedy era liberalism into the future, an extrapolation of the “new frontier” to the “final frontier.” It could even be argued that the franchise was “an embodiment of a particular American anxiety following World War II – the realization that they missed their chance to be an empire.” It is telling that the original Star Trek is populated by futuristic takes on the Roman Empire; Balance of Terror, Mirror, Mirror, Bread and Circuses. After all, a stock criticism of American policy is that it represents a new Roman Empire.

(In fact, Star Trek: Enterprise develops this core idea in a slightly different direction. While In the Pale Moonlight and Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges suggest that the Federation has rendered the Romulan Empire redundant, episodes like Babel One, United and The Aenar worry that the Romulans are perhaps a much more accurate extrapolation of twenty-first century American values than the Federation. Tellingly, that same season features the return of another space!Rome in the form of the Terran Empire in In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II.)

Section chief.

Deep Space Nine suggests that the Federation and Starfleet should represent a more accurate (rather than simply an idealised) projection of the United States into the distant future. The series has repeatedly undermined the suggestion that the Federation is a multicultural utopia, suggesting that it is a political entity motivated by its own best interests rather than any greater good. Deep Space Nine puts its faith in people rather than institutions, repeatedly suggesting that large organisations are frequently corrupted and self-interested.

Inquisition introduced the character of Luther Sloan and the organisation of Section 31. The idea was that Section 31 was a group of rogue Starfleet officers that operated outside the boundaries of the law, pushing further than any recognised Starfleet institution could hope to go. It was an interesting idea, if somewhat flawed. By making a point to position Section 31 outside of any hierarchy or structure, it was possible to insulate the Federation and Starfleet from criticism. If Starfleet and the Federation did not sanction these actions, they were culpable.

Never beaten.

To be fair to the production team, it is very clear that they wanted to use Section 31 to suggest that Starfleet and the Federation were not as idealised as many fans would like to believe. In The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, Ira Steven Behr seems to suggest that the team would never have been able to get away with an episode like Inquisition without a conceit like Section 31:

“Section 31 grew out of a line of dialogue in The Maquis, Part II,” Ira Steven Behr says, still intrigued by the subtext of the words he’d written in the second-season teleplay: “It’s easy to be a saint in paradise.”

“It came from my growing realization that that we could do more with the Star Trek franchise than we’d initially thought we could. It was the idea of culpability, the idea that we should avoid knocking the Federation and we should avoid knocking Starfleet, but we could knock elements of them.”

To hear Behr describe it, Section 31 seems like the product of compromise. It is as close to the Federation and to Starfleet as the writing staff could place this moral ambiguity, making it clear that the decision to place Section 31 outside the command hierarchy was not an attempt to insulate the Federation or Starfleet from criticism.

An admirable admiral.

Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges seems structured as a response to this potential criticism of Inquisition. It is an episode that very thoroughly explores the question of complicity and deniability, engaging with the idea that the existence of Section 31 allows Starfleet to keeps its hands clean. As a result, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges plays with the idea that Section 31 allows the production team to have their cake and eat it; to indirectly implicate Starfleet in horrible events without smearing any of the characters directly.

The relationship between Starfleet and Section 31 was only fleetingly discussed at the end of Inquisition, but the episode seemed to end with the implication that Sisko was plotting to expose and defeat Section 31. “We don’t have to find them, they’ll come to us,” Sisko promised Bashir. “And next time he asks you to join his little group, you will say yes.” It was a relatively optimistic ending, even if that optimism was heavily qualified. Inquisition suggested that Section 31 could be defeated and exposed.

(Star)fleeting morality.

Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges is a much more cynical piece of television, on multiple levels. Most superficially, even its closing scene rejects the token optimism of that discussion from Inquisition. In Inquisition, Sisko and Bashir seem to believe that they can outwit Sloan and lay bare his sins. However, the closing scene of Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges finds Bashir so exhausted and defeated that he cannot even try to hold Sloan to account. When Sloan leaves his quarters at the end of the episode, Bashir contacts Odo. He hesitates. He gives up. “Never mind. My mistake.”

More fundamentally, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges makes a point to insist that Starfleet is actively complicit and culpable in everything that Sloan has done. “Officially, Starfleet Command has said that they are appalled at the very notion that an organisation like Section 31 might exist, and that they plan to get to the bottom of this entire business,” Sisko assures Bashir early in the episode. However, he adds, “They have quietly pushed the investigation aside, which means either they don’t take Section 31 seriously or someone at Starfleet Command is protecting them.”

War of words.

Over the course of the episode, this implication ebbs and flows. At one point, Bashir comes to suspect that Sloan must have an accomplice working on the mission to Romulus. Ross suggests that it could easily be a Starfleet officer working on the Bellerophon. However, Bashir immediately counters that it could be a Romulan. Of course, Bashir is able to justify his supposition, but the speed with which he makes that leap suggests that Bashir would rather hope that Section 31 has not infiltrated Starfleet to that extent.

Indeed, Sloan conspires to craft a narrative for the benefit of Bashir that plays into that hope and that aspiration. Sloan weaponises Bashir’s assumption of a Romulan accomplice, using it to manoeuvre Bashir to ask Cretak to commit treason to smoke out that hypothetical accomplice. More than that, the cover story that Koval delivers at the climax of the episode is very consciously structured to allow Bashir to believe that Sloan and Section 31 exist at a remove from the Federation.

Imperial leather.

Koval argues that Luther Sloan is not the representative of some secretive cabal, but another in the long line of rogue Starfleet officers. Koval suggest Sloan was mid-level operative avenging the death of his mentor. “After Fujisaki’s death, he was confronted with a dilemma,” Koval explains. “How could he seek vengeance without violating the Federation laws? His answer was to invent Section 31, a rogue organisation that answered to no one. If they killed the head of the Tal’Shiar, Starfleet Intelligence would be held blameless.”

This cover story allows both Sloan and Bashir to have their cake and eat it. Sloan gets to be involved the manipulation of high-level Romulan politics without implicating Starfleet Command, while Bashir gets to believe that the Starfleet Command is in no way complicit with anything that has happened. It is a very clever piece of plotting from Ronald D. Moore, incorporating some of the external tension around the very existence of the concept of Section 31 into the narrative itself.

Speaking from experience.

Of course, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges is far too clever to use this “get out of jail free” card. In fact, the episode repeatedly makes it very clear that Starfleet is both culpable and complicit in the actions of Section 31. “Koval has been saying that there’s a traitor in the Senate, someone working for Starfleet Intelligence,” Cretak acknowledges. Bashir jumps in to correct her, “Section 31 isn’t part of Starfleet Intelligence.” Cretak is having none of it. “They are Federation citizens working to advance your interests.”

However, the real twist of the knife comes at the climax, when Bashir figures out that Admiral Bill Ross is complicit in this scheme. It is a big moment, largely because Admiral Ross has been consistently and repeatedly portrayed as an even-handed and well-meaning individual. Bill Ross seems like a fundamentally nice guy. He is a far cry from the stock “evil” admiral cliché like Mark Jameson or Norah Satie or Alynna Nechayev or Layton or Kennelly or Matthew Dougherty. Even in Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges, Admiral Ross never chews the scenery or has an evil monologue.

“How the hell do the Voyager crew keep the sets so clean?”

Ross supported Sisko’s plan to retake Deep Space Nine, leaving Earth exposed, in Favour the Bold. Ross presented Sisko with a medal of valour in Tears of the Prophets. Although initially eager to preserve his alliance with the Romulans, Ross ultimately sided with Kira when the Romulans began delivering weapons to their “hospital” on Derna in Shadows and Symbols. Ross even officiates at the wedding of Benjamin Sisko and Kasidy Yates at the climax of ‘Til Death Do Us Part. Ross is a good guy.

More than that, Ross is practically a boy scout. At one point in Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges, he gags while trying Romulan Ale. “Don’t tell me this is your first glass of Romulan Ale,” Cretak observes. “Well, it was illegal,” Ross offers by way of excuse. “That never stopped most of your colleagues,” Cretak muses. Ross concurs, “I know. I was probably one of the few officers in the fleet who didn’t indulge occasionally.” All of this contributes to the idea of Ross as a moral pillar, which makes his complicity all the more interesting.

Not a man you want to Ross.

Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges approaches Ross’ complicity in a number of interesting ways. Quite pointedly and quite cleverly, Ross repeatedly suggests that there may be Starfleet officers working with Section 31. Sisko and Bashir are reluctant to provide Sloan any assistance, but Ross convinces Sisko that this might be the best way to smoke out potential collaborators. When Bashir suggests that Sloan has an accomplice on the mission, Ross suggests that it could be a member of the crew.

While Bashir and Sisko both seem to struggle with the idea that any Starfleet officer could be complicit in all of this, Ross is able to imagine that possibility. It is a very clever way of seeding Ross’ eventual betrayal. Retroactively, it seems clear that Ross is extrapolating from his own experiences. However, even in the context of these original conversations, it seems clear that Ross is more pragmatic and cynical than Bashir. Ross has accepted that this is the way in which the world works, and uses this as the starting point of his own arguments.

Warped priorities.

More pointedly, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges makes a point to suggest that Ross is passively complicit in all of this. Ross’ biggest single contribution to Sloan’s master plan is what he doesn’t do. His greatest sin is a sin of omission. Ross never murders anybody, never destroys any evidence, never even directly interacts with Cretak or Koval or Sloan. Instead, Ross makes himself inaccessible to Bashir at a crucial moment. “When the time came to arrest Sloan, you conveniently had an aneurysm, leaving me alone with no one to turn to anyone for help except Cretak.”

In theory, Ross doesn’t actually do anything. He just stands back and allows events to run their course. He simply declines to stop Sloan. Of course, it is also entirely possible that Ross might have provided Sloan with information, but Bashir never really presses that point. On paper, Ross is no more complicit than any other member of Starfleet Command. He has done nothing worse than those officials who “quietly pushed the investigation aside” in the first place.

While you were sleeping…

However, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges allows Bashir to argue that Ross is still complicit. He might not actually do anything, but he stands by and allows it to happen. Bashir argues that this makes him culpable for everything that has happened. Ross might quote Cicero, but Bashir is very much channelling Edmund Burke. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Ross is a good man, and he did nothing. He is happy to profit from Sloan’s work, and willing to enable Section 31.

Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges makes it clear that Ross is guilty. Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges suggests that complicity is not limited to active participation. Those people who stand by on the sidelines and passively allow these horrors to happen share some sense of responsibility for whatever happens. A decision to look the other way, to passively disavow while actively encouraging, does not render a person inculpable.

The Bill comes due.

To be fair, the writing staff would argue that Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges does not go as far as it could in exploring this idea of culpability. Most notably, Behr reflected in The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, Bashir is allowed to remain relatively uncompromised:

“It’s an excellent show,” says Behr, “but it doesn’t have all the levels it should have. We thought we’d do a show about the compromising of Bashir. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do that. At the end, Bashir winds up making this angry, pointed speech to Ross, which is a lot less interesting than the situation at the end of In the Pale Moonlight. There a man is trying to deal with his own culpability. And this is a show that demanded, I felt, Bashir’s culpability. And he gets to walk away clean, with him being the one pointing the finger. It takes the show down a notch, and keeps it from reaching the level we wanted.”

This is a reasonable criticism. Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges allows Bashir to position himself as a force of moral righteousness, delivering an indignant condemnation of Ross’ collaboration. At the same time, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges is a fundamentally different episode than In the Pale Moonlight.

Bashing Bashir.

Most obviously, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges introduces shades of culpability for Bashir. Bashir is never directly culpable, or even indirectly culpable to the extent that Ross is revealed to be. However, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges suggests that he is in some tangential way complicit in all of this. Most obviously, Bashir willingly diagnoses Koval with Tuvan Syndrome, despite knowing that Sloan was likely to use this information against a political enemy. Of course, Koval is later revealed to be working with Sloan, but Bashir does not know this at the time.

The closing scene of the episode even goes so far as to suggest that, for all his bluster, Bashir has resigned himself to the existence (and inevitability) of Section 31. Mirroring Inquisition, the closing dialogue of Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges is a brief exchange between Bashir and Odo. However, the tone is more subdued. After Sloan leaves his quarters, Bashir reflexively contacts Odo to try to intercept the operative. However, Bashir thinks better of it. What is the point? Bashir might not be supporting Sloan, but he lacks the energy to make even token gestures against Section 31.

“To be fair, Senator, you’ve lasted longer than any of our other recurring Romulan guest stars.”

There is also a very faint implication early in the episode that Bashir’s research into biological weaponry might potentially be coopted for sinister purposes. At the conference, Koval directly confronts Bashir about the bio-weapon featured in The Quickening. Koval takes Bashir aside at the conference. “Can the Dominion’s Quickening virus be replicated?” Koval inquires. “Do you know how to introduce the Quickening into a population?” Koval takes a front row seat at the seminar on the disease. Bashir worries that Koval might be planning to use the virus as a weapon.

Of course, Section 31 is engaged in their own form of biological warfare, as later episodes of the seventh season reveal. Indeed, Bashir confronts Sloan about the engineering of such a weapon in Extreme Measures. Given that the weapon was originally designed to target Odo, and given that Bashir is the medical officer who has worked most closely with Odo, it seems highly likely that Bashir’s research has already been weaponised. Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges seeds the idea that, in his own way, even without realising it, Bashir is complicit.

Intelligence gathering.

At the same time, there is also some value in limiting Bashir’s culpability, in keeping him somewhat uncorrupted by Sloan. Bashir has always been the most idealistic character on Deep Space Nine, the most traditional Star Trek lead in the ensemble. There are various debates about how much or how little Deep Space Nine respected the utopian vision of Gene Roddenberry, but Julian Subatoi Bashir has always been the most Roddenberrian protagonist on Deep Space Nine. Tellingly, he was the ambassador to The Next Generation in Birthright, Part I.

Deep Space Nine has always had an interesting relationship with Bashir, one that mirrors its complicated relationship with The Next Generation. The production team frequently mock Bashir, pointing out how socially awkward he is and how privileged he is and how difficult it can be to get along with him; Sisko has no patience for his “prime directive” nonsense in Battle Lines, while O’Brien vary reluctantly warms to him in The Storyteller. Still, it is clear that Deep Space Nine has a respect and admiration for the optimistic humanism at the core of Bashir’s character.

Arch foe.

This is most obvious in the fourth season episodes focusing on Bashir. In Hippocratic Oath, Bashir and O’Brien argue about whether they can trust the Jem’Hadar. O’Brien adopts a cynical position, contending that the Jem’Hadar are little more than animals. Bashir argues that the Jem’Hadar could be redeemed if they were freed of their addiction to ketracel white. Bashir’s optimism is ultimately vindicated when Goran’Agar decides to release his captives as the platoon descends into chaos, proving that there is such a thing as a good Jem’Hadar.

Similarly, Our Man Bashir is an episode that begins with Garak eagerly deconstructing Bashir’s romantic fantasies about espionage work, with Garak arguing that real spies understand that tough moral compromises have to be made. Bashir reject’s Garak’s glib cynicism, and goes on to save the lives of everybody trapped in the holosuite. In The Quickening, Bashir meets a seemingly insurmountable hurdle when he tries to cure a deadly disease infecting a planetary population. He chews himself out for his arrogance, but eventually manages to cure the culture’s children.

“So… see you at the wedding the week after next, then?”

These episodes tend to follow a familiar pattern. Bashir is optimistic in outlook, attacked by more cynical characters, but is ultimately either vindicated or manages to make a substantial difference. In many ways, Bashir is the moral compass of Deep Space Nine, the most idealistic member of the primary cast. Bashir gets significant focus in the teaser of A Time to Stand, to demonstrate the toll that the war has taken. More tellingly, Bashir is the only member of the primary cast to actively push back against Sisko’s moral compromises in In the Pale Moonlight.

Indeed, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges is notable as the only episode of Deep Space Nine that actually compromises Bashir, even indirectly. Sloan effectively weaponises Bashir’s basic decency to entrap for Cretak. “We needed somebody who wanted to play the game, but who would only go so far,” Sloan explains. “When the time came, you stood your ground. You did the right thing. You reached out to an enemy, you told her the truth, you tried to stop a murder. The Federation needs men like you, Doctor. Men of conscience, men of principle, men who can sleep at night.”

A Star (Empire) turn.

It is debatable whether Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges would have been improved by actively compromising Bashir even further. It feels like the episode makes its point, demonstrating that Section 31 prevails not only through the indifference of good men like Bill Ross, but through manipulating the idealism of heroic figures like Julian Bashir. The manipulation of Bashir is more effective, and more unsettling, for the fact that Bashir is so vigourously opposed to Section 31. Even his anger and outrage mean little when confronted with men who would use his basic decency for their purpose.

Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges is a powerful and thoughtful piece of Deep Space Nine. It is another underrated seventh season episode, and the perfect way to set the table for the epic that will follow.

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4 Responses

  1. Another great review Darren. This one is a personal favourite – as I’ve said before I’m a big Bashir fan.

    Regarding the ineptness of the Romulans at the espionage business I really like the idea that their own xenophobia and isolationism that trip them up constantly. It is very difficult to imagine a Romulan spy chief trying to mentally put themselves into human or Cardassian or Klingon shoes.

    • Thanks Ross. This is also one of my favourites. It’s a Romulan episode, a Bashir episode, and a Ronald D. Moore episode. How could I not love it? As much as I like Inquisition, this is the much smarter episode, I think. In large part because it actually unpacks what Section 31 is beyond “kinda, but not technically, Starfleet’s Tal’Shiar.”)

  2. “Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges” was one of the few Season Seven episodes that I actually had a chance to watch way back when it first aired. Watching the entire season a few months ago on Netflix, this episode definitely held up very well. It was a genuinely suspenseful, twisting, unnerving story.

    It’s interesting how well Julian Bashir worked once the writers & producers decided to pair him up with his ideological opposites, or put him in situations that challenged his worldview. Garak and Sloan both very much tested Bashir’s optimistic utopianism. Bashir actually comes off looking much better from his encounters with both men. Rather than looking naïve or ineffectual, Bashir’s unwillingness to compromise his lofty ideals & principles becomes admirable.

    (It’s quite appropriate that the events of “The Quickening” are referenced in this episode, since that was another story containing grim events which challenged Bashir’s worldview, and that saw him rise against adversity.)

    Ross’s motivations in this episode for helping (or at least turning a blind eye to) Section 31 are actually somewhat understandable, since he was present when Cretak snuck missiles onto Bajor’s moon, hiding them in a hospital facility. Ross knows that Cretak will, in the end, be first & foremost loyal to the Romulan Star Empire, that she will conceivably screw over the Federation and its allies once again if she thinks it is in the best interest of her people. However, I think some of the impact of this is lost due to it being over a dozen episodes since we last saw Cretak, and having her played by a different actress. You could be forgiven for thinking this was a brand new character.

    I suppose there is a certain cruel irony in that Cretak apparently escaped unscathed from her plot to sneak missiles onto Bajor’s moon, but here she is completely ruined for actually attempting to do the moral thing and save the life of a political rival.

    Another thing I noticed… Koval is played by John Fleck, who also appeared as a Romulan in TNG episode “The Mind’s Eye.” I’m a bit surprised that “Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges” didn’t cast Fleck as the same Romulan. Just imagine how much more of a gut punch that would have been for the audience, having the Federation betray the morally ambiguous Cretak in order to protect the Romulan who once tortured & brainwashed LaForge.

    (I wonder if Koval could have been the informant in the Romulan High Command who Admiral Pressman refers to in “The Pegasus.”)

    By the way, I’ve always thought it was a bit of a shame that we never got to see Garak meet Sloan. I really wonder how that would have gone. Sloan appears to completely buy into his rhetoric that he is a noble patriot committing necessary evils to protect the Federation, whereas Garak is far enough removed from his time in the Obsidian Order (as well as possessed of enough introspection & self-loathing) to recognize that he was never a hero. It could have been interesting to see these similar-yet-different covert operatives would have reacted to one another.

    • That’s a very good point about Ross and Cretak, and the way in which Image in the Sand and Shadows and Symbols might have played in his decision making. And I completely agree it’s a shame that Sloan and Garak never got to cross paths. Garak even appears in the teasers to two of the three Sloan episodes, but nothing comes of it.

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