"Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges"
Review by Dr Lense
For the last couple of seasons it seems as though the episodes featuring Bashir have been some of the most thought-out, thought-provoking, and just plain enjoyable episodes of the series. "Our Man Bashir", "The Quickening", "Dr Bashir I Presume", "Statistical Probabilities", "Inquisition" -- you get the picture. In addition Bashir has played a major role in some of the other really fine episodes of the last few years. "Nor the Battle to the Strong" and "Purgatory/Inferno" certainly come to mind.
"Inter Arma" absolutely falls into the first catagory. This episode plays like the “Bashir Show”; the good doctor is set adrift on his own and forced to be a pawn in someone else's power play. Although Bashir is unable to foil Sloan's plans, he at least is smart enough to figure them out. Solid writing, great acting and terrific plot twists all make this episode one of the best of the season.
But what is most fascinating about "Inter Arma" is the conflict between the stated goals of the Federation and the means by which Section 31 goes about protecting those goals. A parallel can be drawn between this conflict and the conflict between the stated goals of the "Roddenberry" version of Trek and how today's Star Trek writers go about expanding and explaining those goals. There have been many debates on Posting Boards and newsgroups throughout the internet about whether the Dominion War would be approved of by The Great Bird himself, and whether present Trek is even related to the goals of The Original Series.
Bashir is the perfect Roddenberry idealist. As Sloan says, he is a good man, and the kind of many that typify Federation ideals and values. He values all life and has risked his own life on many occasions to save others. He honestly believes that as an individual he can change the universe; and in "Inter Arma" he tries to improve the relationship between the Federation and the Romulans so that he can save a Romulan life. This belief and idealism makes Bashir predictable, and allows Sloan to play him like a drum. Sloan knows how Bashir will react before Bashir knows himself, and he uses that knowledge and Bashir to further his own ends.
The Roddenberry Ideals in Trek, as mostly exemplified in The Original Series and a bit in The Next Generation, also lead to predictability. In the first two shows Roddenberry did not allow for any internal conflict between the crews. Characters were at all times polite to each other (with the exception of the sniping between Spock and Bones) and did not really get into arguments. Men and women live in peace, there is no war, there is no money and no greed, and Starfleet is dedicated to exploration for exploration's sake. Since conflict cannot be internal it must be external: and this leads to what we have come to know as the Stardard Trek Clichés. Like Aristotle's Nine Plots, they crop up everywhere. Spatial Anomalies trap the ship and require improvised technobabble. Aliens possess the crew (one of the few times where internal conflict can occur). Crew members are unjustly imprisoned. Crew members crash on alien worlds and must fight to survive. Crew members have one-shot romantic relationships with aliens. Ship and crew are caught up in the politics and problems on hostile (or friendly) alien worlds. There is a conflict regarding the application of the Prime Directive. There is an Awesome Threat to the Federation.
Although many of these plots have led to the some of the best episodes in Trek, most of them have been overused. Later Trek writers, like Ron Moore and Brannon Braga and Michael Piller and Ira Steve Behr have attempted to explore the conflict inherent in the ideals of the Federation and its citizens. The very premises of Deep Space Nine and Voyager exemplify that conflict. The very idea of the Maquis, that the Federation might not hold the moral upper hand, does go against Roddenberry's original ideals, but it also makes for superior drama.
The character relationships on Deep Space Nine have always been complex. From the first episode it was clear that most of the characters were on uneasy footing with each other, and in some cases simply did not get along. Learning to trust each other has been a series-long commitment that the writers have done their best to uphold. In addition, the very setting of DS9 has led to a creation and application of plots outside the Standard Trek Clichés. DS9 does not boldly go, it boldly stays. It is easy for the Enterprise to uphold the ideals of the Federation when it is rarely in one spot for long. Ben Sisko and his officers are charged with the day-to-day realpolitik of applying the Federation Ideals to a non-Federation planet, and seeing what happens. The conflict between Sisko's responsibilities as the Emissary and his responsibilities as a captain are also played out beautifully. Kirk and Picard were occasionally revered as religious figures, but certainly not over the course of seven seasons. The complex interactions between Federation Ideals and Bajoran Religion is a big part of what makes Deep Space Nine so fascinating.
Like Sloan and Section 31, DS9 and the Dominion War are probably not pure Roddenberry Trek Idealism. Yet they make for more compelling viewing and a more compelling examination of that idealism. Sloan validly challenges Bashir's ideas of right and wrong, and forces him to examine how far he would go to protect those ideas. In life our values are most often not challenged by Spatial Anomolies and Being Possessed by Alien Intelligences. They are challenged by our interactions with others and our own applications of those ideas in everyday life. Roddenberry Trek is a wonderful place to start from, but it has to be taken further if we truly want to explore the universe and ourselves.
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