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Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges

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WARNING: In times of war, the DS9 spoilers fall silent -- but I'm not at war, so spoilers ahead for "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges."

In brief: A little empty at times, but generally solid work.

Brief summary: Bashir is once again contacted by Section 31 and sent on a mission to gather intelligence on Romulus.

It's a little hard to characterize "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges." On the one hand, if you're a fan of espionage and the moral state of the Federation, this episode's got it all: plans within plans, feints and counter-feints, mysterious collapses, overruled orders, holier-than-thou speechmaking, and a sense that at least one group has begun to think past the war to its aftermath. On the other, a few of the plans seem a little ill-founded, some solutions are puzzling, and there isn't nearly the character work that there could be given this scenario. "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges" is clearly a net win, but one that could have been stronger.

As our story begins, we find that many characters are headed for an upcoming conference on Romulus: Admiral Ross and Romulan Senator Cretak are both going there to discuss the war effort, and Bashir is headed there himself to talk about Dominion biogenic weaponry. Garak expresses a hope that Starfleet Intelligence is sending someone along covertly to keep tabs on the Romulans, but it appears to be just a hope -- until, of course, Bashir's "good friend" Sloan arrives from Section 31 in the middle of the night to tell Bashir that "Section 31 has an assignment for you."

Section 31, for those playing without their scorecards, is a shadowy, semi-rogue operation functioning from within Starfleet but not bound by their rules. According to Sloan (who from appearances seems reasonably high up in said organization), Section 31 protects the Federation and its ideals from those who would see the Federation fall -- but according to Bashir and other "civilized" people, Section 31's goals are undercut by its methods.

That ends-versus-means debate is an interesting one, and for a good portion of the episode it's one that mostly goes unspoken. Early on, the viewer is supposed to take it as a given that Section 31 is composed of Bad Guys [TM], and the focus is on Bashir: he takes Sisko's advice (which is itself based on the advice of Admiral Ross) to continue to the conference as planned, carry out his mission, then reluctantly "join" Section 31 in the hopes of being able to bring it down from within. While I found it doubtful that the ever-amateur agent Bashir would have much chance of succeeding, I also could understand why there wasn't all that much choice involved.

En route to Romulus, we find that Sloan has finagled himself a position as part of the diplomatic delegation; despite Bashir's growing concern that something big is afoot, he continues on as planned. Before long, Bashir finds himself discussing various higher-ups in Romulan politics, with particular emphasis on Koval, the head of the Tal Shiar. Sloan takes a particular interest in Koval, and seems to especially want any chance of Koval joining the Continuing Committee taken away with all deliberate speed.

Despite the fact that Koval is appropriately anti-Federation in sentiment, it was about here that warning bells started going off in my brain. Sloan and Bashir have argued before about Section 31's methods, as alluded to here with Sloan's nice line, "I'll spare you the ends-justify-the-means speech, and you spare me the we-must-do-what's-right speech." Given those past differences, however, I found it very hard to believe that Sloan would be as up-front about his intentions with Bashir as he seemed to be here. My own suspicions aren't the problem here, however; Bashir's apparent lack of them are. Bashir certainly says he's going to take Sloan's claims with a grain of salt, but we never get a sense that he does anything but accept Sloan's stated goals here. That rankles a bit.

[I also wondered why Sloan came along personally rather than sending a subordinate; more about that later.]

As subsequent events suggest that Sloan is going to try engineering Koval's assassination, there's a very real question about whether he'll succeed. Precisely because Bashir is so naive when it comes to this kind of mentality, it's pretty clear that he's being duped -- the only question is whether he's being manipulated to help the assassination or whether there's a more overriding goal. Certainly, the stakes are raised when Admiral Ross collapses at his desk, reportedly with an aneurysm; suddenly, Bashir is cut adrift with nowhere to turn. [I rather wondered about Ross's collapse; I knew he wasn't being killed off, as I know he shows up in later episodes down the line. I didn't know exactly what was being planned here, though.]

Naturally, then, he turns to Cretak, the only friendly Romulan he knows and the closest thing to an ally he has. At this point, my internal warning bells were sounding an alarm loud enough to wake the dead -- but for the wrong reasons. I assumed that Sloan had anticipated this, which was true -- but I'd assumed that Cretak was in on the plot, not that she was its target. Perhaps I was just more obtuse than usual (it wouldn't be the first time), but so far as I can tell the episode had fairly nice misdirection here.

After this, Bashir is pushed a little too far by Sloan and winds up being caught by Koval. We see a brief unsuccessful interrogation sequence (made substantially more chilling by those who remember John Fleck's role as Geordi's brainwasher way back in TNG's "The Mind's Eye"), and then Bashir is brought before the Continuing Committee as part of an investigation into Senator Cretak's conduct. There, he tells the Committee the truth, only to find that much of what he knows is wrong: there is no Section 31. Sloan is a lone nut formerly with Starfleet Intelligence, who was distraught over the perceived murder of his mentor and has tried to get revenge on Koval ever since. This is confirmed by a very beaten and a very captive Sloan, who nonetheless wrestles free and is disintegrated while trying to kill Koval one last time. Bashir is released to his ship, while Cretak is removed from the Senate pending further punishment.

It was here that I began to have more serious problems with the episode. I didn't particularly think we as viewers were meant to buy the "lone nut" story -- even though we've been asked to swallow some reasonably odd things at times, this didn't match the ominous tones usually bedecking Section 31. On the other hand, I was reasonably certain that someone was supposed to believe it; whether that someone included Koval wasn't clear, but obviously this had to be for someone's benefit, presumably the Continuing Committee's. I don't really think they have much reason to believe it, however; considering how paranoid Romulan society evidently is, accepting a story this elaborate at face value strikes me as dubious, especially when the only evidence for said story is vaporized by the one telling it. I'm pleased that not everyone took it at face value, but it disturbs me somewhat that the heads of Romulus are shown as this dense. (In particular, if we were supposed to take it as legit even for a moment, someone as dangerous as Sloan should never have been brought in under as little restraint as he was.)

On the other hand, the final scene between Bashir and Admiral Ross (looking quite hale and hearty for a man with an aneurysm) helped things immeasurably. It certainly brought all the details of Sloan's plan into focus: essentially, the goal was to protect the Federation/Romulan alliance by protecting Koval, a Federation mole, even at the expense of current ally Cretak. More importantly, however, the scene made it clear just how out of his league Bashir was. When the very people he's turning to for advice are in league with "the enemy," Bashir was lost from the start -- and the episode certainly succeeded in making that point.

The scene also brought the "ends vs. means" argument home in a different way than usual. Admiral Ross is not some random black hat like Sloan -- he's someone we've seen working with Sisko repeatedly ever since the war began, and someone who, while a bit hidebound and dull, has always seemed to be on the side of the angels. Seeing that Ross himself can believe, at least slightly, in the tenets of Section 31, and manipulate allies for the sake of "protecting" the Federation in the long term makes the situation a little more questionable. Does Ross (and thus, by extension, Sloan) really have some points here? Is it worth subverting the Federation's overt statements in this manner if the goal is saving Federation lives? I don't really have any answers here, but the episode deserves credit for muddying the waters. (The only real thing undercutting the scene here is that Barry Jenner, amiable as he is, doesn't have the power to carry off this kind of conflict as well as he might. He looks and sounds too much like everybody's Uncle Lou, I think.)

In a lot of ways, then, "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges" succeeded quite well. I had a few problems with people being too gullible, particularly when the gullible people weren't named Bashir, but nothing I couldn't live with for the most part. What's more, in Sloan's predictions of what will happen after the war we're left with some interesting ideas and (more importantly) an acknowledgment that this war won't last forever. I'm guessing that it will last through the series finale, and in some ways that's a pity, as I'd like to see a little bit of focus on the aftermath, but at least someone's started thinking about the future.

And yet ... I'm left disappointed in some ways by what the episode didn't do. After Sloan and Section 31 were introduced in "Inquisition" last season, I mentioned that a followup we really needed was something between Bashir and Garak. In a case like that, I'm not entirely sure which side Garak would take -- as "[[In the Pale
Moonlight]]" and many other episodes have shown, he's not particularly picky about the means he uses to achieve his ends -- but he would be a marvelous person to either sympathize with Bashir's plight, provide a non-villainous counterpoint to Bashir's claims of rightness, or potentially both at once. As it is, we got a brief scene with Garak, but one which did nothing more than set the stage a little bit; the standard "my friend the doctor is way too trusting" bit really isn't enough here, considering what we're about to see. A coda with Garak would have been quite helpful.

I'm also a little nonplussed if it turns out that this is all we get addressing the issue of Section 31. We may not see Sloan again before the series ends, but it's a given that we'll see Admiral Ross -- and given his involvement here, something following this up really needs to be shown. Between Ross, Admiral Dougherty from "Insurrection," Admiral Leyton from a few years ago, and a hell of a lot of other admirals we've seen lately, I have a growing sense that Starfleet is somewhat rotten at the core -- that the Federation is becoming, as Bashir put it, "a twenty-fourth-century Rome." I may be in the minority in this, but personally I wouldn't mind at all seeing a few episodes devoted to cleansing the Federation; then again, perhaps the idea is to leave that for Voyager. (Not a happy thought, that.)

Other thoughts:

-- Praetor Neral, formerly Proconsul Neral, is someone we've seen before: he was conspiring with Pardek and Sela to invade Vulcan in TNG's "Unification." (Given the events of that episode and Neral's apparent youth in it, however, I have pretty serious doubts about Neral being this old and this powerful.)

-- Given that Neral was mentioned, it seems a shame not to have dropped Spock's name somewhere. Is he still around?

-- A lot of good use of Bashir's experiences in "The Quickening" here.

-- Barry Jenner (Ross) needs to work on his Latin diction; his pronunciation of the episode's title was absolutely atrocious.

-- I was sorry to see Adrienne Barbeau (Cretak) take Megan Cole's place in the role; Barbeau was fine, but Cole had a certain dignity and presence as a Romulan which Barbeau lacked.

-- I wonder how many of Sloan's predictions (Dominion forced home, Cardassia occupied, Klingons licking their wounds and out of action for ten years, Federation vs. Romulus for the Alpha Quadrant) are likely to pan out.

-- I wonder if naming Bashir's ship the Bellerophon was intentional symbolism. Bellerophon, for anyone interested, attempted to capture Pegasus and was killed after overreaching himself. Considering that the last time Ron Moore showed an admiral scheming against Romulus outside the law was TNG's "The Pegasus," I have to wonder.

-- I could have done without Sloan disappearing from Bashir's quarters without a trace; I had echoes of "M*A*S*H"'s Colonel Flagg in my head insisting that he had to appear and disappear "like the wind."

That should wrap things up, I think. "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges" was disappointing in spots (partially, I'm sure, because at this point we all want everything to be perfect and complete), but it was definitely an interesting way to spend an hour. It's worth your time, to be sure.

Summing up:

Writing: The plot was mostly plausible and definitely twist-filled; characterization felt thinner than I'd have liked.
Directing: Nothing on the level of "The Mind's Eye" (Livingston's signature show, at least to me), but solid.
Acting: Jenner was a bit off the mark, but Siddig and Sadler were both quite fine.

OVERALL: 8. Not perfect, but certainly worth spending the time.

NEXT: Reruns for a few weeks, then the final sprint to the finish line. See you then.

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) <*>
"You are a man who loves secrets -- medical, personal, fictional. I am a man of secrets. You want to know what I know, and the only way to do that is to accept the mission."
-- Sloan

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