Mark Watches ‘Deep Space Nine’: S06E18 – Inquisition

In the eighteenth episode of the sixth season of Deep Space Nine, this show continually fucks me up. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.

Trigger Warning: For consent and gaslighting.

My gods, THIS SHOW, Y’ALL. There’s a willingness here to cast Starfleet in a negative light that shocked me, and I think that’s why my brain could not handle most of this episode. It just felt impossible. Surely, Starfleet couldn’t be this bad, right?

In hindsight, this episode is just so relentlessly brutal that it’s easy to understand why I was so affected by it. Michael Dorn’s directing is fierce, relying on close shots that spell out Julian’s horror and fears to the audience, then alternating to wide shots that reveal that horror to us. I’m reminded specifically of one moment: that scene on the Holodeck Defiant where Julian realizes that what he’s experiencing isn’t real. The camera lingers on his face as he puts the pieces together, as O’Brien’s expression is dead and lifeless, and then that wide cast to the whole crew, all of them turned to stare at Julian with nothing on their faces, and it’s fucking horrifying.

As it should be! As far as I’m concerned, Michael Dorn took the script by Bradley Thompson and David Weddle and exploited it for the nightmare fuel that it is. It is a chilling example of gaslighting, since Sloan deliberately twists reality so as to make Julian question his perception of his own life. He posits another reality and then inserts it into Julian’s, and he does so BY KIDNAPPING JULIAN FOR DAYS AT A TIME AND MAKING HIM THINK A HOLODECK SIMULATION IS REAL. Not just any holodeck simulation, but an alternate reality wherein he was broken by Weyoun and became an unknown in spy for the Dominion.

The more I think about it, the more it makes me want to shrivel up and disappear. For what it’s worth, the script and Dorn’s directing do not portray this entire experience as a positive thing. Julian questions his own sanity because of Sloan’s persistent torment. And the worst part is that, given what I saw on the screen, I started to panic that Sloan’s version of the truth was real. That scene onboard Weyoun’s ship was so upsetting because… oh my god, what if Julian had been dissociating every time his conscious mind remembered what had been done to him? What if Sloan was biased but correct? The possibility was too awful for me to consider, and yet, there it was, as plain as day. Julian was a spy.

This was an engaging and thrilling story all by itself, but the final couple scenes are where Deep Space Nine takes their own show’s mythology to a new level. Over the course of this show, we’ve seen examples of the writers taking risks with Roddenberry’s vision. Starfleet and the Federation are usually painted as the victors or the morally superior force in the world. Sure, there were moments to the contrary on The Next Generation, but nothing like what we’ve seen on Deep Space Nine. Yet “Iniquisition” posits that from the very beginning, Starfleet has not been as squeaky clean as it’s portrayed itself to be.

I find this invigorating, at least because of what it says of an organization created by humans during a time when all of their prejudices and biases were not yet rooted out of them. Section 31 may have had a different purpose back at the inauguration of the Federation and Starfleet. Okay, but two hundred years later, how is Section 31 still operating? How many mistakes have they made? How many people were utterly ruined by the torturous trials they were put through just to demonstrate their “loyalty” to Starfleet? Because Julian is most definitely not a spy, and Sloan’s little test proved that. But what if he’d defected in the holodeck because of the extreme pressures that Sloan had put him under? What if he gave up and made a confession not out of a need to tell the truth, but exhaustion? Are the means justified then?

I’m horrified by the unchecked power Section 31 has, and yet, I feel like it makes Starfleet all the more human. Like the groups namechecked by Odo at the end of the episode, perhaps humanity and the Federation aren’t as prejudice-free as they’d like to believe themselves to be. Perhaps they always have been willing to sacrifice the values they claim to uphold, as long as only a select few are sacrificed for the greater good. And isn’t that precisely what Sloan believes? He argues for the greater good, making a false equivalency by comparing Julian’s lies about being genetically enhanced to CLANDESTINELY KIDNAPPING, TORTURING, AND GASLIGHTING COUNTLESS PEOPLE FOR THE GREATER GOOD. Sorry, dude, they are most definitely the same.

Wow, I am so disturbed by this episode. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS SHOW. Everything, which is why it rules so much.

The video for “Inquisition” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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