Narrative Obtrusions and Accepting Responsibility in Deep Space Nine’s “In the Pale Moonlight” and Enterprise’s “Damage”
There is a highly reasonable, shared pattern of reluctant leadership for Captain Sisko and Captain Archer between the Deep Space Nine episode “In the Pale Moonlight” (1998) and Enterprise’s “Damage” (2004). Captain Archer tells Dr. Phlox, amid almost complete destruction of the Enterprise, “I’m about to step over a line. A line I thought I would never cross. And given the nature of our mission, it probably won’t be the last.” This sets a parallel for the damage to the ship; the coronary damage to the vessel, the damage to T’Pol’s body and mind from the trellium d addiction is representative of the damage to Captain Archer and his crew’s values as they embark on robbing the Illyrian ship. This damage is the destruction to all our vessels; those spacefaring as well as the bodily vessel in T’Pol’s case.
There is really only one narrative obtrusion, or rationalization given that excuses the deed in the eye of the viewer. That is the fact that Degra and the Amphibians have left Archer strict instructions that they only have three days to conference with them, and potentially stop the Xindi plan to destroy Earth. Not only is this a powerful narrative obtrusion, it is a mighty motivator in the distress of the moment to take any action to accomplish their goal. The Illyian captain (played by Casey Biggs who also appears as Damar in “In the Pale Moonlight”) confronts Archer as the last of the boarding party is leaving the Illyian ship, “You’re stranding us three years from home. Why are you doing this?” Archer responds, “Because I have no choice.”
No choice. The episode is structured in such a way that it is difficult to disagree. The Enterprise’s warp coil could not be repaired. Trip stated that it has to be replaced, but they did not have the parts. The Illyian warp coil was easily modified to help get to the crew to the rendezvous with Degra at a warp 3.2. To have missed the conference would not only mean missing the best chance they have had so far to save Earth, but additionally, the entire region as the expanse would have eventually grown and allowed the transdimensional being to destroy all the planets in the larger system. Archer said he has no choice and afterwards Trip assures him that he “did the right thing,” but there is an element of a forced hand. There was no correct way forward, but only the achievable way forward. Ideally, after Earth was saved another ship, if not Enterprise herself, should have returned to the expanse to assist the Illyian crew and provide them with a warp coil. I do not believe they are ever mentioned again.
This toxic forced hand, moving behind Archer enveloping these decision-making motivations and vulnerabilities is also behind Captain Sisko in “In the Pale Moonlight.” For both Archer and Sisko they successfully avoid blaming fate. They take responsibility for their own actions, their own course of action, and their own will to power to make the choices that alter the lives of others. When Grathon Tolar attempts to murder Quark and Sisko finds himself bribing Quark not to press charges, Sisko felt the pause of the forced hand giving way, allowing room for Sisko to escape from this strategy to bring the Romulans into the war on the side of the Federation. Captain Sisko remarked in his now deleted log,
“That was my first moment of real doubt, when I started to wonder if this whole thing was a mistake. So I went back to my office, and there was a new casualty list waiting for me. People are dying out there every day. Entire worlds are struggling for their freedom and here I am still worrying about the finer points of morality. No, I have to keep my eye on the ball, win the war, those were the priorities, so I pushed on and every time another doubt appeared before me I just found another way to shove it aside.”
Captain Sisko passionately wants “the finer points of morality” to win over in this negotiation to manipulate the Romulans, but he understands the “conscience of one Starfleet officer” is a small price to save millions of lives with the help of a new ally. Of course, it is not just his conscience that is sacrificed in this scheme. It also costs the lives of Grathon Tolar and Senator Vreenak, in addition to the Romulans who accompanied the Senator. The narrative obtrusion offered in this plan to force the Romulans into the war is the narrative prop of the casualty report that is repeatedly posted by Benjamin Sisko. That reminder of the constant cost of war is an aesthetic for the yearning for justice, closure, and swift peace. The Romulans offer that hope. Therefore, Sisko’s actions can be understood by the viewer. The viewer is further justified to play a supporting role because Starfleet Command gives their approval for Sisko’s (really, Garak’s) plan.
The primary difference is there is no dissenting voice offered to Sisko. There is only Garak coercing him into his stationed role. In fact, even when Sisko seeks counsel from Jadzia Dax, she reinforces that the Romulans will not waver without proof. However, in “Damage” T’Pol does over a passionate disposition of voluntary disobedience to the entire concept of abandoning moral authority for the sake of victory.
T’Pol proclaims, “We are no different than the marauders that attacked us when we entered the expanse”
“We’re a lot different,” Archer responds
T’Pol continues, “By stealing their warp coil we could be condemning them to death” […] We can’t save humanity without holding on to what makes us human. Those were your words to me.”
“I’m no happier doing this than you are, but we’re not going to make a habit of it,” states Archer.
“Once you rationalize the first misstep it’s easier to fall into a pattern of behavior,” T’Pol warns.
T’Pol is speaking here not only with moral authority, but also as the voice of experience. Her trellium d addiction was a misstep she rationalized that became a pattern of behavior. She fears, fear intensified while experiencing withdrawal symptoms, that this will be the new Enterprise. She fears, while at the edge of madness and overwhelming emotions, this is the new frontier for humanity.
All the warnings that Vulcans have issued for Humanity not to enter the galactic neighborhood too soon are becoming realized for T’Pol in this moment as having been reasonable after all. She was among the few Vulcans, felt that Humanity was ready and they were unfairly judged by the majority of Vulcans, but in this panicked moment she feels the esteem of her heritage that humans offer only more darkness to the established galactic discourse. She is also reflecting what for Archer and Sisko is the problem of too much empathy. In these scenarios that empathy must be drowned out for reluctant reason or a greater empathetic cause. Or, so it seems from the perspective of creative leadership.
This discourse, however, is not what is maintained by the Enterprise. Against all odds, she is a ship of arrival; arrival to a new pact of commonality and shared concerns. In a twist, Captain Sisko repeats the line “I can live with it” to his personal log before instructing the computer to delete his confession. “I can live with it,” Sisko offers. Here, like Archer, Sisko is removing the forced hand of fate from this narrative of forward movement. He instead accepts responsibility as a token behavior to the response given to an experienced officer who must move with and aside the forces that wish to control, intervene, and establish its own rule. No, Sisko proclaims. I will live with it. No, Archer commands. I will honor the lives lost so far so that no more will be sacrificed and we will build a common language with our neighbors.