One of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s defining episodes owes a major part of its success to late night drinks.
In the controversial and critically acclaimed hour “In The Pale Moonlight,” which turns 25 this month, Captain Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) struggles to justify the moral and ethical compromises he made to trick the Romulans into joining Starfleet. to join their war against the Changeling. guided rule.
The stakes of the episode couldn’t be higher. And the only thing harder than the toll Sisko’s lies take on him was figuring out the structure for this out-of-the-box episode, one in which Sisko seemingly breaks the fourth wall as he writes a personal log straight into the camera, detailing the chain of events that led this once self-respecting officer to find solace in the bottom of a bottle.
According to DS9 writer Ronald D. Moore inspired A Night of Drinking for his uncredited rewrite of Michael Taylor’s original teleplay, in which Sisko’s confessionals are woven around a compelling conspiracy fomented by our hero. Plus one of them Star TrekThe Most Compelling Hours was born.
For the 25th anniversary of “Pale Moonlight,” Moore and Taylor hooked up The Hollywood Reporter for an interview about the making of this classic episode, the differences in Taylor’s first story, and the episode’s controversial ending.
“We were all a little stunned about what to do with the story,” Taylor says THR. The writer, who would later go on to work on Moore’s Battlestar Galactica reboot, then a freelance writer was assigned this episode. A fan of history and spy literature in general, Taylor did some research and unlocked a core piece of the story.
“The Zimmerman Telegram was something that was sent to get (the United States) into World War I,” explains Taylor. “It was a coded telegram sent by the Germans to Mexico offering an alliance, in case the US entered the war.” But Taylor had a twist on the idea: “What if this message was faked to get us into the war? What if Sisko did something similar and was behind a fabricated counterfeit?
In the episode, Sisko teams up with exiled Cardassian spy-turned-station tailor Garak (Andrew Robinson) and conspires to create a mock holographic presentation featuring Dominion figureheads plotting to attack the Romulans. to fall. With Garak’s help, Sisko extracts an alien counterfeiter from a Klingon prison to fabricate this fiction. If it works, the Federation can turn the tide. If it fails, Sisko’s trickery will have forced the Romulans to join the Dominion and likely defeat Starfleet.
Taylor’s first story – just like his last DS9 script, the classic episode “The Visitor” – centered on Sisko’s son, Jake (Cirroc Lofton), who was a budding reporter for the Federation News Service.
“It would be about how Jake would find out his dad is up to something with Garak, and father and son would disagree,” Moore recalled. “And (the writers) felt it was wrong to have those two in conflict. We were so deep in the Dominion war at the time, and to put Jake at the center of it, as I recall, just felt like the wrong impulse.
Before that, the original premise – which was inspired by the Gulf of Tonkin incident that brought the US into the Vietnam War – also focused on Jake. In this version, Jake “Watergating” saw a highly regarded Bajoran figure, First Minister Shakaar. If Jake revealed the secret about Shakaar’s past, it would rock all of Bajor – so Ben Sisko would step in to prevent his son from sharing it. But the DS9 writers room, led by showrunner Ira Steven Behr, couldn’t crack that version either.
In the end, the team focused on Sisko drawing one of the Federation’s greatest foes into battle.
Depicting Stafffleet captains in such a way had never been done before due to Trek boss Rick Berman’s often strict enforcement of creator Gene Roddenberry’s views on how the franchise’s heroes should behave. The Dominion war that dominated the past few seasons DS9‘s run was also a heavily serialized arc, which was a rarity on TV at the time – especially on march. Fortunately, with Berman and the higher ups somewhat distracted by another march series, DS9 could get away with it.
“I think (‘Pale Moonlight’) has kind of slipped between two stools in terms of a lot of focus on TravelerMoore recalls.
The writers chose to break the story again and put the focus on Sisko. Scripting duties landed on Moore.
“We struggled with it because it wasn’t quite clear what the show was or what worked,” says Moore.
In this new version, Moore knew he wanted Sisko to work with Garak on a plot to bring the Romulans to the front lines. Moore would then make a series of escalating compromises that Sisko would make in his efforts to save the galaxy through continued warfare.
The beats on which Sisko recounts his recollection of the events directly on camera were Moore’s addition. As is a scene where Sisko and his science officer and trusted friend, Dax (Terry Farrell), role-play a hypothetical debate between the Federation and Romulans. Here, Sisko sides with Starfleet, Dax the Romulans, as the two discuss the barriers to the “what if” scenario Sisko considered, one he was willing to put into action – based on a lie – if it meant that the amount of Federation causality reports.
“The audience needed to understand so many aspects of the Dominion War – who the players were and what the state of play was. And I remember when I first wrote it, I struggled with how to get all this exposure to the public,” Moore says of figuring out the role-playing scene, which served to explain those details.
From there, Sisko sets his plan in motion and it’s a series of clandestine deals with individuals like the station’s most nefarious resident, Quark (Armin Shimerman), that require the Captain to peel back layers of his moral armor. By the end of the episode, Sisko has shed most of his uniform to expose his soul. That choice, Moore recalls, came from that night of drinking.
“It came in the same sort of ‘let’s do it all in flashback’ kind of epiphany. Because once I had that framework, it pretty much defines everything within the (delivery) structure. So the whole thing about taking the clothes off, I don’t remember where that came from, but it was a great metaphor for the whole thing,” says Moore. “And as I went through the script in that context, I knew that every scene in the past was a step to hell for Benjamin Sisko, because he was already in hell to begin with.”
Sisko’s personal hell only deepens when the Romulan politician seeking Sisko, the icy Vreenak (Stephen McHattie), arrives at DS9 in a cloaked shuttle. The miniature special effects used to depict Vreenak’s arrival were a memorable part of the episode for Moore.
“That shot wasn’t meant to cut costs or anything like that. It was just meant to be a cool effect to see a ship unmasked in the landing bay.”
Shortly after reviewing Sisko and Garak’s “evidence” that the Dominion intends to violate their non-aggression pact with the Romulans, Vreenak realizes it is fake. He then threatens to go back to Romulus and pass on the higher Sisko’s treachery. But thanks to Garak, Vreenak’s shuttle explodes off-screen – unbeknownst to Sisko – and the Romulans believe the Dominion is responsible. Prior to Vreenak’s passing, Moore originally intended for audiences to spend more time with the pivotal figure.
“There were some small scenes that were cut due to time and budget that had more to do with the Romulan shuttle and its explosion. I think I wrote some scenes that were actually on the shuttle, and you saw more of how the plot played out. I think in a conversation with Ira I realized that you really didn’t need it at all. And he was right.”
After Vreenak’s death, Sisko confronts Garak in his tailor shop with some punches – which Moore saw being filmed when he went to the set. At the end of the episode, Sisko gets his wish – the Romulans join Starfleet in battle – and the beleaguered captain admits on camera that he can “live with it”. Moore remembers being prepared to have a big fight with Berman over that non-Roddenberry ending.
“That was what worried me most about big fights with Rick. I knew this was a dark journey into the soul for our leading man. If there was any kind of discussion about it, it was pretty quiet and it just blew over. And I don’t even think there was much fighting. I think (Rick) didn’t like it. I don’t think it’s his favorite episode. But that’s what it was all about for me.”
Sisko actor Brooks was also apparently on board with the places this atypical episode took its iconic character.
“I think he embraced the complexity of it,” says Moore. “I think he really appreciated stretching and pushing the character.”
Taylor also appreciated the places the final episode, and its visual tone, took Sisko.
“I remember seeing it for the first time, in a hotel room, on some kind of trip — and it just really had that dark, noirish feel to it,” says Taylor. “It embodied an aspect of Deep Space Nine for me – as a fan and as a casual freelance contributor – that was the ability and willingness to create stories in a way that was more realistic. … now we see the growth of that further in a sense Star Trek: Picard (season three). I really enjoy watching it, and I don’t know if you would ever have seen stories like that without Deep Space Nine, or without this episode to take that first step.