When we talk about shows we love, it’s usually more in general terms—an overall quality, a favorite season. But what’s a single episode that you can go and revisit over and over again, regardless of its place in the rest of a show’s continuity?
Although it is admittedly rooted in a rather involved storyline for Deep Space Nine’s latter seasons, for me it would have to be “In the Pale Moonlight,” the sixth-season entry which might be one of the morally darkest Star Trek episodes ever made. I loved it the first time I saw it, and I’ve rewatched it over and over again since, even when I’m not actually watching any other episodes along with it.
For those unfamiliar, during the back half of Deep Space Nine, the Federation finds itself in a costly war with a faction of aliens from another quadrant of space called the Dominion. “In the Pale Moonlight” sees Captain Sisko (Avery Brooks) wrestle with his personal ethics and the tenets Starfleet holds dear, as he engages in a duplicitous plot that would being the shadowy Romulans into an alliance with the Federation, a valuable ally in a war that is on the brink of wiping the Federation out full stop.
It’s practically a bottle episode. Most of the main cast of the series outside of Sisko and the delightfully assholish Garak (Andrew Robinson) barely appear. When they do it’s in flashback, as part of the episode’s framing conceit that Sisko is recording a personal log in his quarters recounting the events for himself and the audience. But it’s one of the most compelling explorations of the lofty ideals behind not just Starfleet, but Star Trek as a whole.
Brooks turns in an incredible performance, fully of fury and passion about the bad things Sisko is complicit in—and the ideals he had to sacrifice within himself to help protect them for the rest of his crew and the Federation at large. Star Trek shows since have tried to critique the ideals of the franchise in similar ways, but never quite as brilliantly as Deep Space Nine does in this single episode.
Do you have a standalone episode of a show like that? What is it that brings you back to re-watch it—is it the plot, is it a particular performance, is it a certain sequence that you love? As always, tells us in the comments. And bring clips! We could all do with some excellent TV to watch every once in a while, anyway.