When Starfleet interrogates the crew in a search for a potential Dominion spy, Bashir emerges as the most likely suspect.
Plot Summary: As Bashir is about to leave for a medical conference, officers from Starfleet’s Department of Internal Affairs arrive to investigate a possible Dominion operative on DS9. They confine all senior officers to their quarters, refusing even to let them use their replicators. Deputy Director Sloan asks Bashir a few friendly questions about his time as a prisoner of the Dominion, during which time Bashir discovers someone has searched his quarters. O’Brien then warns the doctor that Sloan seems to be investigating him, after which Bashir is subjected to several hours of questions about whether the Dominion persuaded him to help them end the war quickly, just as Bashir suggested along with the genetically enhanced patients he brought to the station and gave access to classified materials. Sloan suggests that Dominion torture broke Bashir and forced him to repress his memories of being a spy; he mocks Bashir for believing his enhanced brain makes him smarter than Starfleet Intelligence. When Sloan has Bashir locked up, Sisko initially objects, then comes to agree that the doctor’s poor judgment in trying to cure Ketracel-white addiction and recommending surrender to avoid a protracted war, along with his cover-up of his genetic enhancements, may mean that Bashir cannot be trusted. While Sloan demands a confession, Bashir is beamed onto a Dominion ship, where Weyoun takes credit for rescuing him and insists on helping Bashir recover memories of spying that Bashir insists he doesn’t have. The Defiant rescues him, yet Bashir discovers that even Dax and Kira now believe he may be a traitor. He asks O’Brien for help only to discover that O’Brien no longer remembers having the shoulder injury that Bashir recently treated. Insisting that this couldn’t be O’Brien, Bashir finds himself on a holodeck with Sloan, who announces that he now believes Bashir is telling the truth and invites Bashir to join Section 31, a secret division of Starfleet Intelligence. When Bashir declines, he is knocked out and finds himself back on the station, where Sisko – who never noticed his absence since he believed Bashir had gone to the medical conference – says that there is no trace of Section 31 in Starfleet records, though Starfleet does not deny its existence. Bashir agrees that if they try to recruit him again, he will accept and investigate.
Analysis: Except for Alexander Siddig and William Sadler’s performances, I hated everything about “Inquisition” when I first saw it, and although I can’t deny that Section 31 became an interesting plot device as the Dominion War progressed, my initial reservations about it have not changed. This setup is so clumsy that I still keep expecting it to be a parody – a holographic spy program gone wrong, a sequel of sorts to “Our Man Bashir.” In this post-9/11 Department of Homeland Security world, I have an easier time believing in Section 31 than I did when I first saw “Inquisition” in 1998, when the concept of the agency seemed anti-Star Trek; indeed, for several people commenting in the bulletin boards at the time, “Inquisition” along with the next week’s episode “In the Pale Moonlight” (in which Sisko participates in an assassination) were their breaking points with the series, since their philosophy seems so much in opposition to Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future. I’m less certain that a Section 31 is an impossibility in the DS9 universe – it would explain how Admiral Leyton got as far as he did with his plans to turn Earth into a police state, for one thing – but as a retconned addition to canon, this top-secret division sure seems incompetent. Where were they when Kirk had to stop an assassination at the Khitomer Accords? Where were they when Picard discovered worm-eating conspirators among Starfleet’s elite? The idea that they’re too secret even for Starfleet Intelligence to know about turns Section 31 operatives from plausible characters into vigilante conspirators. This is comic book stuff, not serious science fiction. The fact that they do all their work on Bashir with smoke and mirrors, using holograms to recreate people he works with while taking neural readings to see whether he’s telling the truth, just makes it sillier. Though how seriously can we take the Massive Dominion Threat To The Federation Way of Life when Bashir can cruise from the station to a pleasure planet for a medical conference, anyway? The idea that a Starfleet officer who’s been on the front lines can travel to a world Dax cited recently as a honeymoon destination makes it seem less plausible that the war is affecting life in the Federation overall.
Some of what Sloan says about the need to violate the very ideals they’re trying to protect makes a perverse kind of sense even looking at Picard’s behavior with the Borg, though it sounds chillingly like certain US leaders’ rationale for torture justified by national security. Kirk didn’t hesitate to violate procedure when he felt a larger threat had to be contained, and Bashir isn’t exactly a by-the-book kind of officer for all the reasons Sloan cites. It’s true that, when his questionable decisions are listed one after another, one could start to wonder why Bashir’s still at his post – not just lying about being genetically enhanced, letting other genetically enhanced people analyze Starfleet data and pushing their conclusions on dozens of trained experts, trying to cure the addiction of rather than escape from the Jem’Hadar, suffering from PTSD after weeks of being imprisoned by the Dominion in circumstances that nearly cracked a Klingon – at least until one remembers that he’s working with the Prophets-possessed Emissary, a former Bajoran terrorist, a Klingon who recently chose his wife’s life over crucial Starfleet intelligence, a security officer who used to work for the Cardassians and is related to the Dominion’s Founders, et al. If Kirk’s brand of unconventional thinking is valued by Starfleet, then DS9 should be their top think tank, not a rogue group of Starfleet agents, the sort who might hatch and execute a scheme like exterminating the Founders. For such a group to have been established when the Federation was founded means, in essence, that everything we’ve been told about the Federation charter is built on a lie. Look at the thugs who do Sloan’s dirty work – even if we only see holoprojections of them, we’re led to believe that they play mind games, refusing to feed their subjects, violating their subjects’ privacy, calling their subjects traitors. Bashir is denied food, sleep, legal counsel; he is told that he has to be stressed out for an accurate reading of how he behaves under pressure. It may not be waterboarding, but for someone who’s already been a prisoner of the Dominion, it could do lasting psychological damage.
And we never get a good answer to “why,” not even later on when Bashir will go into Sloan’s mind to find a cure for the Founders’ disease. Is it true that Sloan has a personal stake in the war because his son was killed when the Dominion attacked the Seventh Fleet? Bashir learns the information from a false projection of Sisko; for all we know at this juncture, Sloan invented it to rationalize his behavior. It seems that Bashir’s genetic enhancements are the reason Sloan believes Bashir might be an exceptional operative, yet it also seems that Sloan resents those enhancements and believes that Bashir’s attempts to hide them make Bashir both arrogant and untrustworthy. Sloan must know enough about Bashir to know that the doctor will tell his captain about Section 31 the moment he’s back on the station, and must know enough about Sisko to know that Sisko won’t let it go after a couple of non-replies to queries to Starfleet. What does it say that he uses exactly the same sort of false-reality scenario that the Founders themselves used when the Federation first discovered them, forcing the crew to live out a Dominion invasion to see how they behaved? To me it suggests that the line between living under the Dominion and living under a Starfleet dominated by Section 31 is very thin. Then there’s the fact that, despite having Bashir under surveillance for months, Sloan’s people don’t know about the very last thing Bashir did before preparing to leave for the conference: treating the shoulder injury of his best friend in the galaxy. Since Sloan knows enough to pretend to interrogate O’Brien, even to let faux O’Brien send Bashir a secret message once the scenario begins to unfold, you’d think Sloan would know enough to follow their interaction more closely. Maybe Sloan is smart enough to know he does need someone like Bashir, whose enhanced brain is more likely to remember important details like these. Bashir is at least smart enough to know that, while he may enjoy playing out spy scenarios with Garak (whose absence as a sounding board in the denouement is a deep loss), he’s both ideologically and temperamentally unsuited for a job doing the real thing.