Because of the collaborative nature of television writing rooms, as well as the fact that most of Deep Space Nine's episodes had two writing credits, and often more, it's difficult to pinpoint aspects of the series that are purely of Moore's invention. There are, however, exceptions. The more overt militarization of Starfleet--the introduction of Starfleet marines in "Nor the Battle to the Strong," the morale-building ceremony of displaying the Defiant's spent phaser fuel cells in "Behind the Lines," the stream of war-movie clichés in "The Siege of AR-558"--almost certainly originated with him. It's an approach that doesn't sit too well with Deep Space Nine or Star Trek in general. There are thirty years of backstory, all telling us that Starfleet is a peaceful, exploratory and peacekeeping force, to contend with, and it's a little late in the game to posit the existence of jarheads in Starfleet uniforms. Battlestar Galactica, on the other hand, took this approach to its logical conclusion by positing a genuine military in space, all but identical to the real (American) one Moore trained for. By the same token, the total absence of SFnal explanations for even the most important and puzzling of Galactica's technological puzzles, such as the nature of the human-form Cylons, is almost certainly a response to Star Trek's over-reliance on technobabble.
And then there are episodes in Deep Space Nine's run whose themes so closely resemble Battlestar Galactica's that they beg a comparison. At the top of the list is "The Darkness and the Light," in which members of Kira's resistance group are killed off one by one by a Cardassian maimed in one of their attacks. It's not a great episode--it is unfortunately undone the moment the villain makes his appearance and turns out to be a third-rate Buffalo Bill clone--but it does have some great moments. It's a fantastic Kira episode (and we'll be discussing it some more when we talk about her), as well as being the first time in nearly a season that her and Odo's friendship feels like just that, and not unrequited love on his part and obliviousness on hers. Most importantly, "The Darkness and the Light" faces head on the ugly truth of what Kira did during the occupation, and her attitude towards those actions. When she's captured by the killer, and confronted with the fact that the attack that maimed him, a non-combatant, also killed the entire family of the Cardassian official she was aiming for, a furious Kira can only spit out
None of you should've been on Bajor! It wasn't your world. For fifty years you raped our planet and killed our people. You lived on our land and took the food from our mouths, so I don't care if you held a phaser in your hand or ironed shirts for a living. You were all guilty and you were all legitimate targets!You watch an episode like this and you just have to ask yourself--where did that courage go? How is it that when he got the chance to tell his own story, on a show so much less interested in comforting and reassuring its audience, Moore followed up "The Darkness and the Light" with "Occupation"/"Precipice"? There isn't a single minute of Galactica's third season premiere that comes close to the searing honesty of Kira's tirade. At best, we have Tigh's rant when Roslin questions his methods
You see, little things like that, they don't matter anymore. In fact, not too frakking much really matters anymore. I've got one job here, lady, and one job only. To disrupt the Cylons. Make them worry about the anthill they've stirred up down here so they're distracted and out of position when the old man shows up in orbit. The bombings, they got the Cylons' attention. They really got their attention, and I am not giving that up. ... You know, sometimes I think that you've got ice water in those veins, and other times I think you're just a naive little schoolteacher. I've sent men on suicide missions in two wars now, and let me tell you something. It don't make a Godsdamn bit of difference whether they're riding in a Viper or walking out onto a parade ground, in the end they're just as dead. So take your piety and your moralizing and your high-minded principles and stick 'em someplace safe until you're off this rock and you're sitting in your nice cushy chair on Colonial One again. I've got a war to fight.But all it does is offer excuses and make Tigh look deranged. In fact, that's all "Occupation"/"Precipice" does, and all it's interested in--that moment when we realize the people we're rooting for are No Better Than the Enemy. It's trying to alienate us from the show's main characters. "The Darkness and the Light" does something much harder and much more subtle. It takes a character we love and admire, not least because of her staunchly moral character, and has her express abhorrent opinions. And it does so in such a way that, at its end, we still love and admire the character, and are still abhorred by her opinions. Instead of alienating us, it draws us in. Instead of searching for that moment of disorientation when the moral high ground is snatched out from under us, it focuses on the hours, days, weeks, months and years we're going to spend trying to reconcile two irreconcilable notions. It's almost impossible to believe that the same person is responsible for both stories. (Of course, it's possible that Bryan Fuller, currently of Pushing Daisies fame and credited for the story on "The Darkness and the Light," has something to do with it.)
All that said, there is one crucial difference between "Occupation"/"Precipice" and "The Darkness and the Light" that may explain the former's failure and latter's qualified success. On Deep Space Nine, unlike Battlestar Galactica, the enemy can be killed, and using terrorist tactics against them actually makes sense. Which brings me, once again, to what I believe is Deep Space Nine's greatest strength--the integrity and complexity of its invented world, and the fidelity that almost all of its stories keep with it. If terrorist tactics hadn't made sense as a tool for Bajorans to use against the Cardassians, I don't believe Deep Space Nine's writers would have used them.
Because the show always prioritized its internal universe over real-world parallels, it's impossible to pin Deep Space Nine down to a single interpretation. "The Darkness and the Light" is almost certainly recalling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but in "Duet," the occupation is likened to the Holocaust, with Kira's interrogation of a suspected war criminal recalling similar interrogations of former Nazis in the 50s and 60s. In "Past Prologue," meanwhile, the strained relationship between extreme and less-extreme resistance groups recalls the situation in Northern Ireland. From the Cardassian point of view, the occupation of Bajor has parallels with the American presence in Vietnam, especially when it comes to Ziyal's difficult situation as a mixed-race child. On the other hand, Cardassian attitudes toward the Bajoran's have the hint of colonialism about them, and most particularly of Apartheid, and I think there's an argument to be made that Dukat's fraught relationship with the Bajorans is reminiscent of the slave-owner, who hates his slaves because he sees hatred in their eyes and knows that he deserves it, and punishes them for his depravity. The Vedek who kills herself in "Rocks and Shoals" to protest the Dominion's occupation of Bajor is probably a reference to the self-immolating monks in Tibet, and the notion of 'comfort women' for the Cardassian occupiers, which is introduced in "Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night," as well as the Bajorans' disdain for them, is probably derived from similar attitudes during Nazi occupation of European countries, and in fact that entire episode has undertones of Vichy France. And then there are episodes, like "Cardassians," which tell stories that could never have occurred have on Earth, but are entirely organic to the show's setting.
The result of Deep Space Nine's broad spectrum of political references is not merely to strengthen the show's fictional setting, but to render it universal and extend its relevance, so that a show written in the early to mid-nineties still has something important to say about the present-day political landscape, in spite of the upheavals it has undergone over the last decade. In fact, in some cases, Deep Space Nine is even prescient. "The issue is not if there are Founders on Cardassia," Worf darkly pronounces when Gowron uses that excuse as a justification for declaring war in "The Way of the Warrior," and then goes on to explain that the Klingon empire is simply eager for conquest. Is it truly possible that this episode was written in 1995? Well, of course it is, because 9/11 isn't the root cause of the current political climate, nor did it erase everything that came before it. The questions that plague us today--how to balance security with a respect for human rights, how to protect ourselves against a virtually unstoppable form of warfare without losing our civil liberties, how to respect other cultures without losing sight of the values central to ours--were just as prevalent, in slightly different forms, ten and fifteen years ago. That's easier to notice on Deep Space Nine, which never ripped its storylines from newspaper headlines.
In a comment to one of the previous posts in this series, it was suggested that the reason Ron Moore did better work on Deep Space Nine than he's been doing on Battlestar Galactica is that in the earlier show he had someone to hold him back, and most especially, that he needed the underlying niceness of Star Trek to counteract his tendency to wallow in darkness and grimness. Looking back on some of my criticisms of Battlestar Galactica over the last few years, it occurs to me that I've frequently taken the show to task not for being too dark but for not being dark enough--for suggesting darkness, such as when Adama almost assassinates Cain or the humans almost unleash a plague on the Cylons, and then backing down from it. One of most shocking realizations during my trip back to Deep Space Nine was that, judging the two shows on the basis of actions taken in the political sphere, not whether the main characters screw around or drink too much, Deep Space Nine is by far the darker series. Sisko actually does countenance the assassination of a foreign head of state. The Federation, or a body acting on its behalf and whose actions it retroactively validates, does infect an alien race (who are not, as far as we know, bent on destroying humanity) with a potentially genocidal virus. The terrorist attacks Kira and other resistance members carry out do kill and maim innocents and non-combatants, none of whom can download into a new body, and including, almost certainly, children. Deep Space Nine isn't as unremittingly grim as Battlestar Galactica, and its greatest flaw was its failure to posit long-term consequence for the events of episodes like "In the Pale Moonlight" or "Hard Time" (not that Galactica has been that great about exploring the consequences of its standalone episodes), but ultimately it is the braver show, perhaps because it had the strong foundations of the Star Trek franchise to stand on.
And there, I think, is the secret of Deep Space Nine's success as political fiction. It borrows and steals elements of political disputes from all over the world and most of the last century, but ultimately the stories it tells are universal. It references the real world, but remains rooted in its own universe. It tells stories in which the main characters do terrible things, but never seeks to undermine the core morality of its setting. Balance. I've said already that Deep Space Nine succeeded because it was conventional and, in some ways, hidebound, because it never sought to burn brightly and transcendently. Nowhere is this truth more evident than in its political writing.