the story: Bashir is courted by the rogue Starfleet intelligence agency Section 31.
what it's all about: Dating back to Next Generation's first season, conspiracies have as much cache in Star Trek lore as they do society in general. That season saw "Coming of Age," where the command staff is interrogated for reasons that become clear in the later "Conspiracy" (pretty obviously titled, right?). Then there was "The Drumhead," which saw Picard grilled before a tribunal concerning his experience being assimilated into the Borg Collective. The later "Voyager Conspiracy" (which was a Voyager episode, naturally) was a lighter episode in the tradition. Deep Space Nine gave us "Whispers," in which we're led to believe there's a conspiracy being woven around O'Brien.
"Inquisition" trumps all of these. And quite easily, too. It's an iconic episode almost because of the introduction of Section 31 alone. I was part of a Star Trek web community for years that was named after the off-the-books organization, and when the original owner of the site walked away, another community eagerly snapped up the URL. Section 31 showed up in Enterprise and then Star Trek Into Darkness. It had become a touchstone element of franchise lore.
What makes its introduction so brilliant is that it ties together a lot of previously random and even quite inexplicable series lore relating to the character of Bashir, such as his experiences in "Hippocratic Oath," and the time we learned he'd been replaced by a changeling doppelganger. This is probably as thorough a character study as any series in this franchise has ever attempted.
But yeah, it boils down to the fascinating Section 31, and Luther Sloan, its signature enigmatic agent, a character who only needed to make a handful of appearances to solidify a huge reputation in Deep Space Nine. This was one of two hugely successful attempts late in the sixth season, back-to-back, that plumbed the new darker tone established by the onset of the Dominion War. At this point, it almost wasn't even the war itself that helped redefine the reputation of the series, but the new depth of storytelling it allowed. The other episode is "In the Pale Moonlight."
"Inquisition" goes out of its way to soften its impact, reminding fans that Bashir was always obsessed with spies (citing his James Bond holosuite programs: "Our Man Bashir"). Left conspicuously absent is Garak (he'll factor brilliantly into "Moonlight"), but it does feel right for the good doctor to finally get a taste of the real stuff he previously only daydreamed about. It might be called irony.
- franchise - The introduction of Section 31, thereafter a pivotal piece of the Star Trek landscape.
- series - Redeems a lot of previously questionable creative choices.
- character - A deep look at Julian Bashir.
- essential - Brings everything to a whole new level.
William Sadler (Sloan)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)