the story: Bashir is tricked into working for Section 31.
what it's all about: "In times of war, the law falls silent." This is kind of a cult-within-a-cult-within-a-cult sort of deal. If Star Trek became a cult sensation, and Deep Space Nine became a cult sensation within a cult sensation, then "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges" became the episode that was the cult within the...well, you get the picture.
In the preceding season, "Inquisition" introduced Luther Sloan and the concept of Section 31, Starfleet's answer to the long-established Tal Shiar of the Romulans and Obsidian Order of the Cardassians, a secret spy organization subject to no one and capable of anything. It was itself a classic piece of work, and yet it's an achievement that pales in comparison to "Silent Leges," the episode that perhaps crystalizes the Deep Space Nine approach to the franchise.
This was always a series that took a different look at the lore, a more nuanced one, that dared to suggest there was more to Gene Roddenberry vision of a utopian future than met the eye. While attending a conference on Romulus, Bashir is confronted with the idea of Section 31 all over again, and he becomes determined to expose it. Except he doesn't take into account just how clever it really is, and that's what's so special about the episode, really, how it takes what was always one of the hallmarks of Star Trek and turned it on its head, the idea that geniuses could work miracles. The miracle of "Silent Leges" is that it explains how and why Section 31 exists, as a support structure for Starfleet's highest ideals.
In these days of constant revelations about what real world organizations like Section 31 have been up to, it's hard to appreciate that they were founded to do that kind of work, that there really is justification for what looks so awful in the news. "Silent Leges" serves as an argument in their favor even as Bashir can only consider Section 31 with disgust, as a necessary evil. And yet (there's even a classic episode with that name in the second season), that was a concept at the very heart of the series, so "Silent Leges" is kind of the final statement of the series about that, in such a sensational, new way that it becomes, well, a cult within a...well, you know.
It's all the more ironic that it's Bashir who stars in the episode, as he was at the start of the series the most naïve Star Trek character ever, so gung-ho to take a posting "at the edge of the final frontier" (so the premise was originally posed) that he was actually fascinated by the idea of Garak, a Cardassian spy who never got to come in from the cold, that he never even considered the danger posed by such an individual. (It's to be reminded that these dangers were eventually explored in the third season.) So to become entangled in the very real depths of spy business, the messiness of the frontier, of Starfleet's mission in general, is a way for Bashir to take the series out of the war context it had become immersed in and would end its run exploring.
It's an ideal episode to view Deep Space Nine at its very best.
- franchise - When Star Trek Into Darkness later brings Section 31 to the masses, it's this episode that made the organization truly relevant.
- series - This is what Deep Space Nine was all about.
- character - Shows how far Bashir has come in the course of the series.
- essential - An episode you could sell the whole series on to a reluctant fan.
William Sadler (Sloan)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Barry Jenner (Admiral Ross)