Star Trek’s Darkest Episode Inspired By An American President

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

All Star Trek fans are familiar with the Deep Space Nine episode “In the Pale Moonlight,” rightfully considered the darkest ep in the entire franchise. This is the episode where Captain Sisko is so determined to get Romulus to fight against the Dominion that he works with former spy Garak on a plot that actually gets a Romulan senator killed. I didn’t think the ep could get any darker, but an earlier version of this Star Trek script was heavily inspired by the Watergate scandal.

Original Version Of In The Pale Moonlight

How, exactly, was this Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode going to invoke Watergate? It begins with the Bajoran character Shakaar, someone who (much like Major Kira) fought in the Bajoran Resistance against the brutal occupation of the Cardassians. He became a farmer when the fighting was over, and he later achieved a position of major power as the First Minister of Bajor.

Centered On Jake Sisko

jake sisko

Originally, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s producers wanted to have their own Watergate-style episode whose plot would revolve around the discovery of a political controversy which would have major repercussions if anyone discovered it. Accordingly, they tasked “In the Pale Moonlight” writer Peter Allan Fields to create such an episode, and he initially created a story where the controversy would involve Shakaar. Since the original Watergate scandal was broken by investigative journalists, Fields thought it was only logical for Federation News Network contributor Jake Sisko to be the one driving the investigation into Shakaar.

Father And Son Conflict

While the exact details of this Star Trek homage to Watergate are unknown, the earliest draft of “In the Pale Moonlight” involved Jake discovering something about Shakaar’s time in the Bajoran Resistance that had the potential to bring down his entire government if it came to light. Publishing the story could throw all of Bajor into chaos, which is why Captain Sisko tries to keep Jake from publishing it. This version of the script had plenty of conflict between father and son, but it (ahem) pales in comparison to the second version.

All The President’s Men

political movies

When the other writers had trouble making this Star Trek take on Watergate work, they pivoted to a more provocative angle: Jake discovering something dark and disturbing about his own father’s past. Veteran franchise writer Ronald D. Moore would later compare this version of the story to All the President’s Men, the iconic Dustin Hoffman/Robert Redford film about the Watergate scandal. Again, the exact details are lost to anyone who doesn’t have access to the Bajoran Time Orb, but given Moore’s comparison, it appears Captain Sisko would have been a very direct Richard Nixon analog and (presumably) just as corrupt. 

A Highlight Of The Franchise

Having heard that we nearly got a Star Trek Watergate episode, I can’t help but wonder how different that version of “In the Pale Moonlight” would have turned out and what dark secrets would have been revealed about Sisko’s past. It certainly sounds exciting, but given the insanely high quality of the finished episode, I’m happy with what we got. Or, as Captain Sisko might put it, after betraying his uniform and helping get a guy killed, I can live with it.

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