For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here
Overview – The Defiant is supplies to AR-558, a remote outpost on the front lines of the Dominion war which has a Dominion communication array. Sisko finds the garrison depleted in troops and morale. When the Jem’Hadar attack the colony, the Defiant is forced to retreat. Captain Sisko, Dax, Bashir, Nog, and Quark are left behind and join in the fight. As the terrors of war hit Sisko and his crew in full force, they must dig deep within themselves to find the strength and courage to overcome a superior force.
Score: 9/10 – No other episode of Star Trek has been able to accurately show the real horrors of war than this episode (and, for all its grit, I would put the first season of Discovery up as comparison and still make the same conclusion). We start out with a very light-hearted scene of Rom auditioning for a spot on Vic Fontaine’s show. As soon as we arrive at AR-558, we leave all joy behind. Sisko and those that stay behind with him soon discover the true horrors of war. We are taken along on a terrible and engaging trip through one of life’s worst experiences: the battlefield. The tone reminds me of the very serious and non-glamorous depictions of war, a “Saving Private Ryan” for Star Trek. We are introduced to some interesting Federation soldiers (tired leader Larkin, despondent Vargus, weary yet optimistic engineer Kellin, and embittered Reese), each of whom is dealing with the difficult conditions in different ways. These soldiers give us a quick and realistic introduction to the effects of war that quickly endears them to us. As all but Reese eventually perish in the battle, their deaths still strike strong chords with the audience. Then, of course, there is the fate of Ensign Nog. Tragedy hits our favorite Ferengi ensign loses his leg after a scouting mission. There is so much about this episode that works well here. Of particular note, Quark, of all people, shows some great growth as the voice of conscience and reason. He has one of the best lines of dialogue where he observes that humans are capable of savagery equal to that of the Klingons when their comforts are taken away. The action is as gritty as Star Trek had ever been at this point. The use of violence to demonstrate the devastation of war was practically perfectly executed but famed director Winrich Kolbe, himself a veteran of the Vietnam War. His experiences helped craft a story that left little to our imagination. I also love the music composed for the final battle. It was haunting and depressing, not the typical energetic and inspiring that often is used in some war movies. It perfectly complements the theme that war is not glorious. The acting is excellent, with special nods going to Avery Brooks, Armin Shimmerman, Aaron Eisenberg, and the guest stars. I also liked how that aside from Sisko, the main characters that are caught in this situation are the ones with the least battle experience. Worf and O’Brien are on the Defiant, while Odo and Kira are back on the station. A great way to examine the concept of war.
Relevance – 3 points. AR-558 in in the Chin’toka system, which was recently captured in the episode “Tear of the Prophets”. This episode shows us that this system is still hotly contested. I am also scoring a point for the ritual that is often seen of someone (in this case, as it often is, it is Captain Sisko) reading the posted casualty list. I like this touch that is woven throughout various episodes as it reminds us that the lives that are being lost mean something. Finally, with no surprise, the fact that Nog loses his leg is without doubt relevant to another popular episode, “It’s Only a Paper Moon”.
Continuity – 3 points. Story line, this works. I get how those that were left behind were chosen as such. I also will score a point for universe continuity. As far as character continuity, there are few things to mention. First off, some may question why seasoned fighters like Worf and O’Brien were not taken to the planet on the away mission. While storyline wise it makes sense to explore the effects of war through the lenses of those with the least battle experience, Sisko did not anticipate being left behind. It made sense to take those he did. How each one reacts to the battles makes sense. Ezri starts to form bonds with the soldiers, especially Kellin. Bashir using Vic’s music to help calm people fits. Nog as the eager soldier who learns the hard way also fits. In particular here we can look at Quark and Sisko. Sisko is trying to keep everything together and shows great ability as a wartime commander, while Quark shows loyalty to his nephew first and Tries his best to keep Nog safe, even to the point of taking a life. More on that in the next section.
Character Development – 3 points. Sisko is a primary focus in this episode, being forced to take command in a horrible situation. It is a great showcase of his leadership, and he has to make some tough situations. He shows a great balance of determination and compassion. A bit surprisingly, this is also a great showcase of Quark as a character. Armin Shimmerman loves Quark’s scenes in this episode as he gets to provide the Spock-like perspective of an outsider to humanity. In typical Quark fashion, he keeps himself as far from the fighting as possible, but when push comes to shove, he shows that he has some mettle of his own as he shoots down the Jem’Hadar soldier who attacks the infirmary where Nog is kept. Ezri and Julian also are given some insights, but really it is Quark and the captain that steal the scenes.
Social Commentary – 3 points. War is ugly. Too often in film and television the impact of war is glossed over in the names of maintaining patriotism and flag-waving. Here, we quickly realise that war is not glamorous. It is not fun. People die and are hurt, and that hurt is more than just physical. When this episode first aired, there was not a lot of attention given to PTSD, but since then this episode is just as relevant as we are seeing the lingering effects on the soldiers who see combat. When Nog loses his leg, we have more than just a lost limb. We have a loss of innocence and idealism that is tough to ignore. There is also an important message at the end, when Sisko again finds himself staring at the casualty list. He mentions that each name on the list, including the men and women he fought with on AR-558, were people with lives and loved ones, and for that reason they should not be forgotten. We must also remember those who died fighting for our freedom that we often take for granted. It’s not just soldiers, but police officers, fire fighters, and other first responders that often put themselves into horrible situations to help other people. It is important to recognize all of their sacrifices.
Cool Stuff – 3 points. While I do not want to negate the message about war that this episode makes, I do want to score a point for the battle at the end of the episode. It is riveting and well executed. In Star Trek we rarely get to see a battle between ground troops like this, and I would rank this as one of the top battles in all of Star Trek. I also am scoring a point for the music. As I mentioned earlier, the music during the final battle sets the proper tone this battle. It is grim yet beautiful. It walks a careful line between stirring emotion and providing a soundtrack for a bloody battle. Finally, I want to score a point for the “Houdinis”, a cloaked mine that the Dominion use against the Federation forces. It is an ingenious and deadly weapon. The scene where they are decloaked gives an eerie sense as to how precarious their situation was.
Rank – Admiral (24 points). Definitely not an episode that will leave you feeling all chipper and happy, but it is one that cannot be missed. I would find it hard to believe that there are many people who do not have this in their top 10 list. Not all episodes and stories need to have uplifting endings to be powerful, and this is a perfect example.
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