Casualties of War
"The Siege of AR-558" Plot Summary:
On his way to the Defiant for a mission to the Chin'toka system to deliver supplies, Sisko laments to Odo that he's tired of looking at names of the dead on casualty reports. Bashir is scheduled to depart as well, bringing some tapes of Vic Fontaine to cheer up the troops. Sisko is annoyed to find Quark on his bridge, and Quark's not happy to be there - the Nagus sent him on a fact-finding mission. Dax makes excuses for both when Nog is embarrassed by his uncle. The captain, the counselor, the doctor, the ensign, and the bartender beam down to barren planet AR-558 and are immediately fired upon, but the perpetrators turn out to be Starfleet officers whose ranks have been decimated during their five-month standoff on the planet with the Jem'Hadar. The troops have discovered a Dominion communications array; if they can figure out how to use it, Starfleet will be able to receive Dominion transmissions.
The troops, however, are in terrible shape. While Bashir treats the wounds of Vargas, one of the soldiers who fired on them, the man refuses to remove a bandage put on him by a fellow soldier whom he thought an annoyance, shot in the act of caring for him. The rest are malnourished and suffering from assorted ailments. As an officer named Reese points out, they've been out there two months longer than they should have been, and it has been hell. Lieutenant Nadia Larkin, who took command when the captain and commander were killed, is trying to hold them together, but the threat from "Houdinis" - invisible mines that can be hidden in subspace, then explode without becoming visible - have demoralized what remains of her crew. When the Jem'Hadar unexpectedly attack, Sisko orders the Defiant away, telling a stunned Worf that he and the others are staying to help win this fight. His orders are to hold.
The Jem'Hadar send in holograms to determine the number of Starfleet officers they'll be facing, tricking Sisko and company into wasting ammunition and giving themselves away. Sisko orders Larkin, Reese, and Nog on a surveillance mission; Quark objects to his nephew's departure, but Nog understands that his Ferengi hearing will give them an edge. They record Jem'Hadar movements but on the way back, they get too close to the enemy. Larkin is killed and Nog is shot in the leg. Reese, who initially resisted the Defiant crew as uncaring, tells Sisko that the kid did good.
Meanwhile, Dax has met an engineer named Kelim with whom she initially worked to dissect the communications array, but they switch their task to identifying the invisible Houdinis. They are able to make them all visible, and Sisko comes up with a plan to put them in a ravine and kill hundreds of Jem'Hadar, though Dax is taken aback that they will use a weapon they had earlier called too vicious for Starfleet against its creators. Quark, who has argued all along that a peace treaty would have been more honorable and more profitable for both sides, is furious with Sisko over Nog and demands to know whether Sisko would send his own son out on a deadly mission, but Sisko points out that Jake isn't a Starfleet officer. Nog has his leg amputated and tells Sisko he hopes the communications array is worth it. In the tense moments before the attack, Reese sharpens a knife, Vargas hears sounds, Kelim has a twitchy trigger finger, and Bashir loads a weapon, commenting on the irony that he joined Starfleet to save lives.
Then the Jem'Hadar arrive, their numbers lessened by the mines but not eliminated. Bashir is wounded, Vargas and many others die, but Reese, crazed for battle, kills several Jem'Hadar with his bare hands. When his weapon is knocked away, Sisko does too. Kelim saves Dax's life but is shot as he does so. The captain is knocked out; when he comes to, he sees Kelim dead in Dax's arms, Bashir writhing on the ground, and carnage everywhere...but no Jem'Hadar. "We held," he says. "Those were our orders, Sir," Reese replies.
The Defiant comes to pick him up, but Sisko tells Worf he wants to wait until the new troops arrive before beaming up; the wounded have already been taken to a starbase. Worf announces that this is a great victory, but Sisko doesn't want to hear about honor; he says, "It cost enough." Reese throws his knife into the ground before leaving. Back on the station, Kira enters with the latest casualty reports - 1730 troops. "It's a lot of names," she comments. Sisko states, "They're not just names. We have to remember that."
This episode wasn't precisely original - if you've seen Platoon, Apocalypse Now, The Killing Fields, and a number of other World War II and Vietnam-era movies with a little M*A*S*H thrown in, you'll recognize a lot of the characters and images in this episode. That bothered me a bit, but only because it turned the episode into a literary homage at moments, distracting from a gritty, painful war story which was wrenching to watch. Superbly directed by Rick Kolbe - a Vietnam combat veteran - this is one of the bloodiest episodes I can ever remember on Trek. Prversely, Nog's lost leg hit closer to home than most of the shooting deaths; we're used to red-shirts dropping, but not to major characters suffering losses like this one. Bashir had no guarantees for Quark that Nog would walk again, and I was glad.
Sisko had a couple of terrific moments - his outburst at the start that he was tired of looking at names on casualty lists, his fierce insistence to Worf that he was staying for the battle, his fierce insistence to Worf that the price of the battle was as great as the victory, his outburst at the end about the importance of the names on the casualty lists. The dramatic structure worked well. Bill Mumy had an excellent cameo as Kelim, but the most memorable character for me was Vargas, who had me in tears as he described the death of the fellow soldier he didn't even like.
I absolutely loved Larkin, one of the toughest women we've seen on Trek since early-season Kira, and Nog was superbly used for once. One of the most moving scenes, though, was a version of Good Morning Vietnam's "What a Wonderful World" montage over shots of battle - in this case with Vic singing "I'll Be Seeing You" as the Jem'Hadar attack. I thought the use of the old songs was going to seem trite; instead it seemed painfully appropriate.
Though this series has done several episodes about the horrors of war, this one was by far the toughest; I wish it had been someone other than Quark serving as the voice of pacifism, since he's impossible to take seriously, but his statements about how humans are peaceful only when their bellies are full and their creature comforts in order struck pretty close. The people on AR-558 were living very close to the edge, but the crew of Deep Space Nine hasn't been living so far from there either for more than a year. I don't really enjoy war stories but I'll be sorry to see the Dominion War end; Trek seems to be learning a lot from it, even if it's also losing its innocence. There's no Klingon honor here, no Federation rationalizing its involvement in alien conflicts. This one's just dark, awful, and not over yet.
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