The Children's Crusade
"Valiant" Plot Summary:
Quark moons after Dax, who's fixing his replicator because Nog has gone to Ferenginar with a message for the Nagus. On Nog's runabout, Jake asks to see the message, but while the two quarrel about Jake's skanky reporter tactics, they're fired upon by a fleet of Jem'Hadar ships. A Starfleet vessel modeled on the Defiant rescues them. When they're beamed aboard, Jake and Nog discover that it's a ship of cadets - the vaunted Red Squad. Captain Waters, who's younger than Nog, explains that he took command when the commissioned captain died, giving him a battlefield commission. All of his young officers have high ranks and full responsibilities on the top-secret mission which he inherited: to find and scan a secret Cardassian warship behind enemy lines. Because they were under radio silence when the original captain died, Starfleet has no idea that the Valiant is now a ship of children.
Waters offers Nog the job of chief engineer on the basis of his experience on the Defiant, and when Nog accepts the position, he's promoted to Lieutenant Commander. Meanwhile, Jake befriends the CMO, Dorian Collins, who treats his wounded arm, discovering that she's homesick for Luna. When the captain spots Collins weeping as he searches for amphetamines in Sickbay, he calls Jake into a meeting with himself and his tougher-than-nails first officer, Karen Farris. Waters tells Jake that they have no time for nostagia during this war: they have a great purpose, and Jake should consider himself lucky that he's there to write the story. After Jake is dismissed, Farris asks Waters whether he's been getting enough sleep, but he assures her that he's fine.
Jake is disgusted that Nog has joined the crew and bought into its false sense of purpose, but Nog helps fix the engines and aids in scanning the Cardassian warship. Once the Valiant has the scans, their mission is complete, but Waters calls a general crew meeting and declares that if they don't destroy the warship, someone else will have to try. Farris announces that they found a flaw in the ship's design which will permit a single torpedo to destroy it. Nog worries that the weapon will have to be targeted manually at point-blank range, but Waters assures him they're up to the task and leads the crew in chanting, "Red Squad! Red Squad! Red Squad!" after Jake warns the captain that not even his father would undertake such an effort. Later, Jake privately informs Nog that this mission is suicidal, but Nog tells Jake that he can't understand the nobility and sacrifice of service. Jake retorts that he's selfish enough not to want to be martyred by a bunch of fanatics, warning Nog that Dorian told him the captain has a drug problem. Nog ignores him, and Waters has Jake thrown in the brig.
During the engagement with the warship, Farris can't maintain a manual targeting lock. She manages to get the torpedos away and they go right in the proper shaft, but the warship does not blow up. Instead the Cardassians fire right back, destroying most of the Valiant's bridge, killing Waters, Farris, the helmsman, and everyone else except Nog and Collins. The chief engineer is in command now. He gives the order to abandon ship. Collins protests that the captain would never have done so, but he reminds her that the captain is dead. On the way to the life pods, Nog rescues Jake from the brig. The Cardassian warship destroys escaping life pods as the Valiant blows up.
On the Defiant, Kira picks up Starfleet signals from within Dominion territory, and Sisko orders the ship to see if the Valiant is really out there. They find Jake, Nog, and Dorian Collins in the pod - nobody else survived, no other life pods were found. Nog asks Jake whether he's going to write a story about the Valiant, suggesting that he says it was a good ship with a good crew that made a mistake in following Captain Waters over a cliff. Collins protests weakly that Waters was a great man whom the crew failed, but Nog says that he was a bad captain, telling Jake to write that too, and let people decide for themselves.
An entirely predictable but still engrossing episode about a group of kids too young to realize that they're serving under Captain Ahab, even though I'm sure they had to read Moby Dick at the Academy. This episode was strongly reminiscent of TNG's The First Duty but not as logical. In that episode, a charismatic cadet convinced three of his friends to lie to an Academy board; in this episode, a charismatic cadet convinced over thirty of his peers to hide from Starfleet. I'm not in the least convinced that even an order of radio silence and a field commission would have convinced a bunch of teenagers to follow a pill-popping captain for eight months behind enemy lines; even Voyager had more rumblings of dissent than this ship showed, and their mission wasn't as risky, nor as terminable with a simple communique. When is Starfleet going to realize that the best and the brightest are more dangerous than ordinary people in uniform?
That said, if one bought the premise, there were some fine performances. The kids should get all the credit, because it sure wasn't the script making them sound good: Waters talked like a wild-eyed fanatic that anyone who's ever seen a film about Jim Jones could recognize as such, while Farris was a cardboard cliche of a Bad Cop. Still, the charismatic young actors made the most of what they were given. Waters was appealing enough not to come across as a villain, yet still spooky, particularly in the scene where he hunts for amphetamines. Farris looked and spoke exactly like a seventeen-year-old Admiral Necheyev. I couldn't help laughing aloud during the battle with the warship when she was supposed to use the Force to shoot the torpedos manually into the shaft - the dialogue was a blatant ripoff from Star Wars, as was the plan to destroy the superweapon. I was glad that at least it didn't work, although in spite of everything I was rooting for the crew of kids. It's hard to know how responsible to hold them for being too one-dimensional themselves to recognize their glory-crazed leader for what he was.
This wasn't a great episode by any means, certainly not in this season, but it was an interesting diversion from life on the station which did hook into the war arc and answered questions about whether Starfleet was building any more Defiant-class ships. I prefer Jake when he's a kid learning from his mistakes to when he's a goody two-shoes, but he was appealing here, and Aron Eisenberg was moving as Nog particularly at the end when he refused to fire back on the warship. Next week I expect some follow-up to Odo's suggestion that Nog's uncle is in love with Dax, particularly since Quark's supposedly in drag for the episode.
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