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Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Valiant

"This ship is special, Jake. This crew is special."

Jake and Nog find themselves on board a Starfleet ship whose commissioned officers have all been killed, leaving a crew of cadets in charge.

This is one of those episodes I have very mixed feelings about, because I feel like it's a really high quality episode, but I just really don't enjoy watching it.

Last time we saw the Red Squad they were inadvertently involved in an attempted coup d'etat, and they still seem to have a tendency to consider themselves more important – and more competent – than they really are.

Nog was also desperate to join them back when he was at the Academy. We can only assume that this lingering respect for them is the reason he is still somewhat dazzled by them. The Captain says, "Mr Nog wears a uniform. He'll do his duty" – except Nog is the ranking officer the moment he steps aboard and his duty was clearly to take charge of these inexperienced cadets. Nog may be a very junior officer but he still outranks a cadet and he has more experience than any of these idiots. Why is Nog so impressed by a field commission given to him by a cadet? Generally speaking, in order to keep the new rank, he would have to meet the normal requirements once he got home so his actual rank of Ensign is really more meaningful.

It has to be said that this is a really good piece of writing and a very good episode. It takes apart traditional Star Trek story-telling by showing a crew of inexperienced cadets who all think like James T. Kirk – they think they're special, they think the rules don't apply to them, they think they can take on a superior enemy against the odds and win. But they've forgotten that (outside of the Abramsverse) James T. Kirk was an experienced officer who knew how to gamble and win. And they've forgotten that more often than not, it's the superior force that wins the day, not the plucky underdog.

Thing is though, I watch Star Trek because I like traditional Star Trek story-telling! Yes, I know that the heroic stories Star Trek often tells are unrealistic. I know that Janeway and Kirk in particular should both have destroyed their ships several times over with the risks they took. That's OK – they're adventure stories set in space and I enjoy them for what they are. This episode, though, is part of Deep Space Nine's more "gritty," "dark" story-telling during the Dominion War story arc, and as such I appreciate it artistically, it's not really what I'm looking for from Star Trek.

The other problem is that the Red Squad are just so incredibly annoying! They're so stupid! What on earth do these idiots think they're doing? Why does Nog go along with it? Surely he should know better? Who are these utter morons and why don't they return this valuable ship to Starfleet instead of getting it destroyed and damaging the war effort in the process? It's all very tragic, but the tragedy is somewhat lessened when the victims are this incredibly irritating.

So all in all, I know intellectually that this is a very good episode. Certainly for anyone who enjoys the more downbeat story-telling of the Dominion War arc, this will be one of the highlights. It's also really important character development for Nog. But for me personally, there are other "darker" war-themed episodes that I prefer over this one, because at least the characters are less annoying and less stupid, and they make a genuine attempt to actually help the war effort, not make things worse the way these idiots do. Part of the tragedy of war is often that sheer stupidity gets people killed, but that's just... to me that's not very emotionally satisfying to watch.

Bits 'n pieces

- Valiant is indeed a great name as Jake says, but it's also a bit on-the-nose when it comes to screaming the theme of the episode in the audience's face. The crew are indeed very valiant, but also very stupid, which makes their bravery kind of pointless as Starfleet would have been better off without quite so much "valiant" behaviour and with their starship.

- The last time we saw a crew of Starfleet cadets on a "little training cruise" it didn't go so well either.

- Talking of which, Red Squad perhaps haven't got as far as doing the Kobayashi Maru test yet, and it shows.

- We see four escape pods leave the Valiant, but the other three are destroyed, leaving only the one that just happens to be carrying Jake and Nog. This was presumably to really drive home the tragedy and drama, but all it did was take me right out of the episode. Of all the crew on that entire ship, the only survivors are Jake, Nog, and one other person? If you're going to take apart story-telling tropes, don't end with a classic one – the guaranteed survival of regular characters even when everyone else dies!

Quotes

Jake: Valiant? Great name!

Jake: All I care about is Jake Sisko and whether he's gonna be killed by a bunch of fanatics looking for martyrdom!

Nog: He may have been a hero. He may even have been a great man. But in the end, he was a bad captain.

Final analysis: I know it's really good, I just really don't want to watch it. Three and a half out of four idiot cadet Captains.

Juliette Harrisson is a Trekkie, freelance writer, academic and story-teller. She retells and discusses ancient, medieval and early modern ghost stories on her podcast, Creepy Classics.

1 comment:

Victoria Grossack said...

I agree. Despite the merits, I have never liked this episode. I think it's because it's too one note - all of Red Squad is so deeply into being Red Squad, except for the one officer who grew up on the Moon (I have forgotten her name, because I usually skip the episode). And then, there are only three survivors, and among those three are Jake and Nog? (I never like it when probabilities are so completely ignored.)

Still, it shows the dangers of overconfidence and how easily people - in this case, Nog - can be sucked up into a cult.