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Star Trek Deep Space Nine: The Siege of AR-558

"Those were our orders, sir."

Sisko, Bashir, Dax, Nog, and Quark help out a group of demoralised soldiers on the front line who've suffered heavy casualties and are waiting for relief.

Deep Space Nine spent two full seasons covering the Dominion War, plus numerous episodes before that looking at skirmishes, other conflicts, and the build-up to the war. That means, obviously, that there are lots of episodes looking at various topics relating to war and warfare, including some exploring grim moral dilemmas, traumatic experiences for the crew, and wartime tragedies.

This episode stands out, however, as Deep Space Nine's "War is Hell" episode. Although there are many other episodes on related themes, this is the only episode whose entire focus is that of many a WW1, WW2 or Vietnam war movie – that front-line fighting is hell and that everyone comes out of it traumatised even if they survive.

Sending Quark into combat in this episode was a really nice touch. We've seen a character without much combat experience thrust into a violent situation before, with Jake Sisko in 'Nor the Battle to the Strong'. Quark fulfils that role here, speaking for audience members without military experience and demonstrating the shock and horror that battle-hardened soldiers hide. Ezri Dax fulfils this role as well, being inexperienced herself despite Dax's memories of battle, but the fact that Quark is such an acerbic character, not usually given to much emotional display at all, makes his emotional reactions to the battle that much more effective.

Of course, the episode throws in a few tragic deaths of newly introduced characters. However, it stops short of killing off anyone we know, probably because audiences were still recovering from the death of Jadzia Dax and a way to go before the end.

But somehow there is something even more shocking about Nog losing his leg. Serious, life-changing injuries are rather rare on Star Trek. This is futuristic sci-fi and occasionally we'll casually discover that Riker once had his arm chopped off and then put back on by random aliens. But for the most part really severe injuries are restricted to former Borg drones, and even then it's only really Seven of Nine who has lost body parts – Picard somehow got through the whole thing with both eyes and all four limbs intact.

We can assume that Starfleet have some pretty good artificial limbs available, but this is still going to have a huge impact on Nog and it's certainly a source of great distress for Quark. It's an effective way to do a "War is Hell" episode, looking at not just that tragedy of death in battle, but the shock and long-term consequences of life-changing injury in battle as well.

Worf's Klingon encouragement at the end, assuring Sisko that "this was a great victory, worthy of story and song" to Sisko's reply "It cost enough" really brings home the theme of this episode. Star Trek is more often about the epic poetry/Klingon/rousing sort of war story. But when Worf appears and embraces this attitude at the end of this episode, it feels wrong, and bitter, because the episode's focus has been so much more realistic and on-the-ground. It's a very clever ending to a really moving story.

Bits 'n' pieces

- The combat in the episode is loosely inspired by the WW2 Battle of Guadalcanal. The episode's director Winrich Kolbe was a Vietnam veteran, who drew on his experience in that war as well.

- I really like seeing Ezri use engineering knowledge from one of Dax's previous hosts. Sometimes I feel like the Trill's unique experience doesn't get used often enough on the two shows with Trill regulars (Deep Space Nine and Discovery).

- "War is Hell" movies can stand or fall on their music (think of Barbar's Adagio in Platoon or John Williams' score for Saving Private Ryan) and Paul Baillargeon did a great job with the music for this episode.

- Rom, auditioning for Vic Fontaine in the cold open, changes "the lady is a tramp" to "scamp" and Vic corrects him. I think "scamp" is an improvement.

- Bill Mumy, who plays Kellin, was a Babylon 5 regular and played Will Robinson in the original 1960s Lost in Space.

- Although no other Star Trek series has yet done quite so much of a classic "front-line warfare is hell" type story, there are other episodes that explore the tragedy of warfare, most notably TOS' 'Balance of Terror', Voyager's 'Memorial', and quite a lot of Discovery's first season.


Ezri: Remember the 34th Rule of Acquisition: War is good for business.
Quark: Only from a distance! The closer you get to the front lines, the less profitable it gets.

Kellin: I'm an engineer, not a magician.

Sisko: I care about Nog, and every soldier under my command, understood? Every. Single. One.

Final analysis: I'm a sucker for a good "War is Hell" movie. Four out of four moving musical scores.

Juliette Harrisson is a writer, lecturer, Classicist and Trekkie. She re-tells ancient, medieval and early modern ghost stories on her podcast, Creepy Classics.

1 comment:

  1. This episode is one of the reasons I love Deep Space Nine. Sometimes, alas, help isn't coming, no matter how much they want it to come. Also, I liked how different their attitudes become toward the Houdini mines when they can turn them to their side.

    War, indeed, is hell.


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