Monday, January 30, 2017

Deep Space Nine 5x4 "...Nor the Battle to the Strong"

rating: ***

the story: Jake's eagerness to report first-hand on a warzone ends up backfiring on him.

what it's all about: Two episode prior, "The Ship" served as a preview of the coming Dominion War.  "...Nor the Battle to the Strong" is a much less heralded version of the same, with Jake taking on new writing duties (less creative, more journalistic) as he continues to learn what it means to be his own man.  He discovers that war is pretty horrific, which seems obvious, but I don't think it's ever as obvious unless you've experienced it yourself, and that's kind of the point of the episode.  Again, a prelude experience for something that to this point of the franchise was virtually unprecedented.  It's one thing to preach about such things, which happened frequently in the original series, but the main characters never had anything at stake.  They'd show up, figure out why a situation was horrible, and somehow have an instant solution, and leave again.

"Battle" ostensibly puts the spotlight back on the abortive Klingon war begun a season earlier.  If you're inclined to do so, you can watch it in that way, or as a throwback to Klingons as the enemy (another original series callback with a new twist).   But it's almost best seen in hindsight.  Ironically, the pertinent Dominion War episode, "The Siege of AR-558," features Jake's good buddy Nog learning much the same lesson, but far more painfully, with an even better follow-up ("It's Only a Paper Moon") that further decompresses the story and heightens the impact, perhaps once and for all demonstrating the benefits of Deep Space Nine's serialized approach.

If there's a downside to the story, it's that Jake's arc, and general shift in direction, is a rather abrupt one, and he has no real chemistry with Bashir, the other trapped in the warzone.  One season we were given the hard sell of Jake's literary future, and abruptly he's got another calling.  This idea would be salvaged considerably next season when he makes the difficult decision to remain behind enemy lines and actually chase interviews with Dominion personnel (during the Dominion War, you understand), the best sustained material he'd get the whole series.  So in that sense, "Battle" is yet another calling card for future episodes.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Take your pick: Klingons or ruminations on war.
  • series - Another preview of the Dominion War (in hindsight, it's foreshadowing).
  • character - Jake gets renewed focus.
  • essential - Later episodes cover the same territory better.

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