Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Deep Space Nine 5x26 "Call to Arms"

rating: ****

the story: The fifth season draws to a close with the start of the Dominion War...

what it's all about: And thus begins, officially, the signature story of Deep Space Nine.  On the surface, "Call to Arms" might almost be seen as similar to "The Best of Both Worlds," the Next Generation episode that is half the definitive Borg story of that series, a big wartime scenario that was resolved one episode later.  But the Dominion War does not end in two episodes.  Or three.  It engulfs the two final seasons of the series.

Is this glorifying war?  Is this an affront to the very tradition of the franchise?  Is this, as many fans have complained about the Abrams-era films, featuring action at the expense of the cerebral heart of Star Trek?  To all three, I say, absolutely not.  The Dominion War, as "Arms" makes clear, continues the franchise tradition of putting the human experience first.  Actually, it helps explain how Deep Space Nine did that better than any Star Trek before or after it (arguably). 

At the episode's heart is actually Rom, the one-time bumbling Ferengi, lackey brother of irascible bartender Quark, whose evolution was a key part of the development of the series itself, beginning as so many elements of the fifth season did, in the third season.  He comes up with the idea Starfleet needs to secure the all-important wormhole that was always the reason the station became so strategically significant: a minefield (a technobabble minefield, naturally).  He also gets married to Leeta, a Bajoran who like him used the station to start a new life for herself.  How does Rom end up being the reason the Dominion War happens?  Because these are stories where character matters

Also involved is Jake Sisko, who makes a fateful decision about his own future, too, once it's becomes clear that the war has begun and Starfleet is forced to evacuate the station: he's going to stay.  It's the biggest decision he ever makes, beyond opting out of joining Starfleet.  Obviously it puts him in an extreme amount of danger, but it also means Jake has once and for all dedicated himself to the writer's life, as a journalist.  Maybe it's not the novelist everyone wanted him to be ("The Visitor") but it makes the character relevant as perhaps never before, and that's good enough, finally.

Of course: the war.  With every other major power forming pacts with the Dominion, Starfleet feels backed into a corner.  Rom's mines cut off access to the Gamma Quadrant, where the Dominion is based, making it totally reliant on resources, for the moment, from the Alpha Quadrant, including the resources already transferred there, including the increasingly signature Vorta representative Weyoun, as well as his main Cardassian ally Dukat, who has at last found his defining role in the series, too.  The Federation finds its ally in the Klingon Empire, finally putting to rest all the hassles of the past few seasons (and thus completely redeeming them, in the figure of General Martok, who becomes one of the most iconic Klingons of the franchise in the process).

When you put aside the morality of war itself, the complications of war can thus be explored.  The first of these in the series is Sisko having to make peace with his son's decision, which in some ways mirrors where both characters were at the start of the series, victims of the aforementioned Borg threat in "Best of Both Worlds."  Seems appropriate, right?

It's a must-see moment, even if you don't want to invest in the rest of the arc.  It also provides one of the most poetic images of the series, as Dukat discovers that Sisko has left his signature baseball on the desk he's been forced to vacate.  Clearly not just a war but a pitched battle for the station itself will be coming...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - The start of a wild new look at the nature of war.
  • series - The start of the signature arc of Deep Space Nine.
  • character - From Rom to Jake, surprising characters define this moment.
  • essential - The definition of can't-miss.
notable guest-stars:
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Chase Masterson (Leeta)
Melanie Smith (Ziyal)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)

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