Monday, April 17, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x22 "Valiant"

rating: ***

the story: Jake and Nog end up on a ship run entirely by Starfleet cadets...who are on a suicidal mission against the Dominion.

what it's all about: Technically, "Valiant" acts as a kind of sequel to "Homefront"/"Paradise Lost" from back in the fourth season, which featured a subplot involving Nog's dealings with the kind of cadets Wesley Crusher experienced in Next Generation's "The First Duty."  And actually, "Valiant" (and its preceding story points) can be seen as a rephrasing of "First Duty" (which Voyager's Tom Paris kind of does as well, but in ways we won't get into here), an episode that spent more time grappling with Wes's complicity in a horrible accident, whereas Nog's acquaintances are more embroiled in misplaced Starfleet zeal, the kind the Dominion helped expose.

But "Valiant" also draws from "Defiant," a third season Deep Space Nine episode in which another rogue Starfleet officer goes on a misguided suicide mission.  The fact that they're both named after a Starfleet ship can't be a coincidence. 

But..."Valiant" might best be considered Deep Space Nine's attempt to justify Voyager to skeptical fans.  Voyager began with a crew devastated by heavy losses in the command structure once the ship was stranded in the Delta Quadrant.  While Janeway was and remained captain during the restructuring, the rest of her crew had to adapt around her, and like the cadets in "Valiant" had to decide if they were to go rogue and follow their own sense of duty or attempt to adhere to Starfleet ideals.  This was about a year before Voyager did its own take on the "alternate Voyager," the two-part "Equinox" (which ironically ended up becoming known for controversy more than its attempt to justify how the series played out).  And of course, this was years before Battlestar Galactica presented a completely different interpretation of the Voyager scenario.

The results in "Valiant" may be difficult to see in this light, because they hinge on an entirely inexperienced and ill-prepared crew, young adults who were not at all ready to assume such responsibility.  It's a Dominion War story, arguably one of the most tragic Deep Space Nine ever attempted, but more than that it's an attempt to prove just what it takes to succeed in Starfleet, and how not everyone has it, and why the lead characters in these series always end up being outliers when we meet other captains who invariably fail to live up to their standards.

It's a story type that goes all the way back to the original series.  Literally every time Kirk encountered another Starfleet captain, they ended up being terrible examples of the rank.  If Kirk occasionally bent the rules, he did it in the best interests of upholding them, rather than outright betraying them.  It seems, in the Star Trek model, good examples are few and far between.

Anyway, this is a Jake and Nog episode, the last Jake and Nog episode of the series.  It forces them to confront all over again where their lives have led them, and how they're not as far apart as they sometimes think they've become (a struggle they've had since the third season).

And in some ways, it also reflects back on the very beginning of the series.  In "Emissary," we see how Sisko was among the few survivors of his ship during the Battle of Wolf 359, the big confrontation with the Borg in Next Generation's two-part "Best of Both Worlds."  Deep Space Nine and Voyager both positioned their lead characters as survivors.  And that continues to be the fate of characters in Deep Space Nine, thanks to experiences like "Valiant."  (This also counts as foreshadowing, I think.)

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Comments on a strong tradition of Star Trek storytelling.
  • series - Reflects past and even future events.
  • character - Last chance to see Jake and Nog do their thing together.
  • essential - I'm not sure either character was ready for a story this big, which is why it's easy to overlook what the episode actually accomplishes (Nog's last spotlight, "It's Only a Paper Moon," however, nails it).
notable guest-stars:
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)

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