Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Deep Space Nine, Season 5: Call to Arms

Deep Space Nine, Season 5
"Call to Arms"
122 of 173 produced
122 of 173 aired
Airdate: June 16, 1997


The Dominion's constant stream of troops and material through the wormhole comes to a head when Sisko decides to mine the wormhole to prevent further buildup. The ensuing battle results in the Federation's retreat from DS9 and the beginning of an all-out war between the two great powers.

That squishing sound you just heard is colloquially referred to as "nerdgasm."


Matthew: So on the one hand, I've been waiting for DS9 to "shit or get off the pot" with the Dominion story for about 3 seasons now. And this episode marks the show getting serious, straining to push out something wonderful... and then it reads a newspaper, does a sudoku, clips its toenails... What I am trying to say here is that there is a lot of narrative housekeeping in this show aside from the main plot: Kira/Odo, Leeta/Rom, Garak/Ziyal... thank goodness they didn't try to shoehorn in Sisko/Kasidy. Now, besides the fact that I don't care even one whit for Leeta/Rom, and that their BS distracts from otherwise interesting scenes, the Kira/Odo stuff is particularly risible. If I were Kira, this is what I'd say: "I just got out of a deadly serious relationship for some reason, and you killed 8,000 people for me. Fuck off." Instead, for some reason, she entertains his juvenile navel gazing as if she reciprocates it. Of course, the writers will eventually make this so, but not because of any logical chemistry between the actors or the characters.

Kevin: I will agree that at best, I simply don't care about the Leeta/Rom romance. I personally found the Ziyal romance a little tacked on, even the casting decisions were changed to accommodate it. That being said, at least the actors are interesting enough to carry it. I'm glad that they followed up on the Kira/Odo story, even if I don't like the way they handled it. As much as I didn't like the development, letting it evaporate would've been worse.

Matthew: The idea of mining the wormhole perplexes me. How can a minefield effectively block the wormhole unless it is less than a starship's width away from the aperture? How could an explosive device replicate something the same size as itself, with the same power supply? I'm on board with matter-energy replication, but without a tertiary, non-replicable power source, it's just magic. I get that it was necessary in order to 1. limit the Dominion threat story-wise; and 2. not make Starfleet and the DS9 crew appear to be utter buffoons (they've done that well enough already in prior episodes by not having a fleet in residence). 

Kevin: Honestly, as the Dominion, I would be more afraid the Federation had found a clean way around the matter/energy conservation of the universe. Seriously, if they invent a perpetual motion machine, that's it. I would have also like a discussion of the morality of this. Both modern people and various Federation citizens have declared mines a pretty awful way to prosecute a war. Given the otherwise genius idea of watching the Federation provoke a hot war to keep from losing a cold one, it would have dovetailed nicely.

Matthew: Easily the best part of the episode for me is the standoff between Sisko and Weyoun. Whatever I think about the mechanics of the minefield plot in 3-dimensional space, I like the political angle (shades of the Cuban Missile Crisis) and the chance for Sisko and Weyoun to butt heads.By about this point in the episode, narrative momentum began to take over from B-plot frittering.
Sisko's MacArthur "I shall return" moment had a lot of nice historical resonance, too. There was a lot of good dialogue in this episode, actually, especially Garak's exchange with Odo talking about wishing he had shot Dukat in the back. "It's the safest way, isn't it?" 

Kevin: All the politics pretty much did it for me. I liked the way the build up to the war was played. History assigns flashpoints for the sake of convenience, but the road to war is made of a dozen smaller moments, and things like several months worth of convoys of arms were a nice touch in giving the war a sense of reality, and it's hard not to see the experienced political storytelling of Ron Moore here. The wardroom scene was great, as you say. I liked the follow up on the non-aggression treaty. That kind of complex politics and consequences really gave some life to the Dominion story. I do take issue with the Federation's tactics here. I just can't believe that losing the station was worth any other goal, literally any other one at all. That being said, history is replete with what even at the time had to appear to be stupid ideas, so that's not a bar to a good story, it's just annoying. All that aside, this story just moves. Aside from a few lovey-dovey detours, this story moves at an intense but not unwieldy speed, and however we got to cliffhanger, it left me with my jaw literally on the floor.


Matthew: Although this episode doesn't feature any particularly transcendent performance, there are three or four truly excellent ones. Jeffrey Combs was a lot of fun, and seeing him two episodes in a row is pleasing. He can turn on a dime better than most, and was able to infuse Weyoun's smarmy side with menace instead of just letting it become dopey.Marc Alaimo was similarly good, even in limited screen time. The way he occupied "his office" and toyed with the baseball was very good.

Kevin: It starts to get repetitive, but both Combs and Alaimo can make the smallest stuff work so well. They don't need a grand speech to make it a good outing. As a pair, and a fun one we will get to watch more of next season, they really give the Dominion some depth and some menace.

Matthew: Of the romantic dyads, Worf and Dax were probably the best, and it is owing to the actors' chemistry. Notably lacking in chemistry are Nana Visitor and Rene Auberjonois. In their scenes together, things were not clicking. In their scenes apart, they were as good as usual. Chase Masterson and Max Grodenchik were different kinds of wretched. Rom's simpering wholly undercut the drama of the mine brainstorming scene. Masterson's mugging for the camera has bever been more off-putting - though I'm certain it can and will get worse going forward.

Kevin: Nothing to really add here. I think Auberjonois and Visitor are good actors, there was just nothing to really work with.

Production Values

Matthew: I'll get my criticism out of the way first - the  battle explosions that float above surfaces, leaving no visible damage, were lame. When it's a ship that disappears, that's one thing. But when it's the station, and the explosions are supposed to heighten drama, and yet they leave no visible marring, it's an issue.

Kevin: The lack of damage to the station was really annoying. I get that it might have been more difficult to create the kitbash of a damaged docking ring, but could have at least CGIed some scorch marks of something.

Matthew: The battle scenes (minus the explosions) were ambitious and well-done. A lot of progress has been made in depicting dozens of ships at once and making scale and speed seem "realistic" (whatever that means in this context). The ship designs were a lot of fun on both ends, too, with a neat Dominion flagship and a bevy of cool (albeit tiny) Federation ships for nerds to smack their lips over.

Kevin: Not to belabor a favored belaboring point here at Treknobabble, but this is how you stage a big space battle, JJ. That panning shot across the station was just beautiful. Ships moving above and below the station were perfect and it gave the entire battle a great sense of depth. The camera work really told a story and gave the battle a progression.


Matthew: A 5 is off the table for me, simply due to the utter waste of time basically every subplot was in this story. This episode was doing a lot of narrative setup work for the coming Season 6 arc. Fine. But it can't be denied that the back half was very exciting, the battle was cool to look at (if a bit inconsequential), the retreat cliffhanger was excellent, and several performances were above average. So a 4 seems right.

Kevin: I agree that a 5 wasn't happening here. But, damn, second only maybe to Best of Both Worlds, was I gripping the edge of my seat for what would come next. I agree with the 4, for a total of 8.



  1. Kevin, do you read Abigail Nussbaum's blog by any chance? (http://wrongquestions.blogspot.com/). My brain was tickled by your comments regarding Babylon 5. I recall Nussbaum had a series of posts a few years back where discussed her thoughts after rewatching the various scifi series from her youth (e.g. ST:TNG, ST:DS9, B5), and her thoughts on Babylon 5 match up incredibly well with yours (though perhaps a bit more verbose than an "ooph" :-) ). She too was so embarrassed by the appeasement episode that she had to mention it. She also wrote quite a bit about DS9, because she thought it aged remarkably well in comparison, and she perhaps enjoyed it more now than she did in her youth.

    At any rate, great work on the podcasts!

  2. I have not, but clearly I need to. It's not that's there not something interesting there, it's that it just collapses at way to many moments of JMS unable to NOT. EXPLICITLY. STATE. THE. POINT. And the effects that were at least novel then (and I think the starfury is actually one of the most convincing sci-fi designs ever) the graphics look sad by comparison. The contemporary model work looks really good still where the mid 90s CGI looks literally low-res.

    Thanks for the compliment. It's nice to know people are listening.

  3. I read her post. That's really on point.

    I think the quote she cites about JMS doing everything is really the crux of the problem. There have been many times where some of Trek's best moments were wrestled out of Roddenberry's hands by other writers or producers. You need other people to both achieve the day to day stuff and to tell you when you have gone off the rails.

    Fun read, too. Thanks for the link.

  4. I had the same issues with the self-replicating mines' power supply... As always, I strained for a way to rationalize it, and decided that the mines were either solar powered (maybe matter-energy conversion takes less power than you'd think!) or the station beamed them energy from its own supply.