Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Deep Space Nine, Season 7: The Siege of AR-558

http://www.treknobabble.net/p/rating-system.htmlDeep Space Nine, Season 7
Airdate: November 18, 1998
155 of 173 produced
155 of 173 aired


Sisko and crew join a group of Starfleet soldiers struggling to hold a Jem'Hadar installation from recapture. They are pushed to the limits of their endurance by the long, grueling battle.

They are also pushed to the limits of human eyesight by the utterly drab and formless underground cave set.


Matthew: One genre of Trek episodes is the "hard boiled" episode. Usually focusing on a war of some sort, the Trek universe is used as a backdrop to tell stories about human endurance and limitations. For those who would say this kind of story could only be told in DS9, I respectfully submit "Balance of Terror" in TOS, "Chain of Command" in TNG, and Voyager's episodes "Nemesis" and "Memorial." I think the way to evaluate these stories, as opposed to focusing on science fiction content and execution, is to focus on how well they execute the concepts that are key in the war allegory. What do they tell us about ourselves, now? How well do they communicate the horrors of war? This episode's most interesting points are when the Starfleet personnel are pushed to their mental and physical breaking points, which is in stark contrast to what we usually see, a relatively comfortable universe filled with conflicts of ideas. By far the best scene was Quark telling Nog that in his estimation, humans would be reduced to Klingon levels of savagery if pushed far enough, and that the Ferengi, for all their reputation as craven profiteers, would have averted situations like this through negotiation.

Kevin: I think it's that Quark scene that makes this iteration of the story something that would only work in DS9. The other franchises can explore war, and particularly in the case of Balance of Terror, explore the tense decision making. And we can explore a human broken down and pushed past their limits, but in the case of Chain of Command, that was a focused, singular attempt. I don't think the other shows could portray a group of Federation citizens experiencing this kind of stress without almost breaking their universe a little. In any event, I certainly find it to the most DS9iest episode of DS9. TNG tends to answer the question about whether humanity's growth is simply the result of better tech and resources with a gentle, reassuring no, delivered by the gentle and reassuring Patrick Stewart. Here the show says that's at least not entirely correct, at least not all the time.

Matthew: I found the pacing of this episode to be a bit sluggish. Once you put us in the cave set, you'd better do all you can to keep my interest, because visually, this set doesn't cut it. And yes, I get that there is something to be said for tension and buildup (which "Balance of Terror" had in spades), but you've got to fill it with interesting character bits. There was a lot of unfilled waiting in this episode. I also found some of the scenes to be repetitive of other episodes. Yes, we get it, Sisko doesn't enjoy looking at casualty lists. Writers, looking at a list isn't exactly the most scintillating scene, at least not the fourth or fifth time. It wasn't needed in this episode. Also, just how did Nog and Reese escape all those Jem'hadar, Reese carrying Nog on his back, without either being slaughtered or bringing them all back to their camp? Come to think of it, how did they survive the final assault? They still seemed to be outgunned 2 to 1. I guess this Reese guy is magic, huh?

Kevin: I found the pacing ultimately to be a bit of an asset. That kind of "hurry up and wait" is itself draining, and I started to share the episodes simultaneous sense of tedium and tension. Even the submarine combat of Balance of Terror is a relatively modern, polite, if you will, form of combat. I'm not dismissing the effective tension in that episode, but I don't think it would have served the point of this one. In the off battle moments, I enjoyed both Quark snapping at Sisko, and the discussion of using the houdinis. I liked that Ezri's comment didn't get Sisko to change his mind. There's an ethical case to make for using them, even if you find their existence abhorrent, a smaller scale discussion of the ethics of using the A-bomb in World War II, if you will. I liked that the episode didn't just devolve into battle scenes for 43 minutes; they managed to get several characters to present different ethical views on war. I liked little touches, like the solider with the white tubes on a necklace. It reminded me (I believe purposefully) of the Klingon with the Cardassian neck bone trophy from Soldiers of the Empire and the crew's disgust at the practice.

Matthew: I kind of don't get the overall conceit of the story. If this device was so important, why did it take 5 months to reinforce it and truly analyze it? I also found the Rom/Vic Fontaine teaser to be beyond pointless. Was it being played for laughs? Rom is a bad singer. OK. Or for something else? I understand this was setting up a connection for the song in a later show, but it just didn't work within this episode. Also, I thought the holodeck was for the entertainment of living people, but Vic can just tell someone no?

Kevin: I found the communications' array to be an acceptable MacGuffin but not much more than that. Every war has places that are strategically important, and whether it's a comm system or the pass at Thermopylae, dramatically, it's the same. I agree that the teaser was both itself not amusing, but also, that worst of them, the ones that feel like a mad libs for the episode.


Matthew: Aron Eisenberg and Armin Shimerman get by far the best scenes to work with. Eisenberg communicates the eagerness of a young soldier who hasn't really tasted combat. Shimerman really nails his skepticism of the Starfleet mission and the humans undertaking it.  

Kevin: I loved the way Eisenberg pitched his embarrassment at Quark. It's one of those small, human, if you'll excuse the expression, that make a relationship feel real. Second only to his speech to Nog, I think Shimerman should have earned an Emmy for ripping Sisko a new one. It's not that Sisko was necessarily wrong in any decision, but I also absolutely get Quark's anger.

Matthew: Avery Brooks turns in a nice, understated performance that doesn't chew scenery. This is one of his better episodes overall. Nicole DeBoer was fine as Dax, but did not perhaps get the lines she could have. I found it odd that Chief O'Brien wasn't included here. I get leaving Worf out to play against type, but I think some O'Brien/Bashir stuff would have been really good here.

Kevin: I would have loved an O'Brien/Nog conversation that echoed his speech in The Wounded. That aside, I agree that Dax and Sisko both did able jobs. She felt out of place a bit, but that was on purpose. I liked her scenes with Kellin. I think Bill Mumy did a good job for a one off guest star. He can obviously do science fiction, and he handled the treknobabble. The only problem is knowing that he was clearly going to die. Like all he had to do was start talking about him his best girl back home buying a farm or something before he bought it to be a war cliche.

I found Raymond Cruz to be a bit on the nose as Vargas. Patrick Kilpatrick (seriously) as Reese (seriously) was fine. All in all, the group of actors they rounded up for the soldiers was pretty good, but nothing spectacular.

Kevin: Yeah, different story, different day of the week, they all might have been playing Jem'Hadar.

Production Values

Sigh. The dark cave. Yet again. There just was not a whole lot of visual interest here, and the notion of something being three kilometers away in a subterranean cave was just not given a real sense of space or place. The strategy being depicted here was very flat terrain, outdoor kind of stuff.

Kevin: It's the downfall of living in world with the equivalent of magic. Anything other than a deep cave and you start to wonder why they just don't flatten the area from orbit or something. At least the gray monotony contributed to the feeling of ill-ease, but yeah, it can make it a little boring for the actual viewer.

Matthew: Battle effects stuff was pretty effective here. There were a lot of energy effects, and a good amount of squibs, explosions, and the like. The Houdini mines (a name I still fail to get... do they escape?) were pretty standard 90s CGI. There was a nice amount of makeup for injuries and the clothing was sufficiently dirty to communicate the passage of time.

Kevin: Yeah, there's a line for network TV, especially back then to walk between portraying something grim and not going too far, and I think they walk it well. I also liked the prop work on the array. Lots of good Okudagrams etc.


Frankly, I'm kind of stuck on a 3 here. There is an overall level of consistent quality, but I feel like a lot of these points have already been made, and there are a fair number of plot holes. Shimerman and Eisenberg are the highlights, but they can't save scenes they're not in. I think this one tends to be overrated. 

Kevin: This is a solid 5 for me, and our largest disagreement in a couple of seasons. I think this episode manages to engage Star Trek's central ideas about the nature of humanity and it did so without breaking them or disrespecting them. This never felt like Moore or Behr were dismissing Roddenberry's optimism, merely testing it in a way he didn't. And honestly, had they put all of Quark's scenes by themselves in Move Along Home, they'd probably be good enough to get that episode to a 3 or a 4. This may not be the most fun per se to watch, but it's always interested me, both for itself and it's place in the broader franchise. That is a total of 8 from us.

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