Deep Space Nine: s07 e08 – The Siege of AR-558


At War

It didn’t augur well. The open kicked off with Rom in the holosuite lounge, auditioning for Vic Fontaine by badly singing ‘The Lady is a Tramp’. Grisly. Vic has very rapidly become second only to Quark for me as a character I cannot stand. It’s like a throwback to the Original Series’ rigid insistence upon mid-Fifties middle-America mores as being the Twenty-Fourth Century’s guiding principles. This fetishisation of that same decade’s lounge music, in the late Nineties, is inexplicable and completely improbable conservatism. Every moment Vic is there jerks us out of the future into the past.

But it’s an isolated moment, an attempt at lightness in an episode in which there will be no lightness whatsoever, only grime, blood, horror and death. I can see the intent, but I regard the execution as stupid and completely ineffectual.

Because ‘The Siege of AR-558′ was about war as it really is: not the fantasy of spaceships zooming unscientifically in space, SF phasers a-glowing and spectacular but impersonal explosions, but what it’s like on the ground, face-to-face, hand-to-hand, where the prospect and the fear of death are immediate and exponentially more scary.

After a brief reminder that the War brings in casualty lists, lists that Sisko, immured in the regularity of loss, no longer reads name by name, he leads a team via the Defiant to brings supplies to AR-558, a remote planer bearing a captured Dominion communications array, captured by the Federation five months ago. A unit of 150 men and women have held it unrelieved for five months, way beyond the regulation that no-one should be in combat for more than 90 days. There are now only 43 of them, and they’re in a bad way.

The ones we meet are Lt. Larkin (Annette Helde), now the officer in command, Engineer Kellin (Bill Mumy, once Will Robinson of The Original; Series’ contemporary, Lost in Space), Vargas (Raymond Cruz), who is closest to cracking and Reese (Patrick Kilpatrick), the hard-as-nails veteran who collects tetracell white capsules as souvenirs of the Jem’Hadar he’s killed personally.

Into this beams an Away Team led by Sisko and comprising only those cast members with the least combat experience (a contrivance from the writers that was,, in the circumstances, allowable), being Bashir, Ezri Dax, Nog and Quark. This latter was a massively artificial contrivance that stretched things more than somewhat.

Though the supplies are welcome, the visitors are not, really. They’re only visitors, they get to beam out. There’s an entirely natural undercurrent of resentment from the permanent defenders, or at least from the two combat guests, Vargas and Reese: Larkin is a determined and loyal officer, Kellin too much the naturally nice guy, who impresses himself upon Ezri without even trying.

But when the Defiant is attacked by two Jem’Hadar ships, Sisko refuses transportation and escape, ordering Worf to take evasive action, and committing his Away Team to the Siege.

It’s not a popular decision with Quark, who doesn’t want to be within a Solar System of there in the first place and, running a close second, doesn’t want his nephew within a Solar System of being there either. It’s embarrassing to Nog, who is still the complete Starfleet Ensign: loyal, brave, committed and still taken up with the romance of the role.

I should have seen it coming but I didn’t. With the tricorders blocked by jamming, Sisko sends out Nog, with Larkin and Reese, to use the Ferenghi ears to track down the whereabouts of the latest Jem’Hadar attack. They are fired on. Larkin is killed. Nog loses a leg.

Quark is especially bitter about this, as if Sisko has deliberately caused this, simply because Nog is not human. Although Quark is not as utterly annoying as he usually is, because he’s playing a totally serious role, I still found him unrealistic even at this point. It’s cultural: the Ferenghi are self-conditioned to deal, to bargain, to seek accommodations, not War, and it’s natural for Quark to see the Dominion War as completely avoidable, but once we’re at this point, with the attack imminent, it carries with it a large dose of burying ones head in the sand. watching it, I found this irritating. Thinking about it, it’s less unrealistic because Quark is taking refuge in familiar attitudes, deliberately avoiding recognition of the true situation, as an attempt at escape. Score me minus one for a misapprehension due to prejudice.

So the battle comes. At first it’s phaser fire. Then it’s hand-to-hand. Vargas dies, knifed in the back, nice guy Kellin dies, defending Ezri. Sisko goes down, loses consciousness, about to be shot at close range with a disruptor. Hard man Reese shakes him awake, and alive.

The siege has withstood the attack, though the command has been decimated. Ezri has helped Kellin crack the communications array. Relief troops arrive. The survivors are relieved, among which few only Reese appears to be unhurt, another example of the indiscriminancy of war, in which the biggest bastards survive, probably because they’re the biggest bastards. Even though he leaves behind the knife that he’s used to kill so many Jem’Hadar, you’re left wondering just how they’re going to switch him off when he gets back to ‘civilisation’.

This was an incredibly powerful episode, its use of Vic Fontaine notwithstanding. It’s basic set-up was patterned after the Battle of Guadalcanal, in the Second World War, and despite taking place in some of the most unnaturally stagey ‘caves’ the show has ever designed as a set, it took its reality from people’s experience of the Vietnam War, and in a way that managed not to insult either. There was yet another War reference in the arrival of the relief troops, all young and new, in pristine uniforms, harking at the relief of First World War trench veterans.

For me, this was head and shoulders the best episode of season 7 so far, precisely because it cut across the SF milieu of the show, in favour of a relentless, indeed for some people unnerving reality. Would that there be more like this in the eighteen episodes that are all that is left of this long, long run.

7 thoughts on “Deep Space Nine: s07 e08 – The Siege of AR-558

  1. Well said. There is a grittiness that they managed to capture so much, alluding to the neverending hell, like Vietnam, where all this minor fighting seems for nothing.
    This great stand alone dealt with the present realaties of the Dominion War. Minor spoilers, there is a follow up, coming in the next 3-4 weeks, very well done too that I consider dealing with the past aspects of the war. (And there is a great episode, totally unrelated that I consider dealing with the future impacts of the war and beyond).

  2. A superb episode indeed. Thanks for your ‘spoilers’, which are the kind of thing I don’t mind. I’m very happy to know of seriously good episodes ahead, and I do know that there’s a follow up on Nog’s maiming coming very soon.

  3. For a second I thought you were referring to the episode at large, not just the opening. Yeah, the beginning is terrible. I can’t stand Rom for the most part.

    Once you get past that though, this is a great one, one of the best episodes of DS9 for sure. If DS9 was made just 10 years later, I’m sure there would have been more episodes like this, and less like ‘Profit and Lace’. As it is though, it’s grim, gritty, and really engaging stuff. Really shows the toll the Dominion War takes on Starfleet. It’s very classical ‘loss of innocence’ material, but it works. Really well, in fact.

    1. Bearing in mind the overall level of DS9 – have you seen my ‘review’ of Profit and Lace yet? – I would wish it had been made ten yearslater. That is, until I look at Trek in the Noughties.

      1. Enterprise wasn’t as bad as people say it is. But yes, the modern Treks aren’t worth anyone’s time. That’s due to the writing team entirely, though. The actors are good, the special effects are great, and they have complete creative freedom, it seems.

        Had DS9 been made with this writing team, with ten years’ more experience of tv under their belts, under less pressure with a more reasonable episode count and a heftier budget…..well, I think that would’ve been something.

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