“The Siege of AR-558” is a great episode, packed with both action and emotion. In most of what we’ve seen to this point in Trek, being in Starfleet seems like a dream job. But what happens when a war’s on and your orders are to remain on a barren piece or rock defending a strategic piece of equipment and watching your friends die around you?
The real comic relief in this episode comes right at the very beginning, with Rom auditioning for Vic Fontaine. And anything that involves Rom singing is fine by me.
But the grim tone for the rest of the episode is set soon after, with Sisko contemplating the latest list of casualties before the Defiant sets off to the front lines.
I think that’s what I’m going to remember most about this war – looking through casualty reports. Sometimes it feels like that’s all I do: stare at the names of the dead. When the war started, I read every name. I felt it was the least I could do to honour their sacrifices. But now the names have begun to blur together.
Ezri is pretty confident in the beginning. She starts out reassuring Quark and then Nog while on the Defiant.
But everyone is surprised when they beam down to AR-558, a small planet that’s home to the largest Dominion communications array in the sector, and they’re fired on by Federation officers.
Their commanding officer orders them to stop when Sisko identifies himself. Her name is Nadia Larkin and she was left in charge after her captain and commander were killed.
What you have here is a situation that flips gender scripts on their head. The main woman character, Larkin, is totally in control of herself. She works with Sisko professionally and conveys that she knows how bad their situation is, but doesn’t blame anyone and accepts her duty.
Vargas, on the other hand, is traumatized and very understandably emotional. Similarly to how Bashir relates to Jake in “Nor the Battle to the Strong”, he is patient and empathetic with Vargas, and it sends the overall message that experiencing and expressing emotion doesn’t mean you’re less of a man or less of a hero.
When he’s treated by Doctor Bashir we really get a sense of the depth of his trauma. Doctor Bashir tries to change a dirty bandage on his arm and Vargas grabs and threatens to shoot him.
Vargas: McGreevey put this bandage on me. He ripped up his own uniform to make it.
Bashir: He sounds like a good friend.
Vargas: He was a jerk. I couldn’t stand the guy. He wouldn’t shut up. Yap, yap, yap, yap. He thought he was the world’s greatest authority on everything. I know, he’s dead and I should have more respect, but God I hated him. One moment he’s tying the bandage around my arm, talking his head off, and the next minute he’s lying flat on his back with a hole in his chest. And I just sat there and I looked at him. That was so great. He was so quiet. One time in his life he’s quiet.
Meanwhile, Quark and Nog, watching the officers at AR-558, speculate on humans’ ability to endure this kind of situation.
Quark: Take a look around you, Nog. This isn’t the Starfleet you know.
Nog: Sure it is. It’s just that these people have been through a lot. They’ve been holed up here for a long time, seen two thirds of their unit killed, but they haven’t surrendered. Do you know why? Because they’re heroes.
Quark: Maybe, but I still don’t want you anywhere near them. Let me tell you something about humans, nephew. They’re a wonderful, friendly people as long as their bellies are full and their holosuites are working. But take away their creature comforts, deprive them of food, sleep, sonic showers, put their lives in jeopardy over an extended period of time, and those same friendly, intelligent, wonderful people will become as nasty and as violent as the most bloodthirsty Klingon. You don’t believe me? Look at those faces. Look in their eyes.
I don’t really buy that the Nagus would ask Quark to go on this mission or that Starfleet would let him come, but I’m glad the writers didn’t let that stop them – having him in this story is a great choice. Who else would be able to say that great line?
It also makes for great tension as Quark worries about his own safety, but also Nog’s. When Sisko sends Nog out to try to hear the location of the Jem’Hadar, Quark argues with Sisko and tries to touch a nerve by pointing out he probably wouldn’t send Jake on the mission.
Nog is able to find the location of the Jem’Hadar encampment, but the Jem’Hadar shoot Larkin and Nog.
Back at the camp, Quark tells Sisko Nog is going to lose his leg. Sisko apologizes he can’t promise they’ll get back to a hospital quickly.
Quark: Sorry? If you really cared about Nog you would never have sent him out on that patrol.
Sisko: Now you listen to me, Quark, because I’m only going to say this one time. I care about Nog and every soldier under my command. Understood? Every single one.
Ezri proves herself extremely valuable to this mission. She spends most of it working on engineering-type tasks with Crewman Kellin, based on her former host Tobin’s experience. Later she “pulls a rabbit out of a hat” by figuring out a way to get everyone’s tricorders working and scanning for the Jem’Hadar’s hidden “Houdini” mines.
I like that Ezri dives in and gets important things done, but I have sort of mixed feelings that it seems like it’s really Dax that’s doing those things, not so much Ezri.
Kellin: You did it.
Ezri: Actually, I’m not sure it was me. It could’ve been Tobin or Jadzia.
Kellin: It doesn’t matter. The point is you managed to cut through the jamming signals.
And keep in mind there are people around that could probably really use counselling. Sure they might not have time for regular appointments, but she’s supposed to be the most qualified person there to assess and treat mental health. I kind of regret not getting to see her rising to the occasion that way.
One thing we do get to learn about Ezri as opposed to Dax’s previous hosts is that she’s never been on a front line.
Ezri: Torias, Curzon, and Jadzia, they were in battle many times, and I can remember what that felt like. I remember the fear, and the anger, and the adrenaline surge.
Kellin: Having someone else’s memories of being in combat is one thing. Living through it yourself is another.
And she does live through it and helps in the battle. Kellin, however, is shot protecting her after she gets knocked out. After the fighting ends we see her cradling his body. Vargas is also killed in the fighting.
At the end of the day Sisko and the others held the line but the victory seems hollow with so many lost and the lingering unanswered question of was this communications apparatus really worth it?
Back on Deep Space Nine, Kira brings Sisko the latest list of casualties: seven hundred and fifty names.
“They’re not just names,” Sisko says, “It’s important we remember that. We have to remember.”
Again, in this episode, DS9 shows how people cope in war. Some put a brave face on it. Some break down from the trauma. Some lose the ability to trust. Some become vicious. Everyone – regardless of gender – copes the best they can.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: Fail. Ezri and Larkin have lots of lines, but none to each other.