Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Siege of AR-558   Rewatch 
October 27, 2016 4:04 AM - Season 7, Episode 8 - Subscribe

Defending a comm array on a barren planet, Sisko, Bashir, Dax, Nog, and Quark are vastly outnumbered by Jem'Hadar warriors—and their only backup is a depleted and war-weary Starfleet unit.

We'll be seeing Memory Alpha in all the old familiar places:

- This episode is loosely based on the Battle of Guadalcanal which was fought by the Allies and the Empire of Japan from August 1942 to February 1943. The battle is generally considered to be a turning point of World War II in the Pacific, as due to its geographical position, the island of Guadalcanal had huge strategic significance. David Weddle's father had fought with the United States Marine Corps during the battle, and according to Weddle, "Those men and women stopped something incredibly evil, and when they came back, there was no talk about post-traumatic stress syndrome or therapy groups. They won, but it changed their whole lives. Ira and Hans really tried to capture the essence of that."

- Although episodes such as "Rejoined", "Far Beyond the Stars", "Inquisition", "In the Pale Moonlight", and "Shadows and Symbols" generated a great deal of controversy amongst fans, according to the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, "The Siege of AR-558" generated more backstage controversy than any other Deep Space Nine show. According to Ira Steven Behr, "a lot of people didn't want us to do the episode, and a lot of people were unhappy it was being developed. But I felt that we needed to do it. War sucks. War is intolerable. War is painful, and good people die. You win, but you still lose. And we needed to show that as uncompromisingly as possible. War isn't just exploding ships and special effects."

- Director Winrich Kolbe had fought in the Vietnam War, and he allowed his knowledge of combat to influence his direction of the episode; "The images you see are trenches of churned-up dirt. The battleground always looked like there was absolutely nothing there that anyone could ever want. Yet people were blowing each other to smithereens over this land. I wanted AR-558 to be that type of battleground, a totally nondescript piece of real estate that didn't deserve one drop of blood to be shed for it. It shouldn't say anything to the eye or the mind except that we were there because somebody had decided to put a relay station on this rock." Kolbe goes on to say, "We wanted the siege scene in "AR-558" to convey the psychological impact, and not come across like a shoot-em-up. What I remember from Vietnam is sitting in a ditch somewhere and waiting. It's the waiting that drives you nuts. You know they're coming. You can hear them. You can feel them. When you have to wait, your mind plays tricks on you, and you hear things and you see things, like Vargas, who's about to explode. Once the battle starts, your adrenaline kicks in and you have an objective. But when you have to wait, time just slows down to a crawl." Kolbe felt that the battle for AR-558 had a great deal of similarity with the 1968 Battle of Khe Sanh, a battle which was won by the Americans, but the strategic significance of which is still debated to this day.

- The scene where Quark describes to Nog what happens when Humans' creature comforts are taken away is one of Armin Shimerman's favorite scenes he has ever performed on the show; "The finest moment for Quark was the episode "The Siege of AR-558". They were beautiful comments, and I was honored to make them." Behr calls Quark "the moral consciousness" of the episode. According to Shimerman, "I'm very proud of this episode. Star Trek is a franchise about people who, for the most part, belong to the Federation, and it's usually the Humans that the show centers on. But in this episode, they allowed me to express an 'other-than-Federation' point of view. I got to do something that was Spock-like, in the sense that Spock, as an outsider, could comment about Humanity."

- Bill Mumy, who plays Kellin, is another Babylon 5 regular to appear in Deep Space Nine. Mumy, a friend of Ira Steven Behr, had always wanted to appear on the show, but held out until he was allowed to play a Human (he had repeatedly been asked to appear as an alien). His Babylon 5 co-star Patricia Tallman also appears in this episode, as a stunt double for Annette Helde. As a child actor, he portrayed Will Robinson on the TV series "Lost in Space", which ran during approximately the same years as TOS. After filming the scene in Kellin is killed, an amused Behr announced to the cast and crew on a megaphone that "Star Trek just killed Will Robinson!"

"You know, pally? Some times being a hologram can be a real pain in the asymmetric photons."

- Vic Fontaine

"Sir, what are your orders?"
"There's only one order, lieutenant. We hold."

- Larkin and Benjamin Sisko

"Let me tell you something about Hew-mons, 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 violent as the most bloodthirsty Klingon. You don't believe me? Look at those faces, look at their eyes..."

- Quark
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (7 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I love this episode. It pulls no punches, and utterly trashes the glorification of battles and warrior combat-honor that we see so often in Klingon-centric episodes.

The full exchange between Nog and Quark was excellent.

Nog: "That soldier over there. You see his necklace? Those are Ketracel white tubes."
Quark: "So?"
Nog: "You know how he got them?"
Quark: "Mail order?"
Nog: "He took them off the bodies of dead Jem'Hadar. Jem'Hadar that he killed. It's his way of keeping score."
Quark: "And you find that impressive?"
Nog: "Isn't it?"
Quark: "I don't think so. 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. You know I'm right, don't you? Well? Aren't you going to say something?"
Nog: "I feel sorry for the Jem'Hadar."


Battles between people across the various Star Trek incarnations have always seemed a bit stiff and choreographed. Ship battles are further removed from the realities of on-the-ground warfare. This episode wasn't entirely different in that regard, but it's the first (and one of the only ones) to capture a realistic depiction of what war, being a soldier and combat are like. Nog has a soldier's mentality and naivete -- perhaps at least, a soldier who hasn't seen vicious combat, yet.

The little touches during this episode made it real. Nervous tics among the soldiers: Bashir reloading his gun. Reese sharpening his Jem Hadar blade (as well as Nog's fascination with it,) Kellin flicking his phaser rifle sight up and down.

We have Nog, whom we've watched grow up. The show has consistently used him as a foil for Jake or other Ferengi. Or as comic relief. Nog's a soldier who has seen a limited amount of combat, whose best qualities are a sense of duty, responsibility and honor. He's mostly naive about war and sacrifice -- and he is unfathomable to Quark -- who is far more of a realist, and who probably believes that the Ferengi urge to negotiate and avoid war make them far superior to other, more combative species.

When he's injured, Nog's most concerned that he has disappointed Sisko and made a mistake by leading Larkin into a trap -- seemingly even more than over the loss of his own leg. But this injury marks a turning point for him. He'll never be innocent again.

One of the last lines of the episode, as replacements are arriving, is exceptionally powerful:

Reese: "Children."
Sisko: "Not for long."
posted by zarq at 10:03 AM on October 27, 2016 [8 favorites]

After I watched the episode, as I was reading about the backstage drama in the DS9 Companion, I wondered if some of the objection to the episode was that they'd already done "Nor the Battle to the Strong" as a Space-War-is-Hell episode. The thing is, one of the things about war is that, if it lasts for any length of time, it keeps on being hell, and that grind is part of what wears away the humanity (anthropocentric bias not intended; "humanity" used for lack of a more species-inclusive term) of its participants. I was thinking of the one time I've been to a Civil War battlefield, Shiloh in Tennessee, and one of the things that really got to me, aside from the horrific details of the carnage involved, was that this was relatively early in the war; there was plenty more butchery to come. Sisko is getting worn down just reading the casualty reports; it's a wonder that only one guy has a ketracel white tube necklace.

And the guest cast are really good here, especially Raymond Cruz as Vargas. Probably most people nowadays think of Cruz as Tuco Salamanca from Breaking Bad, and while he was scarily effective in that role, I actually like him a little bit better here. The regulars are also good; the DS9 Companion says that the showrunners deliberately didn't put Worf or Kira in the battle because they'd be better able to handle it (and probably left O'Brien out for the same reason), and the ones who are stuck there are good at conveying how fucked they think they all are. Quark also works as the antiwar voice; I'm sure that he knows that there's no real negotiating with the Dominion, when it comes down to it, short of total capitulation. (I was reminded, not long ago, after rewatching "Rules of Acquisition", that Quark is literally the first person from the Alpha Quadrant--along with Pel, of course--to know about the Dominion, so he's had longer than anyone else to deal with them.) He's not so much angry at Sisko for dragging Nog into this as he is with the whole situation, including himself for not being able to finesse his way out of it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:32 PM on October 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

I remember thinking the episode was uneven, but very much admiring the performance of Raymond Cruz. I was frustrated by some of the limitations of the show's esthetic, like the surface sets just didn't sell the setting to me effectively, and some of the bits of business cited above to attempt to convey the tense uncertainy of combatants seemed a little lifted from 1970s b-movies about Vietnam or vets or combat in general.

But the thing that really was problematic for me was that I just couldn't get suspension of disbelief working for me that this specific subset of DS9 crew and staff were somehow urgently required as combatants in a ground war. I mean, I don't really blame the creators for it; they wanted these people in that situation, and handwavium or nonsense is as legit a way to get your protagonists where you need 'em as anything. But, come on. Sisko held a Starfleet senior-staff desk job, a job he probably should have stayed in from the perspective of trying to concentrate and protect your most valuable analysts, and suddenly his gig involves running a rifle from the backside of a berm?

I just couldn't see it, even if the episode has him staying voluntarily. And what the hell with the no reinforcements? At a captured Dominion relay? Maybe Starfleet needed Sisko running logistics more than we know.
posted by mwhybark at 1:39 AM on October 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

One of my headcanons is that the Dominion deliberately disrupted Starfleet's logistics as much as they could. We already saw the episode where Nog, who is IIRC still an ensign at this point, had to run this crazy Rube Goldberg-esque series of trades and marginally-legal favors just to get a replacement part for the Defiant in a timely fashion, and another mission had the Klingons, I think, running escort duty for a supply convoy. It did occur to me that things would really suck for the alliance if the Emissary up and died during a minor skirmish, but oh well.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:09 AM on October 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't know if it's Netflix or my television settings, but, I could barely see what was going on most of the time in this episode due to how dark it was.

especially Raymond Cruz as Vargas. Probably most people nowadays think of Cruz as Tuco Salamanca from Breaking Bad, and while he was scarily effective in that role, I actually like him a little bit better here.

He will always be Julio Sanchez of The Closer/Major Crimes to me -- strange to see him so young!
posted by oh yeah! at 12:31 PM on October 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think that's a fair point, HJ.

Additionally, we know one of the overall creative objectives in DS9 was to pull our view of the Federation away from fully automated luxury space communism, where everything is superabundant and runs smoothly and therefore presents the utopian dilemma to a dramatist. Looking at the chaotic conditions of wartime economics and bringing them into the scripts as conflict levers makes perfect sense.

I guess like many things in DS9 I just wish there had been more effort expended in sketching out the worldbuilding aspects of this, like, oh, a throwaway reference to how some Founder virus broke the Federation's logistics center on Tantalus V at the war's start and since then the entire sector's been awash in self-sealing stembolts or something.
posted by mwhybark at 2:44 PM on October 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Raymond Cruz is a sneaky bastard.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:49 PM on November 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

« Older Glitch: There Must Be Rules...   |  Black Mirror: Men Against Fire... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments