“Nor the Battle to the Strong”
Written by Bruce R. Parker and Rene Echevarria
Directed by Kim Friedman
Season 5, Episode 4
Production episode 40510-502
Original air date: October 21, 1996
Station log: Jake has gotten his first writing assignment, a profile of Bashir, which includes going with him in a runabout to a medical conference. To Jake’s regret, a profile of Bashir mostly involves listening to the doctor drone on at great length about medical minutiae that Jake can’t even follow a little bit. One of Bashir’s diatribes is cut off by a distress call from Ajilon Prime, a Federation colony that’s been attacked by Klingons. (“So much for the cease-fire,” Jake mutters.) Bashir is reluctant to respond, as it will put his commanding officer’s son in danger, but Jake points out, with all the assurances of an 18-year-old who thinks he’s bulletproof, that he’s been in danger plenty of times on the station and he can handle himself.
The Farragut is a day and a half away, and Bashir promises Sisko that he’ll take Jake and leave as soon as the Farragut arrives. (The Defiant is three days away.) The hospital was destroyed, so they had to move to a cave system. The caves are laced with magnesite, so they can’t beam through it, and Bashir doesn’t want to leave the runabout in orbit in any case. He lands and immediately is tossed into chaos as he helps Dr. Kalandra and the rest of the medical staff with the wounded who are pouring in. Jake mostly is in the way, but he does get to watch people die.
One human comes in with what he says is a disruptor blast on his foot, but upon examination, Bashir realizes it’s a phaser burn. The battle got bad enough that he shot himself in the foot rather than continue to fight.
Left with nothing to do, Jake goes off to the side to take notes, but then a doctor calls him over to keep an eye on someone while he gets plasma. Soon, he’s pressed into service as an orderly, even putting on scrubs. When one patient dies, Jake helps carry him to the makeshift morgue, and he’s appalled to see how many dead there already are there.
The Farragut is destroyed en route to Ajilon Prime. As soon as Sisko hears this, he preps the Defiant for departure.
When things calm down, Jake and Bashir sit down to eat, and—after all that—it’s the act of cutting meat that makes him puke. He and Bashir talk about the ensign who shot himself, who also told Jake that two of his fellow officers ran away. They’ll probably all be court-martialed. Jake doesn’t understand how Starfleet officers could run like that.
Bashir and Kalandra talk, and he informs her that a fleet is regrouping to retake the Archanis sector, led by the Rutledge and the Tecumseh. It turns out that Kalandra’s husband is a science officer on the latter ship.
Jake and Kirby, the other orderly, start gossiping. Kirby has heard about the Farragut’s destruction, and rumor has it that the Klingons will completely take the settlement before any other ship can arrive. Jake has trouble sleeping that night—he’s been under fire before, but this is the first time it’s happened when his father wasn’t around.
Then everyone’s awakened by the destruction of the generator, which won’t be repaired for three hours. The portable generators are being used to keep the shields up, but Bashir offers the portable generator on the runabout. He and Jake head out, only to find themselves under fire by Klingons. Jake panics and runs away. He trips and falls right on a Klingon corpse, and then finds himself in a clearing that is full of Starfleet and Klingon corpses both. So he runs away even farther, only to fall down a ridge.
Also at the bottom of the ridge is a Starfleet officer named Burke, who’s badly wounded. He stayed behind so that his platoon could get away. Ashamed, Jake admits that he ran away. Jake tries to find a way to help Burke, but Burke tells him that life doesn’t work like that right before he dies right in front of him.
So Jake runs away again.
On the Defiant, Sisko is occupying himself with busywork. Dax tries her best to cheer him up, and it works to some extent.
Jake returns to the hospital, and Kirby is relieved to see that he’s alive. Jake’s story is that he was knocked out by the shelling and then must have wandered off in the wrong direction. Bashir managed to get the generator back to the caves, though the runabout was destroyed and Bashir himself is badly hurt. When Jake goes to visit Bashir, the doctor is overwhelmed with relief, as he was sure that Jake had been killed. Jake actually snaps at Bashir, who can’t stand that Bashir is apologizing to him for Jake’s cowardice.
Jake brings lunch to the ensign who shot himself in the foot. The ensign says that Jake’s the only person who doesn’t look at him with disdain, and he thinks he should work as a cutter for a mine—the one thing that job requires is good aim with a phaser, and he knows he can do that. He actually did well in battle simulations at the Academy, but the reality broke him, the same way it did Jake.
The medical staff has a particularly morbid discussion about how the Klingons will kill them, and Jake pulls a nutty in the mess hall, ranting about how nobody’s going to remember what happened there no matter how dangerous or crazy or heroic. Bashir tries to talk to Jake, but Jake just wants to be left alone.
The cave is attacked by Klingons, so they’re evacuating to a new location—including taking all seventy patients. Just as the last people are evacuated, two Klingons enter the hospital room. The two security guards are killed, but Jake hides under a table, and uses one of the phaser rifles to fire blindly from his hiding place. His phaser fire collapses the ceiling on the Klingons, and on Jake himself, though he’s protected by the table he’s hiding under. When he comes to, he sees Bashir—and Sisko. The cease-fire has been reinstated and the Klingons have pulled out. Bashir says that Jake’s actions saved the patients, as his collapsing of the cave entrance bought them the time they needed to get the last of them to the hopper.
Jake shows Sisko a draft of the full article, which includes his entire experience, down to the running away. Sisko says that anyone who’s been in battle would recognize what Jake went through, though most wouldn’t admit it.
The Sisko is of Bajor: Sisko remembers when Jake was five years old and clung to him after he scraped his knee. As far as Jake was concerned, Sisko was the only person in the world who could make it better. That memory makes it hard for Sisko to deal with Jake being a sector away in a war zone.
Don’t ask my opinion next time: As part of O’Brien’s ongoing attempt to micromanage Kira’s carrying of his and Keiko’s fetus, he asks Quark to come up with a decaffeinated raktajino. Kira thinks it tastes like ass.
The slug in your belly: Dax tells Sisko about Audrid’s daughter Neema, who was sick for months. Audrid read to her even though she was unconscious, and stayed in the hospital with her day and night. Eventually she pulled through, to Sisko’s relief, since if the story didn’t have a happy ending, he’d have been pissed.
Rules of Acquisition: On Ferenginar, a pregnancy is considered a rental by the female of the male’s property, to wit, the offspring. Kira and Dax are beyond revolted by that particular notion. (Quark refers to Kira as the “lessee”—amusingly, given the surrogate nature of the pregnancy, it’s actually more accurate in this case. But, y’know, still awful.)
Preservation of mass and energy is for wimps: While pursuing two Yridian criminals, Odo jumps down the stairs, intending to turn into a condor, forgetting that he’s not a shapeshifter anymore. He injures himself. After limping to Sisko to report, he wonders why the Founders refer to non-changelings as “solids” when in fact humanoid bodies are absurdly fragile.
Keep your ears open: “Try not to worry, Captain. It won’t do you or Jake any good.”
“Can’t help it. It comes with the territory.”
“But Jake is eighteen years old. Does your father still worry about you?”
“All the time.”
Odo trying to comfort Sisko.
Welcome aboard: Bunches of guests here: Danny Goldring plays Burke—he was last seen as Legate Kell in “Civil Defense,” and will return as a Hirogen in Voyager’s “The Killing Game” two-parter and as two different ship captains in two Enterprise episodes. Karen Austin—who was one of the finalists for the role of Captain Janeway on Voyager, and who will also play B’Elanna’s mother Miral on that show’s episode “The Barge of the Dead”—plays Kalandra. Daytime Emmy Award winner (for his work on As the World Turns from 1986-1991) Andrew Kavovit plays Kirby. The guest cast is rounded out by Lisa Lord, Mark Holton, and Jeb Brown.
Trivial matters: The cease-fire between the Federation and the Klingon Empire was declared by Gowron at the end of “Apocalypse Rising.”
Having mined country music for the previous episode’s title, this time they went with the Bible, specifically the Book of Ecclesiastes 9:11.
One of the inspirations for the story was to have Jake go through the type of formative experience that Ernest Hemingway did as an ambulance driver in World War I France. Other inspirations include the 1930 film All Quiet on the Western Front (particularly the scene with Burke) and the Stephen Crane novel The Red Badge of Courage.
The original story was to be a Cardassian hospital under attack by Klingons, but after “Apocalypse Rising,” and with “Trials and Tribble-ations” coming up, they needed to conserve the budget, and a show with that many people in makeup would prove too expensive.
Two other changes that were made after the first draft: Originally, Rene Echevarria had Jake fall into the ridge with a blind Klingon, but Ira Steven Behr had him change it to a human, as having a sympathetic Klingon dulled the impact of the story. Also, the episode ran short, so Echevarria wrote the second scene with the ensign who shot himself in the foot, which everyone agreed wound up being a critical scene to the theme of the story. (Amusingly, something similar happened with “The Way of the Warrior”—the root beer conversation between Quark and Garak had to be added when the episode ran short, and it wound up being one of the greatest scenes in Trek history.)
Walk with the Prophets: “Listen to me, I’m actually rooting for a plague.” While the influence of various and sundry war stories is obvious in this episode, what I find it reminds me most of is M*A*S*H, particularly episodes such as “O.R.,” “Aid Station,” “Deluge,” “Post-Op,” “Your Hit Parade,” “Dreams,” and most especially, given the setting of this particular episode, “C*A*V*E.”
Although probably the best M*A*S*H comp is “Heal Thyself,” an eighth-season episode where Edward Hermann plays a surgeon named Newsom on temporary duty to the 4077th while Potter and Winchester are ill. After initially performing brilliantly in the operating room, Newsom has a psychotic break and falls completely apart into a catatonic state.
What I particularly like about this DS9 episode is that it shows the many different ways people respond to the horrors of war. Kalandra is doing very much the same thing Sisko does on the Defiant: keeping herself busy so she doesn’t have to think about a family member (although she’s in as much danger as her husband on the Tecumseh). Kirby and the rest of the medical staff engage in gallows humor (some of the most M*A*S*H-like moments are from the staff, particularly the discussion of how they want the Klingons to kill them).
Perhaps the best contrast is between the foot-shooting ensign and Burke. The latter is the stereotypical tough-guy soldier, demanding that Jake sit him up so he doesn’t die facedown in the dirt. He’s the ideal Starfleet officer, sacrificing himself to save others, and spouting a ton of tough-guy clichés while he’s at it. Meanwhile, the ensign is deemed a failure, with everyone looking on in disgust.
But not everyone’s cut out for this. Jake certainly isn’t. He even tries to make sense of what’s happening by trying to contrive an it-was-meant-to-be scenario with Burke—that he was fated to run away so he could save Burke. Burke’s subsequent death spoils that absurd notion.
However, what makes the episode particularly work is Jake’s evolution as a writer, as seen through the voiceovers. We start out in the teaser with musings and complaints about Bashir’s self-centered diatribes, which is followed by his stumbling over trying to write about triage. But as the episode progresses, the voiceovers get more eloquent and assured, to the point where he’s got a decent, if florid, piece of personal journalism describing the Battle of Ajilon Prime. Jake may not be much of an orderly or a soldier or a Starfleet officer. However, he is a writer, and if he can bring the experiences of Kirby and the Kalandra and the wounded ensign and Burke and the nurses and himself to others through his writing, then he’s served a purpose, just like Bashir and Kalandra do as doctors and Burke did as an officer.
Warp factor rating: 8
Keith R.A. DeCandido reminds everyone that his latest Star Trek book The Klingon Art of War is now on sale. You can get the book at your local bookstore or order it online from Amazon,Barnes & Noble,Indie Bound, or directly from the publisher. He’s talked about the book on the podcasts Trek Radio, The G & T Show, SciFi Diner, and The Chronic Rift. He’ll be doing two more signings for the book in May: at Pandemonium Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Thursday the 15th and at the Enigma Bookstore (alongside fellow tie-in writers David Mack and Aaron Rosenberg) in Queens, New York on Saturday the 17th, both events at 7pm.