Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Michael Vejar
Season 6, Episode 22
Production episode 40510-546
Original air date: May 6, 1998
Station log: Quark’s is overwhelmed because the drinks replicator is down. Quark submitted an emergency report to O’Brien, who passed it on to Rom, who passed it on to Nog. However, it isn’t Nog who shows up to fix it, it’s Dax, who owes Nog a favor and so is covering for him while he takes a trip to Ferenginar by way of Starbase 257 on the runabout Shenandoah. Nog is delivering a diplomatic pouch from the Federation Council to the Grand Nagus. Jake is along for the ride—allegedly to see Ferenginar, but he soon reveals that he’s angling for an exclusive interview with Zek.
Their argument on the subject of Jake’s journalistic ethics is interrupted by a wing of Jem’Hadar fighters that attacks the starbase. Nog legs it, but one Jem’Hadar ship chases after them. When it catches up, they’re actually in Cardassian space, and Nog drops out of warp, since the runabout’s maneuverability is better, though not by much. Sure enough, the Shenandoah gets its ass kicked, but is rescued by a Defiant-class ship, the U.S.S. Valiant.
The ship is populated completely by cadets—specifically Red Squad, the elite unit. Nog has never heard of cadets being given full run of a starship before, but there’s Tim Watters, the leader of Red Squad, in the captain’s chair.
Turns out they were on a training mission—seven officers, 35 cadets, circumnavigating the entire Federation. The cadets ran the ship while the officers observed. When the war broke out, they were in a sector that was immediately taken by the Dominion, and suddenly they were behind enemy lines. The officers were all killed or badly wounded. Captain Ramirez gave Watters a battlefield commission to captain before eventually succumbing to his injuries, and Watters has gone on to provide similar commissions to many of the cadets.
They’ve been behind enemy lines for eight months, and they’re shorthanded. Nog’s familiarity with the Defiant makes him ideal to become chief engineer, as they’ve been having trouble with the engines all along, including being unable to get above warp 3.2.
They also have orders: to collect data on a new Dominion battle cruiser being constructed. However, those orders were for Ramirez. Being behind enemy lines, the Valiant has had to maintain radio silence, so Starfleet doesn’t know that they’ve put this mission in the hands of cadets.
Chief Petty Officer Dorian Collins treats Jake’s injuries and then brings him to the mess hall. She shares some stories of home, living on the moon, including a very poetic reminisce about a lunar sunrise.
Nog implements some changes that O’Brien has done on the Defiant to get the Valiant to warp 4. First Officer Karen Farris is skeptical—she’s been disdainful of Nog since his arrival—but it works, and the ship is now going faster than it has in months.
Watters goes to sickbay to snag some uppers, and Collins is there, a bit misty-eyed with nostalgia after talking to Jake. Watters then summons Jake to talk to him and Farris, upbraiding him for plunging a member of the crew into emotional turmoil. Farris plays bad cop while Watters plays good cop, saying that Jake is there to write the story of the Valiant and its crew—but he shouldn’t become a part of the story. Just step back and observe—and he is ordered to keep away from Collins. After Jake leaves, Farris—after saying she doesn’t trust Jake or Nog, though Watters isn’t worried about Nog because “he wears the uniform”—expresses concern over how little sleep Watters is getting, but he brushes her off. Once she leaves, Watters pops some more pills.
Jake is disturbed to learn that Nog has joined the crew, and is already drinking Watters’s Kool-Aid, but they don’t have time to dwell as the ship goes to red alert. They found the battleship they were supposed to gather intelligence on, and they’re pursuing it, keeping their distance, but launching a class-3 stealth probe to scan it. (Farris also takes a moment to snidely kick Jake off the bridge.)
After collecting data from the probe, Watters holds a meeting in the mess hall. They’ve completed their mission and they can go home—but the battleship is a threat to the Federation. What’s more, they’ve found what they believe to be a flaw in their antimatter storage system—its support system is vulnerable to delta radiation. Watters wants to take the Valiant and destroy the battleship before it can be deployed. They’ll rig a torpedo to emit delta radiation on impact.
Nog, however, splashes some cold water on the plan: in order to so rig the torpedo, they have to remove most of the guidance systems, which means targeting manually—and they’ll have to get within three hundred meters in order to fire effectively. (He probably meant three hundred kilometers, since the Defiant itself is a hundred and twenty meters.)
Watters gives the usual speech about how it’s risky, and no one will think ill of them if they go home and let some other ship finish their mission for them, but they’re Red Squad, they’re the best, and they can do anything. Jake’s attempt at a reality check fails pretty spectacularly and in fact only increases the cadets’ resolve to do it themselves because they’re so very awesome. They start chanting “Red Squad” over and over again, and Watters looks out over them with the satisfied look of a cult leader.
Jake knows he can’t talk the crew of the Valiant out of this suicide mission, so instead he works on Nog. Nog, however, is being a good officer; his only response to Jake’s revelation that Watters is taking uppers (which he learned from Collins) is to reprimand Jake for disobeying the orders to stay away from the chief. Nog insists that he’s part of something greater and that Jake doesn’t understand, that he’s only thinking of himself—and Jake says he damn well is thinking of himself, because he wants to actually live to see tomorrow.
When Jake says he doesn’t even know who Nog is anymore, Nog tartly replies that he’s the chief engineer of the U.S.S. Valiant. Jake says he’ll put that on Nog’s tombstone and leaves—walking right into the arms of Lieutenant Shepard, who was sent there by Watters, who eavesdropped via the comm systems on Jake and Nog’s argument. Shepard escorts Jake to the brig at phaserpoint.
The crew gets ready for battle, going through every drill like clockwork. They’re a well-oiled machine when it comes to battle preparation.
Watters gives what he probably thinks is an inspirational speech about how this moment in history will never come again, that they’re all amazing and wonderful and they should cherish this moment because they’re Starfleet, they’re Red Squad, and they’re the best. The cadets and Nog all nod encouragingly.
In the brig, Jake rolls his eyes.
They engage the Jem’Hadar battle ship—and totally get their asses handed to them. Nog’s modified torpedo doesn’t actually work, and the Dominion ship is five times their size and outguns them by, y’know, a lot. Within minutes, Watters is killed, then Farris, then pretty much the entire bridge crew. Nog and Collins are the only ones left alive on the bridge.
Collins asks Nog for orders, and seeing the corpses all around them, Nog signals abandon ship. He gets Jake out of the brig, and when Jake asks what happened, Nog only says, “We failed.”
Four escape pods leave the Valiant, but two are destroyed by the Jem’Hadar, and one other is wiped out by the backwash of the Valiant exploding. Only the pod with Jake, Nog, and Collins makes it out.
On the Defiant, Kira picks up a Starfleet distress call from inside Dominion space from a Valiant escape pod. Worf points out that the Valiant went missing eight months ago and it may be a trick, but Sisko doesn’t want to risk it, so he cloaks the ship and goes in, rescuing the one pod and not finding any others.
Bashir is able to heal Collins of her wounds. Jake goes to see if Nog is okay. Nog asks if Jake is going to write a story about the Valiant, and Jake allows as how he probably will. When Jake asks Nog what he thinks the story should say, Nog says that it was a good ship with a good crew that made a mistake in following Watters over a proverbial cliff. Collins disagrees, saying that Watters was a great man and if they failed it was because the crew failed him.
Nog walks over to Collins, giving her the Red Squad pin he was issued by Watters. “He may have been a hero, he might even have been a great man, but in the end, he was a bad captain.”
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Viterium is an extremely solid metallic compound—until you expose it to delta radiation, at which point it becomes unstable.
Preservation of mass and energy is for wimps: Odo is highly amused at Quark’s discomfort at Dax effecting repairs in the bar and gleefully declares that Quark is in love with Dax and it must piss him off that she’s married to Worf—also he notices that Quark prepared the wrong drink for a customer.
The slug in your belly: It’s never said what favor Nog did for Dax to earn him the right for her to take on his repair duties, but considering we’ve already seen him obtain real Saurian brandy at the front lines of a war, the possibilities are just endless.
Rules of Acquisition: Without a working drinks replicator results in Quark being very overwhelmed by customer orders that he has to prepare by hand.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Quark’s infatuation with Dax is such that he finds her too good for such menial tasks as replicator repair. As he watches her work at it, he’s simultaneously appalled and also totally checking out her ass, which is pretty much the most Quark thing ever.
Victory is life: The Dominion has unleashed a new battleship that’s way bigger than the usual Jem’Hadar battle cruisers, and which may or may not have a viterium storage unit for the antimatter.
Tough little ship: For reasons passing understanding, Starfleet assigned a Defiant-class ship—the most powerful battleship class in Starfleet by a damn sight—to a silly cadet cruise when war was in danger of breaking out. The levels on which this doesn’t make sense are legion.
Keep your ears open: “I want you to step back from your duty and look around—and I don’t mean look at the walls.”
Watters proving that in addition to being a crap captain, he also sucks at conversational humor.
Welcome aboard: Aron Eisenberg is back as Nog, while the Valiant crew is played by Paul Popovish (Watters), Courtney Peldon (Farris), Ashley Brianne McDonogh (Collins), Scott Hamm (Parton), and David Drew Gallagher (reprising the role of Shepard, last seen in “Paradise Lost”).
Trivial matters: Red Squad was first mentioned in “Homefront,” and first seen, in the person of Shepard, in “Paradise Lost.” They also appear in the videogame Star Trek: Invasion, the eBook novella The Oppressor’s Wrong by Phaedra M. Weldon (part of the Slings and Arrows miniseries), the novel The Best and the Brightest by Susan Wright, and the comic book series Starfleet Academy, written by Chris Cooper.
Collins’s story was followed up on in “Dorian’s Diary” by G. Wood in Strange New Worlds III.
Strictly speaking, Nog, as a commissioned officer, outranked all the cadets on board. However scripter Ronald D. Moore used an old naval tradition from the 19th century, that anyone left in command of a vessel can only be relieved by a flag officer, to get around that (since the plot wouldn’t work if Nog could just take over the ship).
Moore had originally wanted to name the ship assigned to DS9 in the third season Valiant (after the ship referenced in “Where No Man Has Gone Before”), but as Voyager was in development, they didn’t want two ships that started with the letter V, so he went with Defiant (after the ship in “The Tholian Web,” and later Enterprise’s “In a Mirror, Darkly”). He finally got his chance to use the Valiant here.
The new Dominion battleship will next be seen in “The Dogs of War.”
Walk with the Prophets: “Red Squad! Red Squad! Red Squad!” What I love about this episode is that the words that are put in the mouths of Watters and Farris and Collins and Nog and Shepard are all words we’ve heard come out of the mouths of our main characters any number of times. We’ve heard Kirk (“risk is our business”), Picard (“let us make sure that history never forgets the name Enterprise”), and Sisko (“I will not rest until I stand with you again”) give inspirational speeches like Watters gives before they go on their dumbshit mission. Scotty, McCoy, Riker, Worf, Dax, O’Brien, they’ve all said things similar to what the cadets on the Valiant (and Nog) say here, and whenever someone dissents the way Jake does, it’s usually an ambassador or an admiral or some other guest star whose job is to be in the episode as an irritant.
And of course the main characters are right and the guest stars are wrong, because that’s how television is constructed. Indeed, it all is constructed—Kirk, Picard, and Sisko (and Janeway and Archer and the rest) are all great leaders because writers write them that way and actors portray them that way.
What this episode reminds us of is that not everyone is a great captain, not everyone is a good first officer, not everyone is a brilliant chief engineer (though amusingly Nog actually does his job as chief engineer superbly). It’s all well and good to know how to talk the talk, but you have to be able to walk the walk as well. The captains we see every week are the product of years of experience. Sisko ran an engine room, was a first officer on two ships, and ran a shipyard, and we know that Picard and Kirk have lots of experience prior to the first time we saw them (hell, by the time of the TNG films, Picard was on his third command over the course of three decades). We know from “Obsession,” from “Tapestry,” from “Emissary” that Kirk, Picard, and Sisko have faced all kinds of horrible situations even before they took on their current posts. Those experiences made them into the great captains they are now.
Red Squad? They’re a bunch of completely inexperienced kids, and they have no clue what they’re doing. The worst part is that they think they know what they’re doing because they’ve survived this long, and assume it’s skill rather than luck, because they’re Red Squad and they’re elite. What they’ve forgotten is that elite is an adjective in this context, not a noun, and it modifies the word “cadet,” not the word “officer.”
This episode is brilliantly done because it uses all the tropes of a behind-the-lines adventure, of a plucky Starfleet crew triumphing against all odds, and flips it onto its ass. It also shows the difference experience makes, perhaps best illuminated in the brilliant pre-battle montage. For several minutes, we watch Red Squad prepare for battle, and they’re incredibly efficient and spit-and-polish and excellent—because this is the stuff you can teach, and they’ve learned it well. But then the fight starts, and they’re so incredibly out of their depth that it’s hard to even feel sorry for them when they fail so completely. The minute their plan doesn’t work, they’re lost, and they go from cocksure cadets to a bunch of kids who need some grownups to tell them what to do.
There are flaws here. For starters, putting the cadets on a top-of-the-line battleship never makes anything like sense. The Valiant is not a ship that would be wasted on a cadet cruise, not with war brewing (they started before the war did, but the entire back half of the fifth season was burbling toward war—Starfleet would’ve had all the Defiant-class ships close by for when war did break out, not sending them on school field trips). Of course, the out-of-the-box explanation is that it was cheaper to use existing sets and models, and by making the Valiant the same class as the Defiant, they didn’t have to build anything new.
In addition, Jake’s counterargument to Watters in the mess hall—that his father would never do this—is never even a little convincing, and was entirely the wrong argument to make. And there isn’t enough of Jake and Nog together—though their scene in the engine room is brilliantly done. This the first Jake-and-Nog story that’s truly about the pair of them as adults (“In the Cards” was too informed by both characters’ heavily subordinate relationship to Sisko), and it works. Nog has had a lot of responsibility dumped upon him in a very short time because of the war, and he makes the mistake of viewing this as being like any other post. But he earned his battlefield commission by hard work and field success. Red Squad didn’t earn anything, they got their commissions by basically not dying. Nog, though, just sees the ranks, not how they got them. (Hell, Watters imprisons a civilian reporter, having apparently forgotten what precisely he’s fighting for.)
Jake’s perspective is necessary here because he is an outsider. He hasn’t worn the uniform, and it makes him the only sane person on the ship, for all the good that it does him. And of course, he survives, because he’s a regular, as does Nog; having Collins survive leavens the absurdity of the regular-character pixie dust that miraculously lets the two characters we know live while the ones we don’t know die, but it’s still pretty absurd.
Warp factor rating: 7
Keith R.A. DeCandido is one of the three guests at HonorCon 2014 in Raleigh, North Carolina this weekend, along with fellow space-opera authors David Weber and Timothy Zahn. You can see his schedule here.