“The Siege of AR-558”
Written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler
Directed by Winrich Kolbe
Season 7, Episode 8
Production episode 40510-558
Original air date: November 18, 1998
Station log: For reasons passing understanding, Rom is auditioning for Fontaine’s opening act, never mind that it’s a friggin holodeck program. Bashir arrives and takes a set of recordings of Fontaine singing to bring on a supply run to AR-558.
The Defiant heads off, with Quark as a reluctant passenger, sent by Zek to provide a report on the front lines. Sisko, Bashir, Dax, and Nog beam down (along with Quark) with the supplies, while Worf and O’Brien remain on the Defiant. The away team is fired on by Vargas, who saw movement, and who never got the memo that Starfleet officers were beaming down. Larkin castigates Vargas (who rants quite crazily), and then informs Sisko that she’s in command, as the captain and commander who were in charge are dead.
AR-558 was a Jem’Hadar base that Starfleet captured five months ago. They’ve been trying to decode the protocols of the Jem’Hadar communications array on the world, and also have been fighting off the Jem’Hadar’s attempts to take the world back. Their 150-person garrison is down to 43, and morale (as Vargas’s mini-breakdown has amply shown) is in the toilet.
Nog notices that Reese is wearing a necklace of ketracel-white tubes that he’s taken off Jem’Hadar that he’s killed. Meanwhile, Bashir treats Vargas for various injuries, but Vargas won’t let him touch his bandaged arm. Turns out the bandage was made by McGreevy from ripped pieces of his uniform. While McGreevy was bandaging Vargas, he was shot and killed—Vargas didn’t even like McGreevy, and when he was killed was the first time McGreevy shut the hell up, and Vargas won’t let anyone touch the bandage. Eventually Bashir talks him into letting his arm be treated, and then loudly recommends to Sisko that the Starfleet personnel be rotated off the base.
A “Houdini” mine goes off, killing of Larkin’s people. They’re mines that travel in subspace and appear at random, and are therefore impossible to find.
Two Jem’Hadar ships attack the Defiant and beam down ground troops. Sisko orders Worf to take evasive action and then he takes charge of the remainder of the troops—his orders: “We hold.” Sisko, Nog, Larkin, Vargas, and Reese fight off a wave of Jem’Hadar—except they aren’t really there, they’re holograms, sent to determine Starfleet’s capabilities to resist them.
Then another “Houdini” mine goes off. Sisko puts Kellin and Dax to work to stop those mines, and then sends Reese, Larkin, and Nog on a scouting party. They find a garrison of Jem’Hadar and head back—Nog using his hearing in lieu of a tricorder to lead them around—but they’re still ambushed. Larkin is killed and Nog is shot in the leg. Reese gets Nog back to camp, and Bashir is forced to amputate Nog’s leg.
Dax is able to get the tricorder working past the Jem’Hadar interference, and she and Kellin are able to pull the Houdini mines out of subspace (one of them right by Vargas’s head). Sisko plans to use them on the Jem’Hadar when they come through the ravine between the base camp Nog found and the communications array.
They implement the plan, and then they have to wait for the Jem’Hadar. Bashir plays Fontaine’s music to help soothe everyone’s nerves.
Then the mines all go off. And then it’s quiet. Vargas wonders if maybe they got them all with the mines—but then the surviving Jem’Hadar attack.
The firefight is brutal. Kellin saves Dax’s life, only to be killed himself. Vargas is stabbed in the back. For his part, Reese gets a few more tubes for his necklace, and Quark shoots and kills a Jem’Hadar who tries to enter the infirmary, where he’s keeping an eye on Nog.
In the end, they hold. Which, Reese reminds Sisko, were their orders.
The Defiant returns, along with the Vera Cruz. The latter ship has crew replacements for AR-558, and they also take on Bashir and Nog to transport them to a hospital so Nog can be given a biosynthetic replacement leg.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Hilariously, the closest this episode comes to technobabble is the existence of the Houdini mines. We’re never told how Dax breaks through the Jem’Hadar interference, how she and Kellin pull the mines out of subspace, or how they move the mines to the ravine and put them back into subspace without setting them off.
The Sisko is of Bajor: Sisko is concerned in the opening because the casualty reports are getting so voluminous that the names are all becoming a blur. After AR-558 he reminds Kira that it’s important that they not just be names, but people.
There is no honor in being pummeled: Worf (somewhat predictably) tells Sisko at the end that it was a great victory worthy of song and story. Sisko is not all that comforted by that.
The slug in your belly: Kellin puts Dax to work, using her experiences as Tobin and Jadzia to be all sciencey and stuff. Torias, Curzon, and Jadzia were all in combat in their lives—this is Ezri’s first time.
Rules of Acquisition: Quark repeatedly reminds Nog that he’s a Ferengi and that humans at war—humans who have deprived of their creature comforts—are as vicious as any Klingon, and he should not emulate them. He also rips into Sisko more than once for putting Nog in this situation. But when forced to defend himself, Quark doesn’t hesitate to use a phaser on a Jem’Hadar, either…
We also get two Rules, #125 (“You can’t make a deal if you’re dead”) and a repeat of #34 (“War is good for business,” with Quark adding that it becomes less good for business the closer you get to the front lines).
Victory is life: The Dominion’s technological superiority is seen here as they have subspace mines, use solid holograms as stalking horses, and have a communications array that top Starfleet engineers can’t make heads nor tails of after five months.
Tough little ship: The Defiant makes short work of the Jem’Hadar ship they encounter en route to the base. They have more trouble with the two that attack AR-558, with Worf forced to retreat.
What happens on the holosuite stays on the holosuite: Bashir has to go to Fontaine for a recording of him singing on the holosuite. It’s unclear why Bashir can’t just ask the computer for such a recording—nor is it clear why Rom thinks he can audition for a job that will be assigned to a hologram…
Keep your ears open: “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 violent as the most bloodthirsty Klingon.”
Quark giving Nog the theme of the episode.
Welcome aboard: Bill Mumy makes his first Trek appearance as Kellin. Mumy is best known for playing Will Robinson as a kid in Lost in Space, and he also starred on Babylon 5 as Lennier. Mumy had previously co-written a three-part Star Trek comic for DC with Peter David in 1990, and, after wearing prosthetics for so many years on B5, was only willing to appear on DS9 if he played a human.
Recurring regulars Aron Eisenberg, Max Grodénchik, and James Darren are all here, the former getting quite the spotlight as Nog…
Patrick Kilpatrick plays Reese. He previously appeared in Voyager’s “Initiations” as a Kazon, an episode that also featured Eisenberg as a young Kazon, and which was also directed by Winrich Kolbe. Annette Helde (last seen as Karina in “Visionary,” and who also appeared in First Contact and Voyager’s “Scientific Method”) plays Larkin.
But this episode’s Robert Knepper moment is Raymond Cruz as Vargas. Currently starring on Major Crimes as Detective Sanchez (continuing the role he began on The Closer), Cruz is probably best known as the insane drug dealer Tuco on Breaking Bad, and I’d totally forgotten that he was in this episode…
Trivial matters: The designation of the base, AR-558, actually comes from the production number of the episode.
Reese appears again in the short story “Requital” by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin in Tales of the Dominion War. He was also supposed to be the focal point of a proposed novel by Bradley Thompson called Walking Wounded, but that novel never got out of the proposal stage.
The episode was inspired by the Guadalcanal Campaign in World War II, as well as the movie Hell is for Heroes (Reese and Larkin were named after characters in that film, while Kellin was named after the actor who played Private Kolinsky). In addition, director Winrich Kolbe drew on his experiences fighting in the Vietnam War when he filmed the episode.
For his audition, Rom sings “The Lady is a Tramp” (he mis-sings the final word as “scamp”), and Bashir plays Fontaine singing “I’ll Be Seeing You” while they wait for the Jem’Hadar attack. The latter song was very popular during World War II.
Nog’s recovery from his wounds will be seen in “It’s Only a Paper Moon.”
This episode actually had two opening-credits regulars from Babylon 5 in it, as Patricia Tallman (who played Lyta Alexander on B5) was Annette Helde’s stunt double.
Worf mentions the Dominion’s continued efforts to retake the Chin’toka system, which the Federation captured in “Tears of the Prophets.”
Walk with the Prophets: “They’re not just names, it’s important we remember that.” This is an ugly, unpleasant, obvious, clichéd episode. From a structural standpoint, I find it to be incredibly manipulative: deliberately using Dax, Nog, Bashir, and Quark as the characters stuck on AR-558 and having to get in on the fighting, deliberately leaving combat vets Kira, Worf, and O’Brien out of it. And the guest stars aren’t people, they’re war-movie clichés. We’ve got the junior officer thrust into command, we’ve got the hotheaded young guy who’s losing it, we’ve got the hard-bitten combat vet who’s pretty much lost his humanity, we’ve got the nice engineer who’s lost his faith in himself. None of them are really characters, though—we don’t get to know them very well. Hell, thanks to Vargas’s rant, we know more about what kind of person McGreevy is than we do Reese, Vargas, Larkin, or Kellin, and McGreevy’s long dead.
Plus, what the hell were they thinking with that teaser? On what planet was it considered a good idea to waste one of Max Grodénchik’s guest appearances on him singing “The Lady is a Tramp” really really really badly? No complaints about the use of Fontaine in the episode, as Bashir using music to soothe the troops on the eve of battle is excellent, but that opening scene? Sheesh.
But the episode is still a great one, despite the flaws, because it doesn’t pull any punches. For starters, it inverts the clichés a bit by having Nog lose his leg and Reese and several other members of the AR-558 crew survive.
Mostly, though, this episode reminds us that war is awful, it’s unfair, it’s brutal, it’s mean-spirited, and it breaks people. Quark spends the entire episode railing against being forced into combat, and he’s forced to take up arms to protect his wounded nephew. Dax has memories of combat from previous hosts, but it’s not the same thing. Bashir joined Starfleet to heal people, not shoot them, and Nog—well, he has seen combat, but this is the worst he’s had to endure, and certainly has the worst consequences.
Reese sums it up best when AR-558’s replacements finally show up. He sees them, mutters, “Children,” and Sisko says bitterly, “Not for long.”
It’s easy to trivialize war, especially in a science fiction show. When most of the battles take place in space, where models and CGI effects shoot fictional ray beams at other models and CGI effects, and the only consequences seem to be exploding consoles and the occasional extra who’s never a person we actually know flying across the bridge, it’s hard to get too worked up about it. Credit to DS9 for this episode, for “The Ship” and “Rocks and Shoals” and “Nor the Battle to the Strong” and “Valiant” and “In the Pale Moonlight” for keeping their eye on the ball: war sucks. Even if it doesn’t kill you, it eats away at you bit by bit.
Warp factor rating: 8
Keith R.A. DeCandido has done quite a bit with the Dominion War in his Star Trek writing career, including the short stories “The Ceremony of Innocence is Drowned” in Tales of the Dominion War (which he also edited) and “Four Lights” in The Sky’s the Limit, the two-part eBook novellas War Stories for the Starfleet Corps of Engineers series (which were flashbacks showing what the crew of the S.C.E. series were doing during the war), and an alternate version of the war in A Gutted World (in the Myriad Universes: Echoes and Refractions trade paperback).