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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Siege (Review)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’m taking a look at the first and second seasons. Check back daily for the latest review or retrospective.

The Siege wraps up the first ever three-part episode of Star Trek in a surprisingly efficient manner. There are a few missteps, a lack of nuance and an over abundance of convenience and simplicity. However, it succeeds in doing what this opening three-parter set out to do. It tells a single story which could only ever have been told on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It gives a sense of scale to the show which is unique to the series, and it creates a palpable sense of uncertainty about the Federation’s mission to Bajor.

"He's letting me know, he'll be back..."

“He’s letting me know, he’ll be back…”

To be fair, The Homecoming and The Circle are both relatively complex pieces of television. They provide an epic tapestry of events involving the potential political collapse of a planet which only recently achieved independence. This civil war was truly impressive in scope. Although the show hardly had the budget to realise an impressive planet-wide conflict, there was a sense that this uncertainty had repercussions beyond the upper atmosphere. This wasn’t just a planet-of-the-week going through a convenient power struggle.

This three-parter offers a political quagmire involving intergalactic politics and moral questions about what “independence” really means. If Emissary established that the show was to be about Bajor’s quest to join the Federation, then The Homecoming and The Circle represented a very clear attack on the heart of Deep Space Nine as a show. Uncomfortable questions are asked, and understandable tensions come to the fore.

Wall-to-wall action...

Wall-to-wall action…

It feels textured and nuanced. This is political and religious and personal. It involves the fate of the Bajorans, but it also has knock-on repercussions beyond the planet’s surface on the political structure of the Star Trek universe. The Homecoming and The Circle set up this gigantic and meaningful conflict. And, to the credit of The Siege, it manages to wrap things up reasonably well, in a way that is quite satisfying.

At the same time, however, The Siege feels a little too simplistic for its own good, given all the set-up. The episode really shifts the focus away from Bajoran and interstellar politics to focus on the regular cast. The first half focuses on the evacuation of Deep Space Nine with a healthy emphasis on character work. Then Sisko and his crew play Die Hard on a space station”, while Kira and Dax race to the planet surface with some vital evidence.

The doctor will see you now...

The doctor will see you now…

None of these are bad plot lines. They all have a certain amount of tension, and I’m always a sucker for “Star Trek does Die Hard”, to the point that I really sincerely love “Patrick Stewart as Bruce Willis” in Starship Mine. There’s just something inherently bad ass about Picard fighting for the Enterprise, and doing it with his saddle. The same concept is at play here. Given Sisko really didn’t want to be assigned to the station in Emissary, there’s something innately appealing about forcing Sisko to literally fight for his station.

But still, it feels like The Siege loses focus a little bit. One of the best scenes of The Circle occurred near the end, with Minister Jaro appealing to Vedek Winn for her support of his coup. It was a great scene for a lot of reasons. On one level, great scenes tend to happen when you put Frank Langella and Louise Fletcher together. It’s like a chemical reaction when you combine a past Oscar winner with a future Oscar nominee. However, the scene also worked because it made Bajor’s political uncertainty tangible. It felt like the kind of behind-the-scenes manipulation and kingmaking that would be necessary in a situation like this.

Space station mine...

Space station mine…

Jaro and Winn are really pushed to the background here, and The Siege suffers for it. We never get to see Jaro react, for example, to the revelation that his coup d’etat is backed by Cardassian weapons. Would that fact cause him to break down at the knowledge of how thoroughly he was manipulated? Or would he vow to expel those invaders as easily as he did the Federation? It would be a very revealing moment for a character who is supposed to be the “big bad” of this arc, and Langella feels like the kind of actor who could work either interpretation.

Instead, the episode leaves the character somewhat ambiguous. He offers some interesting final lines, “And let me say that I completely support this investigation and fully intend to cooperate.” Is he being honest? Is he bluffing? Is he going to flee as soon as he leaves the chamber? Is he a true patriot who will accept he was misguided, or his he just as much as a manipulative self-interested politician as Kai Winn?

Seeking council...

Seeking council…

Since Jaro is never mentioned again (well, outside the spin-off books), we never find out. To be fair, I appreciate some ambiguity in my villains, but the episode’s lack of focus on Jaro seems more incidental than intentional. It’s not an attempt to make him compelling, simply that he got lost in the shuffle. It’s a shame, because the version of Jaro we glimpsed in The Circle was so fascinating. He was a schemer and a manipulator, a villain who had very clearly constructed his own heroic narrative.

In a way, he seems like a prototype for the character work the show would engage in with Gul Dukat, another villain with delusions of grandeur who would attempt to seduce Winn to his side and see his ego manipulated by outside forces. The fact he was played by an uncredited Frank Langella suggests that Jaro was unlikely to ever reappear in the show, but he was much more intriguing in The Circle than he is here.

Take me out in the holosuite...

Take me out in the holosuite…

Speaking of guest stars removed because they were unlikely to recur, The Siege also kills off Li Nalas. It’s a plot point which has been easy enough to predict since The Homecoming, and the show did little to help dispel. Writer Peter Allan Fields was very critical of this decision, and it’s hard to argue:

It seemed to me that killing him would just send us back to square one. Why spend three episodes with this guy, and then let him die? You’re back as if he’d never been around. We could have written the whole thing without him.

Like Jaro, it seems that Li Nalas would serve as a prototype for another later character interpretation. When the show introduced the Bajoran Resistance hero Shakaar, he seemed like a less angsty version of Li. He was a reasonable fellow who seemed to have Bajor’s best interests at heart, and provided a nice ally against conservative forces.

We hardly knew ye. Relly.

We hardly knew ye. Relly.

However, while Gul Dukat’s eventual development offered more nuance than is apparent in the use of Jaro here, Shakaar actor Duncan Regher lacked the nice-guy charm of Richard Beymer. Ironically, one of the reasons Behr killed off Li Nalas was because he was uncertain if he would be able to book Beymer to appear in future episodes. Regher went on to play Shakaar in only three episodes of the show, precisely the same number of episodes in which Beymer originally appeared. (That does make it great that the show could keep an actress of Louise Fletcher’s ability and profile around for so long.)

As I remarked in discussing The Homecoming and The Circle, it seems like this three-parter has too much plot for two episodes, but not quite enough for three full episodes. As a result, the writers wisely opt to build some character stuff into the surrounding space. In The Homecoming and The Circle, it helped to group stories that felt like massive space opera political thrillers. Here, it makes the threat to the station seem more palpable.

Good Day to you, sir!

Good Day to you, sir!

I like that we already have a large enough supporting cast that we can have ten minutes of people saying goodbye before an evacuation. It hardly convinces the audience that the characters are really abandoning the station for anything approaching the long term. The “to be continued…” credit at the end of The Homecoming and The Circle assures the audience that the radical status quo shifts are only temporary attempts to raise the stakes, and not potential new directions. However, seeing O’Brien say goodbye to his family, and seeing Sisko give his son a letter, all provides a lovely texture to the episode’s events.

Even Morn (of all people) gets a small appearance at an airlock. You can see him in the background offering a small and approving fist pump during Li Nalas’ patriotic call to solidarity and appeal to reason. I do love how well-developed the show’s cast was at this point that even a silent background character without any lines could be considered a part of the series’ expansive ensemble. Even the small scene between Jake and Nog feels charming, if a little corny. (“Has there ever been one of your kind and one of mine who were better friends?”)

Dealing with stuff like this on the fly...

Dealing with stuff like this on the fly…

There are occasionally flimsy moments. Quark being able to sell seats on runabouts during a Federation evacuation is an interesting idea, but it feels like it is brushed over too lightly. Surely his “overbooking” is some sort of felony in a crisis like this, regardless of whether it is an “accepted Ferengi transit practice.” That said, given what he’ll do in the next episode, I can understand that this might slide.

The contrivance to keep Quark on the station feels a little convenient. I’m not entirely sure that Quark needed to stay with the main cast. If they did want him around, The Way of the Warrior finds a way to justify it which feels far more organic. Here, the episode relies on Rom’s original characterisation as a borderline sociopath willing to put his brother’s life at risk for nookie. It feels like a step backwards for the character.

Miles to stay...

Miles to stay…

To be fair, it’s consistent with what we saw of him in The Nagus, but Rom has come a long way in half a season, and it’s hard to reconcile with the bumbling idiot who appeared in Vortex and was referenced in Progress. I know Quark is abusive towards him, and Quark selling Rom’s seat would be perfectly in character (as the episode alludes), but it’s weird to see Rom so indifferent to his brother’s safety. Isn’t the fact that Rom does care for Quark part of what makes Rom such a poor excuse for a Ferengi?

There is something interesting in the “battle for Deep Space Nine” presented here. I’ve remarked quite a bit about how Deep Space Nine has aged remarkably well. The political situation on Bajor resonates as much with the Middle East today as it did with other failed states and civil wars during the nineties. In that context, the decision to cast Sisko and his crew as insurgents makes for a rather bold moral twist for the show.

Nice to see everybody getting along so well...

Nice to see everybody getting along so well…

When the Bajoran’s seize the station, they arrive in force with superior military technology. They meet surprisingly little resistance as they attempt to claim the wormhole and the station. Colonel Day is very quick to assure Minister Jaro that the Bajorans have won a major victory. “Minister, I’m pleased to inform you that we’ve encountered no resistance so far,” he boasts. He might as well hang a “mission accomplished” banner on top of the commander’s office. The more seasoned General Krim, implied to be a veteran of an early guerilla conflict, observes that Day’s naivety gets the better of him. “You’re too eager to receive his plaudits, Colonel.”

Instead, asked to offer his own opinion, General Krim suggests, “Minister, I urge caution. The battle for this station hasn’t even begun yet.” It’s a prophetic warning, but one which seems at odds with the narrative that Jaro would prefer to cultivate. Instead, the battle for Deep Space Nine features small-scale combat engagements and ambushes and traps. Although Sisko is keen to avoid Bajoran casualties (“use deadly force only if absolutely necessary), he does use terrorist tactics to drive invaders out of his home. (Or, at least, to buy time for Kira and Dax.)

What you leave behind...

What you leave behind…

It’s something it’s very difficult to imagine playing out today on a network television show. Like the decision to cast a former terrorist as a lead character, forcing the lead to engage in terrorist tactics is something that might be a bit tough for a mainstream American audience today. Then again, this is the sort of morally ambiguous activity that science-fiction handles so well. Battlestar Galactica would do something similar in its third year, after the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Still, it does demonstrate that Deep Space Nine was surprisingly ahead of its time. Or, at the very least, it was more acutely aware of history and political themes than many people give it credit for. The fact that show arguably reads even better in the post-9/11 landscape is a testament to the skill involved in its construction and execution. While The Next Generation hasn’t necessarily aged very well, Deep Space Nine has arguably grown even stronger in the years since it went off the air. Then again, given the decision to cast the episode as an action-adventure, the political commentary is very clearly secondary.

He stays ear...

He stays ear…

As an aside, I like the use of Krim here. Interestingly, actor Stephen Macht was apparently originally considered to play Captain Picard on The Next Generation, which makes for a nice sense of symmetry. The first season opened with a multi-part episode which featured Sisko confronting Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard. The second season opens with Sisko confronting a man who might have been Picard. it’s a nice subtle way of acknowledging that Deep Space Nine was still standing in the shadow of its more successful and high-profile older sibling.

General Krim is a nice character, and Macht gives him a wonderful sense of decency. He seems like a man doing what he genuinely believes to be correct, and one with a surprisingly open mind. The script doesn’t make him shallow or evil or incompetent. Instead, he’s an efficient foil for Sisko, but one who isn’t close-minded. There’s a sense that a lot of men like Krim could be involved in Jaro’s “orderly transition of power”, so the show doesn’t villify the coup entirely. Indeed, even Jaro himself can offer a justification his actions. It does give a sense of nuance to everything unfolding here, making it more than “good guys vs. bad guys.”

I spy a spider...

I spy a spider…

While The Siege isn’t the perfect resolution to the franchise’s first three-part adventure, it does have some nice scenes and some nice moments. Once again, we reaffirm that Kira is a character who desperately wants to believe. She wants to have faith. Despite the fact that her life has made her necessarily cynical and sceptical, Kira seems like a character who wants to believe in something better. Which is a very Star Trek philosophy. Despite everything she’s been through, Kira can hope.

“Somehow,” she tries to explain to Sisko, “you figured now that he was here, things would be better, you know. He’d find a way to make things better because he was a man who could do that. A great man.” It’s a romantic notion, and one of that Sisko indulges. When Kira finishes talking about Li Nalas, O’Brien observes, “Listening to Kira talk about all he was, all he did, all he was going to do, she makes him sound like he was larger than life. Like he was some kind of military genius.”

Never been father apart...

Never been father apart…

Sisko cuts him off, “Chief, Li Nalas was the hero of the Bajoran resistance. He performed extraordinary acts of courage for his people and died for their freedom. That’s how the history books on Bajor will be written, and that’s how I’ll remember him when anybody asks.” I do like how Deep Space Nine seems to accept that truth can be subjective, and that part of respecting other cultures means acknowledging their beliefs. Kira’s version of Li Nalas might not line up to the man Sisko met, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important, and that doesn’t mean it isn’t of value.

Then again, Sisko seems to acknowledge a smaller and more intimate style of heroism. After Kira talks about how awesome Li Nalas was, and how great a hero he was, Sisko observes, “Major, there are heroes all over Bajor. I’m sitting with one.” It’s those smaller actions which make a difference. One of the real triumphs of this three-parter, which has its ups and its downs, is the way that it reconciles the intimate and the epic.

Their plan is shot...

Their plan is shot…

Li Nalas isn’t a hero, but he’s a decent guy who helps rescue Kira and fight for the station. Jake’s potential girl friend is scared away by the racial politics on Bajor. Quark just happens to bring the earring to Kira. These aren’t epic moments, they’re just small personal contributions to a much larger scheme of events. That doesn’t make them meaningless, it just demonstrates that not all the important players are larger than life.

This trio of episodes isn’t perfect. But it’s clever and it’s fun, and it seems to acknowledge that Deep Space Nine is its own show. It sets the series down a long path it walk in its second year, but one which was already paying off. The Homecoming, The Circle and The Siege manage to combine an impressively epic scale with a searing intimacy in a way that Star Trek had never really done before. That makes the occasional misstep easier to forgive.

You might be interested in our reviews of the second season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:

2 Responses

  1. I wished we’d been able to see more of the Bajoran infantry. You get the sense that Bajor has very few starships and very little space power, but the show makes the point that the planet is full of seasoned ex-freedom fighters. I liked seeing the Bajoran military presence here, but I wish we had seen Bajoran ground troops fight in the Dominian War.

    • I don’t know. I like the idea that Bajor was “nominally” neutral even after the Federation re-took Terok Nor. Sure, you have Romulans establishing bases in the sector, but I like the idea of a benignly neutral power – reflecting the fact that realpolitik is at play even in a conflict as black-and-white as the Dominion vs the Federation. (Black and white in terms of goodies/baddies, not in terms of morality of war itself.)

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