Blaze of Glory is a spectacular piece of television.
It is an episode that serves a very clear plot function in the larger context of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It is clearly designed to tidy away some of the dangling loose ends before the show transitions into the Dominion War. Much like Children of Time was really the last “strange Gamma Quadrant phenomenon” episode, Blaze of Glory is the last Maquis episode. It also marks the last appearance of Michael Eddington, a character who has come a long way since his first appearance as the station’s new security officer in The Search, Part I.
However, even ignoring the fact that Blaze of Glory fulfils these larger obligations in terms of the show’s long-running plot threads, the episode is an engaging and exciting buddy action film that finds Benjamin Sisko paired with one of his most hated adversaries on a dangerous mission into the heart of enemy territory. Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe prepare a script laced with wry banter for unlikely action heroes Avery Brooks and Ken Marshall, while Kim Friedman directs the episode as if it were a lost Reagan era Shane Black script.
However, Blaze of Glory also feels very much like Deep Space Nine at its best. It is an episode that celebrates how much these characters can grow and change, while also revelling in the diversity of perspectives that make Deep Space Nine such a compelling show. It is an episode that understands Sisko and Eddington are perhaps more alike than either would concede, but which explores those parallels in a way that never obscures their key differences or their mutual mistrust.
Michael Eddington is perhaps the most unlikely of characters to receive a heroic send-off from Deep Space Nine. After all, he was introduced as a generic Starfleet officer. In fact, early episodes like The Search, Part II and The Die is Cast suggested that Eddington’s biggest problem might be that he was too loyal to Starfleet and too unquestioning in following his orders. Even the small character-driven conversations with Sisko in The Adversary suggested that Eddington was a mid-tier punch-clock officer who had reconciled himself to a life of mediocrity.
As a result, Eddington’s transformation across the fourth and fifth seasons is nothing short of astounding. The revelation that Eddington was a Maquis traitor in For the Cause was a brilliant twist; it represented a sharp departure from the character’s portrayal to that point, while still making sense given what little we knew about his motivations and character. For the Uniform elaborated further upon Eddington’s character, presenting him as a man whose mundane life had left him unsatisfied and led him to aspire to a grander form of heroism.
Indeed, it is fascinating that Blaze of Glory splits its time between a primary plot focused on Michael Eddington and a secondary plot focused on Nog. These are both characters who are markedly different at this point in the series than they had been when first introduced. In many ways, Eddington and Nog are characters on inverted arcs; Nog began as an outsider who joined Starfleet, while Eddington began as a Starfleet officer who became an outside. Playing out stories focusing on these two characters provides a nice juxtaposition.
However, it also serves as a reminder of how carefully and how meticulously Deep Space Nine has developed and built up its supporting cast. There is a sold argument to be made that Eddington and Nog are far more multifaceted and complex characters than any character to appear on Star Trek: Voyager or Star Trek: Enterprise, including the leads. This is particularly striking given that Eddington appears in only a handful of episodes, and only three episodes in which his true affiliation is known to the audience.
Blaze of Glory offers the production team the opportunity to bid farewell to Michael Eddington. As Robert Hewitt Wolfe explained to Cinefantastique:
“Blaze of Glory is the return of Michael Eddington. It’s about a last act of defiance by the Maquis. It turns out to be a ruse. Eddington is tricking Sisko into going on a rescue mission to save a bunch of the Maquis who have been trapped. The Maquis have been hunted to extinction by the Dominion and the Cardassians. So it’s a show about the two of them and the conflicts between them. To a certain extent, Eddington blames Sisko for the fall of the Maquis, and there’s quite a bit of conflict between the two of them as they’re on their way to this mission. Ken Marshall does a really nice job as Eddington. [He and Sisko] have a really cool chemistry together. They have a believable conflict between them. I really like Eddington. He’s a uniquely Deep Space Nine character, in that he’s a guy who we got to know as a secondary character who turned out to be a lot more important, and grew through the course of the series.”
Like the version of Gul Dukat who appears in the first five-and-a-half seasons, or the character of Damar, Eddington is a testament to the strength of the ad hoc plotting on Deep Space Nine, the organic character development.
In fact, the writing staff have clearly fallen in love with Michael Eddington by this point in the run. The entire final scene between Sisko and Dax essentially boils down to a meditation on how compelling and exciting Eddington turned out to be. Dax literally opens the scene by stating, “I’ll say this for him, he was a complicated man.” She elaborates, “If you ask me, Eddington couldn’t have picked a better way to go, at least from his point of view. He was a romantic, and what is more romantic than a glorious death in defence of a lost cause.”
Even Sisko seems to accept this. It should be noted that Sisko felt incredibly betrayed by Eddington’s actions in For the Cause and went to the lengths of poisoning a planet to stop Eddington in For the Uniform. However, by this point of their shared journey, Sisko has to acknowledge that Eddington was a pretty great character. “I called him a traitor once, but in a way he was the most loyal man I ever met. He was a Maquis, right up to the bitter end.” There is a sense that Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe buy into this romanticism wholeheartedly.
Of course, the writers on Deep Space Nine understand that it is possible for a compelling character to be ambiguous or even unlikable. This is perhaps something that distinguishes the writing on Deep Space Nine from the lesser writing on Voyager, an understanding that it is possible for audiences to engage with characters who are flawed and who are troubled and who do not necessarily reflect values or perspectives with which the audience might agree. As much as Blaze of Glory lionises Eddington, it refuses to soften him in any real sense.
Eddington is a fascinating character, but Blaze of Glory is willing to acknowledge that he is insufferable. Sharing a runabout with Sisko, Eddington turns into that annoying evangelist for natural foods. “Replicator entree number one oh three,” he states with disdain. “Curried chicken and rice with a side order of carrots. Or at least that’s what they want us to believe. But you and I both know what we’re really eating. Replicated protein molecules and textured carbohydrates.”
Whining about the food served on a top secret last-ditch mission to stop a war between the Federation and the Dominion, Eddington casts himself as the twenty-fourth century equivalent to Gwyneth Paltrow. It is perfectly reasonable to prefer organic ingredients over replicated ones. As Eddington points out, that is exactly what Sisko does. However, to complain about having to eat replicated food in those circumstances seems like nothing more than snobbishness. “It may look like chicken, but it still tastes like replicated protein molecules to me,” he insists.
Indeed, Eddington and Sisko spend a significant portion of Blaze of Glory trying to kill one another at the least opportune moments. Although it is ambiguous as to whether it was a serious attempt on Sisko’s life, Eddington’s handling of the runabout while Sisko was in the Jeffries Tubes was at least reckless. In a compound surrounded by Jem’Hadar soldiers, Eddington raises his weapon to Sisko. “I wish I knew for certain that killing you would make me feel better.” On finding out that he has been had by Eddington, Sisko proceeds to smack him over some boxes.
Indeed, Blaze of Glory makes it very clear that Eddington and Sisko do not necessarily have to like one another even though they are working together and even as they come to share a mutual (grudging) respect of each other. This is one of the most endearing aspects of Deep Space Nine, the recurring sense that characters can hold diametrically-opposed views from one another while still working towards the common good. Deep Space Nine insists that peaceful coexistence and cooperation is not dependent upon sharing the same set of values.
Indeed, it is suggested that Sisko’s eventual reconciliation with Eddington is rooted in that realisation. During his five years on the station, Sisko has come to embrace multiculturalism and views that do line up perfectly with his own. It is telling that Blaze of Glory opens with Sisko inviting Nog over for dinner, given Sisko’s original animosity towards Nog in episodes like The Nagus. As Deep Space Nine continues and grows, Sisko moves away from a singular perspective on the universe. He begins to see the universe from a perspective outside of Starfleet.
In fact, the teaser reveals that Sisko understands that compromise and reconciliation need to be two-way streets. When Jake recoils in horror at his father’s “puree of tube grubs”, the chef retorts, “I figured if Nog is willing to eat squid, it’s only fair that we try tube grubs.” Later in the same scene, when Nog confesses his difficulty with the Klingons, Sisko suggests meeting the Klingons on their own terms. “The next time the Klingons refuse to acknowledge your presence, do what a Klingon would do.”
Sisko comes to respect Eddington when he stops seeing the terrorist as a traitor to Starfleet and starts seeing him as a hero to the Maquis. This is very much the core philosophy of Deep Space Nine, the first truly multicultural Star Trek show. Blaze of Glory represents a clear progression in Sisko’s character arc away from the loyal and unquestioning Starfleet officer towards an individual with a more holistic perspective on the way that the universe works. Given Sisko’s long-standing anger towards the Maquis, it feels like a fitting conclusion to the arc.
One of the most charming suggestions in Blaze of Glory is that Sisko and Eddington are ultimately two sides of the same coin. “Maybe you have more in common with Eddington than you want to admit,” Dax suggests in the closing scene. Deep Space Nine seems to hint that Sisko’s real frustration with the Maquis comes from a resentment of their willingness to abandon Starfleet as they become disillusioned, a freedom that Sisko would never afford himself even as episodes like Homefront, Paradise Lost and Rapture suggest his own increasing disenfranchisement.
To be fair, the old “hero and villain are mirrors to one another” is a tried-and-tested literary trope. Blaze of Glory is hardly subtle even before Dax states the idea explicitly. Sisko and Eddington both feign cynicism to hide deep-seated humanism. Sisko is correct in assuming that Eddington would not countenance a war between the Dominion and the Federation any more than he would. “You may have taken off the uniform, but you’re still a Starfleet officer,” Sisko insists. Similarly, Sisko is as concerned for the Maquis survivors as Eddington is.
Indeed, Sisko’s concern for Federation lives is mirrored in Eddington’s anxieties about all the massacred Maquis. Studying the fallen bodies, Eddington laments, “I was their leader. I was responsible for them and I failed. I failed them all.” Sisko would likely feel the same way about the loss of one of his own friends and colleagues. In fact, the ending of Tears of the Prophets suggests that Sisko would undergo a similar crisis of confidence. In a nice bit of unintentional foreshadowing, the first body that Eddington recognises is that of Vance, a “pilot, and a friend.”
Despite their similarities, Blaze of Glory works so well because it allows the characters their own perspective and agency. As with Children of Time, there is a willingness to accept differing opinions and character readings. Notably, Eddington lays into Sisko for his aggressive pursuit of the Maquis. “It’s the truth, isn’t it?” he goads. “The Maquis were never much of a threat to the Federation, but we were a threat to you. We were a stain on your record and you couldn’t have that. Not when you were so busy measuring yourself for an admiral’s uniform.”
This is certainly an interesting and valid read on Sisko’s character, particularly given Eddington’s own history and experiences. Shrewdly, Blaze of Glory allows the audience to form their own opinions on Sisko’s motivations. Is that criticism more revealing of Sisko or Eddington? Does it suggest an overlap between their two characters? Is it true in a broad sense, even if Eddington misses the finer details? Was it true in The Maquis, Part I and The Maquis, Part II, only to have become less true as Sisko grew and evolved?
To be fair, Blaze of Glory also works because it is a lot of fun. There is a very off-kilter “buddy action movie” feel to Sisko and Eddington’s adventure. While Avery Brooks is arguably a much better fit for the buddy action movie dynamic than Patrick Stewart or Kate Mulgrew would be, his operatic delivery adds an interesting kink to a tried and tested formula. Balding and approaching middle-age, Ken Marshall seems highly unlikely to have ever been anybody’s first choice for a daring rebel paired with a no-nonsense military officer. Still, the juxtaposition works.
It helps that Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe pepper the script with all manner of cheesy exchanges between the two leads. After their first attempt to lose the Jem’Hadar fails, Sisko demands, “Don’t tell me the Maquis didn’t have Plan B?” Eddington responds, “You’re not going to like it.” As the Jem’Hadar draw close, Sisko assures his colleague, “If you do have a plan, I guarantee I’ll learn to love it.” It is a very zippy script, but it works because Brooks and Marshall really make a delightful odd action adventure pairing.
Later on, as the situation gets desperate, Sisko is forced to take the lead when it comes to ground tactics. In response to his proposal, Eddington balks. “Attacking two Jem’Hadar soldiers with a pipe?” Eddington clarifies. “That’s a brilliant plan.” Sisko shrugs. “It could be worse,” he offers. Eddington nods, agreeing. “I know,” he concedes. “It could be me holding the pipe.” This is dialogue that could easily have been lifted from some forgotten eighties action film, which is a large part of the appeal when thrown into the mix with everything else happening in the episode.
Director Kim Friedman understands the tempo and tone of the script. She shrewdly plays into it. The Maquis base on Athos IV looks like it was lifted from a mid-budget Arnold Schwarzenegger film. The metal walls and panels are all rusted; there are countless boxes carelessly strewn around; dry ice fills the air; everything is backlit. Even before Eddington stumbles across the sea of bodies, the military base seems like a dystopian and apocalyptic nightmare. Friedman even frames the sequences like an action movie, giving Brooks a great hero shot holding his rifle.
The result is a satisfying action story driven by compelling characters, even before considering the episode’s context within the larger framework of Deep Space Nine. In many ways, Blaze of Glory is the last Maquis story. Although the Maquis had originally been introduced as a segue into the premise of Voyager, the concept was largely inherited by Deep Space Nine. As such, it is fitting that Deep Space Nine resolves the thread. Indeed, the consequences of Blaze of Glory are so severe that they are even fleetingly addressed by Voyager in the episode Extreme Risk.
According Ira Steven Behr in The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, the episode developed from the production team’s desire to do some tidying up before the start of the sixth season:
“We were just desperate to finish something off. We had to finish a thread. It was necessary. We just had so many things. So I told them, ‘We are going to end something and then not hear about it again’!”
As such, Blaze of Glory is very much a piece of housekeeping from the production team, a clearing of the table before it is set once again in A Call to Arms.
Much is made of the way that Deep Space Nine experiments with serialisation. The show aired in syndication during the nineties, so its serialised plotting is relatively primitive. It could reasonably be argued that the show was generally more willing to radically alter the status quo than to craft singular long-form stories. After all, even during the six-episode arc that opens the sixth season, Sons and Daughters still works as a relatively self-contained story. Still, in the context of nineties television, Deep Space Nine was very much pushing the franchise forward.
Deep Space Nine came with a number of built-in long-term storytelling objectives. Emissary practically promised a more engaged approach to continuity. Sisko was introduced as a commander, implying that he would have to earn his promotion to captain. Sisko was assigned to oversee the induction of Bajor into the Federation. Odo was given a mysterious past tied to the Gamma Quadrant. Emissary certainly left more dangling questions and possibilities than Encounter at Farpoint or Where No Man Has Gone Before.
At the same time, Deep Space Nine understood that mysteries were not stories of themselves. Deep Space Nine proved very willing to answer those dangling questions and to deliver on those hidden promises. Bajor never joined the Federation, but that seemed a conscious decision on the part of the production team. However, when the producers started teasing the Dominion in Rules of Acquisition, they made a point to unveil them in The Jem’Hadar. Odo found his people in The Search, Part I. Sisko was promoted to captain in The Adversary.
Deep Space Nine rarely teased mysteries or long-form stories without delivering on the consequences or the aftermath. When Thomas Riker discovered a mysterious Obsidian Order fleet in Defiant, that same fleet was put to good (or ill) use in Improbable Cause. The show would frequently allow the repercussions of earlier episodes to ripple out across the run of the show, but Deep Space Nine was never afraid to resolve mysteries or to deliver a pay-off to a long-running character or plot arc.
In that sense, Deep Space Nine has aged remarkably well. In his (perhaps overly) scathing critique of serialised American television, David Auerbach argued that most serialised television shows run into trouble due to the difficulty in mapping out a television story with a clear and well-defined ending:
The tug of war between networks and creators results in contention over how long a series should run. In the case of both The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, for example, the networks kept asking for more seasons and the creators acceded, adding an extra half-season or season to make the networks happy and drawing out the plot that much more. The problem begins long before that, though, since even getting an agreement on the end date of a show will only occur a season or two before that end.
If you’re The Wire’s David Simon, you’re ornery and single-minded enough that you do exactly what you want and let the mountain come to Mohammed—a stunning and fortuitous achievement, especially given The Wire’s near-cancelation after its third season. If you’re Babylon 5’s J. Michael Straczynski, you plan out the entire story ahead of time, including contingency plans for early cancelation and losing actors. We could use more like those two, since the long-term plotting of those two shows easily bests any other serial of the last thirty years.
But most creators take a more pragmatic approach and improvise to cope with the caprices of television. So most successful shows (ones that don’t get canceled) follow a sequence something like the following:
1. Sprinting start to suck viewers in and establish fanbase.
2. Peak period of creativity and exploration as show gets into groove.
3. Grinding halt as show is drawn out to extend its run and story is
4. Jarring, jump-started conclusion papers over discontinuities in
previous three stages.
Indeed, this problem could be seen with many of the high-profile serialised network television shows of the early twenty-first century, from Lost to FlashForward to The Event to Alcatraz to Revolution. A reluctance to deliver pay-off too early tended to scare away audiences and damage the legacy of the show in question.
In contrast, Deep Space Nine is more willing to deliver pay-off in short and sustained bursts. The show rarely dwells too long on a singular lingering threat or question. The Klingon conflict that begins with The Way of the Warrior at the start of the fourth season is tidied away by Apocalypse Rising at the start of the fifth season. The march to an inevitable war that begins with In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light leads to the declaration of war in A Call to Arms.
The writers on Deep Space Nine do not cling to their cards in the hope that they might play better at a later moment. The revelation that Odo is a Founder is not preserved for a season (or series) finale, it is instead played right at the start of the third season. Choosing to deliver on that revelation immediately allows for some immediate satisfaction of the part of the audience, while also opening up further storytelling opportunities. It is one of the most endearing aspects of Deep Space Nine when watched in hindsight. The writers do not hold their big ideas back.
To be fair, this does cause problems during the show’s final season. There is a sense that the ending of Deep Space Nine might have been planned with greater care. There is a point where Deep Space Nine comes close to collapsing under the weight of all these big ideas that are deployed with no larger view towards a smooth and integrated conclusion to the seven-year story. However, there is an endearingly improvisational approach to the long-form plotting of the fifth season. The willingness to wrap up the dangling Maquis plot thread is a great example of that.
Indeed, the march towards war continues in the background. The threat of the imminent Dominion War looms large over the fifth season as a whole. It is becoming increasingly apparent that war is all but inevitable. There is even an endearing short scene between various regular characters in which that inevitability is disguised. As Bashir tends to Quark in the Infirmary, Odo and Kira inquire as to what could possibly have lead Morn to attack Quark with a bar stool, strip off his clothes, and pray to the Prophets for mercy.
“All I said was that the military personnel on this station were starting to look a little nervous,” Quark reflects. “When they get nervous, I get nervous.” Pressed, he elaborates, “Basically. I might’ve done a little harmless theorising.” He continues, “Oh, something like it was only a matter of time before the Dominion launched a full-scale assault against the Federation and when that happened the station would undoubtedly be their first target. And I might’ve idly suggested that there wasn’t a chance in hell that any of us would get out of here alive.”
The fifth season of Deep Space Nine does an excellent job preparing the audience for the following to seasons. After all, the Star Trek franchise is so utopian in its outlook that it takes a lot of work to convince the viewers that war is coming. However, Deep Space Nine has remained remarkably on-point. The Ship insisted that the Dominion and the Federation were past the point of no return. Rapture spoke about the war as prophecy. Dukat outlined his plan to retake Deep Space Nine in By Inferno’s Light.
Towards the end of the fifth season, it seems like the galactic powers are just looking for an excuse for war. Ties of Blood and Water suggested that the Federation could use all of the help that it could get in tackling Dukat’s government. Soldiers of the Empire revealed that the Jem’Hadar were actively engaging in border skirmishes with the Federation and the Klingons. So it seems perfectly in keeping with that tone when Martok suggests that the Maquis might have launched a last-ditch terrorist attack upon the Cardassians that could spark total warfare.
“Cardassia is under Dominion protection,” Sisko observes. “If millions of their citizens are killed by human terrorists, they’ll demand revenge.” Martok agrees, “And their Dominion allies will see that they get it. They’ll launch a counterstrike against the Federation, the Klingon Empire, and the entire Alpha Quadrant.” Sisko is unambiguous about the existential threat that is posed. “And start a war that could destroy us all.” Tellingly, this is the line that closes the teaser, not the threat to millions of Cardassians.
The politics of Deep Space Nine are very much rooted in earlier twentieth century history. While the show’s exploration of terrorism and infiltration lends it a prescient feel, Deep Space Nine has a much more historical outlook. While Voyager is very much rooted in the mood and tone of the nineties, Deep Space Nine often feels like a series anchored in the sensibilities of the early-to-mid-twentieth century. After all, Ira Steven Behr has a fondness for constructing episodes as loving homages to thirties and forties cinema.
In particular, the Dominion War is presented as something roughly analogous to the Second World War. It is frequently presented as a battle for liberal democracy against totalitarian oppression. It is a conflict on a truly massive scale, but one that is treated as a collection of relatively conventional space battles and ground confrontations. Orbital bombardments and space-age weapons of mass destruction are never really explored, instead giving way to old-fashioned ground assaults and enemy occupation.
With all of that in mind, the threat posed by the Maquis terrorist attack against Cardassia evokes the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Serbian nationalists. That act of terrorism led to the horrors of the First World War. It does not matter that the assassination was not entirely sanctioned by the Serbian state, as Bruce Hoffman pointed out in Inside Terrorism:
Although there were obviously close links between the Serbian military, the Black Hand, and the Young Bosnians, it would be a mistake to regard the relationship as one of direct control, much less outright manipulation. Clearly, the Serbian government was well aware of the Black Hand’s objectives and the violent means the group employed in pursuit of them; indeed, the Serbian crown prince Alexander was one of the group’s benefactors. But this does not mean that the Serbian government was necessarily as committed to war with Austria as the Black Hand’s leaders were, or that it was prepared to countenance the group’s more extreme plans for fomenting cross-border anti-Hapsburg terrorism. There is some evidence to suggest that the Black Hand might have been trying to force Austria’s hand against Serbia and thereby plunge both countries into war by actively abetting the Young Bosnians’ plot to assassinate the archduke. Indeed, according to one revisionist account of the events leading up to the murder, even though the pistol used by Princip had been supplied by the Black Hand from a Serbian military armoury in Kragujevac, and even though Princip had been trained by the Black Hand in Serbia before being smuggled back across the border for the assassination, at the eleventh hour Dmitrievich had apparently bowed to intense government pressure and tried to stop the assassination. According to this version, Princip and his fellow conspirators would hear nothing of it and stubbornly went ahead with their plans.
The parallels with Blaze of Glory seem quite clear. The Maquis are former Federation citizens. They will be attacking Cardassian using cloaking devices supplied by the Klingon High Council, much as Ferdinand was shot with a gun from a Serbian armoury. It would not matter that the Federation and Klingon Empire did not sanction the attack, much like it would not matter that Sisko was actively trying to stop it.
Indeed, Blaze of Glory makes a point to emphasise the delicate balance of power that exists and the dominoes that will fall. The Maquis will attack the Cardassians. The Cardassians with demand retribution from the Federation and the Klingons. The Dominion will step in on behalf of their newest allies. It somewhat mirrors the chain reaction that brought the world to war in 1914; Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, which led to Russia declaring war on Austria-Hungary, which led to Germany declaring war on Russia, which led to the invasion of Belgium. And so forth.
There is a recurring sense of how volatile the entire political situation was become, and how radically everything has changed over the course of a few short months. After all, the Klingon Empire supplied the Maquis with cloaking devices when it was in their interest to pick at the remains of Cardassia. “A few months ago, the Klingon High Council decided to aid the Maquis in their fight against Cardassia,” Martok explains. “We provided them with thirty class four cloaking devices. It was our understanding they would use them on their ships.”
When Michael Eddington was captured, it seemed like the Cardassian Union was on the verge of collapse and that the Maquis were on the cusp of legitimacy. Kneeling over the bodies of his fallen comrades, Eddington laments, “This wasn’t supposed to happen. We were winning. The Cardassian Empire was falling into chaos. The Maquis colonies were going to declare themselves an independent nation.” There is something very affecting in how quickly and dramatically assumptions that characters and powers once had can be overturned and brushed aside.
However, there is also a grim fatalism running through the fifth season of Deep Space Nine. It is quite clear that the Dominion War is going to arrive sooner or later. All that Sisko is doing at this point in the season is trying to prevent a given crisis from escalating to a shooting war. After all, there is rarely a guarantee that any given even will lead to war. Although most global conflicts can be traced back to what appears to be a single igniting event, that event inevitably occurs within a much larger social and historical context.
After all, terrorist attacks need not always result in open warfare, even though this Maquis strike threatens to do so. Similarly, politically-motivated assassinations do not always result in global wars, despite the legacy of Franz Ferdinand. Contrasting the unavenged assassination of the Empress of Austria by an Italian anarchist in 1898 to the murder of Franz Ferdinand by a Serbian terrorist in 1914, David Frum makes a similar argument:
The difference in the two killings cannot be explained by emotion. The empress was a figure widely popular with the public and much loved by her husband, the emperor. The dour Archduke Franz Ferdinand was disliked by both. The shooting of the archduke led to war, not because anybody important grieved for him, but because the Austrian leadership in 1914 welcomed an excuse to punish Serbia for a string of provocations. Gavrilo Princip’s connections to Serbian nationalist groups provided that excuse. In 1898, by contrast, Austria had no appetite for a conflict with Italy—and so the cherished empress’s slaying was left to the ordinary processes of law.
Assassinations provide opportunities and occasions for wars; they do not cause them.
Deep Space Nine seems to suggest something similar. While these individual events all exist as part of a larger tapestry, there is a broader political and historical framework at work behind the scenes. Sisko might discover that the missiles in Blaze of Glory never existed, but the threat of war does not evaporate. Instead, it is just pushed back to another day.
In some respects, this is part of a larger debate about the relationship between individuals and empires that plays across the length and breadth of Deep Space Nine. To what extent do individual figures shape and bend history, and to what extent are those forces shaped by history? Had Dukat not been in a position to negotiate peace between the Dominion and Cardassia, would some other Cardassian have stepped in? Would the Dominion have gained a foothold in other ways?
Deep Space Nine broaches the question repeatedly, seeming to ultimately suggest that an individual’s actions have a clear moral weight and value even if there are certain larger political and social forces at work in the universe. After all, Dukat is eventually chewed and spit out by the Dominion War that he helped to spawn. Sisko and Eddington ultimately come to respect one another in sharing the understanding that such a desperate Maquis terrorist attack would be apocalyptic, even if the threat of such an action never actually exists.
In terms of the march towards the Dominion War, Deep Space Nine does an excellent job of establishing (and building) the Dominion as a credible threat. Again, it is interesting to contrast how Deep Space Nine builds up the Dominion with how Voyager undermines the Borg. On Voyager, characters repeatedly overestimate the threat posed by the Borg Collective. Whenever the Borg appear, the characters explain how the Borg Collective is uncompromising and unstoppable. However, the crew then inevitable compromise with or stop the Borg.
In contrast, the characters on Deep Space Nine tend to repeatedly underestimate the threat posed by the Jem’Hadar. This happens repeatedly in Blaze of Glory, as Eddington assures Sisko that there is no way that the Jem’Hadar could have done something shortly before it is demonstrated that they have actually already done it. This is a very effective way of making the Dominion seem like a credible threat. While the Borg always under-perform relative to Janeway’s expectations, the Jem’Hadar tend to over-perform relative to Sisko’s expectations.
To be fair, this has been a consistent trait of the Dominion since their introduction. In The Jem’Hadar, the Dominion were demonstrated to be capable of beaming through shields and walking through forcefields. In The Search, Part I, the Jem’Hadar are able to see through the Defiant’s cloaking device. Deep Space Nine repeatedly insists that the Dominion is a powerhouse threat, and demonstrates that threat on a consistent basis. Even if the Jem’Hadar can never actually kill our heroes, they still seem competent and effective.
When the runabout is pursued by two Jem’Hadar ships, Eddington tries to lose them by “dissipating [their] warp signature.” When the Jem’Hadar warships immediately reappear, Eddington insists, “There’s no way those Jem’Hadar ships could have tracked us.” Sisko states, “Obviously there is.” Similarly, Eddington insists that the Dominion could never find Athos IV. Finding Jem’Hadar on the surface, Sisko reflects, “I thought you said the Jem’Hadar would never find this place.” Eddington admits, “I didn’t think they would.”
Blaze of Glory is pretty much the perfect episode at this point in the series. It is an exceptional action adventure pairing two unlikely characters on a high-stakes mission. It is also an episode that fits within the larger framework of Deep Space Nine as the series approaches the end of its fifth season. It is a remarkable accomplishment for all involved.