The release of atomic energy has not created a new problem. It has merely made more urgent the necessity of solving an existing one. One could say that it has affected us quantitatively, not qualitatively. As long as there are sovereign nations possessing great power, war is inevitable. This does not mean that one can know when war will come but only that one is sure that it will come. This was true even before the atomic bomb was made. What has changed is the destructiveness of war.
– Albert Einstein, “Einstein on the Atomic Bomb”, The Atlantic, November 1945
Can war ever be justified? Can war ever be inevitable? Can war ever be necessary?
These are very tough ethical questions, particularly when posed in the abstract. In fact, the vast majority of policy decisions about warfare are rooted in living memory rather than philosophical certainty. It has been repeatedly suggested that Bill Clinton’s reluctance to intervene in Rwanda was a consequence of the spectacular failure in Somalia, and that his eventual intervention in Kosovo was an act of atonement for the moral lapse in Rwanda. This is to say nothing of how Obama’s policy on Syria is shaped by Bush’s actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Star Trek universe is a utopia. It is a world where technology has eliminated poverty and hunger. The replicator, the holodeck, the transporter and warp drive are the building blocks of an idealistic future in which mankind seems to have found peace with itself. Dating back to Star Trek: The Motion Picture at the latest, Gene Roddenberry proposed that the franchise represented an idealised future for mankind. It was a world in which nobody ever wanted for anything, in which mankind were free to explore the universe.
This idealism is a cornerstone of the franchise. It is one of the most recognisable and universal aspects of Star Trek. This is a franchise that genuinely believes that mankind can be better than we are today. That is a large part of what makes the show so powerful, particularly in its original context. As the Doomsday Clock ticks closer and closer to midnight, Star Trek is a franchise that seems to argue that mankind has a future worth aspiring toward; a future beyond the end of the world or some corporate dystopia.
The franchise was never particularly interested in exploring how mankind reached that level of enlightenment. Star Trek: Enterprise was nominally a prequel series for the franchise, picking up in the wake of Star Trek: First Contact, but it opened after mankind had eliminated warfare and famine and nationalism. In some ways, the franchise could seem like a rather surreal experiment. If you imagined a world without warfare or without greed or without hunger, maybe people would get along? There is undoubtedly value on this, but it feels simplistic.
In contrast, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine dared to ask tough and uncomfortable question by challenging these assumptions. If these characters did not live in a perfect world, would they still aspire to betterment? If hunger and greed were still a part of everyday life, could mankind still work to improve themselves? If warfare is the inevitable outcome of statesmanship, then how do these twenty-fourth century people retain their values and ideals? These are legitimately tough questions for the franchise to ponder, but Deep Space Nine embraces them.
It is hard to overstate just how shocking Call to Arms was on broadcast. The actual plot mechanics are fairly standard Star Trek season finale stuff. The ominous and mounting sense of dread coursing through the episode evokes The Best of Both Worlds, Part I, the first season-ending cliffhanger from Star Trek: The Next Generation. The decision to have the recurring antagonists hijack the eponymous space station recalls Basics, Part I, the cliffhanger that Star Trek: Voyager broadcast at the end of the previous television season.
However, Call to Arms is more shocking for the one element of the episode that has been building since the first encounter with the Dominion in The Jem’Hadar. It is the beginning of the franchise’s first extended war story. This is bold new territory for the franchise, something that remains controversial to this day.
To be fair to Deep Space Nine, the declaration of war between the Dominion and the Federation has been coming a long time. The first extended interaction between Sisko and the Founders in The Search, Part I and The Search, Part II made it clear that the Dominion would not accept anything less than complete capitulation from the Alpha Quadrant powers. Improbable Cause and The Die is Cast featured the franchise’s first expansive space battle sequences, but also underscored the idea that there could be no peaceful reconciliation.
The Way of the Warrior took the battle to Deep Space Nine itself, beginning a season of cold war with the Klingons. However, war was not formally declared until the very end of Broken Link. It was resolved in Apocalypse Rising, the very next episode. Still, the season has been consciously building towards the outbreak of hostilities: the sense of an impasse in The Ship; the prophecy in Rapture; the Dominion absorption of Cardassia in In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light; the threat of apocalypse in Blaze of Glory; the sense of suffocating inevitability in In the Cards.
All of these episodes very clearly and very firmly outline the inevitability of a galactic conflict between the Dominion and the Federation on a scale never before depicted on Star Trek. It is telling that Deep Space Nine invested so much time and energy in preparing its audience for this plot development. The idea of an extended intergalactic space war is very much anathema to a certain vocal section of the fanbase. This story idea runs sharply counter to the utopianism and idealism expressed by Gene Roddenberry during his work on The Next Generation.
To be fair, Call to Arms shrewdly avoids offering too many particulars on the looming confrontation. As with most Deep Space Nine season finales, Call to Arms is more of an open-ended closing statement than a straight-up cliffhanger. Dating back to In the Hands of the Prophets or The Jem’Hadar, Deep Space Nine has generally used its season finales as an opportunity to wrap up dangling threads from the year that has been and to set the tone for what lies ahead.
Robert Hewitt Wolfe outlined the process in The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion:
“We needed the crew to wind up scattered all over the place so that we could work different stories with them in the sixth season,” says Wolfe. “We needed a station group and a fleet group that we could contrast down the road.” Wolfe, of course, wasn’t going to be involved with that. “Yeah, but still, you have to set up the next year,” he explains. “You have to get the ingredients in place. That’s the neat thing about the endings we do. It’s like setting a table for yourself. You’re not setting up a cliffhanger where you have to solve a certain problem. You just have to put out some beetlesnuff.” He laughs. “You know, something to set up the solution.”
It is certainly a different approach to season finales than The Next Generation or Voyager.
Indeed, it is interesting to contrast Call to Arms with Basics, Part I. Both episodes are very similar in terms of plot. Both find the show’s cast facing an enemy threatening to overwhelm their defences and occupy their home. At the end of Basics, Part I, Maj Cullah and Seska commandeer Voyager and strand Janeway and her crew on a hostile planet. At the end of Call to Arms, Sisko and the Starfleet crew are forced to flee the station as Dukat takes command. In both cases, the cast are divided; some are forced to abandon their posts, while some remain behind.
However, Deep Space Nine and Voyager take these plots in different directions. There was reportedly some talk among the Voyager writing staff about stranding the cast and crew on Hanon IV for several episodes while the Kazon took full advantage of Voyager’s advanced technology. However, the production realities of that final stretch of the season meant that the production quickly decided that Janeway would only be stranded on that planet for the third season premiere. (Which was the last episode of the second season production block.)
Repeatedly over the run of Voyager, the writing staff half-heartedly toyed with the idea of stretching significant changes to the status quo over several episodes. Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky originally considered extending the trip to the twentieth century in Future’s End, Part I or Future’s End, Part II over three or four episodes. However, the network demanded a return to the status quo more immediately. Similarly, Brannon Braga originally planned for the damage from Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II to linger, but was overruled.
In contrast, Call to Arms legitimately and permanently chances the show. Most immediately, it exiles the bulk of the primary cast from the series’ title setting for the six following episodes. Although it is a bit much to describe the seven episodes closing the fifth season and opening the sixth season as a seven-parter, they represent the longest single continuing story in the Star Trek franchise to this point. Only the trilogy from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home comes close, although those were three films with more distinct plots.
Call to Arms skilfully evokes the cliffhanger to The Best of Both Worlds, Part I. Both are episodes building to a dramatic and inevitable cliffhanger. In The Best of Both Worlds, Part I, The Next Generation finally delivers on the Borg threat after teasing their arrival for over a season in the wake of Q Who? In Call to Arms, Deep Space Nine finally delivers on the Dominion War that has been looming since The Jem’Hadar. The Best of Both Worlds, Part I ends with Captain Picard falling to the Borg. Call to Arms ends with Deep Space Nine falling to the Dominion.
However, there is more to the comparison than that. Both The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and Call to Arms are driven more by anxiety than action. Both episodes stage impressive action scenes, but are more effective for the time they take to ratchet up the tension. Indeed, both The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and Call to Arms are written towards their sweeping and epic cliffhangers, with no real eye to a story resolution. Of course, Michael Piller had to cram his resolution into The Best of Both Worlds, Part II. The Deep Space Nine writing staff have a bolder plan.
Call to Arms takes the time to appreciate the gravity of the situation. The teleplay draws attention to the severity of the changes. “It might be some time before we see each other again,” Worf warns Dax as the evacuation commences. Dax responds, “Worf, we might never see each other again.” Sisko gives a big speech about his heartbreak on leaving the station. Jake remains behind. Rom marries Leeta and almost immediately bids her farewell. Even if Dukat closes the episode by reiterating Sisko’s promise to return, it is certain that things have changed.
The episode builds rather slowly to its inevitable conclusion. The first act of the episode builds off the tone of In the Cards, making it clear just how thoroughly the looming Dominion War has permeated life on the station. Jake cannot escape it even when sharing dinner with his father, having to deal with news coverage of negotiations between Bajor and the Dominion. Kira cannot avoid it when doing a routine contraband checks, finding Quark preparing for reoccupation. Even Sisko himself cannot help but hear rumours over his early morning Klingon coffee.
Things are changing. In a very real and dramatic way, Call to Arms draws the curtain down on a particular iteration of the series. To be fair, the writers have been tidying away loose ends for the past few episodes; Children of Time was the last Gamma Quadrant episode, Blaze of Glory was the last Maquis episode, and In the Cards was an affectionate tribute to the interconnected community that had grown and developed on the station over the past five seasons. With the start of the Dominion War in Call to Arms, Deep Space Nine undergoes a metamorphosis.
There are a number of clever elements that underscore this transition. As with In the Cards, the teleplay for Call to Arms emphasises the idea that the station has become a community tied together by shared experiences and a misfit sensibility. In his farewell speech, Sisko acknowledges, “When I first took command of this post, all I wanted was to be somewhere else, anywhere but here. But now, five years later, this has become my home and you have become my family.”
The episode opens with a discussion of the pending nuptials between Rom and Leeta, a relationship that has grown and developed through the past season. Trying to assure Ziyal that everything will be all right, Garak tells a familiar story. “Rather than fleeing for the rest of his life, he sought shelter in the one place no one expected him to go. In a stronghold of his people’s most hated enemies. There, surrounded by hostile strangers, he built a life, and there, against all odds, against the merciless logic of the Universe itself, he thrived.”
More than any other Star Trek show, Deep Space Nine seems like a place populated by dysfunctional characters with little in common beyond the fact their lives have brought them to this little outpost on the frontier. Unlike the cast of The Next Generation, these are not the most competent or skilled workers in the quadrant. Unlike the cast of Voyager, they are not a homogeneous and generic bunch. There is no small irony in the fact that after being so reluctant to take the post in Emissary, Sisko now thinks of the station as “this place where I belong.”
In some respects, the first three seasons of Deep Space Nine were about building that community on the edge the frontier and at the periphery of the franchise. The middle two seasons of Deep Space Nine are about solidifying and celebrating that community, watching characters put down roots and live their lives. The final two seasons become a story about (first restoring then) preserving that community in the midst of a galactic war. Call to Arms represents the transition from the series’ second act into its third and final ast.
Call to Arms is consciously designed by writers Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe to serve as a bookend with the fourth season premier, The Way of the Warrior. Once again, the station finds itself under siege. The siege is a neat reversal. In The Way of the Warrior, Sisko found himself protecting Cardassian allies against Klingon aggressors; in Call to Arms, Sisko is aligned with Klingon comrades against Cardassian opponents. The First and Second Battles of Deep Space Nine; bookends.
Call to Arms makes a number of other conscious nods and references to The Way of the Warrior. Garak converses with Odo before the fighting begins, reflecting upon the time that he fought side-by-side with Dukat against the Klingons. Bashir and Jake have an ironic conversation about the way that the battle will be recorded. “Just remember,” Bashir urges, “Bashir is spelled with an ‘i’.” It recalls Bashir’s discussion with Odo about whether their deaths might be recorded in Klingon song for posterity.
There are a number of reasons why it makes sense to pair The Way of the Warrior and Call to Arms. After all, The Way of the Warrior was a great piece of television. It was only logical to apply its structure elsewhere. More than that, The Way of the Warrior was a second (or third, counting The Search, Part I and The Search, Part II) pilot for Deep Space Nine and so it seems reasonable that Call to Arms might bring closure to that stretch of the series by mirroring that feature-length season premiere in terms of content and structure.
However, it should also be noted that The Way of the Warrior was the season premiere of the first season of Deep Space Nine without any oversight from creator Michael Piller. Piller had turned over control of the show to Ira Steven Behr at the start of the third season to concentrate on the development of Voyager, however he continued to offer advice and send notes of the scripts up until Life Support. When Piller returned to Voyager at the start of its second season, he left Deep Space Nine entirely in the care of its production staff.
So Call to Arms represents a fond farewell to the version of the show that had existed in its fourth and fifth seasons. It is also the last episode to be written by the partnership of Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe. Wolfe had joined the staff of Deep Space Nine in its first season, off the strength of his script for A Fistful of Datas. Wolfe helped to shape Deep Space Nine, with scripts for formative episodes like In the Hands of the Prophets or The Wire. He also became the favoured writing partner of showrunner Ira Steven Behr.
Indeed, Wolfe’s departure was seen as a big change in the way that the show was produced. The writer and producer has a small cameo as a wounded crew member in the sequence with Worf and Jadzia in the airlock. As he confessed in Hidden File 03:
So, at the end of season five, they literally dragged me bleeding off the set. I played a Starfleet officer. And as we lost Deep Space Nine, they dragged me out the airlock and I had blood all over my face and I was in a Starfleet uniform. It was a great way to end it. It was a great way to end a great experience. I mean… it was just one of the best professional experiences I’ve ever had and I don’t think I’ll… it’ll be difficult to ever top that. I mean, I’ve done other things and I’ll do other things, but that was just a very special time.
There was even a special scene recorded featuring the senior staff to mark Wolfe’s departure, with the actors all holding sheets of paper with the word “sad” written on them in parenthesis. It is an affectionate tribute to a writer who contributed a lot to the tone and mood of the series.
As much as Call to Arms might close out one version of Deep Space Nine, it also gestures towards the future. There are a number of very clever choices that pay-off very well in terms of the larger arc and direction of the series in the episodes ahead. After confessing her love for Garak in In Purgatory’s Shadow, Ziyal shares a fleeting kiss with him before she leaves the station. This is the last time that the two will ever speak, as Garak arrives on the station too late in Sacrifice of Angels. Dax was right when she argued that the family may not be entirely reunited.
On a less sombre note, the wedding between Rom and Leeta sets up a nice sense of symmetry for the larger “Occupation” arc that opens the sixth season. Rom and Leeta get married in Call to Arms, but they are not the only planned nuptials. “As soon as this is over, we’ll get married,” Dax promises Worf in their farewell scene. Ultimately, they do not wait for the war to be over. The pair get married in You Are Cordially Invited…, the episode immediately following the retaking of the station. As such, these weddings frame the war saga about to unfold.
There is also a nice sense of symmetry in the way that Call to Arms so pointedly foreground the conflict between the Dominion and the Cardassians. When Weyoun and Dukat appeared together in Ties of Blood and Water, Weyoun adopted a relatively subservient attitude to the new leader of the Cardassian Union. Dukat introduced Weyoun as “one of [his] Dominion advisers.” However, Call to Arms adds a great deal more nuance to their dynamic, fleshing out a relationship with ultimately define the conflict.
This is apparent even in the early scenes between Sisko and Weyoun. Weyoun claims to speak on behalf of the Dominion and casually makes promises that would dramatically affect the Cardassians. He arrives without a Cardassian escort or companion, and speaks dismissively of his new allies to the Federation. “It’s the Cardassians,” he explains. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m pleased to call them allies, but as you know they’ve just been though a terrible war with the Klingons. I’m afraid it’s left them somewhat jittery.”
Weyoun repeatedly infantalises the Cardassians in conversation with Sisko, treating them as a bunch of children who are not emotionally ready to sit at the table with the big boys. When Sisko points out that Cardassia has enough troops and weapons, Weyoun agrees, “You may think that, and I may think that, but the Cardassians…” When Sisko wonders what Gul Dukat would make of the deal, Weyoun interjects, “He’ll be furious, at first. But we’ve developed a fine working relationship, and I’m sure I can help him to see the wisdom of our decision.”
To be fair, this might just be diplomatic posturing from Weyoun. After all, the Vorta is simply trying to keep Sisko off-balance. However, this dynamic is reinforced during the attack on the station. “First, we reclaim Terok Nor, then on to Bajor,” Damar boasts. Weyoun quickly puts Damar in his place. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, or must I remind you the Dominion just signed a non-aggression pact with Bajor?” he asks. This is very much Weyoun asserting his authority over his colleagues.
Dukat tugs on his leash ever so slightly. “The Dominion might’ve,” he muses. “I never did.” Weyoun immediately puts his foot down. “The Dominion will honour its treaty,” he states, simple. “And as a member of the Dominion, you will honour it as well.” That is not a question, or a suggestion. It is an order, perhaps with an unspoken threat. Dukat acknowledges his place in the hierarchy. “Where the Dominion leads, I will follow,” he offers. Weyoun acknowledges, “I never doubted it.”
It is an interesting exchange, because it suggests that Dukat and Weyoun have had this disagreement at several points over the past few months. Dukat’s concession is not magnanimous, but resigned. Given the size of the character’s ego, that is no small accomplishment. Call to Arms is very economical, very quickly fleshing out the dynamic between Dukat and Weyoun beyond the bland pleasantries suggested by their introduction in Ties of Blood and Water.
In some ways, these short exchanges set up ideas that will pay off long down the line. The strained relationship between the Cardassians and the Dominion bubbles away in the background over the next two seasons, but eventual breaks through to the surface in The Changing Face of Evil. In a nice touch, it is Damar who eventually snaps at the subservient role that the Cardassians wind up playing in the Dominion. After all, it is Damar’s off-hand remarks that sparks this big argument within Call to Arms. There is a graceful symmetry there.
Call to Arms paves the way for the final two seasons of Deep Space Nine by officially opening the Dominion War. To be fair, this is not the first interstellar conflict to feature on Star Trek. After all, Errand of Mercy featured a war between the Klingon Empire and the Federation. Redemption, Part I and Redemption, Part II featured a Klingon Civil War. It could even be argued that the second half of the fifth season has featured a simmering cold war, with episodes like Soldiers of the Empire and In the Cards suggesting Dominion attacks on Federation and Klingon ships.
Still, this is the first truly sustained space conflict depicted on a Star Trek show. Traditionally, the franchise has treated war as a thing from the past, whether immediate or historical. When the Romulans were introduced in Balance of Terror and the Cardassians first appeared in The Wounded, they were presented as old enemies enjoying a fragile peace. Even the Klingon Empire had agreed to a delicate cease fire with the Federation by the end of Errand of Mercy, enforced by the Organians.
Call to Arms is careful to make it very clear that war is not anything that the Federation actively wants, even if they are forced to prepare for it. After all, it is very clear that the Dominion will accept nothing less than the complete surrender of the entire Alpha Quadrant. There can be no peaceful coexistence with the Dominion, there is only the quiet lull during which they continue amassing their forces. Sisko believes (and the evidence suggests) that the Dominion will attack sooner or later.
Indeed, Call to Arms rather brutally mocks any suggestion of peaceful coexistence and mutual cooperation. Weyoun talks a good game, but his allusions to the romantic idealism of the Star Trek franchise are just empty words. Suggesting that the Dominion might limit future convoys to medical aid and building supplies, Weyoun promises Sisko, “You and I have just taken the first step towards insuring peace between our peoples.” Weyoun is appealing to a core Star Trek value, arguing that two radically different cultures can find common ground.
Call to Arms insists that optimism is dangerous when dealing with a cynical adversary. Tellingly, it is Bashir who is most likely to accept Weyoun at his word. After all, Bashir is the Deep Space Nine cast member who seems closest to the idealism of The Next Generation. When Sisko insist the Dominion will attack, Bashir asks, “Are you sure?” Sisko responds, “I am positive. The moment I mentioned that we weren’t going to remove the mines, we both knew there’d be war. Everything else was just words, a feeble attempt to lull the other side into a false sense of security.”
Still, Call to Arms has the Federation commit an act of war against the Dominion. Our heroes are not allowed to keep their hand entirely clean. The battle for Deep Space Nine is sparked by the decision to mine the wormhole, which draws the Dominion fleet into a confrontation while the Klingons and the Federation launch a simultaneous strike against the Dominion shipyards. Call to Arms is unambiguous on this point. Sisko’s decision to mine the entrance of the wormhole and block access to the Gamma Quadrant is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Laying mines on a trade route (particularly the only trade route) is a hugely inflammatory political act. In relation to Iran laying mines in international waters, Vice Admiral Mark Fox described it as “an act of war.” Given that so much of Call to Arms hinges on Bajor not being a member of the Federation, the wormhole surely counts as international territory to the Federation. More than that, the mines are cloaked and self-replicating. It is also quite clear that the Federation did not communicate their intention to mine the wormhole ahead of time.
During the staff briefing at the start of the episode, it is made clear that this plan will have serious consequences. “If we try to stop those convoys, it may very well start a war,” Odo states, prophetically. Sisko acknowledges this, conceding, “Maybe so. But one thing is certain. We’re losing the peace, which means a war could be our only hope.” This makes the context of the Dominion War rather explicit. The Federation are the parties who declared war. They are not the victims in all of this.
Of course, the water is somewhat muddy on this point. The Dominion introduced themselves to the Alpha Quadrant by massacring an entire Bajor colony in The Jem’Hadar. The Founders have engaging in a shadow war against the Alpha Quadrant powers that plunged the region into chaos through well-placed infiltrators in episodes like The Adversary or The Way of the Warrior. The Dominion keeps slave races in the Jem’Hadar and the Vorta, as explored in The Abandoned and Hippocratic Oath. They also employ biological weapons, as shown in The Quickening.
More than that, the Cardassians and the Jem’Hadar have been spoiling for a fight since the events of In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light. The attempt to blow up the Bajoran system in By Inferno’s Light could easily have been considered an act of war by the Federation or the Klingon Empire. The attacks on Klingon ships in Soldiers of the Empire and Federation ships in In the Cards could also count as reasonable provocation. The Federation could reasonable have considered any of these actions to be tantamount to a declaration of war.
Indeed, Deep Space Nine paints the Dominion as such an obviously and ominously evil institution that there is never any real sense of ambiguity about their intentions or objectives. No matter what the Federation might do, the Dominion are obviously antagonists. To be fair, this hardly an unreasonable portrayal of international relations. After all, in discussions of the Second World War, it is very hard to paint Nazi Germany as anything less than unequivocally and uncompromisingly evil.
As such, it makes little difference what the Federation has actually done to the Dominion. The Federation might have been deliberately provocative by continuing to send ships through the wormhole following the warning in The Jem’Hadar, whether making contact with new races in Meridian or building infrastructure in Destiny. Starfleet might also have been meddling in internal Dominion affairs in Starship Down or The Ship. However, these infringements are relatively minor when set against the conduct of the Founders and their lackeys.
Still, even allowing for all of this, it seems significant that Call to Arms has the Federation commit the act of war. In some ways, it is a statement of purpose for the final two seasons. However morally flawed the Dominion might be, Deep Space Nine will convincingly argue that no party to a war on such a scale can ever truly keep its hands clean. Over the sixth and seventh seasons of Deep Space Nine, the Federation is repeatedly and increasingly compromised by the actions that it takes in its efforts to survive.
More than that, having the Federation be the party directly and immediately responsible for the outbreak of the Dominion War challenges certain underlying assumptions. Can war always be avoided? Is war ever justifiable or necessary? As a rule, the Star Trek franchise has always treated war as something that results from misunderstanding or failure of communication. In an ideal world, people and governments would be so reasonable that they would never need to resort to such tragic and horrific conduct.
It is perhaps telling that Deep Space Nine draws so effectively from the history of the Second World War. After all, the collapse of the Cardassian Union has been likened to the decay of Weimar Germany while Gul Dukat has been likened to Adolf Hitler. The Second World War is perhaps the historical war which supports the most compelling case in support of a “moral” or “just” war, the struggle of liberal democracy against the forces of totalitarian fascism with the fate of the free world hanging in the balance.
There is a debate about when the Second World War became inevitable. After all, one of the great tragedies of that horrific conflict is that it need never have happened if the right decisions had been made at the right times. But when were those right times? When were those right decisions exhausted? Did the Second World War become inevitable from the moment that the Treaty of Versailles was signed? Did the Second World War become impossible to avoid when the Great Depression led to the calling in of Germany’s debt? What about the moment the Nazis were elected?
It is simply impossible to know the answers to these questions with absolute certainty. There is something unsettling about that, about being unable to pinpoint the moment at which all of that bloodshed and suffering became a grim inevitability. Call to Arms taps into that anxiety, imagining a twenty-fourth century equivalent where the characters are well past that point (if it even ever existed) long before Sisko and O’Brien stand on the Promenade to watch the latest Dominion convoy make its way to Cardassia.
Call to Arms underscores how serious the situation is by have the Dominion retake Deep Space Nine. The eponymous space station becomes the first casualty of war, a way of communicating to the audience that the looming conflict will not be an abstract war raging over the horizon. It will be an immediate concern, for at least as long as it takes to reclaim the station. Still, it is presented as a pyrrhic victory, recalling Napoleon’s occupation of Moscow:
During the opening months of the invasion, Napoleon was forced to contend with a bitter Russian army in perpetual retreat. Refusing to engage Napoleon’s superior army in a full-scale confrontation, the Russians under General Mikhail Kutuzov burned everything behind them as they retreated deeper and deeper into Russia. On September 7, the indecisive Battle of Borodino was fought, in which both sides suffered terrible losses. On September 14, Napoleon arrived in Moscow intending to find supplies but instead found almost the entire population evacuated, and the Russian army retreated again. Early the next morning, fires broke across the city set by Russian patriots, and the Grande Grande Armée’s winter quarters were destroyed. After waiting a month for a surrender that never came, Napoleon, faced with the onset of the Russian winter, was forced to order his starving army out of Moscow.
The victory comes at the cost of the Dominion shipyards on Torros III. Dukat arrives to an almost empty station abandoned by the Bajorans and sabotaged by Sisko. Ronald D. Moore acknowledged the Moscow campaign as an influence, along with “the fall of the Phillipines in WWII, the evacuation of Dunkirk.” This focus on high-profile historical wars sets a tone for the Dominion War, which will draw heavily from conflicts like the Second World War.
Ending the fifth season with the Cardassians retaking Deep Space Nine feels appropriate. More than any season beyond the first, the fifth season of Deep Space Nine is preoccupied with the question of history and legacy. Things Past and Ties of Blood and Water both feature flashbacks to the Occupation, providing a clear contrast between how things were and how they are. Gul Dukat’s nostalgic fixation on reclaiming the station was suggested in By Inferno’s Light. There is a pang of that nostalgia here. “You, me, the Major, together again. It should be most interesting.”
That nostalgia simmers through the fifth season of Deep Space Nine, which makes a certain amount of sense. After all, Deep Space Nine was five years old and closer to its end than to its beginning. More than that, the fifth season overlapped with the franchise’s thirtieth anniversary celebrations. Trials and Tribble-ations might not have had anything to do with the Cardassian Occupation, but it contributed to the nostalgic tone of the season around it. In a season where characters continually confront their pasts, that crossover fit quite neatly.
The fifth season of Deep Space Nine returned to the trauma of the Cardassian Occupation time and time again. That atrocity is still an open wound for Bajor, even half a decade after it ended. In some ways, this feels much more honest than Voyager‘s approach to history and memory; Voyager tends to be a show without history. Deep Space Nine cannot escape history. Rapture suggested that resentments within Bajoran society still linger from that horror. The Darkness and the Light found Kira confronting (and affirming) her past as a terrorist.
Although not explicitly linked to the horror of the Cardassian Occupation, Empok Nor even plays into that broad theme. The crew visit another abandoned Cardassian station, only to awaken a collection of Cardassian cold warriors who force Chief O’Brien to confront his own past as a soldier. With all of this going on, it seems perfectly thematically consistent for Call to Arms to close with a return to the Cardassian Occupation. Deep Space Nine suggests that history moves forward like a wheel, iterations and progress. The past echoes, even it doesn’t repeat.
Call to Arms is a fantastic piece of television. It is one of the best season finales that the franchise ever produced. Ironically, the episode broadcast around the same time that Voyager was consciously trying to emulate the iconic cliffhanger of The Best of Both Worlds, Part I with Scorpion, Part I. However, Call to Arms offers a much more satisfying tribute. Rather than trying to mimic the substance of that classic piece of television, it instead constructs a finale that could only work on Deep Space Nine.
The result is a stunning cap to a stunning season.