Random (but not really)

Monday, February 19, 2018

Rewatching Deep Space Nine: Weakness and Darkness

One of the things I especially love about DS9 is how it willingly went into dark places with eyes wide open.

We just rewatched Nor the Battle to the Strong which is a favorite, even though it is one of the more difficult episodes to watch.

In the episode Jake is traveling back from a conference with Dr Bashir when they get a distress call from a colony under attack. Jake convinces Bashir that it’s more important to go help people than to get him (Jake) back safe to the station.

The situation quickly goes bad, and Jake is faced with how to deal with an attack without his father there to protect him.

In this show Jake sees precisely what triage means, he sees people die, and none of it is pretty or clean. (1) But most importantly, we Jake’s first reaction to being caught in a battle: to run away. That fear and terror is something you’d never see on the previous shows where everyone is strong and brave except for the occasional secondary character who exists simply to make everyone else look better. (2) Jake gets a second chance, but although he doesn’t run away, his fear is just as evident. He doesn’t magically become strong and brave—he remains terrified and unsure of himself. It’s a lesson very rarely seen (especially at the time the show ran): that war is loud and confusing and people don’t naturally react with bravery, and that people don’t get to walk away unscathed. (3)

I keep turning it over in my head. The shelling. Losing sight of Bashir. Running. And I keep trying to make sense of it all – to justify what I did. But when it comes down to it there’s only one explanation: I’m a coward!

As I said, it’s not an easy episode to watch, but like so many others in this show, it feels real. It’s dirty and loud and ugly and bloody and there are no easy resolutions.

More than anything, I wanted to believe what he was saying. But the truth is, I was just as scared in the hospital as I’d been when we went for the generator. So scared, that all I could think about was doing whatever it took to stay alive. Once that meant running away, and once it meant picking up a phaser.

I think what makes the show work so well is that Jake is so clearly a civilian. He has never wanted to join Starfleet, he has no training, and although he has been at the scenes of battles, he was sheltered and protected and rescued. He shouldn’t be expected to react with bravery, because in such situations he’s been trained to seek shelter and protection with other civilians.

I think Dr Bashir’s reaction is just as important, when he is berating himself for the danger Jake is in. He briefly forgets that Jake is still a teenager and doesn’t have the training he (Bashir) and the other members of Starfleet have. He may be taller now, but he’s still young. Bashir feels that he’s gotten Jake killed for that lapse, and more importantly, he doesn’t blame Jake, but reacts with concern and compassion.

Throughout the series, we see the members of the station and the Defiant constantly running battle drills—a reminder that it takes practice and work and repetition to keep things together during chaos. It says that heroism may perhaps be a state of mind, but it is also the result of hard work. That weakness and fear are just as (if not more) common and expecting otherwise is not just unrealistic, but foolish.

(1) These aren’t the first ugly deaths in DS9, The Ship also sees Dax, Sisko, Worf, and O’Brien watch a crewmate slowly die from his injuries because they lack proper treatment for him.

(2) Kudos to Cirroc Lofton for this episode. There was a lot to carry on his young shoulders, and he did an incredible job portraying Jake’s fear, anger, and shame.

(3) Another thing DS9 did really well was introducing secondary characters several seasons before they are killed. The character of Muniz had speaking parts in three different episodes in two different seasons before The Ship.

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