WARNING: Spoilers for DS9's "The Siege of AR-338" lie just
beyond the next ridge.
In brief: A decent war movie, but is it Trek?
Written by: Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler
Directed by: Winrich Kolbe
Brief summary: Sisko and company temporarily join the front lines to
help hold a Dominion communications array against the Jem'Hadar.
"The Siege of AR-338" was a very odd episode. While it managed to
be quite powerful in brief moments (particularly much of the final act),
the episode also left a lot of its points unresolved and changed its
players around quite a bit. It left the distinct impression that Behr &
Beimler created a very decent war film which happens to be under the
Trek name, but no more.
"The Siege of AR-338," as you might guess, concerns itself with a
planetoid in disputed space called AR-338. Our heroes make a supply
run there, and then Sisko decides that they're going to stick around to
help the platoon ride out another Jem'Hadar assault. In the early
stages of the episode, we meet four of the platoon's major members:
commander-of-the-moment Lt. Nadia Larkin (Annette Helde), soldiers
Reese (Patrick Kilpatrick) and Vargas (Raymond Cruz), and Kellin
(Bill Mumy), an engineer who's been working on decoding a
Dominion communications array for a while.
As a setup for a crisis, I've definitely seen worse -- but there were a
lot of moments which felt so familiar as to be stereotypical. One of
them is Reese's necklace. It's made from tubes of Jem'Hadar 'white'
taken from Jem'Hadar Reese killed. Now, that's certainly a valid
image -- but we've seen almost *exactly* the same thing from DS9
before, namely in the person of a Klingon who wore a necklace made
of Cardassian neck bones. A slightly different motif might have been
Then, there are the four soldiers. In terms of writing, only two
characters even attempted to rise above their stock characterizations:
Reese and Kellin. Vargas was the typical "swaggering Marine who's
really terrified and wants to go home," and was played so amazingly
over the top that I was really cringing most of the time he was on
screen. Larkin wasn't actively unpleasant, but she made no real
impression on me at all. Reese and Kellin were definitely better, quite
possibly because I was familiar with and like the work of both actors
-- even there, though, there were too many moments which
telegraphed what lay ahead. (For instance, Kellin and Ezri strike up a
friendship, and the conversation turns to Ezri's lack of combat
experience. Kellin tells her very seriously, "You'll do fine." In war-
movie terms, that's basically holding up a sign saying "One of Us is
Going to Die.")
By far, the most interesting scenes on a character level were those
involving Quark. As the sole non-Federation and viewpoint on AR-
338, he had a very different perspective on the whole situation, and
one which was interesting to see. I particularly liked his point to Nog
that "if the Federation had listened to the Ferengi Alliance, there never
would have *been* a war" because the Ferengi would have found a
compromise which would have suited everyone. Nog's response that
things weren't that easy is undoubtedly true, but it makes sense that
Quark would see things in terms of negotiations and not battle, and his
complete distaste for all things military made an interesting
counterbalance for how gung-ho Nog was being.
The odd thing, though, is how little actual resolution there was, and I
don't get the feeling that it was because ends were intentionally left
loose. There was no real *character* resolution at all, with the
possible exception of Sisko. Think about it: we get several intense
conversations between Quark and Nog, and also between Quark and
Sisko. In both cases, Quark is adamantly opposed to what he sees as
needless brutality and sending his nephew into dangerous missions,
while Sisko and Nog try to convince him that it's just the military life.
All well and good. But after the battle is over and the dust has settled,
did we get any sense that opinions have shifted at all, or even that any
of the Quark/Sisko/Nog triad thought about what other members were
saying? So far as I can tell, everything was just dropped: there
wasn't even any scene with dialogue between Quark and Nog after
Nog's wounding, and after Sisko harshly tells Quark how much he
cares for his soldiers the two never have a scene together. I certainly
don't think there needs to be any huge shift in viewpoint after a battle,
but I got the sense that the dialogue wasn't even heard by anyone but
the viewer. That's a shame.
Even the Big Event of the show, Nog's loss of his leg, falls victim to
this lack of focus. There's plenty of emotion about his loss for the
first scene or two after he's wounded -- Quark's anger, Sisko's mixed
emotions, and so on. However, after that, all any viewer coming in
would know is that he's wounded. Is there any sense that Nog has
been affected by this apart from the physical? No. Did Nog's loss
change the situation or the characters in any way? As with some of
the debate in the show then, I almost get the sense that this was put in
because *something* had to happen, and this would have substantial
shock value. I'd hate to think Nog was injured only for shock value,
but there was so little examination of the issue after the fact that I'm
worried that's exactly what we got.
There were certainly plenty of things I did like about the show, but
they were more SF trappings than they were essential to the point.
The Dominion's mines (aptly named "Houdinis," since if you find one
you disappear) were an interesting idea, and the moment in which
Kellin and Ezri expose them all was one of those "now *that* is cool"
situations we come to expect on occasion. The final battle with the
Jem'Hadar was handled extremely well, particularly the cuts to Quark,
the music, and Sisko's vision wavering in and out as he's about to
lose consciousness. Despite all of my problems with the show, most
of that last act is a must-watch.
In the end, though, I'm left to agree with Quark. He tells Nog early
on, "This isn't the Starfleet that you knew," and he's right. We've
seen this side of Starfleet before, most particularly in "Nor the Battle
to the Strong" two years ago. The difference is that "Nor the
Battle..." dealt with Jake's reaction to combat and the line he drew
between courage and cowardice. There, at least one character learned
a great deal from the experience. Here, so far as I can tell, no one did
-- we just got a war story, with questionable tactics and no lessons
learned. (Yes, Sisko says that he has to remember the dead aren't just
names -- but he's learned that lesson before, most notably in "The
Ship.") While "just a war story" can be interesting on occasion, given
the series to date I've come to expect a lot more.
-- I had problems watching Bill Mumy as Kellin. After five years of
watching Mumy play Lennier on B5, I was hearing Lennier most of
the time. The phrasing was different and the body language was
*very* different, but Mumy's voice just sounded too familiar.
-- It was nice to see Patrick Kilpatrick again. He's played one-shot
but significant roles in four different SF shows now (Voyager, DS9,
B5, and the late "Nowhere Man"), and he's always interesting. This
is, incidentally, the first time of the four that he's played a non-
villainous role; must be the heavy brows.
-- The final Jem'Hadar assault seemed odd on two different fronts.
First, I wonder why they didn't shroud themselves; it seems an
obvious weapon to use. Second, we have never, *ever*, heard
Jem'Hadar yell before or during a battle before; that's part of what
makes them effective soldiers. Perhaps it added to the war-movie
atmosphere, but it sure didn't strike me as the Jem'Hadar we knew.
-- For once, I thought Vic Fontaine's music was put to a good use late
in the show. (As Lisa put it, "Listening to Vic is guaranteed to whip
people up into a battle frenzy!") I could absolutely have done without
the Vic scene at the beginning, though -- particularly anything
involving Rom singing.
-- I was thinking about the ending, with Reese the only major player
from the platoon to survive. It seems a bit cliched, but I'm trying to
figure out what *wouldn't* be at this point. If they all die, it's been
done countless time; if none of the majors die, it's a cheat; if just one
token character dies, it's been done; what's left? (Maybe if they went
half and half, but this is starting to get silly.)
-- I liked the final scene with Reese a lot; for some reason, seeing him
watch the troop replacements coming in seemed powerful.
That about covers it. If you like war for war's sake and typical war-
movie messages, "The Siege of AR-338" is definitely one for you. If
not ... well, it has its moments, but not enough to feel right.
Writing: Lots of interesting issues in spots, with absolutely no
resolution of any kind. Hmph.
Directing: Compelling in places, particularly the final battle -- no real
Acting: Cruz was *way* over the top; Kilpatrick was quite good, and
most of the rest were reasonable.
OVERALL: Call it a 6 for what *is* said and done; the rest is
frustrating, but what's there is worth a 6.
We finally see what Dukat's been up to all these months.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"He has his orders, Quark."
"That is so easy for you to say -- but I bet you wouldn't send *Jake*
"Jake is not a Starfleet officer."
-- Sisko and Quark
Copyright 1998, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...
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