But what precisely are our moral obligations in war? How far is it permissible to go in order to win? That’s the big question at the heart at DS9’s sixth season, and the answer, as it turns out is, “Pretty damn far.” We saw shades of it last week, where the crew piloted a captured enemy ship to blow up a depot full of the enemy’s most important food supply. Think about that action for a second. Doesn’t sound very Starfleety, does it? Not only the destruction of the white -- which, remember, the Jem’Hadar can’t survive without -- but even the use of the Dominion vessel. There’s a reason why soldiers wearing the uniforms of the other side are not captured. They’re executed.
The season could easily be seen as a slow deconstruction of the heroic Starfleet captain through what it does to Sisko. The destruction of the white facility is the first chip in the façade, and there will be others. The fact is, no other Starfleet captains had to face a foe like the Dominion. Yes, the Borg were bad, but they were turned back over the course of a two-parter and spent the rest of the series becoming progressively more toothless. The Dominion is as robust a culture of the Federation, making that organization’s defining strength -- the unity of a coalition of races -- as a totalitarian government ruled by fear. In the Founders, the Dominion has the perfect spies and saboteurs. In the Vorta, they have treacherous politicos who could give lessons to the Romulans. In the Jem’Hadar they have, well, the Jem’Hadar. And now they’ve got the ruthlessly militant Cardassians, and that’s not the last Alpha Quadrant race who will join up.
The Dominion was never going to be as straightforward a fight as the Federation’s other enemies. Klingons mostly want battle, but had to make treaties when it turned out that Starfleet was way, way better at war. The Romulans were an enigmatic superpower shielded by a Neutral Zone, but as TNG unfolded, it became increasingly obvious that they did not have the stomach for a fight. The Dominion, motivated by the obsessive need for control of the Founders, won’t be happy until the entire universe is under their heel. Okay, so they don’t have heels. Protoplasmic pseudopods. Whatever, I don’t know. They’re bad news.
Kira is figuring this out on the station. Her plotline doesn’t get much screentime, but what is there counts. She has, completely unintentionally, become a collaborator. She didn’t even see it happening, but there she is, working alongside the Dominion, stonewalling Jake in an interview where he asks hard-hitting (yet slightly naïve) questions, and even getting ready to stop a Bajoran protest with arrests. That protest takes the form of a Vedek hanging herself on the Promenade in front of a horrified Kira. That action makes her realize what she has become. She finishes the episode starting a new Resistance with Odo.
When we last left the rest of the crew, they were limping home in a crippled Jem’Hadar vessel. Since this wasn’t suddenly going to turn into Voyager, they get attacked by some other Dominion ships and forced to crash land on a planet in the middle of a nebula. Incidentally, if the planet looks familiar, it’s because you remember it as the same quarry they shot “The Homecoming,” “Indiscretion,” and “The Ship.” So, yes. That specific Jem’Hadar vessel managed to crash into the same quarry twice.
At least one of the other Jem’Hadar ships crashed, as well. (That’s a big plot hole, as there were two ships in pursuit, but at this point, it seems like there’s only the one. Who cares, as this episode is pretty much awesome from front to back.) Their Vorta, Keevan, is mortally wounded. He’s also not got the best relationship with his men, as he refuses to promote his Third to First (despite the original First and Second being killed), because the Third questioned him one time (about entering the nebula that made them crash land in the first place). As a side note, Phil Morris, who plays Third Remata’Klan, is absolutely great. He plays the Jem’Hadar as a samurai, loyal to a lord he knows is unworthy, but loyal nonetheless. When Sisko confronts him at the end, telling him this, Remata’Klan dismisses it. For him, even his life was never his. It belongs to the Founders. Loyalty, to the Jem’Hadar, is not a thing that must be earned.
The two camps become aware of each other when Garak and Nog are taken prisoner while scouting. Just before this, they have a wonderful moment when Garak snaps at Nog about the fact that the cadet refuses to allow Garak behind him. Nog says that after the events of season five’s “Empok Nor” (He doesn’t use those precise words.), he’ll never turn his back on Garak again. Garak, of course, is thrilled. He loves it when people he genuinely cares about understand that he’s a remorseless killer who can’t be trusted. “Cadet, there is hope for you yet,” he says with fatherly pride. That’s when the Jem’Hadar show up and take them captive.
Keevan wants to make a trade, which he sends Remata’Klan to make a deal: Garak and Nog for Sisko and Dr. Bashir. Sisko points out that this is a terrible trade, and Remata’Klan agrees. It’s not his job to negotiate, just to communicate terms. Sisko doesn’t trust the Vorta, but expertly plays on the sense of honor of the Jem’Hadar, and the division between them and the Vorta. If Remata’Klan gives his word they will be set free, he’ll do it. Remata’Klan was given those orders, and Jem’Hadar do not disobey.
Bashir fixes Keevan up (and the Jem’Hadar excitedly gather around, because, according to Keevan, “They’ve never seen the inside of a Vorta before”), and the Vorta, after dismissing his men, offers a deal. He has only one vial of white left and the men are already feeling the effects, being unable to shroud and having trouble controlling their violent impulses. When it runs out, they’ll kill everything in sight, then each other. So, instead of that, he offers a deal. He’ll give Sisko their precise plan of attack, after which he’ll surrender to the Federation and turn over his busted communications array to Sisko. After all, he has one of those “famed Starfleet engineers who can turn rocks into replicators” on staff.
It’s a hell of a decision. And here’s the thing: Keevan will be sending them regardless. The only thing Sisko gets to decide is whether or not he gets the plan in advance. It’s an impossible, immoral decision, and the only conceivable answer is yes. Which is what Sisko does. He offers Remata’Klan one chance, even after the Starfleet personnel have the Jem’Hadar in a crossfire. Bashir can sedate the Jem’Hadar. They can all walk out of here, alive. Remata’Klan turns Sisko down. The Jem’Hadar were ordered to attack. They will follow their orders unto death. And they do, getting mercilessly cut down down by entrenched Starfleet forces. Then, Keevan comes sauntering over the battlefield, looking at his dead men with barely disguised amusement, ready to turn himself over.
The final shot is on Sisko’s face as he realizes the price he was forced to pay, the rage and disgust warring on his expression. He killed a relatively good man in Remata’Klan to save a weasel like Keevan. And it was the only choice he could make.
Next up: Worf is just the worst father.