You Talking Season 5 DS9 to Me? – “Call to Arms”

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 5, Episode 26

The teased-out possibility of war with the Dominion had been brewing since the end of Season 2, and grew in intensity with each passing season. It’s a credit to the complexity of Deep Space Nine that is never felt like it was padding – there were a lot of twists and turns along the way (like an entirely different small war with the Klingons), and the slow build felt organic and believable. Plus the episodic nature of the series gave us plenty of stories not related to the Dominion at all. But since the mid-point of Season 5 when the Cardassians joined the Dominion the tension was ratcheted up a notch and ultimately leads us to the official start of the war and Season 5 finale, “Call to Arms.”

It’s a great episode that highlights many of Deep Space Nine’s best qualities. Huge matters of interstellar importance propel the plot, but it’s filled with a great amount of character beats to help keep it all grounded and entertaining. The script is top-notch, filled with humor, drama, and too many great lines to count. There’s a tight confidence to the episode, and watching it barrel through its plot points without missing a step is illustrative of how great this show could be.

The wackiness of the preceding episode “In the Cards” was offset by its darker B-story – the Dominion diplomatically courting Bajor and trying to further its strategic foothold in the Alpha quadrant. The episodes almost seem like a 2-parter, and combined with the six-part storyline that opens Season 6, we see Deep Space Nine really blurring the line between episodic and serialized storytelling.

“I’ll say this, their Dominion Prime service is worth every strip of latinum. I ordered some brutal death this morning and it should get here by 2100 hours tonight.”

At this episode’s start we learn that the Dominion has been sending regular convoys to Cardassia like clockwork, as a crowd on the Promenade looks on in hushed horror at this week’s shipment. They’re clearly building up to prepare for something. Quark is smuggling large amounts of yamok sauce onto the station to prepare for the inevitable Cardassian takeover of the station. Nog mentions to Sisko that he overheard some people talking about the Romulans having signed a nonaggression pact with the Dominion. Sisko tells him not to believe everything he hears, but contacts Starfleet to check anyway. Turns out it’s true, and in the next scene the senior staff (including a furious, racist Worf) reel at the bad news.

I love all of this, and it displays the unique storytelling abilities of Deep Space Nine and its setting. The plot setup is done so efficiently and the episode quickly paints a portrait of how grim and imminent the situation is. Sisko explains how many other major powers have also signed a non-aggression pact with the Dominion (including those damn Tholians), and it points to how dangerous and intractable a foe they are. The Dominion have been extremely successful in building up fear over the past several years, enough to motivate several alien states to make sure they’re not on their enemies list. One of the things I loved most about The Undiscovered Country was its emphasis on interstellar politics, and there’s a sense of that here.

Starfleet has had enough and decides that it will block the Dominion from sending anymore ships through the wormhole, regardless of whether it starts a war. It’s up to Dax, O’Brien, and Rom to figure out a way to mine the wormhole entrance to prevent ships from crossing it. Rom is sublime here, and though he’s stressing about his impending marriage to Leeta, he manages to invent a novel way of accomplishing the task – self-replicating mines that can replace themselves if they get destroyed. They will also be cloaked to create an invisible wall of death for any ships that try to enter. It’s awesome.

The Defiant will lay the minefield but won’t be able to activate it until every mine is in place. Sisko reports that Starfleet can’t spare any ships to defend the station because they’re doing bigger secret things, so they’re on they’re own. LOL. It’s a dumb, re-used plot contrivance in an otherwise great episode.

It doesn’t take long for the Dominion to get wind of what Starfleet is doing, and sends one of their battleships with Weyoun over to talk to Sisko. He drops his ass-kissing routine and tells Sisko to remove the minefield, or else the Dominion will take the station and remove it themselves. Sisko refuses, and after bristling at his obstinance, Weyoun uses a different tactic and tries gaslighting – the ship convoys are at the insistence of the “jittery” Cardassians who simply want to feel safe and defended. Also, starving children, they need to build up the economy again, yadda yadda.

“If you don’t remove those pink flamingos from your lawn, our HOA toops will take your station and remove them ourselves.”

Sisko pretends like he cares, and the two of them fake an understanding between their two peoples. Cut to Sisko telling his staff that they’re probably going to attack tomorrow. The writing in the episode is so smart and fun here, and the episode contains a great number of smash cuts that help the plot zig and zag along elegantly. The Defiant is still running short on time. Sisko sends Martok to the border so that he can sound the alarm once the Dominion fleet approaches. He then decides that Bajor must also sign the non-aggression pact with the Dominion in order to keep itself safe and out of the fighting. It’s a good follow-up on Sisko’s wacky vision from “Rapture” that Bajor must stand apart from the Federation to survive. He emphasizes to Kira that his mission has always been to keep Bajor safe and help it to thrive, and this is the only way he can do that. It’s a nice moment that shows his commitment to Bajor both as a Starfleet officer and the Emissary.

There’s a record number of subplots in the episode, and they all contribute to the overall impression of how much the impending war is shaking things up for everyone. It also gives almost every main character and many of the secondary ones one several memorable moments. It turns the episode into such a multifaceted event stuffed with great material.

Actual gameplay from Sierra’s latest adult point and click sci-fi adventure game Dominion War Dolly.

The main subplot is Rom and Leeta’s wedding, which isn’t great since it’s mired in some banal sitcom-level stuff (they can’t decide on a dress, Rom likes the one that’s basically a bikini, Quark’s a pig, duhhhh). But it’s not terrible, either at least. They nervously ask Sisko to officiate the wedding and he obliges. It’s a small and quick affair and Nog cutely calls Leeta “moogie.”

Rom, I think you can stop with the hover hands now, buddy.

That’s not the only wedding talk here, and later on when Worf and Dax go their separate ways, she preemptively accepts his not-yet-given proposal for marriage. Stay tuned!

“Make me the most miserable woman in the sector, you turtle-headed stick in the mud.”

Odo and Kira are all weird and uncomfortable because she now knows that he likes her, thanks to finding out in the absolute most disturbing and disquieting way quantumly possible in “Children of Time.” Oof. Words can’t express how fucking messed up that episode is, and I won’t even get into it here. Speaking with Kira, Odo tables the issue for the time being and they move on as friends once again.

“Odo, it was very sweet that you DELETED AN ENTIRE CIVILIZATION for me, but I don’t know if I’m ready for a relationship with AN ABSOLUTE MONSTER right now.”

Jake has gotten a job as a Federation reporter and is writing about the situation on the station, and specifically Benjamin’s part in it. Ben is not happy about his son writing about him, which seems weird. At this point Jake is simply reporting on the facts and not editorializing (he reminds his dad that he’s a public figure). Freedom of the press, baby! Ben is just uncomfortable with this new dynamic. The conflict isn’t overdone but feels a little forced all the same. But it’s nice to see that Jake is doing more important things now, and is nice follow-through on his fledgling career from “Nor the Battle to the Strong.”

“Dad, I don’t write the headlines. But Ben Sisko is Emisorry About All the Fightin’ is pretty damn good.”

Ziyal evacuates the station and has an emotional goodbye with her crush Garak. He assures her in that blustery verbose Garak way of his that he’ll be fine since he’s a survivor. She kisses him and he once again seems very uncomfortable with her affections. I find it a little uncomfortable myself and I’m not sure what the intention is here. Garak’s sexuality was never confirmed in the show, but Robinson purposefully played him as gay (and flirtatiously so). But he could just as believably be bi, pan, or ace to me. It seemed like it was intentionally kept nebulous so not to offend the delicate sensibilities of the time, but with the implicit understanding that… ya know. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

“Now Ziyal, I care about you AS A FRIEND, and I want you to be careful AS A FRIEND. Now I have to talk to Dr. Bashir about something AS NOT A FRIEND.”

Because if he was straight, it seems like the series would have specified that at some point, and I just assume otherwise. So we seem to have this young woman that is in love with an older gay man who certainly likes her and is protective of her, but not in that way. It’s all so weird, and I don’t see the point of any of it. Especially if the producers didn’t have the conviction to explicitly state who Garak is in regards to his sexuality. As I’ve said before, it does a disservice to her character by making her seem naive and unable to take a hint, pestering this guy who is completely wrong for her in every conceivable way. And not “wrong for her” in the hot way I sometimes like, but just “wrong for her” as in “Oh sweetie, water goes in a glass, not on a paper plate.”

Anyway. Quark is kind of a jerk throughout (especially at Rom’s wedding, which he is morally opposed to), but he does get a nice scene with his brother where he expresses some concern and affection in that abusive way he has. Aww?

“Love ya, idiot.”

And Garak gets a nice non-Ziyal scene with Odo, where he recounts how he stood back to back with Dukat the prior year as they defended the Cardassian civilian government members from the Klingon attack. He laments not killed Dukat when his back was turned, and Odo seems aghast that he would shoot someone in the back. Garak responds with one of my favorite Garak lines: “Well, it’s the safest way, isn’t it?” Love it. You can’t argue with the honorless logic of that. He then says darkly that everyone in the Alpha quadrant will regret him not pulling the trigger before this day is done.

“Yes, I thought about hemming Dukat’s trousers when his back was turned.”

Aaaaaand Jake helps Dr. Bashir prepare the medics for all the casualties they’re likely to receive. This is another follow-up to “Nor the Battle to the Strong.” Bashir warns Jake that things could get crazy, which is a little odd considering Jake was an orderly in that bloody M.A.S.H. unit already. Or maybe he’s saying it to emphasize “Hey, don’t wuss out and leave me high and dry again. A genetically-engineered doctor never forgets.”

“Hey Jake, can you bring in that mini fridge full of frozen bricks of fecal samples? I’ll help you, I SWEAR…”

But it’s fireworks factory time! Martok signals that the Dominion are approaching but his transmission is cut off by Dukat (along with Damar and Weyoun) asking Sisko if he’d like to surrender ahead of time. Of course he doesn’t, and Dukat is happy to hear it. The scenes on their flagship bridge are all great and quickly delineate the dynamics at play between them. Dukat is clearly relishing this moment and Damar is smirking along with him. Dukat speaks of conquering the station, and then onto Bajor. Weyoun reminds him that Bajor is an official non-combatant as far as the Dominion is concerned. Dukat tries to defiantly wiggle around it, and Weyoun immediately jerks the leash. It gives a great sense of how delusional Dukat/the Cardassians are about this arrangement – you’re not allied with the Dominion, you boneheads. You are their pets now, and you serve at their whim. This will become more and more clear as time goes on.

“I don’t suppose you’d like to surrender? I really need to charge my thingie here and I forgot my cord. Weyoun won’t share his even though he’s at 98%. He’s such a dick I HATE HIM!”

The Dominion fleet assaults the station, which responds with its own considerable armament. We of course first saw DS9’s massive weapons upgrade when it defended itself against the Klingons in “The Way of the Warrior,” and it’s a treat to see it go berserk mode again. I love the sight of ships flying everywhere getting blasted by the station and there are some great swooping shots here. It’s a payoff in more ways than one since the whole point of installing these weapons was to fight the Dominion (not the Klingons), so their true purpose is finally fulfilled.

A nice bit is when the enemy realizes that the station’s shields are holding against the Dominion’s weapons. That was one of many initial “oh shit” qualities about these guys, that our shields were totally useless against them. But it seems that Starfleet has finally adapted. Dukat bitterly notes that you can’t underestimate the Federation, or Sisko. Up yours, buddy.

Crab fleetle… crab fleetle…

The Defiant comes under attack, but is saved when Martok’s Bird of Prey swoops in and draws away their pursuers. Noice. After laying the last mine, they activate the entire field and a dismayed Damar and Dukat (along with the dastardly Dominion) watch their hopes for a quick victory literally vanish before their eyes. I love the interplay between Damar/Dukat/Weyoun. Weyoun glumly laments that this isn’t going according to their plan, but Dukat is undeterred. You can see how much he’s biting his tongue with his superior, which just gets to him so much. Alaimo nails all these little physical bits of acting that reveal Dukat’s emotional state. This guy is an egomaniac narcissist and has attained his greatest amount of power in becoming the leader of his people. And yet he did it by signing away all autonomy of his race to a bigger power and has to kowtow to this purple-eyed pale little monkey Weyoun. Ha.

“Weyoun, could you not look at my Virtual Boy over my shoulder? I’m trying to play Mario Tennis here.”

Dukat focuses the fleet’s firepower on a particular part of the station’s docking ring (perhaps using his intimate knowledge of DS9) to breach their shields. It works, and a series of catastrophic explosions knocks the station’s main power offline. More enemy ships enter Bajoran space and Sisko orders all Starfleet personnel to abandon the station as the Dominion fleet comes around for a final assault.

“Ow, my docking ring!”

Sisko stands in front of the Bajoran temple, speaking to a crowd (and the Defiant). He informs them that during this attack, a fleet of Federation and Klingon ships destroyed the Dominion shipyards on Torros III (which is why DS9 didn’t have any backup). He says he won’t rest until he stands here again, and then beams out to the Defiant. Garak is there, proclaiming that there isn’t really anywhere else for him to go. Get in here for a hug, you gay mischievous murdering spy, you.

“When I first came here, I really didn’t want this assignment. I really, really, REALLY didn’t want to be in this dump. I probably stopped hating it here at some point. Anyway, deuces y’all.”

The Defiant and Rotarran flee the station, as Kira and Odo take command in Ops. They signal the station’s surrender to the Dominion fleet and activate Sisko’s program which trashes all the main systems. The look on Kira’s face is telling as she seems dismayed at having to sabotage her home and workplace, and then hand it over to the enemy. She’s a prideful person and a fighter, and this goes against every bone in her body.

Rom returns to Quark’s Bar and reveals that he’s actually a Starfleet spy under the guise of working at the bar again. Quark is like, OK fine. But Rom passes by Jake, who we see has stayed behind. He explains that since he’s a reporter his place is where the story is, on Deep Space Nine. Of course, there’s also plenty of stories on Stafleet ships and stations, but anyway… He figures that he won’t be in any danger since he’s the son of the Emissary and the Dominion wouldn’t risk hurting him because it would alienate the Bajorans. It’s not exactly ironclad logic, given how brutal and IDGAF the Dominion is. But it’s still a great season-ending twist that makes Jake a lot more interesting and respectable as a character. Rom is very concerned for his well-being, which is sweet.

“Let me know when the Dominion rolls in, I wanna make sure I’m striking this pose when I wet my pants.”

There’s an immediate jump cut to Captain Sisko angrily throwing a PADD down, having realized what his son has done. O’Brien wonders if they should go back for him, but Sisko refuses to risk the ship for one man, wearily adding that that’s what his son is – a man, free to make his own choices and mistakes. It’s a great moment for Ben as he comes to terms with his son’s adulthood and independence, while showing the heavy burden of larger affairs that weighs on him and takes precedence over his personal feelings.

The Defiant is heading for a Federation-Klingon task force, and when Bashir asks what happens then, Nog interrupts to say that they’ll make the Dominion sorry they ever set foot in the Alpha Quadrant. “Cadet, you took the words right out of my mouth,” Sisko quietly says. The dialogue in this episode is just… *chef’s kiss*. I love Nog’s ra-ra attitude, and despite being the lowest ranking person there, he’s so angry and fired up he’s not afraid to speak out of turn. There’s a lot of naivety to his mindset (that will very much get humbled as time goes on), but also an infectious purity to it that’s indicative of the young and eager. Sisko is much more subdued but still seems enervated by the sentiment.

The Dominion board Deep Space Nine and are unethusiastically welcomed by Kira, Odo, and Quark. Dukat and Damar happily gloat about the victory, but Weyoun focuses on how they lost 50 ships doing so, as well as their shipyards on Toros III. The stark differences in their mindsets will be highlighted over and over again going forward and it makes for an interesting time – the arrogant narcissism of Dukat vs. the joyless, cautious servitude of Weyoun. The squabbling and headbutting of these ne’er do wells are some of the highlights of the series. They’re antagonists of the good people, but also of each other, and it makes them fun to watch.

“You see Weyoun, this is called a pigskin. And it was part of an old Australian sport called Hoopball. Sisko wants me to know he has me in a checkmate. But I will get the goal in the end.”

Case in point: Weyoun is concerned about the sabotage Sisko performed before he left the station and their vulnerability, but Dukat is swaggering and confident that he can take care of all of it. You should always worry about the guy who never seems to worry about anything. Upon entering Sisko’s old office, Dukat finds that the Captain left behind his trademark baseball. He understands it as a message from Sisko that he intends to return.

Sisko sits on the Defiant bridge, almost seeming to know that Dukat has gotten the message. His ship and the Rotarran then join a large fleet of Federation and Klingon ships, bigger than anything we’ve seen before. Begun this Dominion War has!

“They can delete our CGI models… but they can never take.. our FREEDOM.STL!”

What Deep Space Nine managed to do with its Dominion War storyline was a landmark achievement for the franchise, and “Call to Arms” is a kickass start to it. War is hell in real life, but in fiction it can be exciting and epic, something this episode captures perfectly. Season 6 will keep up the pace with an epic six-part story that builds off of this one beautifully. The scale of Deep Space Nine’s storylines only seemed to build as the series went on, and the results were increasingly awe-inspiring. As someone who’s a bit of a war nerd, it’s my favorite period of the series and Trek. To its credit, Deep Space Nine never glorifies war, and always takes care to show its cost as it plays out across its’ characters lives. That personal focus is where the true appeal of this storyline lives as its characters engage in the ultimate struggle of good vs. evil.

Stray Observations:

  • I love the score here, especially the Dominion’s theme as their fleet approaches. The music in Trek (outside of the main themes) is usually pretty unremarkable, but the extra effort here creates some welcome forbidding energy as the enemy draws near.
  • The Klingons previously tried their hand at cloaked mines in order to cut off Deep Space Nine from Starfleet, which didn’t really go their way. They didn’t have Rom on their side, though.
  • As clever as the self-replicating mines are, the idea relies on infinite, self-generating power. Which is of course impossible.
  • Not to mention that the Dominion could still break through it with enough ships, especially since they’ve displayed reckless abandon when it comes to their own vessels and a complete disregard for their troops’ lives.
  • Strategically, Deep Space Nine/the wormhole is the most important spot in the entire Alpha Quadrant, full stop. And yet Starfleet and the Klingons decide to leave it unguarded so that they can destroy one shipyard base? The wormhole is the ultimate choke point for all Dominion forces, so it would of course make the most sense to commit as many ships as it takes to secure that location (and maybe mine both ends of the wormhole?). But of course, then the station wouldn’t be in danger and their wouldn’t be any drama. This plot contrivance has been an ongoing issue with the series for a while – the station is so important, but at the same time completely on its own all the time? Starfleet’s insistence throughout the episode that they have bigger fish to fry creates suspense and intrigue, but the follow through doesn’t quite land, especially since it’s to destroy a place we had never heard of before.
  • Likewise, Dukat is an idiot for not just focusing on the Defiant. Who cares about the station? It’s the minefield that’s the key; devote your entire fleet to taking care of that one ship first. Or at least half? Like three ships go after it and that’s it.
  • The station sits right by the wormhole, but the action that plays out here kind of makes it seem like DS9 isn’t close to it and the Defiant. It would have made sense to move the station (as they did in the first episode) farther away from the wormhole, placing itself as a barrier between the enemy fleet and the Defiant.
  • Why doesn’t Starfleet re-establish a base on Empok Nor? It’s a short distance away and completely abandoned.