You Talking Trek to Me? – “A Time to Stand”

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 6, Episode 1

War is a subject very near and dear to Star Trek, and a topic featured heavily throughout all its series. Humanity’s own wars (both before and after the creation of the United Federation of Planets) were well-worn topics that filled out the history of Trek. Wars with the Klingons, Romulans, and Cardassians were foundational aspects of the lore, but they all took place in the past. Star Trek, in keeping with its strong emphasis on peace, love, and getting along, had never depicted an actual current war between the Federation and another people that lasted longer than a single episode. That all changed with the Dominion War, and it would become the main focus for Deep Space Nine for its last two seasons.

One could argue that depicting a war goes against everything Star Trek originally stood for. There is already another big “Star” sci-fi franchise with “War” in it, does there need to be another? The utopian setting of Star Trek is cited by many fans as one of its biggest draws and points of difference compared to other sci-fi properties, so plunging the peaceful Federation into a long and bloody conflict seems like franchise suicide.

These are all logical and cogent arguments. They’re also totally wrong!

There is something dreary-sounding about the last two seasons being consumed by a war storyline. However, Deep Space Nine still managed to do its fair share of episodic storytelling that provided breaks from that bloody malaise. The series had what I believe to be the best balance of episodic and serialized storytelling I’ve ever seen. The conflict with the Dominion was something that could be brought to the forefront, but also pushed into the background when necessary. That push and pull was executed well, and was a good way of not exhausting the viewer with a grinding story that never seemed to end.

But by the end of Season 5, it seemed like the right time to finally arrive at that fireworks factory and commit to the war that had been teased for so long. The original plan was for a four-episode arc that would make up the entirety of the war. But it eventually got pushed to six, with the war being a longer-running affair that would persist until the end of the series. Both of these were inspired and gutsy decisions that fortunately paid off.

These first half dozen episodes of Season 6 represent my favorite period of Deep Space Nine, and of Star Trek in general. The diversity in storytelling is wonderful, the stakes and building tension is gripping, and the overall effect is epic and exciting. Instead of the story arc encompassing the entire war, the scope is reduced to the occupation of DS9 by the Dominion and its eventual recapture by the heroes. I love the complete upending of the series’ status quo and the dramatic possibilities it opens up for everyone. Ending the war is a big goal, but the heroes regaining their home seems just as important and a more personal victory.

Season 5 ended with a bang, showing that although they had lost Deep Space Nine to the enemy, the Federation and Klingons had mobilized a huge fleet to finally take the Dominion head on. So there’s something almost perverse about the opening shot of “A Time to Stand” being the Defiant leading a small, beat-to-hell formation of Federation and Klingon ships limping home. Streaming the two episodes together (as one does now in the modern day) makes the shift in tones seem that much more jarring.

“Did I say ‘Next stop victory?’ I meant, ‘Next stop defeat, followed by turmoil, with a short stop at more defeat, until we reach our final destination of dear god just end it already.'”

But it’s a good and necessary tonal whiplash that jives with Star Trek’s overall themes. War is not an exciting adventure, it’s a bloody last resort that should be avoided at all costs. And it isn’t easy. The small fleet has finally outrun its Dominion pursuers, and the Defiant’s bridge crew seems to be running on fumes. O’Brien does some expository bellyaching about how in the three months that have passed since they began the war, they’ve been repelled by the Dominion at every turn. They’ve all got their hopes pinned on the Seventh Fleet at stopping the Dominion.

“Call to Arms” had a wonderful script with some great lines and a lot of pulpy fun. “A Time to Stand” is good but not as tight, veering into some stilted info-dumping and awkward exchanges that could have used a few more revisions. Case in point, we get a scene between Bashir and Garak that isn’t nearly as much fun as their pairings normally are. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

“At the rate we’re going, we’ll reach full sexual tension in 13.67 hours. Give or take a nano-innuendo.”

It also introduces a silly aspect to Bashir that would last for only this episode in which he flaunts his genetically-engineered BRAIN ABILITIES by coming up with (and solving) complicated equations, such as the Federation’s chances at winning the war (32.7%). This is reminiscent of Spock doing the same thing during The Original Series. It was silly then (as TOS often was), and comparatively sillier here. Siddig reportedly did not like this new aspect to Bashir, and he adds a meta amount of weariness in these line readings that actually makes them more tolerable. This gets spun into an overall darkness that seems to have fallen over the once green and enthusiastic doctor and paints a portrait of how the war is affecting everyone’s morale. So overall, I don’t hate it since it serves a thematic purpose. But please stop.

The Defiant rendezvouses with Martok’s ship, who comes aboard with Worf (yay…). Worf is all bent out of shape (as is Martok, who’s had to listen to him whine) about some small Klingon cultural detail concerning their eventual wedding. So… Worf just sucks. On his own, but also for Jadzia as a partner. Who in their right mind would want to spend the rest of their life with this joyless fuddy-duddy? Especially Jadzia, who seems like the funnest person to ever live? C’mon, the sex can’t be that good (and you know with Worf it isn’t, unless you’re into getting your clavicle crushed 2-3x a week). Even Martok can’t stand this guy sometimes, and they’re ultra-bros. It’s supposed to be comic relief, but it just succeeds in making Worf that much weirder and more unlikable.

Bashir brings some bad news to Sisko – news of the Seventh Fleet has come in, and only 14 out of 112 ships have returned. Which is horrifying, given what we’ve seen in Trek before. The loss of 50 ships against the Borg at Wolf 359 was a massacre that severely weakened Starfleet. And here we have them (and the Klingons) losing twice that number in a single battle. It recalls some of the gigantic engagements in WWII like the Battle of Stalingrad – a single extended conflict that was larger and more destructive than most wars in human history. But it was just one front of a larger, huger war. An angry Bashir points out the obvious that these kinds of losses aren’t sustainable, and the picture immediately becomes very grim for our heroes. Relating to the earlier scene, it’s appropriate that it’s Bashir delivering this news – he’s already acutely aware of how bad the situation is and this will certainly drop those odds well below 32.7%.

One of my favorite aspects of this whole arc is that in addition to following our Starfleet heroes out in the war, it switches back to the station to check in on the non-Starfleet heroes, as well as all the villains. The wide range of DS9‘s cast is on full display in these episodes and it makes for an epic time. Like “Call to Arms”, “A Time to Stand” is such a dense hour that drops in a lot of material and storylines without missing a beat. The amount of stuff that happens here is impressive and exciting. And the interest is equal between the Starfleet heroes on the front and the non-Starfleet ones on the station; both situations are gripping, each in their own ways.

On the renamed Terek Nor, Dukat gives us a log entry highlighting how well everything is going for their side. The visuals of the station flanked by Dominion and Cardassian ships is a good and unsettling upending of the status quo. It is a Cardassian station but at the same time still feels wrong. Dukat ends his log, noting that it’s a good time for Cardassia… and the Dominion. I love that pause, and like he displayed in “Call to Action,” Dukat isn’t thrilled about serving under them and can’t quite hide it.

Speaking with Kira, Weyoun is overjoyed (in that performative bullshit artist way of his) that Bajorans are returning to the station, and that the habitat ring will be filled with the sound of children’s laughter once again. Jesus, I love this guy. Damar responds by increasing security, and Dukat is in agreement. Kira wants the Bajorans to also return to security, citing that Starfleet always shared that responsibility with them. Dukat is wary of giving the Bajorans any power (or weapons), while Weyoun tries to diplomatically smooth over the conflict. Visitor is really great here and exudes how much her skin is crawling having to work with all these assholes every day. She won’t even look at Damar.

Kira leaves and Damar starts to bad mouth her until Weyoun barks at him to leave. Combs’ ability to emotionally turn on a dime is impressive, funny, and a little disturbing. He just barks “Out!” at Damar like he’s a dog. “Don’t look at him, I’m telling you to get out!” he bellows when Damar glances at Dukat. It’s the best. Damar still looks at Dukat and exits slowly as Weyoun mad dogs him. Despite Weyoun’s assertions that they’re all family, this is not a friendly alliance and a far cry from the cooperative, buddy-buddy Federation.

Weyoun bristles to Dukat about being left out of station decisions, and needles him about the lack of progress in disarming the mine field blocking the wormhole. Impressively, Rom’s mines have continued to stymie the Dominion for the past three months. Dukat is insistent that given time he’ll have the barrier taken care of. He’s not worried as they’re winning the war, but a much more cautious Weyoun reminds him that they’re currently winning, but will still need the additional supplies, ships, and troops from the Gamma Quadrant to achieve victory.

At Quark’s Bar, Quark unsuccessfully uses his people skills on some unresponsive Jem’Hadar troops taking up table space (for some reason). He quips to Kira and Odo that things are going OK for him, and as far as occupations go, this one isn’t so bad. Kira makes a snide remark about him only being concerned with profits.

But Quark responds, saying that as bad as the Dominion are, they weren’t as bad as the Cardassians, and the conditions on the station aren’t anywhere near as horrifying as they were back then. Shimmerman is great here as his voice drops to a grave tone, and it’s one of Quark’s occasional serious moments that displays his depth. He admits that he misses the Federation (and seems sincere about it), but he’s just saying that things could be worse. Kira is silent in response.

Odo reluctantly agrees, and notes that the Dominion seems to be honoring its agreement to not harm Bajor. Kira is worried that Dukat wants revenge against Bajorans for ousting the Cardassians years ago. She outlines the weird dynamics at play between him and Weyoun – she trusts him more than Dukat, although not that much. She makes a crack about him and they smile – Odo likes that she can still smile, and she admits she only can with him since it distracts her from how bad everything is. These two are great here, and you can see how much they’re emotionally relying on one another for their sanity during this time. It’s still the same station they’re living on, but they’re surrounded by the enemy and everything sucks.

Kira laments how badly the war seems to be going for the Federation and how frustrated she is just sitting there not doing anything about it. Odo, ever the rule-follower, reminds her it’s what they’re supposed to be doing as per Sisko’s orders. The way each of them are reacting to the situation is nicely indicative of their disparate personalities.

The Defiant reaches Starbase 375, where Admiral Ross introduces Sisko to his office on the station and promptly relieves him of command of the Defiant. Talking later with Dax, he says that they’ll be getting new orders soon. Dax encourages him to call his dad who he hasn’t talked to in months – and apparently doesn’t know of Jake’s fate. Ben capitulates, and we see Joseph freaking out over the affair. He pushes the captain to go get his grandson back, and Ben snaps that it’s war time and he has to go where he’s sent. Joseph asks if the war is really going as bad as the news says, and Ben admits it’s probably worse even. Joseph is taken aback by that, Ben reminds him that he didn’t raise him to be a liar, and Joseph quips he raised him to be a cook “for all the good that did.” The dialogue here is really great, and it includes one of my favorite exchanges:

“You know, there’s something I just don’t understand. You’re always telling me that space is big, that it’s an endless frontier, filled with infinite wonders.”

“It’s true.”

“If that’s the case, you would think there’d be more than enough room to allow people to leave each other alone.”

“It just doesn’t work that way… It should. But it doesn’t.”

“Son, you’ve been looking really gritty and morally grey lately. Have you been eating enough leafy greens?”

I love the certain wistfulness it contains that speaks to Star Trek’s basic appeal. Joseph’s naivete is more in line with that of The Next Generation’s simplistic idealism. But that original emphasis on exploration and peaceful cooperation seems like a distant memory in the current war time. It’s wonderfully illustrative of Deep Space Nine’s appeal – it never forgets the basic messaging of Trek, but it also imparts more nuance and complicated realism onto it. Ben is still a firm believer in the wonder of the cosmos and getting along with everyone who lives in it, but has come to realize that there’s ugliness and bad players in it that can’t be avoided or reasoned with.

Speaking of Jake, we see that he’s alive and well on Terek Nor as he accosts Weyoun on the Promenade (he unwisely jumps out at him, and is almost put down by Weyoun’s Jem’Hadar bodyguards). We learn that despite Jake’s desire to report on the station’s situation, Weyoun has been blocking all of his transmissions to the Federation news service due to Jake’s anti-Dominion bias. There’s a darkly comedic aspect to it and Weyoun’s sensitivity to the truth, but at the same time it sucks that it completely undercuts Jake’s storyline and the whole reason why he remained on the station. I like seeing Jake face Weyoun head on and refuse to publish Dominion propaganda, at least. Weyoun patronizingly tells Jake to keep writing and he’ll keep reading.

“Jake, for the last time I’m not blocking your Mastodon account. It’s just that nobody cares.”

On Starbase 375, Ross presents Sisko with his new mission – to destroy a ketracel white facility in Dominion space. It’s the key drug that Jem’Hadar are physically dependent on, and Bashir points out that without it they won’t be able to function. Ross emphasizes that without it, they will die. I love that clarification and nullification of any euphemisms about what they’re doing. The Federation is trying to defeat the Dominion, and you can only do that by killing them. The lack of bullshit is refreshing, and it presents a Starfleet that is not fucking around in the slightest anymore. Ross fits in well with that overall vibe, and he becomes the franchise’s first recurring non-dickhead Admiral.

“The ketracel white facility in this sector. It’s guarded by a single sleepy old man in a rocking chair, so make sure you’re vewwy vewyy quiet.”

Ross reveals that instead of the Defiant, they’ll be taking something better – the Jem’Hadar ship Sisko and the others captured the previous year. It’s a great follow-up to that storyline, as well as the idea that the sacrificed lives its capture required would eventually pay off. There’s no mention of any of the misery that took place in the ship, but there’s so much going on in this episode already. I like to think O’Brien scratched Munoz’ name onto a bulkhead somewhere.

Cherry! Or maybe more grape?
“These wartime hijinks are over…! No, actually they’re just under 9,000. No need to panic.”

Two weeks go by as the crew trains on the ship (including Nog). Everyone has a different complaint about the ship’s barebones lack of creature comforts – no replicators, no viewscreen, no chairs, no sickbay. Garak also joins them as they head out to Cardassian space. “Pull up a chair,” O’Brien quips. There’s so much going on in this episode and I love it.

In what used to be Sisko’s office, Dukat has called Kira in for what becomes an intensely uncomfortable scene. Dukat’s obsessive attraction to Kira has been a long-running thread in their appearances and it reaches its weird zenith here. To the series’ credit, it’s (fortunately) never explicitly stated that he desires her romantically/sexually, but rather it’s depicted as a general creepy fascination. The fact that she’s never returned any interest in him is no doubt infuriating and weirdly inviting to his narcissistic ass. Kira holds her ground and angrily rebuffs his overtures here, which only seems to encourage him. He has total power now and disgustingly lords it over her.

“Major, I have a few creeps to perv with you.”

His smug attitude breaks momentarily as he justifies his decision to hand over his people to the Dominion – angrily recalling how the war with the Klingons left them a third rate power, and what he did was to make Cardassia strong again. The unsettling parallel to a modern day fascist political slogan is both uncomfortable and appropriate. Dukat seems convinced that he can wear Kira’s defenses down like the Dominion will do to the Federation, and seems to relish how worked up she is getting. He places a hand on her horrified face, which Kira angrily shoves away. Dukat steps back and dismisses her from his office. Her defenses at full, Kira turns to face him even as she walks out. Alaimo is always great as Dukat, and he’s at his absolute most vile and slimy here. It’s kind of too much, but it does get you to truly hate this despicable guy. Which I guess we needed to do more? It gives me a cold shiver just to recount this scene, I can only imagine how a woman who has been in this fucked-up situation would react to watching it.

*takes a shower*


On the Jem’Hadar ship, Sisko is having a bad headache from the personal viewscreen device. Garak volunteers to wear the other headset, theorizing it may be more compatible with Cardassion physiology. The Starfleet vessel Centaur quickly approaches and starts firing on them. It’s captained by an apparent friend of Sisko, Charlie Reynolds. It’s a clever script detail that quickly endears us to this unseen ship and crew – they’re good people and friends doing their duty, but because of the weird dynamics of the situation they’re now the enemy. Instead of it being a random ship, the script manages to turn the Centaur into an actual character and effectively heightens the tension of the scene. Conveniently, the Centaur knocks out the Jem’Hadar ship’s communication system so they can’t respond. Sisko orders their ship faster into Dominion space, hoping Charlie won’t follow them. Unfortunately, he does and Sisko sees no choice but to turn and fight them off, to the crew’s silent horror.

After a brief exchange of fire, the Centaur backs off and heads away. It soon becomes clear why when a convoy of Jem’Hadar ships silently passes them by to pursue the Centaur. The crew forlornly wonders if they’ll make it and wishes they could help the Centaur, but Sisko darkly notes that they can’t and orders them to proceed with their mission. It’s great and highlights how many quests and adventures are all happening out there on the battlefield, unknown and unseen by the viewer.

“Quit it! I’m gonna tell the Federation Council on you!”

On the station Kira fumes about her gross meeting with Dukat to Odo, who lends a sympathetic ear. He feels useless since he doesn’t have a security force anymore, and Kira encourages him to demand one from Weyoun. Weyoun earlier expressed his obsessive desire to please Odo, and Kira pushes Odo to use his god status with him to get what he wants. Odo takes her advice and asks Weyoun for his security people back, who instantly acquiesces over Dukat’s objections. “This is between me and Odo!” Weyoun barks. The personality dynamics of the Dominion/Cardassian alliance make for a lot of fun, and there’s an interesting rock-paper-scissors gestalt to it. The Dominion are in charge and the Cardassians are under them. The Bajorans are off to the side and the Cardassians seem champing at the bit to get back to old times, but the Dominion/Weyoun stands in their way. But Odo has indirect authority over Weyoun because of his Changling nature.

“Founder. You honor us with your rizz.”

Odo has his security people back, but Weyoun asks for a favor in return – for him to become part of the station’s ruling council on policy decisions. Odo agrees, but Kira has reservations about him validating the Dominion’s presence. Odo recalls that he walked this line before when he worked for the Cardassians and was still trusted by the Bajorans (well, mostly…). He’s convinced he can do it again, but notes that it will be easier since he has Kira’s support. Kira hesitantly agrees but still can’t help but feel it’s not really a victory. There will indeed be a lot of twists and turns along the way, and the situation will prove to be a lot more complex than it was in the past. What else is new?

“You know I’ll always be your Constabro.”

Sisko and co. reach the ketracel white facility and witness another Jem’Hadar ship making a transaction ahead of them. The base drops their shield and allows Sisko’s ship in to beam down its empty canisters. Except one, which contains a bomb to blow up the entire base. Just as they’re about to leave, the base raises its shield and traps their ship inside. With the bomb set and the clock ticking, they repeat their request to leave but get put on standby. Nog is there and freaking out over it, and it provides some good emotion to the scene. Everyone else is trained and disciplined, and the presence of someone not so stoic adds a lot of dramatic tension.

The crew come up with a plan to start moving right before the bomb goes off and the shields drop – fast enough to escape the blast but not so much that they hit the shield. Bashir of course instantly comes up with the exact timing and speed they need to achieve and seems to hate himself while doing so. However, plans go awry when the bomb goes off early, and the ship scrambles to get away in time as the base is obliterated. Their mission is a success, but the damage to their ship is extreme and the warp drive is irreparably fried. Bashir the human calculator unhelpfully outputs their journey home without warp at 17-ish years, give or take an hour. Fun times! But seriously, stop that.

“Hoo doggy, we really should have removed those Biden stickers before driving through TX.”

“A Time to Stand” is packed with story and adventure. It’s a wonderful beginning to Star Trek‘s strongest period and touches upon so many different threads that will continue to twist as time goes on. The characters are still front and center, and their trials in navigating this new war-torn universe are an engaging and exciting front.

Stray Observations:

  • This is the first time we hear about the Federation-Klingon “fleets,” battle groups of ships which will become part of the series vernacular. The size of the various powers’ fleets was always something that was kept nebulous up until now. As said, in TNG a collection of 50 ships (and their subsequent loss) was a huge number. Starfleet struggled to come up with a couple dozen ships to meet the Romulans in “Redemption II.” But the scope of DS9 was much larger, and the size of Starfleet’s… fleet seemed to also be scaled up to match. At least seven fleets get referenced, and assuming a typical size of at least 100 ships in each, it puts their fighting force approaching a thousand vessels. But probably/hopefully more. And these are fighting ships on the front line; no doubt there are more inside the Federation providing its interstellar infrastructure. We’ll hear more big numbers as the war goes on, and it’s a welcome world-building detail that grounds the conflict in definable terms.
  • Kinda crazy that this ketracel white facility – an extremely important place – doesn’t have a single ship guarding it. That’s really par for the course for the Dominion, though.
  • Speaking of Kira, Dukat notes to Weyoun that she’s a fascinating woman, to which Weyoun replies “I wouldn’t know.” It’s a nebulous but interesting statement you can interpret a number of ways. Is Weyoun asexual? Are all Vorta? It would be in line with the Founders tight control of their servants, and we’ll see that the Vorta’s physical abilities and sensations are purposefully limited. Or it could also be illustrative of Weyoun’s unwavering loyalty and duty to the Founders – nothing else matters besides that. OR it could be indicative of his generally sociopathic nature – every non-Founder lifeform is expendable and he doesn’t really view anyone as a person that matters at all. To him, Kira (and anyone else), is just a thing to be manipulated as a means to an end of the Founders’ wishes. As much personality as Weyoun exudes, there’s also a coldness and emptiness to him that’s interesting. It’s all thanks to Combs’ infectious performance.
  • And in another great Weyoun-Dukat scene (how are there so many), Dukat witnesses Weyoung distributing ketracel white to the Jem’Hadar. Dukat projects that Weyoun must enjoy that reminder of power and authority. Weyoun responds that they’re all servants of the Dominion, including Dukat. But even among servants, there must be someone in charge Dukat responds. Weyoun can only guffaw at how petty Dukat is. It’s really great. His contempt for Dukat is palpable, and can you really blame him? This fucking guy.
“Dukat, I’ve wiped out more civilizations than you weigh and you’re still the fucking worst.”
  • No really, what the fuck are the Jem’Hadar doing at Quark’s? You bozos could at least go kill stuff in the holosuites?
“Top of the scale to you, you horny devils.”
  • Get a haircut, ya hippie!
“Now if you’ll excuse me Major, I’m late for my blowout.”
  • Is Bashir’s “You know how to fly that?” question to Sisko an Independence Day reference?