|Jake and Bashir, in a war zone.|
Despite the cease fire, the Klingons have attacked a Federation colony on Ajilon Prime. The distress call comes in just as Jake and Dr. Bashir are returning from a medical conference, which Jake is covering for an article. Bashir reluctantly diverts, stating that they will render what aid they can but leave as soon as reinforcements arrive.
The Farragut is the closest starship, but the Klingons intercept it and destroy it en route, leaving the colony cut off for an indefinite period. The situation grows even more dire as the Klingons shift to an all-out ground war. When the power to the colony's medical center is disrupted, Jake and Bashir head to their runabout for power cells to keep the wounded alive.
Then a barrage of shelling separates them. As the shells continue, Jake runs for his life - and is left branding himself a coward for having done so...
Capt. Sisko: Consumed with worry from the second he learns that his son is now in a war zone. When he learns that the Farragut was destroyed, he insists on leaving in the Defiant. Refreshingly, he doesn't arrive in time to save the day. The situation is resolved before he arrives. Avery Brooks gets some excellent scenes opposite Rene Auberjonois and Terry Farrell, reflecting on what it means to be a parent when you are unable to protect your child.
Jake: The start of the episode sees him practically willing the universe to send along a crisis to save him from having to write about Bashir's boring medical conference. Be careful what you wish for, Jake. As he transcribes his thoughts, he observes how much more real the danger seems here than it did during any of the attacks on DS9. There, his father was present. Here, he's alone save for a (very busy) Bashir, and that in itself makes him feel less protected. His terror-stricken flight is actually very easy to forgive. He's a civilian, not a soldier, so he's undergone absolutely no training - and with explosions all around, every impulse in his body is screaming at him to run. But as the son of a Starfleet captain, as someone who has spent his life surrounded by military, he can't forgive himself. Even at the end, it takes his father's words for him to begin to let go of his lapse.
Dr. Bashir: When he steps into the overwhelmed medical center, Jake is overwhelmed. Bashir, however, is utterly in his element. It doesn't even take five seconds for him to start helping patients. When the power goes down, he doesn't hesitate to go out to recover power cells from the runabout. After Jake returns, Bashir sees that something is bothering the young man and makes himself available if Jake needs to talk. He claims not to have seen Jake after their separation, but I wonder if he did see what happened and simply wants to give Jake space to come to terms with it on his own.
Apocalypse Rising had me worried that the Klingon arc had been resolved too neatly and easily, effectively brushed aside without real mess or consequence. Nor the Battle to the Strong answers those concerns, showing that the building hostility of the previous year did simply evaporate with the reveal of Changeling involvement. Like in real conflicts, there were talks that broke down, resulting in an attack before the talks start up again. As Jake observes, it's a battle that will be remembered as "a pointless skirmish," a minor epilogue to the Klingon conflict. Nothing is won or lost - nothing except for many lives.
It's one of the best and grittiest portrayals of war Star Trek has attempted in any incarnation. Rene Echevarria's script avoids any big battle scenes, instead confining the bulk of the story to the colony's medical ward. We hear the sounds of battle in the background, and in the stream of patients overloading the meager staff, we see its consequences. In several early moments, I was actually reminded of the classic MASH episode, O. R. - which, if there's any doubt, is something I mean as a very high compliment.
This extends even to when Jake is outside for the middle part of the episode. He sees dead bodies in the aftermath of a skirmish. He meets a mortally-wounded soldier, who describes the fierce fighting that left him in this state. But the only "action" we witness is Jake running from some shelling. It is left to our imaginations to piece together what happened from the aftermath.
Jake's personal story is expertly structured. He is certain, even cocky, of his ability to "handle himself" in a fight. Once he enters the medical center, however, he is almost instantly aware that he's gotten much more than he bargained for. He copes well as long as he's able to keep busy, but descriptions of Klingons' blood-lust eat at his imagination even before he goes with Bashir to get power cells. Once he runs from the shelling, he is absolutely convinced of his own cowardice. This is our Red Badge of Courage episode, of course, and the plot does what is required to redeem Jake (to the extent that he needs redeeming at all)... but as he observes, his "heroic deed" at the end is simply him doing what he must to stay alive. The same impulses that lead to flight at the episode's midpoint lead him to desperate action at the end. What's different between the two deeds isn't anything within him - it's just a question of circumstances.
I am tempted to deduct a point for the convenience of Bashir returning, offscreen, to the base almost entirely unscathed. But Bashir isn't the focus of this episode; Jake is. And in a way, learning that Bashir wasn't even badly hurt by the bombardment that led to his flight likely makes his emotional pain all the stronger.
Overall Rating: 10/10.
Next Episode: The Assignment
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