Monday, April 27, 2015

6-22. Valiant.

Jake and Nog find themselves on a
Starfleet ship crewed entirely by cadets.















THE PLOT

Jake and Nog are heading to Feringinar on a runabout - Nog to officially represent Starfleet in asking for the Grand Nagus' aid with the war effort, Jake in hopes of getting an interview with the Nagus. Their journey is cut short, however, when they stumble right in the middle of a squadron of Jem'Hadar. Hopelessly outmatched, the two youths appear moments from death. Then the Valiant appears. A Defiant-class ship sent on a mission behind enemy lines, it effortlessly destroys the runabout's pursuers and beams Jake and Nog to safety.

To their surprise, the ship's crew is made up of cadets. Members of Red Squad, Starfleet Academy's elite cadet unit, they were on a training mission when they came under Dominion attack. The experienced Captain Ramirez was killed in the battle. Tim Watters (Paul Popowich), the senior cadet, assumed command, and has been continuing to fight ever since.

Watters insists on fulfilling a mission intended for Capt. Ramirez, to scan and analyze a new Dominion warship. The Valiant has been unable to complete the mission, because of the same engine problems that initially plagued the Defiant. Nog's familiarity with this problem allows him to get the engines up to speed - allowing them to catch up with and scan the warship without incident.

Then Watters decides to take his mission one step further. Instead of returning to Starfleet with the data, he decides they will exploit the weak spot they've identified and destroy the ship themselves - A plan that Jake feels is certain death...


CHARACTERS

Capt. Sisko: Present only at the very end, when the Defiant receives a Starfleet distress call from an escape pod behind enemy lines. Sisko listens to the caution that this may be a Dominion trap, and acknowledges the possibility - But he also knows it might not be a trap, and decides they have to answer the distress call. His quiet confidence is a stark contrast against Waters' vehemence. Sisko doesn't have to insist he's in command, because unlike Waters, it's very obvious that he truly is a captain.

Jake: While Nog is quickly accepted into this crew of elite cadets, particularly after he proves himself by solving the warp problem, Jake is very much an outsider. When he steps into the mess hall, conversations stop around him. His unease is mostly just a feeling, which could be put down to being the outsider of the group... Until Watters upbraids him for having a simple conversation with a young woman who misses her home. From this point on, Jake is convinced that something is very wrong on this ship. He attempts to convince others after Watters decides on his suicide mission, but he's like Cassandra - He can clearly see the disaster to come, but no one will listen to him.

Nog: Is uneasy when Watters admits that the orders he's following were meant for Capt. Ramirez. But Watters offers him everything he's always wanted: A purpose, a place to belong, a position of responsibility. Rank, without having to go through years of grunt work to get it. He's even made a member of Red Squad, the elite group of cadets he was so desperate to join back at the Academy. And he believes Watters' insistence that the Valiant can complete this mission and can make a real difference to the war. Which makes his disillusionment all the sharper when Watters fails so completely. Aron Eisenberg is superb throughout, keeping our sympathies with Nog even when he becomes a fanatical Red Squad devotee and turns on Jake.

Capt. Watters: I'll give Watters this much credit: After the ship's captain died, he held the crew together and kept Valiant in one piece on the wrong side of enemy lines. Sure, it was reckless of him to accept orders meant for Capt. Ramirez when he clearly should have headed for home (as Ramirez certainly intended him to do)... But he does manage to complete the mission; and if he'd stopped there, returning vital data to Starfleet, declaring him a "hero" would have been fully justified.

However, he's also young and inexperienced, and not up to the responsibility he's assumed. He takes stimulants to keep himself alert, which means he's constantly sleep-deprived. He is controlling to the point of confronting Jake over having a conversation with one of his crew members. Then he insists on attacking the Dominion warship - something Valiant has not been ordered to do, and which in fact jeopardizes the very information the ship was meant to collect and return to Starfleet! When Jake rightly points out that this plan is idiotic, Watters responds by chanting Red Squad propaganda as if he was back at the Academy, using the chant to block out any dissent or even thought. As Nog sums up: "He may have been a hero. He may even have been a great man. But in the end he was a bad captain."


THOUGHTS

I expected Valiant to be terrible. An episode about a starship under the command of a bunch of kids? It sounded like a nightmarish early TNG scenario.

But Michael Vejar's direction lends energy and urgency to what occurs on-screen. Writer Ronald D. Moore's script is carefully structured, with the cracks in the apparently tightly-run Valiant only gradually revealed over the first half of the episode. First comes Watters' admission that Starfleet's orders were actually meant for Ramirez, and that nobody back home realizes that this is a ship of cadets. Then Jake is reprimanded for having a conversation with a crew member. Finally, we see the captain's pill-popping... at which point, we recognize that this crew is on the verge of imploding.

Then Watters comes up with his plan: To charge in and exploit a single weakness that will miraculously cause the Dominion ship to blow up like a firework! It's basically the Death Star run. But it turns out that blowing up that one weak point doesn't actually make the entire enemy ship go "Boom!" Imagine Luke Skywalker going through that trench run and hitting the vent perfectly... Only to discover that all it accomplished was knocking out the Death Star's air conditioning.

To cut a long review short: Good writing and good directing transforms a premise that had every reason to be terrible into a surprisingly pretty good episode.


Overall Rating: 7/10.


Previous Episode: The Reckoning
Next Episode: Profit and Lace


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