Monday, January 23, 2012

It Might Take Jake Sisko Some Time, But He Learns War Is Hell In “Nor The Battle To The Strong...”

The Good: Good character growth, General concept
The Bad: Acting is a wash
The Basics: While "Nor The Battle To The Strong..." has an honorable theme, it is repetitive and one we already know, backed by mediocre acting.

There are theories we have, things we understand on a reasoned or emotional level, that sometimes become pounded home in a very real way when we experience them. It is like only through experience can we know something for ourselves. That, at least, is the take of the writers of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, "Nor The Battle To The Strong. . ." which seeks to teach its adult audience that war is not glorious or glamorous. Given that the core audience to the original Star Trek was a bunch of geeky pacifists (I say that as one!) one suspects that this is a lesson already learned. War is not cool, it is not an opportunity for glory, it is the best chance to find death.

The problem, then, comes in the form of Jake Sisko. As the war with the Klingons continues, Jake Sisko is thrilled about the chance to be on the front lines and he has the opportunity to see the war firsthand. At this point in the series, Sisko is a correspondent for the Federation news service and he is eager to report more on war stories than medical conferences.

En route home from a medical conference where Jake was largely bored and understimulated, Bashir receives a distress call from a nearby planet that is under attack by Klingon ground forces. Reluctantly, Bashir approaches the planet and renders medical assistance to the besieged personnel there. Jake acts as a nurse to Bashir, who begins to practice battlefield surgery and as the bodies begin to pile up, Jake discovers he does not have what it takes to be a soldier. He does not enjoy being around death and hearing the stories of what made the wounds on the personnel he encounters upsets him deeply. He is even more upset when he learns one of the wounded shot himself in the foot to get a medical discharge. Jake flees the protection of the compound and ends up on the front lines of the battlefield, fleeing for his life.

It's not much of a spoiler to reveal that Jake Sisko learns the very powerful lesson that there's a fine line between heroism and cowardice and one does not know quite what they would do in the heat of a battle until they are there. Just like Modernist writers explored following the invention of the machine gun and its use in World War One, Jake Sisko learns it is not a great and glorious thing to die for one's country. Instead, it is bloody, horrible and dangerous. Jake learns this by seeing the dead, being harried by the continual bombings, witnessing cowardice, finding a wounded soldier who is ready to die, and his own acts of cowardice and heroism.

This is ostensibly a Jake Sisko story. Unfortunately, his lesson is obvious and easy to know without actually experiencing it and at his age - about eighteen - one suspects Jake ought to be smart enough to know that. Yes, it's pretty horrible being shot at. It's pretty bad when your enemies like to move in close and slice their adversaries up with big, long knives or swords. This becomes problematic because while Jake Sisko slowly learns his lesson, the viewer is more bored and disappointed by how long it is taking him to get to the conclusion that war is difficult and undesirable. We get it, why can't the bored youth?

As a result, the very limited presence Dr. Bashir has in the episode comes across much stronger. Bashir is dedicated, focused and professional. He is determined to save as many lives as possible and he fails some of the time, but he remains focused on keeping the casualties down. As the colony comes more and more under direct attack with the Klingon invasion force moving in, Bashir finds himself less able to attend to Jake Sisko's needs and more focused on saving lives. Still, this does not prevent Bashir from having a wonderful scene wherein he takes the time to apologize to Jake for ever bringing him into harm's way. In that scene, Bashir is humble, sorrow-filled and ultimately human and real. He expresses a larger theme that transcends the simple "war is bad" motif of the rest of the episode.

Alexander Siddig, who plays Bashir, is able to project an aura of calm when needed and exhaustion when that is appropriate. He plays Bashir as wise, without being preachy and he makes the experience on the planet differ sharply from the gossipy enthusiasm he presents Bashir as in the Runabout. It is Bashir who gives the most memorable performance in this episode and as a result, "Nor The Battle To The Strong. . ." seems somewhat lopsided.

This is supposed to be a Jake Sisko episode, but Jake learns a pretty obvious lesson and there's not much of a plot to back that lesson up. Instead, the siege is a dull siege and actor Cirroc Lofton does not do anything special to break that mold. Lofton is characteristically stiff and bland. He presents, but he fails to emote making a lot of his moments where his character is supposed to be horrified beyond reason seem more blandly comical than genuine. So, for example, when he is upset about the conversation the medics are having over the types of wounds the Klingons dish out, he gets to the point that he vomits. When he rushes off, he presents it as a more comic moment instead of presenting it with a genuine sense of a man being overcome with emotions. He does not act all that well in these moments and because the episode is geared toward Jake Sisko, Cirroc Lofton's acting is paramount.

When he falls down on that, the episode suffers immeasurably. It's an unfortunate presentation of an obvious idea and people who are not fans of the series will find little or nothing to recommend the episode. For fans of television, this is nothing new. We got it already from"M*A*S*H, we've understood it from literature and that Jake Sisko, hundreds of years in the future needs to be taught that war is not a wonderful, glorious experience is just disappointing.

If it seems that the review is rather monolithic, pounding away on the one point; that the theme is dull and already known, it is because "Nor The Battle To The Strong. . ." is that kind of episode and it is repetitive with it.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Fifth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the perfect season by clicking here!

For other works featuring Danny Goldring, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
The Dark Knight
“Civil Defense”
“Dr. Strangechild”


For other Star Trek reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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