Friday, April 6, 2012

One Less Dangling Thread Is Snipped When "Valiant" Returns The Red Squad Cadets To Star Trek: Deep Space Nine!

The Good: Great continuity, Interesting character work, Surprisingly good acting, Awesome special effects
The Bad: Premise takes a little to buy into.
The Basics: Nog leaps at the ability to join the crew of the U.S.S. Valiant when the ship rescues him and Jake from a Dominion attack.

One of the truly wonderful things about serialized television and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in particular is that if it is done correctly, plotlines may be introduced at any time that pay off and play out much, much later. In the episode “Paradise Lost” (reviewed here!), the elite squad of StarFleet cadets known as Red Squad abruptly disappears from the story. Left on their own, they are essentially patsies for Admiral Layton and if they had never been referenced again, odds are few viewers would have missed them. But because it is Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Red Squad does resurface and the episode they pop up in again is “Valiant.”

“Valiant” does much more effectively what “Descent, Part II” (reviewed here!) from Star Trek: The Next Generation attempted to do. That is to say that the episode focuses on a cult-like mentality and in the case of “Valiant,” the episode pulls off the message quite well. “Valiant” is populated by ambitious characters who are simply led astray and it makes for a solid, decent hour of television.

Jake Sisko and Nog are headed back to Deep Space Nine following a secret meeting Nog had with the Grand Nagus of the Ferengi. Jake, eager to get a story that reports on how the Ferengi might support the war effort against the Dominion, is stonewalled by Nog and it looks like he might have wasted a trip. When the Runabout is attacked by a Jem’Hadar ship, the pair is rescued by a Defiant-class vessel, the U.S.S. Valiant. Surprised and relieved, Jake and Nog quickly discover that their rescue puts them in less-than-ideal circumstances. The U.S.S. Valiant is manned by the cadets of Red Squadron, under the command of the young acting Captain Tim Watters.

As Nog acclimates himself to the ship and earns his own battlefield promotion to Chief Engineer when he is able to solve an engine problem the Valiant and Defiant share, Jake begins digging into the conditions aboard the ship. Jake gets Collins to open up to him and when she shows emotion and a real longing for home, Watters and his spying first officer, Farris call her out. Jake is further dismayed to realize that the Valiant is not taking him right home, but rather Watters and the Valiant are attempting to complete their mission: the destruction of a prototype Dominion warship. As the Valiant moves to complete the mission on its own, Jake becomes increasingly worried that they are on a suicide mission.

“Valiant” is a pretty simple episode that does what it sets out to do and it does it very well. The crew of the U.S.S. Valiant is essentially a bunch of young adults playing soldiers. It is easy to see how Watters would have the leadership qualities that would make him a potentially good captain and “Valiant” makes the decent argument that even those who have “the right stuff” can fail to rise to greatness without the experience needed to guide them. Nog integrates well to the structure the Valiant crew offers, while Jake rejects it much the way he rejected entering StarFleet.

The cult-type mentality of the military is well-lampooned in “Valiant” as well. Watters’ first officer, Farris is almost a caricature of the bitchy woman in power archetype. She comes with a tight hairstyle and an almost entire lack of humanity. She plays bad cop to Watters’ good cop in their tag teams and through that, it becomes easy to imagine just how the Valiant survived for so many months behind enemy lines. The producers and writers of “Valiant” are also smart enough to populate the ship with the only other recognizable Red Squad cadet from “Paradise Lost,” Riley Shepard. So, the continuity is pretty awesome.

As with all worthwhile episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, “Valiant” is really a character study. This episode is a character contrast between Jake and Nog, who have been well-contrasted in the past. Nog, in many ways, represents the road not taken by Jake and Jake’s desire to write is treated as something of a slacker field, which was what most assumed would happen with Nog. Nog, however, has developed to become a StarFleet officer who technically outranks everyone on the Valiant. Despite that, he integrates seamlessly into the crew because he is trained as a professional.

Jake, as always, looks for the human aspect and he shows some real adeptness for relating to people when he starts talking with Collins about her home on the moon. The use of dialect (“lunar schooner”) helps make the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine universe seem deeper and it works. Moreover, the performance by guest star Ashley McDonogh in expressing Collins’ longing for home is actually a pretty incredibly delivery and she makes her mark in the one-shot role.

Despite the young cast, “Valiant” works very well on the acting front. Paul Popowich has just enough charisma to be a viable captain as Watters and he has enough presence to be commanding when he delivers his lines. Popowich has an authoritative bearing and it works in the episode just as Courtney Peldon, who plays Farris, is able to play stone cold bitch. The two play off one another well and they actually have enough subtext in their body language in their scenes alone to sell the idea that they have been relying upon one another for over a year.

Aron Eisenberg also does a decent job as Nog. Nog is not simply absorbed into a cult-like work structure and Eisenberg gives Nog enough sidelong glances and pensive frowns to make it realistic that he still has some doubts about the captain and crew. As always, he and Cirroc Lofton play off one another exceptionally well.

Ultimately, “Valiant” is a bottle episode that removes any doubt about the fate of the Red Squad cadets and it makes for an entertaining, though not vital, episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

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


For other Star Trek episodes, please check out my film and television index page for an organized listing by clicking here!

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