As the Dominion continues to gain footing in the Alpha Quadrant, Sisko puts his foot down. The crew start placing mines around the wormhole to prevent more Dominion ships from entering the Alpha Quadrant and fortifying Cardassia. The Dominion responds and sends Vorta ambassador Weyoun (Jeffrey Combs) to DS9. Weyoun tells Sisko that unless the Federation removes the mines, the Dominion will take the station. Sisko refuses, leading to a battle at the station. The minefield is completed just in the nick of time, but Starfleet is forced to abandon DS9, which is taken over by Dukat, Weyoun and the Dominion — with Kira, Odo and Quark left behind. Then, Sisko, on board the Defiant (and Martok and Worf, on a Klingon ship) join a massive fleet of Federation and Klingon vessels, armed for war.
Why it’s important
This is another instance in which the summary pretty much explains the episode’s importance. The long-simmering hostilities between the Federation and the Dominion finally boil over and war begins. While extended conflicts involving the Federation had occurred in the past, they had only been covered in dialog. With this episode, the DS9 creators set a course for two seasons of war that would really define DS9 and its contribution to Star Trek (aside from perhaps the spiritual stuff).
There’s also the quick bit about the Romulans signing a non-aggression pact with the Dominion, the Alpha Quadrant foothold that finally pushes Sisko over the edge. Of course, the Romulans’ place in the war is a huge, huge domino going forward …
What doesn’t hold up
The big conceit of the episode is that Starfleet wouldn’t do more to fortify DS9, described by Sisko next season as “the key to the Alpha Quadrant”. In this episode, Starfleet’s resources are used on another mission. Hmmm.
Beyond that, I find it somewhat hard to believe that O’Brien, Dax and Rom are the only people who work to figure out a way to mine the entrance to the wormhole. It paints Starfleet, generally, as having a pretty weak bench and really lacking in foresight. Hell, why not bring in more engineers from the DS9 staff, even? Given that Rom’s considered an engineering genius at this point, I guess it’s OK that he’s there …
I’m also unclear as to how DS9 can just be taken over by the Dominion. A big part of this episode involves Sisko getting the Bajorans to sign a non-aggression pact with the Dominion, as Sisko doesn’t think he can protect Bajor in a war. That’s all well and good, but does signing a non-aggression pact allow the Dominion to take over Bajor’s only space station? Keep in mind that Sisko’s instructions didn’t — as far as we know — tell the Bajorans to let the Dominion do whatever it wanted. Starfleet was on the station at Bajor’s invitation. Was such an invitation offered to the Dominion?
There’s also the matter of Garak leaving with the Defiant at the end of the episode. While he would have almost certainly been put to death by Dukat had he stayed on the station, shouldn’t Garak have asked Sisko to join the crew before the absolute last moment? What if Sisko had remembered how Garak tried to use the Defiant to commit genocide back in “Broken Link” and simply kicked him off the ship? And, actually, who approved Garak coming on board before Sisko? I suppose it could have been Bashir, but it likely wouldn’t have been O’Brien or even Dax.
Oh, and finally, this episode, once and for all, shows that Starfleet consists of a LOT more vessels than was implied in TNG (where the loss of 40 ships was seen as a huge blow) or even early DS9. The fleet the Defiant joins at the end of the episode is MASSIVE. Keep in mind that this is the same year in which Starfleet lost a lot of ships to the Borg (in “Star Trek: First Contact”) and at least some to the Klingons. One possible explanation is that in preparation for the war and all the other conflicts, Starfleet recalled a bunch of vessels in deep space. But that’s just a theory that’s not backed by any dialog. And we know it takes YEARS to build individual starships. Maybe Starfleet pulled a bunch of ships from moth balls — which would explain why we see a lot of Miranda- and Excelsior-class vessels in the next two seasons. Again, though, that’s never actually stated.
Last, last point: Did Sisko leave the runabouts on the station? It’s interesting that the runabouts were deployed in anticipation of the Dominion attack (which never happened) in “By Inferno’s Light”. They might have come in handy in this episode — and it certainly would have made sense to not leave them behind. But during the attack, and when the Defiant and Martok’s ship leave, we see no runabouts.
One character we finally get to talk about is Weyoun, who showed up in a few episodes before this but none that we considered tapestry worthy. Jeffrey Combs playing opposite of Marc Alaimo‘s Dukat (along with Casey Biggs‘ Damar) into next season is one of DS9’s high points, as they have great chemistry. Combs, of course, played a ton of different roles in Trek, but Weyoun was his most memorable.
There’s also the matter of Jake’s decision to stay on DS9. Jake was DS9’s most underused character, despite some good stuff here and there in episodes like “Nor the Battle to the Strong”, “In the Cards” and (though Cirroc Lofton is only in part of it) “The Visitor”, which is DS9’s best episode. Making Jake a journalist and having him decide to stay on the station, without telling his father, was an interesting choice, but the results were mostly underwhelming, as we’ll discuss.
Frankly, it’s kind of amazing there are so many plot threads in this episode, many of which we’re not even mentioning here. “A Call to Arms” is extremely plot heavy, but it’s one of DS9’s finest hours. Definitely worth a watch for any fan.
Coming later this week …
The war, well, it’s not going well for our heroes.