There’s one life long decision I’ll never apologize for cultivating: my life long obsession with Star Trek. Many episodes from The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise I’ve watched thrice over. I never could get into The Original Series, but that’s just personal taste. I did, however, give an entire speech in college on how Star Trek influenced not only my life, but the lives of countless other individuals, inventions and events. I wish I’d kept that speech. Heck, I even visited the John C. Hodges Library on the University of Tennessee’s campus to search their stacks for resources. (I attended a smaller college some fifteen to twenty minutes away near Knoxville).
So when I claim that The Siege of AR-558 is the finest episode in all Star Trek, I’m basing this off my knowledge and viewership of the primary plot line (if you’re a dork like me who enjoys things like this, have a read of this Wiki page on the Timeline of Star Trek). I prefer to not include the 2009 reboot films, as they are just that: films instead of episodes.
The Siege of AR-558 takes place during Deep Space Nine’s sixth season (1997-98). The Next Gen film, Insurrection, is released a year after in 1998. I mention this to help give Trek fans a starting point for this post, and to help blog readers unfamiliar with the franchise to get some background knowledge before what’s to come.
Speaking of Next Gen, I know many fellow fans will argue that The Inner Light is the best episode, Mirror; Mirror from TOS, or Tuvix from Voyager, or even still Damage from Enterprise. All those are well and good, and must watch episodes for any new Star Trek fan. But here’s why I firmly believe that The Siege of AR-558 is the finest episode in all Star Trek. For none of those have resonated with me more than this. Spoilers ahead, one quarter impulse.
At story’s open we are met with a war-torn, well oiled crew, going on yet another resupply mission to an outpost wanted by both the Federation and the Dominion for the communications array there. As the USS Defiant waits for Sisko and his team to finish, they’re attacked by Dominion ships covering their own troop reinforcements to the same moon. When Sisko is faced with a decision to leave a regiment worse off or stay, he chooses to stay and command.
Morale on the Federation front lines is at an all time low, but they know their orders and hold fast to them; “When we landed here there were one hundred and fifty of us. We’re down to forty-three.”
We also have the unique perspective of this episode to see Quark’s perspective of the war and those fighting it. He keeps attempting to dissuade his nephew, as their race isn’t even a member of the Federation; “Take a look around you, Nog. This isn’t the Starfleet you know.” In Quark’s defense, he’s tried to dissuade Nog from joining Starfleet since season three’s episode Heart of Stone. While this may not be a turning point battle for The Dominion War, it does become just that for Captain Benjamin Sisko and Starfleet’s only serving Ferengi officer.
At the fifteen minute mark we see just how nerve-wrecked the troops are as Doctor Bashir tends to their wounds; “One minute he’s tying this on my arm, talking my head off. And the next, he’s flung back with a hole in his chest.” This is some brilliant acting by Raymond Cruz as Vargas; the producers for this episode couldn’t have cast a better group of people for this particular story.
Doctor Julian Bashir recognizes the precarious nature of the individuals guarding the post. They’ve been there since the war began and were supposed to have been replaced months earlier. When Sisko is asked what their new orders are now that he’s the highest ranking officer, he says, “There’s only one order, lieutenant. We hold.” Chills, I tell you. I got literal chills.
Now faced with fighting insurmountable odds with this war-torn regiment, they immediately ready for battle. All the while, their nerves are further frayed by subspace mines, dwindling numbers and the pending battle. When a grave injury takes down one of their own, everything changes. Quark takes up arms defending his nephew and comes to blows with Captain Sisko. Sisko: “Now you listen here, and you listen good. I care about Nog, and every soldier under my command! Understood?”
Star Trek has never been a show to back down from humor, parties and all those “good times” episodes. It’s also never backed down from taking stands on social issues, showing the rawness humanity has to offer, or what anyone’s capable of in certain situations. The Siege of AR-558 is absolutely no exception. Friends were made, friends were lost, and viewers will feel like they’re right there with them on that God-forsaken moon.
This episode shows what a crew, working together as long as they have, is capable of accomplishing. By this point in the show, these characters have fought directly on the front lines since The Dominion War began (since the inception of the Bajoran Wormhole). And the main crew of actors have worked together for years as well. This episode would not have worked early on in DS9s run. Its sheer perfection and placement in Season Seven is where it truly belongs.
This is an episode with amazing writing, excellent acting, and a harsh look at what war can do to individuals after a long period of time. The fact that this episode still evokes such strong emotions years after its original air date speaks volumes to the brilliancy of it all, and is why The Siege of AR-558 is the best episode in all Star Trek. No show will ever have character arcs or character camaraderie quite like the ones of Star Trek Deep Space Nine.