Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: “The Dogs Of War”
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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: “The Dogs Of War”

Let ‘em loose!

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"The Dogs Of War"

Season 7, Episode 24

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“The Dogs Of War” (season 7, episode 24; originally aired 5/26/1999)

In which Quark gets his dreams crushed and Damar rises to the occasion...

(Available on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.)

It was the best of episodes, it was the worst of episodes. It was the tale of Damar’s rebellion finally reaching the people of Cardassia; it was the tale of the Ferengi and the Grand Nagus and a whole lot of nonsense. It was the—okay, you get the point. “The Dogs Of War” has two storylines and one subplot, and it is, by my rough estimate, about half a classic. Which is great, because half a classic is better than nothing, but the difference in tone and quality between Kira’s adventures on Cardassia, and Quark’s delusions of grandeur, are distracting at best, infuriating at worst. Even viewed as a whole, this isn’t close to a bad hour of television. It’s just, after the heights of last week, it’s disappointing to see the writers fumbling so close to the finish line.

It’s not hard to understand why certain mistakes were made, though. As DS9 comes to the end of things, it’s only fair to try and give every major character on the show their own story before the end; not a send-off, per se (as I assume we’re saving those for the finale), but a tip of the hat to Sisko, Odo, O’Brien, and the rest, a way to reference and remind us of how much we’ve come to care about these characters, and how sorry we’ll be when they go.

Quark deserves this as much as anyone. Armin Shimerman is a terrifically talented actor, and he’s managed to make some of the show’s lousiest Ferengi-centric episodes work; over the run of the series, he’s ensured that Quark’s struggles have always come from a believable, centered place, even when those struggles were openly absurd. Comedy tends to work better when the fictional people inside of it don’t realize they’re supposed to be funny, and no matter how implausible or foolish the situation became, Shimerman nearly always found some sort of truth in it. (We are going to leave “Profit And Lace” out of this, because the script was so fucked from the get go that not even great acting could save it.)

So I don’t begrudge Quark getting one last chance to freak out over Ferenginar politics. And at least none of this was openly hateful or cruel. It’s just pointless, and to give up so much episode time to it, while Kira, Damar, and Garak are fighting for their lives (and the Dominion War rages around them) only makes the nonsense that much more irritating to watch. I’ve read commenters complaining about this as a general problem in the final two seasons, but I’m not sure it’s ever bothered me as much as it does in this episode. I can accept the occasional detour. Life goes on even in war-time, and I honestly prefer a series that mixes serialization alongside the occasional standalone, especially in a season this long. This, though…

The problem is that the whole premise is so dumb that you spend the entire time waiting for the other shoe to drop. Quark receives a transmission from Grand Nagus Zek informing him that Zek is retiring; Zek also seems to say that he’s naming Quark as his successor. This is obviously not going to happen. Quark being falsely promoted to the Grand Nagus position is a premise the show has used before, and because the offer happens at the beginning of this episode, it’s painfully clear that there’s some twist we aren’t seeing. (The twist: Zek thought he was talking to Rom.)

That’s bad. Worse is that Quark is immediately and unquestioningly convinced that his dreams are about to come true. He’s never been quite as clever as he thinks he is, but Quark is also not an idiot, and to watch him spend most of the hour preening about how rich he’ll be, before getting upset when he learns of all the changes Zek has made in Ferengi law, is immensely frustrating. It’s never a great idea to have an audience be this far ahead of a character, and the fact that no one in Quark’s group of friends and relations even briefly questions what’s going on is just dumb. Also, why the hell is Brunt there? Is he tapping into Zek’s communications?

The real gag here is how Quark resists the progressive developments in Ferengi civilization, developments which, to any sane person, are clearly positive changes. This is a joke the show has done before, and Quark’s “The line must be drawn here!” speech (which references Picard’s speech in First Contact; I guess it’s intended as parody) is well-delivered and decently funny.

But none of this has any real place to go, and as theoretically delightful as it is to learn that Rom has become the ruler of his entire civilization, it’s not worth the time it takes to get there. The joke that Quark is getting all inspired to defend brutal, unrepentant capitalism and everyone-for-himself corruption is played out, and Zek and Moogie have lost their charm. Amusing as it is to see Brunt (two Combs for the price of one) toadying up to Quark, these are just old routines, without any bite or purpose. Even Quark’s discovery that he really isn’t going to be the Grand Nagus has no spark to it. There’s just no story left to tell here, and while the actors give it their all, and there’s no obvious incompetence (it’s even fairly well paced), the whole thing is a drag.

Everything else is quite good, thankfully. There are the little things, like Odo learning the truth about his infection—who caused it, and why. He’s understandably upset, and the episode doesn’t try to deny or put aside the intensity of his anger. As ever, the multitude of perspectives shines through: you have Bashir, understandably proud of finding the cure, but not quite able to face Odo’s frustration; you have Sisko, who orders Odo not to bring the cure to the Founders for reasons that are both horrible and make perfect sense; and you have Odo, faced with the idea that he inadvertently provided the means by which Section 31 could commit genocide. It’s possible to sympathize with everyone here, and that sympathy puts the viewer in the uncomfortable position of not immediately knowing what the “right” choice is, a DS9 hallmark.

There’s also the resolution of the Ezir/Bashir arc; it’s inconsequential (in that it’s entirely cliche), but takes up considerably less time than, say, Quark’s complaints about taxation. Bashir’s giddiness throughout is fun to watch, and O’Brien and Worf’s observational commentary is funny. And really, it’s just good to get this all over with.

Finally, there’s the real heart of the episode: the apparent destruction of Damar’s rebellion, followed by a triumphant rise from the ashes. If I have any criticism to make, it’s that the whole thing goes down very quickly. We start with Kira, Garak, and Damar visiting Cardassia to meet with new potential recruits, only to find the whole thing was a trap. The three escape, but their getaway vehicle is shot down. Garak finds a safe house in the basement of Mila, Enabran Tain’s old housekeeper, and he and the others watch in horror as Weyoun announces the annihilation of all 18 of the Cardassian resistant cells.

It’s a great set-up for a story, but given how much of its time the episode spends on DS9, it sometimes feels like we’re getting the “greatest hits” version of everything that follows. But that’s a minor nitpick, and one that I’m not even entirely is convinced is valid; at this point, the show doesn’t have the room to give us a long, drawn out ground rebellion, and besides, we’ve already spent a considerable amount of time watching Kira work with Damar and the others. The seeds have been planted. Now it’s time for them to bear fruit.

And do they ever. After hearing from Mila that Damar has become a kind of folk hero to the masses (Weyoun claimed that he was killed, but no one on Cardassia appears to believe him), Kira decides that there’s still a chance: if they can exploit Damar’s status, and inspire the people to rise against their Dominion oppressors, the rebellion can still be won. She comes up with a plan to bring Damar back into the limelight, and after some suspense with a pair of Jem’Hadar guards, our intrepid band of freedom fighters blow up a Jem’Hadar barracks. Damar, after first killing one of the Jem’Hadar guards and then shielding some civilians from the blast—hero stuff that doesn’t actually come across as calculated or forced—he gives a rousing speech. Then he and Garak are swept away by the triumphant crowd as Kira disappears into the shadows.

There’s a lot to love about this. Damar’s transformation from dull flunky and murderer to a man of deep principle and vision is complete, and it all made sense, every step of the way; a character arc which almost certainly wasn’t planned from the start, but which flows naturally from beginning to end. Other characters have changed over the course of the series, but I’m hard-pressed to think of one who’s changed as substantially as Damar has. Dukat went through a number of different roles, but his core remained corrupted and self-focused throughout. Damar, on the other hand, has developed an actual soul. The fact that so much of this played largely in the background of the final seasons just makes it all the more powerful. It catches you off guard. I’ve seen dozens, maybe hundreds of oafish seconds-in-command in my years watching genre shows and movies, and they’re always the first ones to get shot when the dying starts. Damar survived, and what’s more, he learned from experience.  

But while Damar is the most impressive accomplishment of this penultimate hour, Kira’s arc is critical as well. The point was never to force Kira into a painful, and potentially deadly, situation. The point was to give her a chance to do for Cardassia what she’d done for her own people, and, in the act, transcend some of the horrors of her past. None of what happens with Damar will alleviate the violence and suffering of the Cardassian occupation, but there’s a power to Kira first helping the Cardassians fight against their own oppressors, and then offering an example that reminds their new leader that the stakes are higher than mere freedom. While she’ll probably never get the credit for it, Kira essentially sets the course for Cardassia’s future (assuming that Damar’s rebellion is victorious, which I’m guessing it will be), and that’s fantastic. (Meanwhile, Garak, after a lifetime in the shadows, is getting pushing center stage next to the man who killed the woman he loved. Life, y’know?)

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Sisko and Kasidy, but the final scene of the episode drops a bombshell. A nice bombshell, to be sure, but one with some unsettling implications. Kasidy is pregnant, and while I’m still leery about the Prophets and their vague warnings, Kasidy’s utter terror at the thought that “the path of sorrow” might mean danger for their child helps to make an esoteric concept into something present and frightening. Any potential parents worry about the safety of their offspring, after all. Knowing that time-adjacent aliens have promised dark times ahead isn’t going to make that worry easier to handle.

As we head into the series finale, only a handful of major plot threads remain open. The Dominion War is still ongoing; the Founders are still dying; Kai Winn is presumably still working on a way to release the Pah-Wraiths; and something something Sisko and the Prophets. That’s a lot of material left to work through and still have time for a satisfying conclusion. But I have faith. Also, a lot of crossed fingers.

Stray observations:

  • Neither Sisko nor Kasidy mentions the possibility of an abortion in their scene together, which got me to wondering: has abortion ever come up on a Trek series before? I don’t think it’s a huge lapse here, since they both want the child, but still, you’d think it would come up.

  • Kai Winn and Dukat are once again not in this episode.

  • There’s a scene with the Female Changeling in which we discover she already knows that the Federation has developed an anti-Breen device. (So I guess some Changelings are still hidden away in Starfleet?) Her response is to try and close off the Cardassian borders and give her forces time to regroup and replenish themselves.

  • Sisko gets a new Defiant at the start of the episode, which I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of in the finale.  

  • “You never told me you had a secret mountain hideaway.” -Garak. “I was going to surprise you.” -Damar. (Dammit, now I want another spin-off.)

  • Worf sending the turbolift with Ezri and Bashir making out on it back down is a very sweet little moment. 

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