This is based on an idea from DarklyInclined, who was wondering how I might rate the rather protracted Dominion War featured in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine versus the one-season Xindi conflict (a subset of the much larger Temporal Cold War) as shown in Star Trek: Enterprise. I thought I’d also open the topic up to other wars in Trek, since those two weren’t quite the only wars shown in all of the series.
This will be a lengthy post. I’ve been working on it for a while now. I tend to write essays instead of simple replies; apologies in advance. Non-Trekkies who don’t really give a shit might want to head for another thread. For those Trekkies not well-versed in the subject matter, I will include links to pertinent data where applicable. Those who do choose read this, please bear with me.
You could make it more fun by taking a shot of your favorite alcoholic beverage anytime I bash Rick Berman & Brannon Braga (two of Trek’s longtime writers/producers, both of whom were blamed for Star Trek’s demise and the early cancellation of Enterprise, if not the near-total downfall of UPN itself) or anytime I mention Ronald D. Moore and Ira Steven Behr (two longtime Trek scribes who later moved on to Battlestar Galactica on SyFy) in a positive light. You’ll be happily plastered by post’s end.
Which did you think was done best: the Dominion War from DS9 or the Xindi conflict from Enterprise (or a different conflict featured in one of the other series, like the Klingon/Federation Cold War from TOS or the brief war against the Klingons in DS9 that served as a prelude to the Dominion War)?
Or, for a much more broad, open-ended question (if it suits you): do you think Star Trek handles a mature subject such as war well or poorly?
If you really don’t care about my lengthy diatribe on the Dominion War vs. the Xindi conflict (maybe because you didn’t live your entire life in your parents’ basement and you actually did have a social life), just skip past this and post your response already. Otherwise, feel free to keep reading.
I’ll open the discussion with my response…
I think Deep Space Nine handled the Dominion War fairly well. They didn’t just rush into it head-on. The writers gave it a great build-up, slowly tip-toeing into it, mentioning the Dominion here and there throughout Season Two (the Dominion were first mentioned in “Rules of Acquisition“, a Ferengi episode, no less!) before introducing us to their foot soldiers, the genetically-grown Jem’Hadar, in the Season 2 finale. Even after that, the Dominion didn’t quite take center stage yet, opting instead for a Cold War against the Alpha Quadrant powers, during which they covertly started two wars involving the Klingons – a war between the Klingons and the Cardassians (which the Maquis would get involved in) and renewed hostilities between the Klingons and the Federation. After destabilizing the Alpha Quadrant’s major powers, the Dominion finally invaded. Brilliant tactic! By then, the Federation was so shell-shocked from having to deal with wars on all borders (save the Romulan Neutral Zone) that they barely had the resources to fight the Dominion, a nigh-unstoppable force compared to the Federation.
The Dominion seemed militarily superior in all respects: non-stop construction of warships while the Federation was still trying to convert aging exploration vessels into battleships; they could grow Jem’Hadar at an exponential rate (and even tailor-make them for warfare in that part of the galaxy) while Starfleet couldn’t recruit new officers fast enough; the Dominion were united while Starfleet was divided between the pacifists and the war-mongers (usually represented by a shadowy “rogue” group of Starfleet Intelligence called Section 31, a sort of Starfleet “Men in Black” that utilized very dirty tactics like assassinations, cover-ups and even genocide to preserve the Federation; this was the series’ attempt at exploring a darker side of Starfleet that I, for one, appreciated). Good mix of drama, tension and action all around, plus it was an interesting examination of the Federation through darker lenses than we’re used to.
While Deep Space Nine’s executive producer, Rick Berman (Roddenberry’s hand-picked successor), wanted the Dominion War to last only three or four episodes tops, DS9′s lead writers – Ira Steven Behr and Ronald D. Moore (themselves chosen by Berman for their outstanding work on The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, both of whom would later helm the Battlestar Galactica reboot and create its prequel series Caprica) – conned him into allowing the Dominion War to play out until its “natural” end, which came during the final episode of the series. Say what you will about the Dominion War as a storyline and how it diverges from Roddenberry’s utopian vision of the future or about Deep Space Nine as a series, I think the Dominion War worked successfully (mostly), given its purpose as a method of deconstructing Roddenberry’s notions of the Federation as a utopian society. Ira Steven Behr re-imagined Deep Space Nine as a darker, grittier version of Roddenberry’s vision, and given how the series was written before that (set aboard a Cardassian space station by Michael Pillar – the brain behind some of the best TNG episodes ever, including “The Best of Both Worlds” – who imagined the series as a “frontier town in space” filled with broken individuals, former terrorist “freedom fighters”, orphaned aliens and unscrupulous bartender/merchants), the series worked well as such. The Dominion War, while I admit it was rather protracted (and ultimately weakened the hell out of Season 7, when the writers had to figure out a quick way to end the war in only one season after building the story arc to be a lengthy epic), worked overall as the ultimate test of Roddenberry’s dream.
When such a dream – the notion of humankind striving to better itself through peace and cooperation – is threatened by outside forces, what will humanity endure to protect it? The approach to this was very realistic, from the major portions of the story (“Operation Return“, the re-taking of DS9 after it was taken over by the Dominion) to the humdrum day-to-day stuff (Sisko’s grim ritual of posting casualty reports from the war every Friday). Ultimately, the war took a bitter toll on everyone involved, especially Captain Sisko; he would later commit acts that many Trek fans consider cardinal sins against Roddenberry’s lofty ideals – specifically helping a former Cardassian spy murder a Romulan senator in cold blood and blame the Dominion for it in the masterpiece episode “In the Pale Moonlight” – just to bring a quicker resolution to the war by bringing the Romulans into it. By the series’ end, the Federation is saved, and all the major goals of the series – bringing an end to the Cardassian threat and putting Bajor on the fast-track to membership in the Federation – have been met, along with the added bonus of creating a tentative peace between the Federation, the Klingons and the Romulans. Additionally, Ira Steven Behr was able to inject a bit of Judaism into the story through the Bajorans and their Emissary (messiah figure), Benjamin Sisko, whose story arc Behr based loosely on Moses.