Yep, we’re having another ‘Deep Space Nine’ week here at ‘Final Frontier Friday’. This week we’re looking at ‘Valiant’, a late sixth season installment.
First things first, I want to address the elephant in the room: Aron Eisenberg. If you’re reading this column the weekend it was posted, I’m currently running around the Javits Center putting together as much coverage as I can of this year’s New York Comic Con. Because of that, I started work on this a bit farther in advance than usual. All of that is to say that yes, it’s a Nog episode, but I had already decided to cover it before the news broke of Eisenberg’s sudden and tragic passing. If ever there was a time to write up a Nog episode, this, I suppose, would be it. I’d also like to note that some of Eisneberg’s former castmates have set up a GoFundMe to help with his funeral expenses. If you’d like to contribute, you can find it here.
As for ‘Valiant’ itself, the episode’s origins (as is often the case with ‘Deep Space Nine’) lie in a conversation between Ira Steven Behr and Ronald D. Moore, who in this case wanted to tell a story dealing with a starship crew who had been trapped behind enemy lines since the outbreak of the Dominion War. That desperate isolation, the two reasoned, would embitter the crew, turning them into a “wild-eyed bunch of crazies.” It was at Moore’s suggestion that the crew in question became cadets on a training exercise, with Behr providing the additional wrinkle that they were members of the Starfleet Acadamy’s elite Red Squad, which had been introduced two seasons prior.
Interesting, the episode was originally meant to center not on Jake and Nog, but Jake and Kira. That strikes me as an odd choice, to say the least. Not so much for the pairing of those two characters (though Jake and Kira never did get much to do together), but because so much of the finished episode hinges on Nog being starstruck by the Red Squad cadets and go along with whatever they come up with. Can you imagine Kira in that role? Because forget starstruck, I can’t even see her taking those kids seriously. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Nog and Jake are en route to Ferenginar from Starbase 257 when they cross paths with a group of Jem’Hadar ships, one of which breaks off to attack the runabout.
Nog tries to escape by making an emergency warp jump, though the Jem’Hadar follows. The runabout takes heavy damage, though Jake and Nog are saved at the last minute by the arrival of the Valiant, a Defiant-class ship. The two are welcomed aboard the Valiant and find the ship crewed entirely by cadets. Watters, the ship’s “captain”, explains that they are members of Red Squad, an elite cadre of Starfleet cadets. While on a routine training cruise, the war broke out, trapping the ship behind enemy lines. Shortly thereafter, a Cardassian attack killed the regular Starfleet crew, though not before the actual captain placed Watters in command. Around the same time, Starfleet Command (unaware of the ship’s situation) assigned the Valiant to collect technical data on a new Dominion battleship, a mission the training crew has been trying to carry out ever since. Upon hearing the story, Nog is awestruck, even more so when Watters asks him to serve as chief engineer.
Jake joins “Chief” Collins in the mess hall, though their conversation ends when she becomes visibly upset and excuses herself. Meanwhile, Nog proposes a set of warp drive modifications that “Commander” Farris considers unsafe, though Watters overrides her and they prove successful. Watters takes some pills from the infirmary, where runs into Collins, who admits that she’s been feeling homesick. Before long, Jake finds himself summoned to the ready room, where Watters and Farris stress the importance of their mission and accuse him of upsetting crew morale. After Jake leaves, Watters instructs Farris to keep an eye on him. When she expresses concern that Watters hasn’t been getting enough sleep, he assures her that he’s fine… only to swallow a handful of pills after she leaves.
Jake and Nog’s differing experiences with the Red Squad cadets lead them to butt heads, though they’re interrupted by a red alert. They’ve found the battleship they were assigned to investigate. While lurking just outside the Jem’Hadar’s sensor range, the Valiant launches a probe to collect the necessary data and within a few hours, they’ve accomplished their mission. Watters assembles the crew in the mess hall to make the announcement but adds that they’ve found a massive design flaw in the battleship, one so significant that a direct hit from a modified quantum torpedo should be enough to destroy the vessel.
There is, however, a “but.”
As Nog quickly points out, the modifications would necessitate the removal of the torpedo’s guidance system, meaning they’d have to launch it at an extremely close range and stay put long enough to guide it in manually. Jake finally snaps and appeals to what passes for the cadets’ common sense, telling them that even his father wouldn’t take on such a mission with only one ship. His pleas fall on deaf ears though, as the cadets, all clearly high on their own supply, chant “Red Squad” and Nog joins in.