In engineering, Nog works on the torpedo while Jake tries to talk some sense into him. Nog, however, insists that the “captain” knows what he’s doing and dismisses Jake as being unable to understand since he’s “just” a reporter. An angry Jake counters that Watters is going to get them all killed, and shares what he’s learned about the cadet’s stimulant habit. In response, Nog throws him out. As it happens, Watters was monitoring their conversation, and when Jake leaves he finds a security team waiting to toss him in the brig. Soon after, the cadets prepare as Watters gives an inspirational speech and the Valiant warps into battle…
The Valiant engages the Jem’Hadar warship, launching the modified torpedoes at the ship’s weak spot once they’re in position. But despite some impressive pyrotechnics, the Jem’Hadar ship is still there. Farris confirms that they hit their target but their strategy simply didn’t work. The Jem’Hadar waste no time in returning fire, and soon the Valiant’s cosplay crew starts dropping like flies. When the smoke clears, Nog and Collins are the only ones left alive on the bridge. Nog gives the order to abandon ship before he and Collins free Jake and make their way to an escape pod. They get clear just as the Valiant is destroyed. As it happens, the Defiant is nearby, searching for Jake and Nog’s missing runabout. In the course of their search, they pick up the escape pod’s distress call and rescue the only three survivors of the Valiant.
In the Defiant’s sickbay, Nog asks that Jake – when he writes about their recent experiences – tell people that the Valiant was a good ship with a good crew, whose only mistake was following as Watters lead them over a cliff. Collins, still blinded by her rah-rah Red Squad spirit and admiration for Watters, objects, saying that Watters was a great man and the failure was the crew’s. After a moment, Nog tells Jake to include both versions so that the public can make their own judgments. For his part though? He grimly returns his Red Squad pin to Collins, telling her that while Watters may well have been a hero, he was a bad captain.
So ‘Valiant’ is not by any means a bad episode. It is, however, an episode that I find incredibly frustrating every time I watch it. That makes it an odd one to review because I have to at least try to separate my visceral, emotional reaction to the story from an assessment of its actual quality. Which I guess is a characteristically long-winded way of saying “It’s not bad, but…”
Much of that is driven by the Red Squad cadets themselves and specifically the way Nog reacts to them. Frankly, it drives me bug nuts that Nog doesn’t just assume command the minute he and Jake step aboard the Valiant and realize what’s going on. Granted, it’s not exactly out of character for him to jump at the chance to play officer – but for the fact that he actually is an officer. (In fairness, while that would in fact be the case in modern naval protocol, Moore apparently based this aspect of the episode on a nineteenth century tradition by which an acting captain could only be removed from command by a flag officer – in this case, an admiral.) While it can be rationalized here, it’s the sort of turn that would have made more sense for the character a year or two earlier. As it is, it basically hinges on his longstanding hero worship of Red Squad.
Incidentally, this is one of the reasons that I wanted to mention that I didn’t choose this episode as some sort of tribute to Aron Eisenberg. Because even though he did express a great deal of fondness for it (going so far as to list it as a personal favorite), it’s not one that leaves Nog looking particularly good. And while I can see the dramatic or actorly appeal in that, the specific way the character is handled can make for very vexing viewing.
Jake, however, gets a stronger showing. Despite his utter disinterest in Starfleet as a career path, he’s not a fool. He sees right through Watters, and as the only person onboard the Valiant with the presence of mind to cut through the insanity, he effectively becomes a point of view character. And as it happens, his is basically the point of view of watching a dear friend get sucked into a cult.
That element actually rendered ‘Valiant’ a sadder episode than I’d remembered this go round. While that frustration was still there (it’s hard not to share Jake’s horror as Nog joins Red Squad’s macho BS in the mess hall, or his aggravation at the fact that he’d have an easier time talking sense into a bulkhead), it’s tempered by the melancholy of watching these overeager idiots make the wrong call at virtually every turn.
When Nog describes the Valiant crew as having blindly followed Watters over a cliff, it can’t help but conjure the image of lemmings. But twenty years after its original broadcast, the cadets’ blind devotion to Watters – a devotion that for Collins persists even after he’s gotten them all killed – is no less but a take on a certain… political salience.
It’s a common joke that ‘The Simpsons’ predicted (among other things) the Trump presidency, but watching ‘Valiant’ in 2019, one almost has to credit ‘Deep Space Nine’ with predicting one of the more maddening aspects of our political moment. That is, of course, the seemingly impenetrable loyalty of Trump’s most devoted fans, which is echoed in the cadet’s devotion to Watters. It’s not something that the episode hits you over the head with (How could it?), but watching Collins at the end of the episode, I was struck by much the same feeling I get when I watch a Trump apologist shrug off the latest outrage – “My God man, how much more will it take before you come to your senses!?”
Though I suppose your mileage may vary.
But what did you make of ‘Valiant’? Does it frustrate you? Did you also go on weird political tangents? Or am I just completely out of my mind? Let me know in the comments and be sure to check back in two weeks for the next ‘Final Frontier Friday’!