Jake and Nog are rescued from the Dominion by a Starfleet ship crewed by young officers determined to prove themselves.
Plot Summary: Jake Sisko accompanies Nog to carry a message for the Nagus to Ferenginar, but their runabout is attacked by Jem’Hadar ships. The two are rescued just in time by a sister ship of the Defiant. While they recover, Jake and Nog learn that the Valiant is crewed by Starfleet cadets – the elite Red Squad – who took over the command positions when they were attacked on a training cruise and all the senior officers were killed. Captain Watters, who was given command by the Valiant’s dying captain, has decided to fulfill the Valiant’s secret mission to find and study a new Cardassian warship. Because Nog knows the Defiant’s systems, he is offered the job of chief engineer as well as a field promotion. Jake is uncomfortable with the extended mission Watters has chosen for his crew particularly once Jake discovers that Watters has had no contact with Starfleet and that acting chief medical officer Collins is miserable. Watters invites Jake to write the story of their mission but warns Jake not to interfere. When the Valiant finds and scans the warship, completing the original crew’s mission, Watters tells the crew that if they don’t act now, the warship will become yet another problem for Starfleet. First Officer Farris believes that a flaw in the warship’s design will allow one Starfleet torpedo to destroy it, though Nog worries about the proximity necessary to target the weakness. Though Jake warns that not even his father would undertake such a dangerous attack in those circumstances, Watters persuades the Valiant crew to go along with his plan and puts Jake in the brig for warning Nog that they’re all likely to die. Farris manages a near-perfect manual torpedo launch, but the Cardassian warship does not explode as expected and opens fire on the Valiant’s bridge. Finding himself the sole surviving command officer, Nog orders an evacuation and releases Jake from the brig. The Defiant picks up their escape pod’s distress call and retrieves Jake, Nog, and Collins, the lone Valiant survivor, who insists Watters was a great man let down by his crew. Nog tells Jake that when he writes the story, he should let readers decide for themselves.
Analysis: I can never make up my mind about “Valiant” – a bizarre mashup of The Next Generation‘s “The First Duty” and “Lower Decks” with the original series’ “Miri” and “And the Children Shall Lead.” It’s nice to see Jake and Nog operating outside the influence of their fathers and everyone they know on the station, but the story itself has enough wobbles and redundancies to make the episode seem less than great. The first time I saw it, I thought “Valiant” suffered from script problems and was helped along by strong performances, yet on a rewatch, I thought the dialogue would have been better if performed by young actors with more range. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by so many seasons of watching Cirroc Lofton develop into a first-rate performer. For instance, I love the concept of First Officer Farris, a young woman who appears to have been tutored personally by Admiral Nechayev in a tough-as-nails demeanor and unswerving loyalty to Starfleet interests, but she’s so one-note in this episode that she comes across as a cliche rather than a character. I love the concept of Collins, too, but she winds up reminding me less of the sensitive, passionate Dr. McCoy than the misguided Dr. Clive from the Hornblower series, covering up a captain’s drug addiction while blathering on about what a great man he is. I don’t think it’s that the writers can’t conceive of strong, competent, independent young women in service to a cause exemplified by a young Starfleet captain – we see on DS9 that they can – but that these actors don’t quite pull off the nuances. The first time I reviewed the episode, I thought Watters sounded like a wild-eyed fanatic in the Jim Jones mold and credited the performance with keeping him just this side of plausible, but these days (and maybe it’s because I have teenage children myself) his words sound idealistic and brave rather than nutty; it’s the excessive zeal of the performance that makes me wonder why anyone is listening to him.
This time out, I’m also a bit more irritated about the generic crew of over 30 young people with so little individuality, even though these are supposed to the Starfleet Academy’s most elite cadets. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from this franchise, it’s that being a top student in college is invariably bad news – it’s likely you either cheated or had illicit help to get to the top, like Kirk and Bashir, or you’re so full of yourself that you put everyone around you at risk, like Locarno from “The First Duty” and Watters here. As Nog says, honor and loyalty are important qualities in Starfleet officers, but only an incompetent captain wants a crew of sheep who will never question orders, and it’s simply not plausible that Starfleet’s finest are so passive and lacking in ego that nobody would ever challenge a young captain’s orders behind enemy lines. Collins can’t be the only one who’s homesick and Farris can’t be the only one whose lack of scientific knowledge has put everyone in danger. We’re supposed to buy that an order of radio silence and a field commission granted by a dying captain, along with personal charisma, keeps this crew more loyal to its hyped-up captain than Tuvok is to Janeway, trying to make tough decisions for her own good so she won’t have to? A simple signal to Starfleet from someone with communication training could not only get this mission aborted but possibly make a hero of whoever sends it. Part of me half-suspects that Watters and Farris made sure all the adults were bumped off to give them unquestioned control of the ship, so I’m surprised no one doing the grunge jobs on the ship – some poor kid from Red Squad stuck on the equivalent of latrine duty – hasn’t wondered as well. You’d think someone would have read Moby Dick at Starfleet Academy, and they’d all know about Khan Noonien Singh, especially since they’ve obviously seen Star Wars…their plan to blow up the warship involves flying in close and shooting a torpedo into the thermal exhaust port, excuse me, the antimatter containment system. Plus you’d think superiors at Starfleet would realize that packing their best and brightest off on a single ship for a training mission in wartime might not be such a clever idea.
We’re supposed to be rooting for Watters’ plan not to work, since it’s clear that Jake is right and Watters needs to be taken down several pegs. The problem is that when Watters’ plan fails, most of these kids won’t be around to learn any lesson; they’re going to die, and in fact that’s just what happens, with the Valiant officer who once seemed most likely to launch a formal protest of Watters’ leadership singing his praises. This is yet another reason Starfleet should be sending a higher percentage of adults to adolescents on their training cruises, even if the combat officers are mostly off training for the Dominion War and it ends up being primarily teachers and counselors who go along, though what would make most sense is to break up Red Squad precisely so that the kids aren’t stuck physically and psychologically in the social positions they held at the Academy and can interact with different young officers who have had different experiences. Those aspects of the story interfere with the pleasure of a shift away from the station and an introduction to a new set of characters, a look at the Dominion War and Starfleet from another perspective. Wesley Crusher is often maligned as a goody-two-shoes, but it’s interesting to see Jake, a non-Starfleet officer, here arguing what he believes would be his father’s position against someone who’s reminiscent of the cadet who persuaded Wesley to break rules and got one of their friends killed. Though he doesn’t always seem sure of what he’s doing with his life, Jake seems more mature here than Nog, who recites all the right things about a cadet’s duty yet wants to be a senior officer and a part of Red Squad so badly that he ignores unpleasant facts until it’s too late to do anything but save the life of his best friend. Even in the end, Nog is unwilling to condemn Watters outright, agreeing with Collins that Watters may have been a great man even if he wasn’t a great Starfleet captain.
A quick note on the near-throwaway scene that opens “Valiant” in which Quark mutters about not having Nog around to repair his replicator and is forced to let Dax get her hands dirty doing it, leading to Odo taunting Quark about being in love with Dax. When the episode first aired, it seemed like comic throwaway to kick off a fairly dark, humorless episode, perhaps with a tie-in to the next week’s storyline in which Quark has to dress in drag. My focus at the time was on Odo, newly in love with Kira and recognizing Quark’s long hopeless crush on Dax for what it was, willing to needle Quark about it in the same way that Quark long needled Odo about his longing for Kira; we didn’t know then that the writers were already planning to kill off Jadzia, since they knew Terry Farrell would not be returning to the show for the final season. Suddenly none of Dax’s minor exchanges seems minor at all, and there’s real heartache underlying Quark’s uncharacteristic gallantry toward her. Knowledge about the end of the seventh season colors every aspect of rewatching the sixth; maybe “Valiant” impresses me less because the senseless loss of a crew of cadets and a duplicate of the Defiant pales, knowing everything that’s going to be lost when the war comes home.