Myriad Universes: Hearts and Minds Part 4: Masters of War

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So I'll admit we start with something that does not entirely inspire confidence: Dax and Bashir in handcuffs being escorted to a prison cell by Romulans, with Koleth being processed separately. As Dax argues with the Romuan guards, Doctor Bashir directs her attention to the window, where they can see the Arvas touching down just outside. On Deep Space 9, Maura is making small talk with her new clientele when Kira and a security detachment come in to escort her to the brig, where Commander Sisko is waiting for her. The Commander politely demands Maura tell him what she's smuggling through his station, motioning in her general direction with a Romulan disruptor pistol. Maura claims she's smuggling arms to rebels in the Gamma Quadrant, but refuses to disclose the Arvas' destination. Sisko and Kira don't buy it, and Kira snaps and grabs Maura by the nape of the neck. Commander Sisko calms her down, but informs Maura that since Odo is on the Arvas, he'll hold her personally responsible should anything happen to him and holds her in the brig until she's willing to talk.

In The Abyss, Dax and Bashir are called to dinner by Commander T'Alar, in charge of the Romulan operations in the Gamma Quadrant. He's been expecting them, and in fact has been tracking the crew since they left Deep Space 9. Bashir demands to know where Koleth is, but T'Alar ignores him. Dax presses the commander for how he managed to destroy the K'Tang. T'Alar is taken aback, expecting the science officer to be curious as to why, but Jadzia knows why: The Romulans are trying to manipulate the Klingons into going to war with the Cardassians, thus distracting the Federation and holding them back from advancing into the Gamma Quadrant. T'Alar protests that it's all a defensive measure to prevent the Federation from continuing its policies of imperialistic expansion. Bashir throws a fit, accusing the Romulans themselves of being imperialistic and misunderstanding Starfleet's intentions out of fear, and gets escorted back to his cell for his troubles. Jadzia continues to make conversation with T'Alar on her own over dinner, leading to one of the single greatest scenes in all of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Dax reminisces about a Romulan she met back in the Original Series era, when she was serving on the USS Constellation, triggering a flashback sequence. She tells of how she was in a shuttlecraft with a commodore when they crashed in Romulan territory. They sent out a distress signal that was picked up by a Romulan Bird-of-Prey. The ship's commander, Pakel, beamed down and rescued them both. Dax initially lied to him about who they were and where they were going, but Pakel assured them that they we not prisoners. Pakel wanted peace between the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire, and said it would be a dishnour to him and his people to capture an old man like the commodore. Dax said that she remembers Pakel and his words to this day as model of Romulan honour and integrity. As her flashback ends, we cut to Delgar working with some Romulans to load up the Arvas for its next run, while Odo morphs back into humanoid shape to scope out his surroundings.

Back on Deep Space 9, Kira opens up Maura's cell, and punches her square across the jaw. Kira demands Maura tell her where the Arvas and Odo are, but she still refuses. Maura mocks the Major, saying that she obviously learned a lot from the Cardassians during the occupation, asks her if she wants strip her naked and hang her from a rack, and declares that “the oppressed are the worst torturers”. Kira counters by saying “I do what I do out of love, not hate, Maura. That's something you quite obviously can't understand”. Maura continues to taunt Kira by saying that if Odo isn't dead yet, he soon will be.

Back in The Abyss, T'Alar continues his somewhat ill-advised attempt to impress Dax, taking her straight into the Romulan nerve centre, and confesses that he's been playing Scooby-Doo with the legend of Bahal's Bird (he, of course, has a giant spacefaring bird: A Warbird). He also admits that Maura is an operative of his, and it was she who sabotaged the K'Tang's defense systems while it was docked at Deep Space 9, along with their sensors, which allowed the Romulans to create a sensor ghost of Galor-class warship when he had the Warbird destroy the K'Tang. Dax condemns T'Alar for his war crimes, and sternly (though more tactfully then Bashir) reasserts that Starfleet only wants peaceful coexistence with the Empire.

Back on the station, Kol furiously confronts Marok about the secret Cardassian fleet in the Mutara sector. Gul Dukat claims they are “military exercises”, but Kol doesn't believe him any more than we do. Marok himself remains as tight-lipped as ever. Commander Sisko begs Kol to return to the negotiations, but the Klingon captain considers them over. Dukat “regretfully” informs Sisko that his crew must prepare for battle, and tells him that “we will all pay the price for [Kol's] avenging honor”. Sisko urges restraint, but it's in vain: Dukat warns that he will most certainly defend himself if it comes to that. As he leaves, he bids the Commander farewell by telling him “you were a worthy adversary”. In a flash, Sisko has Kira and Miles O'Brien launch the remaining Runabouts to set up a defensive blockade around Dukat's fleet. Kol is outraged, but Sisko cites a technicality that because the ships are in Bajoran space, he is duty-bound to protect them.

Meanwhile, Maura's got hold of some sort of device that allows her to hack her way out of the brig. She takes out two security guards, steals a phaser and runs riot through the promenade before heading to Quark's Bar. Kira goes after the Seltari, but she takes Quark himself hostage and escapes through an air duct. Commander Sisko lets Major Kira know Maura's trying to reach Runabout pad C, and cautions her not to do anything risky, as Maura is likely to be annoyed that all the ships are tied up with the small matter of the imminent interstellar war. Kira intercepts Maura and Quark, but Maura tries to pull the “drop your weapon or I'll kill him” shtick unless she recalls one of the Runabouts. Kira isn't having any of that, though, and nails Maura straight in the chest before she can villain gloat any more. Kira and Quark banter as the unconscious Maura is hauled off by Starfleet security.

T'Alar walks Dax back to her cell and is still trying to hit on her, asking her if she'd like to accompany him back to Romulus when the mission is over. Dax coolly shoots him down. Bashir is his usual overprotective self while Dax tries to find a loose brick in the wall so they can escape. She doesn't need to though, because suddenly Odo arrives in the nick of time carrying some disruptor pistols he “borrowed” from a couple of the guards. But Doctor Bashir won't leave until he finds Koleth, and goes off to rescue him despite Odo and Dax's protests (“Really, I thought saving lives was my job, Odo”). At that moment, Sisko and Chief O'Brien continue to try and stall Kol's assault. Bashir rescues Koleth from the Romulan mind probe and runs out with him into the courtyard with the guards in hot pursuit, but a hovering Dax and Odo beam them up just in time. The Rio Grande makes its escape from The Abyss, and T'Alar's waiting Warbird gives chase.

In the Alpha Quadrant, Kol has called for reinforcements, and there's too many ships for DS9's support fleet to cover, Just as all seems lost and the Klingons are ready to open fire, the Bajoran Wormhole opens: It's the Rio Grande, pursued by a Romulan Warbird. Koleth hails his commanding officer and explains what happened, and Kol immediately orders his entire squadron to attack and destroy the Romulan ship, which explodes with a terrific “boom”. Sisko tries to placate an enraged Dukat, and when the Gul signs off, Kira tells Ben she believes Dukat was secretly hoping for a war. They both remark on how the Klingons and the Cardassians are more similar than they'd like to admit, before Ben goes off to resume his long-ago interrupted baseball game with Jake. Back at the bar, Quark is in charge again. and Odo explains that Maura wanted it because she could use it as a base of operations for her smuggling network. He grills the Ferengi barkeep about the secret area under the bar (which we saw way back in the preview), which Maura had been using to store her contraband and the bomb used to kill Tal Berel. Quark professes his innocence as they banter a bit, before we pan out to Deep Space 9, adrift in the stars, at peace once more.

What was that movie trailer quote? “Now, the crew of starbase Deep Space 9 fights not to win battles, but to end them, forever”?

I may be misremembering that somewhat.

I don't even know where to begin with this, to be honest with you all. Where do you begin with something that is in so many ways your own beginning? Perhaps a beginning and an ending, rather: “Masters of War” is the end of Hearts and Minds, and it also marks a kind of turning point for me and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This was the beginning of my fandom, and also, as far as I was concerned, the commercial and artistic peak of the series. I didn't know it at the time, but things would soon change, and I reacted almost on instinct, retreating into my uncreated past of the show's brief two-year lifespan. Deep Space Nine was *this* good? And I hadn't been able to see it until now? I've been robbed. I have a deficit I need to make up as soon as possible, and I have to be sure I don't miss anything more. For the next few years, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and fleshing out the universe it shared with Star Trek: The Next Generation, became my life's work. But in that same moment the Star Trek wave would start to crash and roll back outside of me: There were to be no more Star Trek comics or magazines in my grocery store, and there was soon to be no more Star Trek on TV I could watch. My interests as they pertained to media began to shift towards other things. In terms of Star Trek, and pop culture more generally, I would become destined to remain in July, 1994 forever.

I exist here.

But this was all I had. Two issues out of a four issue miniseries. A couple issues of a magazine featuring versions of television scripts that weren't really the ones that were shot that were from last season anyway (not that I knew that, or even really had a full understanding of what the concept of “television seasons” meant). Some fuzzy publicity stills in crumpled up copies of other magazines. A few half-remembered images from something on TV I caught out of the corner of my eye when I was half paying attention two years ago. I didn't even have any toys or action figures because I wasn't as interested when they first came out, and then couldn't find them when I suddenly decided I was very much interested. I had to get action figures from other toy lines [namely, the SeaQuest DSV line (now who remembers that?) and duplicates from the Playmates Star Trek: The Next Generation one] to double up as DS9 ones, and I always felt vaguely ashamed and embarrassed because of that. I didn't (and still don't) have the resources and opportunities to follow large pop culture phenomena the way other people do. That's just not how life works here in the mountains.

Not that that kept me from trying, of course. After Hearts and Minds, my yearning for Deep Space Nine related anything reached a fever pitch. I became obsessed with learning more about this series and world that remained frustratingly out of my reach. Little did I know then how much Hearts and Minds absolutely ran rings around anything the TV show I so longed to see ever did. It outclasses it every step of the way. But even then I did know this was a story of immense gravity and importance, and it touched me in a way no Star Trek story before it ever had: I was simply awestruck at the first reading, and then I read it over and over and over again because I couldn't get over how amazed I was by everything in it. I was incredibly moved by characters like Commander Sisko, Jadzia Dax, Major Kira, Odo and Doctor Bashir, and the things they said and did over the course of the series. These people instantly won my undying respect and admiration, and I immediately fell in love with them and their world.

Whether I consciously knew I was doing it or not, all of my action figure adventures of this period were *all* riffs on Hearts and Minds, with all of the iconic and memorable imagery (or, that which *I* considered to be iconic and memorable) intact: Kol, Koleth and Marok were always there. So were the Romulans, who hereafter became more tied to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in my mind then to Star Trek: The Next Generation (they and the Klingons *both*, in fact). T'Alar became more of a reoccurring nemesis for the crew then Gul Dukat. The Klingons and the Cardassians were always at odds. This was why I always had my Star Trek characters use Romulan disruptor pistols instead of standard issue phasers (well OK also because those were the only weapons Playmates characters could actually fucking hold, but mostly it was because of “Masters of War”).

Dax was always leading expeditions into the Gamma Quadrant aboard the Rio Grande with Bashir and Koleth in tow, and there was always some strange and alien new world they had to visit to pick up information on a new lead. And when they were there, the mythological worldbuilding of the Gamma Quadrant was always defined by legends about The Abyss and Bahal's Bird. Sometimes I would just straight up re-enact the story of Hearts and Minds itself (or occasionally just a few of my favourite setpieces from it) by-the-book (or as by-the-book as I could make it with half the chapters missing). I don't think I did that with any other Star Trek story. Maybe part of it was that this was all I knew of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and thus all I had to go off of, but I think a lot of it was because this story really was that good: It's the *only* part of Star Trek I can reliably come back to year after year and find it every bit as remarkable and powerful as when I left it.

(I'll even confess something rather embarrassing here: Just this past year as of this initial writing I was toying with a writing a reimagined Star Trek fanfiction universe for my own amusement. You get three guesses as to where the core blueprint for my concept came from, and the first two don't count. And that wasn't even the first time I tried to write fanfiction with that pitch.)

But even though Hearts and Minds was all I had for so long and it gave me an admittedly warped and skewed view of what Star Trek: Deep Space Nine actually was, I remain steadfastly, stubbornly proud of that. If Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was to be elusive for me, I couldn't have asked for a better set of iconography to be left with for almost a decade. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was something I in a very material sense had to create myself, or at least create my own understanding of it, and the world Hearts and Minds alluded to and hinted at was ripe with possibility for someone who dwelt privately inside their own imagination. Even years after the fact this was the Star Trek I kept going back to, kept trying to recommend to other people, in hopes they would see the same things I saw in it and fall in love with it the same way I had all those many summers ago.

So why is this series so good? What makes it so special and memorable that it's haunted me and defined my view of what Star Trek in general and Deep Space Nine in particular should be like for well over twenty years? Or is there even anything special about it at all, aside from the peculiarities of my nostalgia and positionality? I fully admit I'm way, way too close to this story and probably shouldn't even be writing about it. I said as much in the context of “On the Edge of Armageddon”. But I'll make one last impassioned plea for Hearts and Minds' textual quality in the final part of this chapter. The first thing that stands out about Hearts and Minds is the writing. By the Prophets is this story ever written well-Mark A. Altman has a genuinely gifted ear for dialog and prose alike, and from beginning to end everyone and everything in Hearts and Minds feels alive, defined and full of romance. Like I said, I had to stop myself from just straight up reciting the whole miniseries, which I could very easily do. You could, I suppose, accuse it of having that stereotypical Star Trek bombast, but I prefer to think of it as gravitas: The stakes are impossibly high in this story, and everyone is gravely aware of it. But that just sucks you in even deeper.

Nowhere is this better demonstrated then with the characters themselves, and there's not a weak or unmemorable player in the whole cast. Sure, I may have my quibbles with Quark, but in hindsight they're the same ones I have with Quark everywhere else. I remember vividly being struck and so profoundly moved by the heroism of everyone here, and how much they lay on the line to save the galaxy from plunging into the depths of a destructive war. Commander Sisko is the first standout, as a man forced by circumstance into a role he's not comfortable playing and isn't prepared for, yet who more than rises to the challenge. “My job here is administrative, not ambassadorial”, he says. And he's right, but he overcomes adversity and succeeds in holding off Kol and Dukat long enough for Dax to ride in with the cavalry with the proof she needs. So when Sisko makes his impassioned speeches begging Kol and Marok to consider the future of everyone in the galaxy and to honestly dig deep within themselves to see the value of peace, you appreciate them even more because you know he doesn't have any of that written on a cue card somewhere. This is not Tal Berel with his diplomatic platitudes: Commander Sisko's words come from the heart, because there's no other place they can come from.

Speaking of Jadzia Dax...Oh my goodness, Jadzia Dax. If you ever need convincing as to why she's probably my all-time favourite Star Trek character, really, you need look no further than “Masters of War” and its parent series. Never before has she been depicted this commanding, this imperious or this admirable, and she never will be again. The scene where she reminisces about meeting Commander Pakel and condemns T'Alar for the mass murder he committed in service of his Machiavellian isolationism is her absolute defining moment as a character, all fucking stop. I remember being blown away by this even back then: I didn't know about Dax's status as a joined being, of course, and I thought it a bit odd that she looked kinda like a man when she served on the Constellation, but that just made her all the more intriguing, alien and mysterious. The idea that this seemingly young woman could in truth be that old and could somehow change her appearance in that way fascinated me...But it also made her seem so wise and knowing.

(Indeed, the Romulans! I almost forgot! Because this is the story where the confused conception that's hounded them since the start of Star Trek: The Next Generation finally comes crashing down. Dax *literally* calls them out for abandoning the values and ideals they once stood for, making textually explicit the metaphor decay that's plagued them extradiegetically for the past seven years. They've forgotten honour and integrity, and that's what's led them to commit the heinous acts they now do in service of their empire. And yet as obviously misguided as T'Alar is and while the things he did where unforgivable, he still has something of a point: The Federation are imperialists too, and while Dax is right that she doesn't seek out conflict, I'm sure there are many in her order that would disagree. After all, one of Hearts and Minds' most notable concluding thoughts is “we're none of us as different from each other as we like to believe”.)

Dax's speech to T'Alar made her seem so powerful, strong and confidant, doubly so the way she kept flatly and effortlessly shooting down his pathetic attempts at romantic overtures (and to a lesser extent, those of Doctor Bashir). I recognised that she and Commander Sisko were being set up as parallels at the opposite end of the galaxy and the story wanted me to read them as equals, and yet Dax in her own ways seemed somehow stronger then even Commander Sisko (perhaps because she was older and wiser), and that really impacted me a great deal. Like I said in the chapter about “On the Edge of Armageddon”, Dax in Hearts and Minds fills the role that would in other circumstances go to someone like Captain Picard, and, Star Trek: The Next Generation fan that I was, I definitely picked up on that. I had never seen something like that before: It turned the entire crew dynamic of Star Trek I was used to completely on its head, and made this series' crew quickly stand out from that of its sister in some (good) interesting ways. More importantly, it was Jadzia Dax who immediately became my favourite character, and a role model whose life I aspired to base my own after.

I feel like the more I talk about Sisko, and especially Dax, the more I shortchange the rest of the crew, and I absolutely do not mean to do that, because they all stood out to me in their own ways. I found Doctor Bashir's undying commitment to life, and the preservation of life, that he exhibits both here and in issue 2 deeply heartfelt and sincere. This may be his best story as well: He's full of “youthful energy” that sometimes gets the better of him, but he's passionate, loyal and means what he says. Likewise Major Kira: While she's obviously meant to be the series' female lead, she's from the beginning overshadowed by Jadzia, though through absolutely no fault of her own. But I love how fierce and tenacious she is (her scenes with Maura are a particular highlight) and also how tender and caring she is, especially with Sisko and Odo. Speaking of Odo, I admired his strength and resourcefulness (not to mention his sense of humour) in using Maura and Delgar's own scheming against them, and how well he works with Dax and Bashir once he gets to The Abyss. And while Jake and Chief O'Brien don't play huge roles in this story, they both have their own parts to play all the same.

But as fantastic as the regular cast is, I also want to single out Altman's guest cast for being absolutely spectacular. Indeed, so spectacular that for the longest time I was under the illusion they weren't even the guest cast. My favourite has simply got to be Commander Kol: This is your model Klingon in all the right ways. Dramatic with a Shakespearean flair to an almost bombastic level, but never reaching the point of parody. A noble hunter and warrior through and through, who earnestly believes in the value and worth of honour and integrity. And if he can act rashly or be a bit too trigger happy, it's only because he does not suffer fools and is quick to exact vengeance from those who have done wrong to him and his comrades. Koleth too is memorable, though a bit less so for me now then he was back then-His big character arc is learning the value of life from Doctor Bashir, which is the most clear in issues 2 and 4, but it's enough. In the former there's the speech he gives him about clinging to survival, and here Koleth is ready to sacrifice his life to T'Alar's torturers until Dax orders him not to and Bashir proves his honour in Klingon eyes by risking his own life to save him.

On the Cardassian side of the negotiating table, Kotan Marok is a wonderfully slippery, unreadable and complex character. On the one had he does at times appear to have a vested interest in resolving the conflict with the Klingons and seems to genuinely want peace for everyone...But he's also apparently not willing to pursue it at the expense of his own empire's interests, continuing to lie or keep silent in order to cover up Gul Dukat's underhanded behaviour, even as he himself disapproves of it. And he can't resist pulling the strings to try and curry favour with Commander Sisko and the Federation, hoping to get them to ally themselves with Cardassia against the Klingon Empire. Like T'Alar, Maura is a reprehensible and loathsome villain who still manages to get in a few barbed words to keep us thinking. An opportunist to the end, she tries to butter up everyone up to and including Commander Sisko, though she's not very good at it mostly owing to her violent temper. It's her line about how “the oppressed are the worst torturers” and her comparison of Kira's actions in the Bajoran military to those of the Cardassian interrogators during the occupation that rings the most deeply uncomfortable, probably moreso now then in 1994. It's a good thing Kira has a quick comeback and Maura is dispatched so soon after.

Which brings me to the other reason I love this miniseries so much-It lives up to its title. Indeed, it could not have been better titled: For the first time (at least the first time in ages), Star Trek's “Hearts and Minds” are finally in the right place. The message is exactly the correct one, and its ethics at long last go in tandem with an astronomical quality of writing. War must be avoided at all costs, and those who would seek to perpetuate reactionary isolationist and xenophobic beliefs will accomplish nothing in the end except to bring about their own self-destruction. Worship life in all its cycles, remain loyal to other life and live in valour, honour and integrity. There is no place left in the world for realpolitiking, because “realpolitiks” are not actually real: What's truly real are the lived experiences of ordinary people trying to get by the best they can, to become worthy of the ideals they commit themselves to strive for, and to find their own path towards spiritual oneness with the grand universe.

No matter what else happens or what anyone else says. Hearts and Minds will never be anything less than absolutely definitive. Nothing can change that. This is my Platonic ideal Star Trek story: Simply and utterly everything this series and franchise should always be. It is and forever will be my favourite Star Trek: Deep Space Nine story, and, I would argue, very probably the greatest Star Trek story ever told.

Comments

Sean Dillon 3 months, 2 weeks ago

"(I'll even confess something rather embarrassing here: Just this past year as of this initial writing I was toying with a writing a reimagined Star Trek fanfiction universe for my own amusement. You get three guesses as to where the core blueprint for my concept came from, and the first two don't count. And that wasn't even the first time I tried to write fanfiction with that pitch.)"

Hmm... First guess is obviously Dirty Pair. Second Guess would probably be Miami Vice. So it must be Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Either that, or Emergence.

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David Faggiani 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Aw, very heartfelt and persuasive! And that story sounds brilliant.

You've made me think very seriously about what traditionally non-canon stuff occupies a similar, near-definitive place in my heart.

My Trek answer is quite boring and conventional - the novel 'FEDERATION'. Absolutely loved and love that book, cover to cover.

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John G. Wood 3 months, 1 week ago

But apart from that, Josh, what did you think of it?

Seriously, I'm glad that such a thing exists and would be intrigued to read it. I certainly never had anything like that for my fandoms. Probably the closest is The Dalek World, one of the 1960s Dalek books which was actually my introduction to the pepperpots and fixed my idea of Daleks (and Mechanoids!) for all time. But I'd be hard pressed to say that it was the pinnacle of anything.

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