makes a supply run to planet AR-558, the site of a Dominion communications relay that Starfleet captured. The relay has been under constant siege, with the crew defending it overdue to be relieved by a new crew. Sisko, Bashir, Ezri Dax, Nog and Quark find themselves stuck on the planet and having to help hold the relay against a Jem'hadar batallion, while dealing with deadly Dominion booby-traps.
This episode contains examples of:
- An Arm and a Leg: Nog loses a leg during a Jem'Hadar ambush.
- Battle Trophy: Reese keeps a necklace of Ketracel-White tubes hung around his neck. Episode writer Ira Steven Behr called this "about as grisly as we could get on Star Trek".
- Behr actually explained that he was pushing for something more grisly as his necklace of trophies, but the network argued him down to that - what the heck did he originally want? Consider that in prior seasons we saw a Klingon warrior wearing a necklace made of Cardassian neck bones, so it was somehow worse than that?
- Bittersweet Ending: Starfleet succeeds in holding the communications array, but almost everyone from the Federation garrison has been killed and Nog has lost his leg.
- Break the Cutie: Nog gets shot, and his leg is amputated.
- Call-Back: The Starfleet and Dominion forces jam each other's sensors, just like the Klingons did in "Nor the Battle to the Strong".
- Casting Gag: Kellin, the engineer at AR-558, is played by Bill Mumy, who played Will Robinson on Lost in Space, one of Star Trek: The Original Series's Dueling Shows, and Lennier in Babylon 5, one of DS9's Dueling Shows. One of his conditions for appearing in the episode is that he insisted on playing a human, so he wouldn't have to wear heavy prosthetics like he did for his entire run on Babylon 5. In the reunion documentary, producer Ira Steven Behr revealed that he made it a point to visit the set for Kellin's death scene because he was eager to see "Will Robinson" get shot.
- Chekhov's Gun: Vic Fontaine records a few songs for Bashir to take to the front lines. He then plays one of them ("I'll Be Seeing You") just before the climactic battle.
- Closest Thing We Got: Ezri has to assist in the engineering work because Tobin, one of the past Dax hosts, was an engineer; her knowledge from Tobin is obviously behind the times, but it's still better than what most of the officers available here are capable of.
- Combat Medic: Bashir expertly field-strips, cleans and reassembles a phaser rifle (impressing Vargas), commenting on the irony of his having "joined Starfleet to save lives." He acquits himself well in the battle.
- Conditioned to Accept Horror: Reese.
- Darker and Edgier: One of the darkest episodes of the whole franchise, providing a wholesale Deconstruction of Roddenberry's vision of an ideal future humanity.
- The Dead Have Names: Sisko and Kira both state this at the end. And subverted, in that Sisko says that's not enough.
Sisko: They're not just names, it's important we remember that. We have to remember.
- Dramatic Irony: Quark makes a big speech about how humans, when pushed to their limits, can be every bit as bloodthirsty and violent as any Klingon warrior, with an implicit attitude of being above this sort of thing. Then during the climactic battle, a Jem'Hadar storms the infirmary and Quark guns him down without a second thought, with the realization that his previous speech applied to him just as much.
- Due to the Dead: Sisko still reads the lists of those killed in the war.
- Subverted by Vargas, who describes his dead friend as a loudmouth Know-Nothing Know-It-All jerk, though even he believes that one should Never Speak Ill of the Dead.
- Justified, as this incident pretty clearly caused Vargas to suffer from PTSD. He has no idea how to deal with the emotions it brought on.
- Fantasy Conflict Counterpart: In keeping with the Dominion War being analogous to World War II, this episode was directly based on the Battle of Guadalcanal. Just swap Henderson Field for the communications array. Director Winrich Kolbe additionally drew on his experiences in the Vietnam War, feeling it was similar to Khe Sanh.
- A Father to His Men: Sisko, and he makes damned sure Quark understands that.
Sisko: Listen to me, Quark, because I'm only going to say this once... I care about Nog and every other soldier under my command. Understood? Every damn one of them.
- Gallows Humor: The Federation soldiers nickname the Dominion's phasing mines "Houdinis". Find one, and you disappear.
- Hoist by Their Own Petard: The Starfleeters use the Jem'Hadar's "Houdini" mines against them.
- Hold the Line: Sisko's order to the remaining troops. After the battle is over,
Sisko: We held.
Reese: Those were our orders, sir.
- Hollywood Tactics:
- Other than the mines, neither side brings any weapons more powerful than rifles. The Dominion don't try to shell the Federation position, and the Federation doesn't emplace anything heavier to cover the single line of approach beyond re-purposing the Dominion's own mines. No one even uses infantry-level heavy weapons (for context, one in every four U.S. Marines in a typical infantry platoon carries a grenade launcher or rocket launcher). Granted, this is kind of justified with the space above AR-558 being a combat mess (making it hard to get anything really heavy beamed down and in place), and the Dominion wanting to recapture the transmitter as opposed to blowing it up, so they avoid using anything too heavy, but it's still a bit flimsy.
- Additionally, minefields are supposed to make territory impassable, not merely dangerous to walk around in, and yet the Federation takes less than one casualty a day while living in the minefield and coming under repeated Jem'Hadar attacks.
- Humans Are Warriors: An uncommonly negative example. Quark explains to Nog what Hew-mons are like beneath the Mary Sue Topia:
"Let me tell you something about Hew-mons, nephew. They're a wonderful, friendly people - as long as their bellies are full and their holosuites are working. But take away their creature comforts... deprive them of food, sleep, sonic showers... put their lives in jeopardy over an extended period of time... and those same friendly, intelligent, wonderful people will become as nasty and as violent as the most bloodthirsty Klingon. You don't believe me? Look at those faces, look at their eyes..."
- I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder: Kellin is an engineer, not a magician.
- In the Back: Vargas is stabbed in the back during the final battle.
- Jerkass Has a Point: While Quark proves to be Not So Different from the humans, he's not wrong about how conditions on the battlefield make them more violent and more dangerous.
- He spends the episode warning Nog about how dangerous the battle will be. When the actual shooting starts, Nog loses a leg and would have died while recovering if Quark hadn't been there to save him.
- Manly Tears: Vargas sheds them when he tells the story of his comrade, who died bandaging his arm.
- Mauve Shirt: Four troops at AR-558 are given names and some characterization, the weary but professional Larkin, grim and battle-hardened Reese, shell-shocked Vargas, and Nice Guy engineer Kellin. Only Reese survives.
- New Meat: Worf has the conn on the Defiant, along with Miles O'Brien; Kira Nerys and Odo are back home at the station. (Jadzia Dax is dead.) Sisko beams down with Nog, Ezri Dax and Quark at his side, all of whom are untried in infantry situations. His most battle-tested asset is Dr. Bashir!
- Not So Different: Quark spends a lot of the episode moralizing, but in the end he drops the superior attitude, picks up a phaser, and proves that when push comes to shove he can be just as ruthless as any hew-mon. And from the look on his face, he realizes this himself.
- Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Ultimately, the battle is finished off screen after Sisko is knocked out.
- Papa Wolf: Quark was quick to defend his injured nephew in the quickest and most efficient way possible: By shooting the enemy that was about to attack them.
- Paranoia Fuel: The invisible floating mines are a disturbing In-Universe example. You can walk through the same place a hundred times, never knowing when a Houdini will emerge and give you the Red Shirt treatment.
- Pet the Dog: After bringing a wounded Nog back to base, Reese takes a moment to tell Sisko "The kid did alright".
- Red Shirt Army: The garrison at the beacon site. Of four named troops, only Reese survives.
- Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale:
- Psychological effects aside, the Dominion minefield is hilariously ineffective. As calculated here, according to the Federation soldiers, they've lost 107 men in 150 days, which works out to less than one casualty a day, both from the minefield and repeated Jem'Hadar attacks. Units on long-term deployments in active combat in wars with peer opponents wish they had casualty rates that low.
- For as vast and far reaching as the Dominion War is when the weekly casualty report comes in at the end of the episode, there are only 1,730 Starfleet casualties listed.note
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Everyone at AR-558 - they were supposed to be rotated out after 90 days. They've been there five months with no relief and under constant attack to the point they went from 150 troops to just 43 by the time the Defiant shows up.
- Shout-Out: The battle plays out much like the film Zulu. There's even a scene where Jem'Hadar are expended merely to test the defenses of the camp (of course, these Jem'Hadar were holograms).
- All of the soldiers stationed on AR-558 were named after characters or actors from the WWII movie Hell Is For Heroes.
- Soldiers at the Rear: Both engineers, Nog and the poor guy assigned to keep AR558 running.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Melancholy music plays during the battle, in keeping with the episode's theme.
- That's an Order!: Sisko orders Worf to break out of orbit when the Defiant is attacked, even though it means leaving the away team on the planet.
- Tragic Keepsake: Vargas's bandage, made from the uniform of a dead comrade.
- War Is Hell: This episode shows no glory, no love of battle. Just the harshness and a piece of rock which no one would care about if not for the technology put there. Just to emphasize the point, the released death toll at the end reminds everyone that this was one (relatively light) battle.
- Was It Really Worth It?: Sisko is having dark thoughts at the end of the episode, after the line has been held. Worf tries to cheer him up.
Worf: This was a great victory. One worthy of story and song.
Sisko: It cost enough.
- Why Aren't They Attacking?: The Jem'Hadar who show up midway through the episode. They turn out to be holograms.
- Writer on Board: The director of the episode had fought in the Vietnam War, and allowed his own experiences as a soldier to color the atmosphere of the scenes and really brought out the War Is Hell trope to the forefront, far moreso than was typical for Trek.
- You Are in Command Now: Lt. Larkin was left in command at AR-558 after Captain Loomis and Commander Parker were killed prior to Sisko's arrival. He takes command as the senior officer when the Defiant is forced to retreat.
- Zerg Rush: The Jem'Hadar try to overwhelm the Federation garrison with sheer numbers - literally stumbling over their own dead until they can close to melee combat range.