Nutshell: Nice work. A very good season finale filled with the typically compelling plot-based mayhem.
"Call to Arms" is more good DS9 from a season which I believe may very well be the best season of DS9—and of Trek—yet produced. While "Call to Arms" may not be perfect (it has its share of minor problems) it's quite good. The main reason it works is that it just makes so much ... sense.
Just like in "By Inferno's Light," there's the feeling here that the actual events of this installment are not as important as their implications on future stories to come next season. That's not to say these events aren't interesting as stand-alone entertainment (they are), but they feel more like pieces to the big puzzle than simply set-pieces.
The plot centers around what has been inevitable for what seems like years now: the preamble to an armed conflict between the Federation and the Dominion. More Dominion ships have been coming through the wormhole headed for Cardassia. The number of Jem'Hadar soldiers that must be stationed on Cardassia Prime is staggering. How many? "Too many," Sisko says quietly.
One thing "Call to Arms"—as well as the entire fifth season—has done very well is build the plot developments on top of previous shows slowly, steadily, and plausibly. Even when big, surprising developments do occur, they seem to follow out of what came before and tie into the various political schemes of the series. Heck, even the B-story of last week's comedy show "In the Cards" was a prologue to this episode.
And as a standalone episode, "Call to Arms" is thoroughly entertaining, despite a few flaws. Big action shows are fun, but big action shows that think about their roles in the large scheme of things are both fun and thought-provoking. This installment is an example of the latter.
For example, I find it very believable that Sisko would finally say "enough is enough" concerning all the Dominion troops that have entered the Alpha Quadrant. He decides no more must be allowed to enter, so Dax, O'Brien, and Rom come up with the idea of mining the entrance to the wormhole. And I also thought the response by the Dominion, who send their ambassador Weyoun to object, also made sense. The diplomatic scene here is one of complete insincerity; once Sisko tells Weyoun that he has no intention of removing the minefield, they both realize it will mean war—yet they continue the diplomacy with statements neither side could possibly, as Sisko so aptly puts it, "buy."
I also believe that, in an issue that further complicates matters, the Romulans would sign a non-aggression pact with the Dominion. Given that they, like the Cardassians, suffered such substantial losses at the hands of the Dominion in "The Die is Cast," the Romulans seem like a perfect candidate for caving under pressure they probably realize they can't afford. It rings very true and represents the Dominion's style, which is to shake up governments with subversive policies instead of simply brute force. Odo's keen observation, "The Dominion is making impressive inroads in the Alpha Quadrant," sums things up rather nicely.
Sisko's solution to keep Bajor out of the crossfire of imminent war is simple—but very risky. He recommends to the Bajoran government that they sign the non-aggression pact offered to them a few weeks earlier (see "In the Cards"). This could have some very interesting consequences next season. The notion definitely makes sense, even though it hardly makes for an ideal situation. This proves yet another thing: the series has not forgotten about Bajor. Just as Sisko realizes it's his mission to keep Bajor out of danger, the creators realize that the fate of Bajor will ultimately be more important to the payoff of the series than skirmishes between the Federation and the Dominion.
But for now, the Dominion is the spotlight, and the writers get them right. One idea that really works nicely as "Call to Arms" unfolds is the analysis of the Cardassian/Dominion relationship. Once the Cardassians and Dominion decide they're going to attack DS9, they send a fleet to the station. But there are different agendas working here; Weyoun and Dukat represent, respectively, standpoints from the Dominion and its Cardassian subset. Subtle as it may be, there is significant tension here. And while Dukat will heed the Dominion's decisions to remain peaceful toward Bajor, he certainly doesn't like it—and I think I see the beginnings of a rift here. I wouldn't be surprised to see a major internal conflict that—if I may be so bold in my predictions—could rip the Dominion and Cardassians apart from the inside. The subtext here is clear: Just as Bajor was forced to seek refuge behind the Federation, the Cardassians have sought refuge behind the Dominion. The difference, of course, is what the Federation represents versus what the Dominion represents. (Or, if you're a Maquis, maybe there isn't even a difference at all, which is why I love DS9.)
Of course, we also get a huge battle, which makes use of the station weapons array for the first time since "Way of the Warrior." Execution-wise, this is all well done. The special effects are good, as always, blending together stock material and new shots seamlessly—although this episode does not begin to threaten outdoing the top-notch sequences in "Way of the Warrior" or "Shattered Mirror." But, just as in most big DS9 battles, the sense that All Hell is Breaking Loose [TM] is conveyed as perfectly as ever. Jay Chattaway's score is fantastic—surprisingly thematic and dramatic. And the sight of so many, many ships is impressive. I don't believe we've ever seen as many ships in a single shot as we do here.
That brings us to the defeat. Even with their arsenal, Sisko and crew don't stand a chance against a Dominion fleet without reinforcements. (The Starfleet reinforcements are busy taking advantage of the opportunity by destroying a Dominion shipyard in Cardassian space, which I suppose will only fuel the fire for a full-scale war.) So, in a surprising turn of events, Sisko and the Starfleet crew is forced to evacuate the station and leave it up for grabs—but not before sabotaging all key systems. Kira and Odo, as members of the "neutral" Bajoran military, remain on board to welcome Dukat to DS9. "Don't you mean Terok Nor?" Dukat immediately asks.
In a number of ways, the ending to "Call to Arms" shows a full circle that echoes back to the first episode of the series—which is very appropriate. More than four years later, Dukat reclaims what he was forced to abandon, only to find it as trashed as the day he and the other Cardassians left it. (Now, that's a rather interesting notion to ponder.) Sisko abandoning the station is a major event, and his emotional speech promising to return feels sincere and keeps the issue in perspective. Even in war, Sisko knows what his real mission is.
As always with DS9, even though the story is far from over, the season finale doesn't come packaged as a cliffhanger—a style that I've really come to appreciate. There are a lot of little details in here that will definitely come into play next season. There's Dukat's uneasy alliance; there are the implications of the Bajoran non-aggression pact; there's Jake being left behind as a Starfleet news correspondent; there's Rom acting as a spy for Starfleet; and there's the cloaked minefield, with its self-replicating ability the Dominion is not aware of. And of course, the show's nicest touch is the baseball, which Sisko leaves on his desk as a very clear message to Gul Dukat: "I'll be back."
And back in force, it would seem. The final shot of the Defiant and Rotarran (Martok's ship) rendezvousing with a massive fleet of Klingon and Starfleet ships is extremely powerful, so much that it actually gave me chills. I predict I'll be viscerally engrossed in the resolution to this storyline next season.
Now, to change gears before wrapping up, I must report on the one real qualm I have with "Call to Arms," which is the subplot structure. This show covers a lot of ground, and some of the background elements nearly get lost. There's an indication here that the writers wanted a "romantic theme" to fill out the story. (Love and war, perhaps?) Unfortunately, very little of it worked.
The topic of Rom and Leeta's marriage (my least favorite characters on this series) takes up too much screen time and has an unsurprising "so what?" effect. The Odo/Kira scene that represents the fallout from "Children of Time" serves as an acknowledgement that we'll see it revived next season, but the scene of "discomfort" in Odo's office is clumsily handled. Then there's Dax's acceptance to Worf's nonverbal marriage proposal, which consists of about 30 seconds of screen time and ends with the typical blank stare from Worf. (My only thought here was "Huh?". It came completely out of left field and had no emotional impact whatsoever.) And am I the only one who wonders what in the world happened to Kasidy Yates (obvious casting issues aside)?
Subplots notwithstanding, "Call to Arms" is yet another in the line of episodes that tie the plot threads together into a big web of political intrigue—an approach that has made this past year an absolutely thrilling season. The execution may not have been perfect, but the themes almost certainly were, and the elements that are hanging over into next year harbor nothing but promise. Onwards!
End-of-season article: Fifth Season Recap