What a strange, deep and ultimately very moving episode.
For reasons that have nothing to do with Deep Space Nine, I am coming to each weekly episode with a high degree or reluctance. It’s getting to feel like an imposition rather than an enthusiasm. But almost every week, I’m drawn into the story despite myself, and end up grateful for having watched, despite sometimes being resistant to the ideas inside the story.
‘Sons of Mogh’ began with Worf and Dax in combat in the holosuite, arguing over the merits of different Klingon weapons. It’s pretty much one part battle, one part flirtation, with Dax providing most of the latter. This is something I’m finding myself less and less in sympathy with, having come to see this kind of flirtation as game playing, more akin to maintaining a power advantage than developing a potentially intimate relationship, especially when Worf is completely outmatched on that score, but let that pass by.
This scene is interrupted by Odo, calling Worf to the airlock to handle a drunken Klingon demanding to speak to him. This is Kurn (Tony Todd again, under heavy make-up), Worf’s younger brother, and he is here for Mauk-to’Vor.
This is a specifically Klingon ritual. Worf’s defiance of Gowron has cost his family, the House of Mogh, severely. It has been razed to the ground, stripped of lands, possessions, it’s seat on the Council, it’s honour. Worf has his life with and in the Federation, the softness of which Kurn mocks bitterly, but only he can restore Kurn’s honour, by giving him a ritual death, by sending him to Sto-vo-kar, the Klingon heaven, from which he can move forward to his next life, with honour renewed.
Worf is Klingon enough to recognise the duty and the necessity of that. He prepares the ritual and plunges the dagger into Kurn’s chest. But Dax, having realised what is going on, intervenes, and by beaming Kurn to the infirmary, saves his life.
Sisko is furious with Worf, and Dax, and threatens to have him sent away. Cultural diversity is one thing, and he will stretch as far as he can, but Sisko cannot see further than the human viewpoint, that this is nothing but murder and completely unjustifiable.
This was another point at which I diverged from the episode. The evident seriousness of the Sons of Mogh, the words that accompanied the ritual, and Kurn’s obvious pain in a world in which the one thing he needed in order to be whole was the one thing impossible for him, impressed itself upon me, and made the purported death more than murder. Sisko’s outburst, containing as it did a degree of human self-righteousness, came over as being cultural imperialism, of exactly the kind that put me off The Original Series all those many years ago.
But having done Mauk-to’Var once, Worf found himself incapable of repeating it, and needed to find a purpose for his younger brother. Getting Odo to take him on in security seemed a possibility, but when Kurn allowed himself to be shot, still seeking death, that option was rapidly closed off.
At this point, the storyline merged with the rather scanty B story (trust DS9, the week after I praised its confidence in dispensing with these, to revive the idea!). Major Kira, doing a lot of very elegant lounging around, rocking that one-piece uniform, and the Chief come across a strange explosion in space and a highly-defensive Klingon warbird, from which it’s extrapolated that the Klingons are sowing the Bajoran space border with cloaked mines, preparing to cut it, and DS9, off once war comes.
In order to explode (literally) the plot, the team needs the armament codes, so Worf and Kurn teleport aboard a damaged ship and steal these. Acting against his own people only shames and depresses Kurn even more, but it is Worf who is more deeply shocked by the experience. Kurn had saved his life by killing a Klingon officer who Worf believed was standing down. Worf has changed, irrevocably, thanks to his life in the Federation. He has lost his Klingon instincts, the ability to sense when someone has decided to kill you by looking in their eyes.
The discovery is devastating. He has long kidded himself that he could straddle the line, could walk either side of it, but now he realises that this is a fantasy. He has lost too much of what it is to be Klingon. He can never return there, can never revive the House of Mogh.
The realisation makes him understand even more acutely what Kurn feels. Worf has the Federation: Kurn has nothing, literally nothing. Without Mauk-to’Var, there is only one outcome for Kurn, and after a final conversation, in which Worf prevents his brother from the dishonour of a drunken suicide, Bashir eradicates all Kurn’s memories of his old life.
When he wakes, amnesiac, Noggra, and old friend of Mogh, is waiting to claim him as his son, Rodek. He will teach ‘Rodek’ all his ‘lost memories’ as a son of the House of Noggra. As ‘Rodek’ leaves, he passes Worf, and asks him if he is part of Rodek’s family. Worf replies, “I have no family.” It’s a moment of unutterable sadness. Kurn has back everything he wanted, everything he had lost, his honour. Worf has cut his last ties, against his own will, but for the sake of his brother. The camera pans with him as he walks down the Promenade, surrounded by crowds.
Quite simply, an excellent episode.