Deep Space Nine: s05 e21: Soldiers of the Empire

Star Trek: Klingon

Now isn’t that sooooo much better?

We came back to a serious reality this week with a Klingon-based episode in which General Martok is appointed to lead a rescue mission in search of a missing Klingon vessel on the Cardassian border, in which he takes Worf as his First Officer.

The episode cleverly plants a seed of doubt in the open, with Martok undergoing treatment from an openly disapproving Bashir for a potentially life-ending wound sustained in a holosuite battle programme with the safety protocols switched off. Actually, it wasn’t the holosuite, but rather combat with Worf: Martok was prisoner of the Jem’Hadar for two years, lost an eye, and needs to recover his edge.

All of this is laying the ground for what follows: Martok’s ship, the Rotarran, is a ship dogged by defeat, with a crew demoralised and bitter. In short, a powder keg. What’s needed is strong command, a properly Klingon thirst for victory and honour, in short the urge to give somebody a bloody good kicking. A Captain preoccupied by thoughts of his own experiences at the hands of the Jem’Hadar, and unwilling to take risks, is the worst possible choice.

In the end, with outright mutiny all but triggered, Worf has to challenge Martok under the Klingon code for command of the ship. This means a duel, to the death.

Yet the programme bottles out, as we always knew it would. I had no wish to see either Worf or General Martok die, but in an episode whose purpose was to take us on boarda Klingon ship, see Klingon warriors in action, live with them and see how they think and behave, to present a ritual battle that is insisted on being to the death, and let both participants live without any attempt to provide a justifiable, in context explanation why, for the first time ever, to-the-death is ok with to-the-first-wound, undermines the whole thing and draws the viewer out of the scene and into the contrivances of a long-running prime-time TV drama series.

Basically, what happens is that Worf’s challenge gets Martok’s dander up good and proper, so Worf allows himself to be beaten. Martok then allies the bloodthirsty crew into a battle against the Jem’Hadar which they win, and they all lived happily ever after.

I haven’t, thus far, mentioned that on this mission, Worf is accompanied by Jardzia Dax, who unexpectedly signs up (using her leave) as Science Officer on the Rotarran. Why? Well, we’re left to figure that out for ourselves, though it’s a good job she’s there. As First Officer, Worf’s duty is both to support the Captain and to stand for the crew, and his personal loyalty to Martok prevents him from properly fulfilling that latter duty. It’s Dax who takes on the informal responsibility of warning Worf just how close everything is to utter bloody disaster.

I’m in two minds about Dax’s presence. She doesn’t play any direct part in the story, and her unheralded inclusion comes right on the heels of a quasi-comic scene in Quark’s bar (without Quark, thankfully) that is directly inconsistent with her shooting off alongside her par’Mach’kai. Worf’s detachment from Starfleet duty means that the rest of the senior staff have to take over parts of his duty as well as their own. Bashir, Dax and O’Brien sit around and moan about this imposition, as devised by Kira.

Then, immediately after this little scene, showing the reality of DS9 being short-staffed with Worf gone, Dax buggers off alongside him. No, that little juxtaposition of scenes did not work one little bit.

Honesty compels me to admit that the underlying idea behind this episode is the same as the underlying idea between last week’s dross: to see one of the series’ alien cultures operating, up close and personal. But the Klingon ethos I found immeasurably more interesting (and entertaining) than Ferengi. Like its lesser equivalent, it is, at heart, one aspect of the human character elevated into a society, but it is one that I found more interesting to see, and to study.

And more relevant to the Federation/Dominion clash, currently undergoing its 1939-40 ‘Phoney War’ stage, otherwise¬† known a barely getting mentioned. I’m waiting for that to change, as it inevitably must. I suspect I’m going to have to wait until the only other episode I can remember from watching this twenty years ago: the season end.

That’s only five weeks away, right before Xmas…


2 thoughts on “Deep Space Nine: s05 e21: Soldiers of the Empire

  1. Meh, but definitely better than last week’s ugh. Interesting concept, but predictable fare, not utilizing the skills of J.G. Hertzler and the others.
    I’d chalk it up as Dax’s presence is there as her Klingon skills and insight are well respected and honestly less of an outsider than Worf’s are, due to Curzon’s high regard from Klingons…

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