My desire for that show can be traced directly back to this week’s episode, “Soldiers of the Empire.” Ira Steven Behr’s writing prompt to Ron Moore was “give me an episode of Star Trek: Klingon.” And, boy howdy, does he. It’s a rough pilot, even a mere proof of concept, but there is literally no way something like this wouldn’t be received with rapturous glee by Trekkers all over the world.
General Martok is still on the mend from his ordeal in the Dominion prison camp. He works out with Worf as much as he can, and in true Klingon fashion, these workouts are life-threatening. Martok is unavoidably diminished by his time as a PoW, most obviously by his missing left eye. The scars run deeper: to a Klingon there can be no more thorough defeat than being made to feel helpless. Even Worf (whose badassery has been reaffirmed forever by DS9) succumbed to this at one point. When he was forced to the gladiatorial matches in “By Inferno’s Light,” Worf once considered allowing his opponent to kill him, but had some tova’dok with Martok, a moment of clarity between two warriors when they each know the heart of the other, and regained his will to fight. Worf credits Martok with saving his life.
So, when the Klingon high command taps Martok to lead a rescue mission, Worf eagerly signs on as Martok’s first officer. The General needs a man he can trust, and Worf is happy to repay a man for whom he holds the deepest respect as well as reclaim part of his Klingon heritage stolen away by his exile. Dax also goes along, using leave time, because she’s crazy and serves as both mentor and sounding board for Worf.
The problem is, the mission is doomed from the start. The ship assigned to Martok is the IKS (That’s Imperial Klingon Ship, campers.) Rotarran, and it hasn’t had a single victory in seven months. Even worse, there hasn’t been any bloodwine for six. Morale is understandably in the toilet. The ship is already teetering on the edge of mutiny. One crewman believes the ship is cursed. “Death and dishonor walk these corridors like crewmen,” he intones. Others have resorted to fanning the flames, because if they can’t get victory over the Jem’Hadar, they can get it over one another. Martok isn’t pleased with the crew either, reading their records of insubordination (and, hilariously “insufficient aggression”) and complaining that it reads like prison records. So, for those keeping track, being insufficiently aggressive will get you locked up on Qo’noS.
The crew’s lack of success and general disgruntledness (disgruntability?) aren’t the end of the problems, though. Martok’s scars run a lot deeper than just that eye. He’s gotten downright squirrelly. While a level of fear for the Jem’Hadar would be healthy -- you’re not going to do much good flying into the center of a fleet of them for example -- Martok has graduated to the level of phobia. When the Rotarran comes upon a lone Jem’Hadar ship conducting reconnaissance, it’s the perfect target for a quick kill. Dax had been pushing the idea of a simple victory to turn things around, and the universe served this one up on a platter. Martok, though, sees a trap (that’s not even there) and orders the helmsman to let the enemy ship go. Now who’s insufficiently aggressive, Martok?
Worf is trapped between two extremes. On one hand, his loyalty to Martok can’t be denied. This is a man who not only saw Worf through some of the most intense despair in his life, but he is an older Klingon, a father figure, who doesn’t see the dishonor that has fallen upon Worf’s house. Worf is also an experience combat officer and a Klingon. He can’t watch a perfectly good warship go to the targs because the commander is chasing ghosts in his head. Things come to a head when they find the ship they were supposed to rescue, and Martok is too paralyzed by fear to carry out his mission.
When the mutiny inevitably arrives, Worf supports it. But this is all part of his plan. Earlier, one of the Klingon crewmen, Leskit (who proves his bona fides as a warrior with a necklace of Cardassian neckbones), praises the Cardassians for their cunning. Seems as though Worf’s learned a bit from them as well. He challenges Martok to a duel and drops his guard at a critical moment. Martok scores a winning, though not fatal, blow, reclaiming his warrior’s spirit and Klingon bloodlust. The Jem’Hadar ship that arrives shortly thereafter provides the victory both the Rotarran and Martok sorely needed.
While celebrating victory on DS9, Martok asks Worf how he knew that the blow would not be a killing one. Worf replies that he didn’t. Martok sees now what kind of man Worf truly is. It was important enough to Worf that both the mission would be a success and Martok would regain his former glory, that he was willing to risk death without a second thought. Martok asks that Worf join the House of Martok, as a warrior and as a brother. Worf, touched, accepts, removing the sigil of the House of Mogh from his sash and replacing it with that of the House of Martok.
The fact that I want an entire series that’s nothing but this episode shows how much I like it. It’s one of my favorite Klingon stories, because it concentrates on the good and the bad in the culture. There’s the constant violence, but there is also the deep connections between men whose idea of affection is stabbing one another. The episode also features the Klingon Battle Anthem, sung twice. The first time it is at the outset, and the crew can barely muster up the chorus. The second is as they go into battle over the Jem’Hadar, and here, their voices are powerful, keeping time by hammering their control consoles. They are space vikings going into battle for glory.
Imagine a Star Trek show with battles, honor, badass singalongs, and tell me it wouldn’t be the best thing ever. It’ll never happen, but at least we have this episode of DS9, showing us what could be.
Next up: The crew gets a good look at a John Connor paradox.