The Future Will Be Carpeted: An Analysis of ‘Deep Space Nine (S4E8)’

“You know what I like about Klingon stories, Commander? Nothing. Lots of people die, and no one makes any profit.”
     -- Quark

DS9 spent the bulk of its first season trying (and failing) to be TNG. The next two seasons saw it diverging from the path, figuring out what sorts of stories it could tell. By this point in the fourth season, the show had carved out enough of an identity to be comfortable telling what turns out to be an anti-TNG story, starring one of the most popular characters of that show.

The writers had finished with all the episodes (barring, ironically enough, the season-opener, “The Way of the Warrior”) at this point, steadily working Worf into the B-stories to make his transition as smooth as possible. It was time for a Worf-centric episode, one where he could take the reins of an A-story. They decided to dust off Kor, the one old Klingon to survive last season’s “Blood Oath,” who also doubles as the awesome Klingon grandfather you wish you had.

When Dax introduces Worf to Kor, Worf goes all fanboy on the older Klingon. It’s actually kind of cute. As for Kor, he considers anyone who annoys Gowron to be worth his time. Worf has always been an interesting Klingon and pretty far from the standard mold. Most of them look like they’re about five seconds from attending their own personal Motorhead concert, while Worf stiffly lurks in the corner, waiting to judge whether or not the guitar solo has honor. It makes sense, given the character: Worf is uncomfortable in his own skin, and living with humans has made him inordinately aware of his strength and our fragility. So, when he gets a chance to cut loose with a Klingon, it’s always a welcome sight.

Kor is on a quest to retrieve Klingon Excalibur, which is the Sword (actually a bat’leth, but who’s counting?) of Kahless, first Emperor and Klingon King Arthur. A thousand years ago, a period of time henceforth known as 1 Babylon 5 (One person just laughed at that.), a race called the Hur’q plundered the Klingon homeworld, including the Sword, and disappeared off into space. I’ll be honest: I love this. “Hur’q” is the Klingon word for “outsider” and as a history buff, I’ve always loved these mysterious pirate cultures who show up, wreck shop, and leave. Anyway, Kor has found . . . the Shammy of Kahless, I guess, which is the cloth that used to hold the Sword. Some Vulcans found this in a vault in the Gamma Quadrant, and thus Kor reasons the Sword must be there, as well.

It’s sort of a low-budget Raiders of the Lost Ark or Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Belloq arrives in the form of Toral, a son of Duras, who was Worf’s biggest political enemy back when Gowron was a good guy. Klingon politics, am I right? Worf, Kor, and Dax, their transporter jammed, have to fight their way through underground caverns against a group of Klingons and their thought-stealing Lethean mercenary.

This isn’t really the drama, though, and it’s not what makes this resolutely a DS9 rather than a TNG episode. Kor and Worf begin the episode on great terms. Worf is acting like it’s 1996 and he just met Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny, and a Velociraptor. Kor loves an audience, and it tickles him at how angry Gowron will be when the Sword of Klingarthur is partially restored to the Empire by Worf.

Once both Klingons slap eyes on the bat’leth itself, this all starts to change. It’s really a One Ring kind of situation, with both men wanting it for themselves, and every step into the dark of the tunnels unlocking more poison within their own souls. Kor goes from genial drunk, serial exaggerator, and over-the-hill warrior, to a brooding madman picturing himself on the throne. Worf finds new meaning in a prophecy he got in his youth from the ghost of Kahless (after being without food or water for three days, so I’m thinking this could be starvation). Once he thought joining Starfleet would be enough. Now, he thinks bringing the Sword back to the Empire and perhaps taking his place as leader of his race.

Dax knows they’re both nuts. I’ve been critical of Dax in the past, but here, she’s at her best. She understands that they’re both being idiots, and she’d like it very much if they’d just knock it off. Hilariously, she ends up blasting both of them with a phaser.

Kor and Worf come to their senses, realizing neither of them are responsible enough to have the Sword. It wasn’t their destiny, and bringing it back will only fracture the Empire even further. They beam it out into space and leave it, spinning there in the dark. Quark’s words to Worf at the top of the episode, regarding Klingon stories? He was talking about the one that just unfolded. A lot of people died -- Toral’s men -- and they beamed their profits out into space. Sometimes, a Ferengi just has to shake his head.

If this were a TNG episode, the Sword, the vault, or the caverns would be projecting some kind of madness field. It might unearth resentments or ambitions already present in their psyches, but the show would be clear: an outside influence was primarily responsible for these sympathetic characters going all Macbeth on each other.

In DS9, there’s no outside influence. The Sword isn’t magic. It’s a hunk of metal. Kling Arthur used it to unite the Empire, so it has that level of religious/jingoistic import to a pair of partisans like these two. They’re not seeing the object itself, but what it could mean. At first, this is what it could mean for the Empire: unity; a check on Gowron’s rule; maybe an Emperor who is slightly less of a puppet. By the end it has curdled into what it means for them personally: essentially who gets to be the new tyrant of the Klingon Empire.

Some might have trouble with placing such a negative trait in Worf. I see nothing wrong with the consummate outsider desperately wanting to belong, even if that means using a priceless cultural artifact as a battle flag. Fortunately, wisdom for both Klingons prevails, and they can get back to being cool with each other.

Next up: Bashir. Julian Bashir.

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