The Future Will Be Carpeted: An Analysis of ‘Deep Space Nine (S4E14)’

“You know what my one regret is, Worf? That we weren’t raised together. In the Empire, on Earth, it wouldn’t have mattered. But, the sons of Mogh should never have been separated.”
     -- Kurn

One of the most unexpected outcomes of being a gamer is that I think about morality a great deal. This started with D&D, which charted your character’s morality -- their alignment -- on a pair of axes. The X axis was their opinion on government: whether they were mostly for (lawful) or against (chaotic). The Y axis was their opinion on eating kittens: whether for (evil) or against (good). This simple mechanic bled into every aspect of the game, and in its current incarnation and its manifold spinoffs, these four points are powerful enough to be solid, physical forces. Not a lot of room for gray areas there. Oh, sure, there’s “neutral,” but come on. That’s the training wheels of alignment, so most everything exists at these extremes.

After D&D codified alignment, a lot of next wave games threw the whole concept out, citing it as unrealistic. Which it totally is, but they were doing this in games about superheroes and vampires, so maybe “unrealistic” isn’t quite the word they were looking for. This postmodern take on alignment made “evil” personas (by D&D standards) palatable, player characters. Now, good and evil were abstract concepts.

All of this has made me think more about morality than your average medieval monk. For any word to have value, it must mean something and good and evil are no exceptions. I have come to the conclusion (well, as close to that as I get; I’m always refining, rethinking, and discarding) that morality centers around two concepts: free will and the reduction of suffering. With this in mind, the crew of DS9 commits an evil act.

Worf’s brother Kurn shows up on the station, drunk and waving a knife around, which is really just how Klingons say hello. Incidentally, Kurn is Tony Todd, who last appeared as an older Jake Sisko in “The Visitor,” so he’s showing some range here. (I’m actually a big Todd fan -- Candyman is one of the best horror films of the ‘90s.) Worf’s actions have had dire consequences on the House of Mogh. Gowron stripped their titles, took their land, and kicked them off the High Council. To regain his honor, Kurn needs Worf to ritualistically kill him.

Worf’s game for it, but Dax figures out what he’s up to in time, and she and Odo interrupt the ceremony. Sisko chews Worf out for this, and I’m completely lost. I really do not understand what the big deal is. Kurn wants to die and Worf is willing to kill him. Kurn is suffering without his honor, and killing him ends that suffering. To me, honor is a silly reason to die, but I’m not a Klingon, and thus it’s none of my business. The Federation of all things should be willing to let this happen, and we get to one of the oddest places in moral thinking.

Life is not the end-all be-all of morality. It’s definitely a big one. Murder is wrong, but there are situations in which it is permissible, even required, to take a life. Where that line lies is subject to a ton of debate, but this is where we run into my two factors of morality: free will and a reduction of suffering.

Killing Kurn reduces his suffering. Worf is under no obligation to kill Kurn himself -- that’s where free will and his own suffering comes in -- but Kurn is also under no obligation to go on living because the Federation has decided he must. Odo even threatens Worf with imprisonment if Kurn dies after the first attempt, and I think we’re supposed to be on Odo’s side. That’s just bizarre. After the failed ritual, Worf has decided he has become too human to do it again, so Kurn is out of luck. That’s when this gets really messed up. They wipe Kurn’s memory, surgically alter his face, and change his genetic signature. Now he’s some other Klingon living some other life.

What. The. Hell.

Kurn didn’t consent to any of this. Granted, there was no way he was going to regain his honor. Worf wouldn’t kill him, so death in battle was likely his only respite. Attacking Klingons would result in further dishonor, so he’d need to go after enemies of the Empire. This could easily mean innocent deaths, but still. Worf rufied his brother harder than anyone’s ever been rufied. That’s just wrong.

Fortunately, the B-plot has no such weirdness. Kira and O’Brien happen upon a Klingon Bird of Prey tooling around just outside of Bajoran space. Turns out they’re seeding the system with cloaked mines, which is a serious act of war. We needed the reminder that the Klingons were still out there, and this is a good one, especially as it also shows off Gowron’s very un-Klingonlike way of warfare.

Worf and Kurn go undercover to steal the mines’ detonation codes. At the computer, Worf finds the files instantly, but Kurn dismisses them as decoys. It’s a new policy to confuse spies. I couldn’t help but think of all the amazing files Kira found in the previous episode. Were those decoys as well? Did the Central Command know that and that’s why they turned down Dukat’s offer for an invasion? During this infiltration, Kurn kills a Klingon warrior who was about to stab Worf (whose failure to see the attack coming provoked his realization he had been with humans too long), and this is the final straw. He is dishonored. A traitor.

Kira and O’Brien detonate the minefield, flushing a small fleet of Klingon vessels. It’s a small, but significant, victory for the Federation. Destroying what was Kurn feels like a bigger loss. By elevating mere life above all other concerns, they completely ignore what makes life so precious.

Next up: Rom is feeling the Bern.

Last modified on Wednesday, 21 October 2015 17:28

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