“You have sided against us in battle, and this we do not forgive. Or forget.”
— Chancellor Gowron
If there is a single episode when DS9 becomes the show people are always insisting, “No, seriously, this is the best Star Trek,” it’s this one, the fourth season premiere. The modern TV fan in me rebels at the idea of waiting three full seasons for “things to get good,” but I hope if these reviews do nothing else, they at least point out a lot of goodness lurking in the first three seasons of the show and establish that DS9’s quality was less a switch getting flipped and more a series of incremental improvements.
The differences are apparent right off the bat. First, there are the cosmetic: Sisko now sports his iconic shaved dome and ‘90s goatee; both Dax and Bashir have extra pips on their collars; and the credit sequence has gotten an upgrade with a fuller score and a bunch of spaceships and people zooming around the formerly lonely station. The largest and flashiest change, however, is the addition of Michael Dorn’s Lt. Commander Worf to the cast.
I’m not going to lie. I was not happy when this happened. Granted, it was the mid-‘90s, and the only faux pas bigger than being happy was wearing less than two kinds of plaid over your mullet. I was upset because I thought my nice, little, private corner of the Trek universe, the one with all the cool reoccurring characters, moral ambiguity, and serialization was going to go the way of TNG. Don’t get me wrong here, TNG is a fine show, but it’s not DS9. They have entirely different purposes, aesthetics . . . even the lighting sets them apart. I was never much of a Worf fan to begin with (I was born a Data man, I’ll die a Data man.), and this just felt like the beginning of the end to me.
I was then, and am now, a pop culture pessimist. I predict doom and gloom at every corner. What people don’t understand is that I absolutely adore being wrong. I thought movies like Fury Road, John Wick, and You’re Next would be terrible. All three are absolute delights, and Fury Road might make my top ten movies of all time.
I was worried DS9 would become The Worf Show. As it turns out, the writers had the same fears. The challenge is integrating a beloved character into an established show, adding to the balance rather than upsetting it. Worf was the best choice amongst the TNG characters, as he had the most serialization in his own storyline. His status as an outsider complements the cast as well, since DS9 is composed almost entirely of outcasts and oddballs. The show itself serves as this in Trek fandom, though its reputation is slowly being repaired.
This episode plays like a revised, updated pilot. In many ways, it is, anticipating the new wave of viewers willing to follow Worf to this strange spaceship that never goes anywhere. Worf gets to meet all the characters, and each one gets a quick establishing moment, from Kira adorably missing the point of holosuites (as Guinevere, she punched Lancelot, reasoning, “I was playing a married woman!”), Chief O’Brien catching up with his old friend from the Enterprise, Sisko dispensing fatherly advice to Worf, Quark laughing over Worf’s signature drink of prune juice, and even Odo connecting over their shared status as outcasts. The climax of the whole thing, as DS9 faces down a hostile Klingon fleet is an amped-up version of the pilot, when Kira bluffed a couple Cardassian ships by using the station’s entire payload of six photon torpedoes as a warning shot. This time, however, the station has spent a year preparing for a Dominion attack and getting armed to the teeth.
The episode kicks off with the paranoia established at the end of season three. It’s good to show the characters reacting to new information in a rational way, and to show the audience that, hey, they’re not just ignoring the terrifying warning from the Changeling. Basically, the crew does drills when they all hunt Odo like the most dangerous game. This establishes for new viewers how dangerous Changelings are, that Odo is one, and what all those Klingons are so upset about.
That’s the whole point of the episode. A giant Klingon fleet, led by Chancellor Gowron himself, decloaks off of DS9. They’re here to provide security against the inevitable Changeling infiltration. They’re also violating Federation and Bajoran space (including searching the vessel of Kasidy Yates, which you just don’t do to Sisko’s special lady), and, frankly, they’re up to something more than just blood screening freighters. To make matters worse, they’re running amok on the station being all Klingony. Sisko remembers an important lesson Curzon once taught him: “The only people who can handle Klingons long term, are Klingons.” Hey, Starfleet has one of those!
Worf arrives and begins dealing with the Klingons on their terms. Drex, a young thug who is also the son of Gowron’s right-hand man, General Martok, is the chief instigator on the promenade. After harassing Morn for no reason, he and his friends beat Garak quite badly. Hilariously, when Worf is upset about it, he refers to Garak as a “Cardassian tailor,” with no hint of irony. Using his family’s connections (after Dax reminds him to play a little Klingon politics), Worf discovers the true reason for the task force. A coup on Cardassia has toppled the Central Command and replaced it with a civilian government. The Klingons are convinced this is a Changeling plot, forgetting that with the Obsidian Order out of the way and the dissident movement gaining strength, Cardassia was ripe for a coup anyway. Then again, this could just be the Klingons looking for any excuse to annex a little territory. Their leader is, after all, a chancellor.
Starfleet can’t support this, but nor can they directly warn the Cardassians, as the Klingons are still technically allies and the Cardassians aren’t. Fortunately, we have Sisko. In a move that reinforces my love for the man (and foreshadows his murky morality in the series-best episode “In the Pale Moonlight”), Sisko remembers, “Hey, we have a spy on the station. Let’s use him!” So, he calls Garak up to the ward room for an impromptu fitting and just discusses the invasion in front of him, trusting the relevant details will find their way back to Cardassia.
They do, in the form of Gul Dukat (and, seriously, I could watch endless scenes of Marc Alaimo and Andrew Robinson sniping at each other). Dukat, being the political animal he is, switched sides when he saw which way the wind was blowing and has managed to get installed in a military advisory position. Sisko gets Dukat to load up the civilian government and head for DS9. He’ll meet Dukat in the Defiant and escort him the rest of the way. They arrive to find Dukat’s ship in bad shape, as several Klingon ships pick it apart. This is where I need to discuss the Worf Barrage.
Remember on TNG when Picard would tell Worf to fire a spread of photon torpedoes? He’d shoot one, and there would be no effect. This is known as the Worf Barrage and is a sister trope to the Worf Effect, which I’ll have to discuss later. Here, Sisko lets Worf off the chain. “Target at your discretion,” he says to the Klingon, who he just handed over the weapons systems of the baddest ship in the Quadrant. Worf promptly reduces a Bird of Prey into so much star dust. Worf spends the next four seasons becoming Sisko’s most reliable weapon, all because Sisko knows how to let him do his thing.
This skirmish provokes the biggest battle we had seen in Trek up until this point, and that includes the movies. After screening the government (and Dukat) and determining that nope, these are Cardassians, the Defiant races home with the Klingons at its heels. The entire Klingon fleet decloaks and demands the Cardassians be turned over. Sisko refuses, and s–t gets extremely real.
First, DS9 shows that it’s no longer helpless. No, they spent the last year shoving photon torpedoes into anyplace there was room. This thing has more phaser banks than an entire fleet of vessels. The Klingon fleet would have had better luck just hurling themselves into circular saws. They don’t fare much better when they beam over, either. You’re beaming over onto a station populated mostly by people who just spent eighty years fighting a guerrilla war . . . and you’re carrying a sword. Have fun with that, guys. At one point, in Klingon (and no, I can’t speak Klingon, it’s been translated), Martok says, “They fight like Klingons!” to which Gowron responds, “Then, they can die like Klingons.”
This references one of my favorite aspects of the Trek universe, which is, holy s–t, do not f–k with humans. Like, ever. The Klingons are an ancient warrior race with a tradition of conquest. What happened when they met humanity? They had to make a peace treaty or get wiped out. The Borg? Got curb-stomped, tried to retreat into the past, then got beaten again. This is a pattern. Humanity is the terrifying warrior race of Star Trek, but we hide it behind our utopian ideals. Essentially, Star Trek humans don’t like to fight because we’re too damn good at it. This will get explored in greater detail later in the series, but we see shades of it now.
The battle would not matter as much if it didn’t have great character moments. From Dukat and Garak fighting shoulder-to-shoulder to protect the civilian government (and doubting the other’s patriotism the whole time), to Bashir saving Odo’s bacon from a Klingon, after Odo counseled him to be careful, it’s the little moments that show who these people are and why we should care.
In fact, the episode has two of my favorite moments in the entire series. When the civilians are being evacuated into shelters in preparation for the Klingon assault, Quark isn’t going to leave his bar. No, he’s getting the disruptor he used to carry when he was a cook on a Ferengi freighter. Of course, it’s gone, along with a note from Rom who used the parts to fix the replicator. “I’ll kill him,” Quark seethes. “With what?” Odo snarks.
I alluded to the other moment in the last episode, thinking it was much later in the series. It can be easily found on YouTube (and I’ve watched it more than once — just look for “DS9 root beer” and it’s the top hit) and concerns root beer. Garak sits down for a drink at Quark’s, and the show reminds us that both men are not in fact Federation citizens. They have reasons for not quite liking this Mary Suetopia they’ve found themselves in the middle of, and yet, both are hoping when the chips are down, the Federation will save them. And, they do this by comparing the Federation to root beer. “It’s so bubbly, and cloying, and happy . . . but if you drink enough of it, you begin to like it,” Quark says in defeated horror. No other Star Trek property would allow such a dim view of the Federation, but it’s also clear that the show doesn’t quite share it. Everyone sees things differently, and this is how unrepentant capitalist Quark and exiled spy Garak would view the Federation. “It’s insidious,” Garak says with an appreciative smile.
Worf stays on with the crew, as Strategic Operations Officer (relieving a younger me, who was worried he would replace Odo at Security) and now wearing command red. The Khitomer Accords are broken, and the Klingon Empire occupies part of the Cardassian Union. The true irony is that the Founders did plan this whole thing, though not in the way the Klingons believe. As we learned, there are only two remaining powers who can threaten them: the Federation and the Klingons, and the treaty between them has been dissolved.
The Dominion could not be more pleased.
Next up: Jake has a midlife crisis.