“So, let me get this straight: Al we have to do is get past an enemy fleet, avoid a tachyon detection grid, beam into the middle of Klingon headquarters, and avoid the Brotherhood of the Sword long enough to set these things up and activate them in front of Gowron?”
— Chief Miles O’Brien
Let’s get something out of the way right up front. Starfleet makes no sense as a military organization. I know, this isn’t exactly a revelation. I’m not talking about the mayfly-level lifespan of the red shirts, or their insistence at beaming down to new planets without first checking for breathable atmosphere. I’m talking about the trope that exists in nearly every show which insists the main characters do everything.
It makes good sense from a dramatic standpoint. After all, you want to tell a lot of different stories, and it would likely confuse your audience if you threw new characters out every time you did. “Who is this guy infiltrating the Cardassian Union? Where’s Picard?” Then you throw the remote away and go watch one of the other two channels that existed in the ‘80s. It’s the same logic that has Jack Bauer at a desk one minute and out going Jason Voorhees on a bunch of foreign nationals the next.
So, this episode, when Starfleet decides to send Sisko, Worf, Odo, and O’Brien undercover to a Klingon rally to unmask the Gowron Changeling, makes sense under those dramatic rules. That’s pretty much it, though. An organization like Starfleet has to have an intelligence arm (and we see an element of that later in the series), and you’d think those people would be better choices than Sisko, who is a brilliant commander and shipwright, but not exactly known for being subtle. Really, the more you look at this team, the more you shake your head. What the hell is Starfleet thinking?
I might have complained about Sisko, but the truth is, he takes to it like a Klingon to bloodwine. During a Klingon culture tutorial, he punches Worf in the face, only making the error of accidentally challenging him to a duel to the death (Worf is very pleased with the performance, but advises the captain to strike him with a fist as opposed to a backhand). Later he wrestles a Klingon warrior to the ground, and kicks another’s ass when the Klingon brags about killing a friend of Sisko’s. Worf also makes a good deal of sense, until you remember he’s a bit of a Klingon celebrity, and thus very recognizable. Literally the only disguise on him is shaving his chin and letting his hair down like a member of Slayer.
Odo, having lost his shapeshifting abilities, gets brought along by Sisko as a means to pull the ex-Changeling from his depression. While I’m all for helping out one’s crew, this is a bad move on the face of it. Important missions to save the Alpha Quadrant shouldn’t be where you try to pull a guy out of a funk. Of course, Odo turns out to be instrumental in saving the entire mission (once again, by being an excellent investigator), so his presence ends up more than justified.
O’Brien is just dead weight. The sensible person would be, say, an expert in Klingon culture, someone who can fight with a bat’leth (especially as their cover story is getting inducted into the Order of the Bat’leth), maybe someone who habitually trains in Klingon martial arts. That’s right, Dax. Her exclusion from the mission is just completely baffling. Apparently, Terry Farrell either was allergic, or they believed she would be allergic, to the heavy Klingon makeup. It’s a real shame, as Dax would have shined here. Who doesn’t want to see her drink bloodwine and get into brawls?
As detailed in the episode quote, the plan is madness. Fortunately, they get everyone’s favorite war criminal turned pirate, Gul Dukat, to ferry them over in his captured Bird of Prey. Like every phase of his existence, Dukat has adapted to the pirate lifestyle, adorning his Cardassian uniform with Klingon sashes, house badges, and tokens of rank presumably taken off the slain. On the way there, he once again demonstrates his ruthlessness by destroying a Klingon ship rather than trusting Worf’s ability to lie. I’m kind of with Dukat on that one.
Sisko and the others have to endure an all night party waiting for Gowron. Worf informs them that the party itself is a test of endurance, and the four make like Klingons, with Sisko doing a better job than everyone, including Worf. That’s just how good Sisko is. When Gowron arrives with his closest aide General Martok, the crew springs into action, setting up the radiation emitters which will destabilize the Changeling’s form. Unfortunately for them, while Gowron is blissfully ignorant, Martok recognizes them and has them locked up.
Not everything is lost, though. They speak to Martok, and as it turns out, he has suspected Gowron for some time. Seems the chancellor’s behavior has changed in the last few months, growing more and more aggressive as he ignores the advice of his generals. Martok lets the crew out, and because the emitters have been destroyed, their only recourse is to assassinate the Changeling. While Sisko, Worf, and O’Brien go to do just that, Martok yanks Odo back, snarling that he can’t trust the ex-Changeling.
Only that’s not why he’s doing it. Odo never calls him out on this moment, but it’s pretty clear in hindsight that this is a Changeling following the most basic laws of its people. Odo might have been punished, but that doesn’t make it open season on him. He is still a Changeling by law. Odo uses other remarks made by Martok, pointing out that the grizzled old Klingon talks more like a Founder than a Klingon. Odo is correct, of course, and the Changeling attacks. So its commitment to the law was not absolute.
The assembled Klingons, noting that Martok has a gelatinous tentacle where he didn’t have one previously, and they shoot him all the times. Seriously, it turns into a Tarantino movie with disruptors, and it’s exactly as awesome as it sounds. Later, Gowron is pleased, cackling and patting the ex-Changeling with a, “But they didn’t count on Odo, here!” He agrees that it’s time to talk but is unsure if he can stop the Klingon war machine in its tracks.
The writers wanted to end the Klingon threat and fold it into DS9’s storyline, namely the coming Dominion War. This episode is a resounding success in doing just that. They never devalue season four, never turn it into wheel spinning or wasted time. It’s a gambit by the Founders, and one that was very nearly successful.
And, ironically, would have been if not for the actions of an exiled Changeling.
Next up: The crew assists with a shipwreck.