“I am a fool.”
“You’re in love. Which I suppose is the same thing.”
— Worf and Dax
The introduction of Worf was also intended as an introduction for a bunch of new viewers that Paramount’s brass thought would follow their favorite Klingon to our favorite space station. As such, DS9 can be approached through the Worf lens, starting your viewing experience with season four’s premiere, and skipping over the sometimes very rocky first three years when the show was still finding its voice. While this does miss out on some truly classic episodes, it would be a fun way to come to this particular hour.
A small group of Klingons arrive on the Promenade, which Dax takes as a welcome sign the peace talks are going well. Worf is immediately smitten by their leader, a noble lady, and follows her as she heads to Quark’s. It’s when she and Quark greet each other with an affectionate hug that Dax remembers who this Klingon is. It’s Grilka, Quark’s ex-wife, who he married in the third season standout “The House of Quark.” This hour serves as a sequel of sorts to the last one, becoming DS9’s take on Cyrano de Bergerac.
Worf is deep in the grips of par’Mach, which, Dax helpfully explains to a largely absent Captain Sisko, is the Klingon word for love but “with more aggressive overtones.” Worf attempts to woo Grilka with the time-honored Klingon tradition of acting like an alpha douchebag. First, he hilariously mutters an apology to barfly Morn before hurling him from his barstool, then attempts to goad Grilka’s bodyguard Thopok into a fight by insulting him. Grilka’s councilor Tumek pulls Worf aside and reassures Worf that while he showed no disrespect (leading me to wonder what that looks like to a Klingon), there is no way Grilka could be with a disgraced exile like Worf. He finishes this up with a pretty sick burn, made worse by the paternal way he delivers it, telling Worf that he has no way of understanding Klingon women.
Meanwhile, Quark has noticed a spark with Grilka, but he doesn’t have the first clue as to how to pursue a Klingon. He reaches out to Dax, but Worf butts in, seeking to prove Tumek wrong. He’ll seduce Grilka, and he’ll do it through Quark. It’s a fun inversion on Cyrano, with the tall, good-looking alpha guy being the puppetmaster, and the small, ugly, smart guy being the face of the operation.
This being a Klingon love story, it eventually leads to fighting. Dax invents a device to let Worf remotely control Quark’s movements for the climactic (and inevitable) bat’leth duel against Thopok. The best scene is when Worf accidentally breaks the device showing off, leaving Quark to filibuster while Dax makes repairs with his hastily made up “Ferengi Rite of Proclamation.” Maybe it’s the incurable romantic in me, but any speech that includes the phrase “bats of love” is going to automatically get me right in the heartstrings.
While Quark and Grilka end up in each other’s arms, Worf is left to bitterness. He never loved Grilka; he merely loved the idea of her. Worf is a Klingon raised by humans, who serves in Starfeet, and guzzles prune juice. It’s understandable he might be a little defensive about how much of a Klingon he really is. This is underscored by his love of Klingon tradition, from his views on Klingon opera, the way he practices Klingon martial arts, and his encyclopedic knowledge of obscure regional customs. When he saw the ideal Klingon woman in Grilka, all he saw was the ideal. For all of Quark’s talk of “valuable objects,” Worf was the one objectifying her. Dax notes that Worf’s initial description of Grilka might as well have been of a statue.
Worf was ignoring what was right in front of him. Dax spent the entire episode throwing herself at him, and he was too blind to see it. Eventually, she just gets a bat’leth and attacks, because that’s what it takes for him. While it’s sudden from a storytelling standpoint, it works for the both of them. Dax is impulsive, and yet has the wisdom of seven lifetimes telling her when to go for it. Worf is vulnerable and needs someone to appreciate him for his contradictions. The two end up together in one of DS9’s defining romances.
Sometimes, though, the problem is the opposite. Over in the B-plot, Kira and O’Brien are basically married. They have a lot in common, oddly enough. Both of them fought the Cardassians, both are very blue collar in their outlook, and early on they saw combat together while rescuing Li Nalas, but what they never revealed is that apparently Chief has magic hands. While O’Brien rubs Kira’s aching ankles and legs, the conversation turns to Ireland, and pretty soon the two of them are talking about what amounts to a romantic getaway. They have this realization at the same moment and instantly freak out.
Keiko is blissfully unaware of the situation, and to be fair, there’s nothing really for her to know. Kira and O’Brien aren’t going to act on it. In fact, they’re going to do everything they can not to act on anything, even as Keiko hurls them together like a toddler expressing disdain for their food. The two of them acknowledge the attraction, and then go their separate ways, relieved that they are still people they can look at in the mirror.
While the A-plot is a romantic farce (a well done one, I think), the B-plot is far more real. Fiction tends to be much cleaner than real life, and this situation, though colored by sci-fi flourishes, is as messy as the real. It acknowledges that attraction happens outside the marital bond whether you like it or not, and the real crime is acting on it. These are not easy feelings for Kira or O’Brien to be dealing with and would have felt wrong on the obsessively tidy Enterprise. On the far more complex space station, there is room for these kinds of emotions. So long as everyone handles them well.
Next up: Jake tries out life as a war correspondent.