Friday, March 1, 2013

Deep Space Nine, Season 2: Blood Oath

Deep Space Nine, Season 2
"Blood Oath"
Airdate: March 27, 1994
38 of 173 produced
38 of 173 aired


Jadzia is shocked when a person from Curzon's past appears on the station, the aged Klingon warrior Kor. This reunion brings her head to head with an old vendetta of Curzon's - avenging the deaths of the sons of Curzon's friends Kor, Kang, and Koloth. Now she must decide whether the obligations of previous hosts, up to and including revenge killing, apply to her.

Today is a good day to accessorize!


Matthew: Oddly enough, DS9 will become a repository of several revisits of TOS stories. This is the first of them. Apparently, Peter Allan Fields proposed the basic blood oath story, but Robert Hewitt Wolfe suggested adding three Klingons from previous tales. If you ask me, this was a stroke of genius. I totally forgot any questions of how old they were, or what a coincidence it was that they would all run afoul of James T. Kirk, in the first moment they were on screen. Their individual characterizations were each perfect, and each had an involving character story that I wanted to discover the resolution to. The overall plot of revenging themselves against an... albino... over the deaths of their sons, was perfectly fine. The albino himself was a bit of a cipher, but I understand that the meat of the story is really more about the Klingons recapturing or lamenting their past glories, and of whether Dax feels obliged to honor the oaths of a previous host.

Kevin: I enjoyed the setup as well. Unlike, say Q-Less, this did not feel gimmicky or underdeveloped. I had not scene all three of their episodes, and certainly not recently when I say this, and I had no trouble investing in their story or understanding what was going on. What I find impressive from both a writing and an acting perspective is how well the TOS Klingon characters were integrated into the Ron Moore TNG-style Klingons. Their bravado and bravery have aged in the context of their warrior ethos, and the result is a really layered and nuanced story. I also like that the Klingons grappling with their pasts mirrors and ties into Dax's own struggles with it.

Matthew: Dax's moral quandary is certainly an interesting one, and I think qualifies as science fiction - what if our souls could be transferred to new bodies? If the transfer were to an empty receptacle, we might easily be expected to honor all previous commitments. But what if it were a body sharing arrangement?  Trill society couldn't stand under the weight of all the potential conflicts and arcane connections. But even moreso, what if a feeling of obligation, for revenge, pushes a new host to do things that they find objectionable? Dax's conflict was well portrayed... except for its ultimate lack of consequences. I loved that Sisko called her out on the conflict between her two duties. I hated the fact that he let her off without even a stern talking to when she returned. I also felt that the story shied away from Dax actually killing anyone. I get that maybe the felt that a female main cast member could not be seen as a murderer. But it also called into question her character, because her unwillingness to strike killing blows may have put her companions at extra risk. 

Kevin: I like this episode because it is a nice contrast to the general Trill ethos we established in "Dax." It's interesting to see Dax struggle with honoring a past host's obligations even when she knows she shouldn't. It makes Trill society more interesting and it makes Dax more interesting as well. I particularly love Kira counseling against it, going so far as to blab to Sisko. Without making her the focus, it still incorporates her character history and her own regrets about her violent past. It also helps deepen their relationship to see Dax come to Kira with something so important. I agree that the lack of putting more teeth in Dax's struggle is eventually a major problem. I think the lack of real consequences comes close to distracting from the achievement of the main story. 

Matthew: The story really built nicely, with an excellent mix of conversation, fisticuffs, comic relief, and eventually an action set piece. The pacing was dynamic, and the plot progression felt natural. The way Kang's inner conflict at arranging a rigged and potentially fatal confrontation was revealed really worked for the story, too. I feel like we learned a lot about Klingons, and it never felt like a retread of any TNG material. 

Kevin: I liked that Dax called him on his obvious duplicity early on. It made her character seem intelligent and the scene was played with enough tenderness that the rebuke of Kang and his guilt is touching rather than confrontational. It heightens how much Kang must think he has lost if he was desperate enough to make the deal in the first place. 


Matthew: Let me just get to it - Michael Ansara may be the single best Klingon in the history of the franchise. He's certainly the best Klingon guest star. This is a bold statement that I think anybody can confirm by watching this episode, as well as "Day of the Dove." He is just so good. His voice is terrific. The way he carries himself in the Klingon regalia is terrific. He has a presence that just commands the screen, and I can't pull away from wanting to soak in every nuance of his performance. 

Kevin: He just attacks the dialogue with such energy that you can't help but be sucked in. He is definitely the epitome of a guest actor who effortless inhabits the universe and handles the dialogue. After watching TOS so carefully and rewatching TNG prior to this, I'm really glad this episode happened if only to give these actors and characters room to breathe in the expanded Klingon universe that Ron Moore helped create. To top it off, he's a walking master class in the dozen tiny decisions an actor makes to pull or give focus. That man can look off into the middle distance like nobody's business.

Matthew: Having said this about Michael Ansara's Kang, let it not be thought that John Colicos as Kor or William Campbell as Koloth were in any way deficient. All three guest actors perfectly reprised their characters and added new shades to them as old men. It really was a tour de force all around. Colicos perfectly embodied the faded warrior who knows and regrets on some level that he is a drunk. Campbell nailed the officious and preening character that he played in "Tribbles."

Kevin: Campbell had said he wished he had one more go at the character because he thought he could have done better, but honestly, that might just be nerves talking, because I can't really come up with anything to criticize any of them. Even when Klingons were being played for bombast, they managed to imbue their characters with more than just mere villainy  and now when their broader TOS characters could have easily swallowed their scenes, they modulated them for the new costumes and setting perfectly. More than that, all three modulated their characters for age perfectly. They were the same fundamental characters weighed down by years (and years) of living. They were immediately recognizable but still accurately changed over time. They must have watched their episodes a dozen times leading up to filming  because I can't imagine another way to slip back into the characters so flawlessly. I also want to point out how well they handled the costume and physical changes. It's not just the ridges that are different. TOS Klingons are more lanky and they read as more "slippery" adversaries. RDM Klingons are Vikings in a Shakespeare play, and they struck and amazing balance of echoing their former bravado while not losing themselves in the additional ridges and skins and furs and whatnot. I really can't say enough about how impressive they were.

Matthew: This was a real showcase for Terry Farrell. She portrays her character's strange inner conflict well, but she also holds her own against the formidable guest stars. Her scene with Nana Visitor was really nice, and it showed off Visitor's softer side and range, too. Overall, the main cast did a great job, Farrell really delivering throughout the whole episode, and the rest of the ensemble making the most of smaller but no less important scenes.

Kevin: More than the other outings on this topic, this made the struggle to strike a balance between host, symbiont, and previous hosts more interesting and more personal. I believe she felt actual, primary grief over her godson's death but genuinely struggled with how to manage it. I also really liked how Terry Farrell made small changes to body language or timbre in her voice when she was really deep in Curzon's memories. It didn't go anywhere near a schlocky "channeling," but instead it read as the organic result of reliving someone else's memories. 

Production Values

Matthew: The exterior location shots were a really nice blend of an existing Frank Lloyd Wright house in Pasadena with digital mattes and interior sets. It really did feel like a compound on a faraway world, and it added to the fun of the final action sequences. I also liked the shots on the Klingon vessel - I don't know if it was a bridge or a conference room or what, but it was a great set for the conversations building up to the action sequence.

Kevin: This might be among some of the best outdoor work they have ever done. And seriously, I totally want to live in Frank Lloyd Wright house that also is a Star Trek set. They neatly avoided the big problem on alien worlds, the feeling the entire planet is three rooms. This place has lots of rooms and lots of open space and felt really big. The Klingon ship room was great too. I do wish just for fun's sake we had gotten a non-reuse shot for the exterior.

Matthew: The wardrobe and makeup featured numerous triumphs. All three Klingons looked regal and imposing, and they had the sort of individual flair that sets them apart from the sort of standard Klingon we've seen. Their hair was also really good, seeming quite real but also aged and individual. Even Dax's sassy Klingon ensemble looked good, and tasteful. But I can't not mention the ridiculous getup on the guards at the compound. It's bizarre that the albino could last so long with a staff who can't see anything through their stupid helmets.

Kevin: Like the characters themselves, their costume felt appropriately aged. It's not the full Diana Ross hair that most late TNG/DS9 Klingons rock. The shorter, thicker hair, cut with more thought to shape makes them look like what they are, men from another generation. I like that they committed to the ridges without comment. I loved the joke in Trials and Tribbleations, but thought Enterprise should never have tried to come up with an in-continuity explanation. 


Matthew: I think this is a 5 all told, despite my reservations about the lack of consequences for Dax, and her apparent unwillingness to kill. The story was taut, interesting, and entertaining. The production values (sans helmets) were excellent. And the guest cast was among the strongest in franchise history. This sure seems like top 10% material to me.

Kevin: I guess it must be the full moon or something, but I am going with the 4 this time. I think Dax trying to waffle the whole episode without any kind of consequence pulls down the episode from a 5. It's a great episode and I love watching it, but something more than a silent look from Sisko should have come down on her. Even if they had front loaded it into the conversation earlier and the quiet scene at the end would just confirm the consequence is happening would have been enough for me. Still, this is a quite honorable (heh) 9 from the both of us.


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