"To the Death"
Airdate: May 13, 1996
94 of 173 produced
93 of 173 aired
Sisko and crew are forced into an unusual alliance when they learn that a band of renegade Jem'Hadar have taken control of an Iconian gateway.
Computer, halt turbolift! Initiate dramatic pause circuit...
Matthew: In many ways this is a standard "Magnificent Seven" style WWII plot adapted to DS9. That's not to say this is a bad thing by any means. The basic "Danger X needs to be overcome by means Y through Preparation Z" story is sound. Of course, it was already done on DS9 in "Blood Oath," and done a bit better if you ask me. But, and this is a big but, this story also accomplishes the goal of deepening the Jem'Hadar, introducing a terrific character in Weyoun, and setting up a lot of plot elements for Odo. So doing that within the framework of an "impossible mission" story is just fine, really. The question is how much time/energy is spent on the mechanics of the plot, which are mostly superfluous, compared to the storytelling goals. Whatever the balance ends up being this is an action-packed show, is never dull, though perhaps is a little light on sci-fi.
Kevin: I agree with your basic point, but I come down a little more enthusiastically for this episode. The world building is really very good, and it makes me eager to come back to the Dominion story. I continue to wish for a slightly more in-depth look at the Jem'Hadar. I think there is something to the idea that you need soldiers who can do more than just follow orders in order to prevail in complex situations, but at some point if they grow to intelligent they start to question their servitude. It's the basic thrust of just about every word about robots Asimov ever wrote. In a way, "The Measure of a Man" would be a meatier episode with a Jem'Hadar than Data. Are they sentient? Do they have free will? Some form of it? What does that mean in how we treat them? Still, I like the episode adds layers to them and the Vorta. Their obedience is not perfect, or even when it is, as with Omet'iklan, it's not blind. Monolithic societies tend to be a little boring, so I like the effort to add depth. I also think they added plenty of character moments to keep things anchored. Sisko explaining command decisions to Omet'iklan, Dax and Virak'kara, they all were lovely additions to the characters. The scene between Dax and O'Brien might be the bridge too far, as we discuss in the podcast.
Matthew: So, the MacGuffin of the plot is the Iconian gateway, which is of course a nice callback to TNG's "Contagion." It's not really integral to the way the plot manifests, and I kind of wish it were. The rogue Jem'Hadar attack DS9 to obtain parts for it. But despite the visual effect indicating that it is at least partially functional, they never use it. This particular MacGuffin is given some pretty arbitrary features to create "tension." For some reason, it stops phasers from working. Umm, OK. The gateway in Contagion didn't do that. Also, why would a far-flung Iconian outpost be built out of Neutronium, while the facility on the homeworld wouldn't be? How does one even build things out of Neutronium? Can regular old dirt even hold it up from sinking to the planet's core? I guess these features were written in to prevent the crew from attacking it from orbit. But why not at least bombard it orbitally to take out some of the guard personnel who are obviously outside the facility?
Kevin: The neutronium thing has always bothered me, too. It's the same attempt at narrative convenience and scientific plausibility as the Heisenberg compensator, but without the charm. I do enjoy the continuity touches. When Worf observes he was on the original mission, I got all warm inside. It's nice work that doesn't disable the casual viewer. I caught a lot of the parallels to Blood Oath, particularly when the energy weapons wouldn't work on the surface. It's a bit hacky. It doesn't make the scenes boring to watch, but it doesn't quite make sense, and we here at Treknobabble like it when things make sense.
Matthew: Weyoun is really cool. His character is a distillation and advancement of the features we've seen before in the Vorta, but all done with more aplomb and to greater effect. Seeing his disdain for the Jem'Hadar and his admissions to Sisko of the problems they create really deepens the Dominion - but this is balanced by his devotion to the idea of the Dominion. It's a really great character dynamic that keeps us hungry for more detail. The Jem'Hadar are given a really nice ethos, too, especially with Omet'iklan. I do question his killing of his Second, though, when manpower was at such a premium for the mission. Speaking of that - why didn't the Dominion (or the Federation, for that matter) send an army to capture the gateway instead of destroy it?
Kevin: Thanks to the introduction of Weyoun and Jeffrey Combs as a regular, I am prepared to forgive pretty much any sin not an actual felony. There is an air of Renaissance courtier to the Weyoun character that just makes every scene with him sing. He is devoted but not blind, ruthless but practical. His scene with Odo was just awesome. You know that from the minute he lays eyes on Odo, he knows the secret it took Garak several hours of torture to extract. That makes Odo feel uncomfortably vulnerable, but not stupid and poorly written, and it makes Weyoun interesting and scary. It's scenes like these that really help Odo have an interesting ongoing conflict after the writers had him locate his people.
Matthew: Jeffrey Combs instantly vaults himself into the pantheon of guest star greats with this performance. When he steps off the transporter pad, you know exactly who he is, but want to find out more. His body language, his inflections, all are masterfully chosen. Maybe that's the feeling of watching Combs in the role - you know you're getting first-rate acting. That could be a bad thing, except it fits this character perfectly. Weyoun is a consummate actor, and so is Combs.
Kevin: I agree. Given other roles like Brunt or Shran, you know that Combs can hide the seams of his acting choices, so seeing them here is clearly deliberate. Combs discusses his conscious use of the European courtier in his characterization and as an avid amateur student of European history, he really nailed it. He instantly gave the political structure of the Dominion real depth.
Matthew: Speaking of guest stars, all of the lead Jem'Hadar are excellent. Clarence Williams III in particular is memorable and good as Omet'iklan, but Brian Thompson is quite nice as the Second, and Scott Haven does a good job in his scenes with Terry Farrell.
Kevin: I particularly appreciate that for a race of cookie cutter soldiers, the actors have always found a way through the make-up to imbue the characters with internal life. I may abhor Omet'iklan's command style, but I absolutely believed he believed in it, and that's all on the actor. Brian Thompson could teach a master class in how to give meathead characters depth. None of them ever read and two-dimensional.
Matthew: Avery Brooks does a pretty good job of keeping it low key, and his outbursts are appropriate to the script. Colm Meaney, Michael Dorn and Terry Farrell show good chemistry as the crew of the Defiant.
Kevin: Given that part of the episode was to make stark the differences between the Jem'Hadar and the Starfleet crews, their interactions were really important and they really work. I liked Worf expositing on the purpose of fighting for Klingons a great deal.
Matthew: The damage to DS9 was really cool-looking, and a great way to start off the episode with a bang. The Jem'Hadar ship also looked good, though a tad on the CGI side of things. The Odo effects were adequate but not particularly excellent. We got a good looking, but not great looking, gateway. Do people fall into space after they step out? Could they actually walk through the gateway? All the vistas seem to be from far away and above - as if they were just matte paintings dropped in to the effect.
Kevin: I really liked the destroyed arm of the station, too. I also thought the injury to Kira's arm was well done. It looked really painful. I would have liked to learn something from the gateway, some glimpse at some other race or location that would have titillated the fans a little. The mattes they used were the mattes they always used, so it was a little flat.
Matthew: I really liked the wooded location. We finally got a different look than Bronson Canyon. The Ziggurat was a good set, too. The Jem'Hadar sword was really cool looking, and seemed to fit their general ethos - capable of savage violence, relatively unadorned compared to, say, Klingon weaponry.
Kevin: I like the interior of the ziggurat. For the one room and corridor I am sure they built, they did a good job of giving the reuse a sense of progression. I will say I think the explosion was a bit of a cop-out. It was clearly a guy off stage turning an orange light on. It made the final moments a bit anti-climatic.
Matthew: I renew my objection to Trek-Fu. A human simply should not be able to punch a Jem'Hadar soldier into unconsciousness. I yearn for the later episodes of the Dominion War in which human soldiers use technology, not the brute strength they lack, to fight.
Matthew: This is a 4 for me. The entertainment value is there in spades, it just doesn't do what the best episodes do - surmount or sidestep its flaws, or reach for a revelatory conclusion about either the humans or the aliens in the story. It's a standard story, told well, that develops Weyoun and sets up future plots.
Kevin: I agree with the 4 for a total of 8. We've picked a lot of nits here, but that's because we've seen it a lot and we're kind of here to pick nits, aren't we? The whole of the episode is damned entertaining and moves really well. The addition of Weyoun to the universe is just gravy.