Deep Space Nine: Season 5
"Soldiers of the Empire"
Airdate: April 29, 1997
117 of 173 produced
117 of 173 aired
Martok is sent on a mission to locate a missing Klingon cruiser near the Cardassian border. He asks Worf to serve as his first officer. He is eager to help his friend and comrade, but soon learns that Martok may not be up to the task.
Nog hopes he's not about to be caught up in the middle of some sort of Klingon "sword fight."
Kevin: It's no secret that I love a good RDM Klingon story. Of his many accomplishments over the course of the series, I would put his stewardship of the Klingon storylines high on the list. Does this stack up? Let's find out. In the plus column, I like the follow up on the Martok story, and making sure the Dominion occupies at least some part of the story. Especially as we transition to serialized story telling, it really helps that the season long themes can be worked into the story without having to be the whole episode. I also like that there are consequences for Martok's imprisonment, and that they are dealt with, and without resorting to human platitudes or perceptions. Worf's action make sense if you accept that neither Martok nor his crew would have faith in Martok unless he reasserted those abilities martially. Pieces of dialogue like Dax pointing out that this isn't a Federation starship and their calculation of acceptable risk and reward is different is also good. It helps give the Klingons a distinct point of view.
Matthew: I agree on basically all counts. What I think this story does especially well is inject some diversity into an otherwise somewhat one-note alien race. Martok himself, as you say, has an actual emotional life beyond "honor, glory, etc." and suffers from his prior mental and physical injuries. The whole "kill your commanding officer to advance" is put in the context of relieving someone who is unfit for command, which makes a lot more sense than "A Matter of Honor." Dax's dialogue to her DS9 friends, despite being pretty baldly expository, goes a long way towards creating some diversity - there are cowards, bums, defeatists, just as well as warriors and heroes.
Kevin: I loved a lot of the texture added to the Klingons. Like Dax said, there are brave ones and cowardly ones, and an array of fully developed personalities were on display on the Rotarran. They all had their own wants and needs and they came into conflict over the course of the episode. Hell, several of the Rotarran crew members got more character development in an episode than some of the main cast did over the course of the first season. This episode also went a bit to rehabilitating Worf and Dax's relationship for me after the dreck of "Let He Who Is Without Sin." Even in a situation where she actually is subordinate, she asserted herself without hesitation and Worf's dismissal read completely as protecting a friend and not dismissing his girlfriend. The conflict is also good for Worf. Klingons value loyalty and honor and duty and it's naturally going to be fun watching how he sorts out what happens when those things are in unresolvable conflict.
Matthew: What I enjoyed seeing was Worf not being liked. He's kind of a rod-up-your-rear-end stickler, and it makes total sense that none of his own people would really like him (humans find it endearing). Respect? Sure, maybe. But like? Nah. This was a nice development of prior story threads in which Worf is portrayed as less jovial than other Klingons. The story idea of tying Worf to Martok's family was interesting. I wish it had been developed a bit more. What is a Klingon house? Is everyone a member of one, or is it the province of some elite? A lot of this stuff seems pretty similar to bushido and samurai codes (being a vassal of a great house or being a ronin, being executed by your fellow soldiers for lacking bravery in battle), and I would have liked it to get 5 more minutes of development.
Kevin: I've certainly celebrated the "slice of life" episodes before, and this in many ways is that. The goal is as MacGuffin-y as it gets. I think I would have liked a little more stakes in the episode. Given that we never meet these Klingons and given how enthusiastic they are to fall in battle, the rescue scenario did lose a little punch. Of course, given that Klingon command must not fully trust Martok yet and they gave him a crappy ship to accomplish the mission, you almost think they were setting him up to fail, so maybe a little dabbling in Klingon politics would have been fun. Still, overall, I am thoroughly entertained.
Matthew: Yeah, the plot proper was pretty inconsequential. It didn't have much in the way of science fiction, either. I think the place it could have gotten more interesting is with some of the dialogue about which enemies are worth fighting. Are the Klingons right about the Jem'Hadar being soulless machines compared to Cardassians, or are they just not sensitive to some aspects of that alien culture?
Kevin: The main and recurring cast all turned in good performances. Conflicted Worf is always fun to watch. I think Farrell did a good job of acting bigger with the Klingons. She really threw herself into the part. And Hertzler did a great job pitching the increasing intensity of his PTSD attack regarding the Jem'Hadar.
Matthew: What I really like about Dorn's performance is that he plays a stick in the mud really well, but retains a certain level of charm (unlike "Let He Who Is Without Sin..."). His chemistry with Terry Farrell is pretty good, especially when they butt heads (figuratively speaking).
Kevin: The highlight for me of this episode is actually the guest cast. They all really dove in, and especially for people not experienced in the prosthetics, they really gave life to all the characters and it made the ship feel like a real place for me.
Matthew: The standout for me was David Graf as Leskit. His LEskit was character was extremely annoying, but simultaneously charming. It was the sort of character that bypassed questions of "why id this guy still around? Why hasn't he been killed?" Did you know he played Fred Noonan in VOY "The 37's?" Well, now you do.
Kevin: This is another highlight of the episode. The variations in facials features and (gasp!) hair color really gave the crew the variety it needed. The make-up work was top notch all around. If I have to muster a complaint in this area, it's the staging of the final scene on the bridge. The production staff have copped to this in interviews, so I don't feel bad pointing it out, but the mechanics of what Dax's plan was and how she signaled people didn't quite come of in the way the scene was shot.
Matthew: I liked the mess hall set a lot. It looked truly used and lived in, still fit in with the rest of the spaceship aesthetic, but retained that Mead Hall kind of vibe that really works for the Klingons. I thought the fight choreography was good until the last moment. It was too obvious that Worf was giving himself up. PErhaps they should have intercut a shot of the two warriors' eyes to indicate some sort of semi-mystical understanding between them.
Kevin: I've gone on record a couple of times as not being the biggest fan of songs written in fake universes (See all LOTR and the Voyager episode "Innocence") but here it works for me. The anemic version in the first act and then the boisterous version in the last one really worked, and it takes advantage of the work that has gone into making Klingon a 'real' structured language. It's one of those detail pieces that really help gel an episode.
Matthew: I thought the music worked well, with the exception of the preponderance of "Poo" in the lyrics. Look, I'm sure Marc Okrand knows what he's doing. But a song about "poo" just makes the 13 year-old boy in me giggle, which belies the sentiment that is hoped for.
Kevin: The stated mission of this episode was to do "Star Trek: Klingon," i.e. an episode of Star Trek but with all Klingons. It may not be the most ambitious episode idea in franchise history, but in terms of achieving what you set out to do, this episode may have one of the higher success rates in franchise history. For all the reasons discussed above, I think this show certainly felt like an episode of a serialized story about this group of Klingons. In many ways, this was the episode that Matter of Honor was supposed to be. I am going with a 4. I will say, I now have a nagging feeling about the story missteps the show took in its first two seasons given that they were able to create a new an interesting story and cast out of whole cloth in a week. Seriously guys, if you ever find a time machine, take all the character work you did for Leskat and Kornan and go do that for Bashir.
Matthew: I think this is solidly average. Because we never got into the real meat of the "Macguffin" plot, it was really just a story of character conflict. I need more to view this as an excellent show, as opposed to just a solid one. I too liked the basic cast dynamic. I would have liked a deeper insight into either the Klingon scene or Martok's psychology. I like this show but don't love it. I don't learn about or deepen my respect for the race while watching it. I'm just mildly entertained throughout. I give it a 3 for a total of 7.