Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’m taking a look at the first and second seasons. Check back daily for the latest review or retrospective.
In terms of sheer quality of execution, The Jem’Hadar is probably the weakest of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s season finalés. It lacks the gut punch of A Call to Arms, the shock twist of Broken Link, the atmosphere of The Adversary or even the timeliness of In the Hands of the Prophets. It is, at its most basic level, a story about a disastrous first contact that occurs during a father-son bonding trip that goes horribly wrong, ending with precious little actually advanced.
However, in terms of conceptual ideas, The Jem’Hadar is a game-changer. It is the cornerstone upon which Deep Space Nine would construct its most iconic narrative arc. It caps off two years of trying to develop the Ferengi as more than one-note jokes. It’s a bold statement about the freedom that Deep Space Nine would enjoy with Star Trek: The Next Generation retiring from the airwaves. It cemented the notion that Deep Space Nine never really dealt in two-part episodes to bridge seasons.
For Deep Space Nine, season finalés did not exist simply as pieces of Lego designed to snugly fit those other pieces at the start of the following season, crafting some illusion of continuity flow between two different seasons of television. Instead, cliffhangers on Deep Space Nine changed the rules, shook up the status quo, and teased the changing face of things to come.
To be fair, there’s always some connection between the season finalé and the next season’s opener. In the Hands of the Prophets really set the stage for The Homecoming at the start of Deep Space Nine‘s second season. Apocalypse Rising resolved the dangling thread from the end of Broken Link within a single episode, while refusing to tidy everything into a neat package. While A Call to Arms shattered the series’ status quo, the first six episodes of the sixth season did work hard to put things back into a form that was almost recognisable. In the third season, The Search will pick up a lot from where The Jem’Hadar left off.
In many respects, this is a smart move from a purely practical perspective. While The Best of Both Worlds ranks as one of the highlights of nineties television, The Next Generation had a perennial problem with writing the second half of two-part episodes. Redemption, Part I is one of the strongest episodes in one of the show’s strongest seasons, however Redemption, Part II makes all manner of epic miscalculations. Time’s Arrow, Part I and Descent, Part I both have a certain amount of charm, but suffer from bloated and directionless second parts.
In contrast, without having to offer set-up that can conveniently be tidied up in forty-five minutes at the start of the next season, The Jem’Hadar creates problems that will linger What You Leave Behind half a decade later. The second half of Deep Space Nine‘s second season has really been about defining what the show wants to be – about marking out its own territory as distinct from Star Trek: The Next Generation or what would become Star Trek: Voyager. The Jem‘Hadar does this pretty effectively in a variety of ways. Perhaps the least subtle is the fact that it introduces new bad guys who destroy the Enterprise in their first appearance.
Okay, not the Enterprise. However, the Galaxy-class ship anchored at Deep Space Nine might as well be the Enterprise. A few inattentive viewers who missed Kira’s expository set-up of both New Bajor and the Odyssey might have thought that wonderful sweeping model shot was revealing that Picard and his crew had stopped by the station to lend a hand in this particular crisis.
Even the names – the Odyssey and the Enterprise – are similar in meaning. Keogh is introduced as a distinguished older “arrogant” captain with a distinctive voice and white hair in the uniforms we associate with The Next Generation. It’s almost a shame that The Jem’Hadar couldn’t find time to film on the bridge set just to complete the impression. During the climax, it looks like Keogh is directing the action from the Odyssey’s battle bridge.
It’s no coincidence that Keogh only seems to have praise for the capabilities of the show’s two characters most rooted in The Next Generation. Preparing to venture into the Delta Quadrant to recover Sisko (… and Quark, I guess), Keogh refuses to let the meddlesome Deep Space Nine crew assist his effort. “With the exception of Major Kira and Mister O’Brien, none of you have had much combat experience,” he reminds them.
It feels like a sly acknowledgement that O’Brien and Kira are veterans. Veterans of combat, but also of The Next Generation, in a way. O’Brien was a recurring cast member since Encounter at Farpoint, bumped up to a regular on Deep Space Nine. Kira, on the other hand, was a character who evolved from Ensign Ro Laren when Michelle Forbes declined the invitation to become a series regular. Having Keogh single the pair out as the most valuable and experienced members of the crew cements the suggestion that he and his Galaxy-class ship represent The Next Generation.
Keogh arrives on Deep Space Nine and starts throwing his weight around, dictating terms to the crew and leading an arrogant recovery mission that goes horribly wrong. The show is hardly subtle, but it doesn’t need to be. Deep Space Nine is, as a rule, quite skeptical of the philosophy of The Next Generation. Certainly, writer Ira Steven Behr was less than impressed by the elder spin-off in his brief one-year stint as writer.
However, the destruction of the Odyssey and the visit from Keogh feel somewhat essential to the episode and to the show at this point in time. I don’t normally pay much attention to the whole stardate thing, but The Jem’Hadar is specifically dated so that it begins mere hours before All Good Things…, despite the fact that it aired over two weeks later. The Jem’Hadar is about the show striking out on its own, developing into its own thing.
After all, The Jem’Hadar blows up the Enterprise – or an obvious stand-in for the Enterprise. There’s a sense that the show is asserting itself, proudly defining itself as something unique and distinct – and perhaps something of an underdog. After all, the show’s regulars survive the Jem’Hadar assault on scrappy little runabouts when the Galaxy-class Odyssey gets blown to pieces. Despite Keogh’s dismissive attitude towards the station’s crew, they manage to pull through. They get the job done.
And a lot of The Jem’Hadar is about Deep Space Nine trying to defend itself and its world view. When Dax impresses him, Keogh asks, “Lieutenant, have you ever thought of serving on a starship?” Dax replies, “I’m happy where I am.” It might not be as classy as a starship, but it’s home. Similarly, when Talak’talan wants to gush like a fanboy over the Klingons, Sisko refuses to play into Talak’talan’s geekishness. “I am not interested in discussing the Klingons,” he states, perhaps speaking for the writers facing edicts from above to make the show more “Star-Trek-y”, ironically foreshadowing the network meddling during the series’ fourth season.
In fact, the opening sequence seems intended as a defense of Deep Space Nine‘s storytelling model, as Jake works on his science project. “That’s it?” Sisko asks. “You’re just going to watch it grow?” He could easily be expressing frustration with the storytelling mode adopted by Deep Space Nine, one favouring arc-building and character development over spectacle and “wow” factor. “Yeah,” Jake replies, simply. “Pretty neat, huh?” It is pretty neat to watch things grow, Jake. Especially when they turn into something as impressive as this.
It’s worth noting that this was part of the only stretch during the show’s run where it was the only Star Trek show on the air. From Tribunal through to Past Tense, Part II, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was the only Star Trek show airing on television. It spent the rest of its run sharing the air with The Next Generation and Voyager. While some might argue this meant Deep Space Nine never really got the time in the spotlight that it deserved, you could also mount a convincing case that the lack of focus allowed it to skirt under the radar and get away with things that the other show could only dream of attempting.
The Jem’Hadar marks the end of Michael Piller’s involvement in the show, as the producer was focusing his attention (with that of Rick Berman and Jeri Taylor) on the launch of Voyager. However, Piller’s influence on the show hasn’t been keenly felt since the first half of the second season, with the aesthetics of producer Ira Steven Behr being pushed more and more to the fore since The Maquis was broadcast.
The Jem’Hadar is pretty much a mission statement from Behr. Most obviously, it finally brings the conflict between Quark and Sisko to a head, allowing Behr to explicitly state what he’d been heavily hinting at since The Nagus: the treatment of and attitudes towards the Ferengi suggests that the Federation aren’t quite as perfect and flawless as they might like to think. Behr has been fairly explicit about Sisko’s lack of tolerance towards the Ferengi way of life, and here he has Quark call Sisko out on it.
“You Federation types are all alike,” he insists. “You talk about tolerance and understanding but you only practice it toward people who remind you of yourselves. Because you disapprove of Ferengi values, you scorn us, distrust us, insult us every chance you get.” In fairness, this fits with the general subversion of the “Federation as utopia” metaphor the franchise holds so dear, building off the back of the Federation’s indifference to the suffering of its own citizens in The Maquis.
It’s also a none-too-subtle jab at the moral philosophy of Gene Roddenberry’s The Next Generation, where the Ferengi were treated as little more than capitalist stereotypes and punchlines to cheap jokes by the writing staff, the suggestion being that the franchise itself wasn’t as open-minded as it would lead us to believe. Alien cultures were treated with respect, as long as they conformed to values that the writers appreciated or approved of.
Quark mounts a blistering attack on the Federation and humanity as a whole, suggesting that humanity’s self-image and ego might be just a little bit too much. “You know, Commander, I think I’ve figured out why humans don’t like Ferengis,” Quark boasts at one point. “The way I see it, humans used to be a lot like Ferengi. Greedy, acquisitive, interested only in profit. We’re a constant reminder of a part of your past you’d like to forget.”
However, he pushes it a bit further. “But you’re overlooking something. Humans used to be a lot worse than the Ferengi. Slavery, concentration camps, interstellar wars. We have nothing in our past that approaches that kind of barbarism. You see? We’re nothing like you. We’re better.” Much has been made of Quark’s little speech, even though Behr clearly intends at least some of it to be tongue-in-cheek.
After all, Ferengi culture is hardly the ideal that Quark makes it out to be. Rules of Acquisition demonstrated that Ferengi females live in a perpetual state of economic slavery, denied even the right to wear clothes or earn money. Despite his posturing, Quark apparently tried to reverse engineer the collar used to keep Eris in captivity, hoping to earn a “tidy profit.” While there are legitimate avenues for such an approach, past experience suggests that Quark wouldn’t be too scrupulous in distributing it – a tool easily used for oppression.
Quark is a hypocrite, and Behr shrewdly realises this. His claims about Ferengi moral superiority are a joke – a clever way of turning moral relativism on its head. (It’s a recurring theme on the show that Quark has far too much faith in the Ferengi system, despite the fact that it does nothing but bring him pain.) Quark’s trust in his belief system is a mirror to Sisko’s increasingly wavering faith in the Federation.
However, that doesn’t mean that Quark’s argument is entirely without merit. The franchise had turned the Ferengi into a bad joke, a bunch of stereotypical capitalists so brazen and so negative that The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy argued their portrayal risked “accusations of racial stereotyping, recalling the role of Jews in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.” The Federation and its values are normative. Its philosophy is arguably imperialist, as various commentators have convincingly argued.
The self-centredness of the Federation is impressive, and The Jem’Hadar really hammers that home by suggesting the cost of Federation expansion into the Gamma Quadrant. The Dominion has been mentioned repeatedly on the show, since as early as Rules of Acquisition. However, when Eris first mentions the power bloc, Quark is quicker to recognise the name than Sisko.
Despite hints – in episodes like Sanctuary and Shadowplay – that the Dominion was a large expansionist power in the Gamma Quadrant, it appears that the Federation paid no heed to the warnings. The attacks on the ships in the Gamma Quadrant and the brutal murder of the settlers on New Bajor seemed to come out of nowhere, despite the fact that the name of the Dominion has been surfacing for almost a year now.
The Federation just assumed that the wide open space on the other side of the wormhole was free to explore and to tame in their own way. What makes The Jem’Hadar so shocking is the fact that nobody really seemed to expect any of this. The episode opens with Kira boasting about how New Bajor is doing, while Sisko takes his son on a jaunt to the other side of the universe, with no real regard for what else might be lurking out there, no sense that some other entity might exist that doesn’t want them poking around.
In many respects, The Jem’Hadar feels like Deep Space Nine‘s answer to Q Who?, the wonderful second-season episode of The Next Generation that introduced the Borg to Star Trek. Both episodes are about reminding the crew that the universe can be as dangerous as it is wonderful, and that the Federation is not an unchallenged intergalactic power. There is always a bigger fish, and it’s the height of hubris to forget that.
The episodes also bear comparison because the Dominion are similar to the Borg. Both races are clearly constructed as a dark mirror of the Federation. In the classic Star Trek, the Klingons and the Romulans had been created as stand-ins for external threats – communists and war. With the Cold War winding down, it seemed that The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine could get more introspective. The Federation has always been roughly analogous to the United States, exporting western liberal democratic values, so the Borg and the Dominion are perversions of that.
The Borg are the ultimate consumers. They devour. They digest. They assimilate. Everything becomes one gigantic entity with billions of eyes and billions of arms, all driven by the same purpose, the same pursuit of homogenisation – it’s a dark twist on McDonalds, you can go anywhere in the universe and a Big Mac tastes the same. Except you are the Big Mac. Part of the reason they worked so well on The Next Generation is because they were a distorted reflection of the Federation.
The Dominion is a little bit different, arguably a little more nuanced. Like the Borg, they are a composite race. Star Trek tends to be fond of describing other galactic powers as “Empires” – like the Romulan Empire or the Klingon Empire – but it’s worth remarking that the shows never really dealt with the politics of this arrangement. Up until Star Trek: Nemesis, we never saw a Romulan subject race on screen. Similarly, there’s little on-screen indication that the Klingon Empire is made up of anything other than Klingons.
However, the Borg and the Dominion are more diverse political entities. Like the Federation, they are the result of a process of expansion and inclusion. The Federation is composed of humans, Vulcans, Andorians, Betazoids and so on – however, there is room for diversity and growth. Humans can be diplomats, Vulcans can be captains. The Borg are composed of many different species, all rendered exactly the same – all unique identities removed. The Dominion are the polar opposite. Instead, the Dominion has a rigid class structure.
Although not mentioned here, later episodes would reveal that the Dominion has specifically engineered its subjects to fill particular roles in the organisation. The script alludes to the fact in discussing the Jem’Hadar cloak, even though it isn’t mentioned on-screen:
This is the same kind of invisibility effect used by Tosk in CAPTIVE PURSUIT. The thought behind this is that the same people who breed the Tosks as gifts to the hunters breed the Jem’Hadar as well.
This sense of structure is reinforced by the suggestion that the Jem’Hadar themselves were named for the Indian rank “jemadar”, a term with its roots in the British rule of the country. “Jemadar” was originally a term used to describe enforcers for local zamidars (often local princes displaced by British rule), but it was eventually adopted as the lowest rank of a Viceroy’s commissioned officer.
Interestingly, the Dominion races introduced in The Jem’Hadar are quite explicitly designed to mirror iconic Star Trek races. The script compares and contrasts them with several major Star Trek players:
The Jem’Hadar are genetically engineered soldiers. Unlike the Klingons they have no interest in honor or glory. And unlike the Cardassians and Romulans, they have no love of intrigue or politics.
The closest twentieth century analogy would be the professional mercenary, but unlike mercenaries, Jem’Hadar don’t fight for material gain and can’t be bribed or negotiated with. They are the ultimate professionals.
And they look scary, too.
Despite the attempt to distinguish them from Klingons, it’s worth noting that the episode also emphasises their similarities. Make-up artist Michael Westmore has pointed out that the designs for both the Jem’Hadar and the Klingons has a decidedly dinosaur influence. Both races are defined by their physical presence. Talak’talan is fascianted with the Klingons (to the point where the script describes them as “his favourite subject.”
“I was hoping the first race I’d meet from the other side of the anomaly would be the Klingons,” he muses. “I hear that Klingons are effective warriors. What’s that weapon they’re so fond of? The bat’leth?” He reiterates this at the end of the conversation, just in case the audience somehow missed it. “I was really hoping to meet a Klingon.” There are other interesting parallels to be made between the Jem’Hadar and the Klingons.
Despite the script’s assertion that the Jem’Hadar have “no interest in honour”, subsequent characterisation tends to suggest that they do hold true to some values. Indeed, the portrayal of Jem’Hadar seems heavily influenced by western notions of Japanese culture – The Jem’Hadar features a kamikaze attack on the Odyssey, The Ship features the ritual suicide of the Jem’Hadar after they fail their master and Phil Morris from Rocks and Shoals compared his character to a “samurai.”
Given the heavy influence of western notions of Japanese culture on the portrayal and evolution of the Klingons over the course of The Next Generation, it makes for a pretty convincing similarity. Despite the script’s clear attempt to differentiate them from the Klingons, there’s a very apparent similarity there, the sense that the audience is looking a twisted and dark reflection of a very familiar piece of Star Trek mythology.
The use of the Jem’Hadar, then, seems rather interesting. After all, Klingons aren’t members of the Federation. However, they are an iconic part of the franchise and had been portrayed as a (relatively) reliable ally since the start of The Next Generation. Indeed, early sources – including the episode Samaritan Snare and the guidebook Worlds of the Federation – implied that the Klingons would have joined the Federation by the start of that show. (Apparently Gene Roddenberry believed it impossible for the Federation and Klingons to co-exist without absorption taking place.)
However, if the Jem’Hadar are meant to represent the iconic Federation adversaries-turned-allies-and-almost-members, the Vorta are an obvious twist on another iconic species. Pointy ears? Intelligent and sophisticated? Hazily-defined telepathic abilities? The voice of reason? The Vorta seem like a shadowy reflection of the Vulcans, the right-hand species of the Federation. In one of the episode’s nicer touches, Molly Hagan does the stereotypical “curious Vulcan head tilt and stoicism” while watching the cast interact, as if cataloging. (Which, in a way, she is.)
Although the franchise seemed to grow more wary of Vulcans into the nineties, Spock remains the definitive and iconic Vulcan. He’s trustworthy and loyal and honest. The Vorta, on the other hand, are scheming and manipulative. It’s not for nothing that Eirs shares a name with the Greek goddess of chaos on strife, who also inspired the name of the character Valeris in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
(To be fair, the Vorta took quite a while for the writers to figure out. Tellingly, Eris is the only Vorta in the history of Star Trek to use any form of mental power. The production team apparently tried to book actress Molly Hagan for a number of reappearances, but nothing came of it – meaning that we never got any substantive development of the Vorta until Jeffrey Combs was cast in To The Death during the show’s powerhouse fourth season.)
The Dominion is an imperialist power. “The Dominion decides that you have something that they want and then they come and take it by negotiation or by force,” Eris explains, in what Weyoun would expose as lies in Faith, Treachery and the Great River. “Believe me, I know. I’ve seen it happen on my own world. Kurill Prime was offered entry into the Dominion. They thought our telekinetic powers would be useful to them.” Naturally, this interstellar organisation doesn’t take no for an answer.
“When Kurill refused the Dominion’s offer, they sent in the Jem’Hadar,” Eris explains. “They destroyed our communications centre, they executed our leaders, and before we realised it, they had seized control of the entire planet.” It’s a fairly brutal image, the suggestion of colonial annexation providing a marked contrast to Federation diplomacy. (That said, classic Star Trek episodes like A Taste of Armageddon demonstrate the Federation can be quite pushy when it wants something from a smaller power, even if it would seem to draw the line at invasion.)
Indeed, the Dominion are presented as an incredibly self-centred political entity. Talak’talan’s rhetoric is not that of a hostile enemy force, but of an occupant asserting his rights. Beaming into Ops, he matter-of-factly explains, “I’m here to inform you that your commander has been detained for questioning by the Dominion.” The use of the world ‘detained’ implies an unquestionable authority and legitimacy. Ending his brief chat with Kira, he offers, “I hope we won’t have to repeat this lesson.” The Dominion sees itself as a stern father-figure, an absolute moral authority with an unquestionable right to “teach” those less civilised societies valuable lessons.
What’s interesting is that The Jem’Hadar introduces us to the military might of the organisation, but the show has been hinting that the Dominion is more than merely a collection of heavies. The Skrreean, for example, were liberated by the Dominion’s decision to annex their masters’ homeworld. While Rurigan talks about how the Dominion changed his home planet, it’s never explicitly stated it was a full-blown military invasion. The Dosi seem to be either low-ranking members or trading partners with the Dominion, and are allowed to conduct their business relatively independently – the Dosi don’t seem oppressed.
So the Dominion isn’t really a simple two-dimensional villainous force. Deep Space Nine never really delved into Dominion philosophy or politics, and only fleetingly touched on the organisation’s history. However, it’s clear that they are as much a political threat as a military one. The end of The Jem’Hadar teases that war is coming and that combat is inevitable, but it’s fascinating just how long the Dominion’s game happens to be. Their weapons are more than merely force. Although they announce their presence to the Alpha Quadrant with a series of acts that seem barbaric, it’s already obvious that they are more than just muscle.
The only real problem with The Jem’Hadar is that it feels more like a mission statement than a compelling narrative. It seems like it might easily have been a throwaway episode from the middle of the season, with Sisko and Quark going on a camping trip before being abducted by a hostile alien species. The Jem’Hadar makes some pretty big declarations and hints at the shape of things to come, but it’s hardly a compelling narrative in its own right.
Still, there are worse problems, and there are worse ways to close out a season. The Jem’Hadar exists purely to up the ante, and it succeeds on those terms, changing not only the rules but the game that is being played.
- The Homecoming
- The Circle
- The Siege
- Invasive Procedures
- Supplemental: The Never-Ending Sacrifice by Una McCormack
- Rules of Acquisition
- Necessary Evil
- Supplemental: Terok Nor #0
- Second Sight
- The Alternate
- Armageddon Game
- Playing God
- Profit and Loss
- Blood Oath
- The Maquis, Part I
- The Maquis, Part II
- Supplemental: The Maquis – Soldier of Peace
- The Wire
- Supplemental: A Stitch in Time by Andrew J. Robinson
- The Collaborator
- The Jem’Hadar
Filed under: Deep Space Nine Tagged: | Bajoran, Benjamin Sisko, deep space nine, Dominion, Ferengi, Ira Steven Behr, Jake Sisko, Jem, Jem'Hadar, Klingon, michelle forbes, Next Generation, Odyssey, Past Tense, Quark, Rom, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek Next Generation, star trek: deep space nine, Star Trek:Deep Space Nine, StarTrek