You Are Cordially Invited… is very much a breather episode.
After all, that introductory six-episode arc was exhausting. It was breathtaking in its scope and ambition, a sketch of life during wartime that spanned light-years and divided the cast for half a dozen episodes. It makes sense that You Are Cordially Invited…, the first episode to feature the crew reunited on Deep Space Nine, would attempt to strike a lighter tone. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine might be crafting a long-form war story, but that does not mean that the show is abandoning its warmth and humanity.
Indeed, You Are Cordially Invited… makes a great of sense from a structural perspective. There is an obvious impulse to contrast the show’s darker moments with lighter touches. In the Cards was an endearing comedy about the interconnected lives on the station, airing right before the show scattered those lives in Call to Arms. More than that, Call to Arms featured the wedding of Rom and Leeta as a prelude to the Dominion invasion. Following up the occupation arc with a comedy about the wedding of Worf and Dax adds a sense of symmetry to it all.
You Are Cordially Invited… might not be the strongest comedy episode in the run of Deep Space Nine, suffering a little bit from being overly conventional and entirely predictable, but it does have an infectious sense of enthusiasm that works well in contrast to the high intergalactic stakes of the previous seven episodes.
To be fair, You Are Cordially Invited… makes a point to assure audiences that the Dominion War is not being forgotten about. Sisko might have retaken the station, but he has not secured peace in his time. His opening log entry all but delivers an explicit promise to the audience that the conflict will not be forgotten. “We’re still at war,” he states, “and the station’s been designated Headquarters for the Ninth Fleet. That, plus our strategic position guarding the wormhole, makes DS9 one of the most tempting targets in the entire quadrant.”
Indeed, You Are Cordially Invited… makes a point to deal with much of the lingering fallout from the six-episode arc. There is a clear and conscious effort to avoid seguing from a sprawling intergalactic epic back to “business as usual.” Although the events of You Are Cordially Invited… unfold a week after the retaking of the station in Sacrifice of Angels, the events of the arc have not been forgotten. Sisko is still telling Kira how good it is to be back. Martok is in command of the ninth fleet. Alexander is transferred to the Y’Vang.
With all of this going on, it makes sense for the episode to deal with a relatively light story that can be used to draw in the larger cast. The wedding between Dax and Worf makes a logical choice, given the promise that Dax made to Worf in Call to Arms that she would marry him once the war was over. Indeed, positioning the marriage this early in the sixth season communicates something very clear to the audience; the production team have no intention on ending the war soon, because otherwise they would likely delay the marriage until after that point.
The marriage between Worf and Dax is notable for several reasons. Most obviously, it is the first marriage between two regular characters on a Star Trek series. Miles and Keiko O’Brien married in Data’s Day, early in the fourth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but Keiko was never a regular character on any of the series. Riker and Troi would flirt with one another over the run, but would only tie the knot in Star Trek: Nemesis. Paris and Torres would marry in Drive, in the final season of Star Trek: Voyager.
As such, the marriage between Dax and Worf is a pretty big deal. However, it also sits comfortably within the framework of Deep Space Nine. More than any of the other Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine is invested in the lives of its characters and its interpersonal dynamics. Crossfire was an entire episode devoted to Odo’s unrequited crush upon Kira. Doctor Bashir, I Presume was rooted in the revelation of a dark secret in Bashir’s past. Even in the middle of the larger six-episode arc, Sons and Daughters was an episode about Worf’s bad parenting style.
It makes sense that the characters on Deep Space Nine should be allowed to grow close to one another and to develop meaningful relationships. Dax and Worf are just one example. Benjamin Sisko’s relationship with Kassidy Yates develops wonderfully from her introduction in Family Business to their wedding in ‘Til Death Do Us Part and beyond to What You Leave Behind… Odo and Kira develop a deep and nuanced relationship over the final season-and-a-bit. Even Bashir and O’Brien offer the franchise’s most compelling study of male friendship.
The relationship between Dax and Worf was not planned from the outset. It was not something that the writers made a conscious effort to build into the show from The Way of the Warrior onwards. According to Terry Farrell, it very much happened by accident, stemming from the friendship between the actors:
Oh, we’d thought we were so clever flirting with each so we’d have more stuff to do together, just because we were friends. Ha! You’d think they had that planned the whole time because it all just went so easily. And I loved it because Michael and I were such good friends. We could just hit heads and really talk things out. At the time it could be really irritating because we were so tired all the time. But taking that out of the equation, I learned so much from working with Michael, as a person and as a performer. He’s a very good friend. My husband reminds me of him in that they don’t say that “Enough is enough.” They’re just constantly picking at stuff. It’s like, “Enough already!” But it’s that need to make it perfect.
Indeed, the relationship develops slowly over the fourth season, pairing the actors for stories like The Sword of Kahless and giving them key scenes together in stories like Sons of Mogh or Bar Association. However, the writers did not move on the relationship until Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places.
This is a very good example of how the Deep Space Nine writers approached character development. Rather than mapping out character arcs years in advance, they tended to follow the actors and build upon little nuggets to tell bigger stories. After all, Bashir’s big reveal in Doctor Bashir, I Presume was rooted in a throwaway line from Homefront and the suggestion of a dark secret buried in Distant Voices. While the writers clearly have big ideas, like what they want to do with Sisko by the end of the series, a lot of the character developments are improvised and organic.
There is something very endearing in this idea, perhaps a reflection of the series’ more anarchist tendencies. At its core, Deep Space Nine is a show with little trust or faith in institutions, but which seems to genuinely believe that people are capable of incredible things when they come together. This marriage is not fate. “I wasn’t looking to fall in love,” Dax confesses. “I was perfectly happy by myself. I had friends, a career, adventure. Then one day this Klingon with a bad attitude walked into my life and the next thing I know, I’m getting married.”
Of course, while this style of storytelling is entirely in keeping with the theme and spirit of Deep Space Nine, it also demonstrates the risks of this improvisational approach. Most obviously, the writers made this decision without knowing that the sixth season would be Terry Farrell’s last year on the series. Ronald D. Moore confirmed this to Cinefantastique:
Moore emphatically stated that he did not believe Farrell was leaving until well after writing the wedding episode. He said, “We just wouldn’t have married the two characters together if we thought Terry was going to leave at the end of the year. Terry’s departure didn’t really start becoming an issue towards the later half of the season, at least for the writing, producing staff. Terry probably has a whole different take on it, with her negotiations with the studio.”
To be fair, it is not a huge problem of itself. After, there are plenty of married couples in the real world who understand that marriages do not always last. Many widows and widowers enjoyed an even shorter time with their spouses than Worf. At the same time, the extent to which Farrell’s departure caught the production team off-guard demonstrates the risks of trying to improvise a story like this on the fly.
Still, the relationship between Worf and Dax works over their time together on Deep Space Nine. Ironically, it probably works better in the background of smaller stories than as the focal point of a given narrative. After all, Let He Who Is Without Sin… is a story built around the relationship between Dax and Worf that falls flat on its face, while Tears of the Prophets suffers from leaning too heavily into their dynamic to drum up angst before killing off Jadzia. It is a delicate balance.
The same might be said of the other “power couple” on Deep Space Nine. The series often struggled when trying to explain why Odo and Kira should end up together, most notably in His Way and even in You Are Cordially Invited… However, the characters enriched one another through smaller scenes and gestures; Odo standing by Kira in Shadows and Symbols, Odo trying to understand faith in Covenant, Kira helping Laas in Chimera, Kira letting Odo go in What You Leave Behind…
Of course, this creates an obvious tension within You Are Cordially Invited… If ever there was going to be an episode built around the relationship between Worf and Dax, it would be the story focusing on their wedding. There are certain elements of You Are Cordially Invited… that simply do not work, feeling overly conventional and familiar. Notably, there is the inevitable romantic comedy crisis in the this act when the wedding appears to cancelled, only for it to be put back on at the last minute.
Ronald D. Moore is one of the most underrated comedy writers in the franchise, one very capable of playing with (and subverting) expectations. As such, there is something disappointing in how conventional You Are Cordially Invited… approaches the concept of “the wedding episode.” Everything goes fine, then the situation escalates, then there is an emotive shouting match, then the wedding is cancelled, then the characters realise that they really love each other, then the wedding is rescheduled, then our characters live happily ever after.
Moore follows the romantic comedy playbook to the letter. The audience can set their watch by the third act tribulation, the most conventional of romantic comedy conventions. As Sara Vilkomerson and Anthony Breznican argue:
One device that studios particularly love is the Big Misunderstanding — you know, the one that tears a couple apart for the sole purpose of a ”dramatic” final act in which the guy chases after the gal at the airport so he can explain that it’s all been…a Big Misunderstanding. ”People tend to be really lazy when they make romantic comedies,” says Nicholas Stoller, director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the upcoming Five-Year Engagement. ”You can’t just rely on running to the airport, which is basically what all romantic comedies rely on for their final sequence.”
But studios are addicted to dumb misunderstandings because they can be resolved easily — and just in time for the happy ending. ”It’s hard because romantic comedies are by definition clichéd,” says director Will Gluck (Friends With Benefits). ”You know what’s going to happen, so you can’t rely on the plot to drive the movie. So you have one gigantic arrow in your quiver that you can’t use. You have to rely on the other things — the casting, the chemistry, the comedy, the tone. You can never rely on that Inception moment: dun-dun-DUNH! ‘Oh my God, I didn’t see that one coming!”’
Actors and directors are as bored by clichés as you are. As Drew Barrymore puts it, ”I’m sick of that whole thing where I pretend [to be something I’m not], and then, oh my God, I’ll show up in the last scene and tell the truth.”
There are any number of romantic comedies that come with that last action misunderstanding or disagreement that could easily solved if characters were willing to have adult conversations; Sweet Home Alabama, Notting Hill, The Five-Year Engagement.
The third-quarter dilemma in You Are Cordially Invited… is staggeringly straightforward and predictable. Sirella is skeptical of Dax, due to bigotry. Dax responds to this with provocative antagonism. Worf really wants a Klingon ceremony. Dax is initially unwilling to make the compromises necessary to earn Sirella’s blessing and have that Klingon ceremony, while Worf will not settle for a civil ceremony held in Captain Sisko’s office. Because Worf and Dax have this conversation while he is exhausted and she is hung over, they call off the wedding.
Inevitably, Worf must learn that he loves Dax because she is so proud and so unconventional. Inevitably, Dax must learn that loving Worf means having to make compromises like in any adult relationship. The characters come to their senses remarkably quickly, to the point that the final act feels incredibly rushed. The audience does not get to see Worf apologising to Dax, and the audience does not get to see Dax reconciling with Sirella. It is all such a stock romantic comedy beat that it does not need any further elaboration.
There is something slightly frustrating in this, particularly given that Moore has a knack for comedies that consciously subvert expected beats and rhythms. House of Quark is built upon the ridiculousness of Quark appearing before the Klingon High Council and completely undercutting the notion of Klingon “honour” by challenging his opponent to murder an unarmed Ferengi. In the Cards is effective a broad goofy riff on the weird and hazily-defined economics of the larger Star Trek franchise.
Why does You Are Cordially Invited… play its romantic comedy beats in such a straightforward and conventional manner? Why does the episode feel it was structured by somebody who only just watched When Harry Met Sally? Perhaps lack of familiarity is the issue. House of Quark and In the Cards play with long-standing concepts within the Star Trek franchise. The Star Trek franchise has never been particularly good at building romantic stories; look at Elaan of Troyius, The Paradise Syndrome, Melora, Second Sight.
Perhaps this explains why Moore is so reluctant to mess with the formula and the expectations, to play with the genre trappings and to explore or tease them. The actual plot of You Are Cordially Invited… is frustratingly conventional and straightforward in placed, but at least it manages to actually hit a lot of the beats of the genre. By no means is the episode a misfire on the scale of something like Meridian, a truly ill-advised romance built around the character of Jadzia Dax.
To be fair to Moore, there are some small subversive elements to it, perhaps more in line with the little touches that made Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places such an effective sex farce. As with that fifth season episode, Moore plays very gently with certain assumptions. The most interesting aspect of Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places was the idea that Kira could be pregnant and sexual at the same time; it is a notion with which popular culture still struggles, and which was quite provocative in the mid-nineties.
In You Are Cordially Invited…, Moore plays very gently with the idea of gender roles in this romantic comedy. Traditionally, romantic comedy leads are rigidly defined by gender. Female romantic comedy leads tend to be more romantic and fanciful, fixated on fantasies about weddings or domestic bliss. Male romantic comedy leads tend to be more worldly and cynical, more likely to indulge in physical pleasure and less likely to engage with emotional concerns. There are any number of examples, but The Ugly Truth is perhaps the purest distillation.
These stereotypes obviously filter over into the real world as well; there is a long-standing sexist assumption that women are more emotional than men, although studies suggest the opposite. These double-standards persist into the present day, with these preconceptions very much haunting Hillary Clinton’s campaign to become the forty-fifth President of the United States. However innocuous romantic comedies might appear, they do feed into (and reinforce) these gendered stereotypes and these assumptions.
So there is something clever in how You Are Cordially Invited… subverts some of the standard romantic comedy plot points by effectively reversing the gender stereotypes. Traditionally, it is the female lead character who is obsessed with the wedding and the marriage. It is an incredibly tired cliché, as Karen Valby argues in her discussion of the Amy Adams romantic comedy Leap Year:
When was the last time you saw a grown woman shove her girlfriends out of the way to catch a wedding bouquet? (Oh that’s right, 27 Dresses. But you didn’t see it at your colleague’s wedding.) When did you last see two grown women cling so desperately to their childish fantasies of the perfect wedding that their friendship was torn apart as they fought over the same venue? (You saw it in the dastardly Bride Wars, but your sister-in-law the teacher and her college roommate the lawyer did not act like this.) Amy Adams is 35 years old. Her character in Leap Year is a successful businesswoman who values order and stability. (Successful businesswomen in movies are always uptight, but it usually only takes them a spin around a dance floor and a half a bottle of wine to cut loose. Of course that often ends up, as it did in Leap Year, with the woman humiliated, vomiting on a man’s shoes.) Adams’ character is neither a ninny nor a child. And yet the whole marketing campaign of the film boils down to the anachronistic notion that what a woman today really wants, what she will not in fact live without, is a rock on her finger. She wants that rock so bad, the movie tells us, and yet she can only risk asking for it herself once every four years in Ireland. If Adams doesn’t get to Dublin in time, she will have blown her one shot at making all her dreams come true. No wonder people hate this movie! (Except for me. Did I mention that Matthew Goode wears a pea coat?)
There are plenty of other examples of this stereotype in romantic comedies, with Jane in 27 Dresses or even Monica in Friends coming to mind. The unstated assumption in a romantic comedy is that women want a conventional romance culminating in the fairy tale wedding that they dreamed about since they were a child. It does not matter what they have done in the years since, it always comes back to that.
In You Are Cordially Invited…, it is made clear that Worf is the partner living his dreams of a fairy tale wedding. “No offence, Jadzia, but it seems like this wedding is all about what Worf wants,” Kira observes early in the episode. “What about you?” Dax responds pragmatically, “A traditional Klingon wedding with all the trimmings is something Worf’s been thinking about since he was a boy. It probably has something to do with being raised by human parents. In any case, when it comes to Klingon tradition, Worf is very sentimental.”
Indeed, the central tension in You Are Cordially Invited… has Jadzia realising just how much that wedding means to Worf and compromising her own cynical detachment in order to make the grand romantic gesture of embracing the ceremony. In that respect, Jadzia’s arc is closer to that of Kevin in 27 Dresses or Mike in The Ugly Truth or Chandler in Friends. Worf is the character overly emotionally invested in the wedding, while Dax is very much disengaged.
You Are Cordially Invited… even acknowledges this in contrasting how Jadzia and Worf prepare for the ceremony. Worf enlists his “closest male friends” for the ritual of “Kal’Hyah, the path of clarity.” O’Brien searches for something within his frame of reference. “Are we talking about a bachelor party?” O’Brien inquires. Worf acknowledges, “It is a similar ritual.” Because Bashir and O’Brien have the mental age of teenagers, they immediately jump to the most obvious conclusions.
The “Klingon bachelor party” joke works on a number of levels. On the geekiest level, Moore is having a bit of fun with the world-building within the Star Trek universe. For narrative convenience, most alien rituals in the franchise tend to have some equivalent in human culture. It helps bring up to speed through analogy, framing something foreign in a way that is easy to understand. As Fry explains in Where No Fan Has Gone Before, “usually on the show someone would come up with a complicated plan then explain it with a simple analogy.”
(There are any number of examples within the Star Trek canon. Most alien cultures have their own marriage rituals, for example, which conform to human expectations of the practice; exceptions (like Andorians) exist primarily to prove the rule. There are more specific and precise examples. Code of Honour likens the kidnapping of Tasha Yar to “counting coup.” Episode like Bread and Circuses and Patterns of Force take the idea to its logical conclusion, with entire cultures copied from human history.)
The “Klingon bachelor party” in You Are Cordially Invited… is a clever twist on that idea. Bashir and O’Brien make assumptions based on the classic Star Trek cliché that everything can be explained through analogy. The pair are clearly expecting the bachelor party to resemble twentieth-century human bachelor parties. Part of the joke is in twisting that expectation. Klingon culture is so distinct and unique that using the word “Klingon” as a qualifier before “bachelor party” radically distorts and alters the meaning of those two words.
Of course, the bachelor party also plays on the gendered assumption of married men having “one last night” of freedom and debauchery before marriage. There are any number of examples in popular culture, from Very Bad Things to The Hangover. Bashir and O’Brien clearly expect Worf to have a stereotypically macho bachelor party. “Four nights at a Klingon bachelor party,” Bashir observes. “Just think of the possibilities.” O’Brien replies, “Thank God Keiko’s not here.” Whatever possibilities O’Brien is considering, they aren’t wholesome.
Indeed, it is not just O’Brien who thinks this. The rest of the station clearly has similar expectations of Worf, watching the men trundle into the holosuites for four days in a row. “What are they doing?” Jake asks. Quark replies, salaciously, “It’s a Klingon bachelor party. You’re a writer, use your imagination.” Jake repeats that observation to Kira later in the episode. However, You Are Cordially Invited… is once again subtly subverting expectations. Worf celebrates his wedding through abstinence and restraint, dignity and spirituality.
In contrast, it is Jadzia who indulges in the sort of “anything goes” no-holds-barred late-night party that audiences have come to expect from soon-to-be grooms. One of the nicer touches of You Are Cordially Invited… is that the obligatory pre-wedding objectification is of the male body rather than the female body as “Lieutenant Manuele Atoa from the starship Sutherland” engages in some shirtless firebreathing. It’s an impressive spectacle, but the script is also overt in that way that it sexualises his form.
Rom is impressed by Atoa’s firebreathing. “I’ve never seen anything like that,” Rom confesses. “Neither have I,” Leeta acknowledges. She is similarly impressed, although for other reasons. After his display, Dax teases Atoa with the possibility of another two days off. “What do I have to do?” Atoa inquires. Dax is coy. “Not much,” she teases. “Just give me something fun to look at for the rest of the evening.” Atoa raises an eyebrow. “Anything else?” Dax responds, “I’ll let you know.”
Obviously, there’s a debate to be had about whether this sort of objectification is every justifiable, especially before a wedding. In fact, You Are Cordially Invited… ultimately suggests that these displays of sexually-coded hedonism on the eve of a wedding ceremony are inappropriate and that Dax’s behaviour is in some small manner out of line. However, it is fun to see the gender dynamics reversed, to see Dax learn the lessons about compromise and restraint that are traditionally reserved for male leads in romantic comedies.
In fact, Dax’s relationship with Sirella is interesting because this sort of battle-of-wills has traditionally been framed in terms of the men involved in a wedding ceremony. Sirella is cast in the role of the head of a family concerned about the newest arrival, and protective of her family’s legacy; it is a role best suited to the skeptical father-in-law. Dax is the provocative outsider who is greeted with hostility for trying to join the family united, judged for their perceived moral failings; it is a role typically reserved for the potential son-in-law.
The dynamic between Dax and Sirella obviously evokes the relationship between the women at the heart of Monster-in-Law, but it belongs to a much deeper and much broader subgenre of “boyfriend and father” stories like Meet the Parents, Guess Who?, Why Him? and All Nighter. As such, it is nice to see Moore play with these expectations and structural elements in his script, even if these small subversions of gender roles play out in the background of a fairly generic romantic comedy structure.
(Indeed, one of the nicer and most overt gender role gags plays out very quickly. When Sirella confronts Dax in her quarters, the two quickly come to blows. In any other romantic comedy, it would fall to the male characters to intervene and stop this confrontation. Nog steps forward, perhaps the most ridiculous masculine figure in the recurring cast. “Ladies!” he insists, trying to sound like the voice of reason and authority. “Please!” Sirella and Dax both respond by tossing him out of the fight and getting back to their confrontation.)
You Are Cordially Invited… also has some interesting things to say about Klingon culture. Although hardly Ronald D. Moore’s most compelling study of the Klingon Empire, the episode does touch on a number of interesting ideas. Most obviously, You Are Cordially Invited… is an episode about how alien Klingon culture can be. It is an episode about how unwelcoming and foreign Klingon society must be, providing a nice counterpoint to the fetishisation of Klingon culture within certain corners of the larger mythos.
This is very much a practical consideration. The Klingons have been part of the Star Trek franchise since the end of the first season. Ronald D. Moore has been delving into their culture for well over half-a-decade. At some point, those bumpy-headed aliens must begin to feel generic and familiar, to becoming almost welcoming. Repeatedly over the course of Deep Space Nine, the writers try to give the Klingon Empire a little edge; the focus on the misogyny of Klingon culture in House of Quark, the suicide rituals in Sons of Mogh.
You Are Cordially Invited… focuses on the idea that Klingons are inherent different to the Federation and hold many views that exist in stark opposition to liberal Federation values. When Worf points out that Sirella holds “a prejudiced, xenophobic view”, Martok responds, “We are Klingons, Worf. We don’t embrace other cultures, we conquer them.” When Dax recounts the history of the Klingon Empire, she discovers that the “first and only experiment in Klingon democracy” was known as “the Dark Time.”
The episode re-enforces the sense of the Klingon Empire as something foreign and alien. In fact, Moore’s script even harks back to the classic formulation of the Klingons as space!Russians in episodes like Friday’s Child or The Trouble with Tribbles. Dax recalls the tale of revolution that embroiled Sirella’s “twenty-third maternal grandmother”, who claimed to be “Shenara, daughter of Emperor Reclaw.” However, Dax discovered the entire royal family was killed in the purge and Shenara was an imposter; the parallels to Russian history are clear.
Indeed, this sense of Klingon culture as something inherently alien and “other” is reinforced by that joke about the “Klingon bachelor party.” The gulf between what Bashir and O’Brien expect of a Klingon bachelor part and what they experience on “the path to Kal’Hyah” and the reality of the experience serves to underscore just how much the Klingon Empire differs from the expectations of the Federation. There are rituals for which the human characters have no real frame of reference, even after decades of peaceful coexistence.
In fact, You Are Cordially Invited… makes it very clear that Klingon culture is not particularly interested in compromise with other cultures and value systems. This is hardly a surprise, and has been repeatedly suggested in episodes dating back to Heart of Glory, but has never really been explored in such a personal manner. Sirella has no interest in welcoming outsiders to the House of Martok. “She believes that by bringing aliens into our families we risk losing our identity as Klingons,” Martok explains. Sirella is not interested in multiculturalism.
More than any other Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine is heavily invested in multiculturalism. After all, this is a television show built around a distant outpost that has come to serve as a hub for various intergalactic powers. Deep Space Nine is a television series defined by the Promenade, an impressive set that features a Cardassian tailor, a Ferengi bar, a Bajoran shrine and a Klingon restaurant. Deep Space Nine is a series about that space where different cultures come together and interact with one another.
Of course, multiculturalism is not always easy. What happens on places like Deep Space Nine when characters brush up against cultures that don’t want to integrate or compromise? How does multiculturalism respond to arrivals who wish to retain an identity that runs counter to the values of the dominant society? This is not an abstract science-fiction concept by any measure. After all, some of the most emotive and paranoid politics of the twenty-first century are driven by anxieties about Islamic communities fighting to retain their identities in a multicultural world.
After all, there are certain aspects of Islamic culture that run counter to traditional western liberal values, most notably concepts around the treatment of women in Islamic culture. The burqa has become an obvious point of contention, but there are countless others; how certain Muslims react to women in positions of authority, to what extent Muslim girls should be integrated as part of the state’s education system, and even the bathing suits that some Muslim women choose to wear.
These can be legitimately tough issues to navigate in the efforts to build a truly globalised and multicultural society. Some of these issues defy easy answers. Then again, these sorts of arguments are par for the course in any society seeking to integrate outsiders. Irish, Italian and Chinese American immigrants have all historically faced varying degrees of prejudice and resistance upon immigrating to the United States, only for their cultural identities to become part of the cultural landscape; St. Patrick’s Day in Boston, the Feast of San Gennaro and Chinese New Year in New York.
Deep Space Nine has repeatedly used the Klingons to touch on these challenges of multiculturalism and integration, stressing the values dissonance that exists between the liberalism of the Federation and the traditionalism of the Klingon Empire. Sons of Mogh had Sisko confront the issue head-on, acknowledging a broad respect for diversity on the station while also refusing to sanction a ritual killing. You Are Cordially Invited… touches upon a similar issue as Dax finds herself dealing with a Klingon woman who holds deeply racist and uncompromising views.
Deep Space Nine is ultimately rather pragmatic on this point. Dax initially bristles at Sirella, responding to Sirella’s hostility and superiority through passive-aggressive sniping and wry defiance. Dax is entirely justified in calling Sirella out for her behaviour. There is a sense of satisfaction whenever Jadzia finds some small way to undermine Sirella, whether by suggesting that she is not related to Emperor Reclaw or by besting her in hand-to-hand combat. You Are Cordially Invited… never suggests that Dax is being completely unreasonable in this regard.
After all, Dax does not need Sirella’s blessing. It is entirely possible for Dax and Worf to legally marry on the station without Sirella’s approval. “Maybe you’re on a spiritual journey, Worf, but I just want to get married,” Dax tells Worf while nursing her hangover. “So why don’t you go back to sweating and bleeding with your friends in the holosuite and when you’re done, meet me in Benjamin’s office and he’ll perform the ceremony?” Sirella can prevent Dax from getting married in accordance with Klingon custom, but does not infringe upon Dax’s right to marry.
This is a very pragmatic and even-handed approach to dealing with these sorts of conflicts within a multicultural society. As Sisko points out, Dax doesn’t have to go through with this. Dax has chosen to go through with this because she understands how much it means to Worf. “And if you can’t abide by Klingon traditions, then you never should have let yourself fall in love with him in the first place,” Sisko argues. “And you are in love with him.” Sisko might be overstating his case, but he has a point.
Jadzia doesn’t have to submit herself to Sirella. There is no way that Jadzia could be forced to bow her head and go through with the ritual humiliation for the bigoted matriarch of the House of Martok. However, Jadzia also understands how much the gesture means to Worf, which means that this is ultimately a matter of a choice and a compromise. Jadzia can choose not “to go crawling on [her] hands and knees to Sirella to beg her forgiveness”, which would (after everything) likely end her relationship to Worf.
In many ways, this is how Deep Space Nine approaches the issue of multiculturalism, accepting that basic rights and freedoms must be accepted to exist while also understanding that individuals should have the freedom to navigate this complex web of differing values. It is certainly a more complicated social framework than the utopian monoculture presented in The Next Generation, where the vast majority of the cast (Worf excluded) lived comfortably within the framework of Federation culture.
Deep Space Nine makes it clear that multiculturalism is hard work, even on the intimate scale of You Are Cordially Invited… Nevertheless, the series repeatedly suggests that such tolerance and open-mindedness is ultimately a good thing, that exposure to different value systems and a desire for peaceful coexistence with those who hold differing values are a utopian ideal of themselves. In fact, this even plays out on a smaller scale within You Are Cordially Invited… Jadzia and Worf are very much opposites with very differing values and perspectives, but each enriches the other.
This is also the case with Martok and Sirella, two married characters who ultimately spend very little time together. They exchange less than a dozen lines over the course of the episode, and Sirella uses most of her dialogue with Martok to berate him. “Do you think Sirella is anything like the woman I thought that I’d marry?” Martok asks Worf late in the episode. “She is a prideful, arrogant, mercurial woman who shares my bed far too infrequently for my taste. And yet I love her deeply.” There is something sweet in that.
Although the audience sees very little of their romance, it does feel in keeping with the operatic larger-than-life style of Klingon culture. Indeed, actor J. G. Hertzler likened the relationship between Martok and Sirella to a pair of Shakespearean lovers:
“I didn’t know who was going to play [my wife] until the actress showed up on the day of filming. But it was perfect [on Deep Space Nine] because she has the background in theater – Martok and Sirella were really Beatrice and Benedict from Much Ado About Nothing, and she knows that because she comes from the same kind of background. In Treasure Island I was Black Dog, black long hair, great costume, the major bad pirate who does all this swordfighting with Anthony Zerbe; Shannon was the young mother, and I liked her then, we got along very well.” Despite his lengthy Shakespearean resume, Hertzler had never played Benedict – “I certainly would never get another chance, I’m past the long-in-the-tooth stage to do it, but as a Klingon I could do it” – so he was delighted with the script for You Are Cordially Invited.
“I have heard that the worst sound in the universe is Klingon opera – if you look up Klingon opera in the Klingon Dictionary, it says, ‘Worst sound in all known universes.'” In You Are Cordially Invited, Worf and Martok sing Klingon opera in a scene on the holodeck with a huge bonfire burning beside them. “That was another hoot. There was like a five thousand degree fire going on, it was a hot day outside, we were standing next to this fire pretending not to feel it because we’re Klingons. Those other guys complained, those wimps, Colm [Meaney] and Sid [Alexander Siddig], hanging from their little fingers over the fire, wimpy boys!”
It should be noted that it was Hertzler’s performance in Treasure Island that brought him to the attention of producer Ira Steven Behr, so the casting of Sirella seems unlikely to have been an accident.
In fact, everybody in You Are Cordially Invited… seems to be having a good time. For all that the episode is very light and very predictable, there is a lot of pleasure to be derived from watching this expansive supporting cast playing a broad romantic comedy. In fact, You Are Cordially Invited… seems to bask in Deep Space Nine‘s expansive supporting cast; there is no need for Rom or Leeta or Nog to appear, but their small roles help to create a sense of fun and texture.
There is something to be said for reassuring viewers that Deep Space Nine has not lost its humanity or its spark. While the final seasons of Deep Space Nine are very firmly building towards Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica, the show never becomes that consistently and oppressively dark. While there is a lot to recommend the tonal consistency of Battlestar Galactica, there is also a lot to be said for building a cast of characters who enjoy spending time with one another, creating a contrast with the surrounding doom and gloom.
You Are Cordially Invited… is filled with lots of these little touches. The dancing at Jadzia’s bachelorette party is a great example, with Nog essentially leading the partygoers in a twenty-fourth century version of Thriller. There is also a nice shot of Martok studying Sisko’s baseball, which remains one of Hertzler’s favourite sequences on the series:
That little moment was one of my favorites on the show. Its really about two actors playing with each other and has little if anything to do with the show. Technically, it could be called “secondary action” in terms of the METHOD… but in this case, it was merely Avery and I having some fun with the world around us. Surely, Martok had never seen a baseball before and may have correctly identified the covering of the call as the hide of some kind of animal… for all he knew it could be Targ. But Martok was very curious about the markings on the ball and the way it was made, meanwhile they were discussing an attack on Cardassia or some such monumental topic, and distracted by a baseball. Sisko may have been afraid Martok might have thought it to be food and taken a bite out of it…or some such action. So, we toyed with each other a bit and that is what we ended up with. Thanks for noticing the by-play. That’s the story.
For all that Deep Space Nine is regarded as the darkest and most cynical of Star Trek shows, there is a lot of warmth and humanity to the series. Ronald D. Moore captures that very well, and it is sadly missing from a lot of his work on Battlestar Galactica. In the midst of the surrounding carnage, a light episode is not such a bad idea.
Of course, there are moments at which You Are Cordially Invited… feels a little too light. The episode’s biggest misstep comes in the handling of its subplot focusing on Odo and Kira. The two characters obviously need to have a meaningful conversation about Odo’s betrayal in Behind the Lines before things can revert to the status quo, but that conversation needs to be well-earned. The Dominion occupation of the station was a harrowing experience with real consequences. Those consequences need to be felt.
In some respects, this is a reminder that Deep Space Nine is still learning the subtle art of serialisation. After all, the production team are still relatively new to the concept. The six-episode epic that opened the sixth season was a bold and ambitious piece of television that really pushed what was possible within the larger Star Trek franchise. It makes sense that the production team would drop some balls in making that transition. The death of Ziyal is one example, as is the handling of Odo’s betrayal.
The most immediate issue with the subplot is purely tonal. The awkwardness between Kira and Odo is played for laughs, like a romantic comedy where Odo accidentally wired the station’s loudspeakers to play that one song that Kira really hates. The first time that the audience sees Odo in You Are Cordially Invited…, he is ducking out of the way in the most exaggerated manner possible. Rene Auberjonois stops just short of doing a double-take when Odo spots Kira coming and has to look for an escape route.
The whole situation is treated as a joke. “Is it my imagination, or did Odo just try and avoid us?” Dax asks. However, the truth is that this conversation cannot be a joke. After all, Odo betrayed his friends in a way that ended with Rom being sentenced to death. That is not a comedic mishap or a social faux pas. That is straight-up collaboration. One imagines that Kira has killed people for less, that really needs to be underscored and explored rather than brushed under the rug as a goofy subplot.
Of course, You Are Cordially Invited… is a comedy episode. However, it is possible to wed comedic plotting to serious themes. Ronald Moore did it on the opposite side of this sprawling arc, with In the Cards. In the penultimate episode of the fifth season, the primary plot focus on Jake and Nog’s very silly attempts to procure a baseball card while the subplot dealt with the heavier theme of the looming Dominion War. It would be possible for You Are Cordially Invited… to do something similar.
This tonal issue builds across the episode, culminating in the resolution of this awkwardness. Ultimately, Odo and Kira reconcile their differences in a closet during Jadzia’s bachelorette party. This happens entirely off-screen. It is an incredibly unsatisfying storytelling choice, even without wondering about how that conversation tackled the lingering awkwardness from future!Odo’s mass pseudo!murder of the crew’s descendants in Children of Time.
The decision was controversial even among those working on the episode. Ronald D. Moore acknowledged this in The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion:
“I know Nana and Rene don’t like it and some of the fans don’t like it and I don’t really like it,” Moore says. “It’s just one of those things that we had to do because we were out of time, and I felt that I had to do something so that it didn’t seem as if we hadn’t even touched on it. I felt like, ‘well, at least here’s a way to imply that they worked it out.'”
It is very poor storytelling, an awkward and clumsy attempt to tie off a potentially interesting loose end so that things can get back to normal. Indeed, it feels strange that the production team race to get the relationship back to the status quo, given His Way looms in the distance.
You Are Cordially Invited… is not an exceptional episode by any means. After the heady rush of Behind the Lines, Favour the Bold and Sacrifice of Angels, it all feels very safe and familiar and cosy. Then again, that is largely the point. You Are Cordially Invited… is an episode that tries to codify the boundaries of this new and radically altered version of Deep Space Nine, taking a breather before the sixth season presses onwards.