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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Once More Unto the Breach (Review)

Once More Unto the Breach bids a fond farewell to Kor, the Star Trek franchise’s original Klingon.

To be fair, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had never been particularly shy about killing off recurring characters, with Enabran Tain dying in In Purgatory’s Shadow, Michael Eddington expiring in Blaze of Glory, and Tora Ziyal being murdered in Sacrifice of Angels. Contractual negotiations had guaranteed the death of Jadzia Dax in Tears of the Prophets. Certainly, Kor was not a major player in the larger fabric of the show when compared to these figures, having only previously appeared in Blood Oath and The Sword of Kahless.

The return of a Kor character.

However, there is a certain gravity to the character owing to the fact that he could trace his appearance all the way back to Errand of Mercy in the very first season of the franchise. Kor was very much the first Klingon, even if he was neither the first Klingon to appear on screen nor the first Klingon to truly resemble the modern template. Kor was a part of the franchise’s history, part of its context. John Colicos had a fairly significant impact on popular culture, but has particularly important to Star Trek.

There would be bigger deaths over the course of the seventh season. Actors who had been with the franchise for years would go out in a blaze of glory. Recurring guest stars would see their stories come to an end. Some of those endings would be happy, whereas others would be more ignoble. Nevertheless, there is a something powerful about the passing of Kor in Once More Unto the Breach. It feels very much like an ending.

No Country for Old Klingons.

Once More Unto the Breach is a very Klingon story, in that it is a very broad and operatic narrative that deals with grand themes in a sweeping manner. Once More Unto the Breach is a story about many things; about what it means to grow old, about the casual indifference of a rigid class structure, about resentments that metastasise over a lifetime, about what it means to be a legend, and about whether truth ever transcends mere facts. It is about all of these things in a very overt manner, willing to place its themes front and centre in a way would seem ham-fisted with human characters.

There has long been something very theatrical about the Klingons, from the raw passion associated with the species to the simple fact that most Klingons enunciate so loudly and clearly that they might as well be playing to those in the cheap seats. The Star Trek franchise has a long history of hiring actors with theatrical backgrounds, reinforcing this stagy style. William Shatner is perhaps the most obvious example, but there are countless others; Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Christopher Plummer, Anthony Rapp.

“Qo’nos really does have the best drama schools.”

Similarly, Ronald D. Moore has tended to write towards that theatrical style. Moore is an infinitely adaptable writer, who can do everything from the wacky comedy of In the Cards to the political intrigue of The Defector. However, Moore’s style over the course of the Star Trek franchise has always tended towards a stage quality. Many of Moore’s best scripts could be easily adapted for the stage, featuring relatively tight ensembles delivering long dramatic monologues about simmering emotions; Family, Doctor Bashir, I Presume, In the Pale Moonlight.

Given that Moore would be the writer most responsible for developing the Klingons from an iconic alien species into a set of three-dimensional characters, it makes sense that the Klingons would gravitate towards a more operatic style that could be summarised as a hybrid of “barbarians, Vikings and motorcycle gangs.” As such, it makes sense that Once More Unto the Breach should pitch itself as a sweeping Shakespearean epic, right down to a great Star Trek title borrowed from Henry V.

Fangs for the memory.

Indeed, Once More Unto the Breach could be seen as a spiritual companion piece to Soldiers of the Empire and Sons and Daughters, both episodes of Deep Space Nine that dared to widen the show’s perspective beyond the title location and the regular cast to focus on a cast comprised largely of one-shot guest characters. Deep Space Nine was very fond of this sort of storytelling template, especially in its final years. Episodes would drift away from familiar surroundings, and allow most of the regulars to slip out of focus.

As with most aspects of the series, this was really drawing upon (and expanding) earlier episodes and frameworks. When he took over Star Trek: The Next Generation, Michael Piller strongly advocated for each episode focusing on an individual crew member. Although these stories would typically use the ensemble, the series grew increasingly willing to spend entire episodes with Patrick Stewart isolated from the rest of the cast, leading to stories like Captain’s Holiday, Family and Tapestry.

“We’re also in this episode, you know.”

Deep Space Nine developed on that basic template. In the first season, Progress and Duet were effectively theatrical two-handers centring on a regular character and a guest star. In the second season, Necessary Evil was willing to set a story several years before the arrival of most of the regular cast members on the station. Although they typically featured subplots focusing on the rest of the cast, episodes like Indiscretion and Return to Grace were willing to take the primary narrative away from the station and its core cast members.

This willingness to expand the focus of Deep Space Nine only increased as the show went on. O’Brien spent time undercover with the Orion Syndicate in Honour Among Thieves, infiltrating a criminal cartel featuring three one-shot guest stars. Jake and Nog would find themselves on a ship manned by strangers in Valiant, give or take a Cadet Riley Shepard. Even episodes physically set on the station would frequently cluster the cast. Sisko and Garak operate at a remove from the rest of the cast in In the Pale Moonlight, while Bashir’s isolation is quite palpable in Chrysalis.

Engaging command.

In some ways, it foreshadows the narrative diffusion that is very common on contemporary television, most notably in Game of Thrones. Over the course of its first season, Game of Thrones became a show without a lead character with a perspective that swung wildly around the fiction world to encompass all manner of perspectives and viewpoints. Deep Space Nine is much more confined in how it can tell these stories, as demonstrated by the need to shoehorn regular characters into subplots and book-ending scences, but it still feels familiar in that sense.

Whereas Star Trek and The Next Generation tended to look at guest stars and alien cultures through the perspective of the regular characters, Deep Space Nine was more willing to entrust these guest stars and these characters to carry their own stories. Indeed, one of the biggest problems with Once More Unto the Breach is that the credited regular character tacked on to the primary story (Worf, Son of Mogh) feels rather inessential to the story being told. Worf is a distraction from the character beats being hit by Martok and Kor.

Hero of his own story.

Ronald D. Moore acknowledged as much in an interview with Cinefantastique:

The mistake I think I made was I didn’t give Worf enough to do. He’s in the show, he’s in on all the action, but it is definitely the story of Martok and Kor. I didn’t really give Worf enough to justify his presence in the show. I should have thrown more of the dynamic onto him and made him have to carry a little bit more of the load. The scenes are so great with the other two characters, but Worf isn’t really absolutely necessary to tell that story. I could have told that story with just Kor going off onto Martok’s ship for an episode, and played it almost virtually the same. So that I regret.

It’s a fair criticism of the episode, that the only credited lead actor involved in the primary plot is largely passive.

“I… have nothing to add to this, really.”

After all, Worf’s primary role in the plot is to get Kor on board the Ch’Tang, with is standing in for the Rotarran for reasons never quite articulated. Indeed, there is a solid argument that Worf’s most important contribution to the narrative is a massive contrivance, assigning Kor as the “third officer” on board Martok’s ship. When Martok explains the source of his hatred of Kor, Worf apologises. “I did not anticipate that –“ However, Martok’s hatred of Kor was quite evident from the teaser. Why would Worf assign Kor to the ship Martok was commanding?

That said, there are some nice Worf-centric beats in Once More Unto the Breach. Ezri and Worf are still awkwardly avoiding one another, as suggested by Afterimage. Ezri is enjoying coffee with Kor, only to quickly and awkwardly excuse herself when Worf arrives. “I am on duty. I’ll see you later. It’s good to see you again, Kor.” Similarly, the climax of the episode suggests that Worf is still harbouring something resembling a deathwish following the loss of Jadzia. He volunteers a little too eagerly and a little too readily for what would be a suicide mission.

Not quite Worf’s cup of blood wine.

Still, Michael Dorn is very fond of the episode. Dorn explicitly cites Soldiers of the Empire and Once More Unto the Breach as the episodes that inspired him to pitch his “Captain Worf” series:

Actually, it started when I saw these two episodes from Deep Space Nine. One was called, Once More into the Breach, and the other was called, Soldiers of the Empire. And when I saw those episodes, it really lit a fire under me, that it was great writing — they were written by Ron Moore — and it was wonderfully acted in terms of all the Klingon characters and the things that were at stake. And even though they’re not human, the human condition that showed up in all these characters, it really was like, “There’s a series here.” That’s what first started it.

At that point, we were still doing the movies, and the producer had a very tight grip on what direction he wanted the Star Trek shows and the movies to go in. And I just went, “Well, you know, I’m just an actor sitting around doing lines. I’m not in those meetings,” so I kind of let it go. But I always had it in the back of my mind.

Tellingly, Dorn avoids citing Sons and Daughters among his inspirations. Still, this illustrates just how clearly Soldiers of the Empire, Sons and Daughters and Once More Unto the Breach stood apart from the rest of Deep Space Nine.

“When a father and son do not speak, it means there’s trouble between them. Or that one of them died before the other became an officer.”

Once More Unto the Breach belongs to Kor and Martok, telling their stories in parallel. Kor’s story is that of an aging war horse who finds himself on the cusp of irrelevance. It is implied that age has taken its toll on the hero. He struggles to remember even basic details. Three lines after Worf assigns him to the Ch’Tang, Kor asks, “What was the name of the ship?” As the red alert klaxon summons the crew to battle stations, he grows confused. “I’m supposed to be somewhere.” He chides himself, “Concentrate.”

In the heat of battle, Kor takes command of the bridge. But he slips from reality into memory. “Open a channel to Kang,” Kor orders as the Bird of Prey strikes at the Dominion base. “Tell him we’ve succeeded, and that the Federation outpost on Caleb IV will be taken within an hour!” As the bridge falls apart around him, he vows, “Victory is ours. The Federation will rue the day they dared to challenge the might of the Klingon Empire. We will take Caleb IV and raise our banner over the smoking ruins of their outpost.”

A taste of his own medicine.

Kor is never explicitly diagnosed with a degenerative condition. Once More Unto the Breach is not particularly concerned with the medical explanation for his lapses. It is left somewhat ambiguous as to whether Kor is suffering from a specific illness, like a Klingon version of Alzheimer’s or Huntington’s, or whether this is just something that happens to Klingons as they grow old. Indeed, for all that Once More Unto the Breach is a very broad script, there are traces of ambiguity concerning Kor’s condition. As with the mission failure in Valiant, Moore leaves a lot open to interpretation.

Most notably, the episode is never entirely clear about whether Kor is in denial about his illness or whether he is well aware of what is happening to him. When he shows up in the teaser, he laments that the Klingon Empire has denied him a warrior’s death. “Help me fight again, Worf,” Kor begs. “Help me end my life as I’ve lived it. As a warrior.” It sounds almost as though Kor is advocating for a Klingon version of euthanasia, although he never quite comes out and says it. It is unclear whether Kor wants to die a warrior’s death immediately or in the longer term.

“I heard this is the final season.”

Naturally, this plot point allows Moore to play with questions about what it means to be a living legend, to come to terms with the fact that even mythic figures are ultimately composed of flesh that decays and brains that deteriorate. This might have been an interesting story angle to explore with Worf, but Worf already came to terms with Kor’s feet of clay in The Sword of Kahless. The episode understands that Worf has already accepted that Kor is ultimately just a fallible man. Instead, Once More Unto the Breach touches on broader ideas.

Kor faces his own sense of obsolescence, the idea that a culture that venerates the myth no longer has a place for the man. In some ways, it is a quintessential Deep Space Nine story, given the show’s interest in contrasting the mythic sweep of its galactic stories with the more human drama at their core. There has always been an interesting tension on Deep Space Nine between the fact that the show is populated with failures and the fact that the series unfolds at what becomes a nexus tying the entire Alpha Quadrant together; a dissonance between myths and men.

“Well, there’s only one thing to do. Recurring holo-programme?”

In keeping with the operatic style best suited to the Klingons, Once More Unto the Breach effectively opens with a thematic statement of the episode’s core themes. Bashir and O’Brien are sitting at the bar, arguing over what really happened to Davy Crockett. (It remains a point of debate and controversy.) Worf, who will play the role of witness to the drama over the remaining episode, succinctly outlines what is really important when trying to parse the legend of Davy Crockett.

“The only real question is whether you believe in the legend of Davy Crockett or not,” Worf explains to his co-stars. “If you do, then there should be no doubt in your mind that he died the death of a hero. If you do not believe in the legend, then he was just a man and it does not matter how he died.” This argument is then played out over the remaining forty-five minutes of story. It could easily be a hokey storytelling device, stating the moral in the opening scene and then telling a story illustrating that moral, but it fits with the broad theatrical tone of these Klingon stories.

Worf tells it how it is. Or how it isn’t. It doesn’t really matter.

Kor is humiliated during the attack upon the Dominion base at Trelka V. When Martok is injured during the attack, Kor quickly (and instinctively) steps into the role of commander. The crew follow the mighty Dahar Master, even as he disobeys Martok’s direct orders. While Martok argued for a single pass of the base, Kor insists on a full-on assault. As he slips into a state of confusion, he even orders a ground assault against the full-strength installation. “But sir, they have a garrison of ten thousand!” Disaster is only averted when Worf incapacitates Kor.

Nevertheless, Once More Unto the Breach culminates with Kor affording himself a heroic death. As the Jem’Hadar pursue the remnants of the Klingon fleet, Worf decides that the Ning’tao should drop behind in order to buy the rest of the ships time to make it safely behind friendly lines. Spurred on by Martok’s adjutant, Kor incapacitates Worf and makes the noble sacrifice himself. The last that the audience sees of Kor, he is disappearing into the Ch’Tang’s transporter beam. “Long live the Empire!”

Beaming with pride.

Kor’s final battle with the Jem’Hadar is not depicted on screen. As Moore conceded to Cinefantastique, this was a source of some controversy within the writing staff and among the fans:

“At the end, I know some people have questioned whether we should have seen the battle with Kor. It was an internal debate, too. Hans Beimler I know felt strongly that we should go see something. He wished we could have seen Kor fighting off the Jem’Hadar at the end. That’s one of those difficult choices you have to make as a writer and a producer. I think, given the chance to do it again that I would have played it the same way. It wasn’t worth the money that it would have cost us to deliver a spectacular enough fight to justify doing it. You would have had to amp the drama up again, and spend more screen time, and blow a lot of money in doing it. It works the way it is. It is effective. They talk about it off camera. You never see him do it and you don’t know how he died, which to me reflects back to the teaser and Davy Crockett. You don’t really know how he died, and the legend is bigger than the specifics of how it went down. I think I would have stuck with it the way it is.”

To be fair, it is easy enough to understand the source of this frustration. Characters on film and television are rarely truly dead unless the audience sees a body. Enabran Tain should have gone down with his ship in The Die is Cast, but was revealed to be alive and captured in In Purgatory’s Shadow.

Kor demographics love the idea.

However, bidding farewell to Kor at that point in the story makes a great deal of dramatic sense. It fits very comfortably with the theatrical stylings of the episode, understanding that Kor’s arc is effectively complete once he steps on that transporter pad and that showing more would be cost- (and time-) prohibitive. More than that, it adds a layer of ambiguity to the story, in keeping with the myth of Davy Crockett. What happened to Kor? Did he die in battle? Did he slip back into dementia? Was he captured? Did he die in captivity?

The key point of Once More Unto the Breach is that none of these answers actually matter. All that matters is that Kor is afforded his dignity, that he is offered the opportunity to pass into history with a sense of great. Although Once More Unto the Breach never really develops any witnesses to properly evaluate Kor, the audience are familiar enough with the character that they might fill that purpose. The audience is invited to reach their own conclusions about Kor, about what they want to believe and what they choose to believe. It is an engaging open-ended approach.

Martok and Worf won’t see eye-to-eye on this.

Martok’s arc plays out in parallel to that of Kor. Once More Unto the Breach is very much a companion piece to Soldiers of the Empire in the way that it focuses on the psychology and the history of Martok. Martok remains one of the most flesh-out and developed Klingon characters in the history of the franchise, certainly the most developed Klingon never to wear a Starfleet uniform. He has a great deal of agency within the larger structure of Deep Space Nine, and is very much a triumph of the show’s approach to narrative and character.

Once More Unto the Breach explores Martok’s family history. Deep Space Nine has revealed quite a lot about Martok’s nuclear family, introducing Drex in The Way of the Warrior and Sirella in You Are Cordially Invited…, but Once More Unto the Breach offers a much greater sense of where Martok came from and how he rose to his position of prominence. Explaining his simmering resentment of Kor, Martok explains that his family originated in “the lowlands of Ketha Province” as “a family of warriors.”

A working class Klingon is something to be.

Once More Unto the Breach explores the class structure of the Klingon Empire in a way that prefigures some of the some of the recurring interests of Star Trek: Enterprise like Judgment, Affliction and Divergence. After all, the franchise has tended to focus on the high-ranking members of the Klingon military in positions of prominence. It is interesting to peer beyond that. Martok talks about his father’s status anxiety. “Fifteen generations had served as soldiers of the Empire, but my father had higher hopes for me. He wanted his son to become an officer.”

On The Next Generation, Ronald D. Moore defined the Klingons as a warrior culture. He also offered subversions of this warrior ideal, whether through the cynical politicking of Sins of the Father or the wry manoeuvring of Reunion. While Moore would repeatedly hint that Gowron was a better politician than a warrior, and that there was something close to a moral rot setting in at the heart of the Empire, The Next Generation worked hard to codify the Klingons as a race of intergalactic warriors.

Old friends.

On Deep Space Nine, Ronald D. Moore tweaked expectations slightly. Repeatedly, Moore was willing to look outside the familiar framework of the warrior caste to hint at a wider social framework. House of Quark focused on the indignities heaped upon women in Klingon culture, building on ideas that had been left as suggestions in Redemption, Part I and Redemption, Part II. Rules of Engagement featured a Klingon lawyer. Once More Unto the Breach explores the idea of a rigid social class system inside the Klingon Empire.

This class system makes a great deal of sense. After all, the Klingon Empire is an empire. There are unpleasant aspects to this culture, as emphasised in episodes like Sons of Mogh. While the Klingons might align themselves with the Federation, they do not share their values or ideas. As Martok argued in You Are Cordially Invited…, Klingons do not embrace other cultures; they conquer them. While science-fiction and fantasy have a tendency to fetishise societies governed by rules of conduct and based on strength, the truth is that they are fundamentally horrifying.

Don’t let it Mar(tok) their reputations…

Neatly foreshadowing Worf’s disillusioned conversation with Ezri in Tacking Into the Wind, Kor forces Worf to confront the ugly side of the Klingon Empire. As much as Worf might romanticise his homeland, many of its traditions are outdated and regressive. When Worf confronts Kor about vetoing Martok’s admission to the officer class, Kor is unapologetic. He does not specifically recall dismissing Martok out of hand because of his family’s social class, but he defends his right to have done so.

“It is an unworthy reason to bar a man from serving the Empire,” Worf protests. Kor calls him out. “Worf, you’ve been living among this democratic rabble for too long,” he contends. He then, very astutely, points out that Worf is just as much a beneficiary of the caste system as Kor. “I know your bloodline. We both come from noble Houses. Among our people that still counts for something. If Martok is a true Klingon, he should appreciate that.” There is sense that ascension within the Klingon Empire has little to do with honour and more to do with name.

“Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of Dahar Masters…”

In some ways, Once More Unto the Breach sets up ideas involving Martok that will pay off later in the year. As with a lot of the final season, there is a sense that the writers have an idea of the direction in which they plan to take these characters, and are threading those ideas through earlier episodes. In particular, Once More Unto the Breach cements the idea of Martok as a grounded and working-class Klingon, which makes him a much more convincing answer to the rot at the heart of the Klingon Empire when Tacking Into the Wind comes around.

After all, Deep Space Nine is a series much more sympathetic to the idea of working class protagonists than any other show in the franchise. Deep Space Nine is essentially the story of a bunch of misfits who find themselves assigned to a station that is falling apart in what would have been a forgotten corner of the Alpha Quadrant. While other Star Trek shows tend to focus on the best and brightest that humanity has to offer, Deep Space Nine is more invested in working stiffs.

It is an old story.

It is no coincidence that Deep Space Nine has positioned Miles O’Brien, the franchise’s first working class regular character, as its avatar of basic decency. As the seventh season of Deep Space Nine comes to a close, as regimes change and as political power shifts, the series returns to the idea that power should rest in the hands of those who have lived in the world among the people rather than entrusting authority to those insulated by class and hierarchy.

Martok takes control of the Klingon Empire in Tacking Into the Wind; it seems more than likely that he will be the first Klingon High Chancellor to hail from “the lowlands of Ketha Province.” Rom assumes the post of Grand Nagus in The Dogs of War; his primary experience seems to be is time as a waiter working in his brother’s bar and his tenure as an engineer on a Federation space station. Even Garak seems likely to have a hand in shaping the future of Cardassia, returning home after seven years in exile living as a tailor among aliens.

In war, nothing is more honourable than pettiness.

Once More Unto the Breach is particularly compelling because it is willing to let Martok be the bad guy. Despite the sympathy engendered by his family history, and despite the audience’s long-standing sympathy for Martok, the General is really mean to Kor. He does not just discipline Kor for his failure during the attack on Trelka V. Instead, Martok luxuriates in humiliating Kor, in turning the old man’s failure into a spectacle for the whole crew to watch.

It is an incredibly uncomfortable scene, with both Moore and Hertzler underscoring just how much Martok hates Kor. Martok’s adjutant, Darok, clearly has little appetite for this petty display. “If you’ll excuse me, I have duties to attend to,” he offers, trying to leave the mess hall before the charade can continue any further. However, Martok is not about to let him leave. He wants an audience for his humiliation of Kor. “Your duties are right here,” he instructs his subordinate.

No Errand of Mercy.

In his interview with Cinefantastique, Moore singled out that sequence as a highlight of the episode:

“The scene where J.G. goes on about his past and why he doesn’t like Kor, and what it was like to get crossed off the officers list is wonderful. I think the scene where Kor is in the mess hall, and Martok comes in and is baiting him and Kor doesn’t say anything for a long time is just great. I think it’s heartbreaking. I think it is a difficult scene to watch because you like both characters. Martok gets really nasty with him, and it’s not usually a place that you go with a heroic character like Martok, to really let him get nasty and petty and twist the knife in the old man. I thought it was a great scene.”

It is a fantastic moment, because Martok remains entirely understandable even as he indulges his sadism.

The way of the worrier.

Once More Unto the Breach is particularly willing to follow that thread, and to cast Martok in an unheroic light. Martok is a good guy by any measure. Martok welcomed Worf into his House in Soldiers of the Empire. Martok learned to respect Nog in Blaze of Glory. Martok helped to pull Worf out of his funk in Image in the Sand. Martok has repeatedly advocated to Gowron on behalf of the Federation, in episodes like Favour the Bold and The Emperor’s New Cloak. Martok is so fundamentally decent that he does not even seem to have an evil mirror universe doppelganger.

To be fair, Martok does seem to recognise his own pettiness after the fact. “I’ve dreamt of the moment when I would finally see him stripped of his rank and title, when he would suddenly find himself without a friend in the world, without the power of his birthright,” he confesses to Worf. “Well, I’ve had that moment now. And I took no joy from it.” When Worf explains that he plans to petition Gowron on Kor’s behalf, Martok seems to voice his own support for the idea. “I’ll have a word with Gowron as well.”

Concerned about his general well-being.

However, there are still limits to how much Martok can forgive. At the end of the episode, after Kor has made his heroic sacrifice, the crew of Ch’Tang sing a battle hymn in his honour. Martok drinks to Kor’s memory, but he will not sing. J.G. Hertzler was proud of that choice:

I think Once More unto the Breach was my favorite because I was dealing with John Colicos as Kor, which was an honor. And I got to do a tiny bit of writing in that one. I asked Ron (Moore) if I could add a line to a long speech I had at the end of the episode. I added, “Unfortunately, my father did not live to see that day.” That, for me, rounded out the character’s choice to never forgive, to take his hatred of Kor and his resentment to the grave. It was important to me to not forgive Kor on behalf of my father. They said, “People like Martok. They want to root for him.” I said, “You know, it really doesn’t matter.” As a character, as an actor it’s a lot more exciting to play that “human failure” of never forgiving than it is to forgive. You might be a better angel to forgive, but there aren’t that many angels in the Klingon nature.

It is a very brave choice, but one that feels true to the character. The audience can understand Martok’s resentment and his anger, and can certainly see why he might struggle to let that go after thirty years.

Kor still has his bottle.

Once More Unto the Breach is a story that throws two sympathetic protagnonists into conflict with one another, and which refuses to compromise on either. Both Martok and Kor are sympathetic, as the working class soldier who clawed his way to the top in spite of class prejudice and as the old man seeking one last glorious battle before he slips into senility. However, but Martok and Kor are also deeply flawed. Martok is unable to forgive, while Kor refuses to acknowledge that he did anything wrong.

There is a lot of nuance to their positions, in spite of all the operatic stylings of this broad Klingon episode. It is a testament to what Ronald D. Moore has done with the Klingons that Once More Unto the Breach threads that line so carefully and so precisely. It is a story with a very poetic quality to it, an epic tale of class resentment and fading glory, but one rooted in two characters who seem more human than many Star Trek regulars in spite of all the make-up that they might wear.

10 Responses

  1. >As the seventh season of Deep Space Nine comes to a close, as regimes change and as political power shifts, the series returns to the idea that power should rest in the hands of those who have lived in the world among the people rather than entrusting authority to those insulated by class and hierarchy.

    Could we also list our working-class hero O’Brien, who as an instructor at Starfleet Academy will be in a position to guide the (ahem) next generation of Starfleet?

    Another beautiful essay, Darren. This is one of my favourites, from the Alamo opening to the climax. What an awesome send-off for the first Klingon!

    • Thanks Michael. It’s another underrated seventh season episode. And, yeah, the fondness for O’Brien is definitely part of that outlook!

  2. “Savor the fruit of life, my friends. But don’t live too long…”
    It’s too bad there was no budget to show Kor fending off those ships. The ending does not work at all.

    Funny how the Klingons, of all people, don’t really respect the TOS-era Klingons. The Cardassians, and even the Ferengi, venerate their elders. Something was lost when the Klingons signed the Kitomer Accords.

    This is coming out of left field, but I wonder if this can be read as commentary on the US occupation of Japan.

    • I’m curious about that Japan idea.

      I think the ending works, if only because it doesn’t matter what Kor actually does, as long as there is enough room to believe that he died a hero.

  3. I really enjoyed this episode. I’m glad that Kor wasn’t killed off way back in “Blood Oath” because we got two more really good stories featuring the character.

    What I really appreciated about DS9’s approach to Kor is that they reimagined him as something straddling between protagonist & anti-hero, but they didn’t smooth away his rough edges or forget about his unpleasant qualities. Kor in his later years was a fun, larger-than-life character who was cool to hang around with, but from time to time you would absolutely see hints that this was also still the same guy who decades before in “Errand of Mercy” ordered the execution of civilians and who was genuinely disappointed that there wasn’t going to be a violent full-scale war waged between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. It makes perfect sense that all these years later Kor would still be the type to get drunk with power & ambition when he discovers Khaless’ legendary sword and who still defends his decision to reject Martok’s application purely on the grounds of the Empire’s inflexible class structure.

    I agree that the feud between Martok and Kor works well because at this point the viewers do like both characters, and it reveals the uncomfortable flaws in both men. It’s not at all black & white.

    It was a smart decision by Moore that Kor doesn’t even remember rejecting Martok’s application decades before. It was a real “But For Me It Was Tuesday” moment (and it’s even cited on that TV Tropes entry). The rejection was one of the defining moments of Martok’s life, and I’m sure that it mush have burned him even more to learn that Kor didn’t even recall it.

    Probably my favorite scene was the one in the mess hall where Martok and his subordinates are berating Kor for his blunder & senility, and Kor just sits there, stoically, before rising to sadly deliver a great line…

    “Savor the fruit of life, my young friends. It has a sweet taste when it’s fresh from the vine. But don’t live too long. The taste turns bitter after a time.”

    John Colicos was a good actor, but he was also definitely a very broad, theatrical one. His best-known work, besides Star Trek, was Battlestar Galatica, where he brought to live Count Baltar in an extremely over-the-top, scenery-chewing performance. So it was really wonderful to see him in this scene, giving a very subtle, quiet, moving performance.

    • Colicos really is marvelous here, and it’s nice that he did get this send-off. Like, it doesn’t seem like killing off Kor should have been at the top of anybody’s “to do” list going into the final season, but I’m glad that they took the time to tell this story.

  4. Oh, yes, I think it worth mentioning here, since this *is* the final appearance of Kor…

    At the end of “Errand of Mercy,” the Organians tell Kirk that “It is true that in the future, you and the Klingons will become fast friends. You will work together.” Kor, of course, is outraged at the idea, and one suspects Kirk was also highly skeptical.

    Re-watching “Errand of Mercy” in the early 2000s, when I got to that scene, the final season of DS9 immediately jumped into my mind, with the Federation and the Klingons fighting side-by-side against the Dominion. It’s only one small scene in “Once More Unto the Breach” but that bit where Sisko and Martok are discussing the plans for the Klingons’ “cavalry charge” perfectly encapsulates that. In spite of their differences, Sisko and Martok very clearly share a deep respect for one another, a genuine camaraderie, and in their relationship you can see the fulfillment of the Organians’ prophecy from nearly a century earlier.

    • That is a very nice touch.

      I’m always partial to the idea articulated by the Reeves-Stevens that Star Trek is the story of how our enemies become our friends.

  5. Outstanding analysis. Glory to the Empire!

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