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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Changing Face of Evil (Review)

The arrival of the Breen in the final stretch of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine pays off one of the longest recurring gags of the Michael Piller era.

The Breen are one of the most intriguing races in the larger Star Trek canon, first established as part of the mythos during the fourth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Breen very assembled from a variety of little snippets of conversation over the next few years. The Loss established that the Breen were impervious to telepathy. Elogium implied that the Breen reproduced at a young age, and confirmed that they were known as a warlike species. They were suspects in the attack on the Vico in Hero Worship and on the Amargosa Observatory in Star Trek: Generations.

Things come apart.

The Breen would pop up time and again in dialogue, sketching out a bizarre culture. Their athletes were discussed in Interface. Their privateers were a threat dealt with off-screen in To the Death. Their nursery rhymes were a source of interest in For the Uniform. Their organic technology was mentioned in Scorpion, Part I. By the time that the Breen appeared on screen in Indiscretion, during the fourth season of Deep Space Nine, their status as an in-joke was confirmed. They were covered head-to-toe, dressed like Leia in Star Wars – Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi.

As such, the Breen are a rather strange choice to play such a crucial role in this late stage of the game, stepping into the Dominion War with only ten episodes left in Deep Space Nine. When they capture Ezri and Worf in Penumbra, their connection to the larger arc is unclear. Their plans to ally with the Dominion are only confirmed at the end of ‘Til Death Do Us Part. After a lot of teasing in Strange Bedfellows, it is The Changing Face of Evil that reveals the Breen to be something of a game-changer in the larger context of the Dominion War, easily retaking Chin’toka.

Battlefield Earth.

On paper, a lot of this is a transparent attempt on the part of the writers to move the story along. The Breen serve a number of clear narrative purposes, from escalating the stakes in the conflict between the Dominion and the Federation through to providing some more motivation for Damar’s betrayal of the Dominion. Tellingly, both of these threads pay off in The Changing Face of Evil, an episode that arrives at almost the half-way point in this sprawling galactic epic.

The incorporation of the Breen into the Dominion War is not particularly elegant. The introduction of a new alien species into the mix this late in the plot, with the clear intention of increasing the severity of the threat and to motivating the supporting cast to action, is a very clumsy piece of writing. However, Deep Space Nine just about manages to get away with it because the Breen don’t feel like a new alien species. Although they were never intended to serve this particularly purpose, they have been around long enough that they are part of the texture of the Star Trek universe.

For Cardassia.

To be fair, the Breen did not materialise entirely out of thin air and vague references. The Breen have appeared on screen on a couple of occasions in early Deep Space Nine. Kira and Dukat infiltrated a Breen labour camp in Indiscretion, even if ‘Til Death Do Us Part seems to suggest that they stole some Breen uniforms without ever catching sight of a Breen. There was a Breen prisoner in the Dominion internment camp in In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light, wherein Bashir revealed that the Breen don’t have blood and a Romulan suggested “never turn your back on a Breen.”

Indeed, the alliance between the Dominion and the Breen makes a certain amount of sense given the trail of breadcrumbs scattered across the final seasons of Deep Space Nine. For all that the Breen are hostile to the Federation, Return to Glory suggested that the Cardassians have a diplomatic embassy there. The presence of a Breen in the Dominion internment camp in In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light suggests that the Founders had infiltrated the Breen Confederacy. Yelgrun suggested he had been in diplomatic contact with the Breen in The Magnificent Ferengi.

“We’ve only Breen together for the shortest time.”

Interestingly, the introduction of the Breen into the final arc of Deep Space Nine is not the first time that the production team working on a Star Trek show had considered incorporating them into an epic narrative. Towards the end of the fifth season, in January 1992, Jeri Taylor proposed a Breen-centric cliffhanger in a memo to Michael Piller:

In a mission that will serve as a kind of transition, the Enterprise is assigned to meet a delegation from the Breen and escort them to Earth. We are to establish diplomatic relations with the Breen, a bellicose, brutal species who inhabit a distant but expanding empire. We have long been aware of the Breen and have been happy that they were so far away; we’ve always felt that they would be trouble.

Taylor saw a number of interesting possibilities in that story, including “the opportunity to introduce a new adversary, the Breen — a move which I think will infuse new energy into the seventh season.” It was not to be. The production team would opt for a different approach to the fifth season finale with Time’s Arrow, Part I.

A Sobor voice.

For the most part, the Breen languished in relative obscurity over the following years. The Next Generation and Voyager continued to make affectionate reference to the mysterious Breen, while Deep Space Nine actually had the Breen make appearances in episodes like IndiscretionIn Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light. However, there was never any sense of the Breen as a political entity. They seemed more some weird combination of a stock villain and the answer to every other trivia question in the Star Trek universe.

Certainly, they were never part of the master plan on Deep Space Nine. Asked at the start of the sixth season about the possibility of fleshing out the Breen, Ronald D. Moore was non-commital, “We have no plans for the Breen at the moment, but we could explore them in the future.” The Breen were notably excluded from the list of potential Dominion allies in Call to Arms, losing out to the Tholians for the “rarely seen, often mentioned” place in the triptych of non-aggression pact signees that also included the Romulans and the Miradorn.

Bashful Bashir.

The introduction of the Breen into the Dominion in the final arc of Deep Space Nine serves several storytelling purposes. Most obviously, it provides a catalyst for the escalation of the Dominion War. The Dominion War is regarded as the first true long-form serialised storytelling within the televisual Star Trek universe, and that description is largely fair. However, the Dominion War often felt like more of a status quo than an on-going story of itself, the backdrop against which the production team could tell stories like Inquisition or The Siege of AR-558.

To be fair, there were periods of activity within the context of the Dominion War. The destruction of the ketracel white facility in A Time to Stand was mentioned as a strategic loss for the Dominion in Behind the Lines and Statistical Probabilities. The entry of the Romulans into the war in In the Pale Moonlight was used as a springboard for a more proactive Federation offensive in episodes like The Reckoning and Tears of the Prophets. However, barring occasional flurries of activity, the conflict seemed like one long and brutal slog.

“So… did you get to look under their masks?”

This is not unreasonable. After all, the front lines moved away from Deep Space Nine after the events of Sacrifice of Angels. As George A. Birmingham reflected in A Padre in France after the end of the First World War, troops stationed at outposts saw very little action:

Some one described war at the front as an affair of months of boredom punctuated by moments of terror. If that philosopher had been stationed at a base he might have halved his epigram and described war as months of boredom unpunctuated even by terror.

Still, in light of this reality, the production team needed something that would push the Dominion War back to the front of the narrative and setting in motion a chain of events that would explain why a war that had been waged slowly over the previous forty-three episodes would be resolved in this run of ten episodes.

“And when I get the feelin’, I need textual healin’…”

The Breen allow the production team to escalate the war by raising the stakes. Indeed, the earlier episodes in the arc had been quite bullish about the potential of the Breen to change the course of the war. “Changes everything doesn’t it?” teased Weyoun as the cliffhanger to ‘Til Death Do Us Part. The Female Changeling elaborated in the teaser to Strange Bedfellows, “With the Breen at our side, the Federation will not be able to stand against us. They’ll be erased from the face of the galaxy.” Sadly, there is no evil laugh.

Even allowing for the lack of subtlety in ‘Til Death Do Us Part and Strange Bedfellows, The Changing Face of Evil is almost single-minded in its commitment to proving that the entry of the Breen into the Dominion War is a really big deal. It provides the unifying thread that runs through this forty-odd-minute block of television, from the sting at the end of the teaser to the humiliating defeat at the climax of the episode. The Changing Face of Evil is devoted to demonstrating just just how seriously the Breen threaten the Federation.

“Thot’s a good idea.”

The Changing Face of Evil does this a number of ways. The dialogue has familiar characters repeatedly emphasise how dangerous they consider the Breen to be. Assessing the situation, Martok muses, “We’ve learned one thing about the Breen today, Captain. They’re a race of warriors.” When Martok assures Sisko that the Breen must have a fatal weakness, Sisko is not reassured. “Let’s hope you’re right,” he concedes. “But whatever the weakness is, we’d better find it soon.”

As Odo introduces new security policies on the station, he makes a point to concede, “Frankly I’m not sure how effective they’ll be against the Breen.” Sisko seems resigned to the unstoppable nature of the Breen. “Neither am I. I just hope we don’t have to find out.” As the Defiant prepares to fly off to Chin’toka, Nog observes, “The Breen, they seem unstoppable. First Earth, now Chin’toka.” It should be noted that all of this happens before the Breen attack on Chin’toka, and the episode seems to imply the Federation did not know about the awesome power of their energy-dampening weapons.

“Don’t worry. Voyager will reset that the next the time that it needs an episode set at Starfleet Command.”

However, The Changing Face of Evil builds up the Breen in more than just dialogue. The teaser reveals that the Breen have mounted a tactical assault upon Earth, which is Star Trek franchise shorthand for escalated stakes. The franchise has only placed Earth under direct threat on a handful of occasions; The Changeling, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Conspiracy, The Best of Both Worlds, Part I, The Best of Both Worlds, Part II, Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: NemesisThe Expanse, Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness. Each occasion was a big deal.

Having the Breen strike at Earth is very effective way of establishing them as a credible threat. “We must give the enemy credit,” Martok concedes. “To launch an attack against Starfleet Headquarters. Even my people never attempted that.” The attack (understandably) rattles all the Starfleet characters on the station, particularly the human characters. Sisko worries about Yates. Bashir and O’Brien dig deeper into their “annihilation fantasies” by building a scale model of the Alamo.

“A scale model of war…”

Even the non-human characters take time to acknowledge the threat posed by the Breen. “Can we really hope to defeat the Dominion?” Rusot asks of Damar, getting ready to quote from the big book of villain clichés. “With the Breen on their side, they’re stronger than ever.” Similarly, Quark is confused by the sight of O’Brien and Bashir playing with models. “Your homeworld has been attacked, the Breen have joined forces with the Dominion, and here you are calmly playing games.”

As with a lot of the characterisation of the Breen in The Changing Face of Evil, this is something of a cliché. However, writers Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimler get away with it for a couple of reasons. Most obviously, Deep Space Nine has only sparing placed Earth under threat. Despite the simmering Dominion War, there has never really been a sense that the Dominion mount a credible and immediate threat; the possibility of an attack on the planet has only fleetingly been discussed in episodes like Favour the Bold. So there is something novel in this escalation.

“I’ve discovered that the best way to avoid terrorist attacks is to avoid building distinctive landmarks.”

More than that, The Changing Face of Evil pitches the attack on Earth very carefully. The Breen attack on the planet is not an invasion. It is barely even a full-fledged assault. Instead, the Breen attack on Starfleet is presented as a daring raid. It recalls the Doolittle Raid on Japan in the aftermath of Pearl Harbour, an attack with minimal strategic value that was intended to lower Japanese moral. Indeed, James Doolittle had estimate that the odds of his raiders surviving the experience were “fifty-fifty.”

The Changing Face of Evil makes it clear that this attack will not actually change the course of the war by itself. Indeed, it is made clear that the victory came at a high price for the Breen. “Starfleet was able to destroy most of the Breen attack force, but by then most of the damage had been done,” Sisko reports. As Weyoun and the Breen celebrate, Damar observes, “It’s unfortunate that so few of your ships survived the assault.” Weyoun responds, “Leave it to you, Damar, to point out the one cloud in the sky.”

Behind closed, but transparent, doors.

Nevertheless, the attack clearly serves its purpose. It is designed to make the Federation feel afraid and uncomfortable, even if that fear is not rational. “You’re not going anywhere,” Sisko warns Yates at one point. “It’s too dangerous.” Yates responds with a rational statement of the facts, “Ben, the Breen attacked Earth. That’s not exactly next door.” Still, Sisko is clearly (and understandably) afraid. “We don’t know where they’re going to attack next.”

Deep Space Nine seems to suggest that the Breen attack is something equivalent to terrorism, an attack with symbolic value that far outstrips the physical damage done. After all, the Golden Gate bridge will be repaired by Pathfinder, but the scars still linger. Deep Space Nine was ahead of its time in its understanding of terrorism and the politics of fear. The last time the Dominion attacked Earth, in Homefront and Paradise Lost, it was a similar symbolic gesture designed to instill fear in the population.

A refreshing distraction.

One of the more interesting thematic aspects of this final arc of Deep Space Nine is the way in which the production team wed the idea of war and terrorism, suggesting that perhaps there is not neat and delineated line between the various forms of political violence. The attack on Earth that opens The Changing Face of Evil is terrorist in nature. Even at the climax of the episode, the Dominion decides to let the escape pods flee in order to spread terror and fear. At the very end of the episode, Damar engages in his own act of terrorism and forms his own resistance cell.

There is something intriguing and provocative in this idea, very similar to the debate around justified collateral damage and complicity in The Darkness and the Light. In some ways, Deep Space Nine suggests an equivalence between warfare and terrorism, understanding that instilling fear into a population is often a primary motivating factor in both. Over the course of Deep Space Nine, the Dominion try to dominate the Federation through terror as much as raw military might.

“I thought you said Battle of the Alaimo?”

One of the underrated ironies of this final stretch of episodes is just how deeply these attempts to instill fear and terror backfire.  Doris Kearns Goodwin reflects in No Ordinary Time, the Doolittle raid only intensified Japan’s resolve in the way against the United States:

Through a series of strange twists and turns, the Doolittle raid led to the Battle of Midway. As the American bombs fell on Japanese soil, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander-in-chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet, who had planned the attack of Pearl Harbour, strengthened his resolve to prevent any future penetration of Japan’s perimeter. At his insistence, the decision was made to send an overwhelming force of ten battleships, four aircrafter carriers, and seventy destroyers, 185 ships in all, to seize Midway Island, the farthest outpost of the Hawaiian chain.

The final arc of Deep Space Nine suggests that populations are very rarely scared into surrendering and compromising in war, instead doubling down in their commitment. The Federation does not surrender after Chin’toka. Cardassia does not fall in line after an attempted genocide. In the cosmology of Deep Space Nine, violence only begets further violence.

“You’ll be sad to say goodby to your bachelor PADD.”

Deep Space Nine is often treated as the most cynical and nihilistic of the Star Trek shows, the Dominion War treated as an affront to the utopian idealism of Gene Roddenberry. However, there is a strange humanism at the heart of the larger narrative. The Dominion War is only escalated by acts of violence and aggression, the hatred and commitment only deepened by senseless brutality. What ultimately ends the war is a combination of a desire to change Cardassia from within and the willingness to provide the cure to the Founders, an act of mercy and forgiveness.

Still, the climax of The Changing Face of Evil represents the episode’s second big attempt to build up the Breen as a credible threat. The counter-offensive into Chin’toka is a massive success, with the Breen tearing through the Federation ships and instilling the most humiliating defeat upon the Federation since the Battle of Wolf 359 in The Best of Both Worlds, Part II. More than that, the Breen get to blow up the Defiant, one of the core elements of Deep Space Nine, and a fixture of the show since The Search, Part I and The Search, Part II.

A shocking turn of events.

This is a rather transparent attempt to build up the Breen as a credible threat, but it is somewhat undercut by the realities of nineties television. The Defiant is a vital storytelling tool on Deep Space Nine, and there is simple no way to complete the arc with out. In some ways, blowing up the Defiant in The Changing Face of Evil is the production team trying to have their cake and eat it, something the writers openly concede in The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion:

The writers “wanted to kill Defiant as a statement on how tough the Breen were. We thought that would rock the characters and the audience,” says Moore.

“We’d needed to show that the Breen were formidable, so we came up with the idea of this special weapon,” adds Echevarria. “The death of the Defiant was quite striking – but at the same time, we didn’t want to keep it dead forever.”

“There was no way to do the final big battles without it,” says Moore. “Not unless we shot on the Voyager soundstages all the rest of the time, and that wasn’t going to work.” He laughs.

The destruction of the Defiant in The Changing Face of Evil is heavily undercut by the arrival of a replacement model in The Dogs of War, which is even literally renamed “Defiant.” Even in The Changing Face of Evil, Admiral Bill Ross makes it clear that the loss of the Defiant is not permanent. “It may take a little while, Ben, but I’ll get you another ship, I promise you that.”

Defiant ’til the last.

In some ways, the destruction of the Defiant is a very cynical piece of plotting. After all, the crew are issued with a perfect replica within five episodes, give or take a new carpet and the tactical station at the back of the bridge. The USS Sao Paolo arrives at the station in the teaser for The Dogs of War, meaning that the ship is only absent for four episodes. More than that, Extreme Measures uses the familiar Defiant corridor sets to stand if for the interior of Luther Sloan’s brain, meaning the audience only misses the ship for three episodes.

The Defiant has been absent for longer periods before, even within this season. Early in the season, the Defiant is not even mentioned in Shadows and Symbols, Afterimage, Take Me Out to the Holosuite or Chrysalis. It is discussed as a key plot point in Treachery, Faith and the Great River and mentioned in Once More Unto the Breach, but is not seen. As such, its absence for a few episodes in the middle of this final arc is never truly felt. There is enough going on that the crew never actually miss the ship.

Yes, Dukat. You are still a big deal.

Nevertheless, the destruction of the Defiant is a transparent attempt to prove that the arrival of the Breen is “serious business”, and to prove that the Breen are a pretty big deal. It is a tried-and-tested Star Trek storytelling convention, perhaps the largest possible demonstration of the so-called “Worf Effect”:

You are probably familiar with the Worf Effect, in which a tough character is consistently used to demonstrate that the new villain-of-the-week is properly bad-ass by having the Worf lose a fight to them. Eventually, the supposed toughness of said character becomes merely an informed attribute.

In fact, the Breen destruction of the Defiant is really just an escalation of “the Worf Effect.” The mysterious aliens spend significant portions of Penumbra and ‘Til Death Do Us Part beating up Worf to prove their badassery. (Notably, Worf doesn’t escape until he’s handed over to the Dominion in Strange Bedfellows.)

Yes, Dukat. I’m sure you could beat up Worf.

There is some inelegant plotting at work here. The Changing Face of Evil is an episode that very much wants to have its cake and eat it, to blow up the Defiant without killing off any members of the title crew. Of course, accepting that the regulars are contracted through to the end of the twenty-six episode season, the only expendable member of the Defiant bridge crew would appear to be Nog. (Although, to be fair, Martok or Ross might also be fair game.) Still, the destruction of the Defiant is decidedly bloodless, which requires an awkward contrivance.

As the crew abandon ship, Weyoun muses, “All those escape pods. So small, so vulnerable. I’ll order their destruction immediately.” The Founder interjects, “Let them return to the Federation. Those pods are filled with frightened, demoralised troops.” Weyoun follows her thoughts, “Troops that will spread fear throughout the Federation with tales of what happened here today. The Founder is wise.” It is very much a character decision motivated by the demands of the plot more than any internal logic.

Escape pod people.

After all, it makes sense for the Dominion to want to demoralise Starfleet Command. That is the go-to tactic for the Dominion. They wiped out an entire colony to make a point in The Jem’Hadar, destroyed a Karemma ship for even talking to the Federation in Starship Down, unleashed a horrific biological weapon to scare other cultures into line in The Quickening. The Dominion has repeatedly attack Earth in a manner that evokes terrorism, in episodes like Homefront, Paradise Lost and The Changing Face of Evil. So spreading terror is very much in-character.

Still, it seems misguided to attempt to demoralise the Federation by allowing almost all of the crews at Chin’toka to survive. After all, allowing hundreds or thousands of soldiers to return home is likely to prove a morale boost in the circumstances, evoking Dunkirk. Surely it would be scarier if the Dominion had won the battle in less than an hour and left no survivors. Beyond that, there would probably be less chance of the Federation coming up with a countermeasure to the Breen weapon had the fleet been completely destroyed, including escape pods and records.

Everything burns.

However, the Breen also serve another very clear purpose within this sprawling ten-episode arc. They exist to spur Damar to rebellion, providing both a source of humiliation and a sense of redundancy to the Cardassian Union within the Dominion. In Penumbra and ‘Til Death Do Us Part, the Female Changeling and Weyoun deliberately keep Damar in the dark about their negotiations with the Breen. This is a source of frustration for the nominal leader of Cardassia. “I demand to know where we are going,” he protests at the climax of ‘Til Death Do Us Part.

Strange Bedfellows emphasises this humiliation. Damar only reviews the treat with the Breen after it has been negotiated. Even then, certain sections of it (those pertaining to Cardassia) are consciously concealed from him. “There’s a reference to territorial concessions that the Cardassians are to make to the Breen, but it doesn’t say what those concessions are,” he protests. “You expect me to agree to territorial concessions when I haven’t even seen what they are?” The implied answer to that question is “yes.”

“I hope you won’t let that Damar your relationship with the Dominion.”

The Breen quickly knock the Cardassians down the pecking order within the Dominion. The Breen immediately make themselves at home in Cardassian Central Command. “That database is classified,” Damar protests, but Weyoun assures him that the Dominion has decided to share everything with their latest allies. “The decision was made by the Founder herself,” Weyoun states. “The Founder’s also decided that from now on your military recommendations will be submitted to Thot Gor, and he will pass it on to her.” Damar is effectively demoted.

Even personally, Damar finds himself being squeezed out. Thot Gor and Weyoun immediately strike up a friendly working relationship, Weyoun hanging on his new ally’s every word. “I want you to hear this,” Weyoun tells Damar early in Strange Bedfellows. “Thot Gor had an interesting observation regarding our forces along the Romulan border.” After the attack on Earth in The Changing Face of Evil, Weyoun is at his most sycophantic. “General, please congratulate your troops for us. They’ve done a superb job.”

Best laid plans.

There is a clear sense that the Dominion have begun to consider the Cardassians as expendable. In fact, a recurring thread through Strange Bedfellows is the Klingon attack on Septimus III, a planet defended by the Cardassian Eleventh Order. The planet is taken by the Klingons, as the Dominion decline to provide material support to “a reserve unit; old men and walking wounded.” Damar is horrified when the Dominion decline to offer assistance. “An entire Cardassian Order has been wiped out. Five hundred thousand men!”

Weyoun offers a half-hearted justification for the tactical decision. “The sacrifice made by the Eleventh Order will not be in vain,” he promises Damar. “They forced the Klingons to commit worthwhile valuable troops and resources to capture a strategically worthless planet.” The Dominion has come to see the Cardassians in the same way that they see the Vorta or the Jem’Hadar, resources to be exploited rather than individuals to be governed. “If they were truly loyal Cardassian, then they died willingly for the Dominion. There can be no greater sacrifice.”

All’s well that rebels.

Author Christopher L. Bennett argued that the Breen were essentially a motivator for Damar’s eventual turn against the Dominion, which happens in parallel with the ascent of the Breen at the climax of The Changing Face of Evil:

I think the main reason for bringing in the Breen was to establish that the Dominion saw Cardassia as disposable — not the partners they’d promised, but just a stepping-stone toward their conquest of the quadrant, to be tossed aside as soon as they’d outlived their usefulness (if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor). It was a motivator for Damar’s — and Cardassia’s — journey toward rebellion.

In fact, The Changing Face of Evil makes a point to have Damar explicitly state this parallel. “By the way, in case Weyoun has neglected to mention it, the Dominion once sang Cardassia’s praises as well,” Damar warns Thot Gor, effectively stating “… and it’ll happen to you.”

“I’m just asking questions.”

The Changing Face of Evil is not a particularly subtle piece of television, to the point that Worf and Ezri explicitly explain this taut relationship to Sisko in the episode’s teaser. “The Cardassians are a proud people, but the Dominion treats them like second class citizens,” Worf outlines. Ezri elaborates, “I think Damar is worried that this new alliance with the Breen is going to weaken Cardassia’s status with the Dominion even more.” It is very much a bullet-point recap of the previous three episodes, an expositional nod to the studio’s reluctance to resort to “previously on…” segments.

All of this emphasis on the Breen is a little clumsy and heavy-handed, but the final arc just about gets away with it. A lot of this is down to the audience’s trust and small olive branch gestures. The Breen are as much a narrative “jack in the box” as anything that Felix scripted in Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang, to the point that the introduction of the mobsters into Vic’s holoprogramme could in some ways be seen as playful foreshadowing. However, the Breen do not come entirely out of left field, so their entrance isn’t as jarring as it could be. More than that, their presence enables interesting plot developments.

“I did try to schedule my speech so not to clash with the Chin’toka battle. I mean, man. Did you see that thing?”

Even beyond that, there is something inherently interesting about the Breen themselves. They look and sound like no other major Star Trek alien species. Obviously, they are not as bizarre as the computer-generated menaces featured in episodes like Macrocosm or Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II, but they are visually striking, within the confines of a television budget and without needing too much explanation. They are completely costumed from head to toe, without any skin showing. They do not communicate in anything that the audience will recognise as a verbal language.

Even the characters within the narrative repeatedly explain that the Breen are mysterious and strange. “During the Second Empire, Chancellor Mow’ga sent a fleet of Klingon ships to conquer their homeworld, and they were never heard from again,” Worf warns Ezri in Strange Bedfellows. If only they’d thought to adjust their tritium intermix. When Martok explains that the attack on Starfleet Headquarters has established the Breen as a race of warriors in The Changing Face of Evil, Sisko reflects, “That’s about all we know. Our intelligence reports are sketchy at best.”

“We’re the brains, and they’re the Breen.”

This mystery is enticing even to their allies. Weyoun is incredibly curious about the Breen. “Our new allies are full of surprises, aren’t they?” he asks Damar. “You know those refrigeration suits they wear?” He elaborates, “I’m sure you’ve read the intelligence reports that say that their homeworld is a frozen wasteland. Well, it’s not. The climate on their planet is quite comfortable.” Damar responds, “Then why do they wear refrigeration suits?” Weyoun answers, “They won’t say. You see what I mean? They’re full of surprises.”

The Breen are a riddle even to the audience. What little has been established about the Breen is often contradictory. When Exri wonders what a Breen looks like in ‘Til Death Do Us Part, Worf responds, “They say no one has ever seen one and lived to speak of it.” However, Kira steals a Breen uniform in both Indiscretion and What You Leave Behind. While Weyoun suggests that nobody has visited the Breen homeworld in The Changing Face of Evil, Dukat suggests that there has been a Cardassian embassy there in Return to Grace. The Breen are a mess of contradictions.

A few Kai concerns.

As Ira Steven Behr explained in The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, this was entirely intentional:

“We wanted to give these guys something special. I couldn’t make them the toughest guys in the galaxy – that’s the Jem’Hadar. Or the most arrogant guys – that’s the Cardassians. Or the most untrustworthy guys – that’s the Vorta. So we decided to make them the most mysterious guys in the galaxy, with voices that really grate on the audience.”

It is an approach that pays off. The Breen become major players rather late in the run of Deep Space Nine, but they are certainly memorable.

The bad book.

Part of what is remarkable about the Breen is that they don’t really overshadow any of the preexisting threads that need to be explored in this final run of episodes. The Damar and the Cardassians never feel shortchanged by the sudden introduction of the Breen. Martok and the Klingons are never squeezed out of the story by these new arrivals. If anything, the Breen provide a context for the stories told using these characters; they provide a springboard to Damar’s rebellion and heighten the stakes for Gowron’s posturing in the episodes that follow, When It Rains… and Tacking into the Wind.

In some respects, this justifies the often heavy-handed and clumsy efforts to establish the Breen as a credible threat in the first four episodes of the arc. Penumbra, ‘Til Death Do Us Part, Strange Bedfellows and The Changing Face of Evil get away with making such a big deal of the Breen because front-loading that set-up allows the later episodes to return to dangling threads about preexisting characters and concepts. The Breen have arguably served their primary purpose by the end of The Changing Face of Evil, and so surrender the spotlight.

“I knew we should have delayed the battle so that it would be the cliffhanger.”

Indeed, despite their relatively late arrival as a major player within the Star Trek universe, the Breen seemed to have lodged in fandom’s consciousness. During the final season of Voyager, a holographic Breen appeared in Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II. They have appeared in several Star Trek video games over the years, from computer games like Conquest and Star Trek Online to roleplaying games like Aliens. One of the primary characters in the Star Trek fan series Renegades is a Breen.

It should be noted that the Breen played a major role in the Pocket Books Star Trek relaunch, the series of novels that provide their own continuity picking up threads from the end of What You Leave Behind, Nemesis and Endgame. In particular, the Breen find themselves a major player in the Typhon Pact series of novels, as part of the eponymous alliance of mysterious fan favourite antagonistic races, alongside the Romulans, the Tzenkethi, the Gorn and the Tholians. In particular Zero Sum Game delves into Breen culture.

Cooking up a storm.

For writer David Mack part of the appeal of the Breen was the sense of mystery that had been cultivated around them, and trying to reconcile the inherent contradictions:

In the case of the Breen, whose biology and culture I explored in my novel Zero Sum Game, the episodes had a lot of different information about the Breen, and previous licensed works, such as role-playing game supplements, had other “official” information that was later contradicted by the shows. Unfortunately, I did not have the luxury of picking and choosing which interpretation was correct—I don’t have that kind of pull within the franchise.

Then I hit upon an interesting idea: what if every canon detail we’ve ever been given about the Breen is 100-percent true and correct? What explanation would be able to reconcile all those different premises from the episodes?

According to his fellow author David R. George III, the Breen were defined by the fact that they were “secretive and mysterious.” Many iconic Star Trek aliens can be reduced to broad strokes; that’s certainly not the worst hat to wear.

Yes, Dukat. You still got it.

The Changing Face of Evil effectively cements the importance of the Breen entry into the Dominion War. It is occasionally a little blunt and a little awkward, but it gets the job done with an admirable efficiency. With this bit of table-setting complete, the writers can focus on more urgent plot threads.

4 Responses

  1. “They were covered head-to-toe, dressed like Leia in Star Wars – Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi.”

    “The great Jabba asks *why* he should never turn his back on a Breen. […] Because he has a thermal detonator!”

  2. The Breen have been woven throughout the series. Their inclusion is less strange if you marathon the show.

    I did not recognize who they were in 1999, but by then, half the characters were unfamiliar faces to me!

    Looking back, Damar got a lot of great speeches and played a major role in many episodes for a guy who always sounded like he was reading off of cue cards. I especially like his line about “the TRUE oppressors of the Alpha Quadrant”, which is too bad because it’s cut off slightly by Sisko’s and Kira’s exchange in Ops.

    I also remember the expressions on Weyoun (great facials by Jeffrey Combs) and the Founder when they hear it.

    • Yeah, Damar is an amazing reinvention of a character who was basically a named extra when he was introduced, and for the next few episodes after that.

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