While the purest expression of that love won’t show up until the fifth season with the airing of what most consider to be the finest episode of DS9 ever, this week’s hour, "Blood Oath," was the first to slap on its Spock-ears and declare its intentions. Klingons, along with Vulcans, were the defining alien race in TOS, and three specific Klingons defined the race more than any others: Kang (Michael Ansara) from “Day of the Dove,” Kor (John Colicos) from “Errand of Mercy,” and Koloth (William Campbell) from “The Trouble with Tribbles.” This episode brings all three of them back for one final mission. They’re old, they’re grumpy, they’re Klingons, and they’ve got some killing to do. And, in a welcome choice, no one ever explains why all three of them were TOS Klingons, meaning minimal makeup, and now they’re suddenly TNG Klingons, meaning they have bushy hair and spine-foreheads. No one cares. It’s not important to the narrative.
I talked last week about how writers like to retell stories. The writers claim they were adapting Seven Samurai with Klingons, with Kang as Kambei and Koloth as Kyuzo. They’re actually much closer to The Three Musketeers: Kang is Athos; Kor is Porthos; and Koloth is Aramis. This is an important distinction, because it casts our ostensible heroine in the role of D’Artagnan. The three Klingons were instrumental in bringing down a bandit known as the Albino, but this bandit got his revenge when he killed the firstborn sons of the three of them. One of these kids -- Kang’s boy -- was named Dax. Yep, that Dax. Kang and Curzon were BFFs from their time across the negotiating table to the point that Kang welcomed a Federation official into his family as the boy’s godfather.
Killing a Klingon’s kid is high on the list of things never to do if you want to live a long and fruitful life of not being stabbed in the face with a bat’leth. All four of them - Kang, Kor, Koloth, and Curzon - swore an oath to track down and murder the Albino. Now, Kang has finally found him, and he’s bringing the band back together at DS9 to set out on a mission of vengeance. One problem: the blood oath was made by Curzon Dax, and he’s dead. What remains is Jadzia Dax, and she is in no way obligated to pay the debts of a previous life.
While this is the best Dax episode so far -- and possibly the best overall -- it is frustrating in that it directly contradicts the lesson of the last one. Both of my readers will recall that the crux of “Playing God” is that Jadzia is emphatically not Curzon and wants to be free to forge her own path. While the stakes are undeniably higher here -- a Klingon did the unthinkable honor to a Starfleet ambassador of welcoming him into his family, and a child was brutally murdered -- it still flies in the face of previous characterization. It wouldn’t rankle so much had anyone acknowledged this dissonance, but it reads more like Dax being bent into whatever shape the writers require for that week’s drama.
Here’s the thing, though. The Klingons are f--king awesome. Granted, I am a sucker for badass old people -- in my Left 4 Dead days, I always played Bill, and Helen Mirren in Red might be the best thing ever -- but these guys are pretty great. Koloth gets an incredible introduction, when Odo is sitting in his office, turns around and this white-haired Klingon is just standing there. “How did you get in?” Odo gruffs. “I am Koloth,” the Klingon replies. “That doesn’t answer my question.” “Yes it does.” Come on. That’s amazing. Ansara plays Kang as a grieving mastermind, and his work is intentionally more dynamic than it was in his other nerdtacular role: that of Mr. Freeze in Batman: The Animated Series. He has a certain gravitas that suggests how he was the terror of the Federation in a darker time. The greatest, though, is Kor. I don’t know if Colicos is the best actor of the three, but he infuses Kor with such warmth, such humor, and just a touch of tragedy. He’s like the terrifying Klingon grandpa you never knew you always wanted.
From a Dax perspective, the most rewarding part of the episode is that she has to approach all three of the old men in a different way. Kor accepts her immediately and just assumes she’ll be along for the killin’. It’s Kor that ends up needing a peptalk. He’s grown old and fat, too fond of fighting old battles in the holosuite and making time with dabo girls to make much of a warrior. She has to convince him that he’s still warrior enough for one final battle. Koloth believes Dax is not skilled enough to fight with them, and she has to engage him in a bat’leth duel before he’s convinced. In a refreshing change, she loses, though she performs well enough that Koloth relents. With Kang, she has to draw upon their history together. The first time Curzon was able to make a connection was by making Kang angry (Sadly, there is no Klingon Hulking.), so she uses the same tactic. It works.
All that’s left is a raid on the Albino’s compound. The Albino is a strange design. He might be a Klingon, but he looks more like a Buffy vampire with flight attendant hair, and he refers to “Klingon filth.” Anyway, the three old warriors and their reincarnated pal raid the compound, and we’re treated to some good, old-fashioned Star Trek fight choreography. It’s not bad as these things go, but the funniest part to me is that a point is made of the heroes sharpening their bat’leths, and as with most fights, the bat’leths are used like bludgeoning weapons, complete with blunt sound effects.
Perhaps the most interesting facet of the episode is the moral component. Dax speaks with both Kira and Sisko before she goes. Kira carries a heavy burden over the people she killed in the Occupation, and Dax hilariously fails to read the room when she’s like, “Hey, Kira . . . what’s it like to kill someone?” It felt like she was about to suggest that they go and see a dead body or something. Kira sums up her experience with, “When you take someone’s life, you lose part of your own, as well.” This is the kind of psychological burden you want in a soldier. Anyone too eager to kill risks becoming a monster. Sisko has much the same opinion. He sees this, justifiably so, as murder. He can’t countenance this kind of action, and he’s a man who has a pretty solid frame of reference. The Borg killed his wife, so this is clearly someone who has stayed up at night, thinking about revenge.
In the end, Sisko is correct. Dax can’t strike the final blow. It’s up to Kang, who thanks Jadzia for the honor before dying. Koloth was killed as well, leaving only Kor of the original three. When Dax returns to DS9, she finds both Sisko and Kira waiting, and both look disappointed in her.
I get where they’re coming from, but come on. If three old Klingons let you tag along to their one final mission, you do it. No questions asked.
Next up: Those Duke boys sure are raisin’ hell in the Cardassian DMZ!