“Treachery, Faith and the Great River” (season 7, episode 6; originally aired 11/2/1998)
In which they can never take Weyoun’s freedom, because it doesn’t exist…
I recently re-watched Braveheart for the first time in, oh, probably a decade or so. I’ve never had a huge emotional attachment to the film, and seeing it again didn’t change that, although the near-constant hero worship and awe with which the script regards its central figure is fascinating in light of the dissolution of Mel Gibson’s star image. (The actor’s habit of staring grimly forward to express shock, horror, or rage now makes you wonder just what the hell he’s struggling to hold back.) But what struck me, especially in light of seeing this week’s first episode, is how much effort the movie expends to make sure we fucking hate the English. It’s not just that Edward I (Patrick McGoohan at his most peevish) is a despicable lying bastard, or that his son is (homophobia alert!) ineffectual and foolish; it’s that every Englishman Wallace and his men fight have as much humanity as the walking targets in a Call Of Duty game. This is by design; we’re meant to cheer when the heroes trap a group of soldiers in a shed and burn them alive, partly because those soldiers were themselves trying to trap Wallace, and partly because hey, this is just too awesome to worry about the ugliness of war. There’s plenty of bracing violence in the film, but there’s never any sense of the villains as being anything more than obstacles which need to be bludgeoned, stabbed, and flambeed. Which makes sense; it’s hard to get excited about a battle when you’re too busy being sad and worried for everyone.
All of which is why I found “Treachery, Faith and the Great River” such a pleasure to watch. It’s not as though DS9 hasn’t already done a good job of showing both sides of the Dominion War; one of the strengths of the conflict has always been the writers ability to provide clear, and even sympathetic, motivation for both sides without ever losing sight of the “good” and the “bad.” (It’s a trick Ron Moore would pull off equally well with the humans and the Cylons on Battlestar Galactica.) We know what drives the Founders, and how they make their decisions based on decades, maybe even centuries, of abuse and assault by the solids. That doesn’t make their desire to dominate the universe worth rooting for, or even remotely excusable, but it does make them more than just stock monsters waiting for their comeuppance. Same with the Jem’Hadar: fierce, brutal warriors though they may be, they also have an unshakable sense of honor, and their genetically engineered drug addiction means they are as much slaves as they are fearsome enemies.
The same could be said of the Vorta; while they lack the Jem’Hadar’s need for ketracel white, they have been extensively designed and shaped by the Founders into a race of subservient, obsequious toadies, master negotiators with a regal contempt for any race they consider below themselves (which is nearly all of them), but a inbred adoration for their masters. But a few stray moments aside, up until this episode the Vorta have been the easiest of the lot to hate, because we’ve been given little reason to do otherwise. Bureaucrats are always easier to hate, as they do everything in their power to keep their hands from getting dirty, which robs them of even the minor dignity of an opposing military force. And everything we’ve seen so far of the Vorta has not painted a flattering picture, as Weyoun and his cohorts have proven themselves willing time and again to do anything to protect themselves. They’re crafty cowards, and there are few fictional archetypes more inherently despicable.
I’m not sure “Treachery” reverse this, as Weyoun Six, the clone who decides to defect when he realizes the war is wrong, is labeled by his successor as “malfunctioning;” and while Weyoun Seven isn’t to be trusted, it doesn’t really put make the Vorta heroes when their most noble representative to date can be marked down as a kind of genetic mistake. Still, seeing a figure as traditionally slimy and unctuous as Weyoun turned into a martyr for a doomed cause suggests the possibility that the Vorta aren’t as one-sided as they seem to be. In his conversations with Odo, Weyoun Six shows fear, self-loathing, and reverence, even going so far as to have a nightmare about capture while the two are attempting to flee Cardassian space; none of which makes him perfect, but it does make him more complicated, and, given that he sacrifices himself in the end to save Odo’s life, even noble. Combs, given the chance to play someone legitimately likable for a change, rises to the occasional admirably. That final scene between the two of them, as Weyoun Six begs Odo to bless him (which Odo reluctantly does) is moving to a degree I would not have thought possible, given the characters involved. (I mean, I don’t have a hard time getting worked up about Odo, but Weyoun?) It reminds us again of the complexity of the situation, and how even if the Federation wins—which seems pretty likely at this point—it won’t be smiles for everyone.
Weyoun Six tells Odo a story about how his people came to be; how the Vorta were once a timid, weak race long ago, but they protected a Changeling when the solids chased the creature into their forest, and as a reward, the Changelings transformed Vorta into the powerful beings they are today. Odo suggests that this story means the Founders once had great good and kindness in them, and Weyoun Six (inevitably) agrees, but I found the history lesson deeply unsettling. While the Vorta may believe themselves better off now, no longer stuck in the trees and terrified of predators, they are still slaves to a power that will use them and discard them without the slightest remorse.
As well, the Founders have designed them in such a way as to rob much of the joy from their lives; we already know that Vorta don’t have any real aesthetic sense, but Weyoun Six also explains to Odo that they can’t really taste much of anything as well, and their favorite food is still the berries they once ate on their home world, a constant reminder what their origins. (I wonder if it’s subtle sign of Weyoun Six’s “malfunction” that he eagerly samples all of the food from the runabout’s replicator. He does it because he enjoys the textures, and a normal Vorta should really only get pleasure from service.) It’s possible the ancient Vorta might have died out, as helpless as they were. Or maybe they would’ve evolved to something greater on their own. Regardless, the Founders’ gift isn’t really a gift at all; they simply found a potential tool and decided to take advantage of it. Weyoun Six’s unflinching adoration of Odo doesn’t make that face any easier to take.
The Weyoun Six/Odo scenes are the highlight of the episode, but they aren’t the only storyline we follow: there’s also Weyoun Seven and Damar back on Cardassia Prime, and the discovery that Weyoun Five (the Weyoun that Six was activated to replace) was killed in a suspicious “transporter accident” which Damar just happened to avoid. The implication being that Damar is intent on killing the Vorta, whether for bitterness or boredom or some other, more complicated reason. It’s a fun development that adds a nice edge to their scenes together (especially Damar’s repeated insistence that Weyoun even have a drink). Far more important is the brief return of the Female Changeling, whose ragged appearance confirms the most vital piece of information Weyoun Six is able to pass on to Odo before he kills himself: the Changelings are sick, and perhaps even dying. No one knows why, although given that Odo himself is fine, it must have something to do with the Great Link.
This leads to some soul-searching for Odo, and a good conversation between him and Kira about gods and faith and so forth. (Although can you really call what the Vorta have “faith”? It’s hardwired into their brain. There’s no choice involved). While the discovery of the Founders’ illness seems like the sort of thing that deserves an episode of its own, it’s still thrilling to get back to what’s presumably the main business of the season: getting to the end of the war, and witnessing the resolution of a storyline that encompasses the entire run of the series. (The War is comparatively recent, but Odo and the Prophets have been there from the beginning.) Which isn’t to criticize the structure of mixing in standalones with serialized episodes; too much serialization, especially in a season over twenty hours long, can lead to padding and awkward storytelling. But while I enjoyed last week quite a bit, the reminder of what’s going on in the background of all that interpersonal drama is refreshing. It’s especially refreshing when handled this well: Odo wrestles with his identity; Damar and Weyoun almost go against the Founders; and we learn that the Vorta may be irritating and generally despicable, but there is some soul left in them, despite their masters’ best efforts.
- While the B story with O’Brien and Nog is a bit less dramatic (and also somewhat familiar), it’s still a lot of fun, with O’Brien growing more and more worried as Nog works through an increasingly elaborate series of trades to get a special part they need to fix the Defiant. The best trade is probably the temporary loss of Sisko’s desk to an officer who likes to take pictures of himself sitting behind famous captains’ desks; it’s just such a weirdly familiar idea of hero worship, the sort of thing the show usually doesn’t really get into. Everything works out in the end, and while there wasn’t any real doubt that it would, Nog’s victory is pretty sweet anyway. The whole arc is just a lot of fun, and helps to balance the more serious A story featuring Odo.
- It’s interesting how Odo spends the escape run with Weyoun Six depending on the Vorta for help, whether he wants to or not. First Weyoun Six shows him how to shoot down a Jem’Hadar cruiser, and later, after Odo’s (quite clever) attempt to hide them in an ice cluster fails, the Vorta decides to sacrifice himself. None of which reflects badly on Odo, and it’s really more indicative of how in over his head he is in this situation (which isn’t his fault, since Weyoun Six lied to get him there), but that is what the Vorta do for Changelings.
- The Vorta have a chip in their heads that lets them “self-terminate” as the saying goes; it’s supposed to be quick and painless, but as Weyoun Six discovers, it is not.
- Odo massaging Kira in the cold open wasn’t something I really need to see again. Neat idea, though.
- “Why be a god if there’s no one to worship you?”
“Once More Unto The Breach” (season 7, episode 7; originally aired 11/11/1998)
In which an old friend gets a good death…
So, at the end of Braveheart—spoiler alert!—the hero gets beaten, hanged, and disemboweled. It’s a weird scene, especially once you take Gibson’s masochistic cinematic history; whatever drives him, he has a tendency to pick projects which end up with him getting beaten half to hell, which suggests all sorts of uncomfortable (and sort of sad, if you can feel pity for a bigoted rich man) psychological conflicts raging inside his head. But even apart from that, it’s just brutal and eerie and almost valedictory, as though the whole sordid scene was just an excuse for Wallace to prove for eternity his love for his land and its people. I balk at this sort of thing, because I balk at any suggestion that extensive, agonizing torture can be endured through strength of character, but I get why its there. Whether or not I agree with the intention, Braveheart is all about creating a legend, and a legend needs a legendary ending. Wallace might have said he dreamed of raising a family and living off the land, but what he really needed was to go out bloody and defiant, a conclusion that offered him one last chance to demonstrate his inestimable worth.
What happens if you live past that moment, though? What happens to old warriors as their body begins to fail them; as their instincts dull and memory fades, and the next generation takes its place in the world. Nothing good, I’m sure; no one wants to see a legend shitting itself and forgetting where he left his teeth. Things aren’t quite so bad for Kor (John Colicos), but they aren’t good, and when he arrives on the station to ask Worf for help, it’s hard not to see how desperate he is. Because warriors aren’t really supposed to get old. Kor’s pride, ambition, and ruthlessness held him in good stead in the prime of his life, but that same ruthlessness also made him any number of enemies; and now that his faculties and his luck are no longer what they used to be, those enemies are more than willing to shut him out. He’s a hero who doesn’t have the resources to go heroing anymore, and who has been forced to sit on the sidelines for what’s probably the last great campaign in his life, the Dominion War.
That’s an awkward position for a man (or Klingon) of action to be in. And it gets more awkward when Worf, being the loyal friend that he is, goes to Martok for help, and finds that Martok really, really, really, really does not like Kor. As is so often the case with this show, it’s a conflict that allows you to invest in both sides without suggesting an obvious “right” answer. Of the two, Martok is the more immediately sympathetic. It turns out that Kor rejected Martok’s application for officer school (or whatever badass word the Klingons have for that) years ago because Martok wasn’t of a noble bloodline. Because of this rejection, Martok was forced to toil as a civilian for years before finally demonstrating his value in combat and earning his command. Unfortunately, his father, whose dream it was to see Martok as an officer, died before Martok finally achieved his goal. Now Martok understandably blames Kor for those wasted years; and there’s a sense as well that Kor has come to represent all of Martok’s doubts about his own abilities, and about his place in the Empire.
All of which paints Kor in a bad light, and he doesn’t come off much better when Worf confronts him with what he’s learned, and Kor can’t even remember rejecting Martok’s application. He doesn’t even pretend that he’d be fine with having a commoner rise in the ranks, which is the sort of old-fashioned bigotry that’s possible to tolerate (in that he’s out of power and will die soon), but not really something to root for. Yet “Once More Unto The Breach” does find ways to make Kor sympathetic. He’s a boaster and full of himself, basking in the adoration of Martok’s crew like a lizard taking in the sun, but he’s also vulnerable, and utterly alone; Worf helps as he can, but Worf isn’t exactly the comrade you visit if you want to get drunk and roar about old times. Kor is a dinosaur in a universe that is doing its level best to push him out the door, but his options for exiting are limited. Either he goes out in a blaze of glory, or he gets relegated to a desk job on the Klingon Empire, an old joke to die in his bed of natural causes. That’s not a fitting end for any legend, and whatever his faults, its not hard to want better for this one.
Even with Worf’s help, Kor nearly ruins everything. There are a few moments of senility early in the episode, but the true crisis comes during an assault on a Cardassian shipyard (or a weapons’ facility; something valuable to the war effort, anyway). When Martok and Worf are momentarily incapacitated during the battle, Kor seizes the moment to take command, and the results are disastrous. He grows confused, and overwhelmed by the adrenaline mistakes the present day fight for a battle from his past. Their forces thoroughly routed, Martok and the others are forced to retreat, and in the aftermath, Kor is ridiculed for his lapse. The brief celebrity he’d held among the crew is destroyed, and Martok finally gets a chance to humiliate the man he’s loathed for so many years. It’s all bitter and ugly and stupid, in ways that make perfect sense, and it wasn’t hard to imagine myself in either characters’ shoes. Martok is the most perfectly “Klingon” Klingon this show has ever produced—passionate, loyal, quick to take offense but (generally) just as quick to forgive, and overall just a enjoyable, life-loving kind of guy. Here, we see him at his absolute worst, and it’s a credit to the writing and the actor that the pettiness of his mockery of Kor doesn’t play as forced conflict, or out of character. (The later scene where Martok complains to Worf that he finally got his revenge and didn’t enjoy it at all is also excellent.)
Inevitably, a situation develops requiring someone (seven someones, actually) to make the ultimate sacrifice, and while Worf is initially tasked with the duty—it’s his plan—Kor finds out about it, knocks Worf out with a hypnospray and takes the job on himself. (Kor learn’s what’s happening from Darok, Martok’s older assistant, as Darok is himself an old man and has respect for the old ways; what’s really impressive here is how well the actor, Neil Vipond, and Ron Moore’s script manage to convey the sense of Darok as a familiar, lived in character, despite him only being introduced, and only ever appearing, in this episode.) So Kor gets the good death that he wants, and Martok gets a chance to find some peace with this one-time opressor; and we get a reminder that Klingon rituals for the dead involve drinking and look like a hell of a good time.
“Once More Unto The Breach” is an episode that often threatens to become unpleasant to watch; between Kor’s forgetfulness and Martok’s rage, half the scenes in the first act play like set ups to a lot of incredibly awkward embarrassment and slow soiling humiliation. Yet the story avoids the pitfalls of dwelling too much in obvious suffering. The two central figures are shown at their worst and at their best, and in the end, they’re both allowed their honor. Also, Kor blows up saving the day, which is the best end he could’ve hoped for.
- The B-plot here is so slight that it barely exists; given what we do get, that’s probably for the best. Quark overhears Ezri and Kira talking, and mistakenly thinks that Ezri is planning on getting back together with Worf. He tells her she shouldn’t, she explains that she has no interest in Worf in that way anymore, and then kisses Quark on the cheek for being so nice. This whole “Quark is in love with Dax” runner really needs to die a quick death, although it’s nice to know she deal with him readily if she needs to.
- Wow, Worf. An old man knocks you out with a hypnospray. That is damn impressive.