Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Blood Oath"

***1/2

Air date: 3/28/1994
Written by Peter Allan Fields
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Back when Dax was Curzon Dax, he became friends with some Klingons while serving his diplomatic duty. Later, those Klingons fell into discord with a shady character known only as "The Albino." The Albino swore vengeance upon the first born of each of the Klingons—and kept his promise, killing the infants with a deadly virus. Among the murdered was Curzon's godson. Along with the three Klingons, Curzon took a blood oath to avenge the deaths of the children. Now reunited on DS9, the three Klingons, Kor (John Colicos), Kang (Michael Ansara), and Koloth (William Campbell), find Jadzia, who must now struggle with the moral dilemma of keeping her oath and helping kill the Albino, or sticking to her nonviolent Federation values.

"Blood Oath" is an irresistibly entertaining hour of Trek that has two levels and works splendidly on both of them. On one side, it's a lively warrior tale with lots of believable Klingon culture. The three old Klingons (reprising TOS roles from decades earlier) are always a pleasure to watch. In particular, Colicos' turn as Kor, the lighthearted of the bunch, is a joy, and has some wonderful scenes. The other side of the episode is Jadzia's dilemma, which takes on surprisingly deep and serious power—especially in a probing scene where Kira pulls Dax aside and offers some insightfully solemn words about killing. Difficult as it may seem, Fields' even-handed teleplay skillfully weaves the pulse-pounding glory of battle together with the negative connotations of violence—resulting is a very entertaining and interesting episode.

The plot moves along nicely and plausibly, the characterizations are flawless, and the stylized action scene in the final act features an impressive scope. I think Jadzia gets off a little easy in not having to make the final choice of whether or not to kill the Albino (Bill Bolender), but the wordless coda where she returns to DS9 to find a scornfully silent Sisko and Kira is beautifully done.

Previous episode: Profit and Loss
Next episode: The Maquis, Part I

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20 comments on this review

Brian - Sun, Aug 10, 2008 - 7:24pm (USA Central)
Just on Blood Oath. Doesn't anyone else find it hard to sympathise with Jadzia's dilemma about killing the albino when she kills about 10 henchmen to get to him?
Kip Russell - Thu, Mar 4, 2010 - 11:17pm (USA Central)
The scene in "Blood Oath" between Jadzia Dax and Kang where she 'plays the same trick on him' is one of the best in Star Trek.
Picard J. - Thu, May 3, 2012 - 5:03pm (USA Central)
Fantastic episode. My favorite from the second season.
Jeffrey Bedard - Sun, Jul 29, 2012 - 5:39pm (USA Central)
I love TREK, TOS most of all so this is one of my favorite DS9 episodes for the obvious reason: Kor, Koloth and Kang on screen together.

And being a TOS fan I really only have one complaint with this episode: how do you have an episode guest starring the three main TOS Klingon warriors and not have a Kirk reference. I would have loved to see a scene where the three of them are comparing Kirk war stories.
LastDawnOfMan - Thu, Aug 9, 2012 - 7:07pm (USA Central)
If you think about it those paid bodyguards could have been innocent, honest employees with wives, children, mothers. Oh, wait, no, I forgot, they were wearing helmets, with reflective strips over the eyes so they couldn't see crap. So nevermind -- as long as they're faceless it's all good. Slaughter away.
Moegreen - Wed, Sep 26, 2012 - 5:38pm (USA Central)
I have to disagree with the score for this episode. I really didn't find it interesting on any level. It was the 2nd episode I ever saw of DS9. Luckily I stuck with the series in spite of it. 'The Wire' is what got me hooked.
Jay - Thu, Dec 27, 2012 - 4:45pm (USA Central)
I found it strange that a Klingon would have humans guarding his grounds.
Peremensoe - Wed, Feb 6, 2013 - 5:28am (USA Central)
I don't think the Albino was a Klingon (non-canon sources may disagree). Whether he was or not, he certainly loathed Klingon "filth" and would not have employed them.
Kotas - Tue, Oct 22, 2013 - 4:50pm (USA Central)

A decent episode and a refreshing break from symbiont-focused Dax epiosdes.

5/10
Jack - Sat, Dec 28, 2013 - 7:10pm (USA Central)
So if we assume that the forehead ridge problem is "real" rather than just a wardrobe improvement (and Enterprise, stupidly, has made it medically canon). are we to assume that Koloth, Kang, and Kor all had forehead reconstruction surgery?
J. - Tue, Dec 31, 2013 - 8:18pm (USA Central)
It's not clear if Dax kills anyone - they all seem like nonlethal takedowns - unlike the ones the Klingons score.
Moonie - Wed, Apr 9, 2014 - 2:32pm (USA Central)
Boring.

I find the glorification of archaic warrior cultures just as annoying as the glorification of the "simple life".

Yanks - Sun, Jun 29, 2014 - 5:57pm (USA Central)
I've always loved this episode.

The performances by John Colicos as Kor, Michael Ansara as Kang and William Campbell as Koloth were just outstanding. Outstanding actors reviving outstanding parts.

Love the humor injected throughout the episode.

I'm not sure I agree with Sisko's argument with Jadzia. If someone had slain Jake when he was a young boy Sisko would have been doing the same thing.

Good on her for completing Curzon's blood oath.

I also like how she made significant contributions to this quest. She just didn't show up and swing a bat'leth.

I do agree that this was a big step for Jadzia. This was no easy decision. Taking someone’s life is no joke. Even if it's a child murderer.

The ending in ops was done to perfection.

A 4 star episode IMO.
Filip - Tue, Nov 4, 2014 - 5:12pm (USA Central)
I realize that Star Trek is in part supposed to be a family show, but the lack of blood in battle scenes always bothered me since it takes away from the realism. I also found the part where Jadzia says "she's lost and looking for a tennis field" unnecessary because it is trying to funny in a scene which is supposed to do the exact oposite.

Apart from that, a good episode which I enjoyed watching. The final scene was superb.
Dusty - Sat, Nov 8, 2014 - 3:22am (USA Central)
This is the episode that brought me back to DS9, years after I caught glimpses of the show in its original run. As soon as I saw Odo and Quark in the first scene the good memories started to flow.

Terry Farrell's limits as an actress are clear, but her physical presence and skill are impressive in the battle scenes. The returning Klingon actors are excellent. Jadzia having to convince each of them in turn to bring her along is very smartly written.

The Albino doesn't get as much depth or history as I would like, but the purpose of the episode is clear: for the old warriors to go out fighting, and that they do. The integrity of Jadzia's character is preserved when she is unable to kill a man who is not fighting back, but her participation in the mission still lends her much-needed depth, and the ending scene where her colleagues look at her differently--Sisko cold and accusing, Kira disappointed yet understanding--speaks volumes. A poignant and thrilling episode that stands out as one of Season 2's best.

As of 2014, all three of the Klingon actors are no longer with us: Michael Ansara (Kang) passed away last year at age 91, William Campbell (Koloth) in 2011 at age 87, and John Colicos (Kor) in 2000 at age 71.
MsV - Wed, Apr 8, 2015 - 11:34pm (USA Central)
I have a problem with Jadzia completing Curzon's blood oath, for one reason. She decides arbitrarily when she is going to be like Curzon or when she isn't. Remember when she was dealing with Arjin and she said, "I am not Curzon," when she was not going to be unnecessarily hard on him. Also, in "Dax" where she was willing to die for an oath Curzon made 30 years before, there are other times too. Jadzia doesn't seen to think things out. There were other ways around each situation. Zadzia is one of my favorite characters on DS9, but I would have kicked her out of Starfleet for what she did.
Curzon - Sun, Jun 7, 2015 - 7:56pm (USA Central)
Jadzia believes she is still Curzon when it suits her. In other episodes she defiantly says "I am not Curzon. I am Jadzia!!" It's pretty annoying. She also arrogantly tried to tell Bashir and others how much she knew about Klingons. I was so happy when Worf finally told her "you are not Klingon". Sisko should have told her if she left for this blood oath mission then not to return because he would have to detain her until star fleet could come pick her up for her trial for disobeying orders and breaking the law.
William B - Mon, Aug 10, 2015 - 10:24am (USA Central)
After a disappointing string of episodes since "Whispers" (and, "Whispers" excepted, an overall pretty weak run since "Necessary Evil"), it is a relief to come to "Blood Oath," which has a kind of confidence and forward momentum that this last set of ungainly episodes has lacked. Each scene leads seamlessly into the next, the episode tackles several ideas simultaneously and effectively, has richly drawn characterization, and takes each step with precision -- even if I don't always agree with the steps the episode takes.

First off, the choice to bring in three Klingons from the original series is great, and not just as a gimmick. It helps that all three are played by charismatic actors, of course, and that in a matter of moments they manage to (re)create distinctive characters who are genuinely recognizable as the men they were in the original series but seen from different perspectives. Beyond that, what makes it work is that their being a part of Trek history gives a kind of weight to them as characters and as myths that otherwise would be hard to pull off. When Jadzia indicates that she owes something to these three men, I think we are also seeing DS9 "saying" that it owes something to these men who were a part of TOS in some small way.

Within universe, what's remarkable is that while all three were antagonists, they were all Klingons who never *quite* fought Kirk to the death, as some might have. Kor and Kang both appeared in episodes which ended with truces with Kirk (and the Federation), whether forced by more powerful beings or chosen by the characters themselves. Koloth appeared in a comedy, and William Campbell gave a performance not too different from his take on Trelane -- the conflict ended up coming more or less to naught. So we *saw* these Klingons in the process of being dragged, somewhat reluctantly, into a just-beginning era of peace with the Federation. Of the three, Kor wanted most to enter glorious battle with Kirk for the sake of the glorious battle itself, holding no particular ill will toward Kirk but sad that he and Kirk missed the chance to fight each other, but despite his passions was also the most easy-going of the three and accepted that peace was the way things would be and adapted, and Kang was the one who had the most anger and the most sense of desire for combat for the sake of what he considered to be the right thing to do (exploited by that weird war creature) and, ultimately, the strongest will and most independent streak -- traits which do come up in this episode. This being the case, it makes sense that Kang is the one whom Curzon Dax won over eventually -- the independent-minded, stubborn man, the thinker -- back in the day, and that he did so by forming a common bond with the Klingons, in a similar way to the way Kirk managed to, with difficulty, in "Day of the Dove."

The three Klingons, then, began their careers before peace was a goal the Klingon Empire reasonably expected to take on, back when the warrior culture was all, and not just the warrior ideal tempered by recognition of the human(oid)istic value of peace that we see in the TNG era, but the actual conquest-centred berserker battle ideal -- AND they were the generation that also presided over the forming of the beginnings of peace with the Federation. Curzon Dax was the ambassador who fully got through to the Klingons, and even managed to become a godfather to one of Kang's children. And so the Curzon/Kang bond is not only a personal bond, but the representation of something far broader: it is the two cultures coming together for something. When Sisko asks Jadzia how Curzon, who had a fundamental respect for all life, could agree to a blood oath to murder someone, Jadzia mutters somewhat unconvincingly that Curzon had respect for Klingon values, which in itself is hardly sufficient -- "respect" is a pretty airy term to describe approval of *and participation in* murder. And yet, *of course* Curzon took on a blood oath -- he is *the person* who managed to get through to Klingons and made serious strides toward peace between the Klingons and the Federation. He convinced Kang to at least begin to give up the dreams of the Klingon Empire conquering the whole quadrant, and talked him down to coexistence. How could he then deny Kang his right to personal vengeance?

That is what I find particularly poignant about the three Klingons in this episode, particularly Kang. As in "Heart of Glory," we are looking at Klingons who are no longer valued because the warrior ethic cannot fully coexist with civilization. Kang talks about it here:

KANG: The old Klingon ways are passing. There was a time, when I was a young man, the mere mention of the Klingon Empire made worlds tremble. Now, our warriors are opening restaurants and serving racht to the grandchildren of men I slaughtered in battle. Things are not what they used to be, not even a blood oath.

And yet, let us be clear, Kang was one of the people whose foresight, open-mindedness and courage *brought this new future on*. He accepted the "weakening" of the Klingon culture in exchange for friendship and understanding with the Federation, as represented by Curzon Dax, and I think that overall he is not even advocating for a full-on return to the Old Ways. He is merely remarking that the man he is (and Kor and Koloth are) no longer has any place in the new world that he, with Curzon, helped to create, hence his desire to make one final glorious stand in battle. Koloth spends his time practicing, Kor spends his days drunk and/or in holosuites reliving great battles that he fought but unable even in a holosuite to win them again. Neither of them have quite the self-awareness that Kang has, which is why he leads them into their deaths without them quite recognizing it. If it were Curzon Dax with him, well, Curzon owed him an oath and would not break it, and Curzon would be an incredibly old man, ready to die at any instant. (Although I'm not sure if Kang thought through what would happen to the symbiont if Curzon was slaughtered by the Albino's men far from Federation or even Klingon space.) But Jadzia is a young woman, the next generation who *has* a place in this world.

That, I think, is why Jadzia feels such an intense need to fulfill Curzon's oath. She is released from it, but she can also see that these men are on death's door, that they have *helped create* a world which no longer has a place for them. The compensation for Kang et al. giving up their Empire is the friendship that they formed with Curzon, and as long as they are alive it is hard for her not to want to keep up her end of that trade. Some of this is that Jadzia simply has trouble distinguishing herself from her past hosts, which comes up again and again, but I think that the interspecies nature of the oath here makes all the difference. It does *not* seem to that Jadzia is so hurting from the death of "her" godson that she wants vengeance, at least to me; she seems to be "trapped" by honour, even if it's an honour that she keeps being released from.

Along those lines, I love that not only does Kang release Jadzia from her oath officially, but Jadzia has to *fight* her way to be included. None of the three Klingons seem to hold her to that oath on the basis of duty; Kor, the quickest to accept her in, accepts her purely because he sees the fight as awesome and he can't imagine why anyone wouldn't want to go, not quite recognizing the depth of sacrifice that Jadzia will be making in going. Koloth is suspicious of her but comes to accept her. And Kang does everything he can to release her, before finally reluctantly accepting that she can come die with him because he cannot genuinely stop her, in good conscience, much as he would like to. Jadzia's effort to free them from certain death reflects, I think, a somewhat naive hope that she *can* save them from dying; she does not quite seem to understand that these men's lives are at an end anyway, at least joyless Kang and Koloth, though Kor has a few years left in him if only because he still has some joie de vivre left. I wonder if Jadzia's inability to accept their deaths has to do with the way Curzon still lives in her, and the guilt that may well follow, that Curzon "gets" to live on for further generations and the people he bonded with so closely die.

I love how Sisko and Kira both slam Dax, hard, for going along with this blood oath. The scene where Jadzia asks Kira what it's like to kill someone has a quiet intensity and to me is one of the best Kira scenes so far -- a hint at exactly how much trauma has piled up in her and how much she needs to keep it buried. Jadzia never particularly argues with Sisko or Kira that it is right to murder, in cold blood, a person, even a child-murderer, and I think that ultimately she *doesn't* believe it is justified. The episode spends little time discussing this, partly because I think that it is made clear why the Klingons view it as justified -- the Klingon value system has been expanded on enough before that I think it is obvious enough why they think vengeance is justified, ESPECIALLY in the case of someone who murdered children through a virus. And so Jadzia's actions come down to a case of (possibly misplaced) loyalty, of whether loyalty can really trump other concerns. I do think that if it were a matter of killing some innocent person because of a past host's oath, she would feel differently about it, but she can understand the Klingon value system enough to believe she can follow it.

I agree with posters above that the episode cheats a little by having the Albino's guards wear visors on their faces. I think the episode's greatest flaw is that the fact that Jadzia is not just signing up to kill one child murderer and ancient enemy, but also to help kill dozens of guards, goes mostly unremarked upon. Jadzia does only knock the guards unconscious, for what it's worth, but the Klingons very clearly slaughter them. Now, it doesn't bother me in terms of the Kor/Kang/Koloth characterization; for them, killing people in battle is a matter of course, and the men are armed (though they are only fighting with dead rifles in the end!), on their feet, are specifically *hired* to fight, and for that matter are willing to work for a ruthless, dishonourable killer. Still, Jadzia should recognize that these guys are people, and that attacking a person's stronghold and killing the guards after disabling the security system is murder and immoral by Federation standards. She is aiding and abetting, and the mitigating factor that the Albino is apparently a remorseless child-murderer does not really apply to the Albino's guards, who may not even know what kind of man they are working for.

What I think happens, though, is that Jadzia is simply unwilling to take seriously what moral lines she is crossing, and to consider them carefully. In the end, she seems unable to kill the Albino, and I tend to think that she would not have been able to. When Kang kills the Albino, and thanks her for giving him the killing blow, I *suspect* that he knew that Jadzia was incapable of the act, and is giving her an out to save her honour (from her obligation to the oath) while protecting her peacenik morality to some degree. I suspect that because Kang is depicted throughout as intelligent, able to understand alternate value systems, and protective of Jadzia as bystander. Jadzia's inability to go through with the killing, but *enabling* Kang to stab the Albino (in the back!) basically sums up the bad faith that Jadzia is acting in. She cannot turn her back on her loyalty to these men who meant so much to her, but she cannot fully own the actions that she is taking for them. This does not put her in a favourable light, but I think that this is very much believable as a characterization choice; for Jadzia to want to have it both ways, and finally to be unable to choose at the crucial moment, makes sense to me. Giving Kang the final blow also allows him the satisfaction of dying while having redressed a personal wrong and going out as a warrior, which means that Dax did succeed in that sense -- though at some personal cost to her soul, whether she swung the bat'leth or not.

The look that she is given at the episode's end by Sisko and Kira is chilly and effective, but I do agree that it's pretty light, consequence-wise. Yes, Worf killed Duras and got off with a reprimand, but Worf killed a Klingon, on a Klingon ship, in full keeping with Klingon law; Dax went to *some outpost* in possibly neutral space to kill a guy and abet the killing of bunch of guards of unknown species, not to mention going AWOL for surely a few days. I don't really see how she can get away with no consequences, except that Sisko and Kira like her and so will turn a blind eye except for their angry stares. I don't think so.

But, well, lack of consequences aside, I find this episode pretty riveting all the way through. I really think this is a great show, centrally about balancing personal loyalty to morality, with Dax consciously committing to a course of action she is emotionally unprepared for. 3.5 stars.
Robert - Mon, Aug 10, 2015 - 1:22pm (USA Central)
@William A rare case of post that my eyes looked at and thought TLDR, but that I actually made it to the end of. Very well said, and I think this was one of the first (with "Duet" and "In the Hands of the Prophets" being the others) that really showcased how DS9 could be awesome when not trying to be TNG on a space station.

I will take a minor exception with something you said at the end. I'm 99.99999% sure that she does not go AWOL.

SISKO: No leave of absence.
DAX: Kira shouldn't have told you.
SISKO: Kira is my First Officer.
DAX: I don't have to tell you what this oath meant to Curzon.
SISKO: Jadzia Dax took an oath too, when she joined Starfleet. You're subject to orders, Lieutenant.
DAX: Don't do it, Benjamin. Don't make me disobey a direct order.
SISKO: I never understood this. I mean, whatever else Curzon was, he did have a fundamental morality. He wouldn't condone murder any more than I would, and yet he swore to kill this Albino and now you plan to go out and kill in his name. What about the laws of the Federation?
DAX: The Klingons have their own set of laws. This is justice to them.
SISKO: And to you?
DAX: I've chosen to respect their codes of honour in this matter, yes.
SISKO: You really think you're capable of doing this?
DAX: I don't know. There's only one way to find out, isn't there.
SISKO: Let's say you are. Let's say you even survive this insanity. You expect to just come back here and resume your duties as though nothing's happened?
DAX: I guess that'll be up to you.

I read this exchange as ambiguous with regards to her leave request. Ergo when she returns and faces no consequences I assume he approved it. They are best friends. She flat out says "Don't make me disobey a direct order." I choose to interpret the scene as him reluctantly caving.

I also want to say that I read a lot into the body language of the scene, and I think he's scared for her... of losing her, of her regretting this, more than he's judging her. I think it was a really good scene with a lot of subtext.
William B - Tue, Aug 11, 2015 - 9:05am (USA Central)
@Robert, thanks!

I see your point about whether Dax actually goes AWOL or not. It does seem as if Sisko maybe grants her leave, though I don't think the episode *quite* says either way. I suspect that maybe Sisko "caves" in that he either retroactively grants her leave request, or just does not file the paperwork either way and says nothing upon her return.

He definitely is more worried about her dying (or losing a piece of her soul) than he is about the guy she's killing, I agree. I also think it's a great scene. It does also matter, I think, that Sisko may see himself as something of a mentor to Jadzia (and of course, her actual commander), but that he still holds Curzon up a bit, and acknowledges that there are some things about this guy that Sisko can't quite hope to understand, but that he more or less accepted, and it's hard for him to then deny Jadzia those same qualities, even though I think as her commanding officer he does have a pretty big obligation to discourage her going out to murder a guy (and possibly his entourage of guards). It is definitely in character for Sisko to refrain from actively punishing Jadzia because of their friendship, though.

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