Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"To the Death"

**1/2

Air date: 5/13/1996
Written by Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by LeVar Burton

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"There will be a joint briefing session at 1900 hours..."
"...followed by a get-to-know-you buffet at 1930."

— Sisko and O'Brien, on the temporary alliance between the Defiant crew and the Jem'Hadar

Nutshell: Interesting, with some genuinely good moments, but the "big action" ending proves utterly inconsequential.

"To the Death" is a show that proves quite intense and absorbing in its premise for a majority of the episode, but then the creators drop the ball with a painfully routine conclusion based solely on mindless action scenes that don't have any real consequences.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

The Defiant returns from defending a Bajoran colony to find DS9 damaged and with some reasonably heavy casualties. The damage is significant: Sisko calls his crew to the bridge of the Defiant to "have a look" at DS9—part of one of its upper pylons has been destroyed. By destroyed, I mean gone—kind of like an arm severed at the elbow. It's quite a surprising sight, and when Sisko finds out the Jem'Hadar are responsible, he orders an immediate re-departure of the Defiant to hunt down the attackers.

By this point, the episode had my attention. At last, we were going to have a Jem'Hadar show that would have impact on the series.

In the Gamma Quadrant, the Defiant comes across a damaged Jem'Hadar fighter floating dead in space. Sisko beams the crew aboard (under heavy security, of course). The Jem'Hadar are led by a soldier named Omet'iklan (Clarence Williams III), but they also have to obey a Vorta official named Weyoun (Jeffrey Combs) who controls their supply of white, the addictive drug that keeps the Jem'Hadar on a short leash by the rest of the Dominion.

Weyoun informs Sisko that both DS9 and the damaged Jem'Hadar fighter were victims of a group of renegade Jem'Hadar soldiers who are working on a transporter device that could make them invincible if they complete it. Weyoun believes that if they complete the "gateway," they will recruit other Jem'Hadar squadrons and could possibly take over the entire Dominion within a year. After that, there would be little to stop them; even collapsing the wormhole would not protect the Alpha Quadrant from the gateway's reach. There's no time to waste—Sisko and his crew must ally themselves with the Jem'Hadar squadron in a battle effort to stop the renegades themselves.

This is quite interesting. The threatening nature of the Dominion is intimidating enough, but the idea that the Dominion is not as stable as the Founders would like it to appear—that the Jem'Hadar could take it over under the right circumstances—is not something to be taken lightly. Also, I very much appreciated the creators' notion of bringing back Iconian technology—something from way back in TNG's second season episode, "Contagion." I found the Iconians interesting then, and the way "To the Death" reintroduces their technology into DS9 lore as part of a Jem'Hadar threat is something that really sparked my attention.

With this as a starting point, the remainder of the show mostly focuses on the pressure cooker that the Defiant becomes en route to the target due to the clash between Starfleet officers and Jem'Hadar fighters. Part of this clash is caused by the different methodologies. The Jem'Hadar are extremely hard-core soldiers, and they place very little value on their own lives. Only victory is important. They see the Federation as weak and effete because they place too much value on life, and not enough value on winning the battle.

Then there's the hatred factor. Have no doubts—Sisko's crew and the Jem'Hadar squadron do not like or trust each other, and they don't put much effort into hiding it. The "enemies turned allies" angle my not be particularly new, but "To the Death" handles this part of the show with reasonable success. The brawls between short fuses Worf and Toman'torax (Brian Thompson) certainly work well. There's also a humorous and intriguing scene between Dax and Virak'kara (Scott Haven) that proves just how emotionally impenetrable a race of all-male 24-hour soldiers who don't eat or sleep can be—yet the scene still manages to give Virak'kara personality. Through all of this is Sisko, whose commanding authority keeps the balance over a delicate situation of perpetual mistrust.

There are some good performances here, particularly from Avery Brooks and Colm Meaney. But, surprisingly, Clarence Williams III is somewhat disappointing. True, he's limited to the low-key responses of a Jem'Hadar role, but his line delivery is generally annoying; there are entirely too many unnecessary pauses between his phrases. Part of this may be due to Burton's direction—while he handles some of the show marvelously, he doesn't seem to have Williams III under control. This is too bad—I've seen Williams III deliver energetic performances in films like Deep Cover and Against the Wall. Here he just seems too restrained. (On another director's note, I didn't think the use of extreme close-up in the Odo/Weyoun scene worked very well at all. The entire scene felt redundant in any case—I find it difficult to believe that the Founders still want their rogue Changeling to come home, but that's another story.)

Despite this effective set up, the episode does nothing much with it—nothing, at least, that has any real lasting impact. The final act of the show is one of those rushed, "big-scale" action scenarios where the heroes get into stylized physical fights with the villains. I didn't find this conclusion very interesting because almost every element of it was routine. The Defiant crew beams down only to find out that their phasers don't work for contrived reasons: the gateway is generating a dampening field (darn, I hate it when that happens).

Consequently, the battle becomes a hand to hand affair with deadly blades. We've seen this done before—and better (e.g. "Way of the Warrior"). The sound effects are nicely done, and the stunts are okay, but there's no real creativity here in terms of story or action. Jay Chattaway's adventure score is completely typical of him—uninspiring except for perhaps one or two brief instances. The whole battle feels like a predetermined exercise, unlike "Way of the Warrior" which effectively produced an increased pulse rate. Sure, Sisko loses a few men—but, naturally, they're all expendable characters in gold uniforms who we've never seen before. And the destruction of the gateway strikes me as particularly underwhelming.

What's most troubling is that none of this really matters. Even Omet'iklan's threat of killing Sisko after the battle becomes a non-issue because of the all-too-obvious ending. (Omet'iklan's dialogue to Sisko, "There's been enough killing for one day, but next time we meet, we'll be enemies," is so recycled and familiar that it falls flat.) Omet'iklan's phasering of Weyoun for questioning his squadron's loyalty isn't particularly shocking either. Omet'iklan vows to stay behind on the planet and wipe out the remaining renegades. Ho-hum, the series' status quo remains painfully intact. None of this will have political ramifications in future shows, and that's depressing.

I also didn't care for the way the episode ended so abruptly. It literally ends within seconds of fight's end—taking no time for considering future consequences of the Iconian rediscovery.

It's really too bad this show is ultimately pointless. It had so much potential—the characters, the backstory, the premise, the interaction—and it chose to do nothing with the ingredients except bake up some routine, brainless fight scenes. The Dominion will not remain interesting or intimidating if the writers shove all consequences under the carpet every time they choose to use them for a story. Here's hoping the season finale (again centered around the Dominion I'm to understand) will mean something to the series.

Previous episode: For the Cause
Next episode: The Quickening

Season Index

24 comments on this review

lvsxy808 - Mon, Jan 26, 2009 - 2:42pm (USA Central)
If I remember correctly, the big fight scene at the end was the ultimate point of the episode - the point on which the rest of it was built. All the stuff on the way there was intended as stuff just to do while we got there. That it turned out better than the fight scene is one of script-writing's big ironies - last-minute stuff often comes out better than long-laid plans.
Dimitris Kiminas - Wed, May 27, 2009 - 12:08pm (USA Central)
In the review Jamahl complains that the entire Odo/Weyoun scene felt redundant. He thought it was difficult to believe that the Founders still wanted their rogue Changeling to come home... And he couldn't be more right!

At the time he couldn't have known, but something very important happened in this scene: Weyoun touched Odo and infected him with the virus that will force him to return to the Founders' homeworld after two episodes to face judgement.

Jammer understood there was something fishy going on, only he couldn't understand what! Talk about reviewer's intuition!!!
widgie - Sat, Jul 11, 2009 - 2:32pm (USA Central)
This is one of my favorite episodes. Yes, the fight at the end is a weak point, but it handles the tension between the two parties so well and is so well-paced that it makes for a very intense hour in my opinion, and fleshing out the jem'hadar is always appreciated.
Nic - Sun, Nov 15, 2009 - 2:22pm (USA Central)
This is becoming DS9's worst cliché: a Starfleet crew trains for two days and is able to defeat dozens of gentically armed soldiers, and only unknown crewmen die! I head the fight was edited by the censors for violence, but even in the edited version it's just too unbelievable that they succeed in their mission so easily with so few casualties.
I agree the ending was way too abrupt - there was no tag (a common disappointment of mine with DS9). Tags are important, they allow the characters to address the emotional impact of the events that have unfolded over the course of the episode.
gion - Thu, Feb 18, 2010 - 7:41pm (USA Central)
Even though the fact the fighting scenes were censored could be a fair excuses, the episode maybe should have cut those out altogether. It may have been refreshing (I don't think I've ever seen a ground combat in Star Trek that was interesting) and would have allowed to put proper focus on the part that was interesting. Show some more insights into the Dominion and some more development on how Federation officers and Jem'Hadar contrast and interact.
Nic - Mon, Jun 14, 2010 - 6:48pm (USA Central)
Another comment for those who are always complain that Voyager's damage is fixed by the next episode: here Ds9 loses an ENTIRE PYLON and it's magically rebuilt by the next episode!
Jay - Sun, Dec 26, 2010 - 12:21am (USA Central)
And rebuilt in the same Cardassian architectural style no less.
Elihawk - Sun, Feb 6, 2011 - 12:28am (USA Central)
I love the rarely mentioned little scene in "To the Death" where Weyoun offers to make Sisko absolute ruler of the Federation, only to be declined. To me it was laying out Dukat's mid-Season 5 betrayal all the way a season early. Looking back, it lets you imagine the beginning of the Cardassia-Dominion alliance right there, as Weyoun would (successfully) play on Dukat's vanity to make him betray his people. It's right up there with introducing The Dominion in "Rules of Acquisition" in terms of using a throw away episode to plant a huge concept out there.
Travis - Fri, Feb 18, 2011 - 5:31am (USA Central)
This is a couple years old, but Dimitrius is way off the mark. Weyoun didn't infect Odo with the virus, Section 31 did.
bigpale - Mon, Feb 21, 2011 - 1:42pm (USA Central)
Travis, you missed what he was saying.

The virus is the one that affected Odo a few episodes later in "Broken Link," forcing him to return to his people.

Then, when he did so, the S31 virus infected the Great Link.


The teleplay for "To the Death" specifically mentions Weyoun touching Odo's shoulder giving him a virus that would come into play in the season finale.
Travis - Mon, Feb 21, 2011 - 11:40pm (USA Central)
Interesting. I stand corrected then. I didn't even consider Weyoun got him sick in order for him to stand trial. I'll have to watch that again.
Justin - Mon, Mar 19, 2012 - 2:19pm (USA Central)
Despite its somewhat glaring faults this episode qualifies as both essential DS9 viewing and a Trek Classic, IMO.

A few things in no particular order that I liked about this episode:

The link to the TNG episode "Contagion" which introduced the idea of the ancient Iconian civilization and the Gateways.

Weyoun was all ready to school Sisko on interstellar ancient history and ended up being surprised that Sisko knew as much about the Iconians as he did. Subtly and well acted by Jeffrey Combs.

The fact that both the Dominion and Federation are in complete agreement that the gateway should be destroyed. It shows that the Founders are not fools even if they are overly paranoid.

Worf's mention of his involvement on the mission to the Iconian home world and how he didn't regret the decision to destroy the gateway. What he didn't mention is that he was ordered by Captain Piecard to destroy the tricorder he had used to scan the gateway. As I recall he grudgingly obeyed that order.

The introduction of the character of Weyoun. He wasn't intended to be a recurring character, but they liked Combs so much that they retconned Weyoun to be a clone. A running gag was also unknowingly begun as this was the first of 5 Weyoun clones to be killed.

Jeffrey Combs' portrayal as Weyoun being openly impatient with the Jem'Hadar ritual involving The White and the First's "I am dead" speech was absolutely hilarious.

Weyoun infects Odo with the virus that forced him to return to the Great Link. It is not played out on screen, but it *is* written in the script. Since Odo was indeed infected by the Founders I accept that as canon.
Jack - Sat, Dec 1, 2012 - 6:05pm (USA Central)
If that little glass the replicator produced is an "extra large" prune juice...then a small must come in a shotglass...
ZurielSeven - Thu, Aug 22, 2013 - 5:15pm (USA Central)
This episode did have some things that resounded well throughout the rest of the series. The
"Ceremony of the White", the Jem'Hadar dead speech, Weyoun, and (to me) the beginning of the intensifying of the Dominion War arc.

@Jack: I saw that tiny prune juice glass as well - I guess the propmaster couldn't figure out what a 7-11 "Big Gulp" 64-oz drive-thru cup would look like in the 24th Century.
Kotas - Wed, Oct 23, 2013 - 6:14pm (USA Central)

A solid episode, although the premise of the federation working so closely with the Jem Hadar in a joint operation is a bit far-fetched.

7/10
eastwest101 - Mon, Nov 4, 2013 - 4:31pm (USA Central)
I agree entirely - the whole episode is very well set up/constructed, acted and overall well executed, that I can forgive its somewhat rushed and slightly underwhelming conclusion.
Dusty - Thu, Feb 20, 2014 - 3:10am (USA Central)
Not a perfect episode, but a very important one for the future of the series. The Jem'Hadar are used much better than the Klingons and I always learn something about them when they appear. Weyoun is very un-likable.
Vylora - Tue, Feb 25, 2014 - 4:01am (USA Central)
If you're going to delve into a subject with as much mystery and potential significance as the Iconians, it would be conducive to good drama in doing something other than what was portrayed here. By all means, renegade Jem'Hadar plus the gateways equals success on paper. It makes sense that one would eventually be found and it ended up being by them. This just did not work for me the way it was made.

I also realize that I'm faulting the episode for not doing what I want it to do instead of analyzing how it works on its own terms. In that regard, despite the rushed and uninspired ending, their was a good episode here in most of the early acts. Anything that I would add, though, would be redundant to Jammers review to the point of plagiarism in this case. :p

So, yes, as a fan of the Iconian storyline and my longtime wish to see what new stuff the writers could come up with; I was left very disappointed here. As a DS9 episode involving Starfleet/Jem'Hadar teaming up, it was pretty good til the last couple acts. Ultimately it doesn't quite hold up to what I've seen in season 4 though.

Agreed. 2.5 stars.
Toraya - Thu, Mar 13, 2014 - 12:42pm (USA Central)
I did not understand the basic set-up, and spent the whole episode trying to make sense of it.

Renegade Jem-Hadar are about to gain control of an Iconian gateway on a Dominion world. The Founders respond by sending a single fighting ship with a mere 6 JH warriors aboard - not to the gateway which needs destroying, but towards the wormhole, in pursuit of the renegades. When the renegades disable the single ship sent after them, well, that's all she wrote! No one else in the entire massive Dominion army is available to stop them from taking over the universe. Good thing the Defiant moseyed along at the right moment.

So: I gather that the Founders and the Vorta are not military geniuses.

Also, was there ever a line explaining how the renegades will live without White? Maybe I missed it while pondering the other stuff.

I feel cheated because i would have liked the ep a lot, had the premise made more sense. Or any sense.
Shawn Davis - Mon, Apr 21, 2014 - 4:25am (USA Central)
It was great from the begining where the Renegade Jem'hadar attacked the station, Sisko and the crew goes to the gamma quadrant to find these group, then then join forces with the Jem'hadar and the Vorta Weyoun to stop the other renegade Jem'Hadar forces. I agree with the review about them bringing back the Iconian gateway from way back in season 2 of ST:TNG and I like the attitudes of the both the Jem'hadar and the starfleet personnel (the way that they don't hide how they feel about each other, especially Worf and one Jem'hadar constantly getting into a physical attack with each other). Of course I agree with the review and everyone else here that the violence towards the ending was a bit rushed (why didn't starfleet and use the sensors on the Defiant to detect the field that is preventing them from using their phasers). I give this episode at least 3 stars.

Also even though I responding to someone's message from years ago. To Nic: Although I agree that it's bit strange for the upper pylon to be repaired quickly like that without any explanation in the next episode, I believe that the crew of DS9 are capable of repairing it like that because they are in the area where starfleet and cardassia are and they can use their materials and other resources to repair the upper pylon quickly.

The main reason that I don't think that it makes sense for Voyager to be repaired so quickly by the next episode like that when they sustain damage from an alien attack is because they are in the Delta Quadrant about 75000 light years from Starfleet and they can gain access to materials and other resorces that easily to repair Voyager. Sure they could get some help from friendly aliens like the Talaxians, but some resorces and materials from the aliens of the Delta Quadrant may not easily compatible with the Starship Voyager.
Yanks - Thu, Jul 31, 2014 - 8:52am (USA Central)
I'll part with Jammer on this one too.

Outstanding episode for many reasons.

Toraya believes the Founders/Vorta aren't military geniuses, I believe something is being missed in this episode. This was a secret mission for two reasons:

#1. They wanted to keep information about the portal as secret as possible.

#2. They wanted to keep information about dissenting Jem'Hadar as secret as possible.

This was a surgical rapid response strike team. Now had it not worked, other methods would have been employed.

About repairs... this is about as major a repair effort as we could see on DS9. Voyager repairing themselves is more believable than the herculean effort it would have taken to repair this upper pylon THAT IS MISSING. That said it happens all the time in both series so it just a matter of acceptance that we know that repairs can be made quickly in the 24th century. I forget, did the Enterprise D have to pull in for repairs after the Borg took a chunk out of her?

Now, back to the important stuff.

Contrary to Jammer I thought Omet’iklan was expertly played by Clarence Williams III. Wow, never once did I believe he was acting “tough” or as we’ve seen many times when someone is trying to ‘act Klingon’ over exaggerated. He portrayed the life blood of the Jem’Hadar perfectly. Loyalty and obedience. There was no question why he was the #1. BRAVO!! His exchanges with Sisko were tremendous. (and well written)

Sisko also was impressive in dealing with this situation and the Jem’Hadar. This was a battle of wills and he didn’t flinch. I had no problem with either party agreeing to join forces in this one. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” applies here perfectly.

We are introduced to Weyoun. I remember this part was not supposed to be a reoccurring one, but Combs was so damn good they had to invent cloning to bring him back. I agree, what an outstanding DS9 character and Mr. Combs continues to bring all his characters to life. A truly great asset to Trek. Until I read this review and comments, I was not aware that Weyoun infected Odo. Wow, now that makes sense and unveils the reason for the teary-eyed interaction between Odo and Weyoun where Weyoun was trying to get Odo to come home. Weyoun was infecting his god! Well done.

I also enjoyed the interaction between Jadzia and Virak’kara. “I stopped counting at 300” :-)

I too thought the scene where Weyoun handed out the white was hilarious.

Yes, we lost some redshirts in the fight. Since when is that a problem? They had a plan and executed it well under tough circumstances. Especially when they found out their phasers didn’t work because of the gateway. How was this episode supposed to end? …. Where the Jem’Hadar suppoed to go down there and bond with the renegades? No problem with a fight to meet their objective. Sisko also made a pretty significant point to the #1 when he took an injury protecting him in battle.

“OMET'IKLAN: I threatened to kill you, but you were still willing to sacrifice yourself to save my life.
SISKO: Looks that way.
OMET'IKLAN: Why?
SISKO: If you have to ask, you'll never understand.”

The same goes for the methods of discipline I’m sure. Respect was earned by Sisko here. Just because your enemies does not mean warring parties can’t and don’t respect one another. Omet’iklan expressed this by stating there had been enough killing here today sparing Sisko and his men, but he also reinforced the fact that loyalty and obedience is paramount for them as he vowed to kill every last dissenting Jem’Hadar on the planet and that he killed Weyoun for questioning his loyalty.

This is a great episode that reveals what exactly makes the Dominion tic and a great baseline for just how formidable an enemy the Jem’Hadar are. It also set the stage for a later episode where Worf is imprisoned and fights the Jem’Hadar in the ring.

Here is why I can’t give this episode a 4.0

#1. Where are the dissenting Jem’Hadar getting their white?

#2. How will taking this white that Weyoun had be of any help? They can’t access the container; if they could I’m certain there would be a bunch of dead Vorta in the Dominion :-)

3.5 stars for me.

VICTORY IS LIFE!!
Greg - Wed, Sep 3, 2014 - 12:06am (USA Central)
This episode was very well done -- right up to the actual assault on the base, which was laughably executed. I don't recall the details of the TNG Iconian episode, but did it dampen their phasers then too? Regardless, the broad daylight mad rush with Jem'Hadar swords was a poor choice for a climax and plays like the writer had pre-knowledge of an FX budget limit. I don't know whether phaser battles or choreographed fights are more cost intensive, or even if it works like that, but I do know the whole affair felt anti-climactic and silly.

A lot of my criticisms have already been stated in this thread, but I have one I'd like to add: Sisko taking a wound to protect the Jem'Hadar First and the exchange that followed. Did they have mere minutes to wrap up shooting or something? Talk about stilted and perfunctory.

3 1/2 stars had the climax at all lived up to the tension that preceded it. Instead, a disappointing 2 1/2.
Jack - Sun, Nov 9, 2014 - 10:26pm (USA Central)
In the fight scene at the end when the crew and the allied Jem Hadar were conversing durign the battle was absurd. WHen Jadzia delivering bat'leth blows while saying "you'll make honored... ...elder... ...yet" my eyes were rolling out of my skull.
Robert - Mon, Nov 10, 2014 - 9:12am (USA Central)
I actually thought Jadzia's unlikely friendship with the other Jem'Hadar was a real bright point in the episode... probably my favorite thing that wasn't the introduction of Weyoun.

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