Nutshell: Deep Space Nine goes the "Indiana Jones" route, and the results make for a very refreshing hour.
"The Sword of Kahless" is an enjoyable fable for a simpler time. It's the kind of story where people go on a hunt for ancient, larger-than-life treasures that have been lost and forgotten for centuries. Here's an episode that totally forgets about the ongoing arcs of Starfleet politics and Dominion threats and just puts three people on a quest with only the most rudimentary objectives.
The three people are Worf, Dax, and over-the-hill warrior Kor (a lively John Colicos, again reprising his TOS character as a follow-up to DS9's second season episode, "Blood Oath"). The object they seek is the long-lost Sword of Kahless: the mythical bat'leth wielded by the legendary Klingon warrior over 1,000 years ago. Kor reveals to Worf that he has found a new lead to this illustrious object.
Within the opening two acts, the three adventurers take leave from their duties, head off in a Runabout, and find the Sword of Kahless. Locating the sword proves to be the easy part. (Perhaps too easy. If you find it hard to believe that Kor happens to be the first Klingon who manages to put all the clues together to track down the planet where the sword has been locked away for centuries, you are probably not alone, but never mind that now.)
LeVar Burton, who directed the episode, makes the discovery of Kahless' bat'leth feel like a find of Indiana Jones scope. Set in an obscure underground cave on some remote planet, this scene is filled with a genuine sense of awe and wonder, as if the sword is the embodiment of greatness. The seekers are honored to have found it. David Bell's score is effective and resonating (and I hesitate to think how the scene would've played if Jay Chattaway had scored it). The sword could mean a lot to the Klingons. Worf hopes that it might be the symbol that may help the Klingons reunite.
But once the adventurers have found the sword, keeping it proves more difficult. A group of renegade Klingons led by Toral Duras (Rick Pasqualone)—a name from Worf's past who now believes that if he holds the sword he will be able to take over the empire—is hot on their trail. The chase begins through the caverns; Worf, Kor, and Dax get a respectable head start.
Unfortunately, this is just the beginning of the problem. A rift begins to form between Kor and Worf over what to do with the sword once they escape the planet. Before long, these two are practically on opposing sides. Worf initially wants to hand the sword over to the Klingon emperor who may be able to use the sword to unite all Klingons. Kor, who has strong doubts about the emperor, thinks that would be a big mistake. As their journey continues, both begin having delusions of grandeur. Kor begins thinking his feats as a warrior along with the sword would make him a reasonable leader for the entire Empire. And, in a rather unexpected scene, Worf quietly tells Dax that he felt finding the sword was his destiny, and that he has a greater purpose in his existence—to lead the Klingon Empire.
Kor and Worf suddenly find themselves pointing out each other's shortcomings with some subtle-as-a-sledgehammer remarks. Worf flat out tells Kor that he drinks too much and that exaggerating his feats makes him seem foolish. Kor questions Worf's loyalty to the Empire, bringing up that old issue again of Worf being a Starfleet officer. Watching these two Klingons' verbal sparring and bickering is very entertaining and often humorous. A lot of the points they make about each other are relevant.
The conflict escalates to the point where the two begin contemplating "getting rid" of one another. There's one scene where Worf nearly lets Kor drop off a cliff rather than risk losing the bat'leth. Another where the two are just about ready to go blade-to-blade before they are interrupted. Where's Dax through all of this? Well, she's there the whole time...and has the unfortunate task of mediating these two as they rapidly turn into maniacs. It's a job I wouldn't want. Ultimately, Dax has to stun the two Klingons to get them to stop fighting. The show's funniest moment comes when she tells Kor "Be quiet!" right before she phasers him.
Still, it's a wonder she didn't phaser both of them earlier in the episode. My only real quibble with this episode is how long Dax lets these two bicker before finally putting her foot down. It almost stretches on a bit too long.
The most intriguing aspect about this episode, however, is why it is these two honorable warriors turn against each other. Although the story doesn't come out and say it in so many words, there is a strong insinuation that the sword itself has some sort of spell or curse on it that causes these two Klingons to feel a very strong, if not dangerous, feeling of self-power. This is a very offbeat notion for the series—a mythical element I find very appealing. It's the perfect touch to this legendary adventure. It even would've been fine with me if the story had come right out and said it.
After waking up from being stunned, the two warriors come to their senses and realize that the Klingon Empire is not ready for the Sword of Kahless to be returned. They reluctantly decide to beam it into space from the Runabout. Kor comments that it may be lost for another thousand years. Worf's last line is a very appropriate and poignant closing for this adventure: "When it is destined to be found, it will be." The final shot of the sword floating away in space is also a particularly nice touch.
Hans Beimler's teleplay is an illustration of fine storytelling and memorable flourishes. This kind of vehicle is perfect for Worf. It deals with the honor and adventure qualities that best distinguished his character on TNG. In addition, there are also some genuine character-building scenes for him here. It's the first episode since the season opener that really gives him a worthy story, and Michael Dorn turns in a strong performance.
One last thought: It seems only Klingons in the Star Trek universe get the chance to experience adventurous legends and myths. Has the Federation become so dry?