Nutshell: A poignant, classy hour ... although they kind of botch the ending.
The war with the Dominion can be utilized in a great number of ways, and in "Once More Unto the Breach," it forms the basis for a refreshing episode about legends and pride.
I had a good feeling about this episode from the opening moment at Quark's when O'Brien and Bashir were debating the validity of Davy Crockett's legendary heroics at the Alamo. The two talk back and forth for a while about the matter, and then, out of nowhere, Worf says from the end of the bar: "You are both wrong. The only real question is whether you believe in the legend of Davy Crockett or not. If you do, there should be no doubt in your mind that he died a hero's death. If you do not believe in the legend, then he was just a man, and it does not matter how he died." Then he stands up and walks out.
I like it when Worf surprises me with a moment of depth and insight. I've complained that he can be a little too transparent about his feelings at times, but this little monolog shows how Worf can be both interesting and still perfectly in line with his character's parameters.
"Once More Unto the Breach" doesn't revolve around Worf so much as it does Kor (John Colicos), the infamous Klingon battle hero, who these days is struggling with utter uselessness. He's an old man feeling the burden of current politics; he's admired for his legends, but the people actually heading the Klingon Empire are old enemies who want nothing to do with him. His ruthlessness in pursuing glory in the past has finally caught up with him. Worf is the only place he can turn, and he humbly asks the favor of Worf: to find him a command on a Klingon ship that will give him one final battle so he can die the way he lived.
The prospect of uselessness is a frightening one. I liked the way it was conveyed through Worf's brother Kurn in fourth season's "Sons of Mogh" (also written by Moore), and I liked it as conceived here, as well. There's a quiet, restrained desperation behind everything Kor says to Worf ("It's not easy for me to beg you for help"). Colicos' performance is dead-on, capturing the sadness and loneliness of a warrior who has no battles left to fight.
The story's underlying elements form a classic Klingon episode, something we haven't really seen since fifth season's "Soldiers of the Empire" (which, incidentally, didn't work for me nearly as well as this episode). True, there was the mediocre "Sons and Daughters" from a year ago, but it was more of a father/son story than a traditional Klingon tale. This episode is more like the archetypal Klingon episodes—with tales of the distant past, a knife or two pulled on the bridge, and some Klingon songs. The more I think of it, the more this seems like "Soldiers of the Empire," only better.
This episode contains many tried-and-true but enlightening themes that form the interesting duality of division and unification: class, age, power, loyalty.
When Worf goes to Martok to ask him where Kor might be placed, Martok is furious. He wants nothing to do with Kor. Kor is the man who, when Martok was young, denied him enlistment in the military. Martok lay in disgrace for years after that, until an opportunity allowed him an officer's commission.
Ironically, but not surprisingly, Kor doesn't even remember it. For Kor at the time, Martok's origins warranted casual rejection without a second thought. Now Worf finds himself between two friends. He is able to walk the line and convince Martok to give him duties on his ship, the Ch'Tang (what happened to the Rotarran?), departing for a brief, moderately risky mission behind enemy lines.
"Once More Unto the Breach" is more about timing and charisma than it is about story. A plot description doesn't do justice to this episode. You get the words, but not the music.
Allan Kroeker gets mostly everything right here in attitude, atmosphere, and pacing. But what really works here are Kor and Martok and the way their perspectives provide an emotional center to the story.
Kor's situation, as I said, is a desperation born out of uselessness. But among the reasons for his uselessness is one very simple cause: old age. Kor has simply outlived his own purpose. There's another elderly character, named Darok (Neil Vipond), who serves aboard Martok's ship as some sort of yeoman. He obviously hates where he is, and he doesn't much like Martok. Darok's understanding of Kor's problem is one of the understated highlights of the episode. When Kor beams aboard Martok's ship, everyone is in awe of this legend. But after Kor makes a crucial mistake on the bridge, most of the Ch'Tang crew abandons and ridicules him—except Darok, who can feel Kor's pain. Ultimately, to everyone else, Kor is like a statue of himself—something to be respected as a reminder of a great man, but something that itself only sits and collects dust.
There are other scenes that work very nicely. I liked the dialog back aboard the station when Kor meets Ezri ("The same old Dax, only not"), as well as the scene between Quark and Ezri when he gives her a speech only to realize he didn't have all the facts when he was thinking up this speech.
I also thought Martok's caustic sarcastic assault on Kor for his embarrassing error was handled beautifully, and Kor's response—a solemn warning that getting old makes the sweet taste of life turn bitter—was even more beautiful. The way Martok grudgingly finds himself pitying the old man is great to see unfold.
Overall, I really liked "Once More Unto the Breach," but I can't shake the feeling that the episode doesn't seem to know exactly how to end. The ending, for me, just wasn't worthy of what came before. I liked what happened—Kor taking command of a Klingon Bird of Prey for a suicide battle to stall a pursuing wing of Jem'Hadar fighters—but I didn't like the way it happened. Specifically, I have some objections to the way Kor's final battle was handled as an off-screen event.
I feel that we needed to see, in one way or another, Kor go out in his blaze of glory. It would've been more ... Klingon. Or maybe some sort of epic cinematic approach could've pulled off the emotional payoff without showing the battle—I'm not sure. But I didn't care for the quiet way news arrived that Kor's suicide battle had gotten the job done. It just fell too flat.
Now, if I may play devil's advocate here, there's an interesting subtext here: The fact we don't know exactly what happened gives Kor's final battle a more legendary sense to it, sort of like the discussion of Davy Crockett that opens the episode. Martok's question of just how Kor pulled off the feat is answered with the perfect response from Worf: "Does it matter?" Not knowing how such extraordinary feats are accomplished is one way legends are born, and this idea proves pretty powerful.
And yet somehow ... it just doesn't feel right, all things considered. The episode sort of fizzles out, when a big, bold, grand finale was what it—what Kor—seemed to deserve. The ending as is works okay. A different, less casual ending would've made this episode a classic.
Next week: To the front lines...