Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Once More Unto the Breach"

***

Air date: 11/9/1998
Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Allan Kroeker

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"If they succeed, you can drink to their courage. And if they fail, you can still drink to their courage." — Darok

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...

Previous episode: Treachery, Faith, and the Great River
Next episode: The Siege of AR-558

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23 comments on this review

R.D. - Mon, Dec 1, 2008 - 8:10am (USA Central)
Hi Jammer,

I must respectfully disagree with you about the way the ending was handled. I thought it was perfect. Kor has always been a legendary Klingon, not just to other Klingons, but to the STAR TREK audience as well since the days he faced down Captain Kirk.

If there's any character in the STAR TREK universe who deserved an ambiguous, mythic, unseen, purely lengendary end, it's Kor. Especially considering how the scene bookended the Davy Crockett theme, the ending as presented was far more poignant and relevant than a bombastic, explosive, albeit glorious end to Kor would have been.
Straha - Wed, Dec 17, 2008 - 3:39pm (USA Central)
I'm with R.D.
RickCanadian - Thu, Jan 22, 2009 - 8:33am (USA Central)
I love your reviews, but I agree with the previous comments on this one. The ending was, IMHO, one of the best in the series. As Worf says, does it matter how Kor did it? Absolutely not, and that's why we don't need (or want!) to see the action. All what we need to do is to drink bloodwine to Kor's memory and sing his glory.
Jammer - Thu, Jan 22, 2009 - 9:51am (USA Central)
Fair enough. One's mileage out of the ending may vary.
Aldo Johnson - Wed, Dec 2, 2009 - 7:04pm (USA Central)
I think the Rotarran is a cruiser, while Martok chose to use Bird of Preys in his Cavalry Charge team, hence the Ch'Tang
Destructor - Thu, Dec 17, 2009 - 5:34pm (USA Central)
Klingon episodes are all snorefests. Glad this was the last one.
Marco P. - Sun, Aug 22, 2010 - 1:52am (USA Central)
I find myself in agreement with both Jammer and the above comments. While I like the mystery surrounding Kor's fate (despite the odds severely stacked against him), I too would have wished for something more glorious. Perhaps the writers could have enhanced the dramatic effect for the viewer, by showing us something like a direct channel open between the Ch'Tang and Kor's ship. Worf, General Martok and the others would have then listened to Kor as he gave his final (?) orders...

On the other hand,I loved Kor's quote in the mess hall. Not only was it poetic and à-propos, but also perfectly relevant outside of this episode or the Trek universe.

"Savor the fruit of life my young friends. It has a sweet taste when it is fresh from the vine, but don't live too long. The taste turns bitter after time."
Nic - Sat, Oct 30, 2010 - 3:45pm (USA Central)
I also liked the ending, I didn't think the episode "fritzes out", the Klingon warriors chanting (except for Martok who, in a nice creative touch, still can't bring himself to join in) made for an emotionally satisfying final scene. I also agree with the rest of your comments, and I can't think of anything bad to say about the episode... but it still would only get three stars from me.
Cloudane - Fri, Dec 3, 2010 - 8:00pm (USA Central)
Poor Kor. I definitely appreciate the message this episode had about older people and the challenges they face in society when they start to be deemed "useless". For a bold, almost invincible seeming warrior to be (nearly) defeated by the mental difficulties that can come with age related illness was devastating to watch (and awesome for that exact reason).

The ending... I can see Jammer's point, I'd have loved to see Kor go out in a blaze of glory. Especially if this was the last Klingon episode... I think it deserved that. I do appreciate what the characters said about the ambiguity of his demise, but for the last proper Klingon story featuring one of the original Klingons no less, I do think it deserved the conceit of showing Kor's last moments.
Elliott - Thu, Jan 13, 2011 - 7:48am (USA Central)
I think the problem with the ending is the idea of Kor's dying off into legend needed some framing other than just a fade from a scene on the bridge where nothing happens to another scene on the bridge where someone reads a comm panel.

What may have worked would be an excited but quiet retelling of one of Kor's great victories and how it inspired...I dunno Worf maybe as a child which is interrupted by the news that Kor won the battle. It would have sold the message of the legend more solidly and avoided the weightlessness of the slow ending as it stands. I don't, however, understand why this mostly æsthetic problem warrants the loss of three stars.
Alvin - Tue, Feb 28, 2012 - 7:14pm (USA Central)
Just rewatched this. The way the ending was handled was so moving, I actually shed tears. A fitting end to the classic character, and a triumphant final performance for John Colicos (who passed away shortly after).

Jammer, I would love for you to watch this one again and comment on it; see how it has aged with time for you.
Matt - Sun, Apr 1, 2012 - 9:23pm (USA Central)
I also loved the ending of this episode, actually this is one of my favorite episodes.. both Kor's haunting "fruit of life" speech, and the scene where Martok's aid Darok gives him his chance to die with honour were fantastically acted. I always think of that scene in particular, there's a real sense of camaraderie between Kor and Darok, the two old soldiers from a lost golden age. Darok, who has lived for as long and through the same time as Kor, understands and respects him in a way no-one else can and I thought it was a beautiful choice to make him the person who gives Kor his noble death rather than the more obvious choices like Worf or Martok. But then, Kor belongs to Darok's age, not theirs. I really like this episode every time I watch it. About the ending I have to agree with everyone above who rates it highly, I think showing clearly what happened would have devalued it, it's important that we saw it from the perspective of the people who will remember his legend. Not knowing the exact details makes Kor a larger than life figure, which he ought to be.
Nebula Nox - Tue, Apr 3, 2012 - 7:26am (USA Central)
And not showing the exact end saved money with respect to special effects.
Justin - Mon, Apr 30, 2012 - 11:58pm (USA Central)
I do agree that the ending leaves something to be desired. A more satisfying ending would have been to show the first part of the battle leaving Kor's ship taking a beating and in a seemingly impossible position to succeed and then leaving it hanging at that point, only to later find out that the mission was a success after all.

Regardless, it's still a classic. John Colicos was at his best and J.G. Hertzler once again portrays Martok with wonderful depth and nuance. Next to Garak, Martok is DS9s finest non-regular character.
Jay - Thu, Jun 7, 2012 - 8:37pm (USA Central)
Yep...Garak, Martok, Weyoun, Dukat and Damar are probably the finest quintet of nonregulars any show has ever had.
Drachasor - Mon, Jul 2, 2012 - 12:07am (USA Central)
I think it is far, far better to not try to show this sort of ending. Kor's feat is something that would be almost impossible to do justice to on screen. We'd be nitpicking how whatever they showed made sense. That's a far worse ending.

I really liked how they didn't show it and it was left as a mystery. That worked for me.
Locke - Thu, Sep 6, 2012 - 10:54am (USA Central)
I absolutely love this episode, this is the kind of Shakespearean episode you so rarely get with modern TV and that Star Trek occasionally did so well... it's a great story with a great theme. I especially like Kor's haunting speech in the mess hall... "savour the fruit of life, my young friends...", and I loved the ending.. it was exactly what it needed to be, an ambiguous ending that will provoke stories and speculation, that's how you become a legend.
tim - Tue, Nov 6, 2012 - 8:57pm (USA Central)
I loved the ending. No matter how much money they spent or how exciting it was written, there is nothing that could top the viewers imagination. Just how did he stop all those ships? Perfect ending and a great sendoff for the character.


p.s. Love the site by the way. :)
Qermaq - Sat, Feb 2, 2013 - 11:33am (USA Central)
We can arm-chair direct this all we want. All in all it's a great episode. All the ideas put forth in the review and in the comments would work great too, but you can't argue with success. Which is kinda the point of the episode in a way.

And I agree with tim, this site is impressive and very enjoyable!
Anil - Thu, May 23, 2013 - 4:36pm (USA Central)
Dear Jammer,

I have just finished watching this episode for what seems like the 100th time. I hope you are aware I have been following your reviews since 1996 when I was at university in Portsmouth, UK, and Netscape was the preferred browser of choice, I'm now 36...but I digress.

Your review was great but you wanted a pay off for Kor, yet they didn't give you one...this is the genius of this episode, we don't know what Kor did, yet it doesn't matter, he did what was necessary and it keep us wanting more, but we are not going to get it. This is the nature of a legend.

I can't believe I wrote DS9 off as early as 1994 but I was young and inexperienced. To me DS9 is the soul of Trek...to quote the Jem'Hadar, the core of Trek's being...
Kotas - Wed, Nov 6, 2013 - 9:58pm (USA Central)

A bit better than the average Klingon episode. Happy that Kor had a good death.

6/10
Trent - Tue, Nov 26, 2013 - 5:40pm (USA Central)
This is a great episode guys. The final act was wonderful; a more bombastic climax would not have been fitting.
Ric - Sun, Feb 23, 2014 - 10:44pm (USA Central)
Repetitive Klingon material, but with their usual weird appeal. I sort of like the ending not delivering everything. In the end, not an episode as good as the previous, but compared to the rest of S7, a total joy to watch.

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