Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"To the Death"

2.5 stars

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

103 comments on this review

lvsxy808
Mon, Jan 26, 2009, 2:42pm (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
And rebuilt in the same Cardassian architectural style no less.
Elihawk
Sun, Feb 6, 2011, 12:28am (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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.
MsV
Fri, Feb 13, 2015, 4:38am (UTC -5)
I have a question, wasn't the gateway introduced in TOS? When Bones and Spock were supposedly stranded in the cold wasteland with Marriette Hartley, didn't they go through the Gateway. Now I know they didn't say anything about the Iconians, but wasn't it the gateway?

I also wandered, why no one but Worf disputed the Jem'Hardar when they professed how they were sure they could beat the crew. I know this was put in their genetic makeup, but the Jem'Hadar can die like anybody else and I noticed that he couldn't beat Worf.
petulant
Sat, Sep 12, 2015, 7:36pm (UTC -5)
When Worf tells Sisko that 'if the Jem Hadar kills Sisko then that Jem Hadar will not live to boast about it' I cracked up
great episode
Darnell
Tue, Oct 6, 2015, 7:23pm (UTC -5)
For being purpose-bred and single-minded, spending every waking hour training or fighting, the Jem Hadar sure make shitty warriors. No wonder none of them makes it to 30. Though you gotta wonder how many die in an act of discipline.
Robert
Wed, Oct 7, 2015, 6:04am (UTC -5)
@Darnell - For what it's worth they are nearly born as teenagers. So 30 would be closer to 45 (assuming their accelerated aging completely stops at teen). How many 50 year olds with a billion war wounds can still hack it in battle?
William B
Sun, Dec 6, 2015, 3:53pm (UTC -5)
First off, I really like Elihawk's (very spoilery!) point above, which I hadn't thought about but makes total sense. I did think of the (slightly less but still spoilery) point bigpale made above. The episode's biggest asset, by a large margin, is Jeffrey Combs' performance as Weyoun; it is not a surprise that DS9 kept bringing Combs back, and Weyoun is overall a better-realized character than Brunt (though Brunt's weaknesses as a character are not Combs' fault). Weyoun shifts from scene to scene and moment to moment as erudite, pompous, cowardly, slippery, embarrassed, deferential, arrogant, condescending...the full gamut here, in what is essentially the perfect portrayal of a high-ranking functionary perfectly content with his position as being better than almost everyone he interacts with and several steps down from the next people up on the chain of command (who are his gods). I love Weyoun's disappointment that Sisko knew about the Iconians; I love his frustration and boredom while going through the Jem'Hadar rituals; I love his constant condescension to Sisko et al., which he also drops at times when he realizes that Sisko et al. are people who can be receptive to his asides about how dull and ridiculous the Jem'Hadar are. Within the episode proper, Weyoun seems to be the analogue of an upper bourgeoisie officer who makes no effort to hide his contempt for the infantrymen he commands, until eventually he gets himself fragged. And as well as being entertaining in and of himself, his inability to recognize the value in the Jem'Hadar rituals helps provide the contrast necessary to make Starfleet officers' gradual coming to respect the Jem'Hadar pop.

In general, the episode is "about" the gradual understanding and reluctant admiration formed between the Starfleet and Jem'Hadar crews, along with an expose of the difference between the Starfleet Way and the Jem'Hadar Way, with Weyoun as, oddly, the insider who is ostensibly the Jem'Hadar's boss but lacks the qualities that allow the Starfleet/Jem'Hadar bond to form. And aspects of it are done well; while I didn't enjoy him as much as Weyoun, I thought that Omet'iklan was generally fine, and the insight into Jem'Hadar rituals had its moments. I like, for example, the "I am dead, we are all dead" idea as a way of selling victory as a necessary condition to continue living. There is also something uncomfortably hilarious about Sisko's "...you're confined to quarters for the rest of this mission when you're not at your job" discipline to Worf after Omet'iklan snaps his second's neck. That there are advantages both to the Jem'Hadar's total discipline uber alles and the Starfleet crew's desire to live is somewhat well presented. Still, the thing is, the Jem'Hadar's monomania about victory is not all that interesting for me as a viewer, and while I thought the Jem'Hadar here were presented somewhat well, there is only so much time I really want to spend with them.

More than that, though, I also largely felt that the portrayal of the main cast was often off. I get that Worf is A Klingon! and all, but his inability to restrain himself from attacking Jem'Hadar for insulting him, and his inability to restrain himself from attacking the Second when he put his hand on O'Brien's shoulder, make him look genuinely foolish. I feel like Worf really does largely seem more able to control his anger than he is here, even if he obviously *gets angry* easily. (The episode began this uncomfortably early, where Worf insists on having one seat permanently and does not brook other people sitting in it.) If Worf really cannot *not* get into fights to the death with guests who insult his honour, he absolutely should be off the command track immediately. It's not like we're talking about Duras killing K'Ehleyr here. It seems to me that the tone that the crewmembers take regarding Weyoun and the Jem'Hadar is all off as well; they joke around about whether Odo could make Weyoun stand on his head, ha ha, and about how it's stupid that Jem'Hadar don't have women, ha ha, in a way that seems weirdly immature but, more to the point, is skipping over the central reality that the Vorta and the Jem'Hadar were horrifically genetically engineered to have free will removed and the pleasures in life taken away from them. I get that they cannot exactly spend every moment contemplating the horror of the Vorta/Jem'Hadar existence, and I don't expect them to be super friendly with the Jem'Hadar, but their reaction feels very much like they see the Vorta and Jem'Hadar as having stupid cultural practices that they feel smugly superior to, as opposed to seeing the Vorta and the Jem'Hadar as both extremely dangerous (duh) and also slave races engineered by a species of evil mad scientist totalitarians. Not to mention the weird way O'Brien and Jadzia start laughing about how it's great to have women at parties, and shut Worf down when he says that Klingon women are valued for more than just sex, which is just weird all over.

Which brings us to the plot reason why these teams are working together at all, which is that rogue Jem'Hadar have the Iconian Gateway and might be UNSTOPPABLE!!! There is something weird in the way with all the focus on the Jem'Hadar on the Defiant, the idea of a cadre of Jem'Hadar going rogue, breaking from their programmed-in loyalty, and maybe even trying to lead a revolution against the Dominion is basically skipped over. "Hippocratic Oath" took seriously Goran'agar's desire to free himself from slavery and Bashir's desire to help him, and it also took seriously O'Brien's concern that a bunch of perfect soldiers off their leashes may be even more dangerous than perfect soldiers kept in line. This episode, I guess, uses the attack on DS9 as a way of establishing that Jem'Hadar who are able to break their programming and try to break from the Dominion are SUPER EVIL and must be killed, to the point where Omet'iklan's declaration that he and his are going to hunt the rogue Jem'Hadar down for their disloyalty mostly goes uncommented on. Under normal circumstances, shouldn't Sisko et al. actually want to know how and why these Jem'Hadar rebelled, and not just trust Weyoun's assertion that they MUST BE STOPPED? While I accept that the Iconian Gateway is bad news in their hands, and it certainly reflects badly on this set of Jem'Hadar that they attacked DS9 to steal supplies, it is by no means clear to me that they are unambiguously a worse force overall than the Dominion, and it does not seem to occur to anyone to question why this Jem'Hadar rebellion is happening or what it means. Even from the perspective of Omet'iklan, I am not even really sure why Jem'Hadar starting their own Iconian Gateway project is any *more* of a fundamental betrayal of the chain of command than shooting one's commanding Vorta; what if the Jem'Hadar just got fed up with their Vorta, and maybe a whole command network, too, but are really doing the Founders' work from their perspective just as Omet'iklan is?

And I absolutely agree that the relatively bloodless final battle totally undermines all the episode's overblown setup; the idea that the crew could go up against huge numbers of armed Jem'Hadar *unarmed* (since their weapons beam away), who have an installation of their own, is ridiculous. I'm not personally too worried about the specifics of how plausible battle results are normally, but having a whole episode setting up for an uphill, incredible-high-stakes battle only for it to just be won by everyone managing to out-fight armed Jem'Hadar by punching, and for the Jem'Hadar forces in the compound to go from hundreds to like five or something, is really silly.

2 stars for Weyoun and some of the crew/Jem'Hadar interactions. I also like Quark's concern for Rom at the opening.
Diamond Dave
Sun, Jan 3, 2016, 12:55pm (UTC -5)
A fairly well-trodden path of opposite factions uniting for a common goal with all the attendant problems that go along with it.

There are some really nice scenes in here and some sparkling dialogue, but really this adds up to less than perhaps was possible and turns into a fairly standard actioner that rather nakedly decides to have a sword fight at the end for shits and giggles. While it adds to the picture of the Jem'Hadar and Vorta - suggesting that the Dominion is not as monolithic as might otherwise be thought - it doesn't really have a consequence. Shame. 2 stars.
Peter G.
Mon, Feb 29, 2016, 3:27pm (UTC -5)
Let me try to solve for some of you (Jammer included) some of the strange elements to this episode. Here is a short list of things that don't entirely make sense or might appear to be shortcomings in the writing:

1) How do the renegade Jem'Hadar live without the white?

2) Why does the Dominion rely on Starfleet to solve a problem that could end the entire Dominion? Surely the possible 'infecting' of other Jem'Hadar with hopes of freedom is trivial compared to making sure the gateway is destroyed.

3) Why is the final battle seemingly almost anti-climactic and offering no real resolution offered to what we'd seen?

4) How do we square what Weyoun says about the control of the Jem'Hadar being overrated with what we hear from the Jem'Hadar themselves that they live to serve the founders, to the point where they'd kill their own Vorta for doubting them? Is one of them wrong? Are all Jem'Hadar not the equally controlled, despite being grown in a lab? This question also plays back into question (1).

5) Why is Worf's extra large prune juice so small?

Let's go through the basic facts to get at these questions.

-Fact: Weyoun really wanted to speak to Odo about the Founders wanting Odo back. And yet two episodes later we learn that Weyoun really infected Odo and that in fact the Founders wanted him punished.

-Fact: To accomplish this, Weyoun was chosen to infect Odo with a virus (I am taking this as a given fact, even though the episode wisely does not disclose it).

-Fact: The Jem'Hadar cannot live without the white, and apparently cannot even open the box containing the white without a Vorta.

-Fact: Weyoun and the surviving Jem'Hadar were found by Sisko adrift in a ship apparently damaged by the renegade Jem'Hadar, and if that ship had been destroyed Odo would never have been infected at all. Why entrust the virus for Odo to a Vorta on a ship being sent on a very dangerous search and destroy mission?

As I see it there is only one way to square all of these facts. There were never any renegade Jem'Hadar in the first place. The Founders ordered the Jem'Hadar to raid DS9, conveniently timed for when Sisko and Odo would be absent so there was no chance of their being killed in the attack. Knowing Sisko's profile they would know he'd personally lead a counterattack with the Defiant, and that Odo would accompany. A damaged ship was arranged to be 'chanced upon', providing the only plausible excuse to have Weyoun be in close proximity to both Odo and Sisko for an extended period of time. The mission to destroy the gateway was merely a ruse for Weyoun to carry out his mission, and perhaps for the Jem'Hadar to study Starfleet methods up close and first-hand, including getting to use Starfleet weapons. I also rather expect that Omet'iklan was ordered by the Founders to kill Weyoun after the mission's completion in order to remove the only witness to Odo's infection. The Founders would certainly not tolerate either Vorta or Jem'Hadar knowing that the Changelings have weaknesses such as to a virus and that it is sometimes permissible to infect or kill them.

Thus the mystery of how the renegade Jem'Hadar lived without the white is solved: they didn't. The mystery of why the ending feels off is explained: the mission itself was a red herring and was not meant to be a momentous win for the Federation; on the contrary, it was a defeat of sorts. The Founders only sent one ship to deal with the 'renegades' precisely because their alliance with Sisko was a set-up. The inconsistency about how loyal the Jem'Hadar really are is also solved: they are loyal, and Weyoun was lying. There never were any disloyal Jem'Hadar, but it serves the Founders for the Federation to think of them as 'people' who may want their freedom. We could see already how much this way of thinking weakened Bashir when he tried to help the Jem'Hadar overcome their addiction. Finally, there is no explanation for why Worf's prune juice was so small! For this reason I'll dock the episode a half-star and give it 3.5/4.

Bonus corollary: If the mission was a set-up and the Founders were in control the whole time, then why would they ever sacrifice an Iconian gateway, a weapon so powerful they could rule the galaxy with it? In fact, even apart from my conspiracy theory, why wouldn't the Founders have sent a fleet of ships to capture such a piece of outrageously strong technology? Answer: it never worked in the first place. All we know is that it was showing images of different places, but we never know that it actually worked. A simple holographic display could have shown the same images. I suggest that it didn't work and that the Founders knew they'd never be able to get it functional since they were either lacking Iconian parts or else it was just beyond them. Since Starfleet knew of the Iconians and how powerful the gateways were it would serve as the ultimate bait to lure in Sisko. It had to be something so crazy that Sisko would try to destroy it at all costs, and a defective gateway fit the bill nicely. The Founders at least got good use out of it this way. If you're not convinced yet, just consider how preposterous it is that a group of renegade Jem'Hadar could magically figure out how to fix the gateway with no instruction manual handy! We're talking about 200,000 year old tech way in advance of anything the Dominion had ever seen. I call BS; there's no way they could get such a thing up and running using spare parts scavenged from DS9.
Chrome
Mon, Feb 29, 2016, 3:43pm (UTC -5)
@ Peter G.

If your analysis is correct (I can't decide whether or not I think it is), the Founders are extremely hypocritical. They're putting Odo into a firefight, infecting him with a deadly disease, and being completely ingenuous to him.

The problem with all that is, the Founders' basis for capturing Odo is that they want to judge him for harming another Changling. Aren't the Founders actively harming Odo? Weren't they at least partially if not fully culpable for putting Odo into a situation where he had no choice but to harm a Changling? That's just one weird thing about DS9; The Founders' motives are completely ridiculous.
Chrome
Mon, Feb 29, 2016, 3:48pm (UTC -5)
Sorry, the word I was looking for was disingenuous. Oh Jammer, I love your boards but I wish we had an edit feature.
Peter G.
Mon, Feb 29, 2016, 6:21pm (UTC -5)
@ Chrome, (SPOILERS)

I think one thing consistent throughout the series is that the Founders are hypocritical, almost like wilful children. They talk a lot about being hunted, solids not trusting them, and needing to defend themselves, but in the end it sounds like rationalizing the fact that they are by nature controlling and bereft of what humans think of as morality. They care a lot about the link, but for all their caring about Changelings it seems they think of the link more as a collective than as communing individuals. When they do what's best for the link, I doubt they think of it as meaning they try to do what's best for each individual in it. Odo is very much an individual and at this point in the series I think they truly don't understand that one of them can think like this. This is indeed hypocritical since the first time we met them they claimed that shapeshifting is about becoming the thing for real, which ought to mean understanding it. But they exhibit very little understanding of humanoids (or even interest in understanding them) throughout the series other than how they strategize and how to defeat them. They can mimic a human but the individuality and the respect for others is alien to them. When they insist that no Changeling should ever harm another, I feel like there is a fascistic aspect to this whereby they also imply that no Changeling must ever go against the plans of the link. It's one thing for a child (like Odo) to be a bit naughty or stubborn; you wait for them to come around. But when a child does something truly insubordinate (like striking a parent) the ***t hits the fan and you come down hard on them.

You're completely right that they are the ones who basically forced Odo to kill a Changeling, and I'm sure they thought some combination of that he wouldn't actually turn on one of his own when it came down to it, along with the arrogant assumption that there was no way that Changeling could be stopped anyhow. Their disrespect for life seems to be tied inextricably to their sense of destiny and being superior along with unstoppable. I do kind of think that their choice to punish Odo here is something like a collective temper tantrum, since later on when they have time to think about it they realize how important he is to them. But I definitely don't put it past them to contrive a deceptive scenario to carry out their wish to punish Odo. One thing they seem never to care about is manipulating Odo or anyone else to get what they want. Whatever caring means to them, it's not the same as what it means to us.
Chrome
Tue, Mar 1, 2016, 1:28pm (UTC -5)
After looking over the script of "Broken Link", I can't buy that Odo was infected in this episode. The Founders seem to know so many things that are going on at DS9 that surely some changling could've passed him the disease then.

There's also the fact that DS9 is not subtle when handling bad news, and if the writers wanted to link this episode to "Broken Link" (no pun intended), they would've given some sort of positive affirmation.

Now on to this episode itself. It's actually one of my favorites and I think Jammer was too hard on it. It's a cool idea introduced in this episode that the Jem'Hadar could be deadly to everyone including the Founders if they ran wild. I also liked the training scenes because it captures one of the best parts of DS9: unlike peoples getting past their hatreds to work hard for a common goal.

This is also a great episode in the franchise history because it introduces Weyoun, and is referenced in later classic episodes such as "Rocks and Shoals". One other small thing I like about this episode is that it gives Dax a chance to show off, and her humble friendship with the Jem'Hadar is touching in a its own way. One almost wonders if the writers wanted to go another way with the Dominion at one point in the series.

.3.5 - 4 stars. Will never skip this ep when rewatching the series.
Chrome
Tue, Mar 1, 2016, 1:41pm (UTC -5)
Whoops, spoke to soon. After looking at this episode's script Weyoun did indeed infect Odo in this episode. I still don't agree that the rogue Jem'Hadar were all a ruse by the Founders (mainly because it guts this episode's plot). But also, we actually see Jem'Hadar going rogue and turning on Vorta in this very episode. None of that could've been planned by the Founders; it just doesn't add up.
Peter G.
Tue, Mar 1, 2016, 1:54pm (UTC -5)
@ Chrome,

In the straightforward reading of the episode two groups of Jem'Hadar go rogue, one group against the Founders and another against only their Vorta, while they insist they're loyal to the Founders. The makes either Weyoun's statement incorrect or else Omet'iklan's statement inaccurate. Either the Jem'Hadar are totally loyal, or they're not and Omet'iklan was only speaking for himself. I still see this as an inconsistency.

But more central to my theory is that it makes no sense at all for Weyoun to have been given the infection if his mission was a hunt-and-kill with terrible odds of success. Chances were that he'd never live to see Odo, to say nothing of the fact that Odo would never have even been involved had the station not been attacked. Recall that Weyoun's stated mission was to destroy the gateway, a mission he would have been given prior to the damage done to DS9. Had the Jem'Hadar failed to randomly attack the station Odo and Sisko would not have found the derelict ship, would likely would have gone down with all hands aboard. So much for the plan to infect Odo, huh? So it must have magically worked out with their ship being damaged *just enough* to require assistance from Starfleet, and Odo being present, and Sisko being intent on stopping the rogue JH, for Odo to have any chance of being infected. This would indeed make the Founders a bunch of blundering idiots, which I don't buy. Too many chance encounters, lucky breaks, coincidences, and opportunities for my taste. After all, why not just give the virus to a Vorta not assigned to what was basically a suicide mission?

Nothing adds up when seen at face value, hence my conclusion that it was a set up.
Peter G.
Tue, Mar 1, 2016, 2:01pm (UTC -5)
I'll just add that this wouldn't be the first time the Founders faked a scenario in order to manipulate Odo in some way. Remember Heart of Stone, where the entire event on the moon's surface was a ruse to have some time to trick Odo and get information out of him? Playing on trust in order to deceive seems like a standard Founder method, which may be why (SPOILER) Weyoun later describes the Romulans as "so predictably treacherous." It would indeed be predictable to them since the Founders are in a sense deceptive by their very nature.
Chrome
Tue, Mar 1, 2016, 2:01pm (UTC -5)
@Peter G.

That's very true. However, your theory rests on the assumption that it was *solely* Weyoun's task to infect Odo when the Founders very likely sent out a general order to all Vorta/Changling infiltrators to infect Odo. The Dominion has spies working throughout the Alpha Quadrant at this point, so it's likely any one of them could succeed even if Weyoun failed.
Chrome
Tue, Mar 1, 2016, 2:47pm (UTC -5)
Or let's put it another way. Couldn't Weyoun just have arranged for a meeting on DS9 under the false pretense he wanted to have peace talks (This happens in "In the Cards") and ask to see Odo and shake his hand?

That seems a lot simpler and safer than the gambit you're suggesting.
Peter G.
Tue, Mar 1, 2016, 3:28pm (UTC -5)
@ Chrome,

I don't think the Founders would have allowed multiple Vorta to know that they were willing to infect another Changeling. Not only would it contradict their claim that no Changeling harms another (making them sound like liars) but it would imply that a Changeling *may* be harmed if it's for a good reason, which would be an incredibly dangerous idea to plant among the Vorta. In their position I would limit exposure of such an idea to one Vorta and then eliminate him as soon as possible. The idea of deliberately doing hard to a Founder had to be maintained as absolute anathema to all Dominion servants.

As for why Weyoun couldn't come to the station, I think Weyoun wanted close quarters and privacy. A request for a peaceful meeting on the station would have been met with extreme caution on the part of Starfleet, especially since the Dominion had previously made it quite clear that the only peace would be through submission to the Dominion. If a peaceful meeting were to be arranged, I imagine Starfleet might even insist on sending ambassadors or even Admirals to conduct the negotiation, and certainly Sisko would never be alone in room with Weyoun, let alone Odo. Security would be everywhere. Weyoun would also likely be thoroughly scanned while beaming aboard for weapons and contaminants, which the virus might not pass. Contrast with an emergency beam-out prior to a ship exploding, where there's no time for careful decontamination procedures. The best they could afford was the basic biofilter and removing the Jem'Hadar weapons. Frankly the plan could have failed utterly if done on the station, and if scuttled could have also cemented the Federation as opponents to the Dominion.

At this point in time I feel like the Dominion is still testing the waters in the Alpha Quadrant to find who will make for the best alliance with them. As Elihawk above mentioned, I think Weyoun's question about making Sisko supreme ruler was not at all a joke but was quite serious. He expected Sisko would say no, but he wanted to gauge the exact reaction all the same. Also note that if the Dominion was still considering whether the Federation might be an ally for them, they'd want to know how Starfleet personnel work alongside Jem'Hadar. Think of it like a test run for a real alliance. I think both the interview with Sisko and the group training both showed that the Federation is a very poor fit for working alongside the Dominion. Even Worf serves as a quite good demonstration to them of how it would be utterly impossible to ever get Klingons to work with Jem'Hadar.
Yanks
Tue, Mar 1, 2016, 3:33pm (UTC -5)
@ Peter G.
Mon, Feb 29, 2016, 3:27pm (UTC -6)

Wow!! Bravo! That all makes sense!

Thank you so much. It makes perfect sense they put "Odo in harms way" because he was never really in harms way.

I'm gonna forgive the size of the prune juice and up my score to 4 stars! :-)
Chrome
Tue, Mar 1, 2016, 3:55pm (UTC -5)
Hey, I can at least grant that the writer's left the subtext of this episode up to interpretation. Another reason to like this episode, anyway. :)
Skeptical
Wed, Mar 2, 2016, 9:35pm (UTC -5)
Wow, I like Peter G's hypothesis. Not saying I'm 100% in agreement with it, but it's a pretty impressive speculation. That said, I do disagree with your assessment that the Founders absolutely would not want it to leak out that they were deliberately infecting Odo. That belief of yours rests on three assumptions, and any one of which being incorrect breaks the premise that Weyoun's knowledge was too dangerous to let him live:

1) That the virus would have killed Odo. I confess that I don't remember Broken Link well enough to know if this was stated or not. But even if it was, it's possible Bashir would have been wrong on that account. The Founders still considered him a Changeling, and wanted to mete out his punishment themselves, not let him die without ever knowing why. Isn't it more likely that the virus just would have prevented him from solidifying, so that he would end up alive but perpetually stuck in a bucket until brought to the Founders? That seems more realistic of a virus to me.

2) That the Vorta would sense something wrong in a Founder vs Founder plot. The later Weyouns never had a problem with their devotion to the Founders despite seeing Odo in conflict with them. He was in adoration around Odo, but even so probably would not have disobeyed the female Changeling just to obey Odo. I'm sure he could adjust his religious adoration to accept that Odo was a god who had not entirely found his way yet. As such, he and the other Vorta would not have had a crisis of faith in order to trick Odo into returning to the Founders.

3) That the Vorta knew what the virus was. Why would the Founders explain their plan to the Vorta for an internal Founder affair? Just tell the Vorta that, if any of them get a chance to meet Odo, to touch them in such a way as to impart this divine blessing on him, which would miraculously lead to him returning to the Founders. And strict instructions not to tell anyone about it. Voila, no crisis of faith on the part of the Vorta, no fear that knowledge of harm towards the Founders could spread, no problem.

So there is still a possibility that there was a standing order to all the Vorta operating at or near the Alpha Quadrant to infect Odo when given the chance, and the Founders had no real timetable to when it would happen. After all, we know they are patient. They fully intended to exterminate the Cardassians (as the Founder told Garak), yet allied with them first. Who's to say they wouldn't wait years for the chance to infect Odo? Thus, I'd say there still is not enough compelling evidence that this episode's premise is not legit.
Peter G.
Thu, Mar 3, 2016, 9:59am (UTC -5)
@ Skeptical, (SPOILERS)

I'll do my best to address these points:

1) I agree that they didn't want Odo dead. We can't know the exact details of the virus, except that it did make him suffer. I think even the knowledge that a Founder can be made to suffer 'if they deserve it' would be unacceptable knowledge for the Vorta to have. It's my observation that the Founders are ridiculously paranoid and won't brook any possibility of upheaval. Maybe they think that by turning him human he'd realize how bad being a solid is and ask to come back. That is, after all, their endgame, no? As I see it they probably viewed his wanting to be among solids as feeling like one of them, so by showing him what that's like they could make him realize how wrong he was. So no, I don't think his death was the plan.

2) You anticipated the answer to this with (3).

3) You're right, the Founders would surely have lied about what it was. But as we know at least some of the Vorta are experts in genetics and the more of them that knew about it the higher the odds they'd figure out what it was. Then they'd not only know a god can be harmed but they'd also know the Founders lied to them about it. The Vorta are loyal but also shifty and as we saw from Weyoun's defection later on in the series they do not just mindlessly obey the Founders without thinking for themselves. They were designed to be conniving and suspicious and that's not the sort of group you want multiple members of to be in on a dangerous secret. Even Weyoun himself might have figured it out without assistance, but if they gave it to him right before a dangerous mission he wouldn't have had time to analyse it. Being killed right after transmission, there's no chance anyone would know what had happened. Also think about how dangerous it would be to have all of the Vorta running around with a virus harmful to the Founders! Until Odo was infected the Founders would have to keep a wide berth from the Vorta so as not to be infected themselves. Seems needlessly risky to me when making a plan to have just one Vorta deliver it would work well enough. If that failed they could also send one more, but having them all carry it...well, if I was paranoid I wouldn't like the sound of that very much.

For the Founders to be opposed to Odo is one thing; for a Vorta to infect a changeling is another. That would be a big difference to them. At this point in the series the Founders may still be hoping to avoid being on opposite sides of a war with Odo. With the stakes being at the level they currently are, infecting Odo is the most aggressive thing they’ve ever done to another changeling. I’d say they’d want to keep that secret. But it's still doing harm to a Changeling, and I guess it's just my opinion that it would be sacrilege for members of the Dominion to think that's ok.
Chrome
Thu, Mar 3, 2016, 12:45pm (UTC -5)
@Peter G.

You keep bringing up this "Vorta upheaval" the Founders would fear, but nearly every single depiction of them indicates that they're blindly loyal to the Founders. The only counter-examples I can think of are "Faith, Treachery..." where the Vorta had a birth defect. You might also argue that "Rocks and Shoals" had a Vorta who cared more about himself than serving the founders. But even that Vorta probably felt he was serving the founders in his own way by preventing Jem'Hadar from going renegade.

And you might also remember that Vorta are willing to consider Odo a "lesser founder" in "Faith, Treachery..." and wouldn't question orders to punish him coming from the senior Founders.
Peter G.
Thu, Mar 3, 2016, 1:57pm (UTC -5)
@ Chrome,

I tend to agree that there may not have been a real upheaval if the Vorta learned of what happened, but when I argue this point I'm trying to see it from the viewpoint of paranoid Changelings who assume everyone is out to get them. They think with a long-term mentality; not years, but decades or centuries (as Jack points out). They have to worry about what a small thing now could produce far in the future.

Anyhow it's all just my speculation and I certainly can't claim to know any of this for sure. But thanks for the back and forth on it. :)
Luke
Tue, Apr 19, 2016, 10:05pm (UTC -5)
Ladies and gentlemen, Star Trek has a problem. An awfully big problem. On one hand it wants iconic, threatening villains that the heroes have to struggle against and who offer true challenge and menace. On the other hand it wants to humanize those villains so that we can better understand them, thereby leaving the door open for peaceful coexistence with them in the future. That is one truly difficult balancing act to pull off. It's a very noble goal, don't get me wrong, but a very tricky one. Sometimes it works - the Romulans, the Klingons, the Cardassians. Sometimes it doesn't. I'm not going to include the Ferengi in this because aside from Quark, Rom and Nog (and even then not all the time) they're consistently treated with contempt by the writers. I'm not even referring to what a lot people consider the de-fanging of the Borg on VOY. No, I'm looking squarely at Species 8472. They're quite possibly the most powerful "villain" race in the entire franchise, capable of not only fighting the entire Borg Collective to the brink of utter defeat but also of destroying entire planets (Death Star style) with only a handful of ships. They're the greatest threat the entire Milky Way Galaxy has ever encountered. And yet, they end up being won over by Chakotay's charm (HA!) and are led by a kindly, old curmudgeon who ends up giving Janeway a flower. Talk about destroying a villain!

That's the main problem with "To the Death". It's not a crippling problem this time, but it's there. The Jem'Hadar have been established as the series' preeminent threat, the Big Bad of Big Bads. And yet, this is the second time this season we've been asked to see them as more than the willing slaves they're meant to be. Still, that being said, it's better than "Hippocratic Oath" for one simple reason - it might be trying to humanize the Jem'Hadar somewhat, but it still sends a very strong message that cultural relativism simply does not work. The Dominion's culture is clearly inferior to the Federation's, with it's love of death, demands for abject loyalty, total control of everything in life and insistence that the needs of the group vastly outweigh the needs of the individual. The viewer is clearly asked to reject the Dominion's "culture" or society without question. It's very similar to how cultures interact here in the real world. We in the West obviously reject Sharia Law and prefer our own system of justice. Well, apparently expect in Europe, where many people seem to be of the opinion that if they just plug their ears and ignore the problem of radical Islamists, then everything will be fine and the problem with just go away. There's even one scene where O'Brien very publicly denounces the Jem'Hadar's battle preparations and insists that his way is better, which all the Starfleet people agree with. Let's get political here for a second. A lot of people have directly told me how they can't understand how I can be a Star Trek fan and be conservative when Trek is so fundamentally left-leaning. Well, I don't understand how leftist fans can watch an episode like this, agree with everything the heroes say and still have that attitude towards people like me.

The episode also has some nice world-building to offer - the re-introduction of the Vorta after a fairly lengthy absence, the introduction of the always enjoyable Weyoun, and a return of the Iconian Gateways (definitely an odd choice for continuity porn, but I'll take it). In fact, I wish Trek in general had much more little call-backs like this. But, of course, Jeffrey Combs is the real highlight of the episode. He is so good as Weyoun that the writers were later willing to completely retcon the entire concept of the Vorta just so he could come back. And he's got a firm grip on the character right from the start. There's no fumbling around trying to figure out just who the character is and what makes him tick, like with Damar (at first just a glorified goon) or Garak (with his odd, and fairly undefined, pan-sexuality in his first appearance).

Finally, while watching the episode this time around, something struck me that I've never considered before. Was this all a set-up? We know from later episodes that the Founders deliberately infected Odo with a virus that makes him return to the Great Link in order to face punishment for his actions in "The Adversary". The producers have also made it very clear that Weyoun infects him in this episode - in the scene where he asks Odo if he wants to return to the Link (it's a shame they shot it in close-ups as it means we don't see Weyoun touch Odo's shoulder, thereby infecting him). My question is this - did the Founders plan this whole thing? Did they have the rogue Jem'Hadar attack the station hoping it would lure the Defiant, and Odo, into the Gamma Quadrant so that Weyoun could slip him the virus? We know the extent the Founders will go to in order to carry out their plans. They sacrificed centuries of carefully laid Dominion security all for Odo's benefit in "The Search, Part II". They carried a truly elaborate plan to destroy the Tal Shiar and the Obsidian Order. I honestly think it's possible that the whole "renegade Jem'Hadar seize a Gateway so we need the Federation's help" was just a ruse, carefully orchestrated by the Changelings. Of course, we never get any confirmation of this in later episodes, but it does make a certain amount of sense.

7/10
Skywalker
Mon, Jul 4, 2016, 10:35am (UTC -5)
Seeing an episode like "To The Death" makes me seriously question the strategic thinking of the UFP:

1) They should have mined or gated the wormhole years ago (something like the Iris in Stargate SG-1 — by the way, Jammer, when are the SG-1 reviews coming?) Ostensibly DS9 is sitting next to the wormhole to guard it, but with only one little ship ("Little?!") there isn't much they can do to control, say, huge fleets of Cardassians, Romulans, or Dominion from passing through.

2) Is Starfleet really so busy cataloguing gaseous anomalies that it can't spare a few more ships of the line to be permanently deployed and docked at DS9? Like about 20 or so? Because the Klingons and the Cardies don't mind swinging by once in a while with immense fleets. DS9 is armed to the teeth now, but it can't maneuver worth a damn. To paraphrase Word, adopting a siege attitude is ultimately self-defeating.

3) It's a trap! @Luke, I strongly concur that this is a ruse. What else would it be? Why the hell would the renegade Jem'Hadar attack DS9 hours before they get the Iconian gateway back online?! If Weyoun wasn't in on it, the Founders surely set it all up. I also would not have taken the Defiant away from the station so quickly. It was decisive and bold, and Sisko was ultimately not wrong to abandon DS9, but it still strikes me as odd. "Good luck, Major! Hopefully some more starships arrive to help soon just in case."

Truly, given the strategic importance of DS9, there should be permanently deployed to the Bajoran sector the equivalent of a carrier battle group with a fleet admiral in command, not a junior O-6 who was a mere commander when stuff started hitting the fan a year ago.

Things I liked:
-Sisko gesturing the deadly phaser rifle at Weyoun; subtle threat!
-O'Brien's droll line, "Followed by a get to know you buffet at 1930," which I can tell you as a military officer rings true! Haha.
-Weyoun.

Nitpick: Dax calls it a "dampening field," but unless she means it disabled their weapons by getting them *wet*, she meant "damping field," like inertial dampers. "To damp" means "to inhibit."
Jixs
Thu, Aug 11, 2016, 5:02pm (UTC -5)
...as far as I'm concerned, on this mission, I'm the first -
Sisko to a Jem'Hadar

Sisko drop the mic moment! The man is the best captain ever!
Filip
Wed, Feb 1, 2017, 7:26pm (UTC -5)
The parts of the episode leading to the battle were done very well and I enjoyed them very much. The battle itself falls flat, but since others have already discussed it I am not going to.

What I want to point is the absurdity that a warship, which Defiant most certainly is, doesn't have a special task force onboard at all times that would be specifically trained for armed engagements. Actually, apart from Enterprise's MACOs, a special military unit is never seen or even mentioned anywhere on the show. Yes, it is "anti-Trekkian," but they are at war, and since the Defiant is clearly labeled as a warship I don't see a problem with that given the circumstances.

I personally find it ridiculous that O'Brien, who is an engineeer by training, or Dax, or Sisko for that matter, would participate in a sword fight no less.
Chrome
Wed, Feb 1, 2017, 9:35pm (UTC -5)
@Filip

All those officers have hand-to-hand combat experience from fighting the Klingons in that season. Dax most of all, as her previous host Curzon was a great fighter, not to mention Jadzia's combat performance in season 2's "Blood Oath".
Filip
Mon, Feb 13, 2017, 6:30am (UTC -5)
@Chrome

Sorry for the late response but I never thought that someone actually read these comments.

Anyway, they shouldn't have been fighting the Klingons in the first place for the same reasons. Also, personal experience shouldn't be a deciding factor in who to send on such a mission. To give you a real life example, I could be a maintenance engineer on an aircraft carrier and be a season Krav Maga pratictioner, but that would still make me unfit to go parachuting behind enemy lines.

It was also mentioned on more than one ocassion that O'Brien and his staff didn't even go to the Academy, as their function onboard was that of an engineer. Which brings me back to my first point, if they had a special operations team for such missions, the engineers' job would be just to - engineer.
FIlip
Mon, Feb 13, 2017, 6:34am (UTC -5)
As for Dax, she may have fighting experience which is, again, personal, and not due to her extensive combat training. After all, she is a science officer. Even if she is proficient in hand to hand combat, can you make the same assumption for every science officer of every Federation starship? Chances are, the vast majority probably never held a blade in their hands as I don't think swordfighting would be a course at the Academy, let alone slash someone with it.
Chrome
Mon, Feb 13, 2017, 8:30am (UTC -5)
@Filip

O'Brien's your weakest example. O'Brien's early years in Starfleet were spent the Cardassian War. Miles was a soldier before he got into engineering.

And if you watch "The Way of the Warrior" again you'll note Sisko and company had been preparing for a Dominion incursion which led them to beef up the station's defenses. I would be shocked if they didn't perform battle drills as a part of this preparation.
Filip
Thu, Feb 16, 2017, 2:30pm (UTC -5)
Chrome, you are missing my point. At the moment of the episode, he is the chief engineering officer not only of the Defiant, but of DS9 as well, and is as such a too valuable asset to risk in an operation that could've been handled by a specially trained team. The battle drills were to prepare them for a "if push comes to shove" situation, which is not the case with this episode - from the start they set on a mission with a specific goal with a high probability of battle. This wasn't an unplanned event, nor was it a TNG era Enterprise cruising along when it suddenly got caught in a hostile enviorment where they had to risk the vital parts of the ship's crew. In that situation, I might've agreed with you, but this is the complete opposite.

My other examples still stand.
Chrome
Thu, Feb 16, 2017, 2:56pm (UTC -5)
@Filip

"This wasn't an unplanned event."

So, DS9 getting one of its pylons obliterated by rogue Jem'Hadar and then teaming up with other Jem'Hadar to help obliterate was all part of Starfleet's plan? Genius!

Seriously though, Weyoun depicted the situation so dire that he *needed* Sisko's immediate help. Otherwise, Weyoun could've just waited for more Dominion back-up. There's nothing in this episode that suggests Sisko had the leisure to ask Starfleet for special trained ops. This whole situation caught DS9 off guard, and the imminent threat of rogue Jem'Hadar understanding the Iconian gateways put a clock on the whole mission.

Now as for why DS9 doesn't have MACOs ready to go? Heck, the station was just finally assigned a Captain after 3 years. The station is still a frontier for Starfleet, and Sisko does his best with what officers Starfleet gives him.
Filip
Thu, Feb 16, 2017, 4:11pm (UTC -5)
Once they set off from the station they were perfectly aware of what they were getting themselves into. Or do you think they planned on kindly asking the Jem'Hadar to return and fix the broken pylon?

The Dominion threat was obviously taken very seriously from the beginning since Starfleet decided to build an actual warship back in S3 when they went through with constructing a Defiant class starship after it had previously been scrapped, and the station became a much more important strategic point for Starfleet once the ship was assigned to it.

To better summarise what I've been trying to say, any mission that requires an implementation of a warship is very likely to need a MACO-like team on it. That simple.
Chrome
Thu, Feb 16, 2017, 4:20pm (UTC -5)
"To better summarise what I've been trying to say, any mission that requires an implementation of a warship is very likely to need a MACO-like team on it."

Maybe by current era standards, but there's already a precedent that Starfleet Officers are Jacks-of-all-Trades. I mean, I get what you're saying, but this episode is hardly the worst offender given the urgency of Sisko/Weyoun's mission. What about "Apocalypse Rising" where Starfleet sends Sisko, O'Brien, and the newly solid Odo undercover to overthrow the head of the Klingon Empire?
Jammer
Fri, Feb 17, 2017, 11:26am (UTC -5)
While there are tons of examples where it would be more plausible to have mission-dedicated personnel doing specific tasks, this always comes down to a TV rule that trumps that idea -- which is that the show is ABOUT the main characters and they are the ones we want to actually see in these stories, rather than a bunch of one-off guest stars.
Filip
Fri, Feb 17, 2017, 6:02pm (UTC -5)
@Chrome

"Apocalypse Rising" is another example of how little sense that whole policy makes. Worf and Odo going on that mission actually does make some sense, but for sure there are at least a couple of experts on Klingon culture in Starfleet that could've taken Sisko's and O'Brien's place there, avoiding the whole blitz-lesson on Klingon culture on Dukat's ship (although that did give us a hilarious scene).

But what makes the "Apocalypse Rising" different from the "To the Death" is that it was gripping from start to finish to the extent that it didn't challenge my suspension of disbelief the way "To the Death" did.

@Jammer

Yeah, I know. And I even wanted to mention that as a counter-argument to myself in one of the previous replies, but I decided to stick to it as if we were observing the story from "within the universe." All Star Trek series are filled with such inconsistencies, but more often than not their story and execution more than make up for it and keep me engaged, which is not the case with the episode in question.

Also, I hope no one got the impression that I'm this critical because I dislike DS9. Quite the opposite actually - for me as a series DS9 is a very close second to TNG and is one of the best things the television has ever produced and is something that I've constantly been coming back to over the years. It's just that as I get older some things are a bit harder to swallow.
Chrome
Fri, Feb 17, 2017, 8:18pm (UTC -5)
"But what makes the "Apocalypse Rising" different from the "To the Death" is that it was gripping from start to finish to the extent that it didn't challenge my suspension of disbelief the way "To the Death" did."

I disagree, I think this one's a very underrated peek into the rare (only?) occasion the Dominion and Starfleet work together. Though I do like AR as well, I just think it's full of hilarious examples of the point you're making here. I highly recommend that comment section next time you view AR.
Peremensoe
Fri, Feb 17, 2017, 9:41pm (UTC -5)
"...the show is ABOUT the main characters and they are the ones we want to actually see in these stories, rather than a bunch of one-off guest stars."

I would say that only a minority of the good Trek stories are really *about* the main characters, as opposed to the themes and concepts. Of course we want to see our main cast regularly and in many situations, but they don't all have to be foregrounded all the time. I'd still prefer to see larger and more varied ensembles as appropriate. The best of those characters need not be one-offs. TNG and DS9 both made great occasional use of recurring guests. It could have been (and could still be) stepped up a notch from there.
Vii
Fri, Mar 24, 2017, 5:49pm (UTC -5)
Coming about a year too late, but Peter G's 'Why is Worf's extra large prune juice so small?' really cracked me up.

The highlight of the episode for me was where Ometi'klan gives that bombastic doom-laden speech about probably getting killed and victory being life, and the O'Brien following up with, "I am Chief Miles Edward O'Brien. I'm very much alive and I intend to stay that way," much to the approval of the Starfleet officers - whom incidentally wouldn't make it back, for the most part. Shocker.

Peremensoe, I think DS9 was far and away the best ST series in terms of utilising tertiary and recurring characters, and giving them their own character arcs. It would have been a much poorer show without Martok, Gowron (crossing over from TNG but I'll include him anyway), Damar, Garak, Tain and Dukat. Other tertiary characters that deserve honourable mentions are Mila, Rom, Leeta, Zek (yes I find them really funny), Ziyal and Sisko's dad. This is just off the top of my head. I also think that DS9 portrayed the Romulans much better than any other series in the franchise and whenever I think of the quintessential Romulan, I think of Vreenak (obviously!) and Letant. I wish we'd seen more of them.

I'll always have a soft spot for Voyager, and they had lots of great standalone episodes, but man were they bad with character building and the only tertiary character with any sort of growth and plot was Seska, and I didn't like where they had her end up - running away to the Kazon, REALLY? That's an entirely different can of worms though. Can't really remember any other notable tertiary recurring characters - I guess Icheb, and Lieutenant Carey, and the holograms from Fair Haven was the best we got.
Vii
Sat, Mar 25, 2017, 5:23am (UTC -5)
'the O'Brien'? Meant to type 'then O'Brien', but 'the O'Brien' works too, I guess.
Gooz
Sun, May 7, 2017, 9:24am (UTC -5)
Why would the rogue Jem Haddar attack DS9 in the first place? Contrived to get the gang to go chasing the Jem Haddar.

"Hey, sucks that you were attacked by the Jem Haddar. Now excuse us while we leave you and take the Defiant, you know, the only thing that can defend you, to go hunting for revenge." Negligent behavior, but nice contrivance to get the crew to go chasing the Jem Haddar.

Why is the mysterious dampening field only effective against the weapons and not the phasing/teleporting devices of the Jem Haddar?

What exactly was Odo's role on the planet other than being Worf's man purse? Could he have shape shifted into something that was slightly less inconvenient for Worf to carry around during hand-to-hand battle than a single strap satchel? Maybe a brooch or a butt plug? Why isn't odo pulled out earlier? Couldn't they have at least tried to see if the rogue Jem Haddar would pay him some deference?

Sisko saving the Jem Haddar was so poorly acted. Felt like I was watching a stage play. Sisko's acting is crap as usual.

Dax talking during the fight was stupid.

The way Dax bonds with the First shows us she has a type when it comes to men: dumb oaf with a violent streak. Helps set the stage for Worf.

Why haven't the Jem Haddar already used the portal? What are they waiting for?

Hard to take an episode seriously with all the gaping plot holes that insult the viewer's intelligence.
Startrekwatcher
Fri, Jul 28, 2017, 4:35pm (UTC -5)
2 stars. Again another episode which introduces stuff put to better use later but the episode itself just sits "there"
Rahul
Thu, Aug 17, 2017, 4:18pm (UTC -5)
This episode spent so much time on the great buildup that it left no time for the ending, which turned out to have an underwhelming fight scene but ultimately nothing noteworthy as a concluding stance. So the next time Jem'Hadar meet Sisko they'll be enemies. Nothing new here.

The best part of the episode was seeing the clash of cultures between Jem'Hadar and the DS9 gang. The Jem'Hadar are pure soldiers and it makes sense that now and then there seem to be stories where a renegade gang breaks away. After all the life of no sleep, no food, no women kind of sucks.

It was about time Weyoun got killed by the Jem'Hadar -- he had a particularly annoying character and it seemed highly improbably that the Jem'Hadar would take orders from him. I liked Odo's reaction to him.

I did like the gateway bit and it being a plot device to get the 2 parties to work together. That was an interesting TNG episode when it was introduced, so good to see something following that up.

This episode should get 3 stars but for the ending which was weak with the fight scene that, of course, Sisko & co. manage to succeed. Kind of like in "The Sword of Kahless" where Worf, Kor, Dax are outnumbered but manage to win the fight, the fight really should be won by the bad guys. How do they tell which Jem'Hadar are on their side and which ones aren't?

I'd give "To the Death" 2.5 stars also because I find it highly unlikely that the Jem'Hadar should be able to team up with the DS9 crew -- so it seemed like the writers are trying to force confrontational situations for the dynamics and some character moments for the Jem'Hadar, which don't work given how they're supposed to be mindless warriors.
Iceman
Mon, Aug 20, 2018, 2:21am (UTC -5)
"To the Death" is a very underwhelming episode. It sounds intriguing on paper, but there simply isn't enough time to properly develop its premise. As a result, the early scenes between the main cast and the Jem'Hadar fall flat because they're incredibly rushed. The ending is also a complete waste, as noted by Jammer.

2 stars.
11001001
Sat, Oct 6, 2018, 11:41pm (UTC -5)
I loved reading Peter G.'s speculation about this episode. It certainly does seem very Dominion-like in its intricacy for all of this to have been set up as a pretext to infect Odo with the virus that would return him to the great link. But, he also said something else that got me thinking about another problem with the whole concept of the Founders:

Peter G.
Thu, Mar 3, 2016, 9:59am (UTC -5)

"...Maybe they think that by turning him human he'd realize how bad being a solid is and ask to come back. That is, after all, their endgame, no? As I see it they probably viewed his wanting to be among solids as feeling like one of them, so by showing him what that's like they could make him realize how wrong he was. So no, I don't think his death was the plan."

Yeah. So here's the thing. In Broken Link, Bashir makes it clear that the Odo who has been punished is *completely biologically human.* He says, "it's blood alright. Not a trace of changeling protoplasm in your entire system." This is quite a remarkable transformation, when you think about it. But perhaps not an outlandish one, when you consider the Female Changeling's explanation to Odo during the Occupation Arc in Season 6 that the Changelings used to be solids like us, but that they eventually evolved into what they are now. It seems, then, that the Founders are quite advanced creatures who have the innate ability to manipulate organisms at the cellular or genetic level. I say innate, because in The Begotten, even a sick baby Changeling with basically no knowledge from the Link, nor any life experience, is able to transform Odo back into a Changeling. So we know that Odo's transformation is reversible, which make's Peter G.'s quoted speculation above -- that the Founders hoped Odo would find living as a solid so miserable that he would come crawling back begging to be restored -- entirely plausible.

But the reversal of this process entails the transformation of a *completely human* Odo into a Changeling. If that can be done, it means that it should be possible for the Founders to transform *any human* into a Changeling. If that's true, *why the hell don't the Founders simply transform every solid that they encounter into a Changeling.* The whole basis for their extreme paranoia, fear, and mistrust of solids supposedly stems from bad experiences in the past where they were persecuted and singled out by solids. These experiences were so bad, that they prompted the Changelings to found an Empire bent on ultimate control over them. Wouldn't simply transforming them into Changelings be a lot less time consuming and expensive than this vast operation of military conquest and subjugation? The obvious real-world reason why it never occurred to the writers to have the Changelings exercise this transformation ability on a massive scale is because they didn't even come up with that ability until later in the series, and even if it occurred to them that they could use it for this purpose, it would probably make the Changelings seem too Borg-like as a villain. But in a purely in-Universe context, this is a pretty glaring plothole that makes the Dominion/Founders become pretty ill-conceived.
Peter G.
Tue, Oct 23, 2018, 11:20am (UTC -5)
Good thoughts, 11001001.

"But the reversal of this process entails the transformation of a *completely human* Odo into a Changeling. If that can be done, it means that it should be possible for the Founders to transform *any human* into a Changeling. If that's true, *why the hell don't the Founders simply transform every solid that they encounter into a Changeling.*"

I never quite got the sense that Odo was *really* completely human, even though he scanned as human. I expect that for a very skilled changeling they could mimic a human physiology perfectly, inside and out, and scan as human on a tricorder. Maybe in Odo's case they forced him into that shape and 'locked it in'? That would beg the question of why he doesn't have to regenerate. But then again we see in Things Past... that something exists in Odo that can be triggered and cause him to link with others. So even if he *is* completely human he has some kind of Changeling material somewhere in him, and maybe that is what lets them trigger the reversal. As masters of genetics maybe this is within their capability.

Otherwise your assumption has to be correct, that they could turn any human into a Changeline. Even if they could I doubt they'd want to, since their sense of racial superiority and fear seems to trump other reasonable considerations. Maybe to them it would be bad to have the memories of a solid join the link; or maybe they'd be afraid of it changing them too much. Actually that's the MO: being the most fluid of beings, and also the most resistant to change.
Springy
Fri, Jan 11, 2019, 6:02pm (UTC -5)
Sigh. The ep made so little sense. Why is the Dominion a suddenly afraid of the Jem'Hadar? Where are the renegades getting their White? Why is it so easy to decide the Jem'Hadar threat is so much worse than the Dominion threat? Why not let the Jem'Hadar take down the Dominion?

Why didn't Sisko and company ask about Weyoun about the renegades and their White? I'd sure want to understand the situation better before I believed Weyoun and ran off to help the Dominion.

Overlooking the nonsensical nature of the ep, it had some good moments. Loved O'Brien, and I thought Clarence Williams was great in it.

An average ep overall.
Chrome
Fri, Jan 11, 2019, 6:29pm (UTC -5)
@Springy

In "Hippocratic Oath" it was suggested that the Jem'Hadar could adapt to survive without the white. Gauging their numbers and nature of their attacks, it's also possible they raided a Ketracel-white facility and have an ample stock. Of course, there's also another theory that the rebellion we see here isn't what it seems.

As for Sisko aligning with Weyoun, it seems like a marriage of convenience. Weyoun needs immediate fire and man-power to take out the rebels and Sisko has just seen what sort of wanton destruction the rogues are capable of if left to their own devices.
Peter G.
Fri, Jan 11, 2019, 11:11pm (UTC -5)
@ Springy,

I can't say I disagree with your objections. The whole thing made no sense to me, hence the conspiracy theory I mentioned above in the comments. The whole thing was a sham. But since it involves spoilers don't read it now (if you were going to).
Springy
Sat, Jan 12, 2019, 3:00am (UTC -5)
@Peter G

I read your theory. It's really very creative and I like how it works to make the whole thing fit together. If that was truly the writers' intent, I can only say they shouldn't have obscured it so thoroughly. I don't mind having to figure out that Character X was lying, without the ep explicitly telling me. But basically having to rewrite the premise in my head, so the ep makes sense . . . a bridge too far.

And it sure makes Sisko and company look dumb for going along, without even questioning the basics.

I think it's a lot more likely that the ep was simply badly put together.
Peter G.
Sat, Jan 12, 2019, 3:09am (UTC -5)
That's it! To the death!

No, but seriously, I know it requires rewriting as you watch it, however you'll see later on how it's actually necessary as an explanation (or at least parts of it). Otherwise there's a gaping plot hole somewhere.
Springy
Sat, Jan 12, 2019, 7:28am (UTC -5)
@Peter G

From spoilers already in the comments, I know the Founders were looking to infect Odo, but it's hard to believe such an elaborate ruse was needed for that.

Maybe there's more coming that would make it all feel more necessary.

BUT, I do like your very thorough thought process on that theory, so I want to help you solve the final question: Why is Worf's extra large prune juice so small? This is the way NYC's "extra large soda ban" evolved into the 24th century. You should see the extra large fries.
Chrome
Sat, Jan 12, 2019, 11:50am (UTC -5)
“I do like your very thorough thought process on that theory, so I want to help you solve the final question: Why is Worf's extra large prune juice so small?”

Clearly an elaborate ruse by the Founders to put Worf in a bad mood so he’d rub off on Odo who’d be lonesome for companionship to the point that he’d shake anyone’s hand, especially Weyoun’s...duh duh duh!
Elliott
Tue, Apr 23, 2019, 12:58pm (UTC -5)
So, I re-watched “Contagion” (which was pretty enjoyable, by the way). I didn't think I really needed to do a backdrop review à la “Death Wish” for this one, as the continuity between that episode and “To the Death” is incidental. Except that it may not be.

WESLEY: So they colonised those worlds?
PICARD: Probably conquered.
WESLEY: You mean they were warlike?
PICARD: Perhaps. Ancient texts did speak of 'Demons of Air and Darkness'.
WESLEY: Air and darkness?
PICARD: Legend has it that they travelled without the benefit of spaceships, merely appearing out of thin air on distant planets.
WESLEY: Sounds like magic.
PICARD: Well, we would appear magical to Stone Age people.

Something to bear in mind.

Teaser : ***.5, 5%

So the Bajorans have set up ANOTHER colony in GQ called Free Haven because if there's one thing a Bajoran loves, it's irony. Sisko reports that the Defiant was tasked with driving away “Breen privateers.” “Privateer” is the word one uses to describe pirates when trying to sound really impressive, like a college freshman making passes at a kegger, or Pete Buttigieg trying to make militarism sound hip. Anyway, for no reason, the entire Starfleet cast was tasked with this assignment. There's a DBI scene involving prune juice and Bashir courting death that I don't want to talk about. What's important is that the Defiant returns to DS9 to find one of those upper pylons (curved for her pleasure) obliterated.

An injured Kira reports to Sisko that this was a result of a Jem'Hadar raid. Sisko determines to take the Defiant right back out to pursue the Dominion party and recover whatever it is they stole. Overall, this is a very exciting teaser, but it's worth noting that the general “vibe” here is very much the tonal landscape that will be drawn upon for the remaining three seasons of the show vis-à-vis war stories. The all-business military brave-men-and-women thing that made Guinan queasy in “Yesterday's Enterprise” is now the default mode for the actual Starfleet. Scary stuff.

Act 1 : ***, 17%

In the GQ, the Defiant crew is surprised to discover that a Jem'Hadar warship is damaged, so the seven survivors aboard are beamed over. There are six typically confident and blood-thirsty Jem'Hadar in the bunch and one other figure, Jeffrey Combs playing a Vorta. Eh, I'm sure he won't matter much. The Vorta demonstrates (in a narratively clumsy way) that he is only able to control his soldiers by threatening to withhold their allowance of “white,” and petitions to speak to Sisko one on one.

After one of those Hollywood bits with the Vorta offering to make Sisko “absolute ruler of the Federation,” they get down to it. The Jem'Hadar who attacked DS9 are renegades from the Dominion; the Vorta will guide Sisko to them if he promises to “eliminate them.” Yeah, I'm sure you'll have to twist his arm. We learn that the renegades are trying to complete a recently discovered Iconian gateway in Dominion space, hence the raid for equipment. The Vorta's explanation that there “isn't time” to send a fleet after these guys doesn't really add up given what we know about the threat and the capabilities of the Dominion, but we can just wallpaper over that for now.

SISKO: Couldn't the Founders just order them to surrender? From what I know, the Jem'Hadar have been genetically conditioned to obey them.
WEYOUN: The Founders' ability to control the Jem'Hadar has been somewhat overstated. Otherwise we never would have had to addict them to the white.
SISKO: Sounds like the Dominion isn't quite as stable as you'd like us to believe.
WEYOUN: The Dominion has endured for two thousand years, and will continue to endure long after the Federation has crumbled into dust. But we'll leave that to history.

The characterisation of the Vorta (we haven't yet heard his name) is well-handled in this brief material. We see that he is diplomatic and pragmatic, but whereas with the Jem'Hadar, loyalty to the Founders is ensured with chemical addiction, with the Vorta, it is purchased with the opiate of faith. Given the potential threat to the Federation, Sisko agrees to help destroy the Iconian gateways.

Act 2 : **, 17%

Thankfully—and to my surprise—the senior staff discuss the events of “Contagion” and reason that Starfleet Command would endorse Sisko's decision, given their feelings about Iconian technology falling into the hands of the Romulans. Except of course, Worf is lying. Picard decided to assume the Yamto's mission all on his own, something I always thought was strange about that episode. Speaking of lying, Worf objects to lying to the Jem'Hadar about this mission (Weyoun—who's been named now, thinks telling them the whole story would be a bad idea). Worf thinks it would be dishonourable of course because, you know, Klingon. I guess it's lucky for Sisko that Bashir stayed behind or he would probably have told them the truth.

So, the Cylons—I mean the Jem'Hadar and Starfleet crew are briefed “A New Hope”-style on this little mission, requiring some against all odds swash-buckling bullshit. In the midst we get this exchange:

OMAN'TORAX: It is our duty to punish those who would break their vow of loyalty.
ODO: Are you accusing me of something?
OMET'IKLAN: It is not for us to accuse a god of betraying heaven. The gods themselves will sit in judgement over you.

The Jem'Hadar keep make snide remarks against Odo, against Worf, etc. It's a very different take than we saw in “Hippocratic Oath,” and frankly, a hell of a lot cheesier and more boring. Those Jem'Hadar felt like victims of an oppressive philosophy; they were fearsome and prideful, yes, but felt like genuine people. These assholes are just cardboard soldier archetypes akin to the most clichéd of meatheaded goons you'd find in such masterworks as “Avatar.” And Worf is hardly better, less able to control his temper now, in what is effectively TNG's 9th season for him, than he was in “Encounter at Farpoint.”

Act 3 : **, 17%

We get another drill like the one we saw in TWotW that likewise ends in failure. I especially like Odo's line here:

ODO: Look for a slight rippling effect.

Got to respect that fourth wall. “Look for a special effect, suspend your belief!” We get a little more of the Jem'Hadar mindset at play: Omicronklaxxon or whatever his name is believes the Starfleet crew are unable to succeed in this mission because they “values their lives more than victory.” Yeah, that's what happens when you aren't a drug-addicted mutant zealot. Anyway, it turns out these guys already know about the Iconian tech.

OMET'IKLAN: It doesn't matter how we know. The point is, we know. You think you have to lie to us and use the white to ensure our loyalty. But the fact is, we are more loyal to the Founders than the Vorta ever will be. It is the reason for our existence. It is the core of our being.
WEYOUN: There's an entire company of Jem'Hadar down on Vandros Four who would disagree with you.
OMET'IKLAN: And for that, they will die.

We don't yet know about the renegade Jem'Hadar, but we do know from “Hippocratic Oath,” that subversive elements do exist within their society:

GORAN'AGAR: Our gods never talk to us and they don't wait for us after death. They only want us to fight for them and to die for them.

Goran'agar's men were conflicted about their loyalty to the Dominion and how that loyalty structure fit in with following a leader who was actively rebelling against his gods. While I generally dislike the Jem'Hadar in this episode so far, I think the idea of setting up opposing philosophies within their culture is a good one. You can get at the core of who they are and what they represent through an argument, much like Worf v. Duras or Hugh v. Picard.

Meanwhile, one of the other Jem'Hadar is hovering over Dax, studying her like a skin-suit sewing creep. Their dialogue reveals the antiseptic nature of the Jem'Hadar, bred in vats, needing neither sleep nor sex nor entertainment nor sustenance beyond the White. I admit to chuckling a bit at the soldier's very confident “I am EIGHT!” line—like a schoolboy bragging about having learnt to ride his bicycle.

Later, we get more DBI in the mess hall. Worf and Dax flirt a bit, O'Brien laughs and Weyoun stares at Odo from across the room. Weyoun performs the White Ritual with amusing indifference, like a hung-over priest tossing host at his flock like so many scraps of bread. Then one of the Jem'Hadar resumes his “look how big my dick is” shtick with O'Brien, teasing him over his lack of appetite for battle. I really hate this. We just established that part of the tragedy of the Jem'Hadar is the fact that the juice of life, such as it were, has been squeezed out of them by the Founders' genetic tampering and loyalty breeding, yet they have ample capacity for pointless posturing and antagonism. With a smile, this Jem'Hadar taunts Worf, leading to a TOS-style bar brawl. You know, in the 60s, toxic masculinity was so ubiquitous that we can (sort of) look past all the displays of “don't you dare question my erection!” But I have a hard time with it after we had a deliberate, one might even say overwrought rejection of the sentiment in 1987 with TNG's first season. This doesn't feel like Star Trek at all; it feels like “Armageddon” or...heh, you know what the pile-on actually reminded me of? “Living Witness” and the hilarious parody of dude-broism that museum Janeway put a stop to by phasering a wall panel. Or if you like, “Sarek” or “Night Terrors,” where the crew become violent due to sci-fi machinations. But on DS9? This is just regular Starfleet people! For fuck's sake. This ends with a very hammy side-by-side display of discipline. Omegaclarion or whatever murders his subordinate who started the fight with Worf, while Sisko has Worf confined to quarters. Much as in “For the Cause,” Sisko is unable or unwilling (the writers are unwilling) to remember what show they're writing for.

OMET'IKLAN: I did what had to be done, what any First would do. I placed the good of the unit above my personal feelings. Any soldier who cannot follow orders is a danger to his unit and must be eliminated.
SISKO: Mister Worf is not a danger to my command. But if I eliminate him for a simple breach of discipline, then I would be. My men would stop trusting me, and I wouldn't blame them.

See, the way Sisko answers creates a slippery slope. Sisko frames his choice not to kill Worf in terms of military tactics. He may or may not be correct in that regard; it is a debatable position, I suppose. But all Sisko had to do was echo Odo's “I am NOT a god,” remark and say, “we are NOT soldiers.” Just like with Eddington's tirade about the Federation being like the Borg and all that crap, Sisko is letting his opponent frame the terms of the argument. Sisko may win his spat with Eddington by capturing him and making him pay for his disloyalty, but in so doing cedes the philosophical ground to the man who compared a benevolent coalition to an insidious force. Sisko may win the argument with Orionaxegrinder here, but in so doing, he cedes the point that Starfleet IS a military organisation, which it fucking is not.

Act 4 : ***, 17%

Weyoun finally approaches Odo one-on-one in a corridor, expressing his discomfort with his god's lack of authority.

WEYOUN: Please, hear what I have to say. Your people want you to come home, Odo. No matter what differences you may have with them, no matter what mistakes you may have made, they still love you.

The conversation does double duty of helping flesh out Weyoun's character very efficiently (an expert in lies) and reminding us of Odo's sincerest wish to return to his people, something we were forced to abandon after “The Die is Cast,” so the producers could bring the Klingons into the show. I think this scene is exhibit A for the theory above regarding whether the Dominion engineered this insurrection in order to get their hands on Odo. Why else would Weyoun have been briefed on the Founders' intimate wishes regarding one of their own, not to mentioned outfitted with the Changeling virus. Oh, um, spoiler! I prefer to imagine that the Founders rather seized the opportunity created by this insurrection in order to continue their plans with Odo, because I prefer to imagine that Dominion society is more complex than perhaps it is.

Meanwhile, we're continuing the assault on O'Brien's character and Starfleet's:

DAX: For Keiko?
O'BRIEN: It's my eleventh goodbye message since we've been married. I average almost two a year.

Since the Enterprise was never “sent into battle” between “Data's Day” and “Chain of Command,” we know that those eleven notes were begun *after* he started on DS9. If we are generous, we can count the Circle trilogy and “The Search” as instances of being sent into battle. Then there's “The Jem'Hadar,” of course, “The Die is Cast,” “The Adversary,” TWotW, “Starship Down” and “Paradise Lost.” That's eight instances of being sent into battle, again, if we're being very generous. What's insidious about his claim that it's now been eleven times, even though it's more like half that number, is that it implies, once again, that Miles' mode is as a soldier. Discounting the possible Circle Trilogy, ALL of these instances have been since TNG went off the air actually. I'm sure that's a coincidence.

After a little more Klingon bullshit, the Defiant arrives at their target and the teams are issued phaser rifles. There's another Jem'Hadar battle ritual (Victory is Life) while Weyoun rolls his eyes. They beam down and Dax realises that the gateway is fucking with their equipment because Worf is an idiot and didn't remember anything useful about his last trip to the Iconian Empire.

Act 5 : **, 17%

There's a mêlée ambush by the renegade Jem'Hadar. I don't think we're going to be afforded an opportunity to hear their side of this rebellion. Anyway, two gold shirts are dead. There's more clichéd we're-all-soldiers dialogue, a surprise attack from their resident Changeling (Look for a rippling effect...) and finally they make their way to the gateway which includes a trip to beautiful Paris, France! Sisko gets stabbed protecting Orientalismcracker because we shan't leave any clichéd rocks unturned. Weyoun beams down to gloat and gets vaporised for his trouble and the other Jem'Hadar vow to remain behind and murder their disloyal brothers. The End.

Episode as Functionary : **.5, 10%

I found this episode difficult to rate. There are moments of Ira Behr being Ira Behr that are typical of his Gene-Roddenberry-can-rot-in-hell approach to crafting his DS9 stories, but are overall more subdued than in other episodes. There are genuine attempts at human interaction but that can't be bothered to treat our main characters as much more than generic ciphers. There are hints and exploring the Jem'Hadar/Vorta/Founders dynamic from earlier episodes, but are tossed aside in favour of action-movie nonsense.

I was really hoping that we would explore the similarities between the Iconians and the Dominion, as that seemed to be exactly what we were setting up. People regarded the Iconians as Demonic conquerers because of their technology, yet Data pointed out that the actual evidence for such a culture was lacking. The Founders programme their slave races to believe them to be gods and instil the notion that they're quasi-omnipotent in the cultures they conquer with their technology. Yet Weyoun admits that their ability to control their empire is tenuous.

I suppose what bothers me most about this story is its flippancy. Weyoun rolling his eyes at his men's rituals was funny and quite telling about their dynamic and his character, but Sisko *also* kept rolling his eyes, Dax kept making her sex jokes, Miles kept doing his racisms. I mean, people are dying; the Jem'Hadar are on the verge blowing up the galaxy or whatever, and these people act like it's another day another dollar. And of course there's Worf who is somehow less civilised and sympathetic than he was in “Where Silence Has Lease,” when he was banging his head against the walls of reality.

The one thing I found compelling was the Weyoun/Odo material which rekindled that dangling thread from season three, and of course will have major consequences soon. It's fitting that he should be betrayed by his own men at the end, given his willingness to betray his own god.

Final Score : **.5
Jason R.
Tue, Apr 23, 2019, 1:30pm (UTC -5)
Great review Elliott. You touched on a major problem I have had with this otherwise entertaining episode and with the series generally:

"See, the way Sisko answers creates a slippery slope. Sisko frames his choice not to kill Worf in terms of military tactics. He may or may not be correct in that regard; it is a debatable position, I suppose. But all Sisko had to do was echo Odo's “I am NOT a god,” remark and say, “we are NOT soldiers.” Just like with Eddington's tirade about the Federation being like the Borg and all that crap, Sisko is letting his opponent frame the terms of the argument. Sisko may win his spat with Eddington by capturing him and making him pay for his disloyalty, but in so doing cedes the philosophical ground to the man who compared a benevolent coalition to an insidious force. Sisko may win the argument with Orionaxegrinder here, but in so doing, he cedes the point that Starfleet IS a military organisation, which it fucking is not. "

See it has always bugged me that DS9 on one hand purported to hew to the idealism of Starfleet as "non military" and yet - could never break itself of the need to portray our heroes as badasses in every conflict, as great soldiers in effect.

I mean if Jadzia or Kira or Sisko can beat up rampaging genetically engineered super soldiers in a fist fight - what good are they? Why would the Founders have even bothered to engineer them in the first place? Sisko has no more business brawling Jem Hadar soldiers than he has out-wrestling a vulcan (or beating one in baseball) DS9 plays fast and loose, purporting to show us the "evolved" humanity, but clinging to the old tropes of the heroes having to hold their own in physical combat.

I could never put my finger on what bugged me about this episode until you hit the nail on the head. Sisko has ceded this argument before it even starts by playing the Jem Hadar's game. It's why he and the rest of the crew come across as such whiny brats in the scenes with the Jem Hadar and why their redemption and earning the Jem Hadars' respect in the end is so contrived and hollow.

This should have been like Take me out to the Holosuite, an episode that, despite being a comedy, gives us a far more serious answer to the problem of what happens when coddled 24th century officers go in the trenches with supersoldiers. Weyoun has it right in this episode and Jeffrey Combs is pitch perfect. Here is a character who understands who he is and importantly who he isn't. It's why he comes across so much better than Sisko or any of his other band of pretend badasses.
William B
Tue, Apr 23, 2019, 1:48pm (UTC -5)
I agree with your take Elliott, and that's a great point Jason. The crew seemed very off to me in this episode, and I think you guys have identified the problem(s). The episode is trying to make a point about the difference between Starfleet and the Jem'Hadar but there is also not that much conviction or idealism in the Starfleet side; it's like Sisko et al. really are different from the Jem'Hadar not because they believe in peace/freedom/etc. but because something something ragtag underdog, like it's a difference primarily of personalities rather than beliefs. This is not totally true -- the Jem'Hadar are of course portrayed as extremists -- but some of it is seemingly about how the audience would rather hang out with funny sexy Jadzia over these stick-in-the-muds.

I also think the tonal mismatch between the crew's blase attitude and the severity of the situation is a problem. The funny thing is that there are often very serious situations which are treated lightly -- there's a lot of comedy in The Doomsday Machine! -- but here it seems less grace under pressure and more a contrived attempt to force us to believe The Galaxy Is Under Threat! without any additional seriousness. It wouldn't fix the episode entirely, but I think dropping the pylon destruction at the beginning and having the scale of the threat from the rogue Jem'Hadar be reduced would make it play more naturally.
Peter G.
Tue, Apr 23, 2019, 2:23pm (UTC -5)
I guess the main thing I'd throw in is that I don't agree with Elliott that Starfleet isn't a military organization. I've always understood it to be exactly that, but with the big proviso being that in the Federation the military is more enlightened than it is now. I see nothing wrong with suggesting that military personnel in the 24th century would have more concern for exploration than fighting; the desire to kill isn't what makes someone a military officer. In fact I would argue that this is more what might define a groundpounder or something; officers should ideally be the ones who will do everything they can do avoid combat (Generals especially). The fact that paychecks and military contracts demand combat these days is a result of many unfortunate factors, but fundamentally calling Starfleet a military doesn't have to mean what it means today.

The other point I would make, and this does relate to the objection of things being a bit too blaze, is that I could definitely see Sisko and his crew being very wary to appear weak to a group of killers that they don't know if they can trust. Sure, it's nice to get up on a soapbox to preach about Federation values to the savages, but when you have to work directly with them it's actually good to earn their respect by putting on a bit of a tough front and showing that you're tough too even if it isn't what defines you. It's not un-Starfleet to bend behavior to suit a necessary situation, although to be sure this point isn't overtly made clear in the episode. If Dax is trying to show off how tough she is precisely by *not* looking perturbed, that would actually be in character for her, but the scripting and directing doesn't make that clear enough if that was the intent. As for Sisko it shouldn't surprise me that he might actually enjoy a bit of a change of pace to be able to speak frankly and without need of wordplay to a people who are basically brutes. It's not that he's a brute, but rather that he knows his brutish side with a temper, and in his place I could imagine that it would feel unfortunate to actually feel some kinship with these hulking terrors because he knows what it's like to feel relish in unleashing. That's actually a good Trek thing, to be in touch with the dark side, and not always rely on quaint platitudes which TNG often resorted to, but which TOS was usually smart enough to avoid. Whether that could explain why Sisko 'gives away the argument' I'm not sure, but I could imagine him not being in the mood to quibble about whether humans can see themselves as soldiers or not.
Chrome
Tue, Apr 23, 2019, 3:51pm (UTC -5)
I agree that Starfleet is much different than the Dominion, and that the officers shouldn't be trying to measure themselves by Dominion or Jem'Hadar standards. But, this mission *is* a joint military operation. Since the Romulan War, the Federation has been engaged in many deadly space battles. We the viewer might imagine that military tradition and combat prowess are as much a part of Starfleet as they are any other big power.

While I'm wholeheartedly on board with the notion that, unlike the Dominion, military aggression isn't Starfleet's first choice when dealing with others, we're also told that when the Federation is pushed into a combat situation they aren't slouches. Just earlier this season we had Starfleet officers taking on Klingons in hand-to-hand combat with most the main cast holding their own. Maybe Klingons and Jem'Hadar have genetic physical superiority, but in terms of teamwork and learning from each other, the Federation and Starfleet are undisputed leaders. You could even take it a step further and say that Starfleet uses that teamwork as a tactical advantage when combat is necessary.

This is why I think Sisko's response about discipline to Omet'iklan is good. Starfleet doesn't learn from killing wantonly, it learns by making allowances and setting examples that other members of the Federation can appreciate. Sisko is strict on disciplining Worf, but not in a way that demoralizes Worf or makes other non-humans lose faith in Sisko's authority. The thing about the Dominion is, as we've seen from "Hippocratic Oath", that the Jem'Hadar need to be cracked down on or they'll start questioning the Dominion and the Dominion isn't ready to engage in an open discussion about its command structure. That's the message I get out of this episode, and I think it succeeds on that level.
William B
Tue, Apr 23, 2019, 7:16pm (UTC -5)
Good points, Peter and Chrome. The episode sets up a contrast between Starfleet and the Jem'Hadar, and what I think the scene about Worf's punishment that Elliott brought up shows is that the contrast that is emphasized is more about tactics and personality than about philosophical differences. However, I also can see the case that's not necessarily a bad thing. Even if you take the Jem'Hadar's soldier-only identity seriously, it doesn't make the full devaluation of the self that the Jem'Hadar practice necessary. And if they are on the same mission, maybe it's not worth Sisko's time to parse out why Federation and Dominion values differ. A Jem'Hadar would not be able to embrace secular humanism but might be able to embrace less draconian punishments if he could see its utility. Maybe that's a conversation worth having, and as Chrome points out it is also relevant to point out that The Starfleet Way has pragmatic advantages too (especially since the civilizations are apparently heading toward duking it out).

For me personally, I think I'm arguing in reverse a little bit; the episode as executed feels off-kilter to me somehow, and I'm wondering whether there's some core conceptual error from which the episode's problems stem. I do think that the choice to focus on seemingly less significant differences in the worldviews between the Starfleet and Jem'Hadar crews nips this episode in the bud a bit, but yeah, I do think it'd be possible to spend an episode more on tactics/personality contrasts and have it be a good episode, even if I don't think this one is that good episode (though it's okay-ish).
Jackson
Tue, Apr 23, 2019, 7:35pm (UTC -5)
"he cedes the point that Starfleet IS a military organisation, which it fucking is not."

Since it is the entity that ends up fighting the Dominion War - not just in ships but on the ground on AR-558- it's clearly meant to be the Federation's military force.

And not just on DS9 either...in TNG's Chain Of Command, Picard was captured, at least nominally to extract military strategy from Picard on Minos Corva.

In that same episode, Picard, Worf and Crusher were sent on a covert spy mission...that sounds pretty Navy Seal-ish to me.

And then there's Wolf 359...
Elliott
Tue, Apr 23, 2019, 9:42pm (UTC -5)
Regarding Starfleet as a military organisation, this is probably a discussion to be had more thoroughly on the "Peak Performance" page, but this is how I see it:

As a teacher, one is required to learn CPR, first aid, and a number of other emergency skills. A really well-prepared school district might train its teachers so well in these skills that they would qualify as nurses or even medics if the situation demanded. That they are qualified to perform such tasks does not define them as nurses or medics, however. They are still teachers.

So it goes with Starfleet. Starfleet is capable of performing military action when the situation demands, but its purpose is not to fulfil military functions.

I have made this point before but it bears repeating: if DS9 wanted to comment honestly on this aspect of Star Trek in the negative (a valid opinion, even if it's one I don't share), then it could have demonstrated how the Federation's choice to not have a military left it vulnerable to attack or invasion. Some have argued that the events of "Q Who" actually did lead to a militarisation of Starfleet, but that didn't really bear out on screen. We had an arms build up in BoBW, yes, but not a change in protocol or mission, at least not until Necheyev and her bs, but I'm getting off topic.

What I'm getting at is that it would be one thing for the DS9 writers to say, "hey, we SHOULD have a military to deal with the Dominion." Instead, they ret-con the hell out of the institutions they are playing with and suddenly CPO O'Brien and Science Officer Dax and random gold-shirts are so indoctrinated with (contemporary) military culture, that you can't tell the Defiant's mess apart from a modern military barracks. It's absurd and it's dishonest. Just recently in "Hard Time," we had Miles contemplating suicide because he thought he had betrayed his Federation values (leaving aside that episode's problems in this regard); now he's cracking jokes about insane military raids.

We will get to ARR-58 in due course, but I will say that this was the first episode in the series that at least attempted to deal with the fact that you've turned a bunch of botanists and astrophysicists into foot-soldiers, severely fucking them up psychologically.

"Chain of Command" is essentially the backdoor DS9 pilot (and was conceived to be a crossover episode), so it is not surprising that the DS9 ethos permeates the writing there.
Jackson
Tue, Apr 23, 2019, 11:02pm (UTC -5)
Voyager as well...right from the pilot, it was Janeway that was sent out after the Maquis, and Tuvok was undercover with them. Those were clearly military ops.

Even in TOS, Roddenberry's original baby, it seemed clear that Starfleet was imagined to be a military organization. It certainly used a military rank insignia system.
Peter G.
Wed, Apr 24, 2019, 12:04am (UTC -5)
I'm just not sure what currency there is in trying to prove that the Federation doesn't have a military. Why shouldn't it? It feels like that argument has at its basis that militaries are evil by nature and that an evolved society wouldn't have one or something. But never has it been stated in canon that there is no Federation military, and all signs (such as command rank) point to Starfleet being a space navy. As Jackson points out, TOS made no pretense about Starfleet being only about exploration, and that they 'happened' to be trained in combat 'just in case'. In The Ultimate Computer, for instance, they're engaging in wargames, specifically to see whether the AI could conduct military exercises as well as a humanoid could.

Fundamentally what we do want to agree on is that the Federation is better than our society, and that Starfleet is better than our military. We'll have no contest about that. To debate whether Starlfeet must be an exploratory service (future NASA) trained in combat for emergencies, or a military organization with a benevolent and peace-loving disposition, seems to me to make little difference, unless staking a claim to one or the other would change details in head-canon. I could see, for instance, where a head-canon of "Starfleet is future-NASA" would rankle if in an episode like this the crew acts like military people. But likewise we could have a head-canon of "Starfleet is future-military" and be irked that they don't take threats nearly as seriously as they often should (which happened on TNG multiple times). So there are differences, to be sure, based on what we would like to think of them as being. Perhaps it would be simpler to just take what we're shown and go no further: Starfleet is a space-service that engages in both exploration and military duties, and uses a hierarchical command structure.
Jackson
Wed, Apr 24, 2019, 12:21am (UTC -5)
The thing is...if Starfleet isn't pretty much understood to be the full extent of the Federation military...what is? And...where was it in situations like the Dominion War? If there was something more, we should have seen it numerous times, like in AR-558...or Nor The Battle To The Strong.

In "The Wounded", it's clear that O'Brien saw combat in wartime.

In "The First Duty", the academy is depicted as much more of an Annapolis than an MIT. "Lower Decks" revisited this again.

Troi's involuntarily undercover assignment in "Face of The Enemy" was clearly motivated by the fact that she's a military officer. Ro also goes undercover in Preemptive Strike".

And in the alternate reality of "Yesterday's Enterprise", there is no doubt as to what Starfleet is.
Jason R.
Wed, Apr 24, 2019, 6:04am (UTC -5)
It isn't so much a question of whether or not Starfleet is a military organization - clearly it always has been right back to TOS. But we were led to believe that its mission was primarily exploration - even being told as recently as DS9 The Search that it didn't have a single warship before The Defiant. And even in that case, we find out the ship was mothballed after the Borg threat seemed less pressing.

The point is, you have an organization that we are told from at least TNG onward, considers war at best an occasional / part-time endeavor. I mean the Enterprise was flying around with kindergarten facilities onboard!

Yes there was the Cardassian conflict, of which O'Brien we are told was a veteran. And yes Sisko got into at least one space battle with the Borg. But bottom line, these are at best like reserve or part-time soldiers.

How in the heck can they go toe to toe with trained full-time professionals whose entire lives are spent in combat? Not to mention genetically enhanced?! That's the fraud of it. I am saying, military or not, Starfleet officers like Sisko and Dax should be put on their asses by the rawest Jem Hadar recruit. And there should be no shame in that. But the show kind of wants to talk the talk without walking the walk, so our heroes must of course be better or equal soldiers to the supersoldiers.

That's why Weyoun is such a standout character. With him we get sonething genuine. And he still manages to be a very powerful very interesting character - both to the audience and in universe.
William B
Wed, Apr 24, 2019, 7:17am (UTC -5)
To be fair, Elliott's example of teachers trained to serve some functions of paramedics isn't a perfect analogy, because the idea there is that there *are* dedicated paramedics. If the Federation has a military at all, it's Starfleet. If we remove the warlike connotations from military, then it's fair to say that military falls under the province of Starfleet. That's not the same as Starfleet being exclusively or primarily military, so maybe that's what is worth parsing out. Still I think trying to parse whether Starfleet is an enlightened military which makes exploration and science a focus or is an exploration/science/etc. organization that has military functions as well might just depend on how people use the words and their connotations, and might not by itself represent a deeper disagreement.

I think the pertinent point Elliott and Jason are making is that the way the crew are portrayed here is more like a modern military than what was depicted in TNG and even in most earlier DS9. That matches my memory of the episode, though it's been a while.
Elliott
Wed, Apr 24, 2019, 9:52am (UTC -5)
William B, that's true, however, it's relevant that the other Trek nation states *do* have militaries (the Romulans, Cardassians, Klingons, etc). Just like those cultures are organised under familiar political umbrellas like "empire," the Federation is something entirely different; a peaceful coalition of planets which has abolished money. So too goes what passes for a military in the Federation, which is Starfleet. It wouldn't be fair to call the Federation an empire or even a republic, and it isn't fair to call Starfleet a military.
William B
Wed, Apr 24, 2019, 10:21am (UTC -5)
@Elliott, that's true. It's just a question of whether it makes more sense to say that Starfleet redefines military to mean an organization that is armed, with less warlike connotations, or to say that the word "military" still has the connotations and thus Starfleet isn't one. I probably agree that the latter is how it's probably treated in Trek mostly, but I want to clear up any confusion that's *merely* linguistic.
Jackson
Wed, Apr 24, 2019, 10:49am (UTC -5)
It's rather absurd to assert that an entity as vast as the Federation with hostile neighbors on nearly every side doesn't have a permanent standing military, including a division that is trained explicitly as soldiers.

Even Switzerland has that (and conscription), and it's surrounded by the European Union.
Chrome
Wed, Apr 24, 2019, 10:58am (UTC -5)
Elliott, I would say even if your analogy is true, this episode was a clear case of a situation that called for paramedics. DS9 was hit hard, severely damaged and there was a ticking clock on the whole endeavor. If Sisko and co. stood around giving lectures like the teachers you purport them to be, the rogue Jem'Hadar would get the portals working and all of this discussion about what Starfleet *should be* would be purely academic.

As Peter-Jackson has pointed out, this isn't the first or only episode that has put Starfleet officers is in a highly militarized situation and expected them to do well. My only take away from all this is that Starfleet can perform just as well as a militarized society when the situation calls for it. The main difference between the Federation and another militarized species (ex. Cardassia) however, is that once a military crisis is over, the citizens will cry for peace and Starfleet will heed that call as we see in episodes like "Paradise Lost".
Jackson
Wed, Apr 24, 2019, 12:17pm (UTC -5)
The only era where we see a military contingent that is distinct from Starfleet is the Enterprise-era MACOs, and that predates the founding of the Federation.

By DS9's "Rapture" we hear the Admiral-of-the-Week mention something about "integrating Bajor's militia into Starfleet", suggesting that Starfleet is the only military game in town.

I admit that it's strange that the only military branch that would still exist is basically a navy, but I suppose in a space-faring civilization, that might make sense.
Elliott
Wed, Apr 24, 2019, 1:05pm (UTC -5)
The linguistic issue is not pedantic—conceiving of Starfleet as a military in the modern sense completely misses the mark on what it is or means. Like I said, the distinction in 24th century terms is important because other cultures still have modern-style militaries. So you could say that Starfleet “redefined” what a military means, that’s true, but I think Picard makes the distinction specifically because there are other forces which operate as militaries, like the Zakdorn, which must be understood to be quite different.

@Jackson: well you’re free to assert that, just like many claim that the Federation’s abolition of wealth is absurd, or how warp drive as presented is absurd, or holodecks, or the fact that language hasn’t changed. There are some conceits we make to immerse ourselves in the fiction and understand the premise/messages of the writing. I also should have mentioned the MACOs, which clearly are military, distinct from Starfleet, which is not. We’ll get there one day...

@Chrome:

You aren’t wrong, but I object to the idea that these people are comfortable in this position. “Doesn’t everyone?” Dad asks regarding the recording of farewell messages as though this shit is routine. Sisko referring to “his men,” Word behaving like some Saving Private Ryan reject...it’s those anachronisms (nothing new for this series) that frustrate me.
William B
Wed, Apr 24, 2019, 4:05pm (UTC -5)
@Elliott, that's fair, and Picard/Riker comments regarding the difference between Starfleet and the Zackdorn make me tend to agree that Picard would not "reclaim" the word military but let it continue to mean approximately what to does today. I agree that Starfleet is not a modern military at all, and was just saying it's worth figuring out whether like Peter and Chrome arguing Starfleet is military but different from ours are disagreeing with you on what constitutes a military or on what purpose Starfleet has (or both).
Jackson
Wed, Apr 24, 2019, 4:28pm (UTC -5)
The writing is...noncommiittal, to say the least, on the nature of money in the Federation.

In one of the TOS films, Scotty had just "bought a boat".

The TNG crew was often playing poker, gambling with chips in a manner that seemed to indicate that there was some real financial meaning behind them. If it's just for kicks, why not bet huge all the time?

It's clear that daily life on DS9 (or at least life at Quark's) required some form of currency that Starfleet officers have access to. In the Worf/Dax wedding episode, Quark shouted "No Refunds" to O'Brien and Bashir when they were about to pig out, and again, DS9 was a den of gambling as well.

Warp drive is easy to dismiss...it's a sci-fi means to an end to ensure that technology doesn't date itself, like how they used iso- as a prefix for computer capability so as not to end up making 2370 look more low tech than 2015.

My only issue with holodecks was the ridiculous spatial liberties they took, like how two dozen real people could play a baseball game by cramming into a room ten meters square.
Peter G.
Wed, Apr 24, 2019, 4:39pm (UTC -5)
That fact that there is a "Starfleet Academy" that has "cadets" should alone be enough to show what kind of organization this is. It's up to the utopian ideal to show *how it functions*, but what it is seems to me to have always been clear. So clear, in fact, that the argument that Starfleet isn't a military group initially just elicited as "huh?" from me. Like, as in, it's just a given circumstance. I can see Elliott's POV in terms of what it might mean *to us* to call them military, but in my opinion loading it with all of that baggage is our fault, not Trek's. I see no reason to attach a negative association, or even a warlike one, with the term "military" just because today's and history's militaries have been used to divide and conquer rather than to unite in common cause.

I'll throw in one more thing, which to be fair depends on how much one considers ENT to be canon: the founding of the Federation was undertaken with a pretty clear proviso that Earth was not subverting the Andorian and Tellarite ability to have warships, nor was the combined alliance going to overwhelm individual worlds like the USSR. But rather, each world would be represented, combine their technologies, their fleets, and have a mutual defense treaty. It also seems that each power also has the right to its own private ships, but this point isn't clarified within the canon. The Vulcans in particular seem to prefer to use their own ships precisely because they don't want to serve aboard ships they see as being warships like the Enterprise. But the Andorians and others would never have agreed to join a Federation that had no military; they would have thought it absurd. And the fact that they were founding members should only go to show that it's not Human utopian optimism that governs what the Federation does, but a combination of all member races, which includes warlike races.
Skeptical
Wed, Apr 24, 2019, 5:03pm (UTC -5)
Of course, if Starfleet isn't military, that opens up a whole new can of worms. It means the Federation has authorized a non-military group to carry around weapons of mass destruction and use them as it sees fit. It means the Federation has authorized a non-military group to kill people in territories beyond the Federation's control whenever they deem it necessary with no clear Rules of Engagement. It means the Federation has authorized a non-military group to engage in military endeavors, including attacking the military of other sovereign peoples during times of war. It means the Federation has authorized non-military personnel such as Jean-Luc Picard to risk the lives of up to 1000 people at a time to take actions with virtually no oversight. It means the Federation has authorized non-military people to incarcerate other non-military people if the other non-military people refuse to listen to some of the non-military people.

Really, is that a better outcome than a world where Starfleet is also a military organization but performs other duties as well? I mean, seriously, do people really think the US military does nothing but kill people? They have other duties, including humanitarian missions. So why the downright aversion to the use of that term? And would you really want a non-military organization to have as much power and control as Starfleet?
Jackson
Wed, Apr 24, 2019, 5:26pm (UTC -5)
Skeptical is preaching to the choir here.

I'd much prefer a future with an enlightened military rather than a subverted one.
Jackson
Fri, Apr 26, 2019, 1:28am (UTC -5)
It's worth noting that Star Trek VI went a bit crazy in the other direction, implying that Starfleet is nothing BUT a military organization, with the absurd notion that peace with the Klingons would mean "mothballing Starfleet".

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