WARNING: "Once More Unto the Breach" dear DS9 spoilers, once more!
In brief: An interesting farewell to an old friend, though decidedly iffy in spots.
Brief summary: Legendary Klingon hero Kor asks Worf for aid in undertaking one last mission.
Up until this point, DS9 was batting .500 when it came to episodes set on board Martok's ship. Two years ago, we had "Soldiers of the Empire," a very strong piece dealing with Klingons' reaction to defeat. Then, last year, there came the fairly dull "Sons and Daughters," which broke up the DS9 occupation story in order to let Worf bond with his son (whom we've only seen once since, which makes one question why the episode happened at all). Still, Worf and Martok have typically made a good pair, and John Colicos' Kor has been a treat to watch every time he's appeared, so "Once More Unto the Breach" had a lot of promise going in.
Some of that promise was realized, but a lot of it wound up feeling just a bit too pat. Despite some nice analogies at the start of the episode to set it off, one's left with the feeling that "Once More Unto the Breach" came about primarily because the DS9 staff felt like it was time for a Kor episode, and only secondarily because there was something to say.
That's a pity, because what the episode did have to say was quite interesting in spots. As uneven as the show was in places, one scene did more to make up for it than anything else: that would be the scene where Martok's aide-de-camp Darok (Neil Vipond) meets a defeated, desolate Kor in his quarters and talks to him about the views "children" have of the past and of the future. "Children," he notes, "are quick to judge and slow to forgive," and are much more interested in looking ahead to the future than learning from the past. As one who spends a great deal of time around teenagers, I can't say I disagree -- but even if I did, I thought the scene made points about listening to one's elders that are worth thinking about. As a flat statement of "experience always counts, and the old are always right," it'd be outrageously overgeneralized -- but as the musings of a character in the twilight of his life, it resonated rather well, and I found the scene quite affecting.
Unfortunately, some of the plot complications needed to get us to that scene left me quite cold. Kor coming to Worf for help is quite sensible, and even poignant -- but Martok's opposition wasn't especially justified. In particular, I didn't care for Martok's sob story about how Kor blocked him from becoming an officer due to his lower-class upbringing. Okay, so Ron Moore wanted a Martok/Kor conflict -- but given what we've seen of Klingons these days, I'm not sure a class struggle was the way to go. Among other things, if they're really all that concerned about bloodlines, how exactly did a 'half-breed' like K'Ehleyr ever get to be a Special Emissary within the Empire? They certainly care about Houses, but I never had the sense that those Houses were any particular sort of caste system. Despite Kor's marvelous line about Worf living among "this democratic rabble for too long," I didn't care for this particular angle. (It didn't help that Martok's initial bit about how his family never had much was incredibly trite; I really expected it to veer into "why, when I was a boy, my father would kill me. Every night!" territory.)
To make matters worse, we're then asked to accept it when Kor winds up on the Ch'Tang anyway. Worf told Martok that he gave Kor a commission, which is all well and good -- but given Martok's feelings, Worf has to be an awful moron to put Kor specifically on Martok's own ship. That's just muddled thinking, and entirely too muddled to be worthy of either Worf or Martok in this situation.
Kor's side of the story definitely fared better. As I said, I thought the Martok/Kor feud was rather trumped-up, particularly since we could have had nearly the same result without it -- but the hero-worship exhibited by Martok's crew made a lot of sense. (In fact, that's essentially how you could have had Martok's annoyance grow; if he sees discipline slipping due to Kor's presence, that's an easy way to foster resentment.) The particularly strong moment, however, was Kor's fall itself: despite some very reasonable foreshadowing, it came as quite a blow seeing Kor, the canniest of the canny, get lost in nostalgia and order an attack on a nonexistent target. Given the tension of the situation as it stood, Martok's subsequent attempt to kill Kor was right on-target; something had to be done to bring the situation under control, and quickly.
From there, I rather suspected that Kor would find a way to redeem himself; while it's an easy out, Kor was never a character one would envision slipping quietly into senility. The Kor/Darok scene I mentioned earlier nicely set the stage for Kor's change of heart, and from there on it everything was a foregone conclusion. Kor's fall and redemption both carried a fair bit of power with them; it felt a little by the numbers in spots, but was executed quite well. (It helped that the battle sequences were extremely fluid this time around; a quick raid actually felt like a quick raid and not a leisurely stroll to the next planet over.)
The slight non-Klingon involvement in the main plot also worked fairly well, both the approaches that were direct and those that were oblique. Seeing Ezri interact like an old friend of Kor was really somewhat necessary, but also felt rather charming -- it continued to drive the point home how like and yet unlike Jadzia Ezri really is. (The uneasy truce between Worf and Ezri is also still intact, and it was good to see evidence of it.) Far stronger, however, was Worf's commentary when O'Brien and Bashir debated the true fate of Davy Crockett. His comments about Crockett the legend versus Crockett the man might have proved fairly interesting in a vacuum -- but taken in context with the rest of the episode, it provided a beautiful way to get us thinking about legends. I liked that moment quite a lot, especially in retrospect.
What I did not like was the remainder of the station-side material; fortunately, it was blessedly brief. In a nutshell, Quark overhears half of a conversation between Kira and Ezri and leaps to the conclusion that Ezri wants to get back together with Worf. As a general rule, I think it's fair to see that any plot device used as the basis for multiple episodes of "Three's Company" is a plot device I'm not going to be enthusiastic about -- and Quark's subsequent actions did nothing to change my mind on that score. Granted, the material was kept to a minimum, and we didn't get Quark doing lots of unspeakably dumb things ... but even so, I'd really have preferred seeing that entire story left on the cutting room floor.
-- Martok's taunting of Kor after the latter's flaws were revealed didn't sit all that well with me. In some ways, that may have been the point -- after all, Darok's characterization of Martok as a child sits well if you've just seen him behave like a mocking twelve-year-old. Even so, however, I thought it went well beyond Martok's character and into insults for insults' sake. (Kor's response to all of it was excellent, however.)
-- I appreciated that Worf didn't try to bring Sisko into the Kor/Martok issue; during the briefing sequence I wondered if he would, and was pleased to see that he kept an internal matter internal.
-- Kira's amusement at being told she'd make a good counselor was a lot of fun.
-- I didn't care for either of the female Klingons, particularly the tactical officer; she sounded less like a Klingon and more like your stereotypical husky-voiced Tough-as-Nails female soldier. She wasn't terrible, but in the final analysis I thought she was a distraction.
-- It was nice to see a lengthy time lag before a battle for a change. Yes, folks, space is big, and sometimes that makes for interesting strategies.
-- I've mentioned the battle effects in general, but one shot in particular I adored was the Ch'Tang escaping from the planetary raid. That "straight up" shot was just beautiful.
-- I don't doubt that some people are annoyed that we didn't get to see Kor's final battle with the Jem'Hadar. I actually think that rather adds to the legendary nature of it.
That about covers it. This is shaping up to be a somewhat odd season so far -- while there haven't been any episodes I've particularly disliked, I'm left wondering why several of them came to be given what little time remains in the series. Still, as a longtime Colicos fan it was nice to see Kor given a grand send-off, and the show's worth watching for Kor's fall, Darok's pep talk, and the battle sequences. That's not bad at all; in fact, I've seen a lot worse.
Writing: The Martok/Kor feud rang false, and the Quark/Ezri material made me wince repeatedly, but a lot of the core (no pun intended) story was pretty engaging.
Directing: Marvelous work on the battle sequences; no real comments either way on the rest.
Acting: Colicos and Vipond did solid guest work; Hertzler and Dorn were reasonable.
OVERALL: 7.5, I think. You have to swallow a bit to get to the end, but the end's worth it.
A look at the ground war.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"How did that pompous old man hold off an entire Jem'Hadar fleet with only one ship?"
"Does it matter?"
-- Martok and Worf