WARNING: This article contains serious spoiler information for DS9's fourth-season premiere, "The Way of the Warrior". If you haven't seen the show, you may not wish to read any further.
In brief: Most of what I saw, I liked. The setup feels forced, but enough doors have just been opened to leave some intriguing possibilities.
Brief summary: Klingon paranoia about the Dominion leads them to invade Cardassia. When the Federation condemns that action, the Klingons break the treaty between the two, leaving the balance of power tenuous -- and Lt. Commander Worf, now on the station, as a man without a home.
"The Way of the Warrior", in many ways, represents a cleaning of the slate for DS9. Although its presence suggests that the original political drama we saw in DS9's first two years is dead and gone (particularly the Cardassian side, for obvious reasons), in its place we have other politics and other issues raised which could, if done right, be equally as powerful.
I mean, let's face it -- having the Klingon/Federation alliance actually crumble is a very significant reshuffling of the current Trek universe. More interestingly, it is exactly the sort of thing that the looming Dominion threat of the past year is well designed to create -- not everyone deals with that sort of threat in the same manner, or in what any one species might term a "rational" code of conduct. Different cultures will have different approaches. We saw that in the Romulan attempt to destroy the wormhole in "Visionary", and we're seeing it here in the Klingon "seize power so it's in the only hands we can trust" approach. (One wonders if the Klingons were informed of just how the Obsidian Order and Tal Shiar were betrayed last year, though; if so, they'd be well advised not to leave any one individual in command of too much power.) So, in that manner, the Dominion threat has suddenly become more credible in terms of the reactions it's engendered.
What is somewhat annoying, however, is the suddenness with which these changes were brought about. If the Klingons had that many worries and were that concerned with protecting themselves, we should have heard grumblings about it before their large-scale assault -- and we didn't. We should have seen evidence that the Cardassian dissident movement was hitting a peak after the Order was destroyed -- and we didn't. (To the contrary, Dukat seemed very secure in his position in "Explorers".) We should have heard about the Cardassians sealing their borders well before the current crisis exploded -- and we didn't. While the show we saw tended to work well enough, the setup can't help but give the impression of being designed after the fact instead of being a natural outgrowth of past events. (In other words, it feels in many ways like a ratings ploy.
That's not in and of itself a reason to condemn it, however; if the stories work, the motivation behind it is substantially secondary.)
In fact, I'm going to do something I've been trying not to do for nearly two years, despite lots of requests to do so. I'm going to compare DS9 and "Babylon 5" here. I've been avoiding it for a long time now, but with "The Way of the Warrior" and the "war" footing on which the series has apparently been placed, it seems that DS9 is positioning itself in a very B5-like situation. The difference is that here, as I alluded to above, it feels like positioning -- on B5, everything came into place so quietly and so slowly that events simply built on themselves. (In fact, some of B5's more powerful episodes this past year, "The Coming of Shadows" in particular, were so powerful precisely because they were such natural outgrowths of past concepts. There was a real sense of inevitability to them, which made the tension and tragedy substantially stronger, at least in my
experience.) DS9 suddenly has a lot of B5-like elements to it -- major powers at substantial odds with each other, a station caught in the crossfire, a mysterious race about which little is known that is indirectly behind much of the conflict, and so forth (even the station's new defenses, unveiled here and mentioned here for the first time, are a parallel; when the Narn/Centauri war began in B5, the station got a new defense grid very quickly, and it will be shown in action sometime in the four episodes about to air in the US) -- and while the
elements themselves are common enough, I have to say that DS9 isn't measuring up in terms of how it introduced or led up to many of them. (That said, I'm going to try to continue to avoid comparisons to B5
when I can; I think every series deserves to be looked at independently. It's only when the similarities are so strikingly similar that comparison gets invited, I think.)
Basically, where these big changes are concerned, I actually think making the opener a 2-hour special might have been a mistake. Even a week's delay to let some of the changes sink in before working with them so much might have helped; imagine having a week to wonder how things would resolve themselves after hearing "The Klingons have withdrawn from the Khitomer Accords" as a cliffhanger. I think it might have worked a lot better.
Now that I'm through discussing the basic reshuffling of the Trek universe, on to the episode itself. The basic story, that of the Klingons deciding to invade Cardassia to "protect" it, was solid and rather surprising -- I'd heard about the Klingon breach with the Federation over the summer, of course, as had basically anyone not
locked in a lead-lined room in a satellite orbiting some planet other than Earth all summer, but the Cardassian side of things was something I hadn't heard about at all, and I think that the surprise factor did a lot of good. Once that was established, most of the rest of the story fell into place: the "non-warning" warning to Dukat via
Garak, the breaking of the Fed/Klin treaty, the rescue attempt, and the brink of full-scale war between the one-time allies. In the broad strokes, the story played out just fine. (Worf's being brought aboard was also fine, and his investigation, while not all that interesting, was sound.)
There were also a number of little details I liked: the "hunt for the Changeling" training exercise that started everything off, General Martok's rather ... direct ... way of making sure Sisko and Kira weren't Founders, Odo and Garak actually having breakfast as planned, and so forth. Sisko and Dax's bet about when Dukat would
start complaining was absolutely priceless; that strikes me as just the sort of thing they would bet about given the chance.
Other details, though, ring a bit off. I find it just a little difficult to believe, for instance, that a station that three years ago could barely fend off an attack from three Cardassian ships can now easily hold its own against ten times that many Klingon ships; they're hardly that weak. (Along the same lines, it's a little convenient that a single photon torpedo from the station can destroy a fully-shielded Klingon vessel, yet DS9 apparently takes no casualties whatsoever from a myriad of disruptor bolts.) In a less picky mode, however, there are issues like Sisko taking the Federation to the brink of war, all apparently without consulting with his superiors at all. Having the Federation condemn the invasion is one thing; it's entirely another to send a heavily armed Federation warship to save the Cardassian government from the Klingons. By rights, Sisko should at the very
least be facing some hard questions from Starfleet Command. Similarly, the statement from Worf that the Klingons were "obviously" going back to their old warlike ways, alliances be damned, felt a bit more like justification from the writers than a real assessment. Their logic was sound for attacking Cardassia, if their belief that the Founders were behind the coup had validity -- as such, saying it's only an excuse is in itself an excuse to start portraying the Klingons as "bad guys" again. Can't there just be differing philosophies without one of them being wrong?
[It also strikes me as surprising that the Klingons would be entirely briefed on their mission. Given that Klingons are not known for their tight-lippedness in general, particularly when angered, I'd imagine that only Martok and a few aides would know where their eventual destination was until they were well underway.]
I also thought the "B" character plot, Worf's doubts about being in Starfleet, felt rather sluggish, and more of a way to get DS9 watchers used to seeing Worf than anything else. Worf has clearly been through a lot, and his dispiritedness is pretty understandable -- but O'Brien's statement that with the Klingon enmity he's just "earned", Starfleet is an even more obvious place to be, struck me as absolutely on target. What's more, I can in no way, shape, or form picture Worf as a mercenary, hiring tactical services out to the highest bidder, and
that's what the alliance he was heading for sounded like. (I'm having visions of a Klingon Temp Agency now ... a frightening thought! :-) ) Given how little Worf actually had to do with the main story (his only unique contribution was getting the information out about the Klingons' true mission; an important contribution, but the rest was not particularly character-specific, and the "join me, Worf" moment with Gowron was particularly unsuspenseful), the character moments really seemed more like giving "hey! we've got Worf now!" as much
emphasis as possible, and I'm not sure how well it came off.
In other character terms, however, I think Worf may fit in on DS9 fairly well. His past work with O'Brien is a natural thing to explore, of course, but I'm more interested in how he and Odo are going to interact. They're certainly not particularly fond of each other at the moment, and their differing philosophies of life and of security (Odo's no-weapons rule, for instance, when Worf tends to live by them) should prove a nice source of interaction. In addition, the one bit about Worf's "should I stay or should I go?" woes that went particularly well was the set of exchanges he had with Sisko on the subject. Sisko's life and Worf's have some parallels, and the two characters seem to work well together on the whole, so I'll be interested in seeing that. Worf and Kira should also have some interesting subjects to discuss, and Dax's past as Curzon was used to good effect here, so we'll see. (I hope as fervently as I can, however, that bringing in Worf is not going to overshadow all the other relationships we've seen built up: Sisko/Dax, Sisko/Kira, O'Brien/Bashir, Bashir/Dax, Bashir/Garak, etc. Those are too good to jettison.)
Many of the other character moments -- Bashir/Garak, Garak/Dukat, Sisko/Dukat, and so on -- were as good as usual, with a combination of good dialogue and nice performances. (Most of the Klingons were not so blessed; Robert O'Reilly, in particular, seemed to go far more over the top than he usually does, and he's not exactly a huge fan of subtlety as a rule anyway when he plays Gowron. A bit much for me this time, I'm afraid.) Sisko's casual appraisal of Dukat's quick change of allegiances was priceless, for instance, and Sisko's growing tendency to cynical asides during battles, such as "well, that should make the trip home more interesting" is also fun to hear. One of the best such moments, however, was the conversation between Garak and Quark about root beer and the Federation. For once, we're getting at least a hint of how other societies view the Federation -- and in a darkly cynical tone, at that. Frankly, given that I agree with at least half of what they said, I think it's been a long time coming, and it was a top-flight scene.
One aspect of the show that was not so fortunate was the pair of Kira/Dax holodeck moments, and more generally much of the treatment of Kira. The "baths" sequence was really a poorly disguised excuse to put Nana Visitor and Terry Farrell in swimsuits -- and while I appreciate it from a visual perspective, I think there are far less gratuitous ways to do it. More importantly, though, between Kira's claim to have no imagination (or, as Dax put it, her "under-developed ... imagination", the pause in which seemed to imply that she meant something else) and her later "I don't usually dress like this" bit with Worf, it felt almost like the show was deliberately putting Kira in embarrassing situations. I hope that's an aberration; Kira is one of the very few really strong female characters Trek has ever had, and trying to knock her down will only reduce the character's appeal in a very, very big way. (The same thing happened to Lois Lane on "Lois & Clark" in its second season, as far as I'm concerned -- Lois's brain evaporated -- and it was a major reason why I'm no longer watching it
in its third.)
I think that covers all the big parts of the show. Where little ones are concerned, I'll break this up a bit.
-- On the whole, the dialogue was terrific. There were a few highly cliched moments, such as "It's over."/"For now." and Dax's "I'll go easy on you" to Worf in the holodeck, but that was more than made up for by many of the moments I've alluded to earlier. Quark's indignation about his lost disruptor was particularly amusing: "I will KILL [Rom]!" "With what?" Grin. [Odo's insistence that a Klingon killing him would necessitate an entire opera was also bliss.]
-- The whole Kasidy Yates issue was a bit weird. Either Penny Johnson was a bit off form this week, or we're seeing a potential setup for Yates to be something other than what she seems. (Her line about "everyone" being fine could be just acknowledging that Sisko really wants to know how she is, but some of her other delivery was just weird.)
-- So Siddig el Fadil is now Alexander Siddig. I can't say as I particularly understand the reasons for it, but as long as the actor himself hasn't changed that's his issue. :-)
-- The opening credits have also changed. I like the new visuals, and the new music is ... interesting. I'm not sure I like the relentless strings in the second half of the theme, but there's a dark undercurrent to the first half that seems to fit well with the show's new backdrop. (The earlier theme had a real "out on the frontier" feel to it, I thought, but given that the show's changed it's perhaps appropriate that the theme changed with it.)
-- The battle sequences were very nice; they stayed on just the right side of chaotic to be forceful. Watching the Defiant play "crack the whip" with a Klingon ship was also intriguing.
That would seem to more or less cover it. I can't tell yet how the new season is going to work out, or if the huge shift in focus of the show is going to be good or bad; it's further away from what I really valued about the show, but opens up possibilities for new and equally complex issues to pop in, so we'll see. In itself, "The Way of the Warrior" looks something like this:
Writing: A few plot implausibilities, but no particularly major holes that I can think of. The characterization was mostly fine, Kira excepted.
Directing: The second half of the show really moved, and even the first half had only a few sluggish bits. Nicely done.
Acting: Robert O'Reilly needs a few more tranquilizers, as do some of the other guests, but all in all this was fine.
OVERALL: Let's call it an 8. A promising start ... we'll see if they can hold to this level all year.
Sisko goes missing, and Jake hunts for him ... but the hunt seems to last a lifetime.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Doctor, if a Klingon were to kill me, I'd expect nothing less than an entire opera on the subject."