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Retro Review: The Sword of Kahless

Posted by Michelle - 05/04/13 at 06:04 pm


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 04 Episode: 09 (s04e09)

Original US airdate: 11/20/1995

Kor convinces Worf and Dax to accompany him on a search for the mythical weapon of the great Klingon leader, which he believes can unite the Empire.

Plot Summary: Dahar Master Kor visits Deep Space Nine en route to recover the Sword of Kahless, the ancient weapon of the legendary Klingon warrior whose clone is now Emperor. Because of Worf’s family’s disgrace, he is hesitant to greet Kor, but Kor says that any enemy of Gowron’s is a friend of his and invites Worf to accompany him and Dax on the treasure hunt. Before they leave, Kor is attacked by a Lethean who reads his mind and learns the artifact’s whereabouts. When Dax, Worf and Kor depart on a runabout loaned by Sisko, who believes that finding the Sword may improve Starfleet’s relationship with the Klingons, they trace the ancient weapon to a planet in the Gamma Quadrant. But no sooner have they recovered the Sword when they are confronted by Toral of the House of Duras, who has brought the Lethean and several soldiers. Kor and the Starfleet officers escape into a cave, but they can’t reach their runabout from below the surface. As they head through a maze of underground tunnels, Kor tells Worf that the choice to spare Toral’s life means that Worf is too human. For his part, Worf thinks that Kor has become old, weak and possibly insane, for Kor does not intend to give the Sword to the Emperor but wants to use it to lead the Klingons himself. In one of the tunnels, Kor slips into a crevasse from which Worf is reluctant to rescue him. Dax tries to intervene, but Worf now believes it is his own destiny to take the Sword and unite the Klingons. Furious, Dax grabs the Sword from both Klingons and insists on sleeping with it, but she is woken by an attack from Toral and his men. The Starfleet officers and Kor are able to defeat them, but Kor turns on Worf with the Sword and the two are on the point of killing each other when Dax stuns them both with her phaser, taking them back to the runabout. The group realizes that, just as the Sword turned them against each other, so it may cause a rift in the Klingon Empire. They decide to transport the Sword until space so that no one will find it until the Klingons are ready for it.

Analysis: One Sword to rule them all, one Sword to find them…oops. While “The Sword of Kahless” has very few of the elements I love on Deep Space Nine, it has the feeling of one of the sillier original series stories where spores or daggers of the mind make a crewmember act like an idiot for most of the episode, and Worf even mentions Kirk by name, so all is forgiven. In this episode and “Blood Oath” both, I kept expecting some big revelation about Kor from Dax, some explanation of why he changed from the cunning warrior and equal of Kirk’s into this drunken Klingon who thinks he needs one more great accomplishment to guarantee his admission to Sto-vo-kor, the Klingon version of heaven. I include that information because there’s a lot in this episode that requires knowledge of both Worf’s history and the history of the Klingon people, including how Kahless was cloned and made Emperor and why Worf is in disgrace both with Gowron and with the Duras family. It might have thrown off the pacing of the episode, which is admirable for a drama that takes place mostly walking through uninteresting cave sets, but even I was longing for a bit of a refresher and I’ve watched Star Trek all my life. I love stories that link the continuity of the franchise, and there are few reminders of the rich complexity of Klingon culture as it developed and changed of the course of the two previous series. If I sometimes get confused how the Worf who didn’t even know how Klingons mourned one another early on in The Next Generation has become the Worf who’s more a Klingon traditionalist than many of the Klingons he meets, it doesn’t make the character any less interesting.

Star Trek has often presented to us relics with powers that seem more magical than scientific, and I have no real complaints with that. Whether the Sword has an actual biological effect on Kor and Worf that puts them at each other’s throats – something the writers deny, but it’s really hard to believe that Worf loses it so completely based on psychology alone – or whether it simply inspires elements deep in their subconscious to become aggressive and power-hungry, we don’t need to know the details of how it works. Still, I have a very hard time believing that Dax wouldn’t want to investigate it, both in her current role as a science officer and because she carries the memories of Curzon, who was pretty much an honorary Klingon himself, which is why Kor came looking for her in the first place. I gnash my teeth when Worf has to tell HER to modify the field harmonics as if she’s some kid they brought along and not the scientific expert. If Dax suspects that there’s no special power involved but that Worf simply goes crazy for the idea of leading the Empire, she really needs to report that to Sisko. Near the end of the episode, things are getting a little mumbo-jumbo-mystical, and although I’ll buy that that’s in perfect keeping with the Klingons who have as emperor a mystical warrior cloned in a secret lab, it’s pretty annoying for a Starfleet officer not to want to inquire into the causes, particularly since the Sword can and probably will be found again someday. Kor is right that Worf is caught between two worlds, but Worf chooses the Klingon way every time it won’t conflict with his personal sense of honor. I just wish he was allowed to have a bit of a sense of humor about it; he may not be a merry man, but Kor ends up being much more fun to watch than Worf, who just becomes an angrier, meaner version of his usual personality while under the influence of the Sword (can anyone tell me why it isn’t called the Bat’leth of Kahless? I have such a hard time believing that the Klingons would permit it to be called a non-Klingon word even by a universal translator, which usually leaves bat’leth alone).

I’m always glad when there’s a Dax episode, but yet again I’m frustrated that it’s another story where her past as Curzon rather than her current expertise is what enables her to be effective, both in persuading Sisko to loan them a runabout (“maybe the Klingons will be friendlier if we help them recover the Sword” is a pretty pathetic excuse for sending a tiny craft into a Dominion-dominated Gamma Quadrant) and in getting Kor to listen to her when he starts to go off the deep end. I’d have been fine with the little Duras creep snatching the Sword and the episode ending on that note, with the Starfleet officers gaping at how badly they’d underestimated him, uncertain what if anything this will mean for the Empire and Gowron’s ascendancy. Although Klingons sometimes bore me with their repeated cliches about honor, their history has depth and reasonable consistency – more so than a lot of individual characters. Like “Way of the Warrior,” “The Sword of Kahless” offers both a glimpse of sweeping Klingon beliefs and an intimate look at what drives Worf, the Klingon with whom we are by far the most familiar. With Kang and Koloth gone, Kor is all that ties us to the Klingons of Kirk’s era, whose humor and lack of patriarchal fanaticism I often miss. The rebellious Duras at least had powerful women and were ready all along to admit their craving for personal glory; are we really to believe that Worf represses similar instincts, only to have them brought out by an ancient relic? I’m glad to know in advance that he and Dax will become lovers and eventually spouses, because he is in desperate need of someone in his life who will judge him by the standards of neither Klingons nor humans.

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  • Dorande

    The best thing about this episode? It doesn’t focus on Kira.

  • SJStar

    THE SWORD OF KAHLESS? I always thought of it as “The Sword of Careless’, and how absolutely stupid the Klingons were losing their icon in the first place! Glorious!

    Also the name ‘sword’ was as a important symbol not just a bat’leth alone (or otherwise.) Kor spoke of it in total reverence, and certainly not as just a weapon. The episode was also directed by LeVar Burton.

  • 4Cardassia

    What’s wrong with Kira? I’ve always thought she was responsible for many of the shows finest moments. Episodes like “Duet,” “The Circle,” “Crossover,” “Second Skin,” “Return to Grace,” “The Darkness and the Light,” “Rocks and Shoals,” “Chimera,” and “Tacking Into the Wind” would have been difficult to make without her.

  • dbutlerjr

    I saw this episode as a DS9 homage to “Treasure of the Sierra Madre”. I doubt that the sword had any powers but it’s the characters’ (Worf and Kor) obsession with it that causes them to nearly kill each other. Good thing that Jadzia was there to act as a “chaperone” for both of them.

  • garak47

    it was indeed a sword of destiny.

  • fainodraino

    From the reviewer…”I gnash my teeth when Worf has to tell HER to modify the field harmonics as if she’s some kid they brought along and not the scientific expert.”
    Good grief, heaven forbid a man tell a woman what to do. And heaven forbid in such a moment that maybe he was thinking the same thing she was, but just said it first.
    This is not a very good episode.