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Retro Review: To the Death

Posted by Michelle - 05/07/13 at 06:07 pm


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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 04 Episode: 23 (s04e23)

Original US airdate: 05/13/1996

Sisko and his crew aboard the Defiant join forces Jem’Hadar soldiers to stop a group of renegade Jem’Hadar from taking power.

Plot Summary: The senior Starfleet crewmembers return from a mission to find that the Dominion has attacked Deep Space Nine in their absence. Dax finds the ion trail of the Jem’Hadar attack force and Sisko follows it into the Gamma Quadrant aboard the Defiant, where the crew rescues six Jem’Hadar and a Vorta named Weyoun, who explains that they were attacked by the same Jem’Hadar who damaged the station. The violent Jem’Hadar have discovered an ancient alien transporter called a Gateway and have broken from the Dominion in an effort to seize power for themselves. Reluctantly, Sisko agrees to work with Weyoun to stop the renegade Jem’Hadar from attacking Federation planets. Weyoun believes that his own loyal Jem’Hadar soldiers don’t know about the Gateway and only wish to stop disloyalty to the Dominion. The Jem’Hadar are belligerent, challenging Worf’s honor and threatening Sisko’s life, but they suggest working in mixed teams to maintain order. Though Odo is uncomfortable with both the Jem’Hadar’s contempt and Weyoun’s attention, he is unsuccessful at convincing Weyoun that he has no love for the Founders, whom Weyoun claims would welcome Odo back. The Jem’Hadar protecting the Gateway disable weapons and communications among the away team, but Sisko is able to lead his people inside the Gateway and save the life of the Jem’Hadar leader. The group flees just as an explosive armed by O’Brien destroys the Gateway, at which point the Starfleet weapons begin to function again. ‘s explosive device destroys the Gateway, which allows Starfleet weapons to function again. The Jem’Hadar leader kills Weyoun for deceiving them but spares Sisko since Sisko saved him, though he reminds Sisko that the next time they meet, they will be enemies once more.

Analysis: Considering that “To the Death” is an installment of the Dominion War arc and introduces a major character, it’s surprisingly generic and wastes a lot of time with the sort of violence and fight scenes that Star Trek used to be notable for not belaboring. It feels like someone mashed together ideas from a lot of other Star Trek and sci-fi series – a stargate, a group of rebel warriors breaking away from their empire, the need to blend two antagonistic crews for the protection of both – but it never quite feels like Deep Space Nine. Come on – the station is attacked, a pylon destroyed and more than a dozen people killed, and instead of staying to talk to Starfleet and oversee critical repairs in case the Jem’Hadar return, Sisko leaves the wounded Kira in charge before Bashir has a chance to examine her and jumps onto the Defiant to chase the enemy, something Dax and Worf could do just as efficiently? It turns out to be convenient that he’s there, because Worf turns into a six-year-old being taunted on the schoolyard when the Jem’Hadar thumb their noses at him and call him a wimp, but my credulity goes out the window from the moment Sisko jumps back onto the Defiant searching for glory in battle like he, too, is a Klingon. Part of me even wonders whether the Jem’Hadar were originally supposed to be Klingons as well, since they mock Worf precisely as Qo’noS-raised Klingons do, going on about dying honorably and executing their own people for failing to observe the chain of command. Sisko standing around playing the respectable father figure to a bunch of itchy Starfleet officers, demanding to know who threw the first punch, is so reminiscent of Kirk in “The Trouble With Tribbles” that he’s hard to take seriously for the rest of the serious storyline.

It’s too bad, too, because the setup has real promise. First the station is attacked by what looks like the start of a war with the Dominion, then the crew learns that in fact it’s an act of provocation by a group of rebel Jem’Hadar, whom Starfleet has been looking for ways to encourage to rebel against the Founders who engineered them. It’s kind of like Picard’s dilemma with Hugh, the Borg separated from the Collective: does the crew encourage meddling? Do they get involved in what should be a Gamma Quadrant power struggle? Astonishingly, Sisko takes Weyoun at his word rather than suspecting the “damaged” Jem’Hadar ship might be a setup and a ploy for sympathy, then agrees to fight at the side of the Dominion-controlled Jem’Hadar rather than wanting to speak to the rebels who clearly can think for themselves and might represent the beginning of a much bigger Jem’Hadar insurrection against the Vorta and Founders who manipulate them. His fury over the attack on the station, which clearly make the rebels Bad Guys to Sisko, makes him seem as limited in his sense of who his real enemies are as did Dukat a few weeks ago, trying to convince Kira to run off and fight a war with him. I can accept that Sisko is furious and defending his own people, but doesn’t he have an obligation to ask or at least to tell Starfleet first, particularly in the face of the potential invasion from the Gamma Quadrant that they’ve all been dreading? He keeps being shown cracks in the Dominion – an unauthorized assault, a group of Jem’Hadar not under the control of the Founders – and thinking small-scale, about protecting his own turf, rather than about the fate of the entire quadrant.

There’s an entertaining moment during an assault simulation, during which the Starfleet crew is supposed to set off explosives, yet stall to for a third Jem’Hadar guard, allowing themselves to be virtually vaporized before they can complete the mission. They fail because there was never a third guard, even though they’ve been taught that there is always a third guard – a lesson which proves to the Jem’Hadar that the Starfleet officers won’t risk sacrificing themselves even when it’s necessary for a critical mission, and which reminds the Starfleet officers that adherence to protocol can make them look like idiots in front of allies and enemies alike. But the real assault on the never-explained Gateway seems absurdly easy, with no real injuries to the Starfleet crew, which makes the much-hyped Jem’Hadar seem far less dangerous than they should. After the simulation, we wait for a surprise twist, a tactic like Spock realizing that Khan only visualizes in two dimensions and can therefore be defeated by an attack from below. Instead we get to watch a plot executed just as it was laid out, which is only interesting for people who like to watch combat scenes. The same goes for what should be two big character events: Odo being told that the Founders want him to come home, and Sisko watching a Jem’Hadar leader execute first a disobedient subordinate then a treacherous superior. Weyoun opens a door for Odo, only to have Odo slam it shut before learning what’s waiting on the other side, with his biological family, as it were. As for Sisko, his certainty that his people are loyal seems a little worrisome given that his lover and security officer were recently revealed to be Maquis agents, and it’s very annoying that Worf gets away with just about anything because he’s Klingon in situations where Sisko would have taken Kira’s head off if she’d done the same thing to a Cardassian and claimed it was because she’s Bajoran. Bottom line, a weak Sisko episode makes for a weak episode, period.

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  • Enterprise1981

    I think the consensus throughout DS9 was that the Jem’Hadar under the control of the Founders and Vorta is the lesser of two evils than the Jem’Hadar striking out on their own. O’Brien raised such an argument in “Hippocratic Oath”. And independent Jem’Hadar using an Iconian gateway would be far more disastrous than the Dominion as is.

  • fainodraino

    What? No mention of the Next Generation episode link? I think it’s worth mentioning! Granted, not the best reviewer, anyway. Also, let’s admit that the writers hadn’t really nailed down the inner workings/culture of the dominion/vorta/jem’hadar.

  • navamske

    T’Pau version: “To de Det.”