On a mission to help Martok in the Klingon struggle with the Cardassian-Dominion Alliance, Worf realizes that his friend is no longer fit to command his ship.
Plot Summary: While Martok is recovering from an injury he received during a battle simulation, he is ordered by the Klingon High Council to take the warship Rotarran to search for the B’Moth, which has gone missing near the Cardassian border. Seeking loyal supporters, Martok invites Worf to be his second in command and Dax to be his science officer for the mission. With Sisko’s permission, the Starfleet officers take their places on the Rotarran, only to discover that the crew is demoralized and unhappy after having lost many battles to the Jem’Hadar. Worf believes that only a victory can restore the crew’s spirits, but Martok makes uncharacteristically cautious choices, declining to attack a vulnerable Jem’Hadar ship and refusing to cross the Cardassian border when the B’Moth is found drifting just outside Federation space. The crewmembers begin to threaten and fight one another. Realizing that Martok is suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress after many months in a Jem’Hadar prison, Worf knows that to save the survivors on the B’Moth, he must challenge Martok for command of the Rotarran, though he may have to kill Martok to gain control. The crew is excited by their struggle with traditional Klingon weapons and Martok regains his warrior’s spirit, particularly when Worf drops his guard, allowing Martok to win the fight. A Jem’Hadar ship approaches, but Martok’s crew defeats it and rescues the Klingons on the B’Moth. Upon returning to Deep Space Nine, Martok tells Worf that the Klingon High Council has granted commendations to the entire Rotarran crew, including Worf, then asks Worf how he knew Martok wouldn’t kill him when Worf dropped his guard. Worf said that he could not be certain. In appreciation of this gesture, Worf is invited to join the House of Martok as the general’s fellow warrior and brother.
Analysis: My feelings about Klingon warrior culture must be well-known by now to my readers, so I won’t bother to explain in detail how I rolled my eyes at the violence, patriarchal domination, and defense – spoken by Dax in full “I used to be Curzon” mode to an incredulous Kira – of a system of advancement whereby a junior officer kills his superior, just like humans do in Star Trek’s evil mirror universe. The idea of Klingon society as an equal to the Federation falls apart until too much scrutiny, just as the idea of Ferengi society does in the previous week’s episode. However, Klingon society isn’t what’s really important in “Soldiers of the Empire.” Like “Ferengi Love Songs,” our brief glimpse at an only partially-constructed alien culture happens only because the writers are busily undoing their mistakes of the previous season, when they attempted to show the bond between the crew by severing pretty much every single tie to a world beyond Deep Space Nine. Having restored Odo’s abilities as a changeling, having delivered Kira of the human baby she was carrying, and having returned Quark’s ability to consort and make deals with Ferengi, the staff turns to Worf, whose brother has had his memories erased, whose half-Klingon son prefers to live among humans, who has no friends among his onetime peers on the Klingon High Council. At the start of “Soldiers of the Empire,” Worf is grateful merely to be offered a position by General Martok, to whom he still feels gratitude for giving him the strength to go on when they were both in a Jem’Hadar prison. By the end of the episode, Worf has acquired a best friend, a Klingon family, and the respect of the general who will ultimately lead the Klingon force against the Dominion.
I enjoy this storyline best for its outstanding characteristics as a bromance, though that word was not in use when it first aired. Honestly, though Dax may be Worf’s girlfriend – and I can’t tell whether it’s Jadzia or Curzon who’s turned on by the idea of making love Klingon-style – Worf and Martok make a better couple. Evidently they have done so ever since Martok read Worf’s mind to save him from sacrificing himself to the Jem’Hadar, back when they were prison buddies several months past. There is a bond between the men that Worf claims is inexpressible in words, or human words, anyway. The Klingon word for it is tova’dok, which Worf describes as a moment of clarity between two warriors on a field of battle, during which one gives the other his warrior’s heart. It sounds like tova’dok could just as easily describe the moment in The Lord of the Rings when Boromir dies in Aragorn’s arms after apologizing for the breaking of the Fellowship and accepting Aragorn as his true king, or the moment in Thelma and Louise when the two women decide they’d rather die than be taken so without a word they gaze into each other’s eyes and kiss before driving off a cliff together. How sweetly moving and somewhat inevitable when, after Worf risks his life to let Martok regain his honor, Martok asks Worf to marry him – excuse me, to join his family – and to wear his ring – er, the crest of his house. Being with Dax was never going to be enough for Worf when what he really wants, and she knows it, is a Klingon comrade-in-arms. “Soldiers of the Empire” hauls out all the usual Klingon cliches about honor, bravery, good days to die, songs of fearless deeds – yet we scarcely get to see the battles because the emphasis is so much on relationships.
Because the violence is packed into such a short time, it seems over the top and particularly violent, which is maybe the point: when the Klingons come up against the Jem’Hadar, we’re watching a race bred to fight in combat with a race that thinks fighting is the finest way to earn honor and show one’s inner strength. We certainly don’t discover any new tidbits about Klingon culture here other than that Kang wasn’t the only Klingon to bring his mate into battle with him, though Dax is determined to keep things platonic on this mission, probably in the hope of being defined as Formerly Known as Curzon rather than Worf’s girlfriend. It doesn’t particularly make her look stronger, since the storyline primarily has her serving as Worf’s support system rather than glorying in being among Klingons or challenging Martok in her own right. I wish we had more evidence of the reasons she loves Klingon culture apart from Curzon’s lingering interest – and he was a diplomat, not a warrior, except when he had to be – if Trill aren’t allowed to marry their former spouses in future hosts, shouldn’t there be a similar restriction on following their former hosts’ obsessions, so the symbiont can have new experiences and find new perspectives? Jadzia may be strong-willed, but given the extent of her outrage at Quark when she discovered that he was running a weapons ring, she’s quick to defend advancement by assassination as a perfectly reasonable cultural quirk. Her one truly great line in the episode, to a drunken old Klingon who taunts her about her bed, “Mine is empty by choice,” would hold more weight if every single other choice she made didn’t seem to be influenced by her romantic relationship. If only we’d seen her become better friends with the Klingon warrior woman on the Rotarran, or drink the old Klingon under the table. But then, she has to compete with Martok for Worf’s attention.