Retro Review: You Are Cordially InvitedPosted by Michelle - 11/04/14 at 06:04 pm
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season: 06 Episode: 07 (s06e07)
Original US airdate: 11/10/1997
Before they can marry, Worf must take his friends on a Klingon ritual and Dax must gain the approval of Martok’s wife.
Plot Summary: After Martok is promoted to commander of the Ninth Fleet, he tells Sisko that he would like to keep Worf on as his intelligence officer to help with all the paperwork and stop Worf from going on about his wedding plans. Because Alexander has been reassigned now that Martok will be working from DS9, Dax suggests holding the wedding before Alexander has to leave. Worf invites his son and his closest friends to participate in Kal’Hyah, a pre-wedding ritual that Sisko, Bashir and O’Brien expect to be a four-day bachelor party, then are horrified to learn from Martok is actually a ritual fast and purification involving pain and sacrifice. Meanwhile, Dax must win the approval of Martok’s wife Sirella, who warns that even a Klingon woman would have trouble gaining her approval. Sirella disapproves of Dax’s performance of household rituals and is furious when Dax contests some of the facts while reciting the history of Sirella’s family. To relax, Dax throws a party to which she invites several of her more boisterous friends. Kira and Odo leave early after agreeing that they need to work out the conflicts which have left them barely speaking. When Sirella comes to the party uninvited, she finds Dax flirting with a half-naked lieutenant, calls her a slut, and pulls a knife. Because Dax defends herself, Sirella calls off the wedding. Worf asks Dax to apologize to Sirella but Dax declines, which Worf takes as a rejection of his culture and uses as a reason for refusing to get married in a civil ceremony. Martok talks Worf into forgiving Dax and Sisko persuades Dax to listen to her heart if she wants to be with Worf. In the end, Sirella performs the wedding ceremony, welcoming Dax into the House of Martok as a daughter, and Worf is ritually beaten by the men who endured his Kal’Hyah.
Analysis: I love weddings, but I don’t always love wedding ceremonies, many of which maintain the patriarchal, property-driven frameworks from which contemporary marriages have emerged. For the most part, I’ve liked the weddings we’ve seen on Star Trek, with a few notable big exceptions – the arranged marriages of Elaan of Troyius and Kamala of Krios, the illogical bonding rituals of the Vulcans – but I didn’t have high hopes for the Klingons, given that their culture has been written as increasingly male-dominated and rigid. I haven’t been a big fan of Dax and Worf as a couple; as friends, sure, and as lovers, when they’re giving each other pleasure and support instead of landing each other in the infirmary with violent sex, but we’ve watched her compromise over and over to maintain the relationship, and given that we’ve already heard her muttering that he’s being a control freak when it comes to the wedding plans, I had no reason to hope that the wedding itself wouldn’t emphasize those dynamics. It comes as little surprise that Klingon pre-wedding festivities are segregated by gender and follow certain human stereotypes – the men go off to bond with their fellow warriors while the putative mother-in-law-from-hell lets the bride see what she’s in for – and though I’ll buy that Dax puts up with it for the novelty, after having five Trill weddings and witnessing countless human ones, I’m frustrated that, in the end, although both Dax and Worf are warned by their nearest and dearest that they’ll have to compromise, Dax is the only one who really has to do so. Even if I choose to believe that Sirella puts Dax through such grief not to test Dax’s worthiness as a Klingon but to ascertain whether Dax really loves Worf – something no one ever says – listening to Sirella screech that Dax is a slut is just revolting.
Thus, my favorite aspects of the episode are completely tangential to the main story: Bashir and O’Brien whining about how they expected a four-day party and instead got four days of pain, Jake selling his first book yet not being able to celebrate with his busy father, Morn waking up in what looks like a compromising position after Dax’s party, Kira deciding she doesn’t have the heart to stay angry at Odo no matter how badly his betrayal hurt. I’m frustrated that we don’t get to hear that conversation, because Kira is still spitting angry and Odo is still carrying around all the baggage of having been in love with her for so many years without her even noticing. Do they talk about that? Do they talk about what it was like in the Great Link? Is Kira jealous of the Founder or primarily distressed because she’s an intergalactic tyrant? So many questions, many of which get answered later in the series, but I feel a bit deprived that the writers didn’t take the time to work out what would be the biggest issues they’d need to clear up between them. They look very cozy and intimate when Dax stumbles across them after the party, though not lovey-dovey intimate – have they gotten around to talking about Bareil, Shakaar, Arissa? Maybe I should be grateful that it was left to our imaginations, and there’s some fan fiction on the subject that’s better than anything I’d expect of a writing crew that handles epic space conflicts better than marital spats. These writers can’t even come up with original bonding ideas. In “Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places,” the writers stole from Vulcan mating ritual, “Challenge was given and lawfully accepted, let no one interfere”; in “You Are Cordially Invited,” the writers steal, “By tradition, the male is accompanied by his closest friends” for Kal’Hyah and the declaration by the senior alien that those friends are welcome to leave the ritual without harm to themselves.
It’s as if, despite an obsession with Klingon macho culture, they can’t be bothered to come up with unique ideas for it. A lot of people seem to feel those borrowings are minor grievances, and the lines actually seem more Klingon than Vulcan anyway, which is fair. But the idea that every major species in the galaxy treat women primarily as property is enormously problematic, not just from a writing standpoint. The logical Vulcans and warrior Klingons can share wedding symbolism because when it comes to marriage, the relations seem very similar. The Klingon creation myth is also similar to the Christian one in which woman is created so that man is not lonely; she exists first and foremost for him, not as an entity unto herself. I don’t know why I complain so much about Ferengi treatment of women when the Klingons aren’t much better. Though it’s obvious that Sirella has power within her household because she has power over Martok, it’s much less clear whether she would have any autonomy if her husband didn’t love her or treat her as an equal in the home. And outside the home, she has no power at all; the House bears his name, he is the one who invited Worf to become a member, she can’t inherit his seat on the High Council even if every one of his good ideas originally comes out of her mouth. The domestic history that Dax recites concerns whether Sirella is descended from a princess or a courtesan, not about anything that the female ancestors did in their own right. And Dax is supposed to demonstrate that she can cook and make home crafts – not to prove her prowess in a knife battle? I’d think the fact that she challenged Sirella physically would be a point in her favor! No wonder the Duras Sisters were frustrated unto galactic revolution.
I don’t blame Dax for her individual choices, deciding to show that she loves this man by accepting his culture, warts and all – as a Jew married to a Christian, I get that sometimes you smile through a ritual that conflicts with your own beliefs, something I noted the first time I watched this episode more than a decade of marriage ago – but Dax doesn’t ask Worf to compromise at all, treating basic communication from him as if it’s a concession. Why is it all about his family, his son? Does Dax not have a single relative she’d want to witness these nuptials or at least to congratulate her? She never says so. For Worf – who didn’t even know Klingon death rituals on Picard’s Enterprise and had to be taught by visiting Klingons, though we’re told here that he has always dreamed of a traditional Klingon wedding – to demand blind obedience from his bride really grates, because he won’t even take the time to ask how she feels, to find out why, to share his own hopes and needs aloud. I could forgive everything if he phrased it not as insistence on tradition but as his own compulsion to conform after being exiled, telling her how important it is to him to be a part of the House of Martok, asking her to share that honor with him, not as Curzon who was a Klingon insider but as Jadzia who like Worf understands what it is to feel banished from one’s own people. I believe that she loves Worf, but I wish the writers would show us why, instead of dismissing it as sex appeal and being bored after many Trill lifetimes with mates from her own culture. I can’t help thinking during the scene in which Sisko confronts her that the two of them might make a much more interesting couple.
Tags: Retro Review