Kurn, an outcast among Klingons because of Worf’s behavior, asks his brother to perform a ritual execution so that he may die honorably.
Plot Summary: While Worf practices Klingon martial arts with Jadzia, he is summoned by Odo to deal with a visiting drunken Klingon who turns out to be Kurn, Worf’s brother. Because Worf’s dishonor after siding with the Federation during the Dominion conflict has made Kurn an outcast among the Klingons, Kurn wants Worf to give him an honorable death. Worf reluctantly agrees, but when Quark tells Dax that he sold Worf a particular type of Klingon incense, she guesses what he is planning and races with Odo to rescue Kurn just as Worf delivers the death blow. Bashir saves Kurn’s life and Sisko threatens to dismiss Worf from Starfleet, but the captain has bigger Klingon problems, for Kira and O’Brien have discovered cloaked ships engaging in supposed military exercises that turn out to be a pretext for setting a minefield to cut off the wormhole and the Dominion – plus Bajor and DS9 – from the rest of the Federation. While Kurn accepts a job on Odo’s security force, Kira and O’Brien come across a damaged Klingon ship and tow its injured crew back to the station. Still hoping to die, Kurn allows himself to be attacked by a freighter captain, but when he learns that Worf knows about the minefield, he agrees to help disable it by beaming in disguise onto the damaged Klingon ship after Worf convinces him that Gowron’s plan is both dishonorable and a threat to the Empire. While finding the coordinates of the mines, Kurn is forced to shoot a Klingon who discovers him, which he feels adds to his disgrace. Worf is upset to learn that the Klingon officer planned to kill him and expresses his fear that he has become too human to live among his own people. When Worf discovers that Kurn is planning to kill himself and die in dishonor rather than live as an outcast, he contacts a family friend and asks Bashir to erase Kurn’s genetic markers and familial memories so that Kurn can be told he has amnesia and is a member of the House of Noggra. Kurn departs as Rodek, an honored Klingon who does not remember Worf, while Worf gives up his last tie to the House of Mogh and the Klingon Empire.
Analysis: Poor Worf. First the writers uproot him from the Enterprise to put him on Deep Space Nine, then they decide to sever his ties to all the Klingons who have been important to him in the past – he has made an enemy of Gowron, and his brother is so miserable about the family’s shame that Kurn doesn’t want to live. I’ve always been ambivalent about the violent, patriarchal group-think of Klingon honor, so it’s nice to see an episode that shows I’m not the only one, since the inherent schisms in Klingon society are exposed. Worf and Kurn are supposed to be loyal to the Council, but when Gowron is leading the Empire into folly, their first obligation is to the Klingon people, not their leaders, who get their positions of power via inheritance, sanctioned violence against those who previously held them, or sucking up to those at the top…neither a logical nor a stable situation. Yet for all my disdain for many aspects of Klingon society, it’s presented to us as a given. This is a civilization that has been thriving for centuries. While it may be appropriate for Sisko the Starfleet captain to yell at Worf for carrying out a ritual that fits Starfleet’s definition of murder, which should never have taken place on a space station that follows Bajoran law, I’m not sure it’s appropriate for Sisko the Federation citizen to judge a time-honored Klingon ritual that holds great spiritual meaning for the participants – or, if he must judge it as Worf’s commanding officer, to say things like, “I don’t give a damn about Klingon beliefs, rituals or custom.” The Federation and the Klingons may be near to a state of war at the moment, but I’m not sure how much leeway that gives the Federation to tell Klingons who live within its borders what to do, and the subject becomes even thornier when they are allies.
Like the Prime Directive, the autonomy of Federation worlds is a topic on which Star Trek has been vague and contradictory. Yes, there have to be some standards enforced for everyone living within the Federation regardless of their backgrounds – no murder, no theft, no rape, the same basic laws that are widely agreed upon as the hallmarks of civilized societies in our own era, though what counts as “murder” and “theft” are often up for wide debate – but how does the Federation deal with issues that have been thorny for centuries before and clearly haven’t been solved in the 24th century? Do member worlds have to agree to common standards on assisted suicide, infant body modification (everything from circumcision to cybernetic implants), euthanasia, augmentation, abortion? We have not seen any sort of consistency; we have seen planets where people’s sexuality has been repressed without more outrage than Riker’s personal bitterness over a lover brainwashed to a planetary norm, and we have seen planets where Kirk’s moral outrage over a rigidly hierarchical society became the justification for society-changing intervention. Which brings us back to the Klingons. It is extremely rare for anyone besides a Klingon woman to express outrage at the lower status of Klingon women, yet it is extremely common for Starfleet officers to make cracks about Klingon customs and Klingon rituals, and Sisko’s “I don’t give a damn” isn’t far off Riker’s reaction when Worf, the only Klingon on the Enterprise, asks for help ending his life rather than living in a permanent state of paralysis. There’s both inconsistency and hostility toward Worf and Quark both; it’s no wonder Bajorans are so ambivalent about coming under the Federation’s umbrella of protection on the one hand and oversight on the other. What is perhaps most disturbing is the degree to which Worf considers the dominant values not Federation, but human. He always speaks of his inner conflict as occurring between his Klingon and Human backgrounds. Are Federation values still so identified with “Human” values?
I would have loved to see some discussion of this among Sisko’s crew, which is the most diverse of any on Star Trek. Despite being an outsider by birth, Odo is the one most determined to follow the letter of Federation law, while Dax, with her long experience of Klingon culture, argues with Sisko that he needs to understand Klingon beliefs. (The fact that the episode hints even at this early stage that she may be romantically interested in Worf unhappily undercuts her long history as Curzon of immersion in Klingon culture.) The scenes in which the brothers debate the meaning of Klingon honor and their obligations both to their leaders and to their principles are moving yet feel redundant; it’s much of the same debate from “Ethics” when Worf wanted to die rather than live without the strength of his body, rather than the much bigger issues of why so many supposedly honorable Klingons act like bullies and selfish brats. In the end, Worf is unhappy to find himself back in the state in which we first met him – a Klingon raised on Earth, entirely detached from the heritage by which he is judged by everyone who sees his forehead ridges. With Alexander living outside Klingon culture, Kurn turned into a stranger, and the other best-known Klingon in the franchise at the time, B’Elanna Torres, being half-human, I get the feeling that even the writers aren’t sure what to do with the Klingons and the difficulties they pose except as combatants. The Federation used to fight the Klingons from the outside, killing one another until the Organian Peace Treaty made a hot war cold; now the struggle seems internal, as the Federation assimilates people like Worf and Alexander and Torres. Even Kira doesn’t seem to regard them as enemy combatants, despite the fact that they blew up a delegation of Bajoran diplomats last week and Dukat invited her on a personal mission of vengeance. Again, I say, poor Worf. No wonder he doesn’t know who he’s supposed to be.