On a dangerous away mission, Worf must choose between rescuing a Starfleet informant and saving Dax’s life.
Plot Summary: Worf bets on Dax in a tongo game and doesn’t mind when he loses to O’Brien, but their romantic night is cut short by a summons from Kira, who tells them that a Cardassian working for Starfleet Intelligence must be rescued. Because the Defiant is doing maneuvers with other ships, Worf and Dax take a runabout, arguing about honeymoon plans while they travel to Soukara, where they must land because Dominion technology will not permit the informant to beam out. Because Dax must hide the ship far from the enemy base, she and Worf have to hike through the Soukaran jungle to retrieve the informant. During the night, a Jem’Hadar squadron finds them and Dax is gravely wounded. Meanwhile, O’Brien is irritated by Quark’s smugness even though he won a bet on the Ferengi and recruits Bashir to challenge Quark in tongo, but despite his enhanced intelligence, Bashir is distracted when Quark suggests that in losing Dax to Worf, Bashir may have lost his one true chance at happiness. Though Dax is hemorrhaging, she keeps moving to evade more Jem’Hadar patrols until finally she is unable to stand. Due to the critical nature of their mission, she tells Worf that he must put duty first and find the Cardassian without her. Worf is highly agitated and eventually returns to rescue her instead. On the station, Sisko informs Worf that the Cardassian operative has been killed and his information lost. Worf explains that he now understands the Klingon wedding story about how two united hearts can’t work apart, accepting that he will never be given his own command because of his choice. Sisko then adds that he would not have left his own wife in such a situation either, and when Dax asks Worf whether he’s in trouble, Worf tells her that she will always come before his career and everything else.
Analysis: “Change of Heart” is the episode that changed my mind about Worf and Dax’s romance, which had always bugged me before; indeed, it’s really the moment I decided I loved Worf on Deep Space Nine, even though his presence took screen time and important scenes away from Kira and other characters. Everything we’ve known previously about Worf suggests that, given a choice between duty – which for Worf has been nearly synonymous with honor – and love, he would choose the former, and part of me was even rooting for that, because Jadzia is a very unlikely damsel in distress who’d surely come up with a way to save herself and the Dax symbiont. But there’s no denying how moving it is to watch Worf realize he’s been wrong about…well, pretty much everything, because his choice to forsake duty to rescue the woman he loves has implications for his relationships with Alexander, with his human “brother” and with everyone he’s ever criticized for having a code of personal ethics that doesn’t perfectly match his own (which at times has included pretty much all of his Enterprise crewmates and the entire Romulan race). The irony is that if Dax or Kira, even Troi or Crusher, had made such an emotional choice to choose love over duty, it would have bothered me a lot, because that’s a stereotype about women, that they’ll choose their hearts over their heads every time – it was a major issue for Janeway, verbalized aloud by Seska and later by Seven of Nine, in a way that it never was for Picard or Sisko. (Kirk sacrificing his ship and his position as admiral to bring Spock back from the dead is an even more flamboyant gesture than Worf’s, but then, as the recent Into Darkness confirms, Kirk and Spock have always been the most epic love story in the franchise.)
“Change of Heart” is as notable for what’s not included as for what is. We don’t see the Worf who can’t stop talking about his people and his honor, nor the Dax who prefers Klingon culture to her own and who likes to be beaten as a sexual turn-on. Instead we see a married couple who instead of falling into routines are more crazy about each other than ever, who kiss and make love amidst furs and silks instead of growling Klingon words and throwing things at each other, who are sensitive about one another’s touchy subjects and comfortable being teased. Worf is so happy that he doesn’t mind if other people can see it – not just Dax, but O’Brien and Quark as well. It’s like he realizes that he no longer needs to be the biggest, baddest Klingon of them all, nor the most manly, macho guy around, because Dax knows it’s a performance and what’s more she’s always known and fell in love with him anyway. Even though Worf is purportedly in command of the rescue mission, he defers to Dax on every major decision – she’s the one to decide where and how to meet the Cardassian, she’s the one who insists on walking when he wants to stop to treat her injuries. From a Starfleet standpoint, a lot of bad decisions get made – I’m confused why Worf isn’t on the Defiant in the first place, I’m surprised Kira would send a husband-and-wife team (though admittedly that probably happened more than once in the Bajoran militia), I’m astonished no redshirts accompany them in case of just such eventualities as Jem’Hadar or the need to hack through alien jungle, I’m curious why a science officer is deemed more important for this rescue than a doctor – but obviously those can all be explained as set-up to leave Worf alone to make the critical decision.
Sisko’s explanation that Starfleet can’t court-martial Worf doesn’t quite ring true either, since the Cardassian double agent is already dead, but it’s obvious the writers want Worf to suffer significant long-term consequences while at the same time maintaining the status quo on the series. I think that most of us are with Sisko, though: even if Worf has made a big mistake, even if he will never follow Sisko to the captaincy, even if Worf has forsaken his duty and by extension his honor, we’re glad Worf chooses as he does. We’ve seen over and over in this franchise the conflict between what’s phrased as Vulcan philosophy, the needs of the many outweighing the few, versus compassion, in which sometimes the one becomes all that matters. The ethical choice isn’t as simple as logic, nor as Starfleet trains its officers to believe; we’ve repeatedly seen junior officers risk an entire crew to save a senior officer, and would any of us want to serve under a leader who could never decide that loyalty to one individual was worth putting others at risk? The lives that may be lost because the Federation can’t pinpoint the Changelings are abstract compared to the fact of Dax’s fate if Worf doesn’t save her. If it seems cheap of the writers to try to overstate her value by having Bashir suddenly mooning over her when for years now he’s seemed reconciled to the idea that they’ll only ever be friends, it also emphasizes how much she matters to so many other people. When Worf waves away her apologies and thanks, only wanting to hear that Dax loves him as he loves her, it’s suddenly clear why he deserves her more than Bashir or Quark or Sisko. Looking back now that we know what spurred the storyline – that the writers knew Terry Farrell intended to leave the show, that Worf is about to be launched into a storyline involving devastating loss – it’s even more poignant and powerful.