Thursday, January 19, 2017

Deep Space Nine 4x23 "To the Death"

rating: ***

the story: Renegade Jem'Hadar soldiers force Sisko and crew to team up with the Dominion to stop them before they do any real damage.

what it's all about: This is like "Hippocratic Oath" from the beginning of the season, but a thousand times improved, the idea of renegade Jem'Hadar integrated into a classic franchise story (think "Balance of Terror") about having to think of the enemy as someone other than the enemy, and thusly redeeming the idea at a time when the Dominion War still seemed avoidable.

This was a strange time for the series, the whole season, a period where the buildup of the previous season seemed to have stalled, and the subsequent serialized war far from a certainty.  Rather than war, the enemy seemed to be the good guys themselves, having been made so paranoid that they were willing to fight amongst themselves ("The Way of the Warrior," "Homefront"/"Paradise Lost") with the Dominion itself largely absent except in this curious pair of renegade Jem'Hadar episodes.  That the Founders waited, really, until the season finale ("Broken Link") to return left the Jem'Hadar, who had debuted as the face of the Dominion in an eponymous episode at the end of the second season, to carry the load, which initially looked like it was more of a challenge than it had any right to be.  So the first couple of Jem'Hadar episodes ("The Abandoned," "Oath") tried to spotlight them in isolation, which narratively only went so far.  The Vorta, who functioned as the Jem'Hadar's handlers and stand-ins for the Founders, didn't acquire a consistent face until this episode, at which point various clones of Weyoun became such a signature element of the series it's easy to once again to point to an episode of the fourth season, which seemed to vacillate so much in terms of how far it wanted to advance the series, as a pivotal developmental moment. 

Naturally, it's Jeffrey Combs, who had already appeared several times as Brunt, a Ferengi, behind the makeup, with the second of three definitive recurring franchise characters (later, Shran in Enterprise).  Weyoun, maybe more than even Dukat, made it very easy to like bad guys in this series!

What "To the Death" achieves, besides, is the chance to bring back the action element that seemed to be lacking in so many episodes of Deep Space Nine to this point, even though for all intents and purposes it was the Western of the franchise, which by definition always promised action.  The debut of the Dominion threat seemed to indicate that action would be more routinely integrated into the series, but it isn't until "Death" that someone remembered the Jem'Hadar's potential in that regard, after which they would become the integral embodiment of it they'd always seemed to be, and the most routine manifestation of the war in the later seasons.

Besides all that, there's also the plot device of the Iconian Gateway, last seen in Next Generation's "Contagion" and yet so similar to a similar element from the classic "City on the Edge of Forever," or even the Stargate franchise.  It's such an interesting element to throw into the story, a nod to the original idea for the season, which was to try and broaden the appeal of the series back to a point where more casual fans could get into it again. 

Aside from all that, it's just a fun episode to watch most the main characters participating in the same scenes, which in this series was never as much a given as it was in every other Star Trek, where a bridge scene could routinely do the same. 

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Casual fans should really have a kick out of this one.
  • series - Although it does a fair bit of Dominion groundwork, too.
  • character - Other than the debut of Weyoun, it's more of a cast episode than a spotlight for anyone in particular.
  • essential - Brings something that had been lacking back into the mix in a big way!
notable guest-stars:
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
Brian Thompson
Clarence Williams III

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