“The Sword of Kahless”
Written by Richard Danus and Hans Beimler
Directed by LeVar Burton
Season 4, Episode 8
Production episode 40514-481
Original air date: November 20, 1995
Station log: Kor is captivating Quark’s Bar with the story of the Battle of Korma Pass where he, Kang, and Koloth defeated T’nag’s army and feasted on his heart together. (“Big heart,” Dax adds at the end.) Most of the bar is enthralled, even the skeptical Odo, Bashir, and Kira (O’Brien chides them, saying who cares if it’s realistic, he tells it well). Worf is sitting off to the side, equally enthralled, but keeping his distance because he feels his presence would dishonor Kor. Dax doesn’t have any of that and insists on introducing him.
At first Kor seems to justify Worf’s fear, calling Worf a traitor, a pariah, the lowest of the low—and then smiles and says it’s a pleasure to meet him. Any enemy of Gowron and the High Council is a friend of his. Worf fangoobers him a bit, and then Kor announces that he’s on a quest that will put his past glory to shame: he seeks the Sword of Kahless, the first bat’leth ever forged. It’s been lost for a thousand years, but Kor was given a shroud by a Vulcan archaeologist who found it on a survey in the Gamma Quadrant. (Kor was Klingon ambassador to Vulcan at the time.) It has Hur’q markings—the Hur’q invaded Qo’noS over a millennium ago, and one of the things they pillaged was the Sword of Kahless.
Kor needs Dax to authenticate the shroud (there have been hundreds of fake shrouds over the centuries), which she promises to do in the morning when she’s not tipsy from bloodwine. If it is real, then the three of them will go after it, as returning the artifact to the empire would, legendarily, bring a new age of prosperity and honor to the Klingon people.
After Dax goes to bed, Kor and Worf stay up drinking, first in Quark’s, then in Worf’s quarters after Quark kicks them out. Kor stumbles back to his quarters, only to be attacked by a Lethean. The next morning, Dax finds him unconscious on the deck. (“Couldn’t find the bed?”) Kor blames Quark’s replicated bloodwine, having forgotten the Lethean; Dax, for her part, has confirmed the shroud’s authenticity. Worf and Dax ask Sisko for a runabout to take to the Gamma Quadrant to the world where the Vulcans found the shroud. Sisko gives permission, figuring that two Starfleet officers bringing the Sword back will go a long way toward repairing the Federation and the empire’s relationship.
The trio hare off in the Rio Grande, with Kor giving a quick benediction, setting forth into “the eye of destiny” before they head through the wormhole.
When they arrive at the planet, Kor provides a map based on the Vulcans’ survey. There’s a chamber surrounded by a force field, which is where the Sword, along with other artifacts the Hur’q plundered, should be. (Dax is mildly peevish that Kor neglected to mention the force field before.)
They beam down and break through the force field to a stale-aired chamber—but when they get inside, the place has been ransacked. However, Worf discovers another force field, disguised as a wall, that hasn’t been opened. He and Dax are able to make the force field permeable by faking Hur’q lifesign readings.
And there on the other side is the Sword of Kahless. Worf insists that Kor should be the first to hold it. After he holds it aloft, he hands it to Worf.
They turn to leave, only to find several Klingons and the Lethean waiting for them. The Klingons are led by Toral, son of Duras, who heard Kor drunkenly tell a tavern about the shroud. So Toral sent the Lethean after Kor to telepathically get all the details, and then they followed the runabout and waited for them to get the Sword. Toral plans to use the Sword to rule the empire. But Worf, Dax, and Kor aren’t pushovers, and they fight their way past Toral and his people, though Worf is wounded. Worf knocks over the force field disruptor on their way out, trapping Toral and his people in the chamber.
Dax treats Worf’s wound. Toral’s jamming communications, so they can’t beam back to the runabout. When Worf tells Kor what happened at the end of “Redemption II,” he’s livid, as Worf sparing Toral’s life led to this mess. Worf angrily reminds Kor that if he hadn’t gotten drunk and babbled about the quest, there would be no mess.
They continue through the caves, working their way toward the surface so they can break through the jamming. When they stop for dinner (feasting on an animal they killed in the cave), Worf and Kor start arguing even more, with Kor dismissing Emperor Kahless (and Worf’s role in installing him) and Worf dismissing Kor as a useless old drunk. Kor also comes within a hairsbreadth of declaring his intention to use the Sword to rule the empire, just like Toral.
While Dax changes Worf’s bandages, Worf starts to think that finding the Sword is his destiny, that his entire life has led to this moment. He even thinks he felt the spirit of Kahless guiding his hand when he held it.
At one point, as they’re traversing a treacherous ridge, Kor slips and falls. Worf grabs the Sword, but he only has one good arm and even with Dax supporting him, it’s hard to hold Kor’s weight. Worf insists there’s a ledge right below him, but Kor refuses to believe it’s there. They pull him up, and Kor then sees the ledge is tiny. They almost come to blows, but Dax stops them, and insists that she hold the Sword until they get to the surface.
They pause to rest, but neither Worf nor Kor is willing to sleep, as they don’t trust the other. Dax, for her part, is exhausted, and sleeps—with her phaser out, making it clear that she’s fed up with both of them.
After a few hours, Worf and Kor lose it and come to blows—but before they can kill each other, Toral and his minions show up. Both Kor and Worf use the Sword at different points in the battle, but once they win, they’re back to fighting each other for the Sword. As they try to choke each other, Dax finally does what she probably should’ve done hours earlier and stuns both of them, then gets one of Toral’s minions to cut the jamming.
Apparently a phaser on stun was just what they needed. Worf believes they should beam the Sword into space, that the Klingon people aren’t ready for it yet. Kor reluctantly agrees, and they beam it away.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? When Dax and Worf break through the force field, Worf actually really and truly suggests reversing the polarity—and it works!
The slug in your belly: Dax is put in the unenviable role of peacemaker between her new colleague and her old friend when both of them start to act like crazy people. You get the impression that the notion of stunning both of them only didn’t get executed sooner because she didn’t want to leave them behind for Toral and they’re too heavy to carry.
There is no honor in being pummeled. Most of the fourth-season scripts were green-lit before Michael Dorn’s joining the cast was finalized, so—aside from “The Way of the Warrior”—Worf’s role in the episodes to date were marginal or relegated to a B-plot. This was the first story that was commenced after Dorn’s arrival was settled, so it was decided to give him a spotlight.
Rules of Acquisition. Quark, having apparently forgotten about the events of “The House of Quark,” complains to Worf that what he likes best about Klingon stories is nothing. “Lots of people die and nobody makes any profit.”
Keep your ears open. “I am on a quest—a quest for the most revered icon in Klingon history.”
“An icon that predates the Klingon Empire. An icon more sacred than the Torch of G’boj.”
“More revered than Sabak’s armor, and more coveted than the emperor’s crown.”
“The Sword of Kahless?”
“You told me not to tell anybody.”
Kor telling Worf what he’s up to, with Dax trying in vain to remind him about discretion.
Welcome aboard. The big guest is, of course, John Colicos, back as Kor following “Blood Oath”; he’ll return in “Once More Unto the Breach” in season 7. In addition, Rick Pasqualone plays Toral—the character was previously played by J.D. Cullum in the “Redemption” two-parter on TNG—and assistant stunt coordinator Tom Morga plays the Lethean.
Trivial matters: This episode picks up on themes from several previous episodes, notably “Blood Oath” (Dax and Kor’s friendship) and “The Way of the Warrior” (Worf’s exile from the Klingon Empire and the sundering of the Khitomer Accords), as well as the TNG episodes “Rightful Heir” (the installation of the clone of Kahless as emperor) and the “Redemption” two-parter (Worf’s previous encounter with Toral).
The story was partly inspired by The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and partly by the Indiana Jones movies. The original draft had Worf, Dax, and Kor dealing with booby traps and the like in the caves, right out of the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but those were cut as filming those sequences would have added a day to filming, a day they couldn’t really spare.
Letheans were first seen in “Distant Voices.”
Worf mentions wanting to hear about Kor’s battle with Kirk at Organia, a reference to Kor’s first appearance in the original series’ “Errand of Mercy.” Worf’s childhood vision of Kahless telling him he would do something no Klingon had ever done before was first mentioned in TNG’s “Rightful Heir.”
The Hur’q invasion will be mentioned again in Enterprise’s “Affliction,” and the versions of the Hur’q themselves are seen in the duology The Left Hand of Destiny by J.G. Hertzler & Jeffrey Lang and the videogame Invasion. It’s in the former duology that the Sword of Kahless is retrieved from where Worf, Kor, and Dax left it at the end of this episode, as Chancellor Martok uses it to help unite the empire after the Dominion War. He has continued to wield it in the post-war 24th-century fiction since. (The Sword is also retrieved by Worf under different circumstances in the videogame Armada.)
Walk with the Prophets. “A true warrior has no need to exaggerate his feats.” There were a lot of complaints when this episode aired by people who were expecting there to be some kind of technobabble explanation for why Kor and Worf were acting like crazy people: a virus on the Sword, something left behind on the Sword by the Hur’q, something in the air on the planet.
The people who made those complaints have, sadly, failed their saving roll versus folklore.
One of my favorite movies is The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the John Huston movie in which three Americans (among them Fred C. Dobbs, played by Humphrey Bogart) travel into the mountains of Mexico to try to dig for gold. As soon as they strike gold, the camaraderie among the three of them turns ugly. In the end, one character (Dobbs) is killed, another is badly wounded, and the gold is lost forever. But what makes the movie so effective is how these three men, two of whom are destitute and reduced to begging on the street at the film’s opening, turn into paranoid crazed lunatics as soon as they strike it rich. The notion of becoming wealthy for the first time in their lives corrupts them.
For Klingons, though, it isn’t the pursuit of currency that matters (something Quark points out right at the beginning). What Klingons value is storytelling, legend, myth. We’ve seen this in previous Klingon episodes, from Worf using the power of Klingon myth to turn the imprisoned Klingons on Carraya IV to his side in “Birthright, Part II,” to the powerful impact the clone of Kahless had in “Rightful Heir,” to repeated mentions of songs that will be sung and tales that will be told in honor of this battle or that from “Heart of Glory” all the way to “Blood Oath.” And just in case we’ve forgotten, we open the episode with Kor telling the ridiculously exaggerated tale of Kang, Koloth, and himself at Korma Pass defeating T’nag’s army single-handed (triple-handed?). As Bashir, Odo, and Kira all point out, the story’s absurd, but as O’Brien reminds them, he tells it well. It’s the legend that matters, the legend that enthralls an entire bar full of people, even the skeptics.
Then we get the greatest legend of all. We’ve known since way back in “The Savage Curtain” on the original series that Kahless is an important figure in Klingon history, and “Birthright, Part II” and “Rightful Heir” made his mythic status clear. The latter episode also told us that Kahless forged the first bat’leth, and here we get that artifact as the quest object. Lost for a thousand years, the legend that has grown up around the Sword of Kahless is great, no doubt in part because it was lost in the earliest days of the empire. Kor sells it at the greatest legend of them all.
So, of course, when they find it, both Kor and Worf see the possibilities, and they’re as devastating as the gold was to Fred C. Dobbs. Power corrupts, after all, and the Sword of Kahless represents power.
Toral’s presence helps enhance that, as he’s the first to introduce the notion of using the Sword for personal domain over the empire. We know Toral’s a bad guy because he’s the bastard son of Duras, a House that has been full of bad guys through several episodes of TNG, an episode of DS9, and a movie already (and will continue to be antagonistic in Enterprise). Of course, he’s evil; of course, he wants to use the Sword only for his own purpose.
But his ambitions aid in the corruption of Worf and Kor. They both start to see how they would be better stewards of the Sword. Nobody’s particularly happy with Gowron as chancellor, and Gowron’s actions have shown just how ceremonial the clone of Kahless’s position as emperor is, so the notion of taking power for oneself becomes more and more attractive.
Both of them know that this will change everything. Kor’s deeds are legendary, but he also spent 80 years of his life tracking down a single foe, and his best friends are dead. Bringing the Sword to the empire would bring back the glory of the past, give him one final triumph before he joins Kang and Koloth in Sto-Vo-Kor.
As for Worf, he’s been an outsider all his life, as he eloquently describes to Dax. Too Klingon to be human, too human to be Klingon, bringing the Sword to the empire may enable him to serve a purpose, instead of the aimlessness he has felt far too often, what with the destruction of the Enterprise and his second exile from his own people.
And that’s why power corrupts. None of the three people after the Sword are in it for the good of the empire, they’re in it for the glory, for the legend, to be the person who finds the Sword. That’s Klingon currency, and they each want it.
Only after Dax—who gets to play the role of the prospector, the closest thing Sierra Madre had to a voice of reason—phasers both of them do they come to their senses and leave the Sword behind.
The performances of the three leads in this are stupendous. Michael Dorn has come such a long way from the stiff he was in the first season of TNG, having learned to express himself very subtly—starting at the very beginning when he turns around hoping to see Kor only to be greatly disappointed and then disgusted to see that it’s Quark. His rants about Kor and what he is destined to do aren’t quite as crazed as they might be—John Colicos sells Kor’s lunacy better, in part because the character’s already over the top—but his telling Dax of his childhood difficulties is heartbreakingly understated.
Not that the episode’s perfect by any means. There’s a little too much wandering around in caves where more really needed to happen. Where J.D. Cullum’s Toral was a whiny little pretender, Rick Pasqualone’s version isn’t as pathetic as his predecessor, but that just makes him spectacularly uninteresting. Also some explanation of how he was able to mount his little expedition given his disgrace would’ve been nice. And Dax stays quiet far too often during Kor and Worf’s fights, which is out of character, and mainly serves to stretch those arguments out. Part of it may be Dax trying to balance loyalty between the two, but Dax is a busybody—seen at the very beginning where she practically throws Worf at Kor against the former’s better judgment—she should be intervening from jump, not after the argument has happened a few times. (Having said that, the moment where she shoots both of them is definitely a crowning moment of awesome, and also a huge relief.)
Still, this is a strong story that understands the power of, well, strong stories, of myth, of legend, and also of the power that they imbue objects with, and how that power can corrupt. Goodness knows there are plenty of examples of it in our own history…
Warp factor rating: 8
Keith R.A. DeCandido (who is at Mysticon 2014 this weekend with John “Q” deLancie, check his schedule here) is running a Kickstarter for a new story in the Dragon Precinct universe, featuring the characters of Gan Brightblade and his friends from that novel. He hopes you’ll support it, especially since there’s less than a week left—just two bucks will get you a copy of the story itself! If we reach $2500 there’ll be cookies! Details can be found here.