“To the Death”
Written by Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by LeVar Burton
Season 4, Episode 22
Production episode 40514-496
Original air date: May 13, 1996
Station log: The Defiant returns from driving Breen privateers away from a Bajoran colony to find that the station has been attacked. The top of one of the upper pylons has been completely blown off. Kira reports that a Jem’Hadar strike team beamed in from a civilian transport, blew off the top of the pylon, and then stole a bunch of stuff from the science lab. They were gone before anybody knew what hit them.
Sisko takes the Defiant after them, as their ion trail is still traceable. It leads to the wormhole, so they cloak as soon as they reach the Gamma Quadrant. Dax tracks a badly damaged Jem’Hadar warship, broadcasting a distress signal. Sisko beams the seven survivors on board, and they’re greeted by six security guards, Sisko, Worf, and Odo—and their weapons have been removed in transport.
The survivors include six Jem’Hadar and one Vorta, Weyoun. First Omet’iklan wants to kill everyone on board, but Weyoun restrains him (barely). The same Jem’Hadar who attacked the station attacked the Jem’Hadar ship. In private conference with Sisko, Weyoun reveals that the Jem’Hadar who attacked the station and the ship are renegades. Dominion scientists discovered an Iconian gateway on Vandros IV, and the Jem’Hadar guards killed the scientists and are now trying to complete construction of the gateway (the stuff they stole from DS9 will help them in that goal). Weyoun doesn’t have time to bring in reinforcements, and he needs to keep the loyal Jem’Hadar from learning about the gateway for fear of their joining the renegades. If the renegades do control an Iconian gateway, they could take over the Dominion within a year. Weyoun also admits that the Jem’Hadar’s genetic compulsion to obey the Founders is a bit overstated—that’s why they need to be addicted to ketracel-white.
Understanding the danger to the Federation if the Jem’Hadar get the ability to go anywhere in the galaxy they want, Sisko agrees. The crew isn’t thrilled about the notion of working with the Jem’Hadar, but they don’t really have a choice.
Sisko meets with Omet’iklan in private first, making it clear that it’s his ship, he’s in charge, and both Omet’iklan and Weyoun will follow his lead on the mission. Omet’iklan agrees, at least until the renegades are destroyed. After that, all bets are off.
The base is covered in a dome made of neutronium, so they can’t attack from orbit (the only way to be sure). A ground assault is their remaining option. During the briefing, the Jem’Hadar talk trash at both Odo and Worf, and in the latter case Worf and Toman’torax almost come to blows before Sisko and Omet’iklan stop them.
They run drills on the Defiant. In one drill, they can’t secure the room—a third Jem’Hadar hadn’t yet unshrouded. After the simulation ends in failure, Omet’iklan states that there was no third Jem’Hadar, and they should’ve armed the explosive and stayed behind if the room wasn’t secure, thus exposing the difference in Starfleet tactics vs. Jem’Hadar tactics, as the latter are willing to die to achieve victory.
Omet’iklan insists that they have mixed teams, but Weyoun says that isn’t practical, at which point Omet’iklan drops the bombshell: he and his men know all about the gateways. Weyoun is stunned, and Sisko agrees to mixed teams.
Worf, Dax, Odo, and O’Brien are eating in the mess hall and gossiping when Omet’iklan comes in with a case containing the white. There’s a ritual involved with the distribution of fresh vials of white. Omet’iklan speaks his part with feeling; Weyoun speaks his part by rote and with annoyance that they interrupted his meal.
Toman’torax then taunts O’Brien, and Worf comes to his defense, leading to a brawl. Sisko confines Worf to quarters. Omet’iklan’s punishment is harsher: he snaps Toman’torax’s neck. Omet’iklan is disgusted at Sisko’s weakness, and promises to kill him when the mission ends.
Weyoun approaches Odo, telling him that his people want him to come home, regardless of what he’s done. They still love him, and Weyoun can get him back to his people. Odo refuses, even though Weyoun sees through his denial that he wants to go home (something it took Garak an entire torture session to learn).
Worf found out that Omet’iklan threatened Sisko. (Sisko comments that he didn’t think it was public knowledge, and Worf just looks at him and says, “You told Commander Dax,” which Sisko admits to explaining how it became public knowledge.) Worf advises Sisko not to go on the away mission, even though he knows Sisko won’t take the advice, and also promises to avenge Sisko’s death, should Omet’iklan succeed in his wishes.
The Defiant arrives at Vandros. O’Brien distributes weapons to everyone, even the Jem’Hadar. However, when they beam down, the phasers don’t work. Dax theorizes that the gateway is putting out a dampening field. They’re then ambushed by Jem’Hadar fighting with kar’takins—swords, basically. Omet’iklan’s people and Worf have edged weapons of their own, and they’re able to defeat the ambush, but two Starfleet security guards are killed. Everyone grabs a kar’takin and they continue with the assault. Worf, Odo, Dax, Virak’kara, and the rest create a diversion, allowing Sisko, Omet’iklan, and O’Brien to get to the gateway and set off the explosive. Along the way, Sisko saves Omet’iklan’s life, at the cost of the use of his right arm, which confuses the crap out of the Jem’Hadar.
Once the explosion goes off, Weyoun beams down, thrilled that the mission is a success. The phasers all work now, so as soon as Weyoun appears, Omet’iklan vaporizes the Vorta for questioning their loyalty. Omet’iklan remains behind to track down the remaining renegades, and leaves Sisko alive.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Neutronium was first mentioned in “The Doomsday Machine” on the original series. It’s supposed to be material made from a collapsed neutron star, which would make it so heavy that it can’t possibly be constructed on a planet, as no planetary crust could possibly support it.
The Sisko is of Bajor: Sisko gets to navigate the treacherous waters of a temporary alliance with the Dominion, and it’s to his credit that he’s never not in control of the situation. (Probably the most amusing is when Sisko reveals that he knows about the gateways, and Weyoun is completely shocked, as he obviously didn’t expect the lowly Federation to know anything about that.)
The slug in your belly: Dax and O’Brien have two sweet conversations. The first is about how Molly is crawling into bed with the O’Briens all the time now that Keiko is pregnant. They later discuss letters that they write to their loved ones on the eve of battle in case they don’t come home.
There is no honor in being pummeled: Worf has a favorite seat in the Defiant mess hall. When Bashir sits in it, Worf gives him a death glare until the doctor moves. He’s in the same seat later before he and Toman’torax get into their brawl.
Preservation of matter and energy is for wimps: Worf carries Odo around as a bag, meant to distract the Jem’Hadar and make them think Worf has the explosives, and then using him as an ace in the hole when they’re outnumbered.
Rules of Acquisition: Quark is worried when the upper pylon is destroyed, because Rom—in his new capacity as a Bajoran Militia engineer—was supposed to be working on an upper pylon, but Kira assures him that he’s okay.
Victory is life: Virak’kara reveals that Jem’Hadar don’t eat (the white provides nourishment), don’t rest, don’t have sex (they’re hatched in a lab and become mature in a few days, which matches what we saw in “The Abandoned”), and rarely live to be teenagers. Jem’Hadar over twenty are considered honored elders, and no Jem’Hadar has lived for thirty years.
Tough little ship: Almost all the action of the episode takes place on the Defiant, and they use the ship to perform battle drills, though the ship doesn’t get to show off all that much though, unlike last time, they only use the cloaking device in the Gamma Quadrant like they’re supposed to.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: When Dax discovers that the Jem’Hadar don’t have any form of recreation, she figures that she’d be angry, too, if that was all to her life.
Keep your ears open: “I am First Omet’iklan, and I am dead. As of this moment, we are all dead. We go into battle to reclaim our lives. This we do gladly, for we are Jem’Hadar. Remember, victory is life.”
“Victory is life.”
“Such a delightful people.”
“I am Chief Miles Edward O’Brien. I’m very much alive and I intend to stay that way.”
Omet’iklan revealing the Jem’Hadar pre-battle oath, his troops responding, Weyoun making snide commentary, O’Brien providing his rebuttal to his own people, and Sisko giving a coda.
Welcome aboard: Jeffrey Combs returns for his third role, having played Tiron in “Meridian” and the recurring role of Brunt, now playing Weyoun. Despite being killed at the end, he was so impressive in the role that they brought him back (and established that Vorta are cloned) in “Ties of Blood and Water.”
Brian Thompson, having previously played Inglatu in “Rules of Acquisition,” as well as Klag in TNG’s “A Matter of Honor” and another Klingon in Generations, returns as Toman’torax. He’ll next be seen on Enterprise as a Romulan (also alongside Jeffrey Combs in a recurring role, there as Shran) in the three-parter that starts with “Babel One.” Scott Haven plays Virak’kara; he’ll be back in Voyager as a Kazon and First Contact as a security guard.
Finally, the great Clarence Williams III knocks it out of the park as Omet’iklan
Trivial matters: The Iconian gateways were first mentioned in TNG’s “Contagion.” Worf makes reference to his part in the events of that episode at one point. The gateways were also central to the Gateways novel crossover event in 2001, which included your humble rewatcher’s novel Demons of Air and Darkness and the novellas Horn and Ivory and Here There Be Monsters.
This is the first time we hear the Jem’Hadar battle oath, spoken as they are about to go into battle. It’s also the first time we see the kar’takin, though it won’t be named until “Sons and Daughters.”
Amusingly, almost two years after the species’ introduction, it’s finally verified that the Vorta of whom Ornithar spoke in “The Search, Part I” are actually the same species that Eris (“The Jem’Hadar”) and Borath (“The Search, Part II”) are part of.
An alternate timeline version of Omet’iklan is seen in your humble rewatcher’s A Gutted World in Myriad Universes: Echoes and Refractions, where he’s in the vanguard of a Dominion invasion of the Alpha Quadrant. The character won’t be seen again onscreen, but will be cited again by Sisko in “Rocks and Shoals,” as well as the novel Fearful Symmetry by Olivia Woods, and by Ezri Dax in the novel Avatar by S.D. Perry.
This episode was filmed after “The Quickening,” but aired first.
Walk with the Prophets: “Then receive this reward from the Founders, may it keep you strong.” This is a remarkably solid action piece that includes some of the show’s best character work. There’s nothing overwhelmingly game-changing here, though we do get some good insights into the Vorta, the Jem’Hadar, and the Vorta-Jem’Hadar dynamic.
The other two Vorta we saw were both trying to be something else—Eris was posing as a prisoner, Borath as a Founder. In Weyoun we see our first workaday Vorta, and he’s magnificently slimy, the perfect bureaucrat. He obviously has contempt for everyone around him, yet either sucks up to them (Sisko, Odo), is witheringly dismissive of them (Omet’iklan), or ignores them (everyone else). Jeffrey Combs is simply superb in the role, and I’m so glad that they would contrive a way to bring him back.
As for the Jem’Hadar, we get our most in-depth look at them as something other than big, scary monsters. This is, at heart, a military unit, one that’s fanatical to a degree we’re not used to, but also still individuals who are smart and tough. The three Jem’Hadar we meet in depth are all distinct personalities. Omet’iklan is the wise, ruthless leader, the brutal strategist, the loyal soldier—but his loyalty is to the Founders, not the Vorta, whom he holds in obvious contempt. Toman’torax is a blowhard—pretty much the exact Jem’Hadar you’d expect Brian Thompson to play—who lets his anger and emotions get the better of him. Virak’kara is the eager young guy who wants to do everything he can to make himself a better soldier. Too often, you learn too much about a bad guy and they lose their teeth (Voyager suffered this problem with both the Borg and the Hirogen), but learning more about the Jem’Hadar just makes them scarier.
But what makes this episode an absolute delight is the interaction. This ensemble has come together beautifully, and the banter mixes in nicely with the action. There’s the brief conflict over Worf’s seat in the mess hall (though the funniest line is Dax urging Bashir not to sit there, and Bashir’s instinctive question is, “Did Miles spill something again?”). Once the plot kicks in, it’s mostly Dax and O’Brien who provide the entertaining levity, either together (the line about the get-to-know-you buffet after the briefing) or separately (Dax’s conversation with Virak’kara, O’Brien’s response to the Jem’Hadar pre-battle ritual).
The callback to “Contagion” is a nice touch. It’s not a vital connection to make, and the episode doesn’t do much with it—it’s just a Maguffin, just as it was in the TNG episode—but it’s a nice nod to the greater Trek universe, and it beats pulling yet another ancient race out of their asses. Much better to use an existing one.
What costs the episode a higher rating (though not by much) is the fact that a friggin piece of the station was blown clean off, and after the beginning of Act 1, it’s totally forgotten about. That’s kind of a big deal, and sets the episode up for something other than what it is. What it winds up being is fine, but it just feels like something that big shouldn’t just be abandoned never to be mentioned again.
Warp factor rating: 8
Keith R.A. DeCandido reminds everyone that he has a bunch of stuff coming out in the next few months: his latest Star Trek book, The Klingon Art of War; two anthologies that have Cassie Zukav stories in them, Out of Tune (edited by Jonathan Maberry) and Bad-Ass Faeries: It’s Elemental (edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Jeffrey Lyman, L. Jagi Lamplighter, and Lee C. Hillman); an essay for the book New Worlds, New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics; a short story in the superhero anthology With Great Power; and the “Merciless” adventure for the Firefly role-playing game Echoes of War. If you’re not following Keith on Facebook or Twitter or reading his blog, why the heck not??????