“Soldiers of the Empire”
Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by LeVar Burton
Season 5, Episode 21
Production episode 40510-519
Original air date: April 29, 1997
Station log: Martok is being treated for a training injury. Bashir lectures him on the subject of not accepting that he has a disability (to wit, his missing eye; he won’t get an ocular implant, either) and of turning the safeties off when he practices in the holosuite. He then gets a call from the High Council: they want him to take command of the I.K.S. Rotarran, a Bird-of-Prey, to rescue the I.K.S. B’Moth, which disappeared three days ago while patrolling the Cardassian border.
Martok goes to the Defiant to tell Worf about the mission and to ask him to serve at Martok’s side as his first officer. (We also find out that his shoulder injury wasn’t from a holosuite exercise, but rather him and Worf sparring. Marotk lied to Bashir because humans wouldn’t understand the need for personal combat with edged weapons as training.)
Worf explains to Sisko why he has accepted Martok’s offer: in the Dominion prison camp when Worf wavered in his determination to keep fighting the Jem’Hadar in the ring, he and Martok exchanged a moment of clarity (the Klingon word is tova’dok), giving Worf the strength to continue fighting. Worf feels he owes Martok a debt, and so Sisko puts him on detached duty to the Klingon Defense Force. Kira splits up Worf’s duties among O’Brien, Bashir, and Dax. Bashir bitches about taking on extra work while he’s off having fun on a Klingon ship, but Dax and O’Brien set him straight: a Bird-of-Prey is no picnic, and makes the Defiant look like a luxury liner. They also give Bashir and Kira the same speech about challenging your superiors if they act dishonorably that Worf gave to Riker in “A Matter of Honor.”
Kornan and Leskit walk into the bar, the former looking particularly mean, the latter wearing a necklace of Cardassian neckbones. This convinces Dax to take some leave and sign on as the Rotarran’s science officer, thinking that Worf may need the backup.
Worf takes his place as first officer, a ritual that starts with his declaring that he serves the captain but stands for the crew. Kornan then gives him the ship’s record of battle, which he does in as rote and bored a manner as possible, though Leskit snidely says that he won’t find victories anywhere in that record of battle. Martok comes on board, Worf then gives him the record of battle, putting the lives of the crew in the general’s hands.
Martok orders a less direct course to the B’Moth’s last known location, as he wishes to avoid the Tong Beak Nebula, in which the Jem’Hadar have been reported to be active. Leskit is surprised that Martok wants to avoid battle, and when Martok calls him on his tone, he very disrespectfully says he meant no disrespect. Leskit then sets the course, emphasizing that they’re going around the nebula.
As they go to warp, Worf tries to lead the bridge crew in the Warrior’s Anthem. But only Dax and Tavana sing with any enthusiasm, and Kornan and Leskit don’t sing at all. (Leskit, in particular, looks disgusted.)
Dax goes to the mess hall and—after forcibly kicking Ortakin out of her seat—ingratiates herself to the crew by announcing that she brought three barrels of bloodwine on board. There’s been no bloodwine on the ship for six months, and even Kornan seems happy about that. They drink and share stories and insult each other in manners both friendly and not-so-much. Leskit snidely points out that the Rotarran can run away from battle faster than any ship in the Defense Force. He also makes lewd comments about Dax, but she assures him that on this trip her bed is as empty as Leskit’s—only in her case, it’s by choice. That leads to some hearty laughter, which Tavana says hasn’t been heard on the ship in far too long.
Kornan then brings everyone down by saying it won’t last, the ship is cursed, and they’re all doomed—doomed!
Martok, for his part, is disgusted by the huge number of reprimands on the crew records (my favorite is one person cited for being “insufficiently aggressive”). He and Worf agree that what the ship needs is a victory to improve morale.
The ship cloaks when long-range sensors detect a Jem’Hadar patrol. It gets real close, doesn’t detect them while cloaked, then disengages. Martok does not order pursuit, even though they have the Jem’Hadar in their sights. Dax tells Worf that that was a mistake to avoid what could have been an easy victory, and it will cost them. Worf shares this concern with Martok, but the general insists that it would have been a mistake to attack—the Jem’Hadar could have gotten a distress signal off, which would have given away their position—and Worf agrees to support him.
But in the mess hall, things get ugly, as Leskit goes on a drunken rant about how the Jem’Hadar are stronger than them and better than them, and that they broke Martok and the general is afraid of them. This leads to a brawl, which Dax is only able to break up with a phaser, but not until Ortakin is badly hurt. Dax again warns Worf that this crew is falling apart, and if they’re not careful, what happened in the mess hall will continue to happen all over the ship.
Dax locates the B’Moth via a distress signal. Worf orders Leskit to set course and then informs Martok. But Martok is sure that it’s a trap—they wouldn’t have left survivors to send a distress signal without a reason. Worf thinks they shouldn’t speculate without evidence, and has to repeat that after Martok goes on a rather scary rant about how awful and soulless the Jem’Hadar are. The general agrees to go the border to investigate.
They find the B’Moth badly damaged, but intact. However, it has drifted into Cardassian space. Martok has orders not to cross the border, and he’s sure that if they do, the Jem’Hadar will attack. Worf points out that if the Jem’Hadar’s nearby, they’ll attack regardless of what side of the border they’re on. But Martok is insistent that they not throw their lives away on a futile rescue attempt, making it clear that anyone who brings it up again will be charged with treasonable disobedience.
Worf and Dax both agree that they can’t just leave the B’Moth’s survivors just sitting there in Dominion space. Worf has to challenge Martok for command of the Rotarran. However, Kornan, Leskit and a few others declare that Martok must die and that Worf should take his Trill and go. Worf says that’s unlikely, and then—backed up by Dax, Tavana, Ortakin, and some others—surprises everyone by ordering the ship to go after the B’Moth. When Martok comes out to ask what the heck’s going on, Worf formally challenges him.
They fight with d’k tahgs, Worf drawing first blood and having the entire crew on his side. They spar again, Worf getting the upper hand—and they exchange a glance, giving us the chance to see what tova’dok looks like. Worf then gives up the upper hand by head-butting the general, breaking the clash, and then lets Martok stab him. As Martok screams his victory, the crew now on his side, Tavana declares a tactical alert. There’s a Jem’Hadar ship on approach. Before Dax brings Worf to the medical bay (and says his letting Martok defeat him is a reminder as to why she loves him), they watch as the crew sings the Warrior’s Anthem, this time with feeling.
The Rotarran defeats the Jem’Hadar, and then rescues 35 members of the B’Moth crew. They return to DS9 to effect repairs and celebrate their victory. During the latter, Martok expresses gratitude to Worf for reminding him of his duty as a warrior and as a soldier of the empire. He also offers Worf a place in the House of Martok, which Worf gratefully accepts.
There is no honor in being pummeled: Worf gets to be first officer, and initially takes to it half-assedly. He does the “speak for the captain” part just fine, but it takes him a while to get to the “speak for the crew” part.
The slug in your belly: Dax actually fits in better on the Klingon ship than Worf does, at least initially, knowing that the quickest way to get Klingons on your side is to bring them booze. She also has to warn Worf twice about how dangerous things are getting on board.
Rules of Acquisition: Nog is assigned to help Worf retune the phaser array on the Defiant, and at one point, when Worf isn’t looking, he mimes strangling the Klingon when he orders Nog to do more tedious work. The very short Nog also gets stuck between the very tall Martok and Worf, which is not quite as funny a sight gag as they thought it would be, but Aron Eisenberg still sells it with his wavering, intimidated voice.
For Cardassia! Interestingly, all the references are to the Cardassian border, but the only foe anybody’s worried about is the Jem’Hadar. Nobody actually fears Cardassia, and there’s still a thought of them as separate (notably in Leskit’s rant comparing the Cardassian military to the Jem’Hadar), but it’s the Dominion that everyone’s concerned about.
Victory is life: The Jem’Hadar have been attacking ships along the border. Besides the B’Moth, Worf mentions that a Starfleet ship was attacked near the border, as well, and Worf later says that they should expect a Jem’Hadar ship to attack regardless of what side of the border they’re on.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Tavana reveals that her mother and Curzon Dax had a fling once, which is not only totally in character for Curzon, but apparently totally in character for Tavana’s mom…
Keep your ears open: “I can’t talk about it. All I can do is read these fascinating reports and analyses, and analyses of analyses and then keep it all to myself. Because no one else has a need to know. So I have to walk around this station feeling like— You don’t really care, do you?”
Bashir lamenting the life of an intelligence officer, and O’Brien poorly feigning sympathy.
Welcome aboard: J.G. Hertzler returns as Martok, as does Aron Eisenberg as Nog. The Rotarran crew includes Rick Worthy as Kornan, Sandra Nelson as Tavana, Scott Leva as Ortakin, Susie Stillwell as one of the officers, and the late great David Graf in a superb turn as Leskit.
Trivial matters: The Warrior’s Anthem that is sung in this episode was originally written by Hilary J. Bader for the Star Trek Klingon CD-ROM game, and used here.
Your humble rewatcher made use of both Kornan and especially Leskit in his novels featuring the crew of the I.K.S. Gorkon. Kornan serves as first officer on the ship in A Good Day to Die and Honor Bound (in the latter book, he dies in battle), and Leskit is in all the books, also appearing in A Singular Destiny as a captain of his own ship. I also had Tavana make a brief appearance, also as a captain, in A Time for War, a Time for Peace, and Ortakin and Leskit both appear in The Left Hand of Destiny by J.G. Hertzler & Jeffrey Lang.
We learn that the Klingon dating system is “the Year of Kahless,” and 2373/Stardate 50000 is the equivalent of the Year of Kahless 999.
Worf becomes a member of the House of Martok in this episode, a family he will remain with for the rest of the series (and beyond in the tie-in fiction).
Ronald D. Moore’s original pitch was to have the Rotarran actually journey to Gre’thor, the Klingon equivalent of hell, but it was decided that that was too philosophical for this late in the season (whatever that means). It did provide the basis for one of Moore’s scripts from his very-brief tenure on the staff of Voyager, “The Barge of the Dead.”
Walk with the Prophets: “Qoy qeylIs puqloD.” Even if the rest of the episode was dreadful, I would unreservedly love this episode and watch it over and over again for one simple reason: I adore the character of Leskit and how magnificently he was played by David Graf. When the episode first aired, I thought of him as the John Munch of Klingons, referring to Richard Belzer’s cynical character on Homicide: Life on the Street (and later Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), and the whole episode is worth it for his snide commentary and his drunken rants.
In general, what’s admirable about this episode is that it gives us a variety of Klingon personality types beyond “overbearing warrior type.” We’ve seen nuances and variations on that particular type, notably with Martok and also Tony Todd’s Kurn. (Worf is, of course, more complicated than that, but he’s also a series regular who gets the screen time to develop.) But in Kornan we get a depressed Klingon and in Leskit we get a snotty one, and it’s nice to see the variety.
The episode also cements Martok as a strong character in his own right. No one gives an emotional speech better than J.G. Hertzler does, and he gets a few here, and just in general, his natural charisma shines through. Plus, Martok has a very important journey to go on here, basically coming back from the dark place he was in at the Dominion prison camp (and knowing he was replaced by a changeling who did many yucky things in his name).
The other thing that shines through is how far Martok has to go to recover—his hysterical speech about how awful the Jem’Hadar are is an interesting pairing with Leskit’s similar rant, but the difference is that Leskit is drunk. Martok is not only sober, but this may be who he is now: someone who will avoid the Jem’Hadar at all costs rather than risk engaging them and being lost.
But most of all, this is Worf’s episode. He said back in “The Way of the Warrior” that he had a lot to learn about command, and what’s good is seeing how he’s progressed in this regard. The last time he was a first officer (in TNG’s “Gambit, Part II”) he struggled with certain nuances, which he and Data were able to talk out. This time, he has bigger problems, as he’s stuck between a captain with cold feet and a crew that’s fraying at the seams. It takes a few kicks in the ass from Dax to get him to figure it out, but the solution is his own—both in disobeying Martok’s orders, thus impressing the mutineers, who didn’t think he had it in him, and in throwing the fight, thus getting everyone on the same page.
The general story isn’t the most compelling in the world—it’s pretty much every “underdogs get their fecal matter together to achieve victory” story in the history of the universe—but it works because it isn’t really about that victory, it’s about the journeys that both Worf (a character we’ve been following for a decade now) and Martok (a very compelling new character who’s become a recurring character by the sheer power of his awesomeness) go on. It also helps that, in Tavana, Kornan, and especially Leskit, we have a superb supporting cast of Klingons.
Tellingly, we don’t actually see the Rotarran engage the Jem’Hadar—because that part doesn’t matter. The climactic battle isn’t against the Dominion, it’s Worf getting Martok to remember who and what he is. That’s the victory that we see, and it’s the one the episode has been building toward.
Warp factor rating: 7