“Once More Unto the Breach”
Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Season 7, Episode 7
Production episode 40510-557
Original air date: November 11, 1998
Station log: O’Brien and Bashir are in Quark’s are arguing over the legend of Davy Crockett, when Worf interrupts. He says that if you believe in the legend of Crockett, then he died a hero and there should be no question in their minds. If you don’t believe in the legend, then he was just a man and it doesn’t matter how he died.
When Worf goes to his quarters, he is visited by Kor. They share a bottle of bloodwine and toast Jadzia’s memory, and then Kor asks a favor: he wants to be part of the war effort, but in his many years, he’s made too many enemies, and so cannot get an assignment to fight. He asks Worf for help getting him a command.
Worf goes to Martok, who is grateful for the interruption, as his aide, Darok, is burying him in paperwork. Unfortunately, to Worf’s surprise and dismay, Martok loudly refuses. He despises Kor and won’t allow him anywhere near his fleet. He then angrily throws Worf out.
Martok and Sisko go over a battle plan whereby five Birds-of-Prey will go on the 24th-century equivalent of a cavalry raid: small, fast ships zipping through Cardassian space and damaging multiple targets before returning home.
As Martok prepares for the mission, Worf again goes to Martok to ask about Kor, prompting Martok to angrily request the bridge to be cleared. Worf feels that, at the very least, he deserves an explanation for why he won’t give a command to an old man who wishes only to die as a warrior.
So Martok explains his animus: Martok was born of a family from the Ketha Lowlands, so not of a noble House, but with a history of service to the empire as soldiers. Martok’s father found someone to sponsor Martok to apply to become an officer. He passed the entrance exam, but one member of the oversight committee refused his entry: Kor. Because of Kor’s black mark, he couldn’t even become a soldier, so he signed on as a civilian laborer aboard a ship. However, when the Romulans boarded that ship, he comported himself well against the enemy and earned a battlefield commission.
Worf then reveals that he’s used his authority to give Kor a commission as an officer in the Ninth Fleet. Martok accepts Worf’s action, but says that Kor is Worf’s responsibility—Martok wants nothing to do with him. The best Worf can do is make him third officer of the Ch’tang. Kor—who has no memory of denying Martok a commission, his was one of hundreds of applications that crossed his desk when he was on the committee—agrees and reports on board. To Martok’s annoyance, the entire crew fangoobers Kor, especially Darok, the only other person who’s Kor’s age.
In the Ch’tang mess hall, Martok tells a war story, then Kor enters. Worf tries to distract Martok by asking about the battle plan, but it leads to Kor telling the story of the battle he and Kang fought against the Federation at Caleb IV, told to a rapt crew, and to Martok’s annoyance.
The fleet arrives at Trelka IV. Two ships do a strafing run on the planet and then leave orbit. One ship is destroyed, and the only Cardassian ship defending the planet chases the second ship, the Ning’tao. The other three ships in Martok’s fleet then decloak and attack the base, but they have better defenses than expected. Martok and Worf are both injured in the firefight, so Kor takes over and instead of ordering the retreat Martok wanted, orders them to keep firing. He then orders a message sent to Kang that the Federation outpost on Caleb IV will be taken within an hour. He’s completely lost touch with reality, but eventually Martok and Worf regain control of the situation and get them out, but only after heavy casualties are taken.
Martok, Darok, and a couple of officers enter the mess hall to find Kor eating alone. Martok and the officers then start to taunt Kor over his forgetfulness. Kor sits and takes it, until he finally gets up and urges everyone not to live too long, as the fruit of life is sweet when it’s fresh off the vine, but grows bitter over time. Later, Martok tells Worf that he’s dreamt of the moment when Kor found himself stripped of rank and title without a friend in the world—and now he’s finally had that moment, and he takes no joy from it. They both agree to talk to Gowron, find some fitting assignment for him on the homeworld that will keep him out of harm’s way.
The Jem’Hadar has detected the fleet, even though they’re cloaked, and have sent ten ships after them. They’re three hours from a rendezvous with the Defiant and a fleet of starships, but the Jem’Hadar will catch up in two hours. Worf has a plan whereby he can disrupt their warp fields and then engage them in battle to give the rest of the fleet time to reach the Defiant. He will take command of the Ning’tao and, along with six volunteers, distract the Jem’Hadar.
Darok goes to Kor and complains about kids today with their music and their hair and how they’re quick to judge and all the usual complaints older folks have about younger folks. He also shows Kor Worf’s battle plan. Kor then downs Worf with a hypospray and beams over to the Ning’tao to take over the battle plan.
After the Ning’tao breaks formation, Darok brings a bottle of bloodwine to the bridge—they can celebrate their courage if they win. And if they lose, they can still celebrate their courage. To Martok’s surprise, Worf walks onto the bridge and they realize that Kor took over the Ning’tao. The Ch’tang gets out of sensor range before they can detect the entirety of the battle, but the Jem’Hadar never appear on their sensors again, so obviously Kor was successful. When Martok asks how he did it, Worf asks, “Does it matter?”
Martok opens the bottle of bloodwine and toasts Kor’s courage. Darok starts singing in Kor’s honor and everyone joins in—except Martok.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Worf suggests a big-ass graviton pulse will make the Jem’Hadar drop out of warp for a few minutes, which one ship could do.
Don’t ask my opinion next time: Kira tells Dax that she’d make an awful counselor: “You dreamt what? You’re crazy, get out of my office. Next patient!”
There is no honor in being pummeled: Worf is caught between a rock and a hard place, as he and Kor are comrades in battle and Martok is the head of his House—both his brothers in all but blood. To his credit, he navigates the treacherous waters pretty well, done in mainly by not realizing how mentally far gone Kor is. (Well, and also by letting Kor get the drop on him…)
The slug in your belly: Dax tells Kira that she keeps having the same conversation over and over again with people who knew her as Jadzia or one of the other previous hosts.
Rules of Acquisition: Dax talks to Kira about a dream she had about Kor, but Quark comes in late and eavesdrops on the conversation, which only uses pronouns, and mistakes it for Dax wanting to get back together with Worf. Later, Quark confronts her with a heartfelt speech about how that’s a mistake, prompting Dax to explain the misunderstanding, and also be very impressed by how passionate, how impressive, and how incredibly embarrassing that speech was.
Victory is life: Ten Jem’Hadar ships are taken out by a single Bird-of-Prey commanded by a senile Klingon. Sucks to be them.
Tough little ship: Martok contemplates bringing the Defiant along on his cavalry raid, but thinks it’d be better for them to wait at the border for his ships’ return to aid in fighting whatever enemy ships they’re trailing when they come back…
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: When Dax says nice things to Quark, he immediately assumes that she’s in love with him. Because he’s that much of a dork (and Jake tells him so).
Keep your ears open: “I’m not hungry.”
“The food is for me—I haven’t eaten in hours. Men of our generation never stood on ceremony. We ate when we were hungry, we fought when we were angered. I miss the simplicity of those days.”
“I miss a great deal about those days.”
Kor and Darok shaking their fists and telling those kids to get off their lawn.
Welcome aboard: Back for his final appearance is John Colicos as Kor—in fact, it was literally his final appearance, as this was his last acting role before his death in 2000. J.G. Hertzler is back as Martok, with Nancy Youngblut (last seen in Voyager’s “Displaced”) and Blake Lindsley playing other members of the Ch’tang crew. And Neil Vipond puts in a superb performance as the weary Darok; he’ll be seen again with less makeup as Kleg in Voyager’s “Natural Law.”
Trivial matters: The episode’s title derives from the first line of the famous speech given by the title character in Shakespeare’s Henry V, Act III, scene 1 to his troops right before they attack a French castle.
The plot was, as is obvious from the scene in the teaser among O’Brien, Bashir, and Worf, inspired by the legend of Davy Crocket at the Battle of the Alamo. The show has dealt with this theme before, albeit in reverse, with the character of Li Nalas in “The Homecoming” and its two sequels.
This episode overtly establishes that the Klingons have a rigid class structure, with the warrior class atop it. It will be explored further in the Enterprise episode “Judgment” (which also features J.G. Hertzler as a Klingon).
Kor’s speech about the sweetness of life turning bitter is a callback to something he said to the Organians in his very first appearance in “Errand of Mercy.” His toast to Jadzia’s memory is reminiscent of the traditional naval toast, “To absent friends” that memorializes the dead.
When Kor tells the story about Caleb IV, he identifies his ship as the Klothos, which was also the name of his ship in the animated episode “The Time Trap.”
Your humble rewatcher told the story of how Kor received the title of Dahar master (and also where the title comes from) in The Klingon Art of War.
The bottle of bloodwine that Kor and Worf share is said to be 2309, the same year as the bottles Nog procured for Martok in “Treachery, Faith, and the Great River,” so it’s probably from that batch.
Worf references the battle at Korma Pass against T’nag, the story Kor told in “The Sword of Kahless.”
Twice, Martok uses “by the hand of Kahless” as an epithet, which has its origins in John M. Ford’s novel The Final Reflection.
While this is Darok’s only on-screen appearance, he also appears in The Left Hand of Destiny duology, written by J.G. Hertzler & Jeffrey Lang.
Walk with the Prophets: “How did that pompous old man hold off an entire Jem’Hadar fleet with only one ship?” Klingons have become an incredibly important part of the Star Trek universe, and one of the main reasons why they have is because of how amazing John Colicos was in “Errand of Mercy.” His oily charm, his charisma, his passion, his eloquent line deliveries—he was just magnificent. Every person who’s played a Klingon since then owes something to his performance.
By having him survive “Blood Oath” and return in “The Sword of Kahless,” DS9 gave itself a superb opportunity to give the first Klingon we ever met a proper sendoff, while telling an excellent story about the perils of aging and the double-edged sword of becoming a legend.
Just about everything works perfectly in the episode. We start with Bashir and O’Brien’s Davy Crockett argument, with Worf’s spot-on remark serving to cut the Gordian knot of their disagreement, while also giving us the episode’s theme in a nice little nutshell. Michael Dorn delivers it beautifully, too.
Indeed, the episode is full of amazing, nuanced performances. Dorn plays the low-key diplomat, trying to satisfy the needs of his honor toward both Martok and Kor, and mostly succeeding—but beating himself up when he can’t, because that’s how he rolls.
Colicos has to play Kor in so many different modes: sad, nostalgic, determined, confused, and batshit crazy in the heat of battle. But he hits every note perfectly, never more so than his final words to an unconscious Worf promising to seek out Jadzia in Sto-Vo-Kor, which carry a grandeur and intensity that shows his friendship, his gratitude, his heroism, and his nobility in one shot.
J.G. Hertzler has perhaps the hardest job, because he has to act like a total dick to a character we actually like without sacrificing what makes Martok so likeable as well. To his credit, he not only pulls it off, he never once makes us think any more ill of Martok. His righteous anger is completely justified, and I like the fact that it never entirely goes away. Even at the end when he opens the bloodwine and raises a toast to Kor—he can’t bring himself to join Darok, Worf, and the others in singing a song to his victory. The hurt is still too deep.
However the standout here is Neil Vipond. We already know Kor, Martok, and Worf, so the actors are able to build on what’s already been established. Vipond only has a couple of scenes, but his performance is so superbly lived-in that you feel like Darok has been there all along.
Beautifully structured, incredibly well acted, excellently filmed (the attack on the Dominion base is superbly rendered by director Allan Kroeker and the VFX staff), this is a glorious epic, a fitting end to a character who has been a part of Trek lore since its first season.
The episode’s only flaw is the Quark-Dax subplot. While it does give us an entertaining conversation between Kira and Dax (Kira’s assessment of her abilities as counselor is hilarious), and Armin Shimerman’s delivery of Quark’s speech to Dax is perfect, the story itself is yet another waving of a flag that says, “Hey look, we got a new Dax!” and it’s tiresome, and adds absolutely nothing to the story. The scene between Kor and Dax in the replimat (and the awkwardness between Worf and Dax in that scene’s middle) was enough to do that, the rest just felt like padding.
Warp factor rating: 9
Keith R.A. DeCandido got to write the character of Kor in the Lost Era novel The Art of the Impossible, the novellas Enterprises of Great Pitch and Moment (part of the Slings and Arrows eBook miniseries) and The Unhappy Ones (in the Seven Deadly Sins anthology), and in The Klingon Art of War.