|Weyoun (Jeffrey Combs) has an offer for Sisko.|
The Defiant returns to Deep Space 9 to discover that the station has been attacked! A Jem'Hadar strike team beamed onto the station, stole some engineering equipment, and then set off a bomb in an upper pylon. One look at the damage and the casualties is more than enough to set Sisko off on a hunt for those responsible.
Soon after leaving the station, Sisko encounters a damaged Jem'Hadar warship. When survivors are detected, Sisko orders them beamed aboard. The group of Jem'Hadar are led by Omet'iklan (Clarence Williams III), the First of this Jem'Hadar group, presided over by the Vorta Weyoun (Jeffrey Combs). Weyoun reveals that they were attacked by the same Jem'Hadar who attacked the station. They are renegades who have turned their back on the Founders.
The renegades have discovered an Ikonian gate which will grant them access to all points in the galaxy without use of starships. Such power would allow them to topple the Dominion and the Federation alike, and with the tools they stole from Deep Space 9, they may just be able to get that gate working. Sisko and Weyoun agree to work together to put an end to this mutual threat. But the aggression of the Jem'Hadar, who see the Federation not only as enemies but as weaklings, may make this fragile alliance impossible to maintain, even for this one short mission!
Capt. Sisko: The instant he sees the impact of the attack on Deep Space 9, he is grimly determined to hunt down the Jem'Hadar responsible. The Starfleet rules of conduct remain ingrained in him, and he does not hesitate to beam Weyoun and his Jem'Hadar aboard Defiant, but he is obviously wary. He works closely with Omet'iklan to try to make the humans and Jem'Hadar work together as a unit, but he finds the Jem'Hadar's extreme behavior distasteful - and they in turn see him as weak.
Worf: He was part of the mission that saw Picard destroy one Ikonian gateway, to keep it out of the hands of the Romulans. As such, he is completely on board with Sisko regarding the need to destroy this new gateway, but he does not trust the Jem'Hadar. He is very aggressive with Toman'torax (Brian Thompson), the Jem'Hadar Second, pushing the soldier toward conflict with Worf. He advises Sisko to be wary of the Jem'Hadar during the battle, and to watch his back.
Odo: Though he denies it, Weyoun recognizes what he confessed to Garak in The Die Is Cast: That his greatest desire is to return to The Link and to his own people. Weyoun exploits that to tempt Odo yet again, reminding the shapeshifter that his people will still accept him and that his home is still not closed to him. Odo walks away from the conversation, but I doubt Weyoun's words will be forgotten.
Dr. Bashir: Though his part is limited to the teaser, we do get a couple character beats. We learn that, among all his other accomplishments, he placed First in Pediatrics as well. He is also willing to needle Worf by sitting in the Klingon's favorite chair. He waits a good minute after Worf's arrival, meeting the other man's eyes the entire time, before vacating it graciously in a way that shows no fear but allows Worf to get what he wants.
Weyoun: Weyoun does not seem to enjoy supervising the Jem'Hadar. He responds to his charges' warrior antics with near-open contempt, with more than a little of fear of them as well. He confesses to Sisko that he believes the Jem'Hadar's loyalty to the Founders is overstated, and that it is actually the drug known as "the white" that keeps them in line. Omet'iklan returns his contempt and shows at every turn that the loyalty of himself and his men is very real. In every scene featuring Weyoun and Omet'iklan, Weyoun appears the weaker - but Combs' performance is such that he steals every scene, which is likely why a character obviously intended to be a one-shot guest star ended up returning later.
With Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe in the writer's chair and a focus on the ongoing Dominion arc, it's no surprise that To the Death is a good episode. It's ostensibly an action/adventure piece, opening with an attack on the station and with the narrative building toward a battle scene at the end. But as with most of Behr and Wolfe's work, the story's real strength lies in its characterization.
One of the episode's stated aims was to develop the Jem'Hadar further than had been done before. This is successful, with Clarence Williams III lending his formidable presence to the lead Jem'Hadar, Omet'iklan. On the one hand, they remain fairly frightening creations. They live to fight, and any who live to age 20 are considered honored elders. Omet'iklan sees Sisko as weak and threatens to kill him, and he and his Second both look forward to the day they conquer first the Klingons, then the Federation as a whole.
On the other hand, Omet'ikan develops quite a bit of dignity as the episode goes on. He is genuine in his faith in the Founders, and scorns Weyoun's slippery ways and silver tongue. He is loyal to his men, but even more loyal to the unit. Victory is the ideal, and his pre-battle speech to his men is equal parts stirring and disturbing:
"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."
There are strong character beats for the regulars, as well. I've already mentioned how good the Sisko/Omet'iklan and Odo/Weyoun moments are. Also worth noting is the moment between O'Brien and Dax, in which O'Brien gives Dax a message for Keiko to input into the ship's logs. It's a fairly standard moment, a crew member leaving behind a farewell message in case he does not survive the battle. But then O'Brien mentions just how many of these messages he's recorded in recent years, and how he wonders each time if this version of the message will be the one Keiko finally receives. This leads Dax to reveal that she records her own messages for her mother, providing a nice bonding moment.
The scene is further underlined when O'Brien makes his own pre-battle statment, a direct response to Omet'ikan's, one that shows the stark differences between the Federation and the Jem'Hadar:
"I am Chief Miles Edward O'Brien. I'm very much alive and I intend to stay that way!"
One problem with doing action episodes on a TV budget is that the payoff almost never is adequate to the conflict. That proves to be the case here. After thirty mostly compelling minutes building up to the assault, it finally is time for the characters to beam down to the planet and attack the gate. This is where the episode declines a notch. The final battle is well enough filmed by television Trek standards, but it feels a bit too quick and a bit too easy. It certainly does not match the intensity of what came before.
The comparative weakness of the final stretch, along with the lack of complications when Sisko and O'Brien finally blow up the gate, lowers the episode's score by one point. Still, the strength of the conflict between Sisko and Omet'iklan, the temptation of Odo by Weyoun, and the generally fine performances keep this an easily above-average episode.
Overall Rating: 7/10.
Previous Episode: For the Cause
Next Episode: The Quickening
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