|Worf begins to doubt Martok (J. G. Hertzler)'s resolve.|
General Martok (J. G. Hertzler) extends an invitation to Worf: Join him as first officer on the Rotarran, a Klingon Bird of Prey. The Rotarran has been assigned to find the B'Moth, a battle cruiser that disappeared near the Cardassian border. It is a great chance at redemption for both men: Martok, to prove that he remains a strong leader after two years in a Dominion prison camp; Worf, to earn honor in the eyes of the Empire that disbanded his House. Dax also insists on coming along as Science Officer, determined to protect Worf from a crew that she can tell is dangerous.
Dax is right: The crew of the Rotarran is in a dark state. Ever since the Cardassians allied themselves with the Jem'Hadar, the Klingon ship has suffered one defeat after another. The Klingons are hungry for a victory, any victory. When Martok plots a course designed to avoid battle, insisting on focusing on the mission, the atmosphere goes from dark to dangerous. And when Martok plays it safe a second time, passing up a potentially easy kill for fear of a Dominion trap, the crew starts to hover on the edge of mutiny!
Capt. Sisko: Talks with Worf before granting the request to temporarily release him to be Martok's first officer. He mainly wants to make sure that Worf genuinely desires this. When Worf explains why he feels loyal to Martok, he adds that he isn't sure Sisko, a human, can understand. Sisko's expression says otherwise, and he grants the request with no further questions.
Worf: His loyalty to Martok stems from his time in the Jem'Hadar prison camp. When the Jem'Hadar forced him to fight in their arena, he could see no end to the cycle and considered letting them win. Martok recognized his intent and stopped him with a single look, saving Worf's life and allowing him to eventually escape. His defense of Martok even when it becomes clear that the general is going out of his way to avoid a fight feels more like something from his human upbringing than from the Klingon values he has always prized. When situations force him to finally confront Martok, that loyalty is still in evidence - something Martok again recognizes, fortunately for Worf.
Dax: With Worf behaving more like a human, it falls to Dax to be "more Klingon than Klingon" this week. She bonds with the crew quite quickly, having calculated exactly how to ingratiate herself: Her first day in the mess hall, she picks just the right fight as a prelude to delivering three crates of blood wine. She quickly recognizes that the crew is in despair over their string of defeats. Worf sees this too, but Dax sees what he does not: Namely, the danger to Worf and Martok in this situation. She pushes Worf at every turn, reminding him that this is not a Federation ship: "If you think the blood looks bad on my uniform, wait until the decks are dripping with it!"
Martok: "Broken" by the Jem'Hadar, just as the crew of the Rotarran has been. Like the crew, he needs a victory to restore his confidence. But he's too fearful of the Jem'Hadar to actually get one. Having fallen victim to them once, he sees Dominion traps in every situation. His first choice, to avoid a nebula where warships are certain to be, is sensible: Their mission is to find the B'Moth, not to endanger the ship needlessly. But when he avoids a fight with a Jem'Hadar ship directly in their path just because a trap is possible, it's clear that he is afraid. Once again, his crew directly reflects him, as we see one Klingon officer drunkenly talk about how the Jem'Hadar's lack of honor makes them "better... they're faster and they're stronger than we are!" When Martok refuses to rescue the ship they've been sent to retrieve just because it drifted across the border, he sparks a challenge - and when Martok wins that challenge, his crew begin chanting his name, then singing as he recovers his Klingon blood lust and presses forward into the very battle he (and the ship) have dreaded.
In terms of developing the Klingons, Soldiers of the Empire doesn't add anything new to Trek lore. The Klingons live by a warrior code. There is a very specific structure to the way in which a Klingon warrior may advance by challenging his superior, and that structure and code keep the society from chaos despite the chaotic way their culture may appear from the outside. An honorable victory is what a warrior lives for, and defeat is ignominy... All of which is ground tread by previous TNG and DS9 episodes many times before.
What keeps this episode from feeling like a stale retread is the way it is framed. Putting our regulars on a Klingon ship, serving with a Klingon crew, heavily recalls TNG's A Matter of Honor. But the ship Worf and Dax serve on is a ship that has endured a series of defeats, to the point at which the crew now goes into battle expecting to be defeated. This gives it a different flavor from other Klingon episodes, as Worf and Dax must watch their backs around this dangerously demoralized crew even as Worf slowly comes to realize that he will have to challenge Martok for the captain's seat.
Like many Klingon episodes, this is very broadly played, almost operatic in tone and style... Which works, because the Klingons feel right and the dimmer lighting and more claustrophobic set design of the Bird of Prey interiors adds an atmosphere well-suited to the proceedings. It isn't actually an action episode - A brawl that's cut short by Dax and a knife fight at the climax are the only two "action" pieces in the show. But Moore's script and Levar Burton's steady directing keep the tension of the situation tangible, with the viewer left waiting right along with the characters for it to reach its boiling point.
What keeps this from reaching the heights of the best Klingon episodes, such as TNG's Sins of the Father or DS9's The Way of the Warrior, is the guest cast. The crew of the Rotarran are a bunch of one-dimensional "types." There's the drunken one, there's the dangerous one, there's the sympathetic woman... I couldn't even tell you any of the characters' names unless I wanted to look them up. The script is effective in having the crew's fractured state reflect Martok's fractured state, and in bringing the crew together as a unified force just as Martok recovers his old Klingon fire... But I can't help but think that the same could have been accomplished while making at least one or two members of the crew into layered characters.
The weak guest characters are made up for by very strong characterizations of the regular and recurring cast. Moore's script gives Worf and Dax very strong material, with this being one of the best Dax episodes in a while. Martok continues to develop as a memorable and interesting recurring character, and his friendship with Worf promises to become another of the several wonderful character relationships this show has created. That's more than enough to make this a good episode... Even if it leaves it short of being a great one.
Overall Rating: 8/10.
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