|Kor (John Colicos) yearns for a return to his glory days.|
"Savor the fruit of life, my young friends. It has a sweet taste when it is fresh from the vine. But don't live too long. The taste turns bitter after a time."
-Kor, Dahar Master, teaches his final, bitter lesson.
Kor (John Colicos) returns to Deep Space 9, seeking Worf's help. He has made too many enemies throughout his long life. Despite his status as a Dahar Master, he is unable to receive a battle command during the current war. He pleads with Worf to find him a place in Martok's fleet. "Help me fight again, Worf. Help me end my life as I've lived it: As a warrior."
Martok becomes enraged at the mention of Kor's name, but allows Worf to assign him as Third Officer on his ship. When Worf presses to know why he hates Kor so much, Martok reveals that long ago, when he was working to become trained as an officer, Kor struck his name from consideration because of his bloodlines. Though Martok would later rise through his own merit, he has never been able to forgive the slight, not least because his father died before he was able to prove himself.
Martok's current mission is a bold one: A strike across enemy lines, to quickly hit a Jem'Hadar breeding facility and then race back to Federation territory, doubtless with the enemy in pursuit. They find their target easily and decloak to begin the attack. But when a hit on Martok's ship leaves both him and Worf temporarily incapacitated, Kor assumes command - Barking orders that make it clear that he cannot distinguish this battle from battles long past!
Capt. Sisko: Appreciates the audacity of Martok's plan, which he likens to a cavalry charge. Is so enthusiastic that he offers to join the raid, but settles for waiting at the rendezvous point to turn back any Jem'Hadar pursuit.
Worf: Even after all he's been through, Worf cannot always reconcile the Klingon ideals that he grew up yearning for against the nastier realities of an often corrupt Empire. He labels Kor's long-ago dismissal of the young Martok as "unworthy," barely listening to Kor's protestations about the importance of bloodlines to the Empire. He remains protective of Kor, but never at the expense of his loyalty to Martok or the mission - and when Kor's weakness shows itself, he does not hesitate to remove the old man from active duty.
Ezri: Clearly enjoys seeing Kor again. Even so, she complains to Kira that she keeps having the same conversation with people who knew Dax's previous hosts: incredulity that she could be Dax, then insistence on finding (likely nonexistent) physical similarities between her and previous hosts. She talks about how vividly she remembers being with Kor on a Klingon ship in the past - which Quark, in true sitcom fashion, misinterprets as her talking about wanting to get back together with Worf.
Martok: The episode's central character conflict doesn't center on any of the regulars, but rather on Kor and Martok. Over the past two seasons, J. G. Hertzler's Martok has become part of the series' fabric, and it's a credit to how well DS9 has integrated its recurring cast into its overall tapestry that focusing on an episode on his resentment of a guest character doesn't feel jarring at all. An early scene in which he tells Worf exactly why he despises Kor so much makes the Kor/Martok conflict meaningful. Martok gets his revenge in the second half, his old adversary laid as low as a Klingon warrior likely could be... But he gains no joy from Kor's misery, and his entire attitude shifts from that point on.
Kor: Shades of King Lear, as Kor's bravado in the first half cracks, revealing diminished capacity as he confuses present and past. John Colicos is suitably larger than life as he boasts about his past and basks in the young crew's admiration of him. But his best acting comes in the second half, when a shattered Kor sits and endures the scorn of those same warriors, now mocking him for his age and weakness. What happens next can be seen coming from as far away as the teaser - But to the episode's credit, Kor's final stand works, in large part because Colicos makes us invested in the character.
"The only real question is whether you believe in the legend of Davy Crockett or not. If you do, then there should be no doubt in your mind that he died the death of a hero. If you do not believe in the legend, then he was just a man and it does not matter how he died."
-Worf, unwittingly foreshadowing Kor's final mission.
Once More Unto the Breach is utterly predictable in its plot, with no surprises in the way its story unfolds. Kor's disintegration during the first battle is clearly telegraphed, as is his triumph at the end. That Kor will earn Martok's sympathy and, ultimately, his respect is something most viewers will guess before the teaser ends. In story terms, this is pedestrian stuff.
But writer Ronald D. Moore, the default Klingon scribe of both TNG and DS9, has a way of breathing life into this warrior race. Kor, Martok, Worf, and the elderly Darok (Neil Vipond)... They are all fully realized characters, and their interactions resonate. The scene in which Martok and his crew sneer at Kor's mental weakness is the episode's best, Kor reduced to an object of ridicule by the very crew that had previously worshipped him. Director Allan Kroeker keeps the focus of the scene on Kor's face, which is stone-like, betraying no emotion as he endures this verbal onslaught. When he finally does speak, he does so with equal stoicism, weariness in his voice but no real emotion, which makes the effect of his words all the stronger.
The follow-up scene is also good, as a subdued Worf and Martok contemplate how they might appeal to the Klingon Chancellor to grant Kor an honorary position to lend some dignity to his dying days. Kor's acceptance of the insults, and his reply that rang too true, has drained away Martok's antagonism; he recognizes that this could be him in 100 years' time, if he lives that long. It's almost a shame when the action plot returns, with the too-predictable finish, as the character material up to then is so much more compelling than any of the actual combat scenes.
In the end, this is a touch too predictable to rank among this excellent series' greats - But the performances, sharp characterization, and excellent dialogue ensure that it's still quite a good one, and a suitable sendoff for Star Trek's original Klingon.
Overall Rating: 7/10.
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