Monday, 22 September 2014

For Every Warrior There's a Way: Worf's Initial Influence on Deep Space Nine

"Just what the station needs - more Klingons."

Quark's words as a certain Lieutenant Commander set foot on Deep Space Nine for the second time couldn't have been more correct. It was precisely what the station - and the show - needed.

The Way of the Warrior is not just a high-point of the show but of the franchise as allies became foes and the paranoia and preparations for war slipped up a notch. You could tell it was getting serious because Sisko shaved his head, Kira got a new uniform (in The Visitor) and even Bashir and Dax got promotions. Def Con One, people.

There were even new, less casual titles with ships and workbees buzzing around the station - we even saw the Defiant docked which was nice and amalgamated with the thumping undertones of the remixed theme, everything pointed to a new beginning.

The double-length season premiere did punch out a new era for the show. The board and the pieces had all been laid out over the course of the first three seasons - and then we took a huge left turn and went to war with the Klingons. Like we all saw that coming after The Adversary...

It made perfect sense in hindsight for the Dominion to kick back and let the two remaining Alpha Quadrant superpowers duke it out and then take on whoever was left standing but we were all ready for huge battles and - oh, hang on...that's what we got.

Bringing Worf over from The Next Generation might have been a plot device to draw in some of that show's viewers who hadn't migrated to the Bajoran Wormhole but his appearance did change the dynamic of the show. The grit was there as ever but now there was more heart; Avery Brooks stepped up his game, Dax got frisky and made Kira play Guinevere at Camelot, Bashir became more cynical, Odo tried to forget killing one of his own and got slapped down for it and O'Brien took more of a beating from the writers and his wife to boot. To be fair to the chief, this was pretty much business as usual for him until Keiko got pregnant.

While that didn't all happen in The Way of the Warrior it is a key turning point, one of the significant game-changers in the history of the show alongside Call to Arms and In the Pale Moonlight at the very least. J G Hertzler and Robert O'Reilly bring a lot of fight and honour to the roles of Martok and Gowron here as their return to the Old Ways take hold and that's only multiplied with the first appearance of the mammoth Negh'Var.

The series opener is bleaker, there's less musical scoring and Quark has taken to much darker observations which conversing with Garak can only magnify. Not only does the former spy take a pummelling from some Klingon opportunists, but we even see the tailor taking up arms alongside long-time adversary Gul Dukat to save the Cardassian civilian government. It's a great moment that seethes with tension and hatred but also a begrudged admiration between the pair. It's a change - not only in the way our core of characters have had to mature and evolve but also in the very geography of the galaxy. The Cardassians are the ones in need of help (enter Dukat) and worth risking life and limb for while avoiding Klingon disruptor fire. It's a blaring contrast to Emissary where we were firmly told these guys were not to be trusted and that Deep Space Nine was only significant for the fact it was close to Bajor who wanted in on the Federation's act ASAP. That pilot is a lot calmer in comparison and to some degree closes a lot more optimistically.

How times have changed. The once six-torpedo defended station is now bristling with armaments that would make a weapons dealer blush and has a captain who chews out Klingons for breakfast (wait til we get to season five's Apocalypse Rising...). I for one was in fan heaven back in 1995 when I cracked open the VHS case and slotted the tape in for the first time. They'd even changed the cover art for volume 4.1 going for the full on war effect, tilting the station and sticking a ton of Klingon ships around Deep Space Nine. Another tick on the Impressed List.

Worf has lost none of his gruffness and seems to fit much better here in the darker, less "perfect" environment of Deep Space Nine. Dorn's arrival might have been a shoehorn in for ratings at the time but he kicks more butt in this episode than he managed in a couple of seasons on board the Enterprise. Once he stops moping around and gets into command red it's all plain sailing. I love The Way of the Warrior just as much now as I did back on the first run and to this point it was my favourite episode of the show. As the script suggested, Worf did indeed have a purpose again although he effectively became a galactic traffic warden as Strategic Operations Officer and while it wasn't security it allowed the role to grow and Dorn to explore the Klingon a lot more. The station suited his ways but we wouldn't get many indications of that for some time as the producers chose to move Worf-centric episodes to later in the year so as not to ignore the rest of the ensemble.

Over on Voyager at the start of their fourth year we saw the introduction of Seven of Nine to do a similar thing and reboot the show. That meant the exit of Jennifer Lien's Kes and a focus on the character from day one. Seven provided the much-needed human observer role that the show had lacked from Caretaker. Both the former Borg and the ex-communicated Klingon changed the feel of the show, leading them both into a darker period where their main adversary would rear its head but in Seven's case her appearance put a new character at the forefront of the show and a lot of the stories - there was a lot that could be done with the character.

But let's stick with Worf in this fourth season because he becomes much more a part of the wheel rather than the axle if you forgive the analogy. His appearance is a big hit in The Way of the Warrior and brings the Klingons closer into the story for the first time, perhaps obviously developing the bond to the seven year voyage of The Next Generation further by having two of its former cast among the crew. Placing Worf alongside Kor in the Klingon-heavy The Sword of Kahless allows for more exploration of the culture but it doesn't do much to back the reasons for bringing him on board but Sons of Mogh and Rules of Engagement do add some layers to the character but again there's not much keeping him around in these Worf-driven stories.

The bigger influence he has comes when placed in conflict with the established senior staff or when put into a military command position. Here he truly flourishes during the year and I would highlight Starship Down and Paradise Lost to see these moments in action. In fact To the Death works because of his inclusion among the crew and adds true edge to the story which is one of Deep Space Nine's more violent episodes. Having the Jem'Hadar relishing a fight with a Klingon here paves the way for By Inferno's Light in season five as well as making the relationship with Gowron even more delicate when he turns up from time to time and of course we would get the semi-regular full-blooded General Martok to bounce against Worf in the future.

Seven in comparison has to be at the core of an episode to make her character work but Worf is a team player through and through even if he doesn't agree with everything that happens.While Worf wants to be accepted by the culture he left, she wants the exact opposite - to leave the Collective behind and never return even though it's offered on a plate several times.

Worf isn't a revelation to the show but instead reinforces it's darker, more hard-edged tendencies and almost drags the show towards the inevitable war with the Dominion. His attitude towards the Klingon Empire might not sit too well initially but the role of the outcast is perfect with the withdrawal from the Khitomer Accords and, absolutely, the Dominion's desires to spread discontent in the Alpha Quadrant ahead of their invasion. While glory might await on Cardassia according to one Klingon Chancellor, Worf's true virtues hold out when he, as we all knew he would, picks the Federation over his people.

And while Worf has influence on the direction of the show, the show likewise has designs on him. This is initially a troubled and lost Worf doing his duty by the numbers than because he wants to be in Starfleet but season four allows him a great deal more openness and perhaps closer,  more emotional relationships than he experienced on the hi-tech Galaxy Class USS Enterprise. It would take perhaps another year for Worf to fully integrate and maybe the arrival of an occularly challenged general might have further effect on his development but with The Way of the Warrior leading the season it was easy to see that Worf was one of the team and we were in for a change of pace like never before.

Was The Way of the Warrior such a key moment in the history of Deep Space Nine? Let's talk below...

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