WARNING: The article below contains large amounts of spoiler information for DS9's "The Sword of Kahless". Anyone not wishing the glory of facing such spoilers head-on is advised to slink away at this moment.
In brief: Quite nice. John Colicos is wonderful, as ever, and the story pulled surprisingly few punches.
Brief summary: Kor, Worf, and Dax go on a quest to retrieve the legendary Sword of Kahless, which has been missing for a millennium, and which carries within it the potential to unify the Klingon people.
I'll admit up front that this type of story tends to enthrall me if it's done well. As Dax herself said, "[it's] hard to pass up a good quest." Adventure, snappy dialogue, some hopefully epic themes flowing through -- what's not to like? Although quest tales have certainly been done badly on occasion (or simply been so derivative as to be silly), when done right quest stories can be quite good -- and this one was.
One of the most ... effusive ... reasons why this episode came out as well as it did can be summed up in two words: "John" and "Colicos". I don't think I've ever seen him in a role that wasn't somehow overblown and over-the-top, but that doesn't matter; Colicos is generally superb in such roles, and gives any scene he's in a certain manic energy as a result. It also made Kor a lovely counterpoint to Worf here; Worf tends to keep to himself very much, whereas Kor is so full of himself that he spills out onto everyone else in the room. It strikes me as no accident that the show started with a close-up on Kor; guest character though he was, he was impossible to ignore (in much the same way Q was on TNG), and he was worth every moment spent on him.
This isn't to disparage either Terry Farrell or Michael Dorn, however. (I'm ignoring pretty much everyone else because the show did; most of the other regulars had roughly a line or two apiece.) Neither of them had the sort of scenery-chewing role that Colicos did (though Dorn came close at times), but both had their own tensions and concerns to convey, and they did. Dorn in particular ran a fairly full spectrum, from his initial reticence and shame to his megalomaniac streak, with a great deal of emotion in between. Farrell had to play the even keel, the only one of the three not to lose herself in what might be, and managed to do that admirably, I think. (Her confrontation with Worf about the ledge came off particularly well.) On the acting side, then, I've no real complaints.
I've also few complaints on the directing. LeVar Burton has really come into his own as a director (at least of Trek material; I'm curious about what he'd be like on something else now); between this and "The Pegasus", he's shown a nice talent for getting into character's heads without getting into the actors' faces. The only jarring closeups were those meant to be so jarring, I think (such as the opening with Kor and the jumps among all three questers as Dax settled down to a rather guarded sleep). Beyond that, anyone who can take a show
which has characters walking through tunnels half the time and not make it come off looking like a Roger Corman movie is definitely praiseworthy. :-)
That brings us to the writing, which also shone through with only very minor worries. While what tech there was was slightly annoying, it was only very slightly so, and was also kept to about half a dozen lines total, which suits me fine. (I found the concept of Worf giving Dax technical advice a little surprising, though. I
suppose one could assume that she was about to think of it anyway; he did speak to her pretty quickly.) Much more importantly, "The Sword of Kahless" actually managed to get the characters involved in some real conflict without resorting to claims that it wasn't really them.
Stories like this often have a realization that the talisman the questers find "isn't meant for them", and this one was no exception -- but often it's because the talisman has some strange, magical effect on people (the most obvious example being Tolkien's One Ring, but there are certainly tons of others). Here, the Sword of Kahless certainly brought out the worst in both Worf and Kor -- but the reason that worked so well is that it simply did so by what it represented: power and legends. There was no "psionic energy field" or some such gobbledygook which caused the pair to act so viciously towards one another (and Worf scheming to let Kor die in a cliff fall is pretty nasty, even for him); it was just ambition, and a belief that each knew "what was best". Worf's speech to Dax about how he realized that using the Sword was his destiny was downright worrying, but not even that surprising in retrospect; Worf's shown signs of religious fanaticism back when Kahless was introduced in TNG's "Rightful Heir". Similarly, given what we've seen of Gowron, Kor's claim that "the Empire could do far worse" than to follow him has some meat to it -- and Kor's ambitions merely grew out of a desire for changing the way the High Council currently conducts Klingon affairs. While that sort of "characters blinded by ambition" story may not be hugely complex or difficult, it is in some ways a challenge to do that with the regular characters and make it stick without resorting to a claim of "well, he wasn't really himself"; and with Worf, that came off.
Beyond that, "The Sword of Kahless" really wasn't all that deep; there were just a number of excellent little touches or snippets of dialogue here and there that kept everything running on track. Here's a sampling and some other notes:
-- O'Brien may have only had one line, but he made it count: "who cares [if Kor's story is total bull]? He tells it well!" Spoken as one who's told a few drunken tall tales himself, I'll bet.
-- It was interesting to note that neither Kor nor Worf ever referred to the current emperor as Kahless; it was always "the Emperor". Given Kor's low regard for Kahless's clone, that's not surprising; but it's intriguing to see Worf do the same. One wonders if that's widespread in the Empire.
-- More broadly, Kor's primary motive throughout the show seemed to be to capture one last moment of glory for himself, not to serve the Empire. That both made his later actions understandable and fit his role as the aging warrior. Either way, it just felt very right.
-- I was initially skeptical about the use of Toral, as the Duras family is a concept I've gotten a little sick of; but he was put to good use in the end. He wasn't really there as a major villain, so much as a catalyst to drive a wedge between Kor and Worf over the sparing of Toral's life. In that respect, he worked fine.
-- Kor's mocking of Worf's stiff-necked ways got more and more vicious as the episode went on, but I liked it quite a bit. From the beginning, where he just liked to yank Worf's chain a little bit ("the traitor! the pariah! the lowest of the low! ...Pleasure to meet you."), to his dismissal of Worf's role in the quest ("...when they start
singing songs about this quest and come to your verse, it will be 'and Worf came along'!"), to the final straw of his mockery of Worf hearing "the spirit of Kahless", Kor's irreverent nature caused all kinds of trouble. I like that in a character. :-)
-- Kor was ambassador to Vulcan? No wonder Sarek was driven insane. :-)
-- On a more random note, I also like that we never found out who ransacked the "Herk" antechamber where the Sword was kept. ("Herk"? I thought that was a different show, albeit also one full of legends. :-) )
That about covers it. "The Sword of Kahless", as I said, wasn't particularly deep, but it was effective, and extremely entertaining. Works for me.
So, wrapping up:
Writing: a few lines of technobabble here and there, but some nice character conflict wrapped into an age-old idea.
Directing: Solid. Everything kept moving.
Acting: Good from Farrell and Dorn, excellent from Colicos.
OVERALL: A 9.5, I think -- not quite riveting enough to be a 10, but excellent.
A holodeck malfunction leaves Bashir shaken. Shaken, but not stirred.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"It was our destiny to find it. It just wasn't our destiny ... to keep it."