#DS91sttime: Season 4, Episode 1 & 2, “The Way of the Warrior”

August 16, 2013 in #DS91sttime, General Topics

I spent a lot of time thinking how to express the excellence of Deep Space Nine‘s feature-length fourth-season opening episode, “The Way of the Warrior”, and the word that keeps fighting its way to the surface is Qapla’ (that’s Klingon for “success”). Its not that the Klingons own this episode, it’s that their arrival and its subsequent consequences force the crew to cooperate in a way that is compelling and gripping. You can’t watch this thing without being engrossed–it almost approaches First Contact with its thick air of escalating tension.

Pause on that for a moment: this is a season premiere of a syndicated Trek spinoff, and it warrants positive comparisons with First Contact.

The break between seasons provides a show’s producers and staff time to consider where they can improve. In the case of “The Way of the Warrior”, forecasted upgrades over the somewhat-troubled Season Three roll by, scene after scene, like a kind of manifesto. Consider just what’s revealed over the course of this two-parter so deftly wedged into one:

The Klingons are coming.
The Klingons are coming…to invade Cardassian space.
There’s been a coup on Cardassia.
The Federation is threatened with losing its most important ally–and possibly being forced into combat with them.
Odo’s time as sole changeling in the Federation is taking on a whole new dimension of danger.
People are completely paranoid about the presence of changelings.
Gul Dukat and Garak are going to be brought back into the forefront.
The station is armed to the hilt with new weapons systems.
War is on the way.

Worf in Season 3, ep 1(&2), "The Way of the Warrior"

Worf in Season 3, ep 1(&2), “The Way of the Warrior”

…and then the biggest reveal of all: Sisko requests, and gets, a special assignee to help him dissuade the Klingons from doing anything foolish. And that assignee is Lieutenant Commander Worf (Michael Dorn).

The cynic in me says Worf’s assignment to Sisko is a blatant ratings grab. The cynic is probably accurate. The cynic can make room on the couch for my enthusiasm, however, which is a lot heavier, and has a tendency to quote random Klingon phrases. The Worf-centered episodes were some of the best on The Next Generation. And I adore Klingons. What’s not to love about Worf being on this show?

Perhaps the fear that he might overpower the regular cast? Well, he doesn’t. There isn’t a weak scene to speak of, from the benign bits like Dax and Kira trying to relax in the holodeck, all the way to Quark and Garak’s somewhat somber discussion about the changing culture on their side of the quadrant. An excellent balance was struck between introducing Worf to a new environment, exploring his regrets and misgivings, and still giving fair screen time to the other players.

There are reasons I didn’t cover Seasons One or Two very much, and never gave them full episode reviews. Part of that is because some of the actors were outright grating (initially, my friends). That’s not a problem anymore. By Season Four, these folks are very comfortable in their roles, and they play very well off each other.

Captain with a capital "C". Season 3, Ep 1&2, "The Way of the Warrior"

Captain with a capital “C”. Season 3, Ep 1&2, “The Way of the Warrior”

One of the most-improved is Avery Brooks, who was unconvincing in Season One, uneven in Season Two, better in Season Three, and finally at the top of his game in Season Four. It’s not just the extra pip, or the haircut, either–it’s an actor that has found a true commanding presence. The writing, too, has learned to respect the fact that Sisko is a man that will deal in shades of gray to get the job done. It places him in that position more often. His regular juggling of the region’s many drivers and influencers works for the character because it gives him the chance to play off against others, like he does here with Worf.

It’s dialog-driven mano-a-mano moments that made Patrick Stewart a demigod in the Trek pantheon. Brooks and his character thrive under the same kind of face-to-face conflict. This episode fits Sisko like a glove because of its use of so much personal conflict. It bodes well for the rest of the show’s run. The Captain is indeed on the deck.

Back to the plot: with the arrival of Martok–and eventually the wild-eyed, excellent Gowron as well–it’s only a matter of time until the Empire makes its move. The Klingons have an air of grim certainty. They view themselves as troubleshooters to the changeling infiltration situation. Their conclusions point them toward Cardassian space, and Sisko has to balance honoring agreements with allies while preventing an outright crazed assault on the Cardassian Union, which vehemently denies any wrongdoing.

The situation degrades quickly, and everyone from Garak to Sisko’s love interest–Kasidy Yates–feels the influence of the long arm of Klingon suspicion. Sisko’s not about to be a push-over, and he makes that very clear in one surprising scene aboard the Defiant.

Klingons, Klingons, Klingons. Season 3, Ep 1&2, "The Way of the Warrior"

Klingons, Klingons, Klingons. Season 3, Ep 1&2, “The Way of the Warrior”

Where this delicate dance of intrigue eventually takes us is a rescue mission. Its success leads to a consequence: a grand ballroom brawl aboard the station itself, as it endures a full-on assault by the Klingon armada. This episode had a huge budget, and it shows in the battle sequence. The fight spills over into common areas and threatens to throw the Alpha Quadrant’s two mightiest powers into outright warfare. Cooler heads and Sisko’s own negotiation that save the day, and Gowron backs down. But the Klingons feel betrayed, aren’t going anywhere, and we have just shot huge amounts of life into this series.

The biggest result of all of this, though, is that the show is now decisively heading toward a serial format. Bottle shows will hopefully become less common as the main Dominion story arc will now dominate the series. I can’t wait. If I’m treated to future episodes that are as compelling as this one, I’ll consider the show a success indeed.

Or, put another way: Qapla’!

Rating: 5/5 stars.

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