#DS91sttime: Season 4, Episode 9, “The Sword of Kahless”

November 1, 2013 in #DS91sttime, General Topics

Kor: a great character if there ever was one.

Kor: a great character if there ever was one.

“The Sword of Kahless” is almost a love letter to the treasure-hunting adventure genre. There are so many borrowed tropes in this episode that one wouldn’t be surprised to see Indiana Jones himself show up, perhaps with a phaser in the place of his trusty revolver, cracking away with a Ferengi energy whip.

As I’ve said so many times, no one owns tropes, and I can think of worse things than such an homage within the Star Trek universe. But the affection might have gone a little too far, because this adventure’s similar ending to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade undermines the plot development up to that point. As in, we’re left wondering if there was a point.

However, even if you only come along because of Kor (John Colicos), you’ll still be satisfied with your time spent. The sadly-late Colicos played Kor with total heart. Outside of Worf himself, this might have been the galaxy’s most likable Klingon. I enjoyed the opening, with Kor spinning a tale that was a mix of war story and colorful embellishment, and I dug the backdoor reference to Captain Kirk.

There’s a lot this episode gets right. Dax is treated as more than a symbiont house, for a change. I don’t think there was a single mention of the space worm in her gut, and that’s fine by me. Both Dax and Terry Farrell are better off for it. Because instead, we get to spend time developing Jadzia as a character by–shocking!–having her resolve conflicts that didn’t arise as a result of carrying a symbiont in her torso.

The Sword of Kahless is the Klingon equivalent of the Holy Grail. Kor is giddy as a schoolboy, convinced it’s on a remote planet. He has a cloth that might have been used to protect the sword at some point, and various lab tests support his theory. It’s a lovely nod to the Shroud of Turin, intentional or not.

Worf and Dax have little trouble convincing Sisko to let them take a runabout. Ever-shrewd, Sisko thinks bringing the sword home to the Klingons might patch up shaky relations with the Empire. It’s nice whenever the departure of senior officers from the ship is explained.

There is one problem: Kor had a rough night, and a Lethean was involved, yet he doesn’t remember any of that. Foreshadowing!

Soon, we’re off on a quest, and there aren’t even Nazis in pursuit. Kor guides his two compatriots to a world he explains was once mined by Vulcans. In antiquity, we’re told, the planet belonged to the Hur’q, a species that once attacked the Klingon Empire and stole many treasured artifacts. The Vulcans discovered some odd sensor readings the last time they were present, including a room that was heavily shielded.

Enter the cave set. Again. Ugh.

Everything goes surprisingly well until the actual sword is located, at which point bitter members of House Duras–guided to this location by the same Lethean from earlier–attack and attempt to take the Sword. Luckily, Indy dodges a spear trap our comrades fight their way free and flee through back the shield, reactivating it just in time to block their pursuers, and everything is okay…right?

Where this episode goes from there is enjoyable enough, even if no one seems to realize the glaringly obvious: Worf and Kor aren’t themselves. The show doesn’t clear up if this is a symptom of the Sword’s presence, or just a product of distrust and personal ambition, but given Trek‘s inherent disbelief in magic and religion, one would assume personality issues are to blame.

DS9, Season 4, Ep 9: "The Sword of Kahless"

DS9, Season 4, Ep 9: “The Sword of Kahless”

So that brings us to a final act by Worf and Kor, which resolves things in a manner that leaves us wondering why we even came along. It’s not that I was disappointed, per se (I still had a good time), but on reflection I realized that a moment that could have carried major implications going forward for both Worf and Kor was instead reduced to an easy way out: the characters advanced, only to step back back. Worf and Kor’s reasons for retreating from the apex of glory are consistent with their love of the Empire, sure, but this outcome also denies several fantastic future plot shifts that could have happened as a result of their decision.

That means that “The Sword of Kahless” is a disposable episode, crafted to fill an hour of television, and little else. A writer can get away with that mindset when they’re making lighthearted romps like “Little Green Men”, or deliberate bottle shows that leverage characters we don’t need hashing out any differences (“Explorers”). But Worf’s friction with the Empire and his unresolved status within it are huge issues.

There are many ways this episode could have affected that, or him in another way, or Kor, or even Dax. I mean, profound impacts that could have been made on the rest of the series. To step back from those possibilities makes as much sense as having never cracked that forcefield in the first place. Why take the sword off the altar if you’re not going to carry it?

Rating: 3/5 stars.

See the rest of the review series here.

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