"Once More Unto the Breach" 
Season Seven, Episode 7
Written by Ronald D Moore 
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Music by Dennis McCarthy
Main Cast:
Avery Brooks as Captain Benjamin Sisko
Rene Auberjonois as Odo
Nicole deBoer as Ezri Dax
Michael Dorn as Lt Cmdr Worf
Cirroc Lofton as Jake Sisko
Colm Meaney as Chief Miles O'Brien
Armin Shimerman as Quark
Alexander Siddig as Dr Julian Bashir
Nana Visitor as Colonel Kira Nerys

Guest Stars:
John Colicos as Kor
J.G. Hertzler as General Martok
Neil Vipond as Darok
Nancy Youngblut as Kolana
Blake Lindsley as Synon 


Worf is visited by Kor, the near-legendary Klingon "Dahar Master". The aged Klingon has found himself obsolete and his services unwanted in the Empire, for after years of ruthless pursuit of power he has found himself with too many enemies and not enough friends. Worf agrees to ask Martok if Kor can command a ship in the Ninth Fleet. But Martok explodes into a torrent of rage at the mere mention of Kor's name. Martok came from a lowly, poverty-stricken family and when his father applied for him to become an officer, his application was rejected by Kor. Because of this, Martok found himself unable to become even a soldier and spent years as a civilian labourer. He was eventually given a field comission through his own hard graft, but the shame remained with him throughout his life, along with the fact that his father never lived to see him achieve this. But Worf has already assigned Kor as Third Officer of the Ch'Tang -- Martok's ship. Martok grudgingly accepts this, but he will have nothing to do with the man, and Worf must take full responsibility for him. The Klingon fleet leaves on a "cavalry raid" against several Dominion outposts. During the raid, both Martok and Worf are injured, leaving Kor in command of the bridge. But in the heat of battle, Kor feverishly relives a battle many years ago on the Federation colony of  Caleb IV. Martok attempts to kill the delusional Kor, but Worf stops him.

Kor is relieved of duty, and later in the mess hall Martok and several other officers taunt the fallen hero. The Ch'Tang detects a squad of Jem'Hadar warships on its trail. Worf decides to take a ship back to distract the Jem'Hadar long enough to enable the Klingons ships to rendezvous with the reinforcements. But it will be a suicide mission, make no mistake -- one ship against ten. Kor learns of this mission and realises that it can only be pulled off by someone with ten times Worf's experience. Kor sedates Worf on his way to the transporter room and beams himself over to the ship that will take him to his death. But it is a glorious death -- he successfully holds off the enemy ships in time for the Klingon fleet to make it to safely. The crew, including Martok, toast to honour Kor, the great Dahar Master, who died as he had lived his life: a warrior.


That was...excellent. 

If I sound surprised, that's because I am, a little. Klingon episodes tend to fall into one of two extremes -- either they're good (such as Blood Oath and Soldiers of the Empire) or they're not so good (look no further than Rules of Engagement and Sons and Daughters). I've never considered myself all that much of a Klingon aficionado, so I'm probably not the best person to ask, but I do think that themes of "Klingon honour" have been done to death on both TNG and DS9. The Klingons themselves tend to be, by definition, one-dimensional, transparent and therefore quite tedious. But Ron Moore has come up trumps by creating a well-tailored story that utilises Klingon lore to astounding effect and benefits by focussing on the two most interesting, best performed Klingons in Trek history -- Kor and Martok.

Once More Unto the Breach is not only a hit -- it's a classic. It's exceptionally well-written, intelligent, moving and, for the most part, the acting is just superb. A large part of its success is surely accountable to the excellent John Colicos, who makes a very welcome return as the legendary Kor. Those familiar with the Original Series will know that Kor was Star Trek's very first Klingon, appearing the the 1967 episode Errand of Mercy (back when their heads were as smooth as a baby's bottom!). So it's something of a fitting irony that he should be the focus of what, I believe, is DS9's last Klingon episode (and perhaps therefore Star Trek's last televised Klingon story).  

Once More Unto the Breach has, dare I say it, almost Shakespearean conotations -- and I'm not just talking about the title. The tale of Kor's fall and subsequent return to grace has a bold, epic and at times almost mythical feel to it. Ron Moore's script is strong throughout but at times the dialogue is damn-near poetic. As much as I liked Blood Oath and Soldiers of the Empire, I think Once More Unto the Breach will be remembered as DS9's -- and perhaps even Trek's -- finest Klingon episode.

The episode opens with an interesting discussion between Bashir and O'Brien, who debate what they believe happened to the legendary Davy Crockett at the battle of the Alamo. Overhearing their conversation, Worf utters the most interesting thing to come from his lips in years: "You are both wrong. 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 he died a hero's death. If you do not believe in the legend, then he was just a man and it does not matter how he died." This is a nice, subtle bit of foreshadowing which parallels the end of the episode quite effectively.

Things kick into motion when Worf is visited by Kor. It did seem a bit odd that Kor considers Worf such a great friend. To the best of our knowledge, they've only actually met once and on that occassion found themselves at each other's throats (in season four's Sword of Kahless). Still, I don't suppose that matters one iota. The gist of it is that despite his almost legendary status as the great "Dahar Master", Kor has found himself powerless and obsolete within the Empire, with too many enemies and not enough friends. Given that so much of Klingon culture is based upon proving oneself as a warrior, it's especially interesting and poignant to see what happens when old age puts a damper on achieving glory on the battle field. But Kor is determined to prove that he has not yet outlived his usefulness and Worf agrees to give him a position aboard Martok's ship, the Ch'Tang (what happened to the Rotarran, I wonder?).

Unfortunately, he didn't count on such an extreme reaction from Martok. The animosity between Martok and Kor is handled well and delicately balanced, enabling us to see both points of view. It's easy to sympathise with Martok (Hertzler delivers his back-story beautifully), but Kor's admission that Worf has "been living among this democratic rabble for too long" and that the tradition of Nobility still counts for something in the Empire was insightful. It recalled a comment that Kang made in Blood Oath about how the Empire had changed and was losing touch with the "old ways". Something about this rang particularly true given that older people often unfavourably compare the present to the past (you know, the "in my day we..." type of thing!). It made perfect sense to me that, as one of the older generation, Kor would be one of those trying to cling onto the old ways in any way he could. Ironically, Kor doesn't even remember Martok -- but Martok never forgot Kor, and he's held onto that bitterness and resentment all these years. This conflict provides a solid emotional core to the story and is handled largely with subtlety and maturity by Ron Moore. There's never actually any resolution between the characters, not in the traditional "I forgive you, let's shake hands" mould. Nope, what happens is far less obvious yet far more moving.

What happens when Kor comes aboard the Ch'Tang is no great surprise. Martok's crew are in awe of the great Dahar Master, and being the loveable old codger he is, Kor laps up the attention. But the hero worship shown to Kor fuels a deep, burning resentment in Martok. Hertzler conveys this so effectively that you can almost feel the hatred bubble under the surface, threatening to explode at any moment. So deep is his hatred that it's downright dangerous. 

It's during the raid on the Dominion outpost that Kor has to take command of the Ch'Tang -- and that's when things start to come crashing down around his ears. Amid the heat and intensity of battle (an atmosphere nicely conveyed by Allan Kroeker), Kor loses it -- reliving a battle many years ago on the Federation outpost of Caleb IV. He very nearly gets everyone killed. Martok regains control of the bridge (not before trying to kill Kor, to be stopped by Worf) and having taken the ship to safety, he orders Worf to "Get that man out of here." Kor doesn't need to be asked to leave. But as he does so, the look on his face is just wrenching. He's blown it -- and he knows it only too well.

Later on, he sits alone in the Mess Hall. Martok and several of his crew enter and Martok sees his chance to finally take revenge on the failing old man. You could have been forgiven for expecting the traditional "Mess Hall knife fight" which seems to have become a requisite for Klingon stories, but what Martok does to Kor is far more painful than any injury a knife could inflict. He and his officers mercilessly taunt the fallen hero, who just sits there speechless, staring ahead, trying to retain some last shred of dignity. At one point he sneers to one of his officers: "don't you have any respect for one of the greatest heroes of the Empire?", his voice dripping with venom. Having taken enough, Kor silently gets up to leave. "Say something, old man," sneers Martok. "Or have you lost your tongue as well as your mind?" Kor's response was dignified, moving and beautifully-written -- "Savour 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; for the taste grows bitter...after a time." I know I've already quoted that (at the begining of the review), but it's just so beautiful that I had to include it again! 

In that moment I'd have refused to believe that this was only Kor's fourth appearance in Trek, for it felt like I'd known him forever. And to see a man who was once the greatest of warriors -- feared and respected by all...reduced to this, was positively heart-breaking. I can't praise John Colicos enough for such a masterful, powerful and moving performance. A mere look on his face spoke absolute volumes.

Following the incident on the bridge, Kor is relieved of duty. Worf plans to speak with Gowron and get him to find Kor a job on the homeworld. But it will undoubtedly be a menial, undemanding job -- hardly befitting a warrior of Kor's reputation. Martok, who by his estimate should be feeling some sense of satisfaction at having evened the score with Kor, has realised the futility of revenge: "I have hated [Kor's] name for almost thirty years. I've dreamt of the moment when I'd finally see him stripped of his rank and title -- when he'd suddenly find himself without a friend in the world, without the power of his birthright. Well, I've had that moment now...and I took no joy from it." Revenge is hollow, meaningless and the hatred he'd held onto for so many years had done nothing but eat away at him. 

But Martok's catharsis would surely mean little to Kor, who lies in his quarters, a shadow of the man he was. Cue a marvellous scene where Darok, Martok's elderly aide, enters and they reminisce about glories past and agree that the Empire is not what once it was. In not as many words, he apologises for what Martok and the crew did to him -- "Such is the way with children. They often let the promise of the future obscure the glories of the past." His point? "Only that they are children. Even Martok -- who for all his flaws, is a great man -- even Martok is but a child compared to you or I. They're quick to judge and slow to forgive. They still have much to learn." Good heavens, it's so nice to have not one, not two, but three intelligent, interesting, three-dimensional Klingon characters in the one story! This very nearly makes up for all the beer-swilling, honour-obsessed blockheads we've been subjected to in the past (and, yes, that includes Worf). Whilst this episode very definitely belonged to Colicos and Hertzler, Neil Vipond gave a very strong guest performance as Darok -- a character I wouldn't have minded seeing more of had we not been so late into the show's run.

Darok informs him that they are being pursued by a fleet of Jem'Hadar warships. Worf has devised a plan to take one of the Klingon ships to try and hold off the Jem'Hadar, enabling the other ships to make it safely back to Federation space. But such a mission needs a man with three times Worf's experience. Kor immediately sees a chance to redeem himself, even though this is without doubt a suicide mission. But it is one last opportunity for glory, to reclaim his honour and go out in a blaze of glory. He finds Worf on his way to the transporter room and sedates him. He kneels down and gently tells his friend that "When I reach the halls of the hallowed dead, I will find your beloved and remind her that her husband is a noble warrior...and that he still loves no one but her. Goodbye, my friend. Live well." It was at this point that my eyes welled up with tears. How beautiful. Jadzia continues to cast a tremendous shadow and she is still sorely missed -- but this one sentence is just a lovely tribute and I found it very moving. Kor steps up onto the transporter pad and as he beams over to the ship that will take him to his death, he cries triumphantly "Long live the Empire!" And that's the last we ever see of him.

The decision not to show his final battle may have riled some people, but I thought it was a particularly effective choice of storytelling. The fact that no one actually knows how he managed to stop the Jem'Hadar adds an almost mythical, ambiguous slant to the death of a legend -- nicely echoing O'Brien and Bashir's earlier discussion about Davy Crockett. "How did that pompous old man hold off an entire fleet with only one ship?!" asks Martok. "Does it matter?", Worf replies. I couldn't help but be moved by Kor's return to grace. The mission may have cost him his life, but it was (in Klingon terms!) a glorious death. He had redeemed himself, even in the eyes of Martok, who opens a bottle of blood wine and toasts to "Kor, the Dahar Master, a noble warrior to the end!" They heartily sing to celebrate the glorious Kor, forever one of the Empire's most revered heroes. I got a chill down my spine. Never before have I found a Klingon story as powerful and rousing, for if I knew the words, I'd have been dancing round the room singing to Kor as well! A perfect, wonderfully fitting ending.

This is probably one of Ron Moore's best scripts and much of it just sparkles. You may have noticed that I've spent an inordinate amount of time quoting dialogue this week. That's because it was just so darned good! The directing and special effects were impressive and the acting was just sensational. Colicos gets a true chance to shine and I was absolutely spellbound by his excellent performance. He's ably supported by Hertzler and Neil Vipond gives an equally creditable guest performance as Darok. 

On the other hand, I hate to break to mood, but I was less impressed with the two female Klingons, and Michael Dorn just plods away with his usual monotonous repartee. I would be more forgiving of Dorn's underwhelming performances had he not spent so much time bitching about how he's so disappointed with DS9 because he wasn't the centre of attention! Before you get all "Hollywood Ego" on us, Mister Dorn, I think someone should break the news to you -- you're not exactly Robert De Niro. Why should the writers make any effort to write for you when you put very little effort into your performance? With all due respect, if Dorn wants better roles, then he ought to stop bitching and invest in some acting lessons. Um, sorry, I don't mean to offend any Worf fans (if there is such a thing), but someone needs to bring Mister Attitude back down to earth. 

Before I go...oh yes, there's a sub-plot, isn't there? Thankfully it only really consisted of two scenes, so it did little to detract from the main storyline. It concerns Quark misunderstanding Ezri and thinking that she's planning to get back together with Worf. He feels this would be a big, big mistake and he tells her just that. Ezri's reaction is a delight to watch and whilst she calls Quark a "real sweetheart", it's her that's the sweetheart. I do believe Ezri and I got off on the wrong foot. I felt that her dysfunctions and neuroses were far too over-played in Afterimage and I was less than enamoured by her awful psychobabble. 

But I like this Ezri. She reminded me a lot of Jadzia -- strong, intelligent and very charming. I much prefer that to the inept, motor-mouthed little girl that we were introduced to a few episodes ago. We need to see more evidence of Dax, I said in my review of Afterimage. Terry Farrell is still desperately missed, but if the writers can keep Ezri on track and let her continue to "grow up" and integrate the Dax symbiont a little more, then I daresay that Ezri will prove to be a worthy successor to Jadzia, after all. I loved her scene with Kira when she suggests that the Colonel would make a good counsellor. Kira's response was a hoot: "Oh yeah, people would love taking their problems to me: You dreamt about what?! You're crazy! Now get outta my office. Next patient!" I can well imagine... :-)

That about does it. This seems to have become an exceptionally long review (sorry!), but to cut a long story short: Once More Unto the Breach was an exceptional episode, surely destined to be remembered as a Klingon Klassic.

Rating: 9.5

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