Friday, January 13, 2012

Conflict And Glory Go "To The Death"

The Good: Funny, Violent, Excellent character, Great acting, Clever plot
The Bad: Moments seem like a biology lesson
The Basics: When our heroes and a crew of Jem'Hadar soldiers team up to keep an Iconian Gateway out of the hands of some renegade Jem'Hadar, one of the best episodes results.

One of the most difficult types of episodes for a series to pull off would be one where it is balancing darkness and humor. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine made that attempt more than once, but it was never more successful than in "To The Death," one of the last episodes in the fourth season. "To The Death" is an episode that managed to do almost everything right and it created one of the most violent episodes with a very watchable feel to it given the way it breaks up the carnage with humor.

When the Defiant returns to the station following a mission, they find the station crippled and a docking pylon floating free. Sisko, immediately alarmed, learns that the station was attacked by the Jem'Hadar who then fled. Sisko and the Defiant crew, with Odo, pursue the Jem'Hadar and find a damaged Jem'Hadar ship on their trail. Beaming aboard the crew, Sisko learns from the Vorta, Weyoun, that the Jem'Hadar who attacked the station are renegades who are wreaking havoc having discovered an Iconian gateway. Determined to keep the Gateway out of the hands of the renegade Jem'Hadar, Sisko and Weyoun pool their resources for a mission.

"To The Death" is a clever episode because it makes so much sense to put two historical adversaries together and have them work with one another for a mission now that the Klingons have appeared as a greater threat. The Jem'Hadar have always been a clever adversary and the idea of rogue soldiers who can attack anyone anywhere as the result of having a Gateway is clever and enough to keep the tension quite high for the episode.

More than just an intriguing situation, "To The Death" introduces some wonderful characters. While before we have seen Jem'Hadar that have captured our imagination, like Goran'Agar in "Hippocratic Oath" (reviewed here!), seldom have we seen Jem'Hadar like these. Their leader, Omet'iklan, is cunning and aware of the entire situation. Those who follow him are similarly informed and well beyond the intelligence of the Vorta who accompanies him. Toman'torax is a vengeful, studly type Jem'Hadar who instantly takes a dislike to Worf.

"To The Death" also introduces an important character to the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine saga; Weyoun. Weyoun is the Vorta in charge of the mission and he is the perfect example of a Vorta who is cunning, devious and beyond being trusted. He is a character we are glad to see meet his fate at the end of the episode. He always seems to have an agenda and it's difficult to watch him and not feel your stomach turn for how despicable he is.

Weyoun is played by Jeffery Combs and his performance in "To The Death" is no small reason he reprises the role later in the series. Combs does a perfect job of combining raw charisma with a smarmy quality to create a character we instantly know cannot be trusted. Combs makes Weyoun into a combination of a politician and mobster in a way that takes the worst qualities of each and makes them into a cognizant being.

But the guest actors are not all that are worth watching. The primary characters are incredible in "To The Death." Dax continues her rise to comedic relief as she interfaces with a young Jem'Hadar who is amazed to see both a woman and someone over three hundred years old. Worf has great conflict with the Jem'Hadar and O'Brien works as hard as possible to stay alive while pulling off the goal of the mission. Sisko is no slouch here either; he is actually commanding and steps forward as a worthwhile and impressive leader. Odo's conflict with his people comes into the open when the Jem'Hadar idolize him and Weyoun attempts to offer him a way to return home.

All of the actors in "To The Death" give a great deal. Terry Farrell combines her sense of humor and a keen sense of logic to have Dax learn about the Jem'Hadar. Farrell works quite well as an interface between the two cultures by using a more casual body language and tone than Michael Dorn. Michael Dorn presents Worf as a stiff, cold warrior who naturally feels conflict with the Jem'Hadar. The disagreement between the Worf and Toman'torax is reasonable and instantly well-portrayed through a strong undertone of hostility in body language and tone in Dorn's performance.

It's not truly a weakness of "To The Death" that the viewer learns so much about the Jem'Hadar; it is done in an entertaining way. Still, there are some moments of obviousness that rob the episode of being absolutely perfect, most notably the height of the conflict between Sisko and Ometi'iklan, wherein Ometi'iklan kills Toman'torax and expects Sisko to kill Worf. Still, it's a far better episode than most television and anyone who can stomach some violence will appreciate "To The Death."

While the second season finale was entitled "The Jem'Hadar," this episode ought to have been called by that name. This piece does an excellent job of tying together the Star Trek universe; the Iconian Gateways were originally introduced in Star Trek The Next Generation's "Contagion" (reviewed here!) and they are a wonderful loose end to pick back up on. The Jem'Hadar are more of a threat with them and "To The Death" does an excellent job of keeping the menace very real.

This is a fast-paced hour of television that is high on character development and exploration, great acting and a tight and interesting plot that is enough to captivate anyone who likes a good and intelligent action/adventure story. Part of the essential Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for all of the character development and important information imparted about the Dominion.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the turnaround season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2012, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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