Monday, February 20, 2012

Martok Gets Back In The Groove In “Soldiers Of The Empire!”

The Good: Good acting, Nice character development, Consequences
The Bad: Obvious Klingon lines, Somewhat contrived emotionally
The Basics: When Martok is given his first mission, he finds himself crippled by fear, a condition that may only be cured by a reluctant Worf's knife.

When the Martok Founder was killed in "Apocalypse Rising," it seemed unlikely that we would ever see J.G. Hertzler return as the Klingon. However, when the imprisoned Martok was found in "In Purgatory's Shadow," it became clear that Martok would be an influential character on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. "Soldiers Of The Empire" is a necessary step to insuring Martok's continued place on the station.

When the Klingon High Council gives Martok his first mission and a ship, the General enlists Worf's aid. Deeply honored, Worf, Martok and Dax set out in the Rotarran for the Cardassian border. The crew of the Rotarran is tired and demoralized. They are used to defeat and Martok's cautious, non-threatening attitude sits well with them and does not inspire them to anything better. When the Rotarran nears the site of the missing Klingon ship it is searching for, Martok's caution solidifies in a fear of engaging the enemy. Crippled by his demons from his capture, Martok proves himself incompetent to lead, forcing Worf to take command of the ship and the mission.

What makes "Soldiers Of The Empire" worth watching is not the b-plot, which revolves around Nog's return to Deep Space Nine and his conflict with Jake over their living arrangements, but rather the strong emphasis on character in the a-plot. Far too often, television series' create situations that would naturally have consequences, but never explore them. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine bucks that trend by reasonably exploring the nature of how people think and work over several episodes and seasons.

Martok is an intriguing character and his detention by the Dominion makes for a very realistic character flaw of being unable to combat the Jem'Hadar. It makes sense, doesn't it, that a man who once was captured by them would not be eager to enter a situation where the same could happen again. Martok's fear makes sense to all human viewers and Worf's very Klingon solution to it comes to make sense when one considers the warrior culture being illustrated. If anything, it serves to give the viewer further insights into the character and culture of the Klingons.

Moreover, there are consequences to the combat that Worf initiates between himself and Martok. "Soldiers Of The Empire" marks the end of the House of Mogh once and for all. That works nicely and the series will remember the change that occurs at the end of the episode.

What detracts from the episode are the forced Klingon lines aboard the Rotarran. The fans of the series are pretty sick of hearing any permutation of "Today is a good day to die." Unfortunately, "Soldiers Of The Empire" offers little beyond the standard Klingon cliches. Moreover, Dax's place on the Rotarran is complicated by lines of dialog that are strong in melodrama. Terry Farrell puts her back into the lines, but they are written poorly often and come out as overbearing status reports.

Still, the acting in the episode makes up for the occasional bit of stilted dialog. Farrell lends humor to what could be an unbearably tense episode with the use of her whimsical eyes and a lilt in her voice. Michael Dorn makes Worf go from deferent and respectful to commanding and self-assured. The transformation seems to come easily to Dorn, who makes the transition seem natural.

The real acting power in the episode is in the form of J.G. Hertzler. Hertzler does a phenomenal job of playing Martok as reasonable and afraid, but never without a sense that this crippling fright is going somewhere. He never makes Martok look weak or confused, just sensible over-cautious. Even the resolution to the episode makes sense and Hertzler deserves a lot of credit for that. He is an intelligent actor who has a great sense of timing and wonderful range. "Soldiers Of The Empire" opens the door to that range.

Ultimately, "Soldiers Of The Empire" is best viewed by fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. While those who enjoy stories about shell-shocked individuals are likely to find quite a bit here to be engaged by, the Klingon elements of the show are likely to isolate those unfamiliar with either the series or the franchise. Part of the essential Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for the character and plot elements.

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


For see how this episode stacks up compared to other Star Trek episodes on my index page organized by episode rating, available here!

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