As I detailed here last week http://republibot.com/content/star-trek-saying-goodbye-kor-koloth-and-kang-part-1 following the death of Michael Ansara, I decided to watch the Trek episodes that revisited the Klingons from TOS. After a typically brobdignagian preamble, I finally got around to reviewing the TNG episode, “Blood Oath,” which re-introduced Kang, Kor, and Koloth, then killed Koloth.
The next episode for me to revisit was “The Sword of Khaless,” another episode of DS9. In this one, Kor returns to the station claiming to have found the long-lost and heretofore unmentioned “Sword of Khaless,” used by the first Klingon Emperor to make himself a Conanesque king by his own hand. For convoluted, and basically not very important reasons, it’s ended up on a planet in the Beta Quadrant, or wherever it is that the Wormhole goes. He asks the preternaturally pretty Terry Farrell to go along with him, and she insists Quark come along. This they then do.
They find the planet without incident, and get the sword with only enough complications to pad the episode out to 44 minutes. Then they get attacked by enemy Klingons (Evidently the Empire is in a civil war at the moment), and spend the next half hour walking through boring cave sets and arguing with each other. It’s not what you’d call a pulse-pounder of an episode. During the course of it, Kor and then Worf become increasingly paranoid and aggressive when holding the sword. I’d taken this to mean that the sword itself had some kind of techno-magical doubletalk hoobajoob in it that was causing this, and perhaps even led to Khaless being so effective in the first place. Nope. Nothing so interesting. It’s just to illustrate the fact that a holy artifact won’t unify a people who want to be divided, and in fact it might even make stuff worse.
That’s actually a pretty good moral for the story – hell, it’s almost a B5 moral – but they do it in the most laborious, tedious way, and then, with Trek’s traditional abhorrence of denouement, they simply beam the thing off into space, trusting that it’ll be found by someone else in the future when the time is right. Gah. Frustrating.
This was a remarkably unambitious and poorly-directed episode, and the cinematography was unconscionably bland, even by 90s standards. There’s one scene that’s just a talking-head static shot for three solid minutes. Three minutes! By the end of it, I was screaming, “Move! The! Damn! Camera!” They didn’t hear me. They never do. Doesn’t stop me yelling, though.
Speaking of bad direction, you’ll recall my mentioning the muddy end sequence of “Blood Oath” last week. Evidently Kang died in that, though I didn’t realize it until they specifically mentioned he was dead in this episode. I knew Koloth was dead, but the way Kang fell back, and the way it was shot in his final scene, and the flat performance from Farrell, I just took it to mean he was physically exhausted.
You’ll recall that last week I said I didn’t feel the writers or actors really captured their characters. With the exception of Kang, I felt the characters were basically entirely new, but with old names and old actors. Kang avoided this somewhat, though Ansara’s performance is more of an extrapolation than a reprise. I attribute a LOT of that to the actor himself.
We get the same thing here, but less of it. Kor is still portrayed as a fat, drunken old braggart, gone to seed, and with no self-control. In some of the cave scenes, however, when he’s talking to Worf, mocking him or goading him or whatever, the buffoonery recedes, and there’s the 1965 Kor again, the cold-eyed heavy who enjoys cruelty as a hobby. It only pops out intermittently, but when it does it’s kinda’ fantastic. Colicos has always been one of my favorite character actors from the old days, you could base a book around his portrayal of Baltar in the first dozen episodes of the original Battlestar Galactica, so seeing him actually get to use his chops here was nice. He’s also got a good ‘toothless old geezer’ scene at the start of their mind-numbingly dull and pointless quest. Alas, they keep hitting the goofy “Kor, Kang, and Koloth Kickass Klingon Klub” nonsense from “Blood Oath.”
Bottom line: Worth watching, but only one time.
(I’d like to point out that I used the word “Khaless” four times without making a joke about Payless shoe stores. Because that’s just the kind of guy I am this week.)
Next up was an episode called “Flashback” from Voyager. I’d watched this one maybe eight or so months back during my attempt to expose my kids to Trek, but I’d forgotten he was in it. It’s just that pointless an episode. To recap: The Voyager is wasting its time half a galaxy away, bitching and moaning about how it’ll take 70 years to do something Kirk’s Enterprise could have done in a couple months. Tuvok the Vulcan has flashback of a little girl dying, and engages in several mind melds during which we see extensive flashbacks on the bridge of the Excelsior during the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Captain Sulu attempts to rescue Kirk and McCoy, but is prevented by Kang (Michael Ansara). Rebuffed, Sulu eventually gives up. Meanwhile, it turns out that Tuvok’s flashbacks have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with his time on the Excelsior, and they’ve been deliberately yanking our chain for 42 minutes. Then, with Trek’s traditional abhorrence of denouement, they simply doubletalk the problem away, and we’re done.
As intriguing as the premise of this episode appears to be (But ultimately isn’t), and as nice as it is to see some of the old guard again, this is a spectacularly useless story. The plot literally has nothing to do with the conflict, and is simply padding. The A-story could have been about Tuvok’s time on the HMS Bounty in the 18th century on earth for all the difference it would have made.
Though well-directed, it’s just terrible. Kang’s appearance amounts to little more than a cameo, and of course he’s a ridge-head, but it’s still nice to see him. The brief interplay between him and Sulu was pretty good, and this iteration of Kang felt a lot more like the TOS version than the DS9 version. That said, this feels like a fanfic story.
Bottom Line: Not really worth anyone’s time.
Next up was “Once More Unto The Breach” on DS9, another Kor story. This one was genuinely interesting. The Federation and the Klingons are at war with the Cardassians and something called “The Dominion,” which I take to be this show’s dumbed-down wussie rip-off version of Babylon 5’s “Shadows.” There’s a permanent fleet presence at DS9, which is a nice change from the last time I saw the show, and a Klingon general who’s organizing military attacks and coordinating with the Federation. Again: Quite nice. Unexpectedly un-Trekian, and that’s always a good thing.
Kor shows up and begs Worf to help him. Basically he’s the last of his family line, and despite being a living legend, his entirely-deserved reputation for ruthlessness and brutality has ended up working against him. No one will give him a command. He’s old, he realizes he doesn’t have much time left, he figures this is probably his last chance to die by the sword and earn his passage into the hokey Klingon version of Asgard. It ain’t bad, honestly. It ain't a bad story.
Worf attempts to help out, but the General has it in for Kor: decades ago, the old Klingon blocked the General’s attempt to go to the military academy, or some such, delaying his career for decades. He’ll be damned if he’ll help the drunken old coot out. Worf defies orders and gives Kor a commission as third officer of a Klingon ship just the same. The General (“Martok,” which is a city in Babylon 5, curiously enough) is not amused, but there’s nothing he can do about it.
Several Klingon ships head off to raid the enemy far behind the lines. Martok is annoyed by everyone’s fawning adoration of Kor and his rambling stories of him and Kang attacking some Federation outpost 80 years ago. The battle ensues. Worf and Martok are incapacitated, and Kor takes over. Initially he makes good decisions, but then he demands they open a line to Kang, and starts calling the target by the name of the Federation outpost they’d attacked a lifetime ago.
In a pretty cool scene, Martok attempts to kill Kor by chucking a dagger at him. Worf catches it, saving the old man’s life, then backhands Kor to the floor. Everyone escapes, but the bad guys give chase. Later on, Martok and others mock Kor mercilessly for his senility. He says nothing. They demand he speak, and he gives a great little soliloquy about how life is a sweet fruit picked straight from the vine, but don’t wait too long to eat it, as it grows bitter with age. Chastened by this, Martok realizes that he’s gotten exactly what he wanted his whole life – disgracing Kor – and found it left him feeling empty.
The not-Shadows are giving chase, and Martok’s flotilla won’t be able to get away before they’re overtaken. Worf reasons that if he could delay the enemy by 10 minutes, the rest of the Klingons could get away. He volunteers for a suicide run with one ship and a skeleton crew, and Martok agrees. Meanwhile, Kor has found out of his plans, knocks out Worf, gives a great line about “When I get to Asgard, I’ll find your wife and tell her that her husband still loves no one but her,” says “long live the empire,” and beams out...
Annnnnnnnnnd then the episode completely falls apart. Having already blown the FX budget during the attack on the enemy base, they can’t show Kor’s final battle, we just hear some incredibly awful-voiced Klingon chick who sounds like she’s got a really aggressively deviated septum describing it while looking at a scanner. The end.
There’s also a pointless subplot about Dax II (Gezundheit) and a tedious “Threes Company”-styled misunderstanding on Quark’s part. Ignoring that, however, this episode is well worth a watch, and it’s a nice goodbye for the character.
Finally, I watched “The Muse,” another episode of DS9 which confusingly had the dead Kang in it. Time Travel? Identical twin clone? Soap Opera Cliché? Whatever. I was excited to see it.
Oh, but it was awful. So awful.
The A-plot involved Jake Sisko meeting up with an evil alien muse who sucks his creative energies while he writes. Yeah. I think they did that on The Love Boat, actually. The B-plot involved Gene Roddenberry’s no-talent widow showing up on the station 75 and pregnant. No, really, I could NOT stop laughing, until I realized I was going to have to sit through a Lwaxana Troi episode, and then I could not stop cursing.
But I figured, “Kang is going to come, he’ll smite our enemies, and everything will be ok.” Nope. When he finally shows up, he’s playing yet another hokey alien, he’s not even Klingon. This is a particularly uninspired alien, too. It’s basically Ansara with a prosthetic bridge that makes his nose look a bit like a vertical shovel blade. Terrible.
I watched his scenes. He was ok. Everything else was beyond awful. I admit to skimming this one. The Jake/Muse stuff was unwatchable, and the rest was a Lwaxana Troi story, which is, of course, unwatchable. I can only conclude I was paying off Karma at a vastly accelerated rate.
So bottom line: Retconning undeniably savage old-school Klingons into the kinder, gentler TNG-verse was difficult, and I don’t feel they ever got it quite right, though they got about as good as they’re ever going to in Kor’s final appearance.
Also: people tell me that DS9 is better than I think it is, and I should give it a go. I’m occasionally tempted, even though the first two seasons sucked out loud. Then I see the really pretty good final Kor episode, and I really think I might just do it. Then I see “The Muse” and I’m reminded of why I abandoned this show in the first place. And Trek in general.
So goodbye, Koloth. We didn’t really get to see you again, but it was nice seeing your old body pretending to be you.
Goodbye, Kor. You were the first, and you were the last. They tried to hide you from us, but you managed to peek through now and again.
Goodbye, Kang. You were, are, and evermore shall be the perfect embodiment of what a Klingon is, and even the blandness that was '90s Trek couldn't hide that.
Goodbye, and thank you all.
Kevin Long is a well-reviewed Science Fiction author, who has written three full-length anthologies, and is at work on several other projects. He used to blog under the name “Republibot 3.0,” but now that his stalker is dead, and he can afford to be less paranoid, he uses his real name. His personal website is here and his Smashwords page here. Or, if you prefer Amazon, his books are here, here, and here. Check out his site, and buy one of his books. He’s got a wife and kids to support! ANd, hey, if anyone knows how to embed these links so they don't take up twenty miles of space, that'd be keen, too!