Tuesday, April 26, 2016

“The Murderer”: Blood Oath

So this episode. This one has been a long time coming, certainly for me. Here's an episode I've always heard so much about: A good, nay great Jadzia Dax episode penned by Peter Allan Fields, possibly the most consistently excellent writer in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's stable. It's a story I never experienced at the time, as I didn't have the magazine issue where this one was written up and I didn't, to my knowledge, see it on television before the DVD sets came out. Furthermore, this is supposed to be a kickass action story set against the backdrop of a glorious Klingon romp. If this isn't Dax's best story, its the one where she finally comes into her own as a character.

At least, that's what everyone tells me. And you can, I'm sure, see where this is headed.

The first thing that strikes me about “Blood Oath” is how much it actually feels like a Ronald D. Moore story. It isn't, obviously, nor could he have had any input on it considering he's not on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. But it had absolutely all of his signature beat points: Pompous, grandiose musings on death, honour and glory. Angsty, moody, broody male antiheroes who don't get along with anybody because “no-one understands” them (at least Fields has the decency to play them as slightly comic characters, whereas Moore tends to play these types of characters alarmingly straight). A ham-handed approach to feminism that is basically saying a “strong woman” is someone who can reject femininity to prove to us she's capable of filling the same masculine/patriarchal archetypal roles. Here it even manifests in a rather cringe-worthy game of “I can do anything the boys can do!” that lasts about two-thirds of the episode. It's a picture-perfect example of the liberal assumption that increased opportunity to climb the pre-existing social ladder of the heierarchical status quo is tantamount to liberation, where real liberation would entail the dismantling of said ladder and probably the torching of the entire building and surrounding areas. And of course, it's a great big Klingon love-letter epic that puts the entire rest of the show on hold so it can fawn over a bunch of trivia questions for forty minutes.

To be fair, this isn't on Fields. Kor, Kang and Koloth were not in his original pitch, which was basically a “Let's Do” of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. The Klingons were apparently added at the behest of Robert Hewitt Wolfe, who is, of course, a massive Original Series fan. Fields compensates for this by writing them based not so much on their portrayals in “Errand of Mercy”, “The Trouble with Tribbles” and “Day of the Dove”, but on characters from John Sturges' remake of Seven Samurai called The Magnificent Seven, as well as Falstaff from Henry IV, Part II. But even so, Holy Prophets is this bad: The fanwank, while not quite as overwhelmingly wanky and referential as this sort of thing tends to get, is still the number one biggest problem with “Blood Oath” and sinks the whole production for me before even the shaky grasp on feminism can.

So let's talk about that! You could, theoretically, read this episode as a self-critique of the acritical nostalgic yearning and romanticizing that's been starting to creep into Star Trek over the past couple of years. Kor, Kang and Koloth, partly through the comedic broad strokes with which Fields paints them, certainly come across at least in part as slightly bumbling oldster archetypes. You could interpret that as the show saying the Original Series and the 1960s cultural values that went along with it are not something it should be going about trying to recreate because it looks silly and retrograde by this point. And Prophets know Star Trek: Deep Space Nine could use a reminder like that right about now. I don't think that's a wise course of action to take though-In the Star Trek: The Next Generation era, we're supposed to be empathic, respectful and understanding of others, including our elders. The show has already done a far more nuanced take on these issues through Lwaxana Troi's character arc in episodes like “Half a Life”, “The Forsaken” and “Dark Page”, one of which Fields himself even wrote. Doing a punkish “kick the old geezers to the curb” story here would itself be insulting and retrograde.

And anyway, I don't think that's actually the angle the episode is going for. If anything, it feels like it could be going in the exact opposite direction. Wolfe's embarrassing pleading aside, the whole story here is about Jadzia trying to prove to us why she should be allowed to go on this revenge mission and why it's a noble cause. And because we sympathize with Jadzia, we're supposed to sympathize with her defense. If anyone comes across in a bad light, it's everyone else for telling Jadzia she can't do this because of who she is or that she shouldn't do this because it's not her fight. Kor's first line is even about how “the Klingon Empire” isn't what it used to be, and, since we're supposed to recognise him because of who the implied audience for this show is now, his thinly-veiled message of how “Star Trek Just Isn't As Good As It Used To Be, By Robert Hewitt Wolfe, Los Angeles, California” actually takes. And for anyone who isn't Wolfe or Ira Steven Behr (or Ronald D. Moore), this kind of tone rankles. The fact of the matter is that in 1994, Star Trek: The Next Generation at least is pulling record ratings that utterly shames anything else this franchise has ever done, and the only people who don't like that are the people who never liked Star Trek: The Next Generation in the first place.

At this point, I'm half-expecting someone to come out and start grumbling about “Casual” Star Trek fans.

Furthermore, this is a terrible Jadzia Dax story. Firstly because it completely contradicts her established backstory from last season. The whole point of the episode “Dax” (which, I might add, Peter Allan Fields actually wrote, or at least co-wrote) was that Curzon Dax and Jadzia Dax were two different people and Jadzia shouldn't feel responsible for the actions of Curzon or any other previous host. So to have Jadzia feel compelled to fulfill Curzon's titular Blood Oath with the Klingons just blows my mind with how spectacularly sloppy a but of continuity this is, especially in a franchise that is so unbelievably anal about continuity that, amidst the dissonant clamour of complaints the last episode got, the loudest by far was fan outrage over Spot becoming a girl. It's so bad, the episode itself seems aware of how bad it is, having Commander Sisko and Major Kira constantly bring up how what Jadzia's doing makes no damn sense and then needing to tie itself in absolute knots trying to explain it away. But I suppose Jadzia Dax having a completely incoherent backstory and characterization is far more forgivable a misstep than daring to revise the almighty Star Trek Chronology.

But the main reason I find “Blood Oath” so odious is because of its implications, and the implications of this episode becoming one of the consensus-best of the year. Coming to this episode more-or-less straight off of “Playing God” (not to mention the tepid reception “Playing God” has amongst fans) is incredibly dissonant and deeply offensive. They really are selling two completely different and contradictory messages about who Jadzia Dax is, as well as two mutually contradictory political positions. “Playing God” has Jadzia as a lover, a creator and a defender of life. “Blood Oath” has her as a warrior who's not above vengeance slaying to uphold a point of honour. There's a larger essay examining the repercussions of war existing in a supposedly post-scarcity utopia, but that's not an essay I want to write. The point is this simply is not compatible with the person Jadzia has been established as being over the past two years, and it's sad the writing team felt they needed to throw that all out in order to figure out how to write her.

Because in a real sense Jadzia Dax as we know her is being rejected in “Blood Oath”. Though Jadzia hasn't been completely cast out or killed off yet, this whole episode is about trying to show how Curzon Dax was Errol Flynn and that Jadzia Dax is basically nothing more than a genderswapped Curzon Dax. This is the reading that will stick with fans and creators and will influence all subsequent reinterpretations, reconceptualizations and reimaginings of Jadzia in the years to come.

I could go into a mopey monologue about how I can't forgive that and how upset I am that a story that's meant so much to me over my life so often feels like it's actively trying to shun and exclude me. When we talk about any work of fiction that is this ubiquitous and mythic and has played such a formative role in the lives of so many people, that trifold act of reading does take on a new power: These stories are important because people relate to them, identify with them and learn about themselves though them. There is a real dissonance when that relationship breaks down-We feel very hurt and betrayed. This does real harm to people, and I fault no-one for getting angry and sad about that and actively working to rebel against it. In the past (indeed, the fairly recent past as of this writing), I would have done the same.

But I'm not going to do that tonight. I think I've reached the point in my own life where I'm beyond needing to do that. Part of undertaking a project of this scope and this personal entails coming to terms with this part of ourselves to in some way put it behind us, and I think I've reached that now. It may not be entirely the result of writing this book, but I'm sure writing it has contributed to my being in the mental state where I'm able to make peace with things like this. I think a big part of it is finally developing a complete understanding of all of who I am and becoming comfortable with that. It's what Jadzia would do. You don't need to cling to a role model once you discover that you yourself can be one, so long as you remember who your role models were and what you learned from them, and to keep living in accordance with your own ideals for the betterment of yourself, of others and the rest of the universe. Holy wars aren't necessary once you understand and respect that everyone has their own god.

Everyone deserves to find peace, love and understanding in their lives. I hope all of you will be able to find yours.


  1. Yeah, but John Colicos, though. The only way it gets better than that if they somehow managed to case Brian Blessed.

  2. Totally with on this one Josh. At my first watch I didn't just have problems with and felt entirely bored another 'heroic' Klingon story when they really have been done to death, but I felt that Jadzia had been butchered. Yeah and I was convinced that this was a Ron Moore story!

    I'm wowed as ever at the moment where you bring in the personal and talk about the ways you have found to move beyond the fan Jihad. Good work.