You Talking Trek to Me? – “Sons and Daughters”

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 6, Episode 3

Star Trek‘s characters almost always have a fraught relationship with their families, and offspring are no exception (although to be fair, two of the main characters of Deep Space Nine had healthy, drama-free relationships with their children). “Sons and Daughters” uses the Dominion War arc’s split structure to examine two sets of relationships surrounding… you guessed it: a son and a daughter.

“Sons and Daughters” is the weakest episode of this six-part story arc, but it’s still decent. It seems like an odd way for the franchise to check in on that Alexander kid Worf kinda has, since there are so many larger and more interesting stories going on. Indeed, the overall saga of the war doesn’t get moved along here and it feels a bit like middle period wheel-spinning.

But highlighting what the hell’s been going on with Alexander is pretty necessary, seeing as how Worf has been a main character on the show for going on three seasons at this point. Even in that respect, the episode is kind of a failure and not very satisfying – but then again, so is Worf as a father.

“I’m proud to serve aboard this wessel.”

In re-introducing Alexander, the show brings along with it so much baggage that it doesn’t devote nearly enough time to unpacking, and it works to the episode’s detriment. It highlights one of The Next Generation’s biggest weaknesses in failing to commit to any of the potentially interesting storylines it brought up for Worf. It gave Worf a lover – the absolutely fantastic, beautiful, and badass K’Ehleyr – only to fridge her so that Worf has even more of a reason to slay his family’s enemy Duras (I’m still salty about it 30 years later!). And then the series gave Worf a son but seemed very unenthusiastic in exploring that outside of a handful of episodes. Alexander bounced back and forth between living on the Enterprise and on Earth with Worf’s adopted parents.

(LOL, I’m just now realizing that in that “Family” episode, Alexander is absolutely nowhere to be seen. He wouldn’t really fit into the story at all, but I mean – he’s not with Worf, and he’s not with his grandparents. Where the F else could he possibly be??? Summer space camp? Anyway.)

As a viewer, it just irritates me when a series introduces interesting and complex directions for its characters, only to leave them hanging out to dry. Why even bother? Similarly, TNG made the bizarre choice of introducing a son for Captain Picard, only to walk that back in the same episode and thus negating the entire point of the hour.

So for TNG (and by extension DS9) to give Worf a son and then just stick him on a shelf and do nothing with him seems like a waste. As Worf himself says here to Alexander, he lives a warrior’s life, the kind of swashbuckling existence that precludes the boring chores of being a parent. The writers should have just kept him as that instead of saddling him with a son no one was interesting in writing about.

The only thing Alexander as a plot device succeeds at is making Worf look like a sucky father. Which he absolutely is! It’s a gutsy decision, but given how much I already disliked Worf’s character on Deep Space Nine, it’s too far for me. I do at least commend DS9 for acknowledging and exploring Worf’s parental failure; there’s none of the hemming and hawing TNG did with trying to convince us that Alexander, is uh, totally, totally happier on Earth. LOL, the fuck he is, Worf you bat’leth brandishing deadbeat bozo.

ANYWHO… I do enjoy the episode’s focus of life on a Klingon ship. It doesn’t go into quite as much detail as it did in “Soliders of the Empire,” but it’s still cool. The Klingons are, after all as much a part of the war effort as Starfleet. And this is what they live for, so it’s interesting to check in on them in that context.

Picking up not long after “Rocks and Shoals,” we see that Martok’s ship has rescued Sisko and his crew (and that dickhead Keevan) from that planet they were stranded on. That episode’s decision to end where it did was fantastic, and definitely didn’t need to include the rescue, which is better served by including it here. Dax and Worf get to make out (while Worf agonizes yet again about their wedding minutiae), and Sisko thanks Martok for saving his butt. He playfully makes a bet with the big Klingon bear that whoever sets foot on Deep Space Nine first will win a barrel of blood wine. Martok cheerfully accepts, but it’s also the first mention of the eventual goal of retaking the station. He tells Sisko that they need him back in the fight, and it’s cute to see their bromance. I think Martok is the kinda guy who has too many bromances to keep track of.

“We need your illustrious waxed cranium back on the front!”

After the Starfleet personnel depart, Martok’s ship receives new crew replacements. His bellyaching about the lack of decent food and crew members informs us of the difficulties that even the Klingons are having in the struggle against the Dominion. I mean, considering that Alexander is one of the crew replacements, that doesn’t speak well about how the war is going…

Martok greets the new crew members, but one sticks out. Belonging to no house and only identifying himself as Rozhenko, the episode helpfully points out that this is Alexander – because he’s been aged up drastically and now played by a different actor than on TNG. Klingons’ alien biology allows some elasticity in how quickly they grow up or how old they can get. Because in actuality, Alexander is only eight years old here! But looks equivalent to at least 20 in human years. *shrugs* Sure, why not.

Their ship has been assigned to protective convoy duty, and Martok orders Worf to prepare the crew for the inevitable combat they’re going to see (as the Jem’Hadar have destroyed several previous convoys). Before Worf leaves, Martok brings up how in all their adventures together he never mentioned he had a son. Martok is really great in this episode and seems to be the only adult in the room most of the time. He seems a little hurt that his literal brother has hid this part of his life from him. Which… yeah? That’s huge. In the beginning of the episode, it’s made clear that by marrying Worf, Dax will become a member of the House of Martok. So Alexander should already be in the house, no?

Actually, no. He’s not. Fuckin’ Worf, man.

So Worf has to explain the tragic background of how his son came to be (to say nothing of the tragedy of being the son of Worf). Martok questions why Alexander was sent to live with Worf’s adopted parents, and Worf gives the excuse that he showed no interest in Klingon ways. Um, excuse me? Your son doesn’t want to follow your exact path and so you just give up on him? In even the rosiest retelling, it doesn’t hold water. God forbid Worf learn to relate to someone on the basis of something other than being a warrior. You know, like he did with every person on the Enterprise?

Despite Alexander’s lack of interest in Klingon culture (and in being a warrior), he has curiously now joined the Klingon Defense Force – much to Worf’s confusion. To his minimal credit, Worf mentions that he did come to accept that Alexander’s path would not align to that of a traditional Klingon (not mentioned: that it was a result of a time-traveling Alexander from an alternate future in which Worf was killed because his son was too much of a peace-loving hippy; you know, that old yarn).

Worf eventually calls Alexander to his quarters, who is simultaneously cold to his father but also burning with anger and resentment. Sergey and Helena apparently weren’t happy about Alexander joining the military, but were supportive nonetheless. He rebuffs Worf’s attempts to speak to him as a father and Marc Worden’s performance is that of an angsty, angry teenager. Which is as captivating as it sounds, but you also can’t really blame him. His feeble attempt at reconciliation refused, Worf hardens and lays out that fine, you wanna be a soldier, I’ll treat you like one. See how you like that! He says that whatever he expects from the crew, he’ll expect twice from Alexander. Wait, what? So he’s just admitting that there’s no possible way Alexander could possibly live up to his totally unfair expectations? Bonus points for honesty, I guess.

The “daughter” half of the episode is far more interesting and concerns the complex familial triangle between Kira, Ziyal, and Dukat. As we learn, Dukat likes to have Kira personally greet him whenever he returns to the station (and everybody knows it), which is particularly weird and gross. But that’s Dukat for ya! Eeeuugh.

Dukat boards the station and his lapdog Damar immediately gives Kira shit for not being in full dress uniform. Damar is such a dick but he’s fun. Anyway, Dukat reveals that his daughter Ziyal is with him, who had previously evacuated to Bajor. Kira is surprised and a little dismayed to see her on the station, but happy. Ziyal invites her to dinner and Kira accepts before learning that Dukat will be there as well. She immediately tries to back out of it, but Ziyal’s excitement compels her to show up anyway.

“My dad promises he won’t genocide at the dinner table.”

The episode has to do a lot of the work in building the relationship between Kira and Ziyal, because they’ve had very, very few scenes together. The whole reason Ziyal ever came to DS9 was because of Kira’s insistence (not to mention that she’s only alive because she convinced Dukat not to murder her, ya know how that goes). So she’s always been protective of Ziyal, it just would have been nice for them to have more time on screen together.

Kira later visits Ziyal to back out of Dinner with Dukat (the name of my artsy indie Trek flick) and asks why she left Bajor. Ziyal explains how out of place she felt on Bajor – not just because of her race, but because of who her father is – which makes a lot of sense. The station is the only true home she’s ever had. Kira helpfully reminds her that when she defied her father’s wishes, he left her on the station to be killed along with everyone in the Bajoran system. She says they talked about it and moved past it. LOL, wut? It’s consistent with how naive and not a great judge of character Ziyal is. Plus despite the backbone she has shown in standing up to her father before, still doesn’t have any other family. Kira reluctantly agrees to the dinner. Ziyal’s infectious glee is quite cute, and she cheerfully proclaims “I promise my father will behave!” LOL.

Afterwards, Ziyal shows off her drawings to Dukat and Kira, who both admire her skill. “Making a character an artist” is one of those shorthand ways TV shows and movies have of quickly injecting some personality and sensitivity into a character, and one that Trek has used before (and as an artist, it always amuses me). Anyway, so Ziyal’s an artist now, and apparently one with potential. The director of the Cardassian institute of art apparently really digs her stuff, and she speaks about how she wants her art to bring Cardassians and Bajorans together, which elicits an uncomfortable glance between Dukat and Kira. It’s actually some nice character work, and it totally seems to fit with her life and who she is. The inherent drama of being biracial is compounded by the oceans of bad blood between her progenitors’ races, symbolized by Kira and Dukat.

“I was thinking they would make kick-ass t-shirts! I’d pair them with inspirational phrases like Don’t Let Hate Occupy Your Heart, or Lizard Girl Summer.”

Ziyal leaves to get dessert, and Dukat and Kira both admire how far she’s come. Alaimo’s portrayal of Dukat here is miles less creepy than it was in “A Time to Stand,” and it’s a credit to how he can modulate his performance. Dukat begrudgingly gives Kira credit for sending her to Bajor, and he seems sincere. He acknowledges that though they don’t see eye to eye, they at least both care about Ziyal. There’s a super surreal quality to it all – Dukat is totally the villain, committed to defeating the Federation. But him and Kira share a weird bond over their common affection for Ziyal and are able to converse almost normally about her.

In the Rotarran‘s mess hall (of course we have a Klingon mess hall scene!), Alexander is the victim of his crewmates’ derision. In particular, a loud-mouthed dickhead Ch’Targh rally lays into him until Alexander throws his plate of food in the guy’s face. A fight breaks out and Ch’Targh easily tosses Alexander around and seems poised to kill him before Worf intervenes, much to his son’s fury. “Are you going to fight the Jem’Hadar for him, too?” Ch’Targh sneers at Worf before leaving. LOL, good one actually.

“How about a skinny margarita garnished with some fresh cut fruit? I’m not being sarcastic, I was going to get one for myself, too. Shit sounds refreshing as fuck right now.”
“Don’t you dare kill my son. That’s my job. And I’m terrible at it.”

Later, Martok chills with Worf and casually brings up the mess hall fight, and laments that he seems to have lost his first officer the moment Alexander boarded his ship. God, I love him here. He chastises Worf for breaking up the fight, proclaiming that Ch’Targh wasn’t going to kill his son, merely wound him. Martok is just spitting facts this entire episode and it’s great. He encourages Worf to help Alexander with his sub-par fighting skills.

A battle alert interrupts their chat, and on the bridge Alexander reports that a Jem’Hadar ship is attacking. It doesn’t show up on the viewscreen, and when the sensors report its weapons fire, nothing happens. Worf looks at Alexander’s console and sees that it wasn’t a real attack, just a battle simulation from training that he forgot to clear. The bridge crew has a laugh and Ch’Targh seemingly starts to bully Alexander for it; Martok stops Worf from getting involved. Ch’Targh instead slaps Alexander on his shoulders and his attitude shifts to the familial, abusive jocularity Klingons are known for, accepting the kid as one of them. See? Martok says. They’ve accepted him. “They’ve accepted him as the ship’s fool,” Worf grumbles.

“Keep watch for any more sensor ghosts! Especially the blue ones, they’re the toughest.”
“Worf… just what is your deal, man? Honestly.”

Jesus fucking Christ, Worf. You are the absolute worst. Nothing this kid does is ever good enough. He starts to gain acceptance among the crew – but no, he didn’t do it right. Just fuck off, dude.

Later on, Worf attempts to train Alexander in some hand to hand combat with bladed weapons. Alexander’s skills are poor, and Worf’s attempts to guide him fall on deaf ears as he rebelliously rejects his father’s advice. It ends up in an argument, and Alexander accuses his father of wanting to send him away yet again. Worf tries to understand why Alexander has pivoted to wanting to be a warrior when he resisted that path all throughout his youth. But his son is unwilling to share why, and Worf warns him that he’s going to get himself killed by the Jem’Hadar. Alexander, the mopey teen that he is, accepts that maybe once he’s dead his father will finally be happy. I wish I was never born!!! Neither of these bozos are that sympathetic; despite Worf’s shittiness as a father, Alexander’s whininess is still grating.

“Prepare for stabbing speed!”

And even more later on, we get a duplicate of this scene with Martok in the place of Worf. Structurally, it’s kind of weird to just repeat the same thing, but it’s Martok and he’s awesome so whatever. If you just recreated every scene with Martok in place of Worf I’d watch the shit out of that show.

Anyway, Alexander is yet again training with a bat’leth when Martok enters and encourages him to continue. He fumbles around, and Martok is as charitable and encouraging as possible which is sweet. He asks Alexander why he’s on his ship, who replies that he wants to serve the empire. “That’s a slogan, not an answer,” Martok says, cutting through the B.S. It’s so great. Alexander keeps his reasons private, and asks for a chance to prove himself. “I just gave you one!” an annoyed Martok shoots back. He then disdainfully compares Alexander to his father, as they’re both tight-lipped pains in the ass. That seems to rile Alexander up, and Martok states that despite Worf’s less than charming qualities he still needs him (aww), but he doesn’t need Alexander (ohh) and informs him that his father has transferred him to another ship before telling him to collect his gear. Alexander just stands there in stunned silence before Martok grumbles “Now…” Buddy, you do not want to be the guy who makes Martok repeat an order.

“I once repeated my order to a waiter. Ask me where I have his skull displayed.”

The scene is all well and good, but here’s the episode’s biggest, glaring flaw: Alexander’s reason for becoming a warrior is never fucking stated. At all! His character’s whole shtick was that he didn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps. And now he’s done a complete 180, with Mysterious Reasons that keep being alluded to, and they’re never revealed! Not that I care that much, but c’mon, this is storytelling 101 here. Call it Chekov’s firecracker (because a gun is too interesting a metaphor for this lukewarm family drama). Worf asks if he thought becoming a warrior would please him, which Alexander ardently refuses. So what is it???

Trek already committed this blunder with Wesley Crusher – his whole shtick was that he was a wonder child that was destined to be the smartest Starfleet officer ever. And then in one episode that was completely done away with for completely unknown reasons. AND, if you happened to watch the deleted scenes of that one movie, it’s revealed that he ended up back in Starfleet anyway! (And not again by the time of Picard?) What are we doing with these kids, writers? Pick a direction and stick with it! Or if you want to change, fine. But give a reason.

If I wanted to be charitable (and I never do), maybe Alexander’s about face is some sort of pre-destination thing so that he aligns with how he eventually turns out in the future, where he embraces the aggression of his people after his pacifism apparently gets Worf killed. OK, how about this: what if Alexander revealed that his future self actually told him about all that stuff? And it scared him so much that he gave up his own dreams in order to save his father? This was the core motivation of Jake in the wonderfully stunning “The Visitor.” The episode with future Alexander was pretty wacky and didn’t totally work, but I think this direction might have grounded it and integrated its ideas a lot better. But alas, we don’t get that. Or anything, for that matter. So why should we care?

The Rotarran gets attacked (for real this time) by the Jem’Hadar. The ship gets a plasma leak and Alexander volunteers to fix it. Ch’Targh goes with him and it’s interesting (but nice) to see how his shield polarity has flipped. The Rotarran is victorious against its attackers (which is amazing, considering it was one against three), and Worf goes down to the engine room to check on Alexander. The leak was sealed, but Alexander accidentally locked himself in the chamber and emerges, filthy and embarrassed. But Worf seems almost pleasantly amused.

“Alexander, you lovable screw-up. You really are my son.”

It’s… I dunno. I expected the whole “two people struggle against a dangerous plot device to bring them closer together.” Like how Riker saved his transporter duplicate’s life and it suddenly resolves their personality conflict for some reason. Not that that’s great writing, but it’s something, at least. But here, Worf is on the bridge, Alexander is in engineering. There’s zero interaction between them for this pivotal character bridging moment. And we don’t see Alexander do the heroic thing, it’s all off screen. What exactly has changed between them during the attack? The episode essentially shrugs and says “Eh, they’re fine now, gotta wrap this up.”

On Terek Nor, Dukat is giving a speech to some Bajorans about a boring managerial initiative. After it’s done, he mentions to Kira that Ziyal’s art will be included in the Cardassian art institute’s exhibition. Kira’s antipathy for Dukat temporarily evaporates and they share their pride in her. Dukat says he’s having a party for her, and Kira happily accept the invitation. She makes a deadpan crack about the busy schedule of “an interstellar despot” and Dukat gives the most sensible chuckle you’ve ever heard. It’s a genuinely, oddly funny moment.

Galaxy’s Best Boss

An extremely uncomfortable Damar shows up at Kira’s quarters with a delivery. I love the palpable hatred between these two. Apparently it was Dukat’s idea, which is kind of hilarious. As much as Damar is his boy, he also wants to fuck with him by putting him in a servile role against someone he knows Damar hates. Dukat, you glorious bastard.

Service with a scowl.

The delivery is a nice dress for the party tonight, and Kira reflexively drapes it against her body to admire in the mirror. And almost immediately she tosses it away and asks herself what the hell she’s doing.

It’s such a fascinating moment and I really admire the subtlety of it. Dukat’s weird and gross infatuation with Kira has been a plot point for a while now, and her stonewalling is no doubt rankling (but at the same time also magnetic) to his narcissistic personality. Through Ziyal, he’s found the one crack in her boundaries and is doing what he can to exploit it (much as he did to the station’s shields during the Dominion’s assault). He’s worming his way into her personal life, and Kira’s momentary lapse shows how insidious his advances can be. That’s what makes narcissists so slick – they make others feel good, give them things they want. We’ll see in more disturbing detail how Dukat woos women. As strong as Kira is, she’s still a fallible person. But props to her for immediately catching herself and the path she was about to start drifting down.

“Morally, it’s very slimming!”

She drops by Dukat’s quarters, plops the box down, and makes it clear she doesn’t like him and doesn’t want anything to do with him. Alaimo’s performance in this episode is… almost comedic? The memes of him as Michael Scott from The Office are funny, and amusingly, there’s something very Michael Scott-ish about his demeanor here – his animated facial expressions and complete lack of emotional awareness. He immediately dismisses Kira’s bad feelings for him – she can’t possibly know what she’s talking about, how can she not like him? He implores her to sit and talk with him so they can work it out. Kira’s issues with Dukat are Mount Everest-sized, and true to his narcissism, he thinks he can brush them aside with some weasel words. The delusion of this guy is impossible to overstate, and the extent to which he can deny reality (and other people’s thoughts and feelings) is scary. And he has this mopey, woe-is-me demeanor throughout the exchange, like Kira’s the bad guy.

She storms out, and Ziyal comes in, wondering who it was. Covering his ass, Dukat presents Ziyal with the box and she’s overjoyed at the dress. I can’t use “weird and gross” to describe Dukat enough, and the fact that he’s regifted something that was meant for a potential romantic conquest to his daughter is just wrong. SO WRONG. I mean, can you imagine if there was some present day, real-life wannabe dictator with a disgusting, boundary-crossing attitude towards his own daughter? Now that would be disturbing. Dukat is truly the best and most complex antagonist of Trek, because his villainy is so complex and unnervingly realistic.

Worf apologizes to his son for his failures as a father and acknowledges that he can’t change the past. But going forward, he wants to do better, vowing to teach Alexander how to be a warrior if he teaches him how to be a better father. His son accepts, but seems ready to believe it only if he sees it. Fair.

“Blood, Bat’leth, and Beyond was having a massive clearance sale on candles. They will sing songs of our savings!”

Alexander then joins Worf and Martok in a candlelit ceremony in which he formally joins the House of Martok (Klingons and ceremonial candles – name a more iconic duo). Just as Worf finally found a familial home for himself, the same is finally granted of his son. It really, really doesn’t make up for what this kid’s been through, but it’s not nothing. So as much as the episode tries its best to heal the divide between these two, there’s something still unsatisfying about the conclusion. The emotional wounds caused by a deadbeat dad’s years of absence aren’t something that can be healed overnight or in a ceremony, and that just makes the episode’s resolution that much more unresolved.

“Sons and Daughters” continues the Trek tradition of characters and their problematic relationships with family. The backdrop of war complicates that which is already fraught with great angst and difficulty. In the cases of Worf and Kira, their relationship with their younger counterparts represents weaknesses for them. Alexander represents a failing of Worf’s character, and Ziyal provides a vulnerability of Kira’s that an enemy is eager to exploit. It’s no coincidence that the series’ two toughest characters are used in this episode to show that where children are concerned, caring too little or too much can bring about all sorts of problems.

Stray Observations:

  • The Jem’Hadar are kind of getting nerfed here – Martok’s single bird of prey takes on three of them and seems to handle them without much issue. As we recall, three Jem’Hadar ships took on a Galaxy-class no problem in their first appearance. Then again, a bird of prey also took out a Galaxy, so maybe they’re the strongest ship of all?
  • The ceremony at the end is this long protracted thing where the three Klingons bleed all over the house emblem they give to Alexander. As opposed to Martok just handing his to Worf and him slapping it on his bandolier thingie. It’s like they’re fucking with him for no reason. He deserves it!
  • There’s a brief scene where Jake tries to squeeze into Odo and Kira’s resistance cell meeting. I admire the kid’s moxy!
“C’mon let me join your secret resistance club for jerks!”
  • Presented without context:
“Its… for you! Extra cheese with pineapple and cauliflower, just the way you like it, I assume?”