Returning from an exploratory mission in the Gamma Quadrant, Jadzia Dax informs us through a Science Officer’s Log that her team has discovered something unique: A mysterious blue glowing artefact of unknown origin. Also on her team aboard the runabout USS Orinoco are her erstwhile travelling companion Doctor Julian Bashir, and an operations division ensign called Jamie. Before they can dock, however, Julian gets an urgent call from Commander Sisko that he’s needed in the infirmary to tend to a medical emergency. Before he can even acknowledge, however, he’s beamed there directly from the runabout cockpit.
A Lieutenant Jayakar has been unfortunately killed in some sort horrible malfunction. She was escorting a diplomatic party from the Romulan Star Empire led by an Ambassador Jannek when something seemed to go wrong with one of they airlocks. Jannek himself is on hand to offer his condolences, and urges diligence to Commander Sisko in determining whether it really was an accident, or whether the Lieutenant was murdered. Odo reports that mechanical failure seems like the obvious initial culprit, but he would never accuse Chief O’Brien of negligence, and is far more inclined to point the finger at deliberate sabotage. There’s an obvious tension with the Romulan party present, but before Jannek can excuse himself Dax and Jamie arrive. We get the by-now stock Trill joke (which Jadzia even lampshades), wherein she tries to catch up with an old friend who doesn’t recognise her at first. Jannek, however, seems far more interested in Jamie: He compliments the wisdom in her assignment to Deep Space 9, and expresses a desire to get to know her better, a fact which leaves her and Doctor Bashir somewhat taken aback.
Some time later, Commander Sisko escorts Jannek to the floor of the Bajoran Provisional Government. The Ambassador is interested in opening up formal diplomatic relations with Bajor, but the Bajorans are suspicions. Not of the Romulans themselves, necessarily, but because the Romulans have dealt with the Cardassians in the past. Jannek contends that the Romulan Star Empire seeks to work with anyone who “shares its interests”, but it’s clear he’s going to have some work to do in swaying them. Back on the station, Jadzia, Julian and Jamie are running tests on the artefact in the lab when one of Jannek’s aides comes in suffering from abdominal pain. Turns out he had an allergic reaction to something he ate, namely some Klingon gagh.
After returning from their meeting with the Provisional Government, Jannek and Sisko are talking about Federation history, which is something the Ambassador is deeply interested in. He says Commander Sisko reminds him of the great Starfleet hero James T. Kirk, but Ben can’t see how, feeling that he and Kirk are really almost polar opposites, specifically mentioning how important family is to him, which he contrasts with Kirk’s desire to never be anywhere other than a starship bridge. Sisko does say that both he and Kirk are both “a product of our times”, and Jannek says he is as well. Unlike his father, who was a commander in the Imperial military, he chose instead to be a diplomat and work for peace through negotiation. After Commander Sisko leaves for the night, Jannek’s aide comes in to deliver a report.
The aide tells Jannek about the artefact Dax’s team found in the Gamma Quadrant and explains that she’s examining it with Doctor Bashir and Ensign Jamie, whose full name is revealed to us as Jamie Samantha Kirk. Also, the artefact may be a new kind of life form, as it’s radiating a massive amount of energy. Jannek has heard all he needs though, and dismisses his aid. As he leaves, we see that a vase on Jannek’s table is actually Odo in disguise, and that he’s been eavesdropping on the two Romulans. Odo then goes to see Quark to ask him, in his usual way, whether or not he knows anything about the artefact. After some light and friendly threats, Quark confesses that he has had offers for it, but from Bajorans. Quark stresses that he doesn’t know anything about the artefact or what it is though (except that it’s probably valuable), as his contacts wouldn’t tell him anything when he asked. Odo leaves the bar, but immediately gets an alarm indicating a breach in the infirmary.
There’s been another goldshirt death, this time some guy named Winters, and there’s a massive energy discharge from the infirmary. Odo and Sisko go to investigate, and they see an intruder getting zapped hardcore by the artefact. Odo warns the Commander it’s too dangerous for them to go in themselves, but then the energy levels return to normal, and the two are left wondering what the artefact is and why it’s suddenly become so important. Sisko and Odo have a brief conversation about intrinsic value before they discover another death: One of the Romulan aides, namely, the one who Doctor Bashir treated earlier and who reported on the artefact to Ambassador Jannek. Commander Sisko questions Jannek about the incident. Although Sisko is suspicious, Jannek is honest with him, saying his aide was acting under his orders, but only to find out anything that could help with the negotiations with the Bajorans.
Later, Commander Sisko asks Major Kira what she thinks of things. Jannek knew about the attempted theft of the artefact, but Ben can’t figure out if this means he was the one behind it or not. Kira says she’s been talking with Odo, and they both think the Bajorans are involved: Because the artefact is from the Gamma Quadrant, and many Bajorans see anything connected with the Wormhole to be the WIll of the Prophets, a fundamentalist sect might be trying to secure it for their own aims. The question is, if they are, are they also connected to the Romulans? Just then, Odo comes in and says he saw Ambassador Jannek at Quark’s Bar sharing a date with Jamie Kirk, although he dryly admits “I may not be comfortable with humanoid rituals, but I don’t believe his intentions are of the romantic kind”. Commander Sisko tells Odo to keep watch, but not to take any rash action.
At the Bar, Jamie is still stunned by Jannek’s interest in her. The Ambassador says he’s trying to get to know the people of Starfleet better, but Kirk protests there must be more important people he could be talking to than her. Jannek responds that they in truth have a lot in common, but while that may be so, Jamie has another appointment and has to leave, though she’s open to continuing their conversation later. It turns out Jamie, along with Jadzia Dax and Doctor Bashir, are taking the Orinoco to a safe distance away from Deep Space 9 so that they can conduct safer tests on the artefact. They don’t get very far when suddenly a pair of armed Bajorans jumps out of the storage bays and commandeers the ship, saying something about a “chalice” and affording it “the respect it deserves”. It doesn’t take long for Ops to notice this, and that the ship is diverting to Bajor. Sisko, Kira and Miles O’Brien go after it in the Rio Grande, but before they can leave Ambassador Jannek requests to come along to prove his innocence once and for all.
Thankfully, Dax thought to activate a homing signal and the rescue team finds the Orinoco fairly quickly. It’s Ambassador Jannek who picks up the trail, and leads Sisko, Kira and O’Brien to a secluded valley where Dax, Bashir and Kirk are being guarded by a group of armed Bajoran militants who have put the artefact on some kind of pedestal. And not just any Bajoran militants, but the Circle, who have reformed in order to weaponize the artefact, which they believe is an Ark of the Covenant-style Divine Superweapon that will “Strike down the disbelievers” while protecting the “chosen ones”. However things go pretty badly for them once they activate it, as the power of the Chalice winds up snuffing out the the Circle’s own members, and leaving Jannek and the Deep Space 9 team alive. Dax and Bashir try to revive them, but then the Chalice transforms into a new shape: That of a humanoid figure.
The figure identifies itself as Ayelborne, last of the Organians. Ayelborne promises to revive all of the fallen, and recaps “Errand of Mercy”, that Original Series episode where the Organians prevented a war between the humans and the Klingons. Ayelborne is about to leave this plane of being, but before he does, he wants to do the same for the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire. It is revealed that Jannek is the son of the Romulan Commander Captain James Kirk battled to the death in “Balance of Terror”, and Jamie Kirk, is, of course, a descendant of Kirk himself. Jannek explains that, among Romulans, vengeance is passed down generation to generation until it is extracted, but Jannek wanted to buck that trend, and sought out Captain Kirk’s descendant so that they could work together for peace instead, for his father had said that he and James Kirk could have been friends in another reality. And with that, Jamie Kirk accepts a position as Ambassador Jannek’s official liaison to the Federation, with a sly hint that “an old family friend” of both of theirs is happy.
“Blood & Honor” is the result of a somewhat experimental period in Malibu’s history. It’s the first in a “Celebrity” side series that, while it only lasted two issues, featured actual Star Trek actors writing their own Star Trek stories to explore parts of their character they weren’t given the chance to on television. If you couldn’t tell given the plot, this issue was written by Mark Lenard, who played both Spock’s father Ambassador Sarek and, more relevantly, the Romulan Commander from “Balance of Terror”. Although it was, realistically speaking, always only ever going to be Malibu that would take a chance on a project like this, it does lead to the interesting end product of a story about peace with the Romulan Star Empire, with an explicit nod to Spock’s reunification movement, being done on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine instead of on Star Trek: The Next Generation, which is where you might be inclined to assume it would be a better fit.
That said, however, “Blood & Honor” is a far better fit for this side of the galaxy then it might seem to be at first glance. We’re skipping ahead a bit in our narrative to May 1995 (and we’ll jump back a few months to January next time) simply because I happen to think placing this story here makes a cleaner arc to my planned end-point, so you’ll notice the character designs Leonard Kirk uses are based on early Dominion War designs (and Commander Sisko is altogether more gruff and brusque then I would like him, but that could simply be due to Mark Lenard’s comparative unfamiliarity with his character too), though the story itself is very much a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine one. There’s The Circle, of course, which links it directly to the previous incarnation, but this also a story very much about peace and not war. The overt connection to not only “Balance of Terror”, but “Errand of Mercy” and “Unification” certainly gives “Blood & Honor” a whiff of fanwank about it, but I’m inclined to forgive it for a couple reasons: One, these are all stories that had a massive impact on not just Trekkie fandom but pop culture more broadly, so a general audience could reasonably be expected to be familiar with them (and if they’re not, there’s enough naturalistic exposition that it conveys the required backstory elegantly).
Secondly, “Balance of Terror” was arguably the best damn thing the Original Series ever fucking did and something Star Trek has, broadly speaking, utterly fucking failed to properly interact with in the 29 years since. The one exception being, of course, Hearts and Minds. And now maybe it’s more clear why Star Trek: Deep Space Nine doing a story about the Romulans and “Balance of Terror” makes sense.
“Blood & Honor” is nothing less then the natural end-point of the Romulan mythology that has existed since “Balance of Terror” and was troublesomely complicated by “The Neutral Zone” and “The Enemy”. The series has picked up Jadzia Dax’s challenge to the Romulans in Hearts and Minds that they have lost their honour and integrity and decided to respond to it head on. It’s a testament to how important it was for the series to do this and to the immense cultural gravity of “Balance of Terror”, not to mention the author himself, that Mark Lenard chose to use his opportunity to pen a Star Trek story to address this instead of doing something with Spock and Sarek instead, which I’m sure almost every Star Trek fan would have expected him to. Although it does strike me as I write this that you could very easily read Ambassador Jannek as a combination of the Romulan Commander and Sarek, which probably says something in and of itself.
But give or take “Balance of Terror” and Hearts and Minds, and “Blood & Honor” is on its own level a story that’s very much at home on Deep Space 9. If you think about the kind of diegetic role a place like the station would play, one could certainly imagine it being somewhere diplomatic parties would go to hold gatherings and whatnot. Indeed, we even saw some of that in “The Forsaken” and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine The Next Generation. It certainly makes more sense for ambassadors to be paying a visit to Deep Space 9 then to ask a a notional exploration ship like Captain Picard’s Enterprise to ferry them about, and the Bajorans provide an important third party who needs to be convinced of the good intentions of diplomatic representatives from galactic powers like the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire, as we see in this story.
It must be said though there are a few quirks and eccentricities with this book. As important as it is, it’s very clearly Jamie and Jannek’s story that’s front and centre here, to the point the regular cast are pushed aside a bit. A certain type of Star Trek fan will probably resent this, and hell, I’m not 100% onboard with it either. But this is a more nuanced nitpick that deserves a more empathetic reading than the raising of the dread “M.S.” phrase. What this has is the shape of a proper Next Generation-era Star Trek story (speaking of, I love the touch of both Jannek and Jamie Kirk being part of their own respective “Next Generations”, and the flagging of the contrast between James Kirk and Benjamin Sisko): The character development should go to the guest stars-That’s the only way Star Trek’s brand of utopianism can accommodate drama of the sort Westerners understand. The tricky bit is striking the balance between keeping the dramatic stuff on the non-regulars while still making sure the regulars play an important role in fostering that. In this kind of setup the regulars are best employed as mentor and role model figures, and nobody here really gets the opportunity to be that: Not even Jadzia Dax who, for various reasons, one would very much like to see her be.
In fact, I have to confess the writing for the regulars is bit wanting across the board. Jannek is as good as one would expect and Jamie Kirk is adorable, but it’s clear Mark Lenard doesn’t have a great grasp on the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine characters, though that’s perhaps understandable. Dax is probably the biggest miss from my perspective and I already mentioned Sisko’s odd gruffness, and while we could possibly blame the Dominion War for that it is worth noting Sisko here is a bit reminiscent of Captain Picard or Jim Kirk, if you caught them in a grouchy mood on a bad day. Another obvious Original Series throwback that’s even less desirable are the redshirt deaths, or in this case the goldshirt ones. Bad form, there. Elsewhere, Lenard doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with characters like Major Kira, and I don’t think Chief O’Brien even gets a line. On the other hand, Odo is quite proactive and gets a number of opportunities to display his trademark snark, oddly muted in Lenard’s hands as it may be.
(Putting Lenard’s script aside for the moment, the art in this issue is also not the greatest I’ve ever seen from this book. That said, I do super dig how Kirk models the USS Orinoco after its Playmates Toys incarnation, weird upside-down cockpit and all.)
But even this is all being way too harsh on this story. I’m inclined to be far more forgiving to Mark Lenard then I am Mike W. Barr, who was actually the head writer on this book for like a year and had an even worse ear for his own characters and employed way more egregious pulp serial stalling tactics. Of course Mark Lenard would be most comfortable writing for Ambassador Jannek, why would we expect otherwise? The important thing here is the heart of what Lenard wrote, because a Star Trek story in summer, 1995 echoing Hearts and Minds‘ themes of peace and reconciliation, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s own broader themes of healing, was sadly an outlier. The fact that it’s about peace with the Romulans and bringing an end to an unnatural and unneeded conflict that reaches all the way back to “Balance of Terror” is an added bonus, but the fact it’s about peace at all is its most important legacy. Because in 1995 that’s getting harder and harder to find.
It is worth asking ourselves what kind of peace we’re promised at the story’s “Beginning”. Jannek is, of course, a diplomat, and seems altogether more interested in going through official diplomatic channels to resolve conflict, even as he himself likens diplomacy to hunting and stalking prey. This would be a peace for those in the halls of power, the liberal dream that representative democracy is the cure for all the world’s ills. This is, we should already know, a dangerously misguided fallacy. Many years ago, long before I ever thought of starting this project, I tried to rewatch Babylon 5 for the first time since the 1990s, and I couldn’t get through it at all. Even then I was repulsed by how unrealistic the fantasy it was trying to sell was, even before I looked more closely at all the other ugly political implications of that series. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine should not be trying to be Babylon 5 in the first place, but these are ideas we should keep in mind.
This, more than anything else, marks “Blood & Honor” as being very much a product of its time. Its heart is in the right place, but maybe its mind isn’t quite there yet. We are about to bid farewell to Starbase Deep Space 9, its life tragically cut short in its prime. As we prepare to say our goodbyes, we must think seriously about what it’s come to stand for over these past two years. Because it has to mean more than the dream of entitled white liberalism.
As in all things, it’s best to go back to the beginning to find the answer.