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Love, Klingon Style

By Robert Burke Richardson
Posted at August 16, 2003 - 8:42 AM GMT

This is the fourth in a series of articles written by Robert Burke Richardson to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, with each article examining a theme or issue explored during the show's seven-year run.

"We are not accorded the luxury of choosing the women we fall in love with. Do you think Sirella is anything like the woman I thought I'd marry? She is a prideful, arrogant, mercurial woman who shares my bed far too infrequently for my taste. And yet... I love her deeply. We Klingons often tout our prowess in battle, our desire for glory and honour above all else... but how hollow is the sound of victory without someone to share it with? Honour gives little comfort to a man alone in his home... and in his heart."
- General Martok, "You Are Cordially Invited"

Worf and Jadzia have a very different romantic relationship from Rom and Leeta, Odo and Kira, or Ezri and Bashir. What Martok suggests in the quotation above is that neither Worf nor Jadzia really has any choice in the matter: they are destined to be together. "Not every relationship ends like a Klingon opera," Dax says while vacationing on Risa. "No," Worf replies. "Only the ones that matter."

The Klingon and Trill may be destined to be together, but it's hardly a match made in heaven. In fact, the gods don't play a role in it at all. They can't, because their upstart Klingon creations killed them almost a millennia ago. The story of the creation of the Klingons — and the death of the gods — is even part of their wedding ceremony. Contrast this romantic outlook with a Bajoran such as Kira, who ended her relationship with Shakaar simply because the Prophets told her to do so.

Klingons are a deeply spiritual people. They have rituals for everything, as Quark notes in "Looking for Parmach in All the Wrong Places". Yet Klingons are not religious, at least not in the Bajoran or Christian senses. In this respect they are closest to Federation humans who, by the twenty-fourth century, have also rid themselves of their gods. Unlike their Klingon allies, however, humans seem to have eliminated a lot of the spiritual aspects of their lives to boot. Roddenberry humans are non-religious rationalists. What, exactly, are Klingons?

In Western culture, choice is a key ingredient in our matches. Odo and Kira choose to be together as a couple ("His Way"), but they are also able to choose to be apart ("What You Leave Behind"). Dax and Worf are incapable of making a similar choice ("Change of Heart"). Rom must also choose to love Leeta ("Doctor Bashir, I Presume"). Leeta's need to have Rom actively choose even becomes a test of sorts: a challenge he must meet to win her hand. This is all very hew-mon.

What I like about Martok's method is that it takes romance completely out of the rational realm. Love, for him, and for Worf and Jadzia, is a matter of faith. The question on everyone's lips at this point, I'm sure, is: what would Friedrich Nietzsche make of all of this?

Following in the tradition of Immanuel Kant, Nietzsche linked rationality with God. God, for them, was the ultimate perspective: absolute correctness. Kant reasoned that the ultimate goal of philosophy was to achieve the god's-eye-view (ultimate knowledge), but that humanity, because of its faulted state (thanks on the one hand to Eve's love of apples, and to the irreconcilable void between the effable and the ineffable on the other), could never achieve this goal. Nietzsche went one step further and declared the god's-eye-view a useless goal. For God, you see, was dead.

"Have you not heard?" Nietzsche asks in the introduction to Thus Spake Zarathustra. "Have you not heard that God is dead?" We understand that, by God, Nietzsche means the ultimate or correct perspective. Without it, all things become possible, because all perspectives gain value. The rational, favoured mode of thought since the enlightenment, can no longer be seen as the only way of thinking.

So what does this leave us with? There are other ways of knowing than with the head. There is, for instance, the heart. Martok's view of love doesn't make much rational sense: he describes his wife as "...a prideful, arrogant, mercurial woman who shares my bed far too infrequently for my taste". Yet he loves her, and this is okay, since love doesn't have to make rational sense. In some cases, love even supersedes rationality (one might characterize this as a teleological suspension of the ethical).

Nietzsche would like Klingon society. Their gods are dead (killed by their own hands), yet their spirituality lives on. Klingons live lives patterned on Elizabethan tragedies, yet come to happy endings. In Shakespeare, tragic heroes challenge nature — challenge the gods themselves — and get punished soundly. Yet anyone who's read Julius Caesar, Macbeth, or Hamlet, knows that the moment of challenge is the moment when the characters truly come to life. Consider George Costanza and his Frogger machine: the machine ends up smashed — erasing his legendary high score — but the moment he challenged fate, and tried to save the machine, he lived more fully than...

Okay, I'm getting a little silly, but you get the idea. Deep Space Nine explored several romantic relationships during its seven seminal years, and each one had its own parameters and issues (heck, I still have issues with the Dukat/Winn romance). Ezri/Bashir, Kira/Odo, and Leeta/Rom strike me as very modern takes on romance. There is a rational aspect to each, and conscious choice plays a major role. Worf and Jadzia contrast these more traditional relationships by transcending choice and reason.

"You come first," Worf tells Jadzia. "Before duty. Before honour." Coming from Worf, that's a big deal.

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Robert Burke Richardson is a freelance writer.

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