You are standing in a room decorated with red banners. You are packed in a crowd and unbearably hot from the flames alight in several large braziers. Also because you are dressed entirely in leather and velvet. Deep drumbeats fill the air, and a woman’s voice, low and loud, intones:
With fire and stereotypes did the Ronald D. Moore forge this episode. So quickly was it paced, so potentially happy was the ending that the fans cried out, ‘Yes! Klingon wedding! We totally needed a break from all the serious war episodes.’
But the episode faltered at times. Its laughs grew cheap and the fans said, ‘Seriously? You had Odo and Kira just resolve all their problems off-screen? In a closet?’ And the episode said, ‘Come on, that reference to the Klingon Bachelor Party was funny.’ And the fans said, ‘Maybe the first time.’
And the episode realized it had erred, so the Ronald D. Moore went back to his forge and prepared to bring forth his next episode.
“You Are Cordially Invited” is a fun episode, no question. We get some cranky-yet-endearing Martok, a Dax and Kira BFF conversation, a scene were Dax gets to be awesomely snarky by calling out Sirella’s less-than-perfect lineage, fire juggling, and Nog and Rom dancing.
I’m serious. The dancing in this episode is ah-mazing, especially with Nog’s enthusiastic vocalizations and the way that the foot movements seem to consist of slow jumping in a circle, while leaning back and forth and alternately making claw motions and grabbing your own ears.
Come on everyone, dance like a Ferengi:
But there are a ton of missed opportunities in this episode too.
One missed opportunity is the fact that Odo and Kira’s conflict from the occupation of Deep Space Nine gets resolved off-screen.
Kira, he linked with the female changeling after he promised you he wouldn’t, and it almost resulted in Rom’s death and the Dominion taking over the Alpha Quadrant. I needed to see how you got through that hours-long conversation and seemed not only happy but almost downright perky after.
To be fair, it seems Moore, Ira Steven Behr, Nana Visitor, and Rene Auberjonois were all unhappy with the choice not to show the conversation but Moore felt there wasn’t time to write it adequately after a last-minute plot change. And at least you get to see it in flashbacks in one of the DS9 relaunch novels.
Another scene I wish had been included is Worf’s apology to Jadzia after he calls off the wedding and Martok prevails upon him that “honour gives little comfort to a man alone in his own home and his heart.”
The other missed opportunities don’t stem from a lack of time, but rather from a lack of imagination.
Weddings are one of the most gender-ritualized traditions we have. Whenever Trek uses a tradition we’re familiar with and shows it being performed by another alien race, there are so many possibilities to go outside the box, including with gender roles.
So a Klingon wedding – that’s super exciting! Worf is going all out with the traditional trappings. So what do we get to see of Klingon culture that’s really different and enlightening?
Turns out it’s mostly superficial stuff. It’s like they made a list of a bunch of our patriarchal and heteronormative wedding traditions, added a bunch of rom-com stereotypes and just stuck “but Klingon” on the end of every item. We get a bachelor party, but Klingon. We get an aloof, angry, meddling monster-in-law, but Klingon. We get a wedding ceremony with an officiant, recitation of vows and a kiss at the end, but Klingon. We get the bride-to-be cancelling, and then un-cancelling the wedding at the last minute. Instead of wedding guests throwing rice at the happy couple they fake-attack them with clubs.
I guess the only thing that was a real break from norms is that the wedding was all about what the man, Worf, wanted. Usually we expect the woman in a heterosexual relationship is going to be the one with her heart set on certain things for the wedding (hence the Bridezilla stereotype). I like that Jadzia can say, “I’ve gone through five Trill ceremonies three as a bride, two as a groom, and I’m a little bored with it.” She acknowledges this ceremony just means more to Worf and notes how sentimental he is about his traditions. Unfortunately, there’s another side to this, which I’ll get to later.
First I have to talk a little bit about the “Klingon bachelor party”, aka Kal’Hyah. The scenes that actually show the rituals are pretty funny and enjoyable. Instead of getting trashed and ogling strippers, Miles, Julian, Sisko and Alexander find themselves facing a four-day fast and six trials: deprivation, blood, pain, anguish, sacrifice and death.
“Sounds like marriage to me,” jokes Bashir and thus becomes the first person eliminated from “Last Comic Standing: DS9”.
But Martok and Worf singing and Miles and Julian nearly breaking their fast make up for it.
What bugs me is not what happens in Kal’Hyah but rather the continuing references by everyone imagining a “Klingon bachelor party”:
Bashir: Four nights at a Klingon bachelor party. Just think of the possibilities.
O’Brien: Thank God Keiko’s not here.
Kira: They look so serious.
Jake: It’s all an act. They don’t want the rest of us to know what kind of debauchery they’re up to.
Kira: Like what?
Jake (repeating what Quark has told him): It’s a Klingon bachelor party. Use your imagination.
It’s implied they think it’s going to be like a contemporary human bachelor party, complete with drink and maybe scantily-clad holo-women, only more intense (the word “debauchery”means “excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures” and O’Brien’s reference implies Keiko would disapprove of his participation).
We’re supposed to assume humans are still doing bachelor parties the way we do today in the 24th century, and that’s disappointing. The bachelor party narrative – a celebration of a man’s “freedom” before he gets “tied down” to a woman (see Bashir’s aforementioned description of marriage) – is pretty insulting. The much more recent phenomenon of bachelorette parties tries to flip the script and give women a similar opportunity, but the sexual aspects tend to be less serious (e.g. giant penis hats).
I would love to think that 300 years from now gender-segregated, heteronormative traditions like this would not be so pervasive. Not everyone who gets married today has a stereotypical bachelor or bachelorette party, but in “You Are Cordially Invited” everyone gets the reference, even Bajorans and Ferengi, implying this is still the dominant way of doing things.
On to the most important part of this episode, which is the A-plot about Dax proving her worthiness to Martok’s wife, Sirella.
Going into this episode we already know several things about Klingon women’s place in society. We know they aren’t totally equal. For example, women have to get special dispensation to head their House, and only really if a male heir is unavailable.
But we also know Klingon women are pretty badass. They challenge the association of femininity with weakness and sentimentality. They can be hunters and scientists and warriors. They exercise political power. When they mate they claw and throw things.
So how does Dax have to prove herself to Sirella? She does learn the history of the women in Sirella’s family, which is a pretty cool tradition (plus Dax’s using it to needle Sirella is enjoyable). But other than that and lifting heavy braziers, she’s expected to prove herself through domestic tasks, including hand-crafting candles and cooking a traditional meal.
This plays right into the stereotype of the meddlesome mother-in-law who’s anxious that her new daughter-in-law won’t be able to carry out domestic responsibilities. That particular stereotype totally absolves men (sons) of being expected to do domestic work and implies women are supposed to put their husbands and sons first.
Earlier in the episode Kira and Dax have a discussion where Kira raises the concern that this whole wedding seems to be about what Worf wants. As I mentioned, I like Jadzia’s explanation, but it gets less comfortable later on when she’s repeatedly undervalued and asked to compromise.
What I thought was going to happen in this episode is that Dax was going to end up proving herself by standing up to Sirella and demanding respect, and thereby asserting her importance in this whole process. Instead, Sirella gets to run roughshod over her, even calling her a “Risian slut”. When Jadzia does stand up for herself by hitting Sirella after Sirella pulls a knife, that’s the last straw that causes Worf to call off the wedding.
And what it all comes down to is that Jadzia hasn’t kowtowed to Sirella:
Dax: Do you know what he wanted me to do? He wanted me to go crawling on my hands and knees to Sirella to beg her forgiveness. Beg her! Me! I was once the Federation Ambassador to the Klingon Empire. I negotiated the Khitomer Accords before Worf was even born.
Sisko: Curzon negotiated the Accords. And I’ve got news for you, old man. You’re not Curzon anymore.
Dax: And what the hell is that supposed to mean?
Sisko: It means that you can’t expect Sirella to treat you like Curzon just because you carry his memories. To her, you’re just a young woman who decided to marry into her family. If it means you have to bow down and kiss her boots, that’s exactly what you have to do. And you knew that. The moment you decided to marry Worf, you knew that sooner or later you’d have to bow down and show her the respect that she’s due.
I don’t know, but grovelling when all you did was defend yourself doesn’t seem like very Klingon behaviour to me. Also, I think one should always take advice with a grain of salt when it comes from someone who’s just been through three days of Kal’Hyah.
Thankfully they left out the scene where she does go beg Sirella’s forgiveness.
And so Worf gets the traditional Klingon wedding he always wanted and Dax gets admitted to the House of Martok.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass. Kira and Dax talk about the ceremony (debatable since they’re also talking about Worf)/Kira asks Dax what time it is and Dax replies/Dax and Sirella talk about things other than Worf, like Sirella’s ancestors.