Knights of Badassdom does not, in fact, suck (and 11 reasons why)

I’m historically slow on the uptake when it comes to watching movies, so even though I got really excited when I saw this was going to be a thing back in 2013, it took me until a couple days ago finally get around to it—and I was glad I did. It struck me as a comedy-horror mash-up that fits alongside personal favorites like Slither and 2001 Maniacs, except with even more to satisfy my deeply ingrained nerdiness.

So I was pretty surprised when I consulted the internet post-viewing and saw a host of posts talking about how terrible and disappointing this movie is. I am admittedly a connoisseur of cheesy gore, and I came into the movie with an almost complete lack of expectations, making me a difficult viewer to disappoint. But there’s really a lot to love about this movie, including:

1) The geek factor
So there’s the LARPing, which is kind of one pinnacle of geekdom, but aside from that this movie is chock full of references and moments to make nerds squee. Tons of D&D jokes (obvs) that gave me nostalgic joy, and so many perfect moments (the running gag of the map, the group name, the two guys trying to identify the demon while it’s killing literally everybody, etc). Even the casting is a nerdgasm, featuring such actors as…

2) Peter Dinklage
If you’ve always wanted to see Peter Dinklage holding a bong that’s pretty much as tall as he is, you’re in luck (and you have, even if you didn’t know it until this very moment). Also he’s tripping on mushrooms for a good portion of the movie, wears chainmail (probably fake, since it’s a LARP, but still cool) and fights a demon (not fake, because plot reasons, and definitely cool).

3) Summer Glau
Remember in Serenity when River goes all crazy on the Reavers and you’re sitting there thinking “Damn, I knew she was a badass”? Summer Glau’s character in KoB, Gwen, is a badass from the start. Aside from the hulking Gunther she’s clearly the best fighter in the main group. She’s an exciting character for all us female geeks—the chick who’s allowed to be both strong and attractive, and who does the rescuing instead of needing to be rescued.

4) That it’s so metal
I’m not only talking about the fact that the main character is a metal singer, or even the fact that the big event of the weekend is called the Battle of Evermore. There are scenes in this movie that would fit just as well in a Deo video (Holy Diver, anyone?) and Gunther is one of the most metal characters ever to grace the screen. There’s always been a strong connection between metal music and fantasy, but it usually goes the other way—songs about epic battles, like the one name-dropped by the LARPers—and it’s fun to see the inverse.

5) The death scenes
There’s a high body count, and most of the deaths are fabulous. The first (death by jaw removal) is maybe the best, but there’s also some solid “rip your heart out (literally)” moments, and Danny Pudi’s bathroom bloodbath is a pretty epic way to go out.

6) The relationship metaphor
Okay, yes, I know, this is probably going way deeper than the movie really meant to, but hear me out. In the beginning, it’s Joe’s metal singing that makes Beth break up with him—she wants him to be different than he really is. Then the succubus is accidentally summoned and takes on Beth’s form (who doesn’t think of their ex as hellspawn the days after a bad breakup?) and it’s Joe’s metal singing that ultimately defeats it. The message: Joe chooses to stay true to himself instead of changing for the sake of a relationship, and in the end it means he saves himself—and the world.

7) The genre bending
One of the reasons people were so disappointed by KoB is that they didn’t think it was a very scary horror movie. And on that point, people were right; it wasn’t scary. But they were also wrong, because it’s not a horror movie—or at least, not just. If genres were ingredients in a recipe, it would be one part horror, one part romance, one part fantasy, and three parts comedy. It uses tropes from all of these genres, but it doesn’t completely follow the rules of any of them. And speaking of tropes, this movie is also great for…

8) The trope mocking
Like any good rom-com, it’s got a meet cute (that look Gwen and Joe share while he’s being “killed” by Hung). From the horror world, we’ve got unhelpful redneck cops (the paintballers), a killer lurking in the woods (the succubus, who’s also the horny devil), and the pick ‘em off technique (a la most slasher films). The fantasy/action tropes include most of the characters taking a level in badass, a satisfying lock and load montage, and of course Joe’s death metal singing qualifies as Chekhov’s skill. The characters are pretty much all tropes, too: The rich slacker (Eric), the stoner (Hung), and the wannabe Prince Charming (Ronny) are all included.

9) The use of language

Joe: Needst is not a word.
Hung: Where we are, it is.

When the LARP is going on, the characters speak “Dorkinese,” or “Ye Olde English” as I’ve alternatively heard it called. This results in one fantastic subtitled exchange between the two battle leaders; the other characters use it with varying degrees of success. There’s also an invented language (Enochian) with a pretty solid backstory (conveyed by Ronny when he sees Eric’s book).

10) The demon
Once the succubus goes into full-on demon mode, she looks like the perfect kind of ridiculous. There’s a sharp-toothed grin, a solid pair of horns, and a quality sideways belly-mouth. Also loved the fact that it was a costume instead of CGI—I know that’s a minor detail, but it really gave the baddie that old-school B-movie feel.

11) The final battle

(Spoilers, if you care)

Speaking of the demon, it takes all our heroes, a few of our villains, and a surprise back from the dead appearance from the Dinks (now new and improved with badass glowing eyes!) to finally vanquish the foe. Also fabulous: the fact that a real demon shows up at a LARP battle, the fact that the heroes show up just too late to really save the day, and the fact that asshole redneck cop gets his head ripped off, bringing him to a satisfying end. The effects on the hellspawn stormcloud are just the right amount of bad CGI to top it all off.

(/spoilers)

 

…not every movie should be judged on the same rubric. This is not Lord of the Rings. It’s not deep, it’s not big budget, and it’s not supposed to be the Next Great Movie. It’s a modern B flick, and it does “so bad it’s good” better than any other film I’ve seen in the past five years. We geeks have a tendency to sometimes take ourselves too seriously—exactly the attitude most of the LARPer characters are there to mock. If you take this movie seriously, you’re going to be disappointed; if you want to get super baked and kill 90 minutes, find this on Netflix, because you’re in for a treat.

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Deep Space Nine: A World-building Analysis (part 2 of 2)

The overlap between DS9 and TNG that was mentioned in part 1 of this post allowed for the further development of many races—the Cardassians and Bajorans mentioned earlier are joined by plotlines that showcase Klingon, Romulan, and Trill culture in new ways. As interesting as all of these developments are, the treatment of the Ferengi and the Breen are especially noteworthy from a world-building perspective.

The Ferengi redemption
The Ferengi were supposed to be a recurring adversary on TNG, analogous to the Klingons in TOS. What the show’s creators failed to take into account was how absolutely ridiculous the Ferengi were as villains. Where the Klingons had been violent, short-tempered warriors, the Ferengi are cowardly, profit-driven opportunists. They were annoying more than scary and their introduction was generally regarded as a flop; the show soon replaced them with the Romulans and then the Borg, both of whom served as far better antagonists.

The reason the Ferengi flopped was not because they were poorly developed. On the contrary, they’re an incredible species—the embodiment of pure capitalism in all its ugly glory, a delightfully fresh foil to the non-monetary economy of the Federation. The problem was that their nature didn’t make them exciting enemies. War is expensive; the Ferengi would rather be the profiteers behind the war than the ones fighting.

The Ferengi were relegated to the role of occasional pest by the end of TNG, but got their on-screen due in DS9. The Ferengi in TNG were military commanders; in DS9 we’re given Ferengi civilians. The most prominent, Quark, owns the station’s bar; with him are his brother Rom, nephew Nog, and various bartenders and staffers for his establishment. This shift puts the Ferengi in a role that’s natural to their species.They are predominantly used for atmosphere and comic relief, best exemplified in Quark’s ongoing battle of wits with security chief Odo. Unlike the Ferengi portrayed in TNG, Quark isn’t interested in conflict on conquest. He has no qualms about breaking laws or vows to gain a profit and exploits his employees (even his own brother) but is, at worst, harmless.

To me, the Ferengi represent 20th century humans more than the humans in Starfleet. Their capitalist ideals and treatment of women make them seem backwards and uncouth to the enlightened minds of Starfleet. The more we get to know them, though, the more likeable they become—in part because of their ability to change. It’s a hopeful take on the worst aspects of capitalism. Granted, the Ferengi mostly change in the interest of profit. They’re convinced to expand the rights of women only because it would increase their potential customer base and earnings (when we meet them, Ferengi women are forbidden from earning profit or even wearing clothes). But they can change, and learn, and by the end even have their own representative in Starfleet through Nog.

The Ferengi homeworld is one of the many planets introduced in DS9, and it’s visited in two episodes: “Family Business” (ep 3.23) and “Ferengi Love Songs” (ep. 5.20). Ferenginar is shown to be perpetually damp and covered in lush vegetation (a landscape that supports their diet of live grubs and worms). The one personal dwelling we see is a single-story home with low, curved ceilings and arched doorways. Commerce colors every aspect of their culture. Even the custom of greeting visitors to the home involves the visitor paying an entrance fee and signing a waiver.

Since we talked about religious earlier, the Ferengi have one, too. They believe the universe is bound together by the Great Material Continuum which connects buyers and sellers across reality. Their deity is known as the Blessed Exchequer. If the Ferengi dies having earned a profit, he’s given the opportunity to bribe his way into the Divine Treasury; if he dies with his accounts in the red, however, he goes to the Vault of Eternal Destitution. Ferengi would often auction off their own remains after death so they could gain a bit more money to use after their death.

Ferengi government is—as you might expect—capitalist to a fault. The Grand Nagus is both the political and business leader of the Ferengi Alliance. The Ferengi Commerce Authority, governed by the Board of Liquidators, is a kind of financial police force, and powerful in planetary politics. The Ferengi have no standing army, though they do have military ships and at least some kind of military rank (the DaiMon of TNG). The Ferengi are almost always politically neutral so as not to burn bridges with potential customers.Their conflicts with the Federation throughout TNG were not officially sanctioned military actions, letting the Ferengi as a culture avoid culpability for the actions (it can be assumed they’ve used this ploy in the past to avoid trouble, as well).

All of these details are very much in keeping with the DS9-established identity of the Ferengi—and they all work much better for a species that’s more tongue in cheek than one the viewers are supposed to take seriously. It’s an important lesson to world-builders about making sure the races you create make sense in the role you’ve given them.

 

The Breen: running gag turned villain
The Breen were mentioned sporadically throughout TNG but the references were considered “sort of a running joke” according to Ira Steven Behr—at least, until the shows designers needed a new species to add into the mix when the Dominion War storyline started getting underway. Suddenly, the Breen became a useful piece of the universe.

Their previous mentions had built an air of mystery that made the Breen a menacing off-screen threat. The costuming used for the Breen enhances this mystery by keeping even the form of their faces completely hidden—there’s a hint of a snout, perhaps, and the suits are supposed to be refrigerated, hinting at a very cold climate, but none of that is ever verified. Of course, there was a practical aspect to this design, as well. The Dominion War arc featured lots of Klingons, Cardassians, and Jem’Hadar—races with very time-intensive makeup demands. Being able to throw a mask on the Breen and call it a day made things easier.Thanks to the race’s established secretiveness, the decision was easy to justify in-world.

We don’t get many details about the Breen in the course of the show, but the hints we do get are interesting enough. The Breen’s knowledge of cold-storage, energy dampening, and disruptors makes them formidable adversaries; their decision to join forces with the Dominion twists the proverbial screw on the Federation’s floundering resistance, and they make a bold arrival into the fray by attacking Star Fleet headquarters on Earth. Unlike most humanoids, they lack a liquid circulatory system, and their brain is four-lobed like the Ferengi, making them unreadable by Betazoids and other empaths. Basically, rather than come up with all the details of the Breen, the show’s creators made them a people that intentionally obscured their details, saving the writers a lot of work without making the Breen feel flat.

My big takeaway from the Breen: every little piece of a world that you design has the potential to be useful to you in ways you didn’t imagine at first. When you get stuck trying to come up with a new character, plot point, or device, look back over the world you’ve created—the answer could be hiding in an off-hand comment or setting description you established earlier in the process.

 

Language
The Universal Translator is Star Trek’s out for dealing with intergalactic communication. It’s so assumed as part of the world at this point that it’s rarely even mentioned—except in those rare cases where it won’t function.

This is not to say the languages of alien cultures aren’t established. Some of the most complex and broadly-known constructed languages have come out of the Star Trek universe; Klingon is arguably the most prominent, but DS9 also features ancient Bajoran script along with Cardassian, Romulan, and a host of other languages.

Generally speaking, language in DS9 is visual, on the display readouts of screens; when it’s spoken, it’s typically in the context of a ceremony or ritual (as to why the Universal Translator doesn’t get involved for those isolated words, your guess is as good as mine).

There are a few notable exceptions to this rule. In “Sanctuary” (ep. 2.10) DS9 is visited by the Skrreea, a Gamma quadrant race that traveled through the wormhole in search of a new homeworld. The syntax and grammar of their language initially confounds the Universal Translator when they come aboard (they do eventually establish it and the conversation proceeds in English). In this application, the conversational use of an alien language serves to show just how different they are from what the Federation’s accustomed to.

In “Little Green Men” (ep 4.08) a ship malfunction accidentally sends Quark, Rom, and Nog back in time (because sciencey things, just go with it) making their ship the one that crashed at Roswell in 1947. Not only are the three Ferengi shown speaking their native tongue from the human’s perspective, there indecipherable “English” the Ferengi hear the humans speaking is played, too. The alien language is used here for comic relief (as are most things in the Ferengi-heavy episodes). Rom is eventually able to fix the Universal Translators, and the Ferengi is dropped.

One last intriguing non-ritualistic use of an alien language in DS9 is in the case of the Breen. Their language is never translated for the viewer, instead coming out as their native tongue (a somewhat garbled electronic-ish sound). The content of the Breen speech is inferred by the reactions of other characters to them. I have two theories as to why this choice was made, and they’re related to the points brought up about the Breen above:

1) It enhances their mystery that you can’t understand what they’re saying
2) The “easy on” helmets used in the Breen costumes were incredibly restrictive and would have likely warped any lines the actors spoke beyond comprehension, necessitating some kind of workaround,

…as far as the in-world explanation for the Breen’s incomprehensibility, that’s a bit more baffling. The Breen dialogue comes in places where the Cardassians are interacting with the Vorta and Jem’Hadar—in other words, it’s very likely some kind of translator is in use. It could possibly be a variation on what happened with the Skrreea, where the language is so foreign the translator can’t handle it, but that would be extra impressive considering the system is already able to handle both Alpha and Gamma quadrant speech.

Another option is that the Breen requested their language not be included in any translation systems, which would be a pretty significant commentary on their race’s ideology if true. That would be in keeping with the construction of the Breen as secretive and untrustworthy, if they’d prefer not to be understood even by their military allies.

The main point that’s clear to me (thinking about the use of alien languages in Star Trek more generally) is that the languages are never used without a purpose. This is a universe that has spawned at least one fully-functional language. They could translate entire episodes into Klingon—and yet they don’t. Saving the alien languages for specific moments in the plot spares the need for excessive subtitles that take the viewer out of the action. The atmospheric benefit of using an alien language is not always worth the logistical struggle of making it work—an important lesson for world-builders to keep in mind, especially those of us that have a tendency to get lost in the details.

Deep Space Nine: A World-Building Analysis (part 1 of 2)

As far as I’m concerned, the Star Trek universe represents world building at its finest: strong internal consistency, complex thought experiments, and a host of well-populated planets. The main difference between Deep Space Nine and the other series in Star Trek is conveyed in the name. Deep Space Nine is a space station in a continuous orbit around the planet Bajor, not a ship on a mission of exploration like the other series. Most of the action still takes place in the confines of the vessel with occasional jaunts to new and unique landscapes (similar to the away mission trope of other Star Trek series), but this change allows the show to delve deeper into the cultural and spiritual worldviews of non-Federation entities. That aspect of DS9 is what makes it especially valuable from a world building perspective.

There is a chronological overlap between The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. DS9 covers six Federation years (2369-2375), overlapping with either TNG or Voyager for its entire span (TNG covers 2364-2370, while Voyager takes place from 2371-2378). These connections allow for the continuation of characters, like Worf and Miles O’Brien, as well as riffs off of plot points established in other series. The most important of these is the continuation of the Cardassian occupation of Bajor, first brought up in episode 5.03 of TNG (“Ensign Ro”).

Bajorans and Cardassians
Both the Bajorans and the Cardassians are introduced in TNG. The Cardassians are introduced as adversaries (ep 4.12, “The Wounded”); as of 2367, their peace treaty with the Federation was less than a year old and they begin the episode by attacking the Enterprise. While the attack is later shown to be somewhat justified, the nature of the introduction still makes it clear to the viewer that the Cardassians are not to be trusted.

The Cardassian role in early seasons of DS9 is similar to that of the Klingons in TNG. They’re not direct enemies, but neither are they allies. As with the Klingons in TNG, we are given a token Cardassian to engage and empathize with (Elim Garak). As the station’s “tailor,” Garak represents the stereotypical Cardassian in the most positive light: in turns charming and ruthless; deceitful, though rarely maliciously so; and fiercely loyal to his family, his father in particular, as shown by his willingness to torture Odo at his father’s behest (ep 3.21, “The Die is Cast”).

The most villainous aspects of the Cardassians are represented by Gul Dukat, who was Prefect of Bajor during the occupation and commanded Deep Space 9 (then called Terok Nor). Like Garak, Dukat is charming and dedicated to his family, even his illegitimate half-Bajoran daughter Tora Ziyal. He is also arrogant and self-serving, and—unlike Garak—his deceitfulness is dangerous. Even so, Cardassians are also staunchly rational, and this shines through in Dukat’s early-season choices (it’s only seasons 6 and 7, well into his character arc, that Ziyal’s death drives him mad and Dukat acts out of spite or vengeance). Actor Marc Alaimo described him as “an opportunist. He aligns himself with what is convenient at the moment, but I don’t think he’s a psychopath, or capable of mindless evil.” (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29) The same could be said of the Cardassians as a whole in DS9. Their rational choice is first to ally with the Federation until it instead seems more rational to join the Dominion,  but this is a decision of survival, not hate (in that respect sharing a trait with the Romulans).

The Bajorans are, in some respects, the polar opposite of the Cardassians. Where the Cardassians are staunchly rational and have (by human standards) a flexible moral compass, the Bajorans are deeply spiritual. Their religion is based on worship of the Prophets, entities known to the more scientific-minded Federation simply as the Wormhole Aliens (more on them later). The Bajorans are introduced in TNG through the character of Ro Laren (ep 5.03 “Ensign Ro”). She’s shown to have difficulty following orders and, though likable as a character, ultimately abandons Starfleet to join the Maquis in their fight against Bajor’s occupiers (ep 7.24 “Preemptive Strike”).

Major Kira Nerys, the viewer’s primary entry point into the Bajorans on DS9, shows a similar value system, based primarily on spirituality and loyalty to her home; she was active in the Bajoran resistance. Though Kira is unimpressed by mortal authority she instantaneously obeys what she believes to be the will of the prophets. When Bajor briefly returns to their old D’jarra caste system, Kira dutifully resigns as DS9’s First Officer to become an artist, though she has no talent or inclination (ep 4.17 “Accession”). When the Prophets need a vessel for their battle with the Pah-Wraiths, she volunteers her body (ep 6.21 “The Reckoning”).

Bajoran spirituality extends beyond individual beliefs and has an active role in the planetary government, which has a secular component (the Chamber of Ministers, led by the First Minister) and a religious component (the Vedek Assembly, led by the Kai). This religious overtone to the Bajoran society does create some tension with the Federation, especially in the choice of DS9 captain Benjamin Sisko as the religion’s emissary from the prophets. Winn Adami’s appointment to Kai in 2370 increases these tensions, though that’s largely due to her political ambitions. DS9 generally tolerates the Bajoran faith and there’s a temple onboard the station. This is the first mention of a religious facility on a Starfleet vessel in the 24th century (brief mentions are made to one in TOS), perhaps because it’s a station instead of a ship, possibly because it was constructed by the Cardassians (not the Federation).

 

The wormhole
The end of the Cardassian occupation of Bajor is the world’s political backdrop; the true motivation for the Federation’s interest in the quadrant is the discovery of the Bajoran wormhole. It’s the first stable wormhole discovered in the Alpha Quadrant and leads into the Idran System of the Gamma Quadrant, on the edge of Dominion space.

The presence of the wormhole serves a few purposes. First, it introduces new species and planets. The dedicated Star Trek viewer has seen enough of the Alpha and Beta quadrants right now that it would seem odd the Dominion has never come up before, given how advanced and aggressive they are. The Gamma Quadrant gives the Federation something new to explore and discover, giving a reason for the inclusion of brand new empires and keeping some of the flavor of past starship-based series.

From a narrative perspective, the wormhole increases Bajor’s strategic value, justifying its sudden catapult into the interplanetary limelight. To Bajoran eyes, meanwhile, the wormhole is the Celestial Temple, the home of the prophets. Which brings us to…

 

Gods and monsters
Star Trek has briefly played with the idea of Gods before. In “Who Mourns for Adonais?” (TOS, ep 2.04) the Kirk-captained Enterprise finds an alien who claims to be the Greek god Apollo. In TNG, Picard encounters an advanced lifeform around the planet Rubicun III that is worshiped as a god by the Edo race living below (TNG ep 1.08 “Justice”) and is himself mistaken for a God when a computer outage reveals Starfleet scientists to the Bronze Age Mintakans (ep 3.04 “Who Watches the Watchers?”).

In DS9, there are two alien races worshiped as Gods by their respective followers. The first to be introduced are the Bajoran prophets, who appear to Captain Benjamin Sisko in a vision while he’s exploring the wormhole (ep 1.01 “Emissary”). The wormhole aliens have all the traits of gods: they’re non-corporeal, exist outside of linear time, and communicate with linear beings by appearing to them in visions. When they’re briefly shown in their natural state, they appear as a blue energy-like cloud (in visions, they take existing humanoid forms).

The Prophets have an “evil” equivalent (another common god trait) known as the Pah-wraiths, members of the wormhole alien race that have been exiled. They have a different appearance, looking like red energy swirls; the majority of them are trapped in the Fire Caves, an ancient Bajoran cavern. The red and the fire conjure hell images, consistent with the “evil” half of a Christian or other similar religious mythology.

Sikso’s first vision happens when he’s inside the wormhole; after that, the prophets are able to send him visions regardless of his location, whether he’s as close as DS9 or as far away as Earth (ep 7.01 “Image in the Sand”). The prophets are also apparently capable of possessing humans at will to affect physical reality. They are seen using Major Kira as a vessel (ep 6.21 “The Reckoning”) and also possessed Benjamin Sisko’s mother (Ep 7.02 “Shadows and Symbols”) showing there’s not a species or distance limit.To prompt visions, religious Bajorans use the Tears of the Prophets, nine hourglass-shaped orbs that each bring on a different theme of vision. The orbs are the source the ancient Bajoran prophecies and the centerpiece of the Bajoran religion.

The number and names of Prophets are unknown (though, interestingly, the names of the Pah-Wraiths are) and the Bajorans worship the prophets collectively rather than paying homage to individuals. As with any good god, their origin is a mystery. Though they claim to be “of Bajor,” it’s unclear how or when they originated there and how they came to exist within the wormhole instead.

The prophets rarely meddle with life on the planet. People seek orb experiences to gain insight but do not expect the prophets to directly intervene on their behalf. The wormhole aliens had no recorded physical interaction with the Bajorans between the release of the orbs (some estimated 30,000 years before the action of DS9) and the modern opening of the wormhole. When they do interact with the corporeal realm it’s in their own self interest, creating Captain Sisko so that he can keep the Pah-wraiths imprisoned.

The ultimate arc of Sisko and the Prophets is one of good versus evil, a classic hero’s journey with strong religious overtones. There are arguable parallels to the Christ narrative; Ronald Moore has said that the Moses story was an inspiration for Sisko’s life. Utilizing these tropes gives the viewer an “in” to the story, establishing a context or a lens to view the prophets through.

On the Gamma Quadrant side of the wormhole, meanwhile, are the Founders. They are corporeal liquid-based lifeforms capable of also assuming solid or gaseous forms. Individual Founders are easier to identify than individual prophets, but in their natural state they’re a communal unit, a lake of Founders known as the Great Link. They’re biologically immortal but not invincible; disruptor fire, radiation, and physical trauma are shown to kill them, and they’re susceptible to some diseases. When forced to interact with solids they appear to prefer a humanoid form. You could try to justify this in-universe but I assume the likeliest actual explanation is a combination of maintaining visible species continuity with Odo for occasional viewers and practical considerations like makeup time and cost.

The Founders rule the Dominion, a Gamma quadrant empire established to bring “order” to what they see as the chaotic lifestyle of the Solids. The Founders don’t rule directly. The Vorta serve as their commanders and administrators, while the Jem’Hadar comprise the military. Both races have been genetically engineered by the Founders. To guarantee absolute loyalty, a belief that the Founders are gods is encoded into both races’ DNA. This belief is species-based rather than experiential; Weyoun regards Odo with the same reverence even though he’s never lived in the Great Link.

In the Founders, we see religion as a cynic would view them: an artificial hierarchy imposed for one group to control another. The prophets are the believer’s perspective; the question of their god-ness is left more open for debate. It’s never really made clear how they feel about being gods. They don’t discourage the activity, but there’s a sense it’s outside of their concern—maybe the way a human would feel being told he’s god of an ant colony. The Founders take a more active role in their followers’ lives, but it’s an act of exploitation. It’s arguable that the prophets exploit Sisko, too, but there’s more a sense they’re doing it for Bajor’s benefit as well as their own.

The prophets seem more god-like of the two. They are ethereal and omniscient to an extent, their messages often cryptic but always true. On the other hand, though, the Founders created life. You can’t necessarily blame the Jem’Hadar for worshiping the beings that created them. DS9 doesn’t strive to tell you who is and isn’t a god, or what makes a god, but it asks the question sporadically and in many ways throughout the series.

 

…the religious aspect of DS9 is its most notable, but that’s not all it has to teach prospective world-builders. In part 2, I’ll look at the Ferengi, the Breen, and how DS9 explores language.