Star Trek Just Addressed One of Deep Space Nine’s Biggest Unanswered Questions

The Star Trek: Discovery episode "Mirrors" includes a HUGE reveal about the Breen, an odd alien species from Deep Space Nine.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Photo: Paramount+

This Star Trek: Discovery article contains spoilers.

“I wonder what the Breen look like under those helmets?” asks Ezri Dax in the Deep Space Nine season seven episode “‘Till Death Do Us Part.” That’s a strange question, given that Ezri and Worf had been captured by the Breen and interrogated for some time. But despite their close and uncomfortable contact with the hostile alien species, neither hostage learned much about them.

“They say no one has ever seen one and lived to speak of it,” Worf answers.

Ezri continues in her usual lighthearted manner. “Maybe they’re all furry. It’s supposed to be very cold on Breen.”

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“One thing is certain.”

“They’re horrible cooks?”

“They are dangerous,” responds Worf, with even greater gravity than the Klingon usually assumes. “They do not tolerate incursions into their space. During the Second Empire, Chancellor Mow’ga sent a fleet of Klingon ships to conquer their homeworld, and they were never heard from again.”

Until today, that bit of dialogue encapsulated everything that Trekkies knew about the Breen. First mentioned in The Next Generation, the Breen appeared most prominently in the final season of Deep Space Nine, in which the Breen presented a threat that undid whatever gains the Federation had made in the Dominion War.

When the Dominion first entered the Alpha Quadrant through a wormhole from the Gamma Quadrant, they threatened to immediately overwhelm the Federation. As a result, the Federation had to align with longtime antagonists the Klingon Empire and the Romulan Star Empire. That confederation was more than a match for the Dominion/Cardassian alliance, but then the Dominion upped its hand by enlisting the terrifying Breen. It would take a miracle for the Alpha Quadrant forces to win. Fortunately, the Federation had a miracle on its side in the form of the Prophets (and the morally flexible Section 31) and won the war.

The Breen rarely appeared after Deep Space Nine concluded, and it’s easy to see why. They felt like they came from another universe, even moreso than the alien oddities that often appeared on Star Trek. With their monocular helmets and gravelly, indistinguishable voices, they felt like something out of Star Wars — specifically, they felt like riffs on Princess Leia’s bounty hunter disguise at the start of Return of the Jedi. Although they get a couple of nods in Voyager and, of course, Lower Decks, the Breen were largely relegated to a handful of non-canon novels.

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That is, until the Star Trek: Discovery season five episode “Mirrors.” In that episode, we finally learn that L’ak, a courier who has been chasing past Discovery in a search for Progenitor tech with his partner Moll, is a Breen who doesn’t wear helmet that hides his face, showing us for the first time what the species actually looks like under the armor. That’s a surprise because L’ak appeared to be just a regular green-skinned alien, a little lizard-esque in appearance, almost like a Reptilian Xindi from Enterprise.

In fact, “Mirrors” does a lot more than just show us the face of the Breen. We also learn more about their culture, getting a sense of why they refuse to use a Universal Translator in conversation with other races and of their political system. In a move that recalls another Star Wars property, The Mandalorian, the Breen consider their helmets their true faces, and in fact have a transparent look when they remove that helmet.

But as L’ak makes clear, the Breen have the capacity to change, something hinted by the warmth and softness performer Elias Toufexis brings to his imposing character. Not only has L’ak made his skin non-translucent, but he’s adopted Federation Standard (aka English) and moved beyond his hierarchical culture.

Those changes are a good thing, because the Breen have always created problems for Star Trek canon. As many fans have noted, although Worf insisted that no one had seen the Breen under their costumes, Kira and others stole Breen uniforms to move behind enemy lines at one point on the series. They must have gotten a glimpse of the Breen then, right?

For Ronald D. Moore, one of the key creatives during the ’90s Star Trek era, that’s not necessarily the case. “There’s nothing in those helmets. I don’t think there’s a guy in there, which is something we never got around to saying,” Moore said in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion. “Or maybe there’s a little slug, some tiny little creature in there. I never wanted them to be humanoid in any way.”

“Mirrors” goes against Moore’s wishes then, but that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Discovery started its life by radically altering the Klingons. Looks like it will be ending its life by radically altering the Breen. But this time, it’s for the better.

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Star Trek: Discovery is streaming now on Paramount+.