An unusual ambassador boards the Enterprise; when his interpreters are killed, however, the negotiations he's been drawn to deal with fall apart, and the crew must help the Ambassador find the inner strength to conquer his loss.
This is a pleasure of an episode to review for me. It's the only time, for example, that I've ever seen a Deaf person portrayed in a science fiction setting. It's also a relatively interesting take on it from a Deaf writer's perspective.
Let's look at the Ambassador himself. Riva is played by Howie Seago, a well-known actor in the Deaf community and last seen Shake-ing his speare in a festival in Oregon as a member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Company. Here, he plays an ambassador who travels with three interpreters, each communicating in situations requiring specific emotions. He is also a member of the royal family of his planet. Both of these situations are recognizably familiar to Deaf people. I've worked with American Sign Language interpreters trained for specific situations, and even on Earth there's examples of royal families with the Deaf gene (Saudi Arabia's got a couple, I believe.) Riva and his ambassadors, the Chorus, use telepathy for communication, an interesting wrinkle; this allows him to do something I can't in real life, which is maintain easy eye-contact with the people he speaks to.
Riva is who he is and proudly so. When asked about his Deaf status, he and his Chorus reply:
Picard: There are aspects to Riva of which we have not been informed.He's introduced to the crew. He's excited to meet Geordi, who he seems to see as akin to himself, and accepts the VISOR with respect in his eyes. With difficulty, he manages to raise those eyes and meet Troi's. If you're a woman, you will likely have rolled your eyes after that last sentence. Honestly, the over- or under-sexed Deaf person is turning into a trope in literature. Here, Riva sees Troi and basically offers to be her Spandex uniform. Maybe the mind-reading excused the instant lust, but I think his eyes saw her before his mind did. I digress.
Riva/Chorus: Precisely. Our way of communicating has developed over the centuries and it's one that I find quite harmonious.
Picard: Then Riva the mediator...
Riva/Chorus: Is deaf.
Riva/Chorus: Born, and hope to die.
Riva's here to help the world of the Solari, which seem to have split into two warring factions that continue to war in a faction-like way. This part I liked the least: the world has no personality except for badly-patched armor and misfired weapons. Unfortunately during his initial visit to the planet we get an example of those weapons and, in an exciting but hilarious effect I've reviewed before, the Chorus gets deep-fried.
|See? This is what happens when you save alien worlds. Stay home.|
In any case, Riva is working through pain and yelling at the crew to leave him alone. It results in some interesting interchanges. While Seago invents some signs for Riva, some are similar or identical to the American signs. He's clearly frustrated by the inability of the Enterprise crew to give him, say, a couple of hours or maybe, Q forbid, a day to get over the loss of close friends and co-workers he's known all his life:
|"I'm tired of you hearing people! You don't understand me!"|
|"No! Leave me alone!"|
|"Hmmm. Well, the hands are moving, so it just might work."|
We head back to Riva. Troi solves the problem by accident. She goes in to speak with Riva privately, intent on taking over his role, and talk to him about... his techniques for diplomacy. Imagine that. She didn't even mention auditory treatment! She focused on him as a person and on the strategies he himself developed! And the result was that Riva, confronted with the loss of his role and the core of himself, began to recall the procedures and strategies he used to help groups reconcile in the past. He realizes he can turn his loss into an advantage: he'll force the desperate Solari-folk to learn his signed language; the common challenge might provide grounds for the two groups to learn about each other. In most cases, I'd be doubtful: here, I think there's actually a chance. The angry warring groups really do seem desperate, for fashion if not for a future. Riker, at the end, expresses concern about leaving Riva alone, but Riva almost laughs: he'll be fine.
You know he will.
Bits and Pieces
-- We held a watching party to check out this episode, with an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter and some Deaf people. The reactions were mixed. Few of us liked the initial message of dependency from Riva. But we all liked his characterization, the force of his personality (some of which was felt by Troi) and I think we admired his bravery at the end. The one off moment: why didn't Riva write a short message to the Enterprise crew asking them to give him a day or two to resolve his grief or something? I know, it's one of those obvious things that would take out most of the drama, and it's possible there's no paper and pen in the future, but surely the padds could do something?
-- On the other hand, as a telepathic race, his world might not have had a written language.
-- The death of the Chorus looked exactly like the death of the aliens in "Conspiracy".
-- How many times does a Deaf guy get to save the world on TV? Props.
Picard: But Data can understand you. Use him. Let him explain your words.
Riva/Data: When Data speaks for me, can you hear my anguish, my despair? Data is a fine machine, but he cannot take the place of my chorus. It took years to develop a communication. That cannot be easily replaced.
Data: I have eliminated all but five distinct forms of signing. I will learn them all. Computer, show me gestural language designation M-9.
Worf: Interesting. A technique of communication which is both silent and covert. It could be very useful.
Data: The use of gestures and hand signals predates the spoken word in most cultures. The major exception being the Leyrons of Malkus Nine who actually developed a written language first.
I actually loved this! I thought the Deaf Power stuff from Riva was slightly out of place but I welcomed seeing it on any media at all anywhere. As a Star Trek episode, though, I thought it fell flat. Picard should have yelled at Pulaski for her eagerness to violate the Prime Directive for medical knowledge. Riker and Worf were basically useless throughout the episode.
Three out of four Superphasers.