Star Trek The Next Generation: Birthright, Part 1

"Do not stop until you have the answer."

The crew of the Enterprise head to Deep Space Nine, where Worf and Data each begin a very personal quest which centers on understanding themselves through understanding their fathers in a strong and introspective episode.

Any time Michael Dorn wears his Klingon exercise robe, I kind of swoon. When the actor gets lines that let him display his acting talent, I get even swoonier. See, mostly Worf gets bit lines which fit with his security role. Locked on, Captain. Firing now, Captain. Insert phrase here, Captain. Once in a while we get a glimmer of something more. When we get a Worf-focused episode, though, Dorn gleams.

Here, Worf arrives at Deep Space Nine, where the crew are variously attending to diplomats or exploring water contamination, and he's told that his dead father is still alive and held hostage in a Romulan camp; Data encounters Bashir when he sneaks onboard to use the Enterprise medical equipment to examine a strange device from the Gamma Quadrant, which shoots Data in the chest with a bolt of electricity and gives him a vision of his father, Noonian Soong, which was extremely well-shot, with elements of vertigo and distortion that made it feel almost palpably like a nightmare.

Both are disturbed by their revelations and, when the two encounter each other in a bar, their experiences come out and create an echo. This is an example of moments where Michael Dorn shows his mettle; the response he gives to Data, when Data asks him about visions in the ship's bar Ten-Forward, is poetic and shows both the sincere attempt to give a complicated answer, and the revelation that the answer he gives his friend is the answer he seeks himself. The shot of Worf as he explains the deeper meaning of the MajQa ritual to Data was so well constructed it made me want to applaud – the focus first is on Data, then the camera focus shifts to Worf, and the angle slowly rotates until his face, with the light giving him a deeply alien, almost prophetic appearance. I've always seen the philosophical side of Worf, but this episode felt like it added a new layer.


As a result of this meeting the two characters are each shot into their own arc. Data continues to hunt for the meaning of his dreams, speaking with several crew members in order to solve the mystery (what else would you expect from Sherlock Holmes?) In the process he has a very lovely moment with Picard, who uses his understanding of human genius to provide a partial key to the door Data needs to open: look at what the images mean to you. Data chooses to use painting as a typical on-the-nose-Data interpretation of the order to explore images, but it turns out to be an effective choice. Data creates several beautiful images in paint and pencil – but the images he produces begin to add new aspects to the story he's experienced which weren't in the original vision. I loved Data's walkthrough of the paintings for Geordi, and the way he issued his troubled response to Geordi's attempt to explain what he's made. Data seems more human than ever in this episode, even if he is a culture of one.

In the end Data decides to recreate the original shock, because there is absolutely no other way to replicate the experience he's had. He's immediately knocked out – back into the dream ship. This time it's not creepy, but fully realized, and Soong is there – and after some cryptic messages Data turns into a bird and flies through and around the Enterprise. Yes, around. It turns out that Soong left some surprises for Data, and one of these surprises was a set of dormant circuits which allowed Data to experience an analogue to dreaming. I might be sappy, but I felt this moment was really well done, and Data's expression when he comes out of the dream is priceless.

Worf gently convinces the grumpy information dealer to help him locate Mogh, who's somewhere in the Carreya sector. Dressed in his fintage Agent of SHIELD costume, Worf sneaks into the colony, creepily spies on a naked bathing person who is obviously a refugee, and, after his inappropriate behavior, tells her he's just there to help. She's understandably skeptical, and brings him before the village elders – and it turns out there's Something Else Going On Here; his father did indeed die at Khitomer. Worf is captured by the Romulans. Or is he?

I think it's brilliant to explore the parallels between Worf and Data. Both had famous fathers who they lost early on. For Data, understanding his father is about understanding his own capabilities, how far he can go. For Worf, his father has long been one of the strong support poles which hold up the family honor. The background of Deep Space Nine allowed for the interaction of characters giving both Worf and Data the opportunity to develop in different ways, and each respond almost iconically: Worf as the Protective Warrior, and Data as the Great Detective, doing anything necessary to solve the mystery of his vision. I found the process of Data learning to dream, and the images we got to see, deeply profound. But at the end of the first half of this two-parter, Data's storyline already seems to be done, and Worf's looks like it's going to wrap up soon – which makes me wonder if Part Two can sustain the pace.

Bits and Pieces

Worf and LaForge have a badly replicated dinner at Deep Space Nine when LaForge introduces Worf to pasta al fiorella. Worf hilariously loves it.

Troi shows up for a mostly useless counseling scene. I like that she confronted Worf about ignoring the possibility his father might be alive, but he sort of solved his own problem talking to Data, and we had just seen him bite the head off his staff, so we didn't need her to tell us.

Alien worlds have arboreal needle snakes which attack from above.

Michael Dorn is really sexy, especially in his Klingon ji. 

Data can grow his hair at will. Has this been discussed before? There's also lots of interesting things about how his breath cools his internal temperature, and how he has a pulse because his circulatory system needs lubricants and regulates hydraulic power. Cool.

What about the rest of the Deep Space Nine crew?

Quotables

Shrek: Not all of the Klingons at Khitomer were killed during the massacre. Many were captured by the Romulans and placed in a prison camp on a remote planet. Your father was among them. 
Worf: Where is this planet? 
Shrek: Not far from here. I could give you the location, for a price.
Worf: A Klingon would rather die than be taken prisoner. I should kill you for spreading lies about my family. My father was killed defending Khitomer.

Bashir: Data, are you all right?
Data: I believe so. What has happened?
LaForge: A plasma shock overloaded your positronic net. You were down a good thirty seconds. 
Data: That cannot be possible. I have a memory record for that period of time. I can recall a series of images. I saw Doctor Soong. My father.

Data: I have recently had an unusual experience, which might be described as a vision.
Worf: What happened?
Data: An accident in Engineering shut down my cognitive functions for a short period of time, yet I seemed to remain conscious. I saw my father.
Worf: You are very fortunate. That is a powerful vision.
Data: If it was a vision, I do not know how to proceed.
Worf: You must find its meaning. If it has anything to do with your father, you must learn all you can about it. In the Klingon MajQa ritual, there is nothing more important than receiving a revelation about your father. Your father is part of you, always. Learning about him teaches you about yourself. That is why no matter where he is or what he has done, you must find him.
Data: But I am not looking for my father.
Worf: Yes, of course. Do not stop until you have the answer.

Picard: I'm curious, Mister Data. Why are you looking at all these other cultures?
Data: The interpretation of visions and other metaphysical experiences are almost always culturally derived, and I have no culture of my own.
Picard: Yes, you do. You're a culture of one, which is no less valid than a culture of one billion. Perhaps the key to understanding your experience is to stop looking into other sources for a meaning. When we look at Michaelangelo's David or Symnay's Tomb and we don't ask, What does this mean to other people. The real question is, What does it mean to us? Explore this image, Data. Let it excite your imagination. Focus on it. See where it leads you. Let it inspire you.

Overall

A very interesting set up for the most part. It's hard to grade an episode without seeing the end. I've loved Data and Worf's arcs here, but I also wonder what will happen to Data's now that it looks as if he's reached an understanding of himself. So I give this one four out of five, what would you call those things, opium guns for androids?


No comments: