Star Trek The Next Generation: Birthright, Part 2

"No one survived Khitomer."

Sitting down to watch this second part, I honestly couldn’t remember why I didn’t like it. After finishing, well, to quote Cypher: "Ignorance is bliss."

When I first watched Next Gen, I was not really a big fan of Klingon culture, and Worf in particular. That changed while watching the series this time. I’ve really enjoyed Michael Dorn’s performance overall and have grown very fond of Worf as a character. However, there is one glaring issue that has been nagging at me throughout the entire series and it is very apparent in this episode. When Worf is alone, especially when he is apart from his human colleagues, the writers consistently forget he is a Starfleet officer first, Klingon warrior second. Here, the moment Worf was captured, he no longer acted like a Starfleet security chief, ignoring the Prime Directive and asserting his beliefs as a Klingon into this society, thoughtless of the consequences.

The dilemma was simple. There were survivors of the Khitomer massacre that were captured by Romulans, who initially tried to ransom them off to the Klingon Empire. Since capture is considered dishonorable, the High Council refused the demands for ransom. The Romulan captain who oversaw the prisoners decided to show mercy and found a secluded planet to house the now vagrant prisoners abandoned by their people. Exasperated by decades of regret and entrenched interconnections between the Klingons and their Romulan captors, this society built on compromise became something unique, a place where two embittered enemies lived in harmony.

So the writers wanting to explore this kind of society, inexplicably go the route of destruction, using Worf as a catalyst for catastrophic change. The disgraced Klingon survivors have clearly taught their children their culture, but without context. They have shared songs and stories but they never brought honor into the equation, and never told them the full history of the Klingon people, including Kahless. They never told their children that they had to be warriors, and instilled in them a fear of the greater galaxy where there was supposedly a never-ending war. It felt a little contrived to set up the society that way, since keeping those kinds of secrets could easily lead to exactly what happened in this episode.

Really, all it took for things to fall apart was for Worf to show up and be overtly Klingon, giving Klingon history lessons, and showing them what it could be like as a warrior. In the space of days he tore everything apart, recklessly encouraging the youth to make a rash and permanent choice culminating in a Spartacus moment, and then he led all the Klingon children off to the Enterprise and… somewhere? Who knows?  With the infamous Star Trek reset button, we never hear from any of these characters again (although Toq was apparently featured in a non-canon series of Star Trek books).

I might have forgiven the heavy-handed way they tried to force the narrative to that conclusion, and perhaps even Worf's actions, if the rest of the story hed been engaging. Worf’s capture felt oddly slow, almost half-hearted and lacked any real tension. It never felt like he was ever really in danger, even when they threatened to execute him. The romance angle didn’t feel right either. Perhaps it was Jennifer Gatti’s (Ba’el) stilted acting, or more likely it was her total lack of chemistry with Michael Dorn. Perhaps a little more successful was the reticent kid Toq (Sterling Macer Jr.) who started antagonistic towards Worf but ended up being his most faithful disciple in all things Klingon. While derivative and cliched, you could tell the actor really tried to make it work.

Even the scenes with the character actors giving solid performances felt ho-hum. I believed Tokath’s reasons and wanted to invest in his story and L’Kor was mostly sympathetic, but I just didn’t care. I had no investment in what happened to them, which is a shame, because there were some great actors in those supporting roles with Alan Scarfe as Tokath and Richard Herd as L’Kor. Maybe nothing could save this one.

There’s another aspect to this that’s a bit more sensitive. When it initially ran, there was a lot of criticism of how they depicted Worf as a racist in his attitude towards the Romulans. While in context it makes sense because Romulans have almost always been dishonorable and untrustworthy in their associations with both the Federation and Klingon Empire. What doesn’t make sense is how he reacted to Ba’el being a half Klingon/half Romulan. She’s an innocent, and there is nothing in how Worf was brought up, where he lives and works, and who he is as a person (he practically married a half-Human/half Klingon) that would suggest he would be anything but accepting of someone different. It’s a part of what makes him an interesting character: he is an alien brought up by a human family, living in a predominantly human society, and treated as both an equal and a friend without a hint of prejudice… I don't know what they were thinking.

Bits:

Klingon honor is really bizarre, and often contradictory. I wonder if they actually set up the Klingon rules of honor like the Ferengi rules of acquisition, or let the writers just wing it.

The exterior shots were real photos of a jungle in Laos taken by the director Dan Curry (this was his only Star Trek credit).

A few scenes were cut which would've strengthened the relationship between Worf and Ba'el. James Cromwell broke his leg between the filming of part one and part two so his character Jaglom Shrek was basically dropped entirely from the second part, including his unexplained motivations for leading Worf to the prison in the first place.

Why were the Klingon kids playing right over the crops Toq had just planted?

Quotes:

Worf: "It is a strange thing when the jailer concerns himself with his prisoner's comfort."
Tokath: "Mine is a strange prison."

Worf: "But the truth is I am being executed because I brought something dangerous to your young people. Knowledge. Knowledge of their origins, knowledge of the real reasons you are here in this camp. The truth is a threat to you." This is clearly what the writers wanted to explore, but failed to make work.

Picard: "You found what you were looking for, Mr. Worf?"
Worf: "No sir. There was no prison camp. Those young people are survivors of a vessel that crashed in the Carraya system four years ago. No one survived Khitomer."
Picard: "I understand."

Ultimately what was the most disappointing was that this followed up a solid and intriguing first part, exploring dreams and intangible connections with lost father figures. While the concept of this situation was an interesting idea, the execution had no real story structure, tension, or substance. This was an opportunity to explore Klingon society from the inside out, and it failed miserably.

1 out of 4 Horrible Klingon war songs

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

3 comments:

lazybasterd said...

Been a long time, but I distinctly remember Worf really liking this girl, then dumping her when he saw pointed ears. Our hero.

Regarding Klingon honor, it's all over the place. But it's important to remember that Worf is our primary viewpoint on Klingon honor, and Worf is a shit Klingon. Worf was raised by humans. He tried to impose human honor on the Klingon culture he learned about from books and it just didn't work in the Empire. Most Klingons are not Worf, they're Gowron.

Billie Doux said...

I agree with you, J.D., about what was wrong with this episode and I have to add one more thing -- it was dull. I kept waiting for it to get interesting, and when it didn't, I kept waiting for it to be over. Maybe the ditched James Cromwell subplot would have helped. Maybe they should have made Data's story longer, extending it into part two. Oh, well.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

I wept tears of blood about Worf rejecting Ba'el.

So bad. So so bad.