"Birthright, Part 1" (season 6, episode 16, first aired: 2/20/1993)
or The One Where An Android Does Not Dream of Electric Sheep
I'm not sure if it's a shift in the general culture, or just something unique to me, but I've never had any emotional investment in carrying on my father's legacy. I love my dad, and I would be the first to tell you he's a good man, and that he's accomplished a lot in his life to be proud of, but I don't feel any direct connection to those accomplishments. I'm ambitious, no question, and I certainly wouldn't object to either of my parents taking pride in what I do, but there's no sense that I need to achieve in order to do right by the family name. Stories about fathers nearly always revolve around a son needing to live up to his dad's expectations, or else transcend them. I've seen and read dozens of them, some good, many bad, and I've always wondered is this a theme that we repeat more because it's always been there, than because it means anything to any of us now. Maybe it's about maintaining fictional continuity, just as the son who strives to make sense of sire is trying to maintain a biological one.
Or maybe I'm just odd. Either way, the "I need to connect with my dead dad!" element of "Birthright: Part 1" didn't do a lot for me emotionally, but it's a sign how much I liked it (and it's follow-up) that this didn't really matter. As yet another two-part storyline in a season jammed full of them, "Part 1" seemingly makes the mistake that so many other part ones have made, with a plot that's heavily padded with unrelated material in order to justify the running time. But where before I've been frustrated by TNG's inability to make the two-part structure work, here, that clumsiness actually made for a more interesting episode than I was expecting. What we've got here isn't really a "part 1," despite what it says in the title. "Birthright" is more a peek into the kind of show TNG might've been had it been able to more fully embrace serialization. I appreciate that peek, and for the interesting ideas raised here. I can see how they wouldn't work for everyone, but it worked for me.
Ostensibly, "Birthright" is about Worf. While the Enterprise is visiting Deep Space Nine (leaving time for Beverly and Picard to rave about the stations recreational facilities, while Geordi complains about the food), a Yridian information trader, Jaglom Shrek (James Cromwell, no stranger to Trek, although he isn't given much to do here), comes to Worf with an offer: he knows where Worf's father is. This enrages Worf, because as far as he knew, his father died during the attack on Khitomer, fighting the Romulans. If Worf's father is actually alive, a prisoner instead of a corpse, it will bring a shame down on the family that will reach all the way down to Alexander. Not that Alexander couldn't use a bit of shaming, just to keep him in line. So Worf threatens Jaglom, dismisses what he says as a lie, and we spend most of the rest of the episode waiting for Worf to have second thoughts. If he doesn't, it's not much of a story.
But then, an entire episode given over to Klingon doubt wouldn't be much of a story either, so while we're waiting for Worf to realize that he'd be better off having a living, shamed father, then a dead noble one, Dr. Bashir pops over from DS9 to muck about with a new toy, and Data has a dream. It's nice seeing Bashir (Alexander Siddig); as I mentioned in the comments section last week, the good doctor was a favorite character of mine when I watched DS9 as a kid, and he's fun here. Once again, we have a terribly smart person being very interested in Data, although, as Data notes, Bashir is more interested in Data's ability to mimic humanity than he is in Data's computational skills. To Bashir, Data's hair growth and breathing is impressive, and also indicative of his creator's big goal. The android wasn't designed to be a magic robot super hero. He was designed to be alive, and that means something.
That's relevant to what happens next. Bashir is on the Enterprise to test out some mysterious space tech, and when Data and Geordi get involved, Data gets zapped by a bolt of energy from the machine. The energy knocks him offline, and in the thirty seconds he's out, he sees himself walking the halls of the ship, and meeting a young version of his creator, Dr. Soong (Spiner, without the make-up). The vision ends before Data can make any sense of it, but it haunts him, and while Worf is coming around to the idea of going on a dad hunt, Data is puzzling out how to handle the first seemingly irrational experience of his life. In the end, he does the logical thing, and recreates the initial exerpiment that caused him to pass out, with instructions to Geordi and Bashir to let him stay under for as long as he needs.
If you view "Part 1" as a typical first-half, it leaves something to be desired. While there's a nominal thematic connection between Worf's soul-searching about his dad, and Data's attempts to reconnect with his own father, the connection is never all that compelling, and the two storylines could easily have been relegated to different episodes. The only problem being that neither story has enough meat to it to stand on its own. Worf's arc, from learning that his dad may be alive, to rejecting this, to learning from his friends that he might have been to hasty, to going back to Jaglom, to setting out for the prison camp, isn't enough for a single episode. Nor is Data's arc. The drama for both characters is entirely internal, and there isn't much danger for either of them. (Sure, Worf decides to put himself in danger, but that doesn't happen till the second part.) Which makes it easier to dismiss this as padding, but I think it works.
The highlight here is Data's dreaming, and it's the dreaming that makes the padding easier to forgive. In order to get this story in this form, you need to have something else going on around it, and in most other cases, that would've meant some artificial conflict. At the very least, we would've had to create more artificial difficulties to keep Data from understand what was going on before the final five minutes. That would've been a shame, because the strength of these scenes lies in their efficiency. If this is padding, it's a sort of padding that doesn't come across as belabored or pedantic. The dream sequences are nifty, and Data's attempts to paint them show a new side to his character. And for once, Spiner's work as Soong comes across as more inspiring than unsettling. Data's self-discovery in "Part 1" represents the purest form of TNG, exploration done for knowledge that leads to personal growth, and it's such a lovely, quiet thread that I'm willing to put up with some structural clunkiness if this is we get in trade.
Really, the biggest misstep in "Part 1" isn't something that becomes a clear mistake until the second half of Worf's story. When Worf arrives at the prison camp, he finds the situation not at all what he expected. He finds a Klingon elder, who tells him that Worf's father, Mogh, did die on Khitomer after all—and then the elder turns Worf over to the Romulan guards. Take Worf's father out of the story is a bad call, I think, but we can wait till part 2 for that. For now, let's just leave Data to his dreams, and Worf standing there with a confused expression on his face. He does those so well, don't you think?
"Birthight: Part 2" (season 6, episode 17, first aired: 2/27/1993)
or The One Where Worf Throws a Spear Through a Hoop
And back in we go.
Here's my criticism: a large part of the first part of this two-parter is taken up by Worf trying to understand his relationship with his maybe-not-dead dad. Klingon culture dictates that warriors are supposed to die in battle, and being taken for a prisoner of war indicates a certain cowardice or weakness. Lord knows, Klingons aren't forgiving when it comes to cowardice and/or weakness, and Worf knows that if Mogh really did survive Khitomer, if he's spent the decades since the attack as a Romulan POW, it's not going to be good for the family name. Worf's family name has taken a number of hits over the course of the series, but those hits were always unjustified, part of a frame job that looked to turn Mogh into a traitor for political reasons. Here, the shame would be, at least by the dictates of Klingon culture, entirely deserved.
I've said before that I appreciate TNG's attempts to treat Klingon laws and ritual with the same amount of respect the show gives other, easier to relate to cultures. TNG's record isn't spotless, and it sometimes treats Worf as a headstrong child who needs to be taught to think before he stabs, but in general, the series has done a decent job of handling Worf's struggles to balance his Klingon side with his Federation duties. "Part 1" is no exception to this. While to you and I, Worf's fury at the very idea that his father might not be dead may seem ridiculous, the episode itself never acts as though Worf is behaving foolishly, instead allowing him to come to his own decision through conversations with friends about their relationships with his father. It's a nice bit of writing, and it's one of the reasons this storyline, at least theoretically, needed two eps to work. With only one episode, Worf would have to had to make the decision to rescue his dad almost instantaneously. I'm not sure any of us would've noticed (my knowledge of Klingon culture is, "shouting and stabbing and whatever Worf says"), but we would've lost some fine acting from Michael Dorn, and some good character work.
Which is why it's so frustrated that almost the first thing Worf learns upon arriving at the prison camp is that Mogh really did die at Khitomer after all. I'd thought when L'Kor told Worf his dad had died that L'Kor was lying; I thought there was even a chance that L'Kor was Worf's dad, and that the shame of his capture and emprisonment had led him to hide his true identity. I was wrong, though. Mogh is definitely dead, which means Worf spent "Part 1" doing all that soul-searching for nothing. Sure, the idea of Klingon values is an important one for "Part 2," and the scene where Worf talks about fathers with Data is strong enough that it doesn't need to be justified, but the writers here have chosen to take away the strongest emotional connection that their hero and the audience has to the situation, without any clear reason. The episode does a decent job finding conflicts without having to deal with any father/son unpleasantness, but why sacrifice the most interesting development without having anything to replace it with?
The twist here is that the Klingons who survived Khitomer to be taken captive by the Romulans are now by and large happy with how things ended up. Sure, they had their problems at first—and they certainly didn't want to be captured, but when the Romulans knocked them unconscious during battle, they didn't have much choice. But now, everyone is getting along very well, enough for a whole new generation of Klingons to have been raised in the confines of the camp. Even more, there's been some inter-species hooking up. Tokath, the Romulan in charge of the camp for the start, chose to keep the place going after the war, and he's now married to a Klingon; they've even produced a beautiful half-Klingon/half-Romulan daughter named Ba'el. It's a relationship that wouldn't work in the outside world, just as the peace between the Klingons and their former guards wouldn't work. It's an Eden for people who've only known bloodshed, and then Worf has to arrive and screw up everything.
The problem with "Part 2" is that it's soft; despite the increasing tension between Worf and the elders, despite the fact that Tokath nearly has Worf executed at the end of the episode, the tension isn't particularly strong. There doesn't always need to be tension, of course, but given the volatile nature of the situation, everything that happens here happens too easily, and to much by rote. The elders resist Worf and refuse to let him leave, so he starts behaving like a Klingon in front of the younger people, and they soon grow infatuated with the ways of their culture which have been denied them. This comes to a head, Tokath tries to remove Worf from the equation, but it's too late, and Worf finally leaves the planet with the young people who are curious to see more of the universe. (Barring, presumably, Ba'el, whose mixed-species parentage would probably cause some problems.)
There's no real sacrifice here by any party, and, apart from realizing he's maybe a little racist towards Romulans, Worf doesn't learn much of anything about himself, or open his mind. I appreciate the way "Part 2" presents us with a conflict that has no clear answer: the peace that Tokath and the others have achieved is laudable and worth preserving, but Worf's attempts to bring culture and self-awareness to his own kind are also important. It's also fun to have the ostensible hero of the episode be the nearest thing there is to a threat. Worf is a disruption here, not the others, and if he'd never come to this colony, there may never have been any strife. The episode asks just how much our heritage and social identity is worth, and it does its best to show both sides of the idea without giving any easy answers.
It just doesn't hold together, though. I'm not sure that the lessons Worf teaches really are that worthwhile, and the fact that all we get to see is the Klingon side of this, when it's a Klingon/Romulan camp, makes it less interesting to me. I suppose there's some point being made here about the way the older generation always resists young people coming into their own, and how forcing people to make one choice isn't right, even if that choice is better for them in the long run, but it's too tepid to have much impact. It's especially disappointing how easy that final resolution comes—Worf makes everyone leaving with him swear never to reveal where they truly came from. That's it? If that's all that was needed, they should've just done that at the start. (I realize it's more complicated than that, but the end here is too much of a wish fulfillment for Worf. Apart from one awkward last look, we don't even get an acknowledgement that Ba'el won't be able to leave with the others, and that even if he loves her, Worf will have to leave her.)
Despite all my assertions otherwise at the start of this review, I seem to have once again come around to a two-part episode in which the first half is stronger than the second. But really, these episodes are so distinct that I don't think the failing of "Part 2" is the usual failing we see with two-parters. It's not that "Part 1" raised the bar so high that the conclusion couldn't hope to live up to expectations. As cliffhangers go, Worf-at-phaserpoint isn't going to blow anyone's mind. It's more that the second half failed to deal with the ideas it raised in a satisfying way. I appreciate the ambition and thought that clearly went into both these episodes, but while I found much of "Part 2" interesting and fun to watch, I was never gripped by it. "Part 1" brought me something new, with Data's strange visions and the ghosts of dead fathers. "Part 2" is a little too much of a classic TOS plot, without the camp: first thing we do is find an Eden, the next thing we do is destroy it.
- I didn't mention the quick scenes on the Enterprise in "Part 2," but there are quick scenes on the Enterprise in "Part 2." They're largely irrelevant.
- Morn puts in an appearance in the background of "Part 1." Or, as he'd put it, …
- Troi is absent from "Part 2," but she does help Worf make up his mind in "Part 1," and even gets the episode's funniest line: "Did the table do something wrong?"
- When Worf tells Picard that the Klingons he brings aboard from a downed ship, and that there were no survivors from Khitomer, Picard says, "I understand." I wonder if he does—something about the look on his face suggests he might have a good guess or two.
Next week: We find out who the Enterprise really belongs to in "Starship Mine," and learn some "Lessons."