Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 2: The Emissary

Airdate: June 29, 1989
45 of 176 produced
45 of 176 aired

Introduction

The Enterprise is called upon to travel to a remote sector in order to track a long-lost "sleeper ship." This ship contains Klingons from the war-torn past between the two great powers. How will they greet such a crew of throwbacks upon waking? A special emissary with intimate knowledge of Klingon affairs has been sent to rendezvous with the Enterprise. The plot thickens, however, when we discover that the emissary, K'Ehleyr, is Lieutenant Worf's long lost love...
"Your butt is mine. I'm going to tell you right." 



Writing

Matthew: I consider this "Cold War Sci-Fi." Why? Well, we have our TOS Soviet analogues (though they have evolved somewhat into a martial culture since that time), and we have a "Rip Van Winkle" plot which mirrors other plots of Soviet agents or soldiers being put in hibernation for use in a post-nuclear future. OK, neat. Does it make a whole lot of sense? Maybe not. The intimation here is that they were purposely suspended for many decades. What possible utility could having an obsolete ship show up after nearly a century serve? It would be better if the intention had been for a year or two and they had been forgotten by the bureaucracy or something.


Kevin: That has always driven me crazy. It's the one dark spot in an otherwise stellar episode. It was just there to create a conflict that required the introduction of K'Ehleyr and add some tension. A more credible and rational threat would have put this episode easily in the upper echelons of the series. Maybe it could have been another rogue, like Heart of Glory, and expand on the theme of discontent in the empire. 

Matthew: The B story, so to speak, is the erstwhile romance between K'Ehleyr and Worf. When it's written this well, I'm willing to forgive the coincidental nature of the plot. The dialogue was nicely suggestive of their history, without getting bogged down in expository detail. Although the details of wrist sniffing and fingernail bleeding might be a bit overboard, the overall portrayal of Klingon romance, with its various oaths and serious commitments, developed the race well. Their parting scene was very touching (if a bit infuriating), with good dialogue.


Kevin: Something you've mentioned before that I like is Worf's perception of Klingon culture is a bit two dimensional, likely because he always feels on the outside looking in. In his mind, Klingon cultural mores are adhered to a little more perfectly than in reality, and K'Ehleyr was a nice contrast to that. I also agree on hitting the right balance of detail and pacing. There was enough there to make the relationship credible, but not the drag that too much dialogue creates. Something else I like, and they'll pick this up again with Dax pointing it out to him directly, that for a Klingon obsessed with traditional Klingon-ness, he tends to fall for some pretty non-traditional women. It's a nice vein of contradiction and wanting what you don't think you're supposed to want that makes love affairs high entertainment.

Matthew: The overall resolution of the A plot was just OK.  I appreciate that our characters resolved it with "guile" and all, but I can't help but feel short-changed. The dangerousness of the Klingons was built up for the better part of an hour, only to end in a whimper in the final few minutes. I would have preferred more cat and mouse, some starship combat, some fish out of water comedy, something to pay off the set up. Also, what in the hell could "Welcome to the 24th Century" mean from one Klingon to another? "Welcome to the 24th arbitrary set of dates following the birth of a nigh-fictional mytho-historical character from Earth?" I'd have fired on him after a non-sequitur like that.

Kevin: We'll assume that the universal translator can handle idioms and context as well. It probably came out in Klingon as "Welcome to 985th year of Kahless." I agree on the absence of tension here. If nothing else, the weapons are a century out of date. Should even basic defenses any outpost would sensibly have be enough to handle them? I will say it was a nice moment for Worf. He is a great straight man, but he is capable of more, and even the weak action plot let him show that.

Acting

Matthew: Well, this episode introduces the third of three characters who typify TNG's crimes against humanity - letting great female characters die on the vine and never come back. Argh. AAAARGH!!!! K'Ehleyr, who I am convinced they axed simply because it's a bitch the spell the name (seriously!), was brought to scintillating life by Suzie Plakson. The sparkling line readings, the brio, the wit, the charm, the physical presence - it is an absolute travesty that Plakson was not brought back as a regular in some respect. I just can't even fathom what went wrong here on the parts of the producers. Along with stinkers like "Code of Honor," TNG's lack of female principals is its other great stain. And that stain will never be washed clean, until and unless it is revealed that Plakson turned down an offer or something. Anyway, in addition to being utterly charming in her own right, Plakson also had great chemistry with Dorn. It was easy to believe they had a history, and to root for them winding up together (which, of course, made their eventual fate all the more galling). It's easily in the upper pantheon of great Trek guest starring performances.

Kevin: Quick shoutout, I met Suzie Plakson with Matt, Kelly, and Elizabeth at a convention, and she is as awesome in real life. I loved K'Ehleyr, no two ways about it. I still crack up when Worf says "But we have mated," and she responded "I know. I was there." That's comic timing and delivery you can't buy. Plakson also had great chemistry with everyone else. I could buy Troi and K'Ehleyr becoming friends, and she went toe to toe with Picard on a course of action and managed to pull it off without disrespecting his position or appearing as a harpy. Usually the Federation dignitary disagreeing with the Captain comes off as nebbish and ill-informed. She, in addition to apparently being a demon in the sack, actually came off as qualified to do the job she was sent to do.

Matthew: As a "Klingon Episode," this is obviously a showcase for Michael Dorn as well. He does well, portraying a complex range of emotions other than "comedy straight man." His respect for his culture comes across well, as does his submerged but still present passion for K'Ehleyr. He nails his final line, too, "I will not be complete without you." All around a great job.

Kevin: When people discuss the acting chops of the cast, they tend to applaud Stewart and Spiner first, but Michael Dorn, especially for having such a big character with big emotions always plays the character with depth and restraint that I think, especially by DS9 elevates him to the same echelon. I always believe he believes his lines and isn't merely speaking them. Ron Moore should get credit for writing the blossoming of Klingon culture, but it would have been DOA without Dorn to breathe life into on screen. I also loved the scene with Data, Worf, and K'Ehleyr. Everyone did a pitch perfect job of acting the character they had established, and it's not the biggest scene in the episode, but it was well executed from writing to delivery, it just sticks out for me for praise.

Production Values

Matthew: K'Ehleyr's outfits are a real trip. Some succeed (the sassy maroon pleather belt buckle ensemble pictured above) and some do not (the stereotypical "future triangle" upholstered look). But Suzie Plakson wears them all well. She must have been fun to design for as a tall, lanky woman with curves.

Kevin: I loved her belt buckle jump suit. It was both visually appealing and looked like something she would wear. Easy to wear, but not exactly frumpy. It always helps when the love object is actually appealing and the person our main character is supposed to want to have sex with is...you know...actually sexy.

Matthew: It's always appreciated when details like Worf's calisthenics program come back in full flower, with the same aliens and settings. Sure, I know that the rubber heads have been lying on a shelf in wait. But I still appreciate it. The "cutting in half/dissolve" effect in the holodeck was fun, if a tad inexplicable (is it simulating a video game?).

Kevin: Maybe outraged parents in the 24th centruy, still begging someone to THINK ABOUT THE CHILDREN!!!, have enforced limited gore settings on the holodeck. A moral safety, if you will. The creatures can neither kill nor offend you. 

Matthew: We see yet another movie re-use of the Klingon vessel from TMP. Hey, when something works, stick with it! They added a nice green disruptor effect, though. 


Kevin: They must eventually switch to the Vor'cha and BOP models because they wore out the negative. Still, I agree, it's an awesome shot, and I've gotten to the point where I hear the Klingon theme from TMP in my head when I see it. I also liked the probe idea and its execution. The shot of the Enteprise coming along side was well done, and the idea of traveling at high warp in essentially a coffin is really unsettling, and was a nice way to ratchet up the tension without giving me a sheet of exposition on it.

Conclusion

Matthew: Normally, on the strength of the story, I'd give this a 3. The Cold War/Rip Van Winkle angles are not developed in a totally satisfying way. But the romance and the acting excel to such a degree that this episode is pushed to a 4 in my estimation. Suzie Plakson is great to watch, no two ways about it, and her chemistry with Dorn makes his character better.

Kevin: I'm torn on this one between a 3 and a 4. Do the weaknesses of the story cancel out awesome acting? Not this time. Suzie Plakson is so appealing, and her interaction with Worf so credible and compelling, I will accept a weak plot that exists largely to give her a credible reason to be on the Enterprise. Her next and (SPOILER ALERT) final appearance will have a much better plot development, albeit a sadder ending. I always enjoy watching this episode. This gets a 4 from me as well, for a total of 8. 

3 comments: