Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 6: Birthright, Part 1

The Next Generation, Season 6
"Birthright, Part 1"
Airdate: Febraury 22, 1993
141 of 176 produced
141 of 176 aired


When Commander Data is hit by an errant energy beam, he experiences strange visions. Meanwhile, Worf is approached by a mysterious stranger trying to sell information about his father, Mogh.

Orange you glad I didn't say banana?


Matthew: I don't know about you, Kevin, but personally I have a hard time keeping this episode in my mind. It's kind of like it was made by the Paxans or something. I think this springs from two factors - the complete lack of relation between two A stories, and the relative lack of development of both stories that was probably the effect of splitting time between them. I just kind of don't get what was going on here. The DS9 crossover was rather inelegant, featuring only Dr. Bashir and a few set locations. They couldn't even show Chief O'Brien one last time? He deserved a farewell from TNG. The attempt to get Data and Worf talking about their respective stories to each other also felt forced.

Kevin: This was two, maybe even three episodes Frankenstein-ed together. Trying to say that the Worf and Data storylines are related because they are about their fathers is like saying that two items of clothing belong in the same collection because they are the same color. (Sorry, I was catching up on Project Runway before I sat down to write this. Just go with the analogy.) Had they actually split the two stories, we could have given them more time to cook. The addition of DS9 felt like the height of "let's have our main cast visit the spinoff." The original script had Dax using the Enterprise computer labs without permission, but she was not available. I kind of wish she was. Her breaking into the Enterprise would have felt a piece with the impish character they were starting to construct as opposed to the jackassery of Early Bashir. If they wanted to do a DS9 crossover, they should have anchored in the TNG storyline that gave rise to DS9 in the first place: the Bajorans. Then you could have a taut political thriller with Cardassians, a post-tortured Picard, O'Brien, and...wait for it...Ensign Ro. I'm simultaneously intrigued and saddened just thinking about the missed opportunity.

Matthew: The Data story kind of takes a bit more of center stage in this episode. Kind of. It's not bad necessarily, but not a whole heck of a lot happens. Data gets zapped, paints some pictures, and then gets zapped again. The End. Wouldn't Captain Picard have some serious issued with Data voluntarily submitting to a procedure that could kill him? If Soong designed Data to have dreams, why did it take this happenstance to trigger it? It certainly seems as though Data could have gone centuries without being zapped by an obscure device from 50,000-plus light years away. And just how do you design something that operates when the machine involved is shut down? I get the feeling this is one of those Brannon Braga rush jobs. There is a story here, but it doesn't get developed logically or adequately.

Kevin: I would have appreciated a little more technical explanation. Maybe the dream program would have been triggered by the emotion chip had it been implanted the and beam coincidentally mimicked that trigger. I would have appreciated it more had it happened surprisingly on its own. Maybe a sufficient nexus of neural connections formed by Data's attempts at creativity could have organically triggered the program. It could have read a delayed acknowledgment of Data's achievements by his father, and far more fitting than it happening by accident. The other problem for me is that the dream imagery reeked of standard "This is a dream sequence" that television relies on. Even in the oddest dreams, the situations are not odd subjectively in the dream, nor is the geography or temporal structure so clean and complete. Television shows are incapable of portraying a dream sequence without the character fully aware of the dream state, and surrounded by fisheye lenses and foggy screen edges. I'm not asking for Inception in a bottle, but a greater attempt at a dream state than empty corridors and the odd bird image would have been more interesting.

Matthew: The Worf story is similarly strange, tonally, given all the sturm und drang we've received regarding Mogh over the past few RDM Klingon shows. It just seems kind of inappropriate to intimate that he is still alive, given the emotional journey that Worf has undergone.  What does Worf pay the Yridian with? How does the Yridian obtain this information, and why does he focus on Worf as a target? It doesn't seem to make sense on his part. And where is Alexander in all this? It's just all really kind of half baked, at least within the confines of this episode.

Kevin: I think it could have been a nice twist on the established Worf arc. His entire identity to say nothing of every interaction with Klingons is focused on Mogh's status. We could have ended up with a character re-defining moment, but like you said, it's not developed enough. The Yridian was an unnecessary complication. I like the moment between Troi and Worf. They are really developing a nice meter to their interactions where she manages to challenge his assumptions without dismissing his culture. It's the act of a good friend and a good counselor.


Matthew: I was not a big fan of Siddig El Fadil (or whatever the hell his name is now) when DS9 started, and this episode reminds me of why. He doesn't seem natural. Ever. He's very affected, and difficult to identify with. His line readings tend towards the annoying. Is this what the writers were going for? Maybe. But any way you slice it, the performance just kind of bugs me. So this wasn't a hit for me.

Kevin: Once I read that Terry Farrel was supposed to be on the show, the lines made way more sense. You can practically hear her breeze through Data's objections and start quizzing him about his hair. I think they wanted Bashir to be the kind of average Federation citizen with a cynical twist on the part of the writers. I imagine Bashir is how well-meaning, college-aged students are perceived by the rest of the world when they are backpacking. Naive and idealistic in a way that registers as condescending. So to the extent he needed to be a kind of 24th century take on an Ivory Tower know-it-all, boy did he succeed.

Matthew: Brent Spiner is at least average, and possible a tad above average, in his performance. Thankfully, this was not written as a Brent Spiner Cavalcade, as some recent (and future) Data shows have been. It was restrained here. Dorn was solid yet again as Worf, and despite whatever issues I have with the story setup, he sells me on his character's emotions.

Kevin: Agreed. I love watching Data play young Soong. He really gets to energize the character with a warmth that Data can't have, and it always plays well. Despite the forced conversation, the scene between Data and Worf was nice. There's a mutual bluntness to their scenes that I always find interesting. One abhors beating around the bush, the other is incapable. I wish they had more together.

Production Values

Matthew: The dream sequence was somewhat mundane, showing us only a hallway and redressed Engineering and Bridge sets. I did really like the flying scene, though, as the model and effects shots outside the ship were really cool to look at. It was fun seeing The Enterprise docked at DS9, and I look forward to both of these sequences in HD.

Kevin: My problems with the dream sequence were more conceptual than with the execution. It's a perfect competent execution of a perfectly bland take on the dream sequence. The external shot did blow my 11 year old mind, though. I also, as I normally do, loved Dan Curry's paintings.

Matthew: The Klingon colony seemed like your basic exterior location set (perhaps the same set as The Outcast?) mixed with soundstage footage. The Yridian shuttle looked to be a re-use of Rasmussen's time-ship, and it looked fine. Where does Worf get his little commando jammies, anyway?

Kevin: Come on...there's gotta be an Urban (or maybe Interstellar) Outfitters on the Promenade. The jungle was okay for me, but just okay. It looked full, but the plants seemed a little off to me. Oooh. and little nitpick factoid for everyone. In Bashir's last scene, when he walks away down the corridor, you can see he is wearing the little pink paper shoe covers the actors wear so their boots don't make noise they have to later dub out. The More You Know.


Matthew: My vague sort of non-impression of this episode had me going in thinking "Eh, it's a 3." But in cataloging its various ineptitudes, I now think it's a bit worse than that. If this had focused on one of the two stories in greater depth, it might be a 3. But this is less entertaining, oddly unsatisfying, and doesn't really end on a cliff-hanger in a way that makes you want to tune in next time. So I guess it's a 2. Pretty disappointing, really.  

Kevin: I am going to go with a 3 on this one. It's not my most enthusiastic three, but it squeaks into the fat part of the bell curve. I think the acting by the main cast is certainly average to above average, particularly for a week script, and even if the set up is weak, I like the idea of exploring Data's subconscious. I've always been sufficiently entertained by it to enjoy it. The real disappointment for me as always been the promise of Worf kicking ass taking names for the next 43 minutes devolves into a leaden lecture on bigotry and Klingon tai chi. That makes for a total of 5.

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