Monday, March 26, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 6: Rightful Heir

The Next Generation, Season 6
"Rightful Heir"
Airdate: May 17, 1993
148 of 176 produced
148 of 176 aired


Worf takes a leave of absence from the Enterprise to visit the Klingon monastery at Boreth. His experience with the Klingon colony on Caraya has left him questioning how sincerely he held the beliefs he was trying to teach the young Klingons. After a few weeks, Worf has not found any answers and is preparing to leave when a Klingon appears before him in a cave, claiming to be the mythic Kahless, returned to the world as he foretold more than a millennium ago. Is this man really who he says he is? What impact will this have for the Klingon Empire?
Jeez. Couldn't he have pointed to Risa when he left?


Kevin: This episode is a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, I appreciate Worf having a crisis of faith. Given how much his Klingon-ness has been part of his identity, it's interesting to see him question it in some meaningful way. It comes a tad out of left field, but I appreciate that they at least tried to tie it into the previous episodes. It may be the best thing to come out of Birthright. One complaint about this set up was I think there could have been a different way to get Worf off the ship. I understand they were trying to telegraph the intensity of his problem by making him late and setting his quarters on fire, but it read a little too harshly for Worf's character. I don't think he would have been late. Picard has been pretty permissive when it comes to Worf's Klingon stuff. I think he would have just granted the leave in the first place.

Matthew: I really like where this story is coming from in terms of science fiction and allegory. What if someone with a decently believable claim to be Christ showed up in America today? How would the power structure react? Solid allegory. Then, what would it mean if you could clone a religious figure? That's a solid science fiction story by any measure. From a philosophical angle, I really appreciate the "faith" aspect of the show, too. I am teaching a Philosophy of Religion course right now, and the themes here are very reminiscent of Kierkegaard's views on subjectivity, faith, and the lack of necessity for any sort of empirical evidence when it comes to deeply held religious belief. The way the story was broken out over its scenes was effective and entertaining, paced in a way that was both exciting but also allowed pauses for viewer reflection.

Kevin: As for the question of Kahless origin himself, I always found the Enterprise crew's reactions puzzling. Why didn't Beverly detect the clone? Did the monks really come up with a vastly superior form of cloning? Picard seems far too sanguine about this whole thing. This obviously has the potential to cause a schism in the Empire, and the last time that happened, he rallied a fleet. Everyone just seemed too unconcerned that a major Federation ally and check on Romulan power may just be heading for religious war. There's non-interference, and then there's suicidal indifference. I did like the conversation with Data. It felt a little forced that Data would contemplate his existential problems in exactly these terms, but the conversation itself was really nice and a rare moment between the two characters.

Matthew: I liked the first conversation with Data. It makes complete and total sense for his character to lack access to the sorts of numinous experience that lead to religious ideas. Unfortunately, this was undercut by the second conversation, in which Data completely contradicts himself by stating that he made a leap of faith when he was first activated. Whaaa? Sloppy writing is what this is. Speaking of sloppy writing, just how did the Kahless clone know about Worf's adolescent vision? I also had questions about the cloning issue, since it has been established since at least season two that Federation medicine was more than up to the task of detecting it. Come to think of it, where was Alexander? You'd think Worf would want to share something like the return of his culture's savior with his son. Or even mention how he wished Alexander had been here to meet Klingon Jesus. On the other hand, there were some nice continuity nods to the young Klingons from "Birthright Part II" and coalescent beings ("Aquiel").

Kevin: I will separately say that the mythology around Kahless was really well done here. It drew on what was established and expanded on it nicely, and it felt really appropriate and consistent. It all felt like some Viking epic and never veered into either the ridiculous or the derivative of an Earth culture.

Matthew: I definitely enjoyed the mythological tales here as well. The Kahless departure myth in particular was nice, as was the parable of the storm. They were all better told than the previous ones we've heard. This episode is also the introduction of the concept of Sto-Vo-Kor, if I'm not mistaken. All in all quite an expansion of Klingon mythos, and a successful one. It really adds depth to what had previously been a caricature warrior culture.

Kevin: I came down on liking the resolution in its substance, if not entirely in its form. The idea of a figurehead Emperor is just a little too pat for me. These monks seem a tad more power hungry than this solution should satisfy, and where the hell does Worf get off threatening to topple the head of the Klingon government? There's a little rule Starfleet likes, and I'm not going to name it, but it rhymes with Schmime Schmirective. That being said, I found Worf's ultimate conclusion that if the ideas are good then it does not matter if Kahless was divine or not. I find that to be the most mature, least condescending treatment of religious beliefs in Star Trek in a while.

Matthew: Speaking of Worf threats, I was offput by Worf threatening to kill the head of the Klingon religious order, on board the Enterprise no less, for lying. I didn't mind the solution so much, I just would have preferred it to be shown as a bit more inevtable than just the two warriors waiting to see him. The ultimate conclusion showed a lot of growth for the Worf character.


Kevin: I really bought Worf's emotional range throughout the episode. From lost to hopeful to angry were all convincing by turns. My issues with their practical reactions aside, I liked the kind of cautious skepticism but still supportive of Worf all the characters managed to portray. In particular, I found Brent Spiner's portrayal of the Data scene with Worf to be effective. He really pitched the emotionless attempt at emotional support nicely.

Matthew: Michael Dorn did a great job here, as you say, with a role that shows a lot of emotional range. We have to believe that he is on a spiritual quest, that he is skeptical, that he finds his faith, that he is murderously angry, and so on. Whether or not the script is sound (I think Worf's transition from skeptic to acolyte is too quick), Dorn's acting is. Brent Spiner was similarly good, even though he was asked to contradict himself by the script.

Kevin: I like Kevin Conway as Kahless. Particularly since he was supposed to be innocent in all the plotting, his character came off pretty well. It, understandably, read like an archetype of the TNG boisterous Viking-Klingon. The monks were fun, too. You can easily see any of them wearing red Cardinal hats and scheming their way through a Renaissance costume drama.

Matthew: Kevin, I'm not going to lie, I was questioning why Klingons would be wearing baseball caps when I first read that sentence. Anyway, all of the Klingons were well portrayed here. Conway's Kahless was definitely a fun flashback to the boisterous Klingons from TOS, such as Kor. And he did a good job of seeming confident despite gaps in his understanding. Alan Oppenheimer was good as Koroth, seeming both like an earnest religious leader as well as being able to scheme when need be. I think this might be Robert O'Reilly's best Gowron to date. He's not as bug-eyed as he was initially, nor as blustering. His reactions to Kahless and the threat to his own power were well and subtly played.

Production Values

Kevin: They did a good job with the number of Klingons they had on screen. They never looked like they were using generic throwaway appliances. I also like the costumes. They've hit a stride with Klingon civilian wear with the heavy, coarse cloth in pale colors, and it works. I also liked Michael Dorn's civilian wear in this one. Particularly with the braid undone, he really looked the part of a non-Starfleet Klingon.

Matthew: Worf's boned cloak thing that he wore before his fight with Kahless was elaborate and cool looking, and the monks themselves had neat accouterments. Kahless' outfit was really nice, looking like an older piece of battle dress with fur and leather straps. The monk's clothing looked really interesting. All in all, this episode was a triumph for costume design.

Kevin: In terms of sets, we get the monastery and caves of Boreth, which looked pretty neat. I liked the mural of Kahless on the wall. I wonder if they borrowed an existing set from some Viking saga or built their own, but in either event, it looked really good.

Matthew: Yeah, what stuck out for me was the monastic cell set on the planet. It was really rich (in a monastic sense) and layered with detail. The matte painting was sort of odd looking, with a fake sort of texture to the mountainside that took me out of the illusion.


Kevin: I am going with a three. Michael Dorn and the lead guest star really committed to their parts, and who doesn't love Robert O'Reilly being all Gowron-y? The plot is not as tight as it might have been and raises more questions than it answers, but its ultimate is not too shabby. That's squarely inside average territory for me.

Matthew: I'm wavering between a 3 and a 4. I think this story has balls to spare and I really appreciate it for that. But the story also has plot holes which are about the size of a red matter singularity. The production values are good, and the acting is top shelf. Generally speaking, I appreciate this for being the kind of show that only Star Trek can do really well (Battlestar failed pretty miserably at telling this kind of story, mainly owing to confusion and dragging it out for too long). So I think I'm going to stay with a 4, since that fulfills my pattern of rewarding high concept shows with certain failings. That makes our total rating a 7.

1 comment:

  1. This episode is a great example of getting out of a thing what you bring to it.

    I didn't understand the allegory when I was a kid, because I was a good little Jewish girl. The Jesus parallel didn't even occur to me, so all I saw was a good story about an amorphous religious figure making good on a legend. I don't know if that's how I was able to be drawn in so deeply to the story or not, but the story resonated with me quite a lot.

    I was raised to believe that the Torah doesn't have to be *true* to be *important*. That we have no good way of knowing if it's just a collection of stories that helped our ancestors make sense of the world around them, or if it's the Word of God handed down from on high, but that it doesn't *matter* either way. In the same way that I don't have to believe that George Washington actually cut down a cherry tree to learn a good lesson about honesty from the story, the words are more important than whether or not they're true.

    This episode helped me understand the lesson my teachers were trying to impart to me.

    It's really incredible how much a story can mean such different things to different people.