Or The One Where We Find Out Where Tasha Yars Are Made
Out of everyone in the Enterprise crew, Data and Tasha had the most potential for back-story in the first season. Data was unique, his origins mysterious, and, hey, who doesn't love a robot? Tasha was more problematic; as a character, she was impulsive and emotionally unstable, and it never really made sense that she'd risen to her position of authority on the Enterprise, since it was hard to believe she could keep a cool head in a snowstorm, let alone during the delicate diplomatic entanglements the ship was prone to stumble upon. Maybe she would've become more credible as the show went on or maybe she would've faded into the background like Troi, existing primarily to remind us that hey, women still totally exist in the future, and many of them have jobs.
However it might've gone down if Yar hadn't run into the Oil Slick Monster, we can only speculate, but I can promise you, sooner or later the show would've found a way to get back to Tasha's home-planet. Because that's what happens when a series runs long enough: Histories are developed, and when you've got a history like Tasha's, full of "rape gangs," (I still can't decide if that phrase is ridiculously horrible or horribly ridiculous) and whatever violence and chaos made her the catalog of dysfunction we met in "Encounter At Farpoint," sooner or later, you've get to go back. An episode like "Legacy" was inevitable if Yar had continued on the series, and even without her around, the dramatic potential remains. As we saw in "Yesterday's Enterprise," Tasha is far more interesting in death than she ever was in life, so it makes sense to try and mine a little more pathos out of the lingering remains of her memory.
After a crew poker game that turns out to be surprisingly thematically relevant to the rest of the story, the Enterprise goes into full rescue mood; the Arcos, a Federation ship, is in grave danger, and only our heroes are near enough to offer any hope of rescue. They still arrive too late to beam anyone off the ship before it explodes, but thankfully, the surviving crew made use of their ship's escape pod and fled. Less thankfully, the pod crash-landed on Turkana IV, Tasha Yar's birthplace, and by all accounts, not a very nice place to visit or live. The survivors make the understandable mistake of heading to the nearest colony and get immediately grabbed by one of Turkana's two ruling factions, the Alliance. (The name is longer than that, but one gets the impression that the specifics don't count for much here. There are two groups, and neither is very nice.) When Riker and an away team beam down to the planet, they find a bunch of locals engaged in what might be the most deadly game of Laser Tag ever. They're picked by the Coalition, who offer to help, for a price. Riker huffily refuses, the away team beams back to the ship, and that's when the Coalition leader busts out his big gun: Ishara Yar, Tasha's sister.
"Legacy" works fairly well, even if Turkana never seems all that deadly. The existence of the Coalition and the Alliance is supposed to explain this; everyone has proximity detectors installed in their chests, so they can't get too close to the opposing side, which means all kinds of running around, but a lot less of the rape gangs. Even with that in mind, there's nothing so vicious or unsettling here that it wouldn't seem to fit with half a dozen other planets the Enterprise has visited in the past. Despite the connection to Tasha, we never get much sense of her history here. They remember he name, and Ishara has her share of issues over her sister, but mentioning Yar at the beginning is more a way to shorthand us into this environment than a connection that has serious consequences. We know about as much about Tasha's past coming out as we did going in: It sucked.
Really, though, that isn't a mark against the episode, because unlike "Yesterday's Enterprise," Tasha wasn't the point here. The point was more seeing how Data would connect to someone with a similar past as his lost lover (yeah, I'm never going to forget that "fully functional" scene, as long as I'm around, you won't either), and seeing how Ishara would handle the possibility of a better life as presented by the Enterprise. For a while, she appears to be won over by the camaraderie she sees and how pleasant everyone is and how there's food and nobody's getting shot in the face. She changes into the standard, extremely embarrassing unitard look that civilians are apparently required by law to wear on a starship, and she has her proximity detector removed to supposedly help with the big rescue mission. She kisses Data on the cheek.
It's all an act, though, or at least it mostly is. In keeping with the end of "Suddenly Human," we once again see our heroes trying to rescue someone from a potentially dangerous culture, and once again, that someone rejects the aid. This is a pretty big jump from the first couple seasons, when it seemed like Star Fleet was the best possible answer to any question asked. Unlike in "Human," though, Picard and the others don't come off looking foolish for trying to force their ways on a stranger. Ishara is playing them, and when her betrayal is revealed, she's the one who seems more than a little ridiculous. The Coalition and Alliance war doesn't haven't much point to it that we can see, just people killing each other to kill each other. Ishara stays true to her culture, not because her culture is healthy or worth protecting, but because when you've spent your whole life stuck in idiotic misery, you start believing there's something noble in what you do. You have to.
The main reason Ishara comes off as the loser here, apart from the fact that her plans come to naught, is that she spends most of her time on the Enterprise bonding with Data, and it's Data who first realizes what she's up to. He's advocated for her to Picard, arguing that she should be allowed to leave Turkana IV after the survivors of the Arcos are rescued, and when he discovers her using their foray into enemy territory as an opportunity to take out the Alliance's shields, he has every right to be angry and hurt. Of course he isn't, because this is Data; even if he's developing emotional responses over time (and the last shot of the episode strongly implies this), he's still not prone to over-reacting to protect his ego. So he reacts calmly and logically to what's happening, while Ishara panics and demands he leave her alone. In the end, Ishara is returned to her people, and Data is left confused over his apparent inability to read people's behavior. He's gotten good enough to know when Riker is bluffing during their poker games, and he shouldn't be vulnerable to emotional appeal or seduction. But for Data, all behavior needs to make sense, and human behavior so rarely does. "Legacy" isn't an amazing episode. We never really get a sense of how Turkana's political structure works, and the proximity detectors are more a neat-sounding phrase than a necessary plot device. But Data's misplaced trust makes for a solid conclusion.
- Well, there is some stuff in there about Ishara despising her sister for abandoning her and her eventually coming round to respecting her sister, but I dunno. I think my biggest problem with this episode is that it never seems specific in the right ways.
- Beth Toussaint plays Ishara. She does fine with what she's given, and she has a certain Linda Hamilton-y quality going.
- Nice to see that Turkana is still getting regular hairspray deliveries.
- The moment the proximity detectors were introduced, I was expecting some sort of ironic reveal before the end. So points for not going there, I guess.
- Line from my notes, taken out of context: "God, Troi is annoying."
Or The One Where It's A (Klingon) Boy
Is this our first Worf episode of the season? I believe it is! Plus our introduction to Worf's son, Alexander, and the return (and, sadly, final appearance) of Worf's lost love, K'Ehleyr. And oh hey, here's Duras again, last seen being an all around jerkwad in "Sins of the Father." In fact, "Reunion" is something of a sequel to "Sins," as it carries on the runner that the Klingon Empire is slowly collapsing in on itself, and the honor and codes Worf adheres to so faithfully have largely become a way of masking internal corruption and greed. K'mpec (also last seen in "Sins"), functional ruler of the Klingon Empire, is dying, and someone's going to have to take his place. Normally this would be an internal matter; there are two strong contenders for the position of leader, and, since we're talking Klingons, T'weedledum and T'weedledee have to have a battle to see who gets top spot. It's just, well, K'mpec isn't dying of old age or the Klingon equivalent of prostate cancer. He's been poisoned, and one of the candidates is responsible.
Which brings us to K'Ehleyr, who meets with the Enterprise on K'mpec's request. She's acting as a liaison to bring Picard into the conflict; while Picard's last encounter with the Klingon high command didn't really end in good vibes, he's clearly a man of integrity, and if I needed someone to solve my murder and save my people from chaos, Picard would be on the short-list. (And since Santa is generally busy this time of year, Picard would probably be at the top of that list.) K'Ehleyr has her own motives, though. We haven't seen her since she and Worf hooked up in "The Emissary," but apparently, that hook-up resulted in a pregnancy, which resulted in a son named Alexander which Worf knew nothing about. And now he does, but since he's shamed himself in the Empire, he can't directly acknowledge his son's lineage, as that would put Alexander in danger of being shamed himself. Family is difficult.
"Reunion" tries to do a bunch of things, and most of them are successful. It's good to see more movement on the slow collapse of the Klingon political system; TNG still isn't really big on long-running story arcs, but it does a good job at keeping plates spinning in the background. "Sins" is a season ago, but "Reunion" does a good job at bringing you up to speed if you aren't crazy enough to be watching the whole series from beginning to end. The events here represent a somewhat substantial jump in plotting—when we last saw Duras and K'mpec, they were collaborating to pin blame on Worf's dead father and hold the Empire together, and now K'mpec is dying and Duras is vying to take his place—but the jump doesn't feel incongruous. Duras was a bastard then and a bastard now, and his alliance with K'mpec was based more on greed for power than any concern for stability in government. If we're not going to spend a lot of time focusing on Worf's storylines, this is the best way to handle them; just show us the important bits.
The episode also deals with Worf's relationship with K'Ehleyr and how he handles meeting Alexander. This also works well, although it feels a little short-changed in the end, especially for K'Ehleyr. Her complicated relationship with her Klingon heritage was one of the driving forces behind her character in "Emissary," and while I buy that she might eventually come around to admitting her love for Worf (c'mon, it's Worf.), the transition here, from meeting, to the expected tensions, to her confession that she needs him, happens fast. Worf's scenes with his son are terrific, the few we get, and my problems with tempo here (which, admittedly, aren't even my major criticism of the episode) could more be a factor applying current television drama standards to older models. In terms of early '90s TV, where major relationship shifts were dictated by what guest stars appeared when, this isn't that unusual. I just enjoy watching these two spar so much that I wish we could've seen more of it. As is, the Klingon political issues and the mystery of K'mpec's killer get more screentime; these are the big ticket items of the episode, so to speak, but I wouldn't have minded shaving off a little of these scenes for some more time with the doomed lovers. (Although I wouldn't want to lose a minute of the Ritual of Poking The Dead Guy With The Cattle Prod. That was awesome.)
My biggest concern with "Reunion" is K'Ehleyr's death. It's a cheap way to go out. After Worf refuses to marry her because he can't bear to have her and Alexander share his shame, K'Ehleyr starts poking around into just what happened back in "Sins." She's a smart woman, and, after both Worf and Picard refuse to answer her questions, she quickly determines the computer files she needs to understand the situation. But by trying to access these particular files, she sets off an alarm that only Duras and his men hear. Duras comes to her quarters, they have a confrontation, and the next we see, Worf and Alexander enter her rooms to find her battered, bloody, and dying.
It's a shocking scene, and a moving one, as K'Ehleyr reaches out to her son for one last exchange. But I also can't help feeling it's a little cheap. K'Ehleyr is, again, a smart woman, and she's also a warrior; we saw her kicking a fair share of ass in "Emissary." That she would allow Duras into her quarters without any means of defending herself is a stretch, and that she would be so easy to murder (yeah, the coffee table's wrecked, but next time we see Duras, he doesn't seem to have much in the way of visible wounds), smacks of contrivance, and worse, it turns a strong character into just a victim whose death has to be avenged. If K'Ehleyr had to die (and I can accept that she did) we should've seen the fight scene, and it should've been a fight, not just the assault that's implied here. Or else have Duras kill her by cheating, much as he does K'mpec. As is, it plays a little too much like K'Ehleyr got in over her silly, soon to be caved in head, and that's doesn't sit well.
I wasn't initially sold on Duras being the poisoner, either; it seemed too easy that the Klingon so responsible for Worf's social humiliation would conveniently put himself in a position where he had to be put down. But sometimes a bad guy is just a bad guy, and narrative twists aren't always necessary to make a story work. (Although even if he is innocent of killing K'mpec, Gowran is one seriously freaky looking guy. Are there Klingon heroin addicts?) Plus, it was righteous enough to see Worf finally get to take the creep down in the end. I can't remember the last time we saw Worf getting to do some serious damage to someone, and his "K'Ehleyr was my mate" is a great moment, whatever compromises were necessary to get there.
TNG is generally not big on vengeance, but apparently they were willing to make an exception in Worf's case. When Riker orders him to stop, he ignores the order and kills Duras quite dead, and while Picard gives a big speech about how he's disappointed in Worf for his actions and that an official reprimand will appear on Worf's record, it's impossible to believe that he made the wrong choice. It's odd, really, how unambiguous this episode is. Duras, the guy we want to be the villain, is the villain, and when he does the unthinkable, he gets take down in immensely satisfying fashion. Sure, Worf is still not quite able to clear his family name yet, but it's only a matter of time; "Reunion" lacks some of "Sins" punch, because most of the hard choices are made for our heroes, instead of the other way around. Still, it's very good, and Alexander manages not to wear out his welcome in the few scenes he's given. And whatever it took to get there, the final scene between father and son is melancholy, honest, and hopeful, and that's not a bad mix to make.
- Sad as I am to see her go, I'm happy I'll never have to type K'Ehleyr again.
- I like how willing Picard is to force his crew into embarrassing personal situations. It's like he's getting revenge for every time anyone laughed at his reaction to Lwaxana Troi.
- Next week, we look at "Future Imperfect" and "Final Mission."