"Redemption: Part 1"
Or The One Where Worf Holds A Knife By The Wrong End
TASHA YAR IS ALIVE, AND SHE IS A ROMULAN!
Well, sort of. Hold on, let me back up a bit.
There's a lot to recommend season four. The ensemble, which finally clicked together in season three, has settled into a warm, easy rhythm; the quality of the writing still matters, and the performances aren't always as solid as they could be, but there's a sense of solidity to the show now that helps it coast over the rough spots. I can take all the cheap shots I want at Troi, I can—and will—continue to criticize the show's clumsiness in handling its female characters. I can take issue over the show's inability to handle romance, or its often leaden attempts at humor. But while these problems frustrate me, they don't significantly diminish my overall appreciation of the show. That sense of community makes me look forward to each episode, and it means there's always something to fall back on. It feels solid now, which is something I think only television shows can achieve—books or movies have to make their case and go, but a series can settle in for the long haul, its best moments slowly building into a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Just as important, season four raised the stakes with inter-episode continuity, most notably in Picard and Worf's relationship with the Klingon Empire. Only a handful of episodes dealt with this situation directly, but that's enough to give the impression that some great galactic struggle for power was happening just beyond the sightlines of even mediocre outings like "Galaxy's Child." Every time a Klingon would bop onto screen, we'd hear the situation back home had gotten just a little worse, and every time someone sneered at Worf for his "disgrace," we were reminded of an injustice waiting to be resolved. I've talked about the importance of this kind of connectivity before, and I don't want to over-stress it; most genre shows these days, even the outright procedurals, stress that sense of time passing more than TNG ever did. (Picard commenting that it's been a year since "Sins of the Father" was somewhat surprising, although I guess if I'd been paying attention to the stardates at the beginning of most episodes, I would've figured that out for myself?) But while the threat of a Klingon/Romulan alliance is nowhere near as elementally disturbing as the Borg, there's a reason that "Best of Both Worlds" and "Redemption" make strong season finales. These are dangers we knew were coming.
I'd initially planned to do both parts of "Redemption" this week, but I didn't plan my Netflix shipments properly, so we're going to stick with the finale. As for my thoughts on the rest of season four, well, like I said, I'd recommend it. But I do think it's overall weaker than season three. Season four doesn't have quite the same heights, strong as it is; it can't compete with "Yesterday's Enterprise" and "Who Watches The Watchers," among others (I was surprised at how many outright classics come from season three), and the second part of "Best of Both Worlds" can't quite live up to the shocks of the first. But season four is impressive in the way the writers continued to push the boundaries of their core concepts, even if those experiments weren't entirely successful. "Family" is remarkable, eschewing the show's traditional adherence to science fiction in favor of giving the depth of Picard's injuries their full due, and "The Wounded" introduced us to another militarily aggressive race in the Cardassians, a potential threat that won't really pay off for a few more years. I think my biggest complaint is that there's no real stand-out sci-fi story here, no "The Survivors"-style storytelling to take full advantage of the series ability to throw out the occasional anthology-style mindbender. But I appreciate the more focused attempts at universe-building.
Which brings us to "Redemption," which apart from a misstep or two, is a collection of some truly satisfying badassery, finally giving Worf the screentime he deserves and bringing to a head the rumblings we've been hearing since Picard stepped in to help the Klingons choose a new leader in "Reunion." Gowron, the heir apparent to the Klingon throne, is getting ready to take power, and Picard is required for the ceremony. Unsurprisingly, Gowron's ascension is not without its dangers. A rebel faction of Klingons, led by Duras' (the guy who framed Worf's father for the treason his own father committed, before murdering Worf's lover; my only regret is that Worf couldn't kill him more than once) delightfully wicked sisters, Lursa and B'Etor, are working with the Romulans to grab power for themselves. Their secret weapon: Toral, a whiny wretch who happens to be Duras' son. They bring him out right when Gowron should be taking his rightful please as leader, and when Picard eventually rejects their claims (explaining that regardless of his ancestry, Toral is basically a nobody who ain't killed anybody), the sisters take those factions of the Empire loyal with them to wage war against Gowron and his people.
During all of this, Worf has finally decided to make his move (after some urging from Picard which the captain may have reason to regret later). He convinces Kurn to help him support Gowron's claim, on the promise that Gowron will clear their family name. It's a sharp, aggressive move, and it's very, very exciting to see Worf finally being proactive. The character has generally been relegated throughout the series to jokes (which are, admittedly, generally hilarious) and used as sort of a litmus test for potential threats, but here, he finally gets a chance to actually do something, and the results are electric. He wins Kurn to his side and then saves Gowron's ass during the big space battle at the episode's climax. Gowron finally grants him his honor in the end, and it's impressive how powerful the moment is. TNG isn't really a show that does epic well. We're told repeatedly that the Empire is at stake here, but it often just feels like a really aggressive family spat. And yet it's clear something important is going on.
Picard isn't as much a factor in "Redemption" as he has been in the past, which is for the best. Stewart is such a commanding presence that it's necessary for him to be sidelined if we need to start paying attention to other people. Which isn't to say the captain isn't involved at all. He spends most of the episode negotiating the increasingly complicated political waters of the Federation's relationship with the Klingon Empire. He wants to help, but he can't bring the full weight of the Enterprise to aid Gowron, because direct official interference would change the nature of the situation in unpredictable ways. Especially with the Romulans on the prowl. There's a great scene when Picard goes to meet with Duras' sisters, and basically lays on the line that he knows exactly what's going on, and he'll do his best to stop them, although he can't do everything he might. (One of the sisters attempts to seduce him, I think, which is odd. Does this approach often work with humans?)
It's a tad rushed, but everything eventually builds to Worf resigning his position in Starfleet to stand by Gowron's side. Which is maybe a little abrupt and yet it makes sense; Worf's clearly been itching for a chance to get back to his ancestral world, and he's finally at a point where it seems that the Klingons need him more than the Enterprise does. There's something very fitting about seeing Worf in full regalia, as though that metal sash he's been wearing all these years finally decided to stop screwing around. Admittedly, I know this change is temporary, because I know Worf eventually comes back to Starfleet. But this shift is a lot more long-term plausible than Picard's Borg-ification. It serves as a logical conclusion to Worf's story on the show; in fact, I'm curious as to how well the second part of the story will justify his return, because this makes almost too much sense. Whatever happens in part two, the big send off on the Enterprise was well-handled, and I'll give them credit for at least pretending his resignation means something, even if he ultimately comes back.
As for the missteps, well, I'm getting tired of Guinan doing Troi's job all the time. Her scene with Worf is cute (hey, remember how Worf has a son?), but it would've made more sense to see Worf talking with someone on the ship we know he's close to, like Riker. Guinan is basically just a means for the writers to hand out some moral lessons to their characters without actually stepping in and doing it themselves. The character should be more interesting than she is, given her history with Picard and her mysterious past. But here, she's just on hand to push Worf in the direction the story needs him to go.
And then there's the final big cliffhanger reveal: TASHA YAR IS ALIVE AND SHE IS A ROMULAN. Sort of. Well, it'd Denise Crosby, anyway, so I'm assuming she's playing some clone of Tasha's. We don't get any explanation here, but given how she was hidden in shadow during "The Mind's Eye" and for most of this episode, it's obvious her casting is supposed to be important. I'm not sure what to think about that. Right now, it feels like a stunt; Tasha got her necessary exist in "Yesterday's Enterprise," and that was as perfect as it needed to be. Besides, Crosby is still a bland performer, so I'm not hugely convinced she'll make an appropriately menacing villain. And yet, I got chills seeing her. So we'll see. "Redemption" isn't quite in the same league as "Best of Both Worlds," but it's an appropriate enough conclusion to the fourth season, full of bold choices and complicated emotions and far more adept at raising questions than it is at answering them.
- I'm over halfway done with the show. It's an odd feeling.
- Next week, we dive into season five with "Redemption, Part II" and "Darmok."