"Sins of the Father"
Or The One Where The Klingon Empire Turns Its Back On Worf
World-building is as much about illusion as it is about information. No fictional creation can ever have as much detail as reality, no matter how many episodes a show runs, or how many novels fans write about it, so the idea is to suggest worlds without ever having to show them. The Enterprise is just a collection of rooms, but it has to feel like a ship; some of the ensemble characters may only get a handful of lines each episode, but there has to be the sense that, were they to talk longer, they'd have stories to tell. On the best shows, any character can step forward and take center stage without losing our interest, because even if all we know of them is some tics and a few punchlines, we still believe there's more to learn.
I love TNG, but I don't think it's a great show; it's more a very good show with a share of amazing individual episodes. In terms of world-building, it can be hit-or-miss; it's not that I doubt that, say, Troi has a past, it's that I have zero interest in hearing about it. (All right, that's not entirely fair. I would be as happy as the next guy with a terrific Troi-centric storyline. I'm just not holding my breath that we'll ever get one.) I think we've all had enough Wesley-centric episodes to last us a very long time. But everybody else I'm still curious about. I wouldn't mind finding out about Riker's earlier days, or learning what's going on with Picard and Beverly. While "Sins of the Father" isn't a flashback episode, it does give us more information about one of the show's most unsung (and best) secondary leads. In doing so, "Father" helps expand the TNG universe, and gives Worf his moment of glory. It's another strong episode in what is turning into a consistently solid season.
Speaking of Riker, remember "Matter Of Honor"? It's from back in the second season--as part of an officer exchange program, Riker spends some time as first officer of the Klingon ship, Pagh. He makes friends, flirts with Klingon women, and wins the respect of his crewmates. One of the pleasures of watching TNG from the beginning is the show's occasional references to earlier episodes; they're smooth enough that, if you haven't seen the episode being referenced, you won't realize you're missing out, but if you've been paying attention, it helps maintain the feeling that this is a persistent world. That happens here: "Sins" begins with the Enterprise taking on a Klingon officer named Kurn to serve as the ship's First Officer, as the second part of "Honor"'s exchange program. The writers (Ron Moore, W. Reed Moran, and Drew Deigna) could've justified Kurn's presence in any number of ways, but they remind us of the Pagh and Riker's time there, partly for continuity, and partly because "Honor" was all about, well, honor, and that's going to be a very important thread here.
Kurn is played by Tony Todd, who does a great job of balancing his usual menacing presence with a sense of desperation and even, oddly enough, vulnerability. As First Officer, he runs roughshod over the crew, barking orders, berating everyone for their lax discipline (I've gotten used to Wesley by now, but I can't say I wasn't happy to see him yelled at), and ignoring Riker's attempts at advice. This, initially, looks to be our main plot: Kurn's difficult, a crisis arises, Kurn learns to adjust his methods, and the ensemble learns that maybe discipline isn't such a bad thing after all. Oh, and of course Kurn will spend some time tormenting Worf, because that's what Klingons do: torment each other. Only, that's not what happens. Kurn pushes Worf, until Worf is finally upset enough to confront Kurn in his quarters. After determining once and for all that Worf isn't anyone's pet, Kurn explains the truth: he is Worf's younger brother, and he's here to ask for Worf's help. Someone has put up treason charges against their father, Mogh, and Worf, as the eldest (and only publicly acknowledged son of Mogh), is the only one who can restore the family reputation.
It's time, then, for a field trip to the First City of the Klingon Empire, because it's not like Picard's going to let Worf go off on his own. The First City is remarkable, all thunder and storm clouds and buildings that look as if they could be used as weapons, should the need arise. The Klingons make fascinating characters (when well written) because they used to be the bad guys. Traditionally, the aggressive, war-like races on a sci-fi show are the villains. This is because of story demands--heroes are the guys who try and stop places from being conquered, not the ones who do the conquering. (Plus, it makes us human look better if we're not the only ones killing the Indians, so to speak.) Here, peace has been made, but the decor remains the same; there's no attempt made to friendly up Klingon hospitality, and while we learn by the end of the episode that politics on the home-world are trickier than they initially appear, we're never given cause to believe anything here will change.
The second half of "Father" is a curious sort of courtroom drama; while Worf stands his ground against the insults of Duras, the son of Mogh's greatest rival, Picard and the Enterprise Mystery Team go to work trying to prove Mogh's innocence. Picard's unquestioning support of Worf serves to make both characters more likable (Picard for putting his trust and respect in Worf, Worf for earning the trust and respect of a man like Picard), and Stewart's performance during the Klingon council is unsurprisingly excellent; he can't make himself a Klingon, but he can surely do his damn best to behave like one. His commitment is tested when Kurn, who's been serving as Worf's cha'DIch during the trial (we never see anyone engage in actual combat during the proceedings, but from what Worf says, if anybody's going to fight, it would be the cha'DIch), is injured by a trio of assassins working for Duras. Worf asks Picard to take Kurn's place, which gives even Picard a moment's pause, because hey, he's not getting younger (and his skin is not getting any more knife-proof). But he accepts, and when the assassins come for him, he makes a surprisingly good showing. There's a long held myth in Trek fandom that Kirk was the bad-ass, and Picard was the thinker. While it's true that Kirk had more of a rough and ready approached than Picard, it's important to remember that both characters were more than simple archetypes. Kirk could think his way out of most anything, and Picard, despite being a man of more distinguished years, is no slouch in the ass-kicking department.
In council, the long dead Mogh is accused to colluding with the Romulans; his treason made the Romulans attack on the Khitomer Outpost (the attack that killed Mogh and left Worf an orphan) possible. It goes without saying that Mogh is, of course, innocent. Ron Moore's name on the credits or not, we're not in the murky gray morality of Battlestar Galactica quite yet, so it's probably asking too much to force Worf and his newfound brother to accept that just because their father was a son of a bitch, doesn't mean they have to be. I'm not sure TNG could've supported that kind of twist, anyway; we've been told again and again how important Worf's honor is to him, and a storyline that stripped that honor away in a manner that left him no recourse could've sent the character into a tailspin that would require more than a single episode to come out of. Thankfully, it's a little more complicated than that. One of the assumptions when Picard sets Data, Geordi, and Riker to looking for answers is that there will be answers to find, and "Father" gains a lot of points out of proving that assumption false. Oh sure, Geordi is able to determine that the logs damning Worf's father are probably faked, but there's no definitive evidence. When Picard goes to meet the other survivor of Khitomer, Kahlest, she agrees with him that Mogh was innocent, but she has no knowledge that can prove that innocence in court. Picard uncovers the truth by bluffing, bringing Kahlest to the council and pretending she has information in order to draw out the conspirators; it's a dramatic choice that helps underplay the convenience of Mogh's innocence.
Even better is what happens next. It's not really a surprise when we learn that it was Duras's father who contacted the Romulans, nor is it a major shock when K'mpec, the head of the council, reveals he was in on the frame-up. Duras is flat-out bad-guy material (three on one? Mocking Picard? Total jerkface), and K'mpec's warning to Worf earlier was an obvious sign that something was up. What is surprising is that this isn't some cruel attempt to trap Worf, but the end result of some behind the scenes negotiations to keep the Klingon Empire from collapsing. If the true traitor is revealed, we're told, the Empire will fall to civil war. Picard is outraged, demanding that the truth must out regardless of the consequences, but Worf demurs.
Much of the latter part of "Father" is focused on Picard and the others' attempts to figure out what really happened back at Khitomer. Once he accepts his role and makes his claim to the council, Worf is sidelined from the action. We don't even get a scene of him beating the crap out of Duras's henchmen. Picard's bluff reveals the secret, but these are Worf's people, and in the end, this story belongs to him. It's his honor that's in question, and the choice he makes, to sacrifice face in the Empire in order to save that Empire from devouring itself alive, makes up for his time on the bench. It's a decision that's consistent with everything we've seen of his character so far, but one that also serves to clarify our understanding of him. This is a being who has spent his entire existence aspiring to be part of the home he lost as a child, and here, he willingly sacrifices another tie to that home because it is the honorable thing to do. In the final scene, the members of the Klingon council turn their backs on Worf. Kurn resists, and Worf says, "You must also, brother." It's a remarkable moment, and no matter how or how little we see of Worf in the episodes to come, it will prove difficult to forget.
- "I shall try some of your burned, replicated bird meat." Klingons make delightful Thanksgiving dinner guests.
- Picard is very willing to put up with Kurn's intensity on the bridge. Makes you wonder if he doesn't get a kick out of somebody else doing the yelling for a change.
- "It's a good day to die, Duras. And the day is not over yet."
- "It is good to see you again." "You are still fat, K'mpec."
Or The One Where Picard Makes New Friends, And Beverly Dances
Well, well, well, doesn't this sound familiar: an unknown alien force kidnaps Captain Picard from his quarters, depositing him in a cell with three companions. The cell is locked, and anyone who tries to tamper with the lock mechanism is hit with beam of pure pain. No one in the cell seems to know who brought them there, or why, and it's up to the four of them working together to discover what's happened, and to find some means of escape. The cell is small, the furnishing's spartan, and Picard's cell-mates are broad types: Tholl, the arrogant thinker who uses logic to hide his cowardice; and Esoqq, the violent warrior who wants to stab things and is very, very hungry. There's also Mitena Haro, a first year Starfleet cadet who's a huge fan of Picard's. She's a little more complex than the other two, maybe sort of a bridge between their outlooks... or maybe something more than that.
Oh, right, these are reviews, aren't they. She's the alien kidnapper in disguise! Moving on.
The details are different, but doesn't this sound a lot like something that we would've seen during the original series? I could imagine it fitting in (as well as anything did) in TNG's first season, back when the show was struggling both to carry on the Trek legacy and find its own way, but it's a testament to how far the show has come that "Allegiance" doesn't entirely fit. As TNG has gone on, it's deepened its storytelling; where the original series was focused on broad stroke and archetypes, TNG is more about the complex societies and interactions that make up a functioning, universe-spanning governance. It can still make effective episodes out of standalone stories, like "The Survivor," but it's more difficult to swallow a scenario like "Allegiance"'s because it's easier to spot the laziness. Picard's kidnappers aren't precisely godlike, but they share the Godlike Beings' affinity for disruption without consequence. The ending does something to correct this, and there's enough to enjoy here to keep the ep from being a slog, but it remains a kind of plot the series can do without.
Of course, now that I've dismissed it, there's all this empty space left to fill. So what the hey, let's unpack this. Picard gets kidnapped (and how suave is our captain, lounging in his quarters with a glass of, I'm assuming, wine and a good book), but Riker and the others on the Enterprise don't realize it, because the aliens thoughtfully leave a duplicate of Picard in his place. It's not a bad stinger, and given that the aliens running the show here are interesting in studying the effects of authority and leadership, it makes sense that the duplicate Picard is as much a part of their experiment as the real one. Structurally, though, it's odd. The big hook of the episode is what's going with the real Picard in that little room. No matter how well done Fake Picard's scenes are (and they're not bad), he's in a familiar setting, and we already know basically what's going on, even if we don't know the reasons behind it. And yet the episode seems to spend as much time with the Fake Picard as with the real one, maybe even more. Every time we cut away from the action in the cell, the tension dies.
What, then, is going on with Fake Picard anyway? "Allegiance" strings us along for a while by pretending there's a deeper meaning in the duplicate's actions. Obviously he's stalling for time; his first action on the bridge is to redirect the ship to a visit a pulsar at low warp. He covers with Riker by asking if can count on his First Officer's trust, and then he politely asks Geordi to improve Engineering efficiency. So maybe, in addition to the stall, the duplicate is testing how the Enterprise crew responds to orders. That would certainly put a new spin on the Fake Picard and Beverly date. After two and a half seasons worth of barely discernible sexual tension, the duplicate asks Beverly to his room for dinner, and a surprisingly frank discussion about the nature of their relationship. Maybe he's seeing how command can affect romance, but that's not really how it plays. This, and most everything else we see from the Fake Picard, plays more like someone who's playing around with the possibilities of being human than anything clinical. And that's what it very well could be; one of the problems with the episode is that we get no really pay-off to all the time we spend with Fake Picard. Sure, Riker eventually steps up and takes over the ship, but by the end, Fake Picard was distinct enough from the real version that he needed some kind of send-off more satisfying than "Oh, right, he's just an alien too." (This confused me, as the kidnappers say that they have machines that can duplicate organic matter and brain function, which led me to believe that Fake Picard was actually a separate entity. As it's filmed, it looks like he and Mitena are just suits.)
Enough about that, though. Let's check in with the real Picard. I've already outline the situation above, and introduced the characters, and, well... okay, that about wraps it up, honestly. One of the reasons we spend so much time watching Fake Picard is that there isn't much for the real Picard to do. His cell is small, there's limited materials to work with, and the characters he's trapped with aren't interesting enough to really warrant much discussion. Conversations proceed on the expected routes; Picard is reasonable (I love his efforts to make sure their captors know they're intelligent.), Tholl is whiny, Esoqq growls a lot. There's some mildly interesting paranoid that develops near the end, but even that is handily defeated by Picard's calm rationality. Maybe that's why this plotline feels so artificial to the show (beyond the obvious artificiality of it all being a test): Picard is just too sane to fall for any of it. He's clever, of course, able to piece together the circumstances, as well as see through Mitena's lies (she knows more information about the Enterprise's travels than a simple cadet should), but it's the sanity that makes all of this a little foolish. He simply applies common sense to the problem, and renders the experiment null.
Thankfully, this rationality leads to the episode's best moment, a scene good enough for me to bump this one up half a letter grade, even if it doesn't really redeem the rest of a passable but half-hearted entry. Once the real Picard is back on his bridge, he and the bridge crew trap two of the alien kidnappers. The aliens, terrified of any sort of containment, immediately panic, and Picard informs them that he himself has some tests he'd like to run. He stretches out the torment for a few extra seconds, then frees the creatures, making sure they understand that Starfleet knows who they are, and knows what their weakness, so they should probably give the whole "kidnapping for scientific purposes" a rest. It's one of the only times when "Allegiance" isn't working off of somebody else's playbook. A hallmark of the Godlike Being is that it renders our heroes helpless; for once, we get to see the good guys turning the tables, and it's a legitimately thrilling moment. Overall, this episode was too lazy for my tastes, especially coming on the heels of the excellent "Father"; this one just regurgitated stale concepts, and failed to follow through on the few good ideas it managed to unearth. Still, it felt good to see Picard getting the upper hand, because really, I don't care if you do provide your captors with the materials to make a rudimentary lathe--kidnapping is still just plain wrong.
- The scene between Fake Picard and Beverly was a relief; good to finally have all those hints and missed opportunities out in the open. Now if it only had any consequences beyond a pre-credits stinger...
- "This concept of morality is a very human characteristic." Somehow I doubt that.
- "In any rate, we now know of your race and we know how to emprison you. Bear that in mind. Now get off my ship." Hells yes.
- Next week, we go on "Captain's Holiday," and check our hearts at the door for "Tin Man."