Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: “Suspicions”/“Rightful Heir”

Illustration for article titled Star Trek: The Next Generation: “Suspicions”/“Rightful Heir”

“Suspicions” (first aired 5/8/1993)

Or The One Where Dead Men Walk And Beverly Desecrates a Corpse

Dr. Beverly Crusher should’ve been one of TNG’s best characters. She’s smart, she’s a doctor (doctor’s are cool, right?), she’s got red-hair—but most importantly, she’s a likeable, appealing nerd, more stable than Geordi, less alien than Data. In a just world, she could’ve been everything Deanna Troi wasn’t: a strong female character who didn’t exist solely to titillate male fans, someone whose passion and ability were outside the often narrow expectations for genre heroines. Instead, we got someone who was never given the opportunity to live up to her potential. Gates McFadden is a solid actress, but too often, her character has been relegated to back-up roles, interjecting occasional medical jargon to give color to scenes, or else worrying to one side about whether or not Wesley was getting enough fun in his life. Admittedly, she’s part of the ensemble, which means she’s not going to be center-stage all the time; there are plenty of episodes where, say, Riker’s primary contribution is grinning like a jackass, or Data exists only to misinterpret basic sayings. But, much as with Troi, Beverly’s solo outings rarely do well by her. “Remember Me,” whatever my reservations, had the right idea; none of this, “Oh no, I’ve fallen in love with an ambassador so my story has to be all about feelings!” crap. (Weirdly enough, I graded “The Host,” an episode with just that premise, higher than “Remember Me.” Sometimes, I don’t make a whole lot of sense.)

“Suspicions,” in concept, falls into the former category. It has Beverly getting passionate about science, which is all kinds of awesome, and it has her going on adventures and fighting crime—and I’m a fan of these things. Unfortunately, “Suspicions” is also mediocre. While Picard and Data and even Riker get to have grown-up adventures, Beverly is stuck Nancy Drew-ing her way through a mystery populated by uninteresting, generic characters, with a lot of chumped-up drama and a solution that seems clever, but doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The good doctor is likeable as ever, but the whole episode has the feel of a bizarre spin-off series that never quite came into focus. It’s the sort of story that works only as background television; occasionally smart, never too much of a downer, but best viewed with your mind largely focused on something else.

Oddly enough, “Suspicions” opens with a framing device. Beverly is in her quarters, wearing her civilian clothes and packing, when Guinan comes to visit. Guinan has a story all prepared—she and Geordi were playing tennis, and she thinks she’s injured her elbow—but what really happened is that Guinan’s magical mentor sense started tingling, and she decided to meddle where she was needed. Beverly brusquely informs Guinan that “I’m not a doctor on this ship anymore,” which is a shock, and after sufficient pestering, Guinan gets the good ex-doctor to spill some exposition. About half the episode is taken up with the tale Beverly tells next. It’s a not entirely unfamiliar structure, but I’m not really sure why it’s necessary. The mystery of just how Beverly lost her job, and just why she’s going up for a court martial, isn’t a bad way to start us off, but telling events in a more linear fashion might’ve created more suspense. Or maybe not. This one was never going to be a thrill-a-minute, however it unfolded.

Beverly explains to Guinan that a Ferengi scientist named Dr. Reyga had developed a process of multiphasic shielding. If it worked, the new kind of shield would have huge ramifications for, um, space science. But given that nobody really likes Ferengi (yes, that’s right, after nearly six seasons worth of sniveling cartoons, TNG has finally decided we need to learn a valuable lesson about judging sentient beings by their species), Reyga is having a difficult time getting the word out. Beverly is so impressed by Reyga’s work, and so frustrated by the lack of attention it’s getting, that she takes it on herself to invite Reyga aboard the Enterprise, so that he can present his work to a group of influential scientists from around the galaxy. Only four of those scientists answer Beverly’s evite, but it’s a start, and the doctor is so confident in Reyga’s work, she’s sure that everyone else will be too.

There’s a lot to like in this set-up. While a moderately attended conference about a made-up science fiction technology doesn’t scream excitement (especially since the importance of the technology is entirely abstract; “multiphasic shield” sounds cool, but it has no inherent meaning, unlike, say, “chronology shifting device”), it’s charming to see someone get so worked up about research and knowledge, without there having to be any immediate personal gain involved. TNG has all kinds of positive ideas about the future, but the one that always registers the strongest with me is the idea that tomorrow might be a place where people go to celebrate learning. There’s a certain degree of pettiness among the scientists Beverly invites—given the turn events take, that pettiness is necessary to make everyone involved a potential suspect. (Besides, considering how far she cast her net with invitations, and how few respond, maybe she just ended up with the dregs.) But that doesn’t take away the fact that Beverly was able to arrange all of this on board the ship with a minimum of fuss, for a gathering that wasn’t going to make her or the Enterprise any money. I’m not doing a good job explaining myself here, and I’m probably over-emphasizing the point as well, but given how much of our culture is suspicious or even hostile to knowledge and study, it’s nice to watch a show where the opposite is true.


Plus, there’s Beverly, pulling all of this together purely based on her own enthusiasm. In a way, it’s surprising that Beverly is the one running all this, and not Geordi, or even Barclay; shields seem more of an engineering concern than a medical one, although Beverly’s ability to perform autopsies will become important later on. But this does help add a bit of depth to her character, and it certainly doesn’t contradict anything we’ve seen before. (I even have vague memories of her broad range of interests in the past. Something to do with physics, I think.) And, for all the reasons I’ve already stated above, it’s just neat to have her working on this sort of thing.

But, in case the title didn’t clue you in, “Suspicions” isn’t just a simple tale of shared study and rigorous debate. To convince the others that his work is a success, Reyga proposes a test drive of the system. Jo’Bril, a Takaran scientist, the first one Beverly’s ever met (if this isn’t setting off alarm bells, it should), volunteers to pilot a shuttle into the corona of a nearby sun to test the multiphasic shield’s strength. The test goes well, right up until the point where it doesn’t, leaving Jo’Bril apparently dead. The other scientists assume that the shield failed, but Reyga refuses to accept this, pleading with Beverly for another test run so he can prove the original failure was a fluke or act of sabotage. But before he can follow through on this, he winds up dead, an apparent suicide, only Beverly doesn’t think it is a suicide—and of course she’s right.


Jo’Bril’s the bad guy here, trying to discredit Reyga’s research so he can steal it for himself. After his “death,” “Suspicions” makes a point of calling to our attention just how odd his corpse is, how there’s little cellular degeneration, and how Beverly doesn’t know a whole lot about Takara physiology. It’s not screamingly obvious—”killing” the criminal is a decent way to throw off the scent, and for a while, I thought the lady Vulcan and her human husband might be responsible, although that would mean disregarding some other clues. (I never thought it was the Klingon.) Beverly’s confrontation with Jo’Bril in the shuttle at the end was intense enough, and while Jo’Bril was on the mustache-twirling side, he at least had a halfway decent escape plan. But how the hell did he get out of the morgue? While Jo’Bril was faking his own death, he had to lie in the morgue for days on end. Beverly did an autopsy on him at some point, even, which can’t have been comfortable.

While I would’ve been willing to accept that future autopsies are much more invasive than modern ones, the reason Beverly temporarily loses her job is because she goes ahead and performs an autopsy on Reyga’s corpse against his family’s wishes. Which would seem to imply that future autopsies affect the body about as much as modern ones do, so how the hell did Jo’Bril survive it? But okay, Beverly didn’t know much about the Takarans, so maybe she didn’t really do an in-depth, hole-poking study of the so-called corpse. (Although you’d think a doctor would be even more thorough on a body from an unfamiliar species, if only for her own records.) Plus, we’re never given specifics on just how resilient Jo’Bril is when he’s playing possum, so who knows. That still doesn’t explain the ease with which Jo’Bril was able to extricate himself from his corpse drawer, sneak through the ship, and stow away in the shuttle Beverly ends up stealing for her final attempt to prove the shield works. How did he know which shuttle to pick? How did he know what time to break out of Sick Bay?


Jumping back to the main story, there’s also the fact that no one here outside of Beverly really behaves as they normally do. People are initially supportive, but as situation grows more tense, and Beverly becomes increasingly determined to get to the bottom of what’s happening, Picard, Riker, and Troi all do their best to get in the way. Picard becomes a sort of impotent father figure, offering promises of threats and moral instruction without putting much effort into backing it up; Riker actually takes Beverly aside and tells her, basically, to shut the hell up and let it go; and Troi is actively worried about Beverly’s mental health. They tell her she’s obsessed, that she’s pushing too hard for answers, and while the episode does it’s best to make it seem like they have a point, these attempts to create more drama and tension—oh no, will Beverly find the killer before she’s taken off the case for good—are too artificial and strained to work. Beverly crosses a line when she breaks down and autopsies Reyga against his family’s wishes, but she’s never irrational or unhinged. In fact, the behavior of the non-Crusher Enterprise crew (excluding Guinan, of course) is surprisingly similar to the behavior of the imaginary crew in “Remember Me.” But where those characters were constructs of Beverly’s mind who could only behave as she believed they would, the Picard et al. of “Suspicions” are as real as they get.

So, basically, this could’ve been cool, but isn’t, mostly. The mystery relies on sci-fi magic to work, and even then requires a heftier-than-justified suspension of disbelief. The characters, both crew and guests, are shallow and uninspired, and by and large, this feels tossed off; it’s understandable that you get the occasional less than perfect episode in a batch of 20-plus, but seems a shame for it to happen to someone who really did deserve better.


Grade: B-

Stray Observations:

  • Yes, yes, I know: “Just wait until you get to ‘Sub Rosa.’”
  • Convenient how Beverly got her job back and the Ferengi family no longer had any problems with her. I thought her career was in danger because she disobeyed orders, not because she hadn’t solved the case yet. (I guess the Ferengi were so happy she proved Reyga was murdered—and that she executed his killer—that they were able to move on. That still doesn’t cancel out the fact that she disregarded Picard’s commands.)
  • This was Guinan’s last appearance on TNG. Which is something, I guess.

“Rightful Heir” (first aired: 5/15/1993)

Or The One Where Worf Looks To Find A Reason To Believe

Faith is the art of investing in expectation. You believe in something in the hope that, someday, you’ll find that belief confirmed, either by achieving some kind of transcendence in the afterlife, or by having your regular existence transformed for the better. What’s fascinating is that having that expectation fulfilled means an end to the faith that brought you to that fulfillment. That’s fine if you’re just having faith in, oh I don’t know, becoming a professional writer—once you start publishing your work, you don’t need faith anymore. (You need confidence, which is like faith, but dresses better.) And if you believe in the divinity of Jesus, well, odds are you’ll be able to hold onto that until you die, at which point who cares if you’re thrust into an existential crisis. But what would happen—if you believe Jesus was the Son of God—if you were to open your door tomorrow morning and find him on the stoop? Once you cleaned away the doubts and the second guessing, once you were absolutely sure this was Christ in the flesh, sipping your coffee and complimenting you on the decor… what happens next? And what happens when you try and bring Jesus back to the world?


In “Rightful Heir,” it’s Kahless we’re dealing with, not Jesus, but while he isn’t really a “turn the other cheek” kind of guy, Kahless serves much the same purpose for his people as Jesus did for his. Kahless is a symbol of all that’s good and right in Klingon culture: He defined the warrior spirit, he helped turn violence into something more than just chaos and blood, and he gave his followers an ethos to commit to, a belief that made them a part of something bigger than themselves. Given the sad state of Klingon affairs, with its government struggling to get beyond decades of institutionalized corruption and decadence, it’s only natural that the people may be clamoring for greater spiritual guidance. But that doesn’t mean Gowron, the current head Klingon, is going to be all that happy when Kahless shows up, demanding to take his rightful place on the throne. That’s the problem with these damn heroes of myth—no respect for due process.

“Heir” is another Worf episode, and a much better one than the two-parter from earlier this season. It addresses a problem that’s been building for some time in our favorite security chief, in a way that recognizes the complexity of his situation, as well as allowing him to define his own path. If Beverly is a character who’s never been allowed to live up to her potential, Worf is the opposite, a secondary lead who’s put in his dues in the background, but has been rewarded with a run of showcase episodes that share a gratifyingly consistent level of quality and insight. There are bad apples in the lot (Remember Alexander? “Heir” sure doesn’t!), but not many, and if you were to pull out all the Worf-centric eps from the run of the series and watch them back to back, like a sort of stealth spin-off, I’d bet they’d hold up well. Certainly better than if you did the same with any other major character on the show, apart from Picard and Data.


Worf begins “Heir” in crisis. After the events of “Birthright,” he’s been adrift, missing something in his life but unsure of how to reconnect with his past. After he’s late for a shift on the bridge and nearly sets his apartment on fire doing a Klingon ritual, Picard puts him on mandatory vacation, kicking him off the ship until he can find what he needs and refocus on his duties on the Enterprise. Worf heads to Boreth, to join a group of dirty Klingon hippies who spend their days staring into flames hoping for visions. Worf soon gets sick of the process and is about to leave, when one of the clerics who runs the place convinces him to stick around a little longer. And wouldn’t you know it, the next time Worf settles in for a good long look, Kahless appears. Except this isn’t a vision—everyone can see him. The Klingon who promised to return over 1,000 years ago has finally made good on his promise. Which is a bit of a head-screw, to be sure.

There are a lot of things that make “Heir” work—its clear, believable view of Klingon culture; the actor playing Kahless (Kevin Conway); and Worf getting a chance to put all the stuff he’s learned over the years about himself and his people to good use. What struck me hardest watching it for review was how expertly Ron Moore (working off a story by James Brooks) manages to build up belief in a seemingly impossible revelation. There’s no way this Kahless could be the actual Kahless. While TNG was never afraid to get vauge or semi-magical with its “science,” having someone return from the dead in a purely religious context is beyond the bounds of the show by a fair margin. There had to be some kind of sci-fi explanation for his re-emergence, and we do get one eventually—but until we do, Moore plays things close enough to the vest that I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen. Even if I knew, intellectually, Kahless was a phony, emotionally, I was in the same place as Worf—skeptical, but wanting to believe.


It doesn’t hurt that Kahless is an amazing guy, and not just because he has a century’s worth of epic tales to back him up. Conway plays him exactly as you’d want a Klingon spiritual leader to be: lusty, cheerful, passionate, and, when necessary, profound. There’s no sense of ulterior motive in the performance, which makes sense when we learn the truth: this Kahless is actually cloned from the blood of the original Kahless. The clerics on Boreth then implanted all their accumulated knowledge and lore of the real Kahless in the clone’s brain, and tried to pass him off as the Second Coming. The cloned Kahless doesn’t know any of this, and if “Heir” has a fault, it’s that we’re never really privy to how he handles the revelation of what he really is. Once the head cleric confesses to Worf, clone Kahless goes quiet, and when he does speak again, he acts much the same as he did before. His fortune changes dramatically in the span of a few hours, going from a reborn messiah to a test tube baby to the new Emperor and spiritual leader of the Klingon empire. That’s got to mess with your head.

But hey, this is Worf’s story, not Kahless’s, and “Heir” is probably better for that. Worf goes from desperate seeker, to skeptic, to passionate follower, to… something else, and Michael Dorn handles each transition ably and convincingly. Kahless’s sudden appearance sets off warning bells for Worf, because it’s too perfect. “Heir” understands that just because we pray for something (or, for us atheists, just because we yearn for something really, really hard), that doesn’t mean we expect our prayers to be answered literally. When Worf travels to Boreth, he’s trying to regain the unquestioning devotion to Klingon culture that defined much of his life. He grew up apart from his own race, and that outsider status, as a Klingon in the Federation, meant that his knowledge of who he was supposed to be came purely from books and theory. He aspired to be the purest, most idealized version of Klingon-hood, and it was inevitable that when he’d finally reconnect with actual living Klingon culture, he would be disappointed. His time teaching young people in “Birthright”—young people who, while still being raised by Klingon parents, were still in their way as orphaned from their society as Worf had been—reminded him of the purity of faith he once had, while at the same time failing to resolve the disillusionment that has been eroding that purity ever since he got involved with actual Klingon politics. So he goes to Boreth, because that’s what a Klingon in spiritual crisis is supposed to do, and he gets exactly what he’s supposed to want, and it gets awkward.


There is a period of time when Worf does believe, but it’s telling that what converts him (for a while, anyway) is Beverly’s scientific proof of the new Kahless’s connection to the old one. (She matches his DNA with the sword blood DNA, and of course, they match.) Worf has passed beyond a point where he will blindly accept anything—he wants to believe, he says to Kahless, but the fact that there’s a gap between wanting and actual belief shows how much he’s changed over the years. He brings Kahless aboard the Enterprise to transport him back to the Klingon home-world, and tries to convince the rest of the crew that it’s possible they’re witnessing a true rebirth. Worf seems convinced himself, but it’s a conviction he sheds at the first sign of doubt, when Kahless, supposedly the greatest Klingon warrior to ever live, loses a fight to Gowron. When Worf learns the truth, he’s so amazed by the gall of it that he laughs. The knowledge, the final nail in the coffin of his belief in Klingon idealism (First the government lets him down, now Jesus?) could’ve made him bitter, but doesn’t; and after talking with Data, of all people, he realizes that this is an opportunity. Just because Kahless isn’t “real” won’t stop people from believing in him. And the Klingon people desperately need someone to believe in.

The episode deals with the potential ramifications of a savior reborn, bringing Gowron back into the picture and showing how reluctant a political leader would be to embrace a spiritual power—but mostly, this is Worf’s show. He watches, he considers, and in the end, he’s responsible for guiding the Klingon empire back on its course. He begins the story adrift; then he gets what he thinks he wants, and realizes it isn’t what he needed it to be. But instead of losing his way again or giving up entirely, Worf realizes that faith is what matters, not the fulfillment. His own faith goes from an unquestioning devotion to something more mature. He respects the ideals Kahless represents, without the need to invest in the man himself. That gives him the maturity to recognize what the others fail to see: The cloned Kahless is still a symbol of what could be. For someone who’s spent much of his life blindly worshiping a culture that continually failed to deserve such commitment, Worf is someone who understands how important ideals can be, even if they remain forever outside your grasp.


Grade: A

Stray Observations:

  • Picard and the others, except for Data, are skeptical of Kahless’ legitimacy. While they’re right to be skeptical, the way the episode is constructed, I felt more on Worf’s side then theirs; for once, that seemed like an intentional choice.
  • Data is terrific in this episode. His speech—about deciding to try and raise above the limits of his programming by believing himself to be capable of more—was unexpected and powerful. (“Unexpected” just because the rest of the episode was so Worf-centric, I didn’t think Data would get the spotlight when he did.)
  • “So I chose to believe that I was a person, that I had a potential to be more than a collection of circuits and sub-processors.”
  • Every time I see Gowron, I want to cup my hands so I can catch his eyes when they pop out of his skull.

Next week: We see if there are “Second Chances,” and then explore the “Timescape.”