Saturday, April 16, 2011

3-17. Sins of the Father

THE PLOT

As payback for Riker's recent stint as First Officer aboard a Klingon vessel, the Enterprise accepts as temporary First Officer a Klingon officer: Commander Kurn (Tony Todd). Kurn is a strict disciplinarian, who upsets the crew with his demand for absolute protocol. He treats everyone harshly, but he reserves deliberate disrespect for one officer: Worf.

When Worf confronts him, Kurn reveals that he is Worf's younger brother. He requested the assignment to Enterprise in order to gauge Worf's suitability as a Klingon. There was a purpose to his deception. He reveals that their father has been accused of sending the Romulans the defense codes to Khitomer, which left the outpost defenseless when the Romulans attacked. He is being denounced as a traitor by the High Council. As eldest son, it is Worf's place to challenge that ruling. But if his challenge fails, then he will condemned as a traitor and executed!


CHARACTERS

Capt. Picard: Gives full approval to Kurn's goal of bringing Klingon-like military discipline to the Enterprise, feeling that it may do his complacent officers some good to have things shaken up a little. His loyalty to his officers shows in his fierce defense of Worf, however. He insists on accompanying Worf to the council chambers to speak on his behalf, and his words in Worf's favor do carry weight. Later, he acts as Worf's second, and showcases his strength of will and the value of his experience. When all is revealed, he recognizes the complexity of the situation but stands by his officer, long enough for Worf to come up with a solution satisfactory to all parties (for the moment, at least). Picard's final words to Kurn add resonance to an already strong episode, and this is yet another terrific showing for Patrick Stewart.

Worf: Has spent his entire life clinging to Klingon values. On his return to his homeworld, it must be a grave shock to him that the Klingons themselves are content merely to make a show of those values. Chancellor K'mpec (Charles Cooper) privately advises Worf to flee, and reacts with anger when Worf is outraged by the suggestion. Duras is an evident snake, surrounded by equally reptilian followers. In the midst of this, Worf clings to his dignity and honor, even as he sees - likely, for the first time ever - that the society with which he associates that dignity and honor is less than he believed it to be.

Klingons: TNG had already begun to reinvent the fairly one-dimensional TOS Klingons into a full society. In part through Heart of Glory and A Matter of Honor, but mainly filtered through the character of Worf and his insistence on maintaining Klingon traditions, we have been presented with a warrior society with a strict code in which honor is prized above all else. Sins of the Father shows an underside to that, presenting corrupt officials who uphold a miscarriage of justice in order to maintain a fragile status quo. Duras (Patrick Massett) seems to be the true face of this Klingon Empire, with Worf's unbending honor the exception in the council chambers rather than the rule.


THOUGHTS

A Matter of Honor may not have been up there with The Measure of a Man or Q Who, but it was still one of Season Two's better episodes. A follow-up to it is welcome. The first Act is content to merely act as a direct sequel, lulling viewers into expecting a "culture clash" episode centered around Kurn's efforts to force Klingon discipline on the complacent human crew. Up to the moment at which Worf confronts Kurn, I was settling in for a pleasant but inconsequential "little" episode.

Then Kurn's true identity is revealed, it becomes something much different, and vastly more interesting.

It's worth noting that Ronald D. Moore is credited as co-writer on this episode, and that most of what I can find online about the episode indicates that his was the main voice in the finished script. His influence is very visible in retrospect, with the details of the Romulan attack on Khitomer having more than a little in common with the details of the Cylon attack that begins Moore's re-imagined Battlestar Galactica. Moore's influence likely also shows in the dark tone of the episode. Worf is caught up in a trial worthy of a really violent version of the works of Kafka, his challenge "defeated before it even was made." Klingon society is brutal as seen here, and those at the top seem to be far from the best their society has to offer.

I already mentioned how good Patrick Stewart is in this. Again. Really, Stewart has been consistently good from the beginning, so the real credit has to go to the writers for how much Picard has improved as a character. Remember in Season One, when I intermittently made fun of Picard (even while praising Stewart), and in one review dubbed him "boring?" Well, Season Two saw a more refined and thoughtful approach to the character, one which has advanced even further in Season Three. At this point, Picard is a genuinely multi-layered character. At the beginning of the series, Patrick Stewart's performance was carrying an often poorly-scripted role. By this point, the character is as strong as the performer, and the results are a joy to watch.

With an ending that's powerful both in context and as a visual moment, and effective direction by veteran director Les Landau, Sins of the Father is an excellent episode in a season that's starting to really deliver on the promise of what TNG is capable of being. A few overly-abrupt transitions (i. e., a witness flipping from being pitiful to strong within 2 minutes' screen time) prevent this from getting full marks... but it's not at all far off.


Overall Rating: 9/10.


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