Sunday, November 6, 2011

4-26, 5-01. Redemption



The crew honors Lt. Worf.
















THE PLOT

The Enterprise returns to the Klingon homeworld, so that Picard can complete his role as arbiter of the Klingon succession by installing Gowron (Robert O'Reilly) as the new chancellor. No sooner has the ship entered Klingon space than Gowron hails them. Officially, his ship is acting as an escort. Unofficially, he needs to meet with Picard to discuss a grave matter: The threat of a Klingon Civil War!

Duras' sisters, Lursa (Barbara March) and B'Etor (Gwynth Walsh) are challenging Gowron's claim to leadership by presenting their own candidate: Toral (J. D. Cullum), the illegitimate son of Duras. Toral is a mere boy, a clear puppet of the Duras Sisters - but he does provide them with an opportunity to split the council, turning Duras' old supporters against Gowron.

This is also an opportunity for Worf.  With Picard's blessing, he bands together with his brother Kurn (Tony Todd) to reclaim their family honor by fighting alongside Gowron. But as the conflict escalates, Worf finds that his service to the Empire may not be compatible with his role as a Starfleet officer...


CHARACTERS

Capt. Picard: His ongoing support of Worf is apparent from the very beginning. The episode opens with Picard urging Worf to challenge his discommendation. With Duras dead and Gowron being confirmed as Chancellor, Picard feels the time has come. Worf's discommendation "is a lie," Picard tells him, "and lies must be challenged." Despite his personal feelings, Picard will not use Federation resources to interfere in Klingon matters. He does declassify the Federation information about the Khitomer massacre to help Worf, by making it available to anyone - but he also tells Worf that this is as far as he's willing to go.

Worf: Worf has become a sound strategist. When his brother urges action against the entire council, Worf refuses because such an act would be dishonorable. But he doesn't insist on immediately supporting Gowron. "We will wait," he tells Kurn, "until he feels the grasp of his enemies around his throat. Then we will offer him our support - and the price will be the restoration of our family name!" It's a plan that Kurn cannot ignore, both because Worf's goal is one he shares and because Worf's plan actually has a chance of succeeding.

Data: Part Two introduces a subplot in which Data takes command of one of the vessels in Picard's fleet. This gives the android his first proper command of a starship. Naturally, he must contend with a First Officer who does not believe an android can possibly be suited to command. It goes without saying that Data proves himself. That he does so by stepping outside the strict dictates of rules and regulations, applying his own judgment to a critical situation, is a good plot turn. It emphasizes the flipside of In Theory. While that episode showed that Data was too much of a machine to carry on a relationship with a human (at least, with an emotionally needy one), this episode reminds us that Data is still much more than just a machine.

Sela: Denise Crosby's official introduction as the half-Romulan daughter of Tasha Yar comes here, though she was previously heard as the voice of a figure in the shadows in The Mind's Eye. Though Crosby's acting limitations remain, the coldly guarded Sela's characterization is better-crafted to disguise her weaknesses than Tasha was. She gets a strong introduction, too, being shown to be tactically shrewd when she evades Picard's trap. Though her gambit fails, she judges Picard and his responses perfectly. She simply makes the mistake of underestimating Data, selecting him as the weak link in Picard's fleet when he's actually probably the strongest.

Klingons/Romulans: Seasons Three and Four have steadily built up the Klingon and Romulan arcs, and have gradually intertwined them. This two-parter pays off all that setup. We previously saw the Romulans attempt to drive a wedge between the Federation and the Klingons through a political assassination. Now they use their influence over the Duras clan to create a full-blown civil war. With Starfleet too "noble" to interfere, even to support their own interests, the Romulans are able to build up the Duras clan to the point that Gowron seems all but defeated. We also see yet again the corruption at the heart of the Klingon Empire, with the Klingon council effectively a tool of the Duras sisters.


THOUGHTS

Season Four comes to an end, and Season Five begins, with this 2-parter. Though it follows the precedent established by The Best of Both Worlds, ending the season on a cliffhanger, it is a vastly different episode. The Best of Both Worlds' first episode was a steady march to doom, with its second part forcing the characters (particularly Riker) havng to find it in themselves to face a massive external threat. This 2-parter is about corruption from within an empire: Civil Wars and alliances.

It lacks the spectacle of Best of Both Worlds, and it doesn't have anything as iconic as "Locutus of Borg." But in its way, this is almost as good - particularly the first part.

One major difference between these 2-parters lies in their episode structure. The previous two-parter was very much a single narrative, divided at the moment of greatest drama. Redemption instead is structured so that each part is very much its own unit, with its own focused narrative within the broader story of the Klingon Civil War.

The first part centers on Worf's struggle to regain his family name, with the emerging Klingon Civil War as a backdrop that makes this possible. This part features a lot of political maneuvering. The Duras Sisters introduce Duras' illegitimate son in order to split the council and lay claim to the throne. Worf presses his brother to enlist Klingon squadrons to support Gowron... but not until Gowron's moment of greatest weakness, to push for the restoration of their family name. Picard attempts to walk a tightrope between supporting Gowron in his role of arbiter and maintaining neutrality in his role of Starfleet captain.

There are some terrific scenes here, particularly on the Klingon homeworld. The best scene is probably the confrontation between Picard and the Duras sisters. They extend an invitation to him, attempting to influence his decision as arbiter. Picard observes their efforts for a few minutes, then shuts them down by giving a bluntly accurate assessment of their actions. He ends by telling them they have manipulated the situation "like a Romulan," simultaneously insulting them as Klingons and telling them that he knows whose interests they are truly serving. A terrific scene, brilliantly performed by Patrick Stewart.

Part 2 picks up some time after the events of Part 1. The war has been raging for weeks, and Gowron is losing. The focus here is more on Picard than Worf, as he attempts to block the Romulans from supplying the Duras forces. The emotional center is the revelation of Sela, with Picard having to wrestle with the thought that he (in another reality) was responsible for her. Worf's material is more of a subplot, with his scenes focusing on how his values differ from that of the other Klingons around him - all to set up his inevitable return to Enterprise.

It's all good drama, but there is a sense that the second part is stretched out a bit. The subplot involving Data's recalcitrant First Officer feels forced, and the entire arc of this subplot is extremely predictable. Meanwhile, the civil war is resolved too quickly and neatly to entirely convince. Civil wars are historically bloody affairs, rarely over quickly and never neatly. This is an inevitable consequence of a series that insists on resolving its plots within 1 - 2 episodes: Stories that cry out for additional development are cut off before there's time to do anything but hint at their potential complexity.

Still, if it falls short of full marks, this is nonetheless another very good piece. With Sela and the Duras Sisters still out there, and with Worf having chosen Enterprise and Starfleet over his Klingon heritage, there are any number of new dramatic possibilities for the series - and that can't be anything but good for a series that has now firmly found its voice.


Rating for Part 1: 10/10.
Rating for Part 2: 8/10.


Overall Rating: 9/10.


Previous Episode: In Theory
Next Episode: Darmok


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