Friday, August 04, 2017

Star Trek The Next Generation - Episode 143 (Birthright: Part 2)

When a story carries over to a second episode, it usually does so completely.  When the first part of Birthright had ended, we had two story lines.  One had Data discovering his ability to dream.  The other had Worf finding a prisoner camp where his father might still be alive.  Data’s story didn’t carry over to Part II at all.  Instead, Part II focuses entirely on Worf.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, even if it was unexpected.

As you might expect, you need to have seen Part I to understand this episode.  In fact, you have to have a pretty good understanding of Star Trek in general to understand the episode.  Klingons and Romulans have been fighting throughout Trek history.  They’re blood enemies. It seems odd that a Klingon would allow himself to be taken prisoner by anyone, let alone a Romulan.  They would take death over capture any day.  This is why it’s surprising to Worf, a Klingon, that his father may have not only survived the attack on Khitomer but survived as a prisoner of the Romulans.

He does find a prison camp and is, himself, captured.  Regrettably, his father is not among those that were captured during the Romulan attack.  His effort was for naught.  Worf immediately asks why the Klingons didn’t kill themselves.  They tried to starve themselves, but the Romulans kept them alive for three months.  The hope was to trade them for information, but the Klingon government refused to acknowledge that a Klingon warrior would be taken captive.

The Klingons couldn’t go back, as it would dishonor their families.  So, the Romulan commander, Tokath, set up a prison camp to let the Klingons live out their days.   This is complicated by the presence of new Klingon children who know nothing of their heritage.  They think that the Klingons and Romulans are fighting an endless war.  It isn’t until Worf starts teaching them that they have any sense of who they are.

For his efforts, Worf is given a choice:  Settle down or be killed.  Worf chooses death, being that it would be honorable and all.  He even refuses help escaping, as that would defeat the point.  (What’s not mentioned is that he’s already missed his ride back.  He has no reason to assume the Enterprise knows where he is, so where would he go?)  Worf realizes that being killed would not only set one final example of what it means to be Klingon, but he would die a martyr.  It would be the final nail in Tokath’s coffin, so to speak.  Tokath relents and agrees to send Worf back, provided that he promise not to reveal the location of the camp.

I remember being somewhat disappointed that Data’s story didn’t carry over to this episode, although it would factor in to later episodes.  Instead, the episode focuses almost entirely on Worf’s story to the point of nearly excluding the rest of the cast.  There were only maybe two or three scenes, basically to establish that the crew knew that Worf was leaving and that they’d be looking for him.  That search is cut short when Worf makes his own way back.  (Surprisingly, no one seems to question that this is onboard a Romulan ship.)

People have brought up that Worf is full-on racist in this episode, not doing anything to hide his contempt for Romulans.  This is nothing new.  He’s always let it be known that he can never forgive the Romulans for killing his parents.  He let a Romulan die when he was the only one that could have saved the Romulan.  Worf hates Romulans.  He’s even revolted when he finds out that his love interest is (gasp) half-Romulan.

The episode seems to focus on Worf maybe growing a bit and challenging the status quo on a planet where the adults made the choice and condemned any children they had as a result.  Those children didn’t ask to be put in that situation.  They wrongly believe that the war still goes on.  Worf takes it upon himself to make the parents see this.

The question seems to be what right Worf has to destroy their way of life.  That way of life was only intended for the parents.  I have to wonder what would have happened if Worf hadn’t come along.  Would the camp have continued long after the parents had all died?  In a hundred years, would there still be their descendants living isolated from the rest of the galaxy?  I imagine that the parents probably didn’t think this far ahead.  It’s possible that eventually, those descendants would have wondered off on their own.

Yes, they have a situation where Klingons and Romulans live in peace, but there’s a reason that they have to keep it a secret.  Neither side would accept this.  Even Tokath had to give up his military career.  This is to say nothing of Ba’el, the half-Romulan, half-Klingon love interest.  Where would she go?  Sure, she might be accepted by the Federation.  She might even go to live with Worf if Worf could accept that.  Either way, she’d never be able accepted by either side.

It’s maybe not what I would call the best episode of The Next Generation, nor would I call it pivotal.  It does make you wonder.  It wouldn’t be easy to have a lasting peace between two sworn enemies.  It could be done in small groups like this, but it would take a major shift in thinking to do it on a large scale.  Worf does grow a little in this respect, but I don’t think it’s a lasting change.  In the end, it’s more of an interesting parable.

IMDb page

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