Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Ethics”

“Ethics”
Written by Sara Charno & Stuart Charno and Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Chip Chalmers
Season 5, Episode 16
Production episode 40275-216
Original air date: March 2, 1992
Stardate: 45587.3

Captain’s Log: La Forge and Worf are trying to find the source of leakage in the cargo bay, and also discussing the previous night’s poker game. One of the containers collapses and falls right onto Worf’s back, shattering seven vertebrae and crushing his spinal cord. He’s paralyzed.

A neurospecialist named Dr. Toby Russell arrives on the Potemkin to consult on the case. She’s the best bet, since Klingon medicine is fairly primitive—the typical Klingon treatment for Worf’s injury is to let the patient die.

Worf asks Riker to help him perform the Hegh’bat ceremony—to help him die. When a warrior can no longer stand and defend himself, he is useless. He wishes to end his life with dignity and honor; Riker, though, isn’t at all comfortable with the notion of aiding a friend in committing suicide.

Russell’s been experimenting with a genitronic replicator that can grow replacement organs. She’s proposing to grow Worf a new spine. Crusher had no idea her research was this far along—and, it turns out, it isn’t. Russell hasn’t tested it on a live patient yet, and her holographic success rate is only thirty-seven percent. (“Even a holographic patient would balk at those odds.”) Crusher doesn’t think her research, or their knowledge of Klingon neurology, is far enough along to risk replacing Worf’s spine with a genitronically replicated one.

Their argument is interrupted by a distress call from the Denver, which got hit with a gravitic mine left over from the Cardassian war. There are over five hundred people on board, so Crusher immediately sets about turning the Enterprise into an emergency room.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Ethics

Meanwhile, Worf’s injury is causing problems for both Riker and Alexander. Riker talks to Picard about his unwillingness to help a friend commit suicide, cultural imperatives be damned—Picard makes a convincing argument for supporting one’s friend and cultural relativism—while Alexander is annoyed that Troi won’t let him see his father—which is at Worf’s own request, as he doesn’t wish Alexander to see him like that. Alexander speaks dismissively of “Klingon stuff,” indirectly quoting his mother K’Ehleyr on the subject.

After Troi gives Worf a hard time about his treatment of Alexander, Crusher and Russell arrive to discuss treatments. They can implant neural transducers that will eventually lead to getting him sixty to seventy percent of his mobility back. The first step are motor assist bands, but Worf’s look of disgust at the way they make his legs flail is palpable. Sixty percent of his mobility is not acceptable to him; he won’t be the object of derision, lurching through corridors like a half-Klingon machine.

Seeing that, Russell jumps in and dangles genitronics in front of Worf, causing Crusher to tear Russell a new one for giving him a straw to grasp at, and giving her a way to try her pet experiment. Russell’s been turned down three times by Starfleet Medical when she’s requested to test genitronics on live patients.

Troi brings Alexander to see Worf, who is using the motor assist bands to stand up so that Alexander won’t see how bad off Worf is. This fails, as he collapses, and Worf angrily demands that Alexander leave rather than see him so helpless.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Ethics

The Enterprise arrives at the Denver‘s crash site. Russell pitches in to help out with the injured. Russell tries an experimental treatment on one of the patients, and the patient dies. It’s possible the person would have died with conventional therapy, but she didn’t even try conventional therapy before going to her experimental one. Crusher angrily relieves her of all medical duties aboard the Enterprise.

Picard talks to Crusher and tries to get her to agree to the genitronic procedure. If she can’t restore Worf’s full mobility, he will kill himself. Crusher is not happy about that in the least, but in the end she reluctantly agrees.

Speaking of reluctantly agreeing, Riker enters Worf’s room with a ritual knife. He’s studied up on the Hegh’bat, and he hates it, hates the way it cloaks suicide in glory and honor. Riker’s also not going to make it easy on Worf, reminding him of comrades they’ve lost over the years, all of whom fought for life to the very end. Worf insists this isn’t easy for him, but Riker doesn’t buy it. He thinks Worf is taking the easy way out and not considering how his death would affect those around him who care about him.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Ethics

But despite all that, Riker would, if it were his place, do as Worf asks and participate in the ritual. But it isn’t his place—it’s Alexander’s place, as eldest son, to do what Worf’s asking Riker to do. Worf makes an excuse that Alexander is part human, but Riker thinks that Worf doesn’t want to put Alexander through that, which is trying to have it both ways.

Worf finally agrees to undergo the genitronic procedure and not perform the Hegh’bat. They remove his spine, then scan it for replication, which takes a little longer than anticipated. They put the new spine in, and Worf doesn’t reject it. They take him off life support—and then he starts to crash, going into cardiac arrest, with no brain activity. They try everything, but it doesn’t work, and Worf dies—for a bit, but then the brak’lul remembers that Worf is in the opening credits, so he miraculously recovers.

As Worf rehabs, even willing to let Alexander help him, Crusher once again tears into Russell—”You gambled, he won. Not all of your patients are that lucky.”

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Klingon anatomy is, as Russell puts it, “overdesigned.” The average Klingon has twenty-three ribs, two livers, an eight-chambered heart, and a double-lined neural pia mater. Klingons refer to this and other biological redundancies as the brak’lul, and it also saves Worf’s life in the end.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Worf asks Troi to be the one to care for Alexander should he die under the knife. He respects her abilities and her counsel since Alexander came on board, and he can think of no one better to raise his son.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Ethics

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf, as usual, dives right into Klingon tradition, initially believing suicide to be the only option. Picard sums it up best—the journey from Klingon tradition to the human belief that a paraplegic can live a fruitful life is too long a one for Worf to make. He also continues to be the worst parent ever, as pretty much every initial move he makes with Alexander is the wrong one.

No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: More of the seeds of the eventual Worf/Troi relationship are sown in this episode. Indeed, in more than one of the alternate timelines seen in the seventh season’s “Parallels,” the events of this episode lead to Worf and Troi marrying and having children of their own.

I Believe I Said That: “I’ve been studying Klingon ritual and Klingon law, and I’ve discovered that it’s not my place to fill that role. According to tradition, that honor falls to a family member—preferably the oldest son.”

“That is impossible! He is a child!”

“‘The son of a Klingon is a man the day he can first hold a blade.’ True?”

“Alexander is not fully Klingon! He is part-human!”

“That’s an excuse. What you really mean is that it would be too hard to look at your son and tell him to bring you the knife, watch you stab it into your heart, then pull the knife out of your chest and wipe your blood on his sleeve.”

Riker telling Worf to go screw himself.

Welcome Aboard: Caroline Kava’s the only real guest, as Russell. The other guests are regulars Brian Bonsall (Alexander) and Patti Yasutake (Nurse Ogawa).

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Ethics

Trivial matters: This episode establishes that Klingon ridges also occur on the spine and feet.

As established in your humble rewatcher’s A Time for War, a Time for Peace, Crusher and Russell will continue to butt heads in the medical community over the next decade-plus, and Russell in that novel is placed on an inspection team assigned to go over the Enterprise, to Crusher’s chagrin. The novel also establishes that genitronics never really goes anywhere, as it only worked the first time because of the brak’lul, and Russell hasn’t had any success with non-Klingon patients.

On the list of fallen comrades Riker gives Worf are Tasha Yar, who died in “Skin of Evil,” and Marla Aster, who died in “The Bonding.” No idea who Sandoval or Fang-Lee are….

The motor assist bands Worf uses to help him walk again were last seen being used on “John Doe” in “Transfigurations” (another episode in which Worf’s back was broken).

Worf’s next commanding officer will be significantly less sympathetic toward Klingon views on assisted suicide, as we’ll see in Deep Space Nine‘s “Sons of Mogh” (also a Ronald D. Moore script).

The crap state of Klingon medicine will continue to be a running theme, both on TNG and DS9.

Make it So: “Enjoy your laurels, Doctor. I’m not sure I could.” Before we get to the episode itself, I want to express my displeasure with the teaser, during which La Forge and Worf discuss the previous night’s poker game. La Forge claims knowledge of what Worf had in one hand, revealing that the cards used were transparent to infrared light. La Forge assures Worf that he only peeks after the hand is over, to which I can only ask, “How?” We’ve seen how La Forge sees through his VISOR, in “Heart of Glory,” “The Enemy,” and “The Mind’s Eye,” and it’s not like he turns the different spectra on and off, but rather gets it all at once. The only way he could not peek is to not look at anyone‘s cards, which is a tough thing to do when you’re sitting around a circular table.

Y’know, before this rewatch, I never really thought of La Forge as a bad character—a little bland, maybe—but he’s an unrepentant cyberstalker and he cheats at poker. Sheesh.

Anyhow, the rest of the episode—meh. There’s some interesting stuff here—I particularly like that Worf’s biggest advocate for sticking with Klingon tradition is Picard—but it doesn’t quite cohere properly. For starters, the character of Toby Russell is way too sledgehammery. The minute she walks on board she pointedly sucks up to Crusher then gives a speech on how she doesn’t want to get to know the patient, thus painting her in the viewers’ eyes as uncompassionate. Then, just in case we don’t get the point, she kills a patient and is seemingly uncaring. (Caroline Kava’s flat affect actually works for this particular characterization.) She may as well be carrying a sign that says “EVIL! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEVIL!”

And then we have the laborious, utterly suspense-free attempt to the generate drama by showing the drawn-out surgical procedure, followed by the patient crashing, the endless attempts to revive him, and then him staying dead for an unconvincingly long time before plot-convenient-itis rescues him. This sort of thing is wearisome because there’s absolutely no doubt that Worf is going to survive. We’re talking, not just about an opening-credits regular, but one of the show’s two breakout characters (along with Data), a character who will go on to appear on more episodes of Star Trek than any other character. He’s not going to die on the operating table in a mid-fifth-season episode. (Game of Thrones, this ain’t.)

Having said all that, the episode has its moments, most of them from Jonathan Frakes and Gates McFadden. Crusher getting her dander up is always a joy and a privilege to watch, as McFadden smolders beautifully without letting it creep over into hysterical melodrama. (I particularly like her scary calm as she takes Russell down in the cargo bay.) And Frakes delivers one of his finest performances, agonizing over the awful thing Worf asks him to do, and then hoisting the security chief on his own petard by forcing him to do what he doesn’t want to do, and that’s deal with his son. The scene where Riker refuses to participate in the ritual may be the best Riker scene in the show’s history, and it’s honestly worth suffering through the episode’s various missteps to see that scene. (Or, y’know, you could just watch that scene and fast-forward through the dumb parts…)

 

Warp factor rating: 5


Keith R. A. DeCandido also played with the state of Klingon medicine in his various Klingon novels over the years, through the character of B’Oraq, a radical who has attempted to raise the quality of Klingon medicine and been moderately successful.

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