Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Birthright, Part II”

“Birthright, Part II”
Written by Rene Echevarria
Directed by Dan Curry
Season 6, Episode 17
Production episode 40276-243
Original air date: February 29, 1993
Stardate: 46579.2

Captain’s log: We get a summary of the Worf-focused events of Part 1, then pick up with the Romulan guards aiming their disruptors at Worf. Gi’ral and L’Kor tell him what happened to them after Khitomer: they were rendered unconscious during the Romulan attack, and awoke shackled and unarmed, and therefore unable to die—they couldn’t even starve themselves. They were interrogated for months, and the Klingon High Council refused to acknowledge they were even alive. Not willing to return home to disgrace their families, they chose to let the galaxy believe them dead. A Romulan officer named Tokath took pity on them and brought them to this camp on Carraya.

L’Kor wonders why Worf came—if he had found his father here, there would only be dishonor awaiting him. But Worf wouldn’t have room in his heart for shame if he found his father alive. L’Kor counters by saying that if his son found his way to Carraya, he’d hope that he’d be Klingon enough to kill him.

Worf wanders the camp, where he is now a prisoner. He meets Toq, and is appalled to see that he’s using a ghIntaq spear as a gardening tool. Toq makes reference to a war that their parents came here to get away from, and Worf’s explanation that there is no such war falls on deaf ears. Then he reencounters Ba’el—clothed this time—who flirts with him a bit before her mother, Gi’ral, summons her.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Birthright

Returning to the room he’s been provided, Worf is visited by Tokath, who runs the joint. Worf accuses Tokath of robbing the Klingons of their honor, but Tokath could not just slit their throats while they were unconscious. Worf says, “I do not expect you to understand—you are a Romulan.” Tokath says that Worf’s just like L’Kor was twenty years ago, and that Tokath had to sacrifice his military career in order to oversee this prison camp. Worf asks why he did it, and Tokath smiles. “I don’t expect you to understand—you’re a Klingon.”

Tokath will not allow Worf to destroy what he’s built. He also drops the bombshell that his wife is a Klingon—so he’s not just warning Worf as a jailer, but also as someone protecting his family.

Worf uses a device he pulled out of the wall as an explosive, distracting the Romulan guards long enough for him to jump the wall and escape into the jungle. Heading for Shrek’s ship, he gets very close before he’s jumped by Toq, who occupies Worf long enough for the two Romulans to catch up to him.

Tokath implants a tracker under Worf’s skin and then tells L’Kor that Worf is now his responsibility. L’Kor in turn assigns Toq to be Worf’s guard, to make sure he does not cause trouble.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Birthright

Frustrated, Worf finds himself in an open area, and decides to start practicing some mok’bara forms. This intrigues some of the other young Klingons, including Ba’el, and they start following along.

Later, Ba’el takes Worf to her home to show him a box filled with Gi’ral’s old Klingon things, including her uniform, a piece of jewelry, and a rusty d’k tahg. Gi’ral then arrives and throws Worf out, saying that those items are not needed here. (Makes you wonder why she kept them…)

That night, Worf is telling stories of Kahless around the campfire. Toq accuses Worf of making it up, but Worf says that these are “our stories,” that tell Klingons who they are. Ba’el asks if they’re true, and Worf says he has studied them all his life and found new truths in them every time. She starts flirting again, and Worf responds, grabbing her hair—and exposing her pointed ears.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Birthright

Somehow, Worf didn’t get the memo that the Klingon wife Tokath took was Gi’ral, and Ba’el is their daughter. Worf, still not entirely over the whole Romulans-killed-my-parents thing, calls it an obscenity, which probably won’t help him get laid. Worf also points out that Tokath participated in the Khitomer massacre that killed thousands (though he never mentions that two of those thousands were his parents).

The next day, Worf goes to Ba’el and gives the lamest apology ever (“I’m sorry if I upset you”). He explains that Romulans and Klingons are blood enemies. Ba’el wants to know if he can put the hatred aside and still be attracted to her, and Worf admits that he doesn’t know if he can.

Worf interferes in a game that involves the rolling of what looks like a hula hoop, by grabbing a spear and throwing it through the hoop as it rolls. He explains it as a method of learning how to hunt. Toq picks up on this variation of the game quickly, and Worf says that the boy is ready to go on the hunt. He petitions Tokath to let him go hunting, and Tokath dismisses the notion as absurd. Worf gives his word that he will not try to escape, and that Toq will be with him, which Tokath dismisses—but L’Kor is appalled. Worf gave his word, and to a Klingon that should be enough. Tokath is not convinced, but he admits that he did say Worf was L’Kor’s responsibility, so on his own head be it, as it were. L’Kor makes it clear that Toq should kill Worf if he makes any attempt to break his word.

Worf teaches Toq how to use his senses, and about the thrill of the hunt and what it means to be a warrior. Toq laments that he was never taught this.

That night, at dinner, Tokath snarks at L’Kor regarding Worf and Toq not having returned yet. Tokath’s disdain for L’Kor’s falling for Worf’s “I give you my word” trick is palpable. Ba’el then asks Tokath something Worf encouraged her to ask earlier: would she be allowed to go to Romulus or Qo’noS if she wanted to?

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Birthright

Tokath is saved from having to answer that rather awkward question by Worf and Toq arriving with the fruits of their hunt: a very big, very yummy looking dead animal. Tokath is disgusted, but the Klingons all think it’s kinda neat. Toq has totally drunk Worf’s Kool-Aid, talking of how they’ve forgotten themselves. Today he learned to be a warrior, and learned that their stories are not told, their songs not sung. Toq leads them in song—a tune we heard earlier sung as a lullaby, but which is truly a warrior’s song. Tokath just looks around at all the Klingons joining in—including L’Kor and Ba’el—and then gives Worf a seriously pissed-off look. Worf looks smug right back at him.

Tokath meets with Worf, even pours him a drink, which Worf actually accepts (though we never do see him ever drink it). Tokath has done something no one else has ever accomplished in the long history of Klingon-Romulan relations. Worf points out that Toq and the other young people have tasted what they truly can be, and he can’t take that away from them. They talk around and around, and Tokath finally gives Worf a choice: live among them peacefully or be killed. Worf chooses the latter because the death will be honorable and the young people will see what it is to die as a Klingon.

Ba’el comes to Worf’s quarters to remove the tracker so he can escape, but Worf refuses. He won’t run away, won’t allow himself to be defeated. Ba’el pleads with him to stay, and Worf does admit to having fallen for her—loving a Romulan is something he never thought he could do. He wishes he could take her with him, but she knows full well that she’d never be accepted among Klingons. They kiss, and then she leaves, frustrated, wishing he’d never come because before he arrived they didn’t know what they were missing. (Worf never mentions the Federation as a possibility, which is short-sighted—Ba’el would be completely accepted there, and that’s where he actually lives, but I can also see how adding that bit of info on top of everything else would probably make her head explode.)

Worf goes before the firing squad. Tokath explains that he has agonized over this decision, but he feels that it is the right thing to do, as Worf would destroy what he has built. Tokath gives him one last chance to accept their way of life, but Worf says that he’s being put to death because he brought the truth to the young people of Carraya.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Birthright

Toq then shows up in Klingon military armor, and carrying the ghIntaq spear he was gardening with. He stands next to Worf, saying he wants to leave, and that Tokath will have to kill him to get him to stay. And then L’Kor moves to stand alongside him, as do several other of the younger Klingons—including Ba’el.

Gi’ral then gets Tokath to lower his weapon. “This is our prison,” she reminds him, “it should not be theirs.”

Worf then speaks to the young people, saying that their parents made a great sacrifice long ago, and today they do so again—for which they should be honored. The secret of Carraya must be kept. Toq explains that a supply ship will come soon—but Worf isn’t listening because he sees that Ba’el has gone back to be with her parents.

The Enterprise rendezvouses with the supply ship and beams Worf and the young people on board. Worf tells Picard that these were the survivors of a Klingon ship that crashed in the Carraya system four years earlier and that there is no prison camp and no one (else) survived Khitomer.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Apparently Ba’el finds strange Klingons ogling her while she bathes in the nude to be a total turn-on. And Worf thinks she’s right purty up until he notices the tapered ears, at which point he looks as disgusted as we’ve ever seen him. But he gets over it enough to smooch her later.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Birthright

There is no honor in being pummeled: Worf once again shows how his future career as an ambassador is a pretty good idea, given his ability to manipulate events. Every action he takes is designed to get the young people interested in their Klingon heritage, from obvious ploys like telling stories to taking Toq on a hunt and doing mok’bara in front of everyone.

I believe I said that: “Get that off my table.”

“You do not kill an animal unless you intend to eat it!”

“Get rid of it!”

“I intend to, Tokath—but not until it’s cooked!”

Tokath criticizing Toq’s table manners and Toq explaining how to avoid salmonella.

Welcome aboard: Sterling Macer Jr. and Jennifer Gatti are perfectly adequate as Toq and Ba’el, but what makes this episode shine is the perfect casting of two great character actors, Richard Herd and Alan Scarfe, as L’Kor and Tokath. Scarfe previously appeared as another Romulan, Admiral Mendak, in “Data’s Day,” and will play an Alsurian in the Voyager episode “Resistance.” Herd and Gatti will both have recurring roles on Voyager, the former as Tom Paris’s father, Admiral Owen Paris, the latter as Harry Kim’s girlfriend Libby. James Cromwell returns from Part 1 as Jaglom Shrek very briefly and with no dialogue, due to Cromwell breaking his leg between the filming of Part 1 and Part 2.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Birthright

But this week’s Robert Knepper moment is Cristine Rose as Gi’ral. Probably best known in genre circles as the Petrelli matriarch on Heroes, I had totally forgotten that she played Gi’ral.

Trivial matters: While Part 1 had parallel plots with Data and Worf, Part 2 is almost entirely Worf, with the Data-learns-to-dream storyline completed (at least for now). This was jarring for some viewers who assumed that the second part of the storyline would follow up on both plots. In fact, this was originally just to be a single-episode Worf story, but it was expanded to give it more storytelling room and the Data dream plot added.

Toq will return in the tie-in fiction, appearing in your humble rewatcher’s Diplomatic Implausibility as the new second officer of the I.K.S. Gorkon. Over the course of my several novels that follow that ship’s adventures (The Brave and the Bold Book 2, A Good Day to Die, Honor Bound, Enemy Territory, A Burning House), Toq eventually rises to the position of first officer on the ship, and later, as seen in A Singular Destiny, becomes a ship captain in his own right, of the I.K.S. Kreltek, part of the fleet commanded by the Gorkon’s shipmaster General Klag (from “A Matter of Honor”). Toq is also established in those books as a champion hunter, following Worf’s tutelage in this episode.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Birthright

I follow up on Carraya IV, where an old debt of L’Kor’s comes back to haunt the entire colony, in the novel A Burning House, which ends with Ba’el working at the Federation embassy on Qo’noS.

The Khitomer Massacre is dramatized in my novel The Art of the Impossible, which includes L’Kor and Gi’ral as part of the Klingon staff on Khitomer, as well as Centurion Tokath involved in the Romulan part of the attack.

Michael Piller cited the Spike Lee film Malcolm X as an influence on this episode.

This is the only episode directed by Dan Curry, who served as a visual effects supervisor on all four modern Trek shows. A tai chi master, he developed and choreographed mok’bara, and he also was the designer of the bat’leth.

Make it so: “The truth is a threat to you.” This is one of my all-time favorite episodes of Star Trek, and indeed of any science fiction show, because it’s such a great (and rare, at least on screen) example of anthropological SF. The warring cultures of Romulans and Klingons are put front and center here, nicely developing what we’ve seen of both peoples since “Balance of Terror” and “Errand of Mercy.”

Tokath mentions at one point that he and Worf could talk all night and never convince each other that the other one’s right, and that’s part of what makes the episode so great, in that both sides are correct—and both sides are wrong.

On the one hand, Worf is quite the manipulative bastard here, and a racist one at that, as his inability to view Romulans with anything but contempt colors his perceptions of Tokath—and of Ba’el, thus costing him a likely booty call. On the other hand, the young Klingons really haven’t been told anything of their heritage or of their culture. Tellingly, none of the young male Klingons in the camp have any kind of facial hair, a nice visual cue that shows that they’ve been pretty well assimilated (the older male Klingons, from L’Kor on down, are bearded). On top of that, Worf’s a security chief and a Starfleet officer, and he knows his first duty as a prisoner is to find a way to escape. The best way to escape is to exploit a weakness, and in the case of the camp, it’s that very ignorance of Klingon culture that fills a void in their lives.

From Tokath’s side, he absolutely has done something unprecedented, creating a peaceful, successful community between two peoples who historically can’t stand each other. It’s a lovely, pastoral, peaceful place to live. But it’s still a prison—there are armed guards all over the place—for all that it’s a gilded one. The children have all grown up with it, so they don’t see it as a prison because it’s never occurred to them that there’s an alternative. And Tokath is openly contemptuous of the Klingon way of life. Look at the way he sneers at the very notion of L’Kor accepting Worf’s word—that’s a pretty fundamental Klingon principle. He didn’t just take in some Klingons, he took in broken and defeated Klingons, and the peacefulness of the camp was based on anonymity, secrecy, and hiding from the entire rest of the galaxy. It’s easy to have a paradise when you’re small and isolated.

There are so many things to love here. For starters, humans are completely irrelevant to the storyline. This is about two cultures that have been part of Star Trek since the late 1960s, and the Earthers need not apply. The casting of Alan Scarfe is a masterstroke, as his resonant voice is a joy to listen to, adding gravitas to his arguments with Worf. And the concluding moment when Sir Patrick Stewart makes it clear that Picard knows damn well that Worf is lying through his teeth, but also trusting his officer enough to know that he’s lying for good reason is a very nice character touch. (And yeah, there’s the fact that I got a lot of mileage in my own Trek fiction out of Worf’s trip to Carraya…)

But probably what’s best about this episode is that writer Rene Echevarria understands that the foundation of any culture is storytelling. The tales, the legends, the songs—that’s the base of a civilization, and it’s Worf’s exposure of the younger Klingons to those stories, those songs, those traditions that drive the plot.

 

Warp factor rating: 10


Keith R.A. DeCandido reminds everyone that he’s written lots of books and that you should buy each and every one of them. Ordering links for his most recent work—as well as links to his blog, Facebook page, Twitter feed, various and sundry podcasts, and multiple other nifty things he’s involved with—can be found at his web site at DeCandido.net.

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