“Loud as a Whisper”
Written by Jacqueline Zambrano
Directed by Larry Shaw
Season 2, Episode 5
Production episode 40272-132
Original air date: January 9, 1989
Captain’s Log: The Enterprise is ferrying a mediator named Riva to Solais V, a planet that has been ravaged by a very long war. They have requested Riva specifically, and also that the Enterprise only bring Riva, that they not get involved in the negotiations.
Riva is deaf and mute. He speaks through a chorus, three people who are attuned to his thoughts and emotions — one representing his intellect and artistry, one representing passion, and one representing balance, harmony, and wisdom. Riva’s deafness is a hereditary condition among the ruling class of his people, and his chorus has been with him since childhood.
Data provides a briefing, but Riva cuts him off before he gets very far. The war has lasted so long that the two races are almost extinct, and the reasons for the war are pretty much irrelevant — it’s gone on so long, it’s become personal.
When they arrive at Solais, the cease-fire has been broken. Riva insists that the fighting stop if he is to beam down. After the firing stops, Riva picks a spot for the negotiations to take place: a hilltop. He and the chorus beam down along with Riker and Worf (Riva insists on a minimal away team), and asks for torches and a three-sided table.
The factions arrive, and Riva starts to negotiate — but one person rejects the notion and starts firing, killing all three members of the chorus. Riker, Worf, and Riva beam back. The fighting starts again, and Riva is unable to communicate. Pulaski can’t use prosthetics, because he is genetically incapable of hearing. However, Data learns the sign language Riva uses, and they are able to communicate with him.
Eventually, he figures out a way to make the tragedy work for him: he will teach them how to sign, forcing them to learn a common language together.
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi pretty much manipulates Riva by telling him that she’s going to try to negotiate on Solais. She gets him to talk about how to conduct the negotiations in order to make him realize that he can still do it. It’s a fairly standard psychological ploy, but also an effective one, as it gets Riva out of the dumps and gets him to finish the job. (And she’s definitely manipulating him. The people of Solais specifically requested Riva and said the Enterprise can’t get involved. There’s no way they’d even consider Troi as a negotiator.)
If I Only Had a Brain...: Data learns sign language by reading through the computer records at ludicrous speed. This raises the interesting question — why use so awkward a method? Why not just plug directly into the computer? Or use a wireless interface? (Yeah, yeah, this was 1989, but sheesh.)
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Riva expresses an interest in Troi from the word jump, and they have dinner together, accompanied only by the member of his chorus that represents passion, leaving the other two behind (wah-hey!). Eventually, the third wheel leaves, and they manage to communicate more directly, with Riva using gestures to “speak” to Troi.
There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf is uneasy about meeting Riva. He says there was no Klingon word for peacemaker before Riva negotiated several treaties between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. It’s implied that he negoiated the peace between the two powers, though that would later be established as happening shortly after Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Of course, we have no idea how old Riva is or how he ages, so he could well have been around seven decades earlier....
I’m a Doctor, Not an Escalator: Pulaski offers La Forge the opportunity to regenerate his optic nerves — which La Forge had been told was impossible. He’d have normal vision — which would be inferior to what he has with the VISOR, but he wouldn’t be in constant pain. This procedure would never be mentioned ever again (though La Forge would switch to bionic eyes in the movies).
Welcome Aboard: Howie Seago, who is deaf, plays Riva. He’s a bit overdone while being interpreted by the chorus — he seems a lot more comfortable when he’s alone and signing. Marnie Mosiman, Thomas Oglesby, and Leo Damian do a fine job as his chorus — indeed, when they’re killed it comes as a tremendous shock, and their loss is keenly felt.
I Believe I Said That: “Our job is not to police the galaxy.”
“Isn’t that my speech, Number One?”
Riker being pretentious, and Picard complaining about his horning in on the captain’s action.
Trivial Matters: Seago pushed the producers of the show to do something with deaf people, and also suggested the ending to the episode. The original script called for a technobabble solution that enabled Riva to talk. This way was better.
Make it So: “This is the blue ocean at sunset.” I remember liking this episode when I first watched it in 1989, but I also have no recollection of ever watching it again. Doing so now, I’m left with a giant feeling of “meh.” The episode’s pace could generously be described as “languid,” and there are long stretches of introduction and exposition with very little payoff.
Riva’s chorus is a fascinating method of communication, and the moment of their shocking murder is the most effective part of the episode. There are some interesting ideas here, but ultimately the episode feels surprisingly empty.
Warp factor rating: 4
Keith R.A. DeCandido has a bunch of new items coming out soon: the novel Guilt in Innocence, part of The Scattered Earth shared-universe science fiction project, the graphic novel Farscape Volume 5: Red Sky at Morning, continuing the post-Peacekeeper Wars story of Farscape (written in collaboration with series creator Rockne S. O’Bannon), and short stories in the anthologies Liar Liar (featuring stories about fibs and falsehoods by members of The Liars Club) and Tales from the House Band (featuring stories about music, edited by Deborah Grabien). Go to Keith’s web site, which is also a gateway to his blog, Facebook, and Twitter, not to mention his twice-monthly podcast Dead Kitchen Radio.