“Sins of the Father”
Written by Drew Deighan and Ronald D. Moore & W. Reed Moran
Directed by Les Landau
Season 3, Episode 17
Production episode 40273-165
Original air date: March 19, 1990
Captain’s Log: As part of the same officer exchange program that sent Riker to the Pagh a year earlier, Commander Kurn of the Klingon Defense Force transfers to temporarily take over as first officer, having requested the Enterprise specifically. He puts the crew through their paces—riding the crew pretty hard, from pulling a surprise inspection on engineering during a maintenance cycle to being generally patronizing toward Worf.
The final straw for the latter is during a dinner in the captain’s mess, where Kurn describes the food as too bland for the stomach of a Klingon, and when La Forge points out that it suits Worf just fine, he simply says, “Yes” with quite the sneer.
When Worf confronts Kurn in private, Kurn’s disdain is palpable, dismissive of Starfleet and the ship as being too geared toward comfort and being at ease, and Worf as being soft. Worf finally blows up at him (“I am Klingon! If you doubt it, a demonstration can be arranged!”), which is what Kurn has been waiting for.
Kurn, it turns out, is Worf’s younger brother. When Worf’s parents left for Khitomer, Kurn was less than a year old, so he stayed with a family friend named Lorgh. After they were killed, Lorgh raised Kurn as his own, not telling him the truth until he reached the Age of Ascension.
Worf assumes that Kurn asked to be assigned to the Enterprise to watch Worf, and satisfy his curiosity about how much of a Klingon he still was after being raised by humans and serving in Starfleet. But Kurn’s reasons are far more complicated: as the elder brother it is up to Worf to challenge the High Council’s ruling that their father, Mogh, was a traitor to the empire.
The allegations—brought about by Duras, the son of Mogh’s rival Ja’rod—are that Mogh gave the Romulans the codes necessary to bring the shields down and destroy the Khitomer outpost, killing 4000 Klingons (including both Mogh and Ja’rod). Worf asks Picard to grant him leave to travel to challenge the ruling, but Picard refuses—instead diverting the Enterprise to the Klingon homeworld so that Worf’s captain can stand by his side as he faces his father’s accusers.
The catch, though, is that if Worf fails in his challenge, he will be executed as a traitor. Kurn asks to be Worf’s cha’DIch—his second—in order to defend him, since he will be denied combat during the proceedings. Worf accepts, but tells Kurn that he must identify himself as the son of Lorgh, this way if Worf fails, he will survive. Kurn insists that he be allowed to admit to being the son of Mogh, but Worf says, “On this ship, you are my commander and I obey. But in Council Chambers, you are my cha’DIch. You do not insist. You obey.”
They arrive at the Great Hall in the First City. Worf officially challenges the lies told about his father. Duras sneers even more than Kurn did earlier, going so far as to rip Worf’s baldric off and backhand him.
After the initial session, Chancellor K’mpec declares a recess before the meqba’, when the evidence will be presented. After the dismissal, K’mpec speaks to Worf alone, offering to let him leave before the meqba’, the challenge forgotten, with no consequences to him. Worf is aghast that K’mpec would ask him to dishonor himself so.
Meanwhile, Kurn is called to a rendezvous, which turns out to be with Duras—who knows that Kurn is also a son of Mogh. He offers Kurn a chance to back off, which Kurn naturally refuses. So Duras’s paid assassins stab him with a nasty blade.
Kurn is saved by Crusher back on the Enterprise, but Worf fears that Duras knowing his brother’s bloodlines will mean the end of his life anyhow.
Worf and Picard are both convinced that something bigger is going on here. Worf then asks Picard to be his new cha’DIch. At first, Picard is reluctant to accept, but Worf sucks up a bit, and the captain says yes.
Riker, Data, La Forge, and Crusher dig through both the evidence against Worf and the records of the U.S.S. Intrepid (the Starfleet ship that responded to Khitomer’s distress call), and they discover two things: one, the evidence was tampered with, as it doesn’t quite line up with the Intrepid‘s sensor logs; two, that there was another survivor: Worf’s nurse Kahlest.
Picard finds Kahlest living in the old quarter. At first, the old woman refuses to help Picard, but then two assassins try to kill him. Picard kills one, and Kahlest kills the other. Picard then asks if the Council will recognize her; she says that K’mpec knew her back in the day. In the hopes that it might shake loose the truth, Picard brings her to the Great Hall.
The minute she enters the Great Hall, K’mpec summons her, Picard, Worf, and Duras into his office. Duras tries to get Kahlest to talk, but Picard insists she only speak in open Council. Duras says that she’ll die before she gets to give any evidence there.
K’mpec snarls at Duras, asking if he’ll now kill an old woman to cover his dishonor—and the other shoe drops. It was Duras’s father who was the traitor. A Klingon cruiser captured a Romulan vessel with logs that showed a Klingon signalled the Romulans, but the warriors on the cruiser didn’t know whose code it was—only the Council did. But the House of Duras is powerful and condemning Ja’rod would shatter the Council and plunge the empire into civil war. Since Worf was in the Federation, and they didn’t know Mogh’s other son was alive and well, it seemed safest to blame Mogh and hope nobody would notice.
Both Picard and Worf are pretty disgusted that an empire that claims to, as Picard puts it, “hold honor so dear” would condemn Worf (and Kurn) to death for political expediency. Picard refuses to turn either his chief of security or Kurn (still in his sickbay) over to the Council—a ballsy move, since it would sunder the Klingon-Federation alliance.
Worf then announces that he’s willing to die for the empire. When Picard objects, Worf—for the first and last time in his entire career—snaps at Picard: “The cha’DIch would be silent!” He asks only that Kurn be allowed his life. “Only you need know his true bloodlines,” he says with a sneer worthy of that of Duras and Kurn both.
Duras, in a hilarious bit of unintended irony, says that it’s unacceptable because Kurn’s honor would demand justice (like he’d know about that). Worf then offers something as good as his life: he accepts discommendation. He will be banished from the empire and deemed a traitor, and will do so in open Council.
Before they go out into the Great Hall again, however, Worf needs to do one last thing: he backhands Duras and declares him a traitor. Then he turns to an approving K’mpec and says, “Now I am ready.”
The entire Council crosses their wrists in front of their faces and turns their back on Worf one by one—including, reluctantly, Kurn. Worf’s brother was willing to die, but Picard tells him not to forget what Worf has done today. “Do not let your children forget.”
Afterward, Worf walks out of the Great Hall for what he believes to be the last time.
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: During the dinner in the captain’s mess, Kurn mentions that he had to restrain himself from killing Riker earlier, and Troi laughs, not realizing at first that he isn’t kidding.
The Boy!?: Kurn lights into Wes from jump, and he later complains to Riker that he can’t seem to do a thing right in Kurn’s eyes.
There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: We learn Worf’s father’s name for the first time, and also discover that Worf has a brother, as well as a nurse. It was established in “Heart of Glory” that all Worf knew of being a Klingon was through study, not direct experience, and that conflict comes to a head here. Worf is, in many ways, an ideal Klingon, but ideals don’t always work in political reality. What the High Council no doubt all view as a day at the office is appalling to Worf, who cannot abide such behavior.
But in the end, he understands that he must act to preserve the empire, and so sacrifices his own honor and his standing among his people in order to do so.
No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: K’mpec had the hots for Kahlest back in the day, but she rejected him, deeming him to be too fat. When they meet again in the chancellor’s office, K’mpec declares that it’s good to see her again, and she just looks at him and says he’s still fat.
I Believe I Said That: “It is a good day to die, Duras, and the day is not yet over.”
Worf quoting Crazy Horse, and setting the tone for pretty much all future Klingon dialogue.
Welcome Aboard: Tony Todd makes the first of several magnificent appearances at Worf’s brother Kurn. He takes over the screen from the moment he beams on board, and for all that it’s Worf’s episode (and it totally is), Todd’s presence helps sell it.
The excellent Charles Cooper and Patrick Massett make the first of two appearances as K’mpec and Duras, with both coming back in “Reunion” in the fourth season. Cooper previously appeared as another gravelly voiced Klingon, General Koord (wearing a very similar cassock), in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Thelma Lee is effective as Kahlest, initially haunted and hiding in her hovel, coming out of her shell in response to Picard’s bravery against the assassins.
Trivial Matters: This episode starts the first real major story arc in Star Trek TV history, as the Klingon politics introduced in this episode continue to recur throughout both TNG and Deep Space Nine, finally coming to a head in the DS9 episode “Tacking Into the Wind,” also written by Moore.
We get our first view of the Klingon homeworld in this episode, the design of which won an Art Direction Emmy for production designer Richard James. The world would be dubbed Qo’noS in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. It’s also the first formal establishment of the Klingon governmental structure: a High Council administrates, led by a chancellor (though that title would also not be established until Star Trek VI).
Kahlest says that Mogh was “loyal to the emperor,” even though no emperor is seen in this story, and “Rightful Heir” would later establish that there has been no Klingon emperor for centuries.
This episode also provides more details of the Khitomer massacre that claimed Worf’s parents: Romulan ships got the access codes to the outpost so they could lower the shields and destroy the place. A Klingon gave the Romulans those codes, revealed in this episode to be Ja’rod, Duras’s father. The family’s proclivity for working with the Romulans will be seen again in “Reunion” and “Redemption.” It’s also established that the Intrepid was the ship that rescued Worf, and is implied to be the ship on which Worf’s human foster father served—that will be more formally established in “Family” when we meet retired Chief Petty Officer Sergey Rozhenko.
Using details established in this and other episodes, your humble rewatcher dramatized the Khitomer massacre in full in his Lost Era novel The Art of the Impossible, including the build-up, how the Council didn’t know that Kurn didn’t take the trip, why Worf didn’t remember that he had a brother nor that his nurse survived, why Kahlest kept her survival a secret, and how Chief Rozhenko came to take him into his home. Lorgh is also established in that novel as an agent of Klingon Imperial Intelligence, and he appears in several novels after that (among them Warpath and A Time to Kill by David Mack, my own A Burning House, and possibly in an upcoming novel by David R. George III).
The House of Duras will continue to be antagonists through this and two more series: Duras will return in “Reunion”; his sisters Lursa and B’Etor become recurring villains in “Redemption,” “Firstborn,” DS9‘s “Past Prologue,” and Star Trek Generations; and an ancestor also named Duras shows up to cause trouble for Jonathan Archer in Enterprise‘s “Judgment,” “Bounty,” and “The Expanse.”
It’s easy to forget, given that it’s pretty much abandoned after Act 1, but we also get to see the officer exchange program from “A Matter of Honor” make a triumphant return. It becomes very quickly apparent that Riker handles Klingon food a lot better than Kurn handles human food (which is kind of funny, now that I think about it…). The program will be seen again in “The Drumhead.”
Make it So: “Execute!” All by itself, this is a truly fine episode, a grand political epic filled with intrigue, secrets, double crosses, action, and noble sacrifices. Even though the Klingons have been a major part of Star Trek since their introduction in “Errand of Mercy” (half a dozen episodes of the original series, a couple of episodes of TNG, plus four of the five movies that had been released to this point), this was the first time we saw their homeworld and their government up close.
Looking back twenty years later, it’s even more amazing. The groundwork for so many episodes of both TNG and DS9 was laid in this episode.
And what an episode it is for Worf. The introduction of the long-lost younger brother could be the worst of all clichés, but it’s totally sold on the skills of both Tony Todd as that brother and Michael Dorn in one of his best performances to date. The character goes through so much here and—just as in “The Emissary“—he comes through in the end with a last-minute brainstorm that solves the problem, though this time it’s one that comes at a deep personal price.
Sir Patrick Stewart also gets to shine, as Worf asks the little bald human to be his cha’DIch, and damn if he doesn’t live up to the role and more so, without ever once losing his authority or gravitas, even as he kicks assassin ass outside Kahlest’s home.
What holds the episode back a bit are a bunch of minor nits. The script feels sloppy in spots—”the Klingon Imperial Empire” from the Department of Multiple Redundancies Department; Worf calling the assassin’s weapon used on Kurn “ceremonial,” which is an adjective to describe weapons that aren’t actually used; going straight from Wes and La Forge telling Riker that Worf is the only one Kurn isn’t harassing to a scene of Worf being harassed by Kurn. We waste an entire act with the Enterprise crew being bullied by Kurn, which are scenes that actually work well on their own, but in retrospect feel like they wandered in from a different episode. It might have been fun to do “A Matter of Honor” in reverse and really seen how Kurn adjusted to Starfleet, but it was abandoned once the A-plot kicked in.
And director Landau, normally one of the more reliable of TNG‘s stable, makes a lot of odd choices. He darkens the transporter room so Kurn can be in shadow, and does other silly lighting tricks, like the bright light on Worf when he’s in Council chambers. There are some odd camera angles, looking up at people (in an episode already filled with ridiculously tall folks like Dorn, Todd, Massett, and Cooper), with the worst offender being Worf’s opening statement, where the camera’s angled right up Michael Dorn’s nose.
Also, the consequences to Worf’s sacrifice are pretty big on paper, but they come without significantly affecting the status quo. I mean, yes, he’s accepted permanent exile from his homeland, but it’s a place he’s spent almost no time in anyhow.
Finally, there’s just too damned much shouting. I mean, really, I know Klingons are bombastic, but it just gets ridiculous after a while.
Still, a great episode that just sets up more greatness.
Warp factor rating: 8
Keith R.A. DeCandido is particularly proud of The Art of the Impossible and thinks you should all go out and buy it right now this minute. Go to his web site for links to his blog, his Facebook page, his Twitter feed, not to mention ways in which you can buy some other of his books that he’s proud of, like the fantastical police procedurals SCPD: The Case of the Claw and Unicorn Precinct.