Rightful Heir

WARNING: This article contains spoilers for "Rightful Heir", the latest offering from TNG. If you're squeamish about spoilers and haven't been spoiled yet, stay away. Took a bit too long to get started, but after that it worked just fine. "Rightful Heir" is in some ways a story that might be too controversial to do in anything other than an SF setting ... but I'll get into that later. First, of course, here comes a synopsis!

Worf, feeling bereft of his faith after his recent encounter with a group of young Klingons, becomes derelict of duty by performing a Klingon religious rite in his quarters, trying to summon a vision of the legendary Kahless. Picard, after harshly reprimanding him for the inappropriateness of his actions, offers his sympathies for what Worf is feeling, and places Worf on leave. This allows Worf to go to Borath, home of the Klingon High Clerics, who are awaiting Kahless's prophesied return.

After only ten days on Borath, though, Worf becomes restless and considers leaving, deciding to stay only after a lecture on open-mindedness from Koroth, head of the clerics. In a rite soon after, though, Worf not only _sees_ a vision of Kahless, but _feels_ Kahless's reality, as the legendary figure claims to have returned.

Initially, everyone is somewhat skeptical, but Kahless tells a tale of his bat'lekh's forging that has only been passed down orally through the centuries from cleric to cleric, thus convincing all but Worf of his reality. Kahless says that he has returned because the Klingon people have "lost their way", becoming decadent and corrupt. Kahless acknowledges and welcomes Worf's skepticism at first, saying at least that Worf's _desire_ to believe is "a beginning". After a few days, however, Kahless begins to tire of it, and eventually Worf openly questions whether Kahless is trustworthy. They fight for a short time, but Kahless abruptly breaks off and laughs, exhorting those around him to rejoice in battle for *honor*, not for bloodshed. "We are Klingon!", he leads them all to shout...

Before long, the Enterprise comes to collect Kahless for transport to the Klingon homeworld. Initially, only Worf refuses to dismiss the possibility of it actually being Kahless, but Picard points out that Kahless is to be an honored guest while on board. Gowron's arrival, however, puts that hope into question, as Gowron is convinced Kahless is an impostor and wants the idea of his return stopped immediately before the Klingons fall into a religious war. Kahless accepts Gowron's demand for a genetic comparison of him to the bloodstains on a knife said to hold the blood of Kahless. The scan is carried out, and shows the two *identical*. This leaves Gowron incredulous, and Worf fervent -- "Kahless has returned!"

As Worf and Kahless drink together, Kahless begins to talk of his plans for the Empire and invites Worf to join him in creating them. Gowron, however, insists that it is all a plot by Koroth to seize power, and that this "return" will lead to war between those who believe and those who do not. Gowron urges Worf to renounce Kahless, reminding Worf of old alliances and urging him to help keep the Empire together a second time. Gowron meets Kahless for the first time shortly thereafter, and challenges him to battle. Amazingly, Gowron _wins_ that battle, and laughs his contempt at "the greatest warrior of them all".

The clerics want to ignore this setback, but Worf becomes indignant, saying that he's now convinced Kahless is _not_ real, and threatens to kill the clerics unless they tell him what's really going on. They admit, reluctantly, that Kahless is a _clone_ of the original Kahless, with some experiences and memories from the sacred texts implanted in him. Kahless is taken aback, and Worf is equally horrified. Koroth urges Worf not to make this information public, saying that real or not, the Klingons _need_ Kahless now.

Worf, however, stalks out, and goes to Kahless's holodeck "altar", where he sees two of Gowron's men waiting fervently for Kahless to return. After a talk with Data about faith, Worf realizes that the "technicality" of this Kahless's origins may not be enough to shake the faith of some. He informs Gowron of Kahless's origins, but notes that enough will believe the signs to cause a civil war anyway if Gowron stands against Kahless. Worf proposes Kahless as a figurehead Emperor, thus letting him serve as a moral leader while keeping the secular power in the hands of the Council. He says that the people will be told the truth, and that Kahless will be considered the rightful heir to the original Kahless. Gowron is skeptical, but when Worf threatens to denounce Gowron and withdraw his brother's support on the Council, Gowron agrees and bends his knee. Shortly thereafter, Kahless leaves, but not before reminding Worf that the true Kahless's return may not matter -- "what is important is that we follow his teachings."

There we are. Now, on with commentary on the show. (I'd say just "on with the show", but in response to some requests, I'm making sure my "bridge" between synopsis and comments always has the word "comment" in it somewhere so people can search for it.)

I know of a few people who were not looking forward to "Rightful Heir", saying it seemed to be "yet another Klingon show". I'm not sure I was that concerned about it, despite the fact that the last two "big" Klingon shows were "Redemption II" and "Birthright II", neither of which I particularly liked.

However, this didn't feel so much like a Klingon story to me as a story about the power of beliefs and of faith, and both the positive and negative sides of religious ideals and religious fervor. In that context, "Rightful Heir" was extremely interesting to me.

We had a range of reactions to Kahless within the Klingon characters we saw. There was Koroth, who believed in the prophecies enough to "help them along" a bit, believing perhaps that the Klingon people needed a more _visible_ god to help them now; there was Gowron, who was scared into denial and became the ultimate skeptic; and there was Worf, who held many opinions in a row, with each one *just* as fervent and *just* as powerful as the one before it. Worf may have been pure of heart, but it was the purity of desperation. It reminded me of his complete agreement with Admiral Satie's paranoia in "The Drumhead" a couple of years back. He went from totally fed up with his beliefs to total skepticism to total adulation, and finally to utter betrayal of his recent feelings. He honestly looked near *tears* when he found out Kahless was a clone, and that's not something one tends to identify with Worf, _ever_. I liked it a lot -- Worf has always been full of action and of passion, which lends itself well to this kind of fervor (for good or ill). This was the most interested I've been in Worf as a character in ages.

The roller-coaster of emotions Worf was going through was helped immensely by Kevin Conway's work as Kahless, who was probably the most interesting Klingon guest star since either K'Ehleyr or K'mpec, both of which have now been dead for over two years and thus not likely to resurface unless played by Denise Crosby. :-) Real or not, legitimate or not, Kahless *felt* like someone who could have once rallied his people under any banner to face any obstacle, and like someone who really will be able to serve as a leader by example. If that's what the clone can do, the original Kahless must have been *really* charismatic.

I find the genetic "test" a little tough to swallow, but I'd have had a lot more difficulty with it if it had proved negative and been used as a proof against Kahless being legit. Don't worry, this isn't another genetics rant -- I just find it hard to believe that the blade of Kirol really *did* have the 1500-year-old blood of Kahless on it. Still, whatever works...

The Klingons under Kahless here reminded me in some ways of old Norsemen. Certainly, the idea of battle for honor and of singing the praise of battle for its own sake is very much the sort of thing you'd find in tales of Valhalla -- and the fact that Borath was a very cold planet brought the Norsemen to mind as well. Even the tales Kahless told could have been taken from versions of the Eddas -- turning a lock of hair into a bat'lekh is no more bizarre than Odin sacrificing an eye to the well of wisdom, for instance. And given that I've always been extremely interested in mythology, Norse in particular, the show got me very interested.

The setup for Kahless's return was necessary, to be sure, but all the same it ran a bit slow. While I quite liked some of the Picard/Worf scene (particularly seeing Picard come down hard on Worf for unprofessional behavior), much of it dragged, as did the teaser and the first scene on Borath. Although I appreciate the attempt to make something good out of "Birthright, Part II", which in my view failed pretty badly, I think there might have been a better way to do it than to have such a long speech from Worf about his emptiness. (Ideally, of course, it would've been to see Worf getting slowly more depressed and introspective over several shows, but I know better than *that*.)

What I found extremely interesting was the choice of Data to continually goad Worf into justifying his extreme choices. After seeing the show, of course, it makes perfect sense, but he's not the one I'd have first thought of -- Picard or Riker would be more likely. Data's story about his own "leap of faith" was riveting -- and it's interesting to note that his use of the phrase "a collection of circuits and subprocessors" perfectly mirrors Soong's use of that very phrase in Data's dream in part I of "Birthright". Very interesting.

Adding to all this, of course, we did get a bit more information about the state of the Empire and some old Klingon history. That's all well and good, but it's so par for the course now that it's almost passe. It was good to focus on Kahless and Worf rather than on the cultural side this time, I think.

One question on the current state of Klingon politics, though: Since when has Worf been such a powerful voice? The last time we saw any contact between Worf personally and the Empire was in "Redemption II". Worf's actions at the end of that show suggested a slight turning away from Klingon ways, and I'm a little surprised to see him suddenly considered the voice of reason in the Empire. (Kurn on the Council makes perfect sense -- it's Worf that I'm wondering about.) I don't necessarily disagree with it, but I *am* puzzled about where it suddenly came from.

I've already sung my praises for Kevin Conway, but I'd also like to point out that Alan Oppenheimer (Koroth) did a great job as well. Despite his actions, I had no difficulty believing that his intentions were good, and that he honestly thought his course of action *was* in the best interest of the Klingon people. (Beats the heck out of most high-profile televangelists these days, I must say.) In addition, Jay Chattaway gave us some nice music for Worf's experiences on Borath. It felt decidedly alien for a change.

There isn't that much to say. The show was a simple one, but well thought out and well textured -- and I liked it a bunch.

So, some short takes:

-- Where was Alexander? Not that I'm *objecting*, mind you, but if Worf was going to turn his quarters into a furnace you'd think he might have said something.

-- "It is difficult to explain." "TRY." Gotta remember that next time a student comes to me with excuses. :-)

-- One thing about those Klingons -- they're good at speechmaking. Many of the lines (such as Worf's about Kahless being grown "like a fungus" and Gowron's claim that he would _never_ bend a knee to Kahless) were both inspired and inspiring in many cases. Ron Moore deserves credit for some nice dialogue this time around.

-- One has to wonder something, though. Given that over the past few years we've been seeing that the "honorable" Klingons are anything but, are we now _really_ going to see a reversal of that trend? Or will Kahless not manage to do much to stop the degradation of his people? Either way, I hope we find out -- and I suspect we will.

That about wraps this up. "Rightful Heir" may not be the best thing TNG has ever done (or even done recently -- "Frame of Mind" was still amazingly good), but it certainly relieves any worries I had after "Suspicions". Nice job.

So, the numbers, as always:

Plot: 9. Solid. Plot Handling: 8. A bit slow at the beginning, then good. Characterization: 10. Marvelous.

OVERALL: 9.5, after giving Chattaway the extra half point. :-) Very nice.

NEXT WEEK It's two Rikers for the price of one. The recently-discovered one doesn't look any too stable, though...

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) BITNET: tlynch@citjulie INTERNET: tlynch@juliet.caltech.edu UUCP: ...!ucbvax!tlynch%juliet.caltech.edu@hamlet.caltech.edu "Have you ever fought an idea, Picard? It has no weapons to destroy, no body to kill!" -- Gowron Copyright 1993, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note. This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.