WARNING: This article contains spoiler information for TNG's "Firstborn". Even firstborn children may want to steer clear if they're wary of spoilers, however. In brief: Not bad ... but not spectacular, either. Among other things, much of the show felt vaguely flat -- but details to follow after the usual synopsis. Onwards:
Worf practices a speech alone in his quarters, preparing to tell Alexander about the first Rite of Ascension. However, when it comes time to actually talk to Alexander, the boy is very reluctant -- not only to participate in the rite, but to become a warrior at all! In order to give Alexander some extra exposure to Klingon culture (and perhaps change his mind), Worf takes him to the Festival of Kot'baval on a nearby outpost. There, the two participate in a Klingon opera telling the story of Kahless and the tyrant Molar. After taking part, Alexander seems as Klingon as he as ever acted in his life, cheering Kahless as enthusiastically as any other participant.
That evening, as Worf and Alexander prepare to leave, however, they are set upon by a band of assassins. As Alexander seeks cover, Worf tries to fight them off, and succeeds with the help of a Klingon watching from the shadows. The other Klingon congratulates Worf, and announces himself as K'mtar. "Your brother sent me here to protect you."
K'mtar is an advisor to Worf's House, so trusted that he is considered family -- and he is very concerned by the assassination attempt. A dagger left behind by one of the assassins bears markings of the Duras family, and K'mtar says other evidence links Lursa and B'Etor to the crime. The hunt for the sisters begins, with K'mtar very skeptical of the Enterprise's ability to find them. Shortly thereafter, K'mtar also persuades Worf to help him convince Alexander to become a warrior, as one day Alexander will be forced to lead the House, and must be prepared. Worf agrees, and K'mtar begins by telling Alexander that if he *were* a warrior, he'd be able to protect his father, as he was unable to do that day during the attack.
Through a conversation with Quark, Riker hears that the Duras sisters are trying to get some illegal mining done in the Colla system, and the Enterprise heads there post-haste. (K'mtar, however, seems somewhat nonplussed.) While the ship is en route, however, Worf, Alexander, and K'mtar work on honing Alexander's fighting skills by recreating the assassination attempt. Alexander handles himself well, but then refuses to kill his holo-opponent, sparking a major outcry from K'mtar.
The Enterprise reaches Colla Three, and in a mine-shaft find Gorta, a miner abandoned by the sisters. In exchange for passage off-world, he tells them that they are heading to the Ufandi system to sell the ore to a Yridian trader. Later that day, K'mtar apologizes to Worf for his earlier outburst in the holodeck, but insists that Alexander must be convinced to become a warrior. He suggests sending Alexander to a Klingon academy off the ship, and threatens to invoke ya'nora kor (questioning Worf's fitness as a parent) to ensure it. He tells Worf to stop thinking of himself: "it is Alexander we should be considering." However, neither Worf nor Alexander is willing to consider this option, and Alexander in particular feels betrayed by the insistence, believing that K'mtar is "just like my father ... leave me alone!"
The Enterprise locates the Duras sisters through a bit of trickery with the Yridian traitor, and opens communications with them. While they are unrepentant in their actions, they deny all responsibility for and all knowledge of the assassination attempt. Riker invites them over to talk, and they accept.
On board, they dismiss the dagger as a plant meant to embarrass them, and K'mtar leaves to call Kurn. Just after he does so, however, Lursa and B'Etor notice another symbol on the dagger's hilt: one representing Lursa's *son*. The only trouble is, Lursa has no son -- yet, although she recently became pregnant. "Where did this come from?"
Worf, intending to find out, goes to find K'mtar, only to stop him moments away from killing Alexander with a disruptor. Worf is prepared to kill K'mtar, but suddenly hears him say that he *is* Alexander!
Alexander, that is, from forty years in the future -- and he convinces Worf of his identity by correctly recounting what happened when K'Ehleyr died. He came back with the aid of a man he met to change the past -- because without that change, Alexander knows he was/will be responsible for Worf's murder. Alexander explains that he never became a warrior, but instead became a diplomat, and that his interest in peace was perceived as a weakness by the other Great Houses, sparking Worf's assassination on the floor of the Council chamber.
Worf is not convinced that all is lost, however -- he realizes that with time now disrupted, anything can happen, and also assures "K'mtar" that things *have* changed -- although Alexander's opinions haven't altered, Worf's have. Worf now realizes that Alexander must "choose his own destiny ... and I believe it will be a great one." K'mtar embraces Worf as a son would a father, and then departs.
The next day, Worf finds Alexander in the holodeck, practicing his fighting skills. He tells Alexander that K'mtar had to leave, but that K'mtar will continue to care for him no matter what he chooses to do with his life -- and that "there will be plenty of time for practice." Alexander puts down his bat'lekh, and the two leave the holodeck together.
Well, that should cover it. Now, on with some comments.
"Firstborn" was a nice show. Not marvelous. Not wretched. Nice.
I may end up spending more time on what I saw as flaws than what I saw as positive traits, but that's not because I think the flaws were more prevalent. Rather, it's because the flaws are more concrete and more easy to spot, for the most part -- and the strengths of "Firstborn" aren't easily numerable.
A lot of those strengths are simply integral parts to making any episode work. "Firstborn" had pretty much every regular character behaving both in character and intelligently, and "Firstborn" was a show that needed telling, both for Worf's sake and for Alexander's. Just as "Journey's End" left us with a sense of closure about Wes's future, "Firstborn" gives us *some* sense of closure about Alexander's further growth -- though not nearly as much, and that's an area I'll get into later. While neither of those things guarantees a show will be good, the lack of them often guarantees a show will be bad.
James Sloyan, as the main guest star, was superb. I've always liked his work on Trek so far -- he made "The Defector" shine four years ago, and was one of the few really bright spots of DS9's "The Alternate" earlier this year as well. While "The Defector" is still his best work in the genre (something about his delivery just says "Romulan" to me for some reason), he makes a very convincing Klingon as well, and a particularly convincing adult Alexander. I thought at first that he seemed surprisingly human with his comforting good-night speech to Alexander, but given later events it made perfect, *perfect* sense -- he knew exactly what to say because he knew exactly what he'd have wanted to hear just then. Nice.
Worf, similarly, was both well written and well acted here. His reaction to the "I know a Klingon school" conversation in particular was very strong -- given that he considered such a thing *himself* when Alexander first came on board, it must have really rankled to have the idea thrown back in his face now that he's comfortable (more or less) having Alexander around. Lots of Alexander shows have suffered by making Worf something of a buffoon -- here he seemed honestly lost about what to do, but making the best he could of a very uncertain situation. Another good job.
Unfortunately, the same can't be said of Alexander. While he was *written* just fine (I particularly enjoyed the "the man says he has Molar's head in a box" exchange :-) ), I simply could not get behind Brian Bonsall's performance. That's probably not a surprise -- I've *never* been able to swallow Bonsall in the role. I'm not sure why, since many other child actors on the series have been fine, but Bonsall just doesn't say much to me. As others have said, he often comes off like he's reciting lines rather than saying anything he actually believes. Since, fortunately, Alexander had remarkably few scenes given the subject matter, it didn't kill the show; but it certainly weakened it, a bit more than I'd have liked.
Then we get into some of the other things I had a problem about where "Firstborn" was concerned. The use of Lursa and B'Etor was one of them. While the hunt for them and the initial use of them was fine, I sensed quite a bit of rewritten history once the pair actually appeared.
For one thing, Lursa and B'Etor are *traitors*. They tried to shred the Fed/Klin alliance and to take over the Klingon Empire by both force and deceit. Given Klingon attitudes, it makes sense to conclude that most Klingons, particularly high up in the Empire (like Gowron) would be extremely interested in having their heads on a spike. However, what we saw suggests that they've been reduced to penny-ante nemeses -- thorns in Worf's side, but not such a danger that anyone has to actually go ahead and *capture* them or anything. I have a major problem with that. Lursa and B'Etor (particularly Lursa) were one of the things that made "Redemption I" work as well as it did, and that was mostly due to a sense of subtlety and of style that most Klingon villains were missing. Now they've lost it, too. Sigh.
I also think Lursa seems to have de-aged quite considerably since "Redemption". In that show and "Past Prologue" last year from DS9, she was matronly and graying -- it seemed unlikely that she was in her childbearing years (at least by human standards). I don't have a problem with her having an unborn son, but it seemed unnecessary -- why not have it be B'Etor's? This wasn't so much wrong as deliberately forced, but it still rang false.
As I said in passing, though, the hunt for the sisters was well done; it was handled very intelligently, but was also entertaining as hell. Riker was the obvious choice to contact Quark for information (hell, he probably teamed up with Barclay to *write* some of Quark's holosuite programs :-) ), and the conversation down in the mine with Gorta was very entertaining. (Until I went back and checked a cast list, though, I was starting to think that Gorta was being played by Brent Spiner; there's certainly a similarity in speaking styles...)
My other, more major problem with the show is with the ending. Basically, it has two problems: Worf is a bit too quick to believe, and too many issues were left hanging. The "hanging issues" problem is somewhat smaller, but there's one that definitely comes to mind: you've got two Klingon sisters aboard who are feeling very framed (with good reason, as it turns out), and who are going to want an *answer* to what happened. We need to see that answer -- clearly the truth won't do. What were they told?
As for Worf, I don't think it was made at all obvious that K'mtar really *was* Alexander from the future. He talked a good game (and as I said, Sloyan did a magnificent job), but Worf should be paranoid enough to let other issues enter his head. What if it's someone else from the future who knows Alexander well who is working for the Duras? What if it's Alexander, but brainwashed and feeding Worf exactly the *wrong* information for some reason? What if it's something Lursa and B'Etor cooked up some time in the future to make themselves look better? I'll admit the odds of it being a Duras agent are somewhat slim -- for if it were, you'd think they'd want to go further back when their situation was better. Even so, though, Worf let the answer to one question color his entire decision, and I'm not sure I buy that. [Besides, K'mtar's answer wasn't 100% right; but that's a quibble, for it was extremely close.]
Why haven't I talked about the surprise about K'mtar's identity? Because I was spoiled in advance by an ill-protected post on the net (for which I am *not* grateful, thank you very much). However, those who I've talked to who didn't know it in advance believe the surprise was handled quite well, and I tend to believe them. It was obvious fairly early on that *something* was afoot, but that's probably not the first explanation that would leap to mind.
Now, some short takes:
-- More time glitches popped up with Alexander's age. First, he seems verging on 13 years old, based on Worf's conversation -- say 10 at a minimum. Second, K'Ehleyr died three years (three and a half if you want to stretch it) ago. Third, K'mtar says Alex was three years old when K'Ehleyr died. Excuse me? Alexander being eleven or twelve works, if we assume he was born shortly after Worf and K'Ehleyr had their first liaison years prior to "The Emissary"; but that makes the three-years-old reference meaningless. Geez, it would be nice if this could be kept straight *within a given episode*.
-- An amusing notion Lisa brought up: Alexander said he was sent back by a man he met forty years hence. We know someone who could probably do that in forty years, and who might be inclined to do Alexander a favor. I don't suppose this was a veiled reference to Wes, was it? :-)
-- Riker's way of exposing the Duras sisters' ship was obvious from a mile away, but extremely well done. I like it.
-- As for the teaser: water fullerenes? MASSIVELY amusing. ;-)
That about covers it. "Firstborn" certainly had flaws, much of it in the ending. Despite the flaws, though, it kept me quite interested throughout. As Alexander shows go, this is definitely one of the best.
Wrapping up, then:
Plot: Good until the very end, then a lot of loose ends fly around like shrapnel. Plot Handling: Sharp. Very sharp. Characterization: Iffy on Alexander and the sisters, very nice on everyone else. (Even Alexander was simply an acting problem.)
OVERALL: Call it a 7. Decent.
NEXT WEEK: DaiMon Bok returns, and decides to threaten Picard through his son. His *what*?
"...and then, in four weeks, the journey ends..."
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) BITNET: tlynch@citjulie INTERNET: firstname.lastname@example.org UUCP: ...!email@example.com "You cannot tarnish a rusted blade." -- Worf, on the Duras sisters' honor Copyright 1994, 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.
Hans-Wolfgang Loidl <firstname.lastname@example.org> Last modified: Tue Oct 10 03:45:27 1995 Stardate: [-31]6415.57