The Good: Great character development, Nice acting, Interesting dilemma.
The Bad: Somewhat silly, manipulative ending to the episode
The Basics: When Worf is seriously wounded, the crew reacts with a dilemma that will test their convictions, tolerances and professional "Ethics."
One of the more refreshing aspects of Star Trek The Next Generation was the way it took the rather flat villains from Star Trek and developed them to be sensible: creating cultures, designing rituals and histories, and introducing reasonable (and reasonably intelligent) characters to represent these races. No race benefited more from the second Trek series than the Klingons. The presence of Worf aboard the Enterprise gave the writers and producers the perfect excuse to repeatedly delve into Klingon culture and custom.
"Ethics" opens with Worf being crippled in a fairly ridiculous accident wherein a barrel falls upon him, crushing his spinal column. Paralyzed without hope of recovery, Worf accepts that his days as a warrior are over and asks Riker to aid him in killing himself. Riker refuses Worf's suicide request after much deliberation and Worf is left in the hands of a doctor whose methods are questionable. Dr. Toby Russell offers a miracle cure to Worf; a genetically engineered spine. But as Dr. Crusher witnesses, Russell cannot be trusted to have the patient in mind and the last ditch effort seems more and more hopeless.
"Ethics" is one the most deceptive episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation. First, it begins with one of the most tacky accidents to grace the screen, but then it becomes one of the most intriguing moralistic debates of the series. And then, what seems to be a pretty obvious Worf episode develops into an intriguing ensemble piece that explores Worf, Troi, Riker, Dr. Crusher and Alexander. It becomes one of the most compelling pieces that takes into account as many viewpoints as possible.
And that's part of the strength of this episode and makes the episode compelling. Seeing Alexander, who is barely Klingon, saddled with the responsibility of killing his father is jaw-dropping. The viewer wrestles with Riker over the decision as he makes his argument to Picard against killing Worf. In some ways, the viewer manages to understand Worf's perspective as well, which is no easy task considering how strongly most people feel against suicide. Dr. Crusher, as well is interesting here as she combats Dr. Russell. Every character here we manage to get inside the head of.
The acting here is part of what makes this episode worthwhile and the characters believable. While Sirtis easily illustrates she can cry on demand, the more impressive acting comes from Brian Bonsall. Bonsall does an amazing job for a child actor making realistic facial expressions when looking at his character's wounded father. He sells us completely on the pain of being a child with an impossible decision.
And while Caroline Kava gives a rather flat performance as Dr. Toby Russell, Gates McFadden rises to the occasion of infusing Dr. Crusher with a passionate sense of professional ethics. McFadden is usually relegated to playing the "straightman" and here she is allowed to be fully emotive. Jonathan Frakes, similarly, gives one of his better performances as the conflicted Riker. Usually so in charge, this is a great chance for Frakes to explore Riker's uncertainty, which adds a wonderful sense of realism to his character.
The real thrust of acting greatness comes from Michael Dorn. Dorn here is deprived of movement and as a result, he's forced to rely solely on his voice and facial expressions and he does not disappoint. This is an impressive feat in any circumstance, even more of an accomplishment considering the headpiece Dorn wears!
This is a great episode for anyone who likes a decent medical drama or a compelling ethical debate, even if you are not a fan of science fiction. This is more a sociological debate on euthanasia and treatise on medical ethics more than a science fiction piece. It's enjoyable and easily keeps the attention of the viewer the whole time.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Fifth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the fifth season by clicking here!
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