Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"The Birthright, Part 2:" Worf's Teaching Vacation

The Good: Nice character development and acting
The Bad: Disappointing second half, Overbearing cultural lesson, Continues to use same idea over and over
The Basics: When Worf attempts to escape from a planet Romulans and Klingons cohabitate in peace at, he reinvigorates his long lost cultural heritage.

When last we saw Worf, at the end of "The Birthright, Part I," (reviewed here!) he was surrounded by Romulan and Klingon security guards on a distant world and told that he wasn't leaving. Bummer. As well, Data had just learned to dream and he was exploring his psyche. While "The Birthright, Part II" picks up on one of those plots, it neglects the other entirely, reaffirming the idea that Star Trek The Next Generation is a big tease; it sets up episodes quite well, but does not follow up on them terribly well. Like some of the other two-parters in Star Trek The Next Generation, this episode takes the episode in a very different direction from what one might anticipate. It focuses almost entirely on Worf and his imprisonment on a distant planet.

Worf, now captured, meets with Tokath, the Romulan leader of the strange colony world Worf has found himself on. Worf learns his father is, in fact, dead and has been dead the entire time Worf suspected he was. Tokath is an idealist; he wanted an end to the bloodshed between the Romulans and Klingons, so with his captured Klingons, he colonized the planet and set down roots. Worf is offended that the young woman he begins to fall in love with is half Romulan, the cultural artifacts laying around the compound are not being used properly and by the resigned attitude elder Klingons like L'Kor have. So, Worf enlists the aid of a teen named Toq (I did have fun writing that phrase) and mounts an insurrection, which ultimately earns him a death sentence on the planet.

What "The Birthright, Part II" fails to do is at all address the issue of Data dreaming. That would be less problematic if it had not been such an integral part of the first part. Instead, when one sits down to watch these two episodes together - as any good two-parter ought to be enjoyed - one is left with the distinct feeling that the writers had a great idea for Worf that they knew was longer than an episode, but fell drastically short of being two episodes, so they added an entirely different idea in to make a two-parter.

And even with that in mind, "Birthright, Part II" still feels stretched. The amount of time Worf takes teaching Toq drags on and the pace slows to a mind numbingly slow pace. It's bad enough to get the extended Klingon history and cultural lesson, but the number of times Worf faces off with L'Kor and Tokath about how unhappy he is and how he will resist the peace the place offers tires quickly. It's ridiculous how often it is repeated and the viewer simply wants the episode to move forward.

And it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, coming from Worf. Worf is a Klingon, whose parents were killed by Romulans. We know that, we get that. He did not run off and join the Klingon Defense Force, though, he joined StarFleet. As a Federation citizen, Worf - presumably - is in the process of learning to forgive, to judge people as he finds them and to cherish peace. What could be more ideal to the Federation and the Alpha Quadrant than the Romulans and Klingons living in peace? Worf's big bone here is that Klingons and Romulans have traditionally been enemies and the simple counteragrument the episode rightly provides is "not here." Worf's character is frequently more disturbing than the more progressive Tokath.

Which is not to say the episode is an entire loss. Despite the neglect of the Data portion of the plot, Worf has incredible opportunities to explore his character here. And he has grown quite a bit from the character who in the first season declared "That world is dead to me!" in "Hide And Q." Here, Worf takes great joy in sharing his Klingon heritage with the youth of the colony and he does an excellent job illustrating how his knowledge of the Klingon way has increased in the five years since "Hide And Q." Worf's honor and integrity are also highlights of the character in "Birthright."

The acting in the episode is decent as well and all of the credit cannot simply go to Michael Dorn. Richard Herd gives a memorable performance as the depressed Klingon L'Kor, who seems to have lost his will to fight and is happy being a farmer. Even better is Alan Scarfe, who plays Tokath. While still possessing the cunning and cleverness of a Romulan, Scarfe infuses quite a bit of reasonable humanity and kindness to the role. That type of balancing act is the essence of good acting and Scarfe does an great job at it.

Ultimately, the episode does come down to Michael Dorn and his performance here is admirable. He takes an otherwise dry lesson on Klingon culture and behavior and manages to make it entertaining. Dorn gets into the increased attention on his character by holding his body with greater poise, keeping his eyes expressive and making his body language resonate with energy. It is Dorn and his presentation of the various aspects of Worf's personality here that makes "Birthright, Part II" worth seeing and revisiting.

While "Birthright, Part II" may be a bit slow or culturally technical for those who are not "Star Trek The Next Generation" fans, it is pretty essential for those who saw - and enjoyed "Birthright, Part I." One of the few nice things about Worf's storyline is that it is somewhat more serialized than most of Star Trek The Next Generation and the resolution to this episode leads Worf to the events of "Rightful Heir." Despite being a bit slow, it is entertaining and informative and for those who are interested in different cultures, it's a nice lesson on a fictional one. Still, it is a bit of a let down considering how much better the first part was.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the penultimate season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode, movie and DVD reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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