Saturday, July 30, 2011

Return Of The Long-Dead Emperor, The "Rightful Heir?"

The Good: Interesting plot, Good acting, Great character development for Worf
The Bad: Somewhat simple resolution for a complex problem
The Basics: When the long-dead Klingon Emperor miraculously returns, Worf finds himself experiencing many layers of a crisis of faith in "Rightful Heir."

In the Star Trek universe, no alien species becomes so well defined as the Klingons. On Star Trek The Next Generation, the character Worf provided the opportunity for many lessons on Klingon society. Still, even with all of the time and attention that the writers and producers spent on the Klingons, there were discrepancies. The most notable was that of Kahless, the first Emperor, the Klingon who united the factions and did all sorts of mythical acts. Kahless is something like a god to the Klingons, but when he actually existed in the Star Trek cannon seems blurry.

Worf visits the Klingon Monastery on Borath for a spiritual retreat when he finds himself feeling out of sorts following the events in "Birthright, Part II" (reviewed here!). There, he finds himself immersed in meditation to no avail, until Kahless, the founder of the Klingon Empire and culture appears to him. As Worf soon discovers, Kahless is very real and his appearance causes the clerics and congregants on Borath to unify into something of a cult. Worf, however, is skeptical. As "Rightful Heir" progresses, Worf and Kahless journey to the Enterprise where Gowron arrives to dispatch with Kahless. Despite all indications that Kahless is actually Kahless, Worf uses all of the resources at his disposal to learn the truth.

The truth is something I won't entirely ruin for those who have not seen the episode, because the truth is that "Rightful Heir" is a clever episode and it works quite well. The nature of Kahless is an intriguing one and one only needs to appreciate the power of a cultural icon returning to a later time to appreciate the complex conflict of "Rightful Heir." Imagine FDR, JFK, Henry V or - on a negative twist - Adolf Hitler suddenly appeared in our current time period. While the rush to authenticate that person's identity would be extreme, some would choose to believe no matter what.

The episode is moved forward by Worf's character and he has a wonderful character arc here. Worf moves from disillusioned to guardedly impassioned to zealous and back to disillusioned, though in a different way. His movement through "Rightful Heir" is one that will affect the character from this point on. Worf's zeal for Klingon culture and his desire to be apart of it will factor into many other episodes. And it does endure, even into Star Trek Deep Space Nine (right away I can recall how this zeal plays into "Rules Of Engagement").

While the bulk of the acting falls to Michael Dorn, who delivers a consistently high-quality performance as Worf, Kevin Conway has to have equal presence to pull off the idea of his character of Kahless. Conway manages to have that presence by using his body language, especially a strut that keeps him on par with Dorn's performance. It's a shame that Conway never returns to the Trek universe after such a forceful, distinct portrayal of the Klingon Emperor.

Robert O'Reilly returns as Gowron and he and Dorn play off one another quite well as they usually do. O'Reilly has more lines than any of his previous Star Trek The Next Generation outings and it is reassuring to see him live up to them; he was not just hired for his ability to bulge out his eyes. Yet, that type of distinctive facial acting is evidence of his quality.

"Rightful Heir" is an interesting sociological piece set in a science fiction setting. The return of Kahless does force the viewer to consider the question of "What is the price of a culture's heritage?" To protect a culture, what actions are justifiable? Worf makes decisions that are essential to answering this question in one way and it is a way that is very appropriate for the Klingon culture.

"Rightful Heir" is accessible to anyone, though it is easier to relate to and understand if the viewer is a fan of the Star Trek universe. It's easier to relate if one does not have to use their imagination to consider what the return of Kahless means in human, actual terms, than an outsider to the series who has to distance themselves mentally to reason things out. Still, the acting and clear transitions of the characters make it an essential human piece.

[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!


Want to see how this episode stacks up against other Star Trek movies, episodes and DVD sets? Click here to see the current rankings of the episodes and find more Star Trek episode reviews!

© 2011, 2008, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment