Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Choice Makes Ripples In The Pond In "Parallels!"

The Good: Excellent acting, Intriguing plot, Good pace
The Bad: None, really; this is decent science fiction
The Basics: When Worf travels to alternate dimensions, the viewer is treated to a thoughtful consideration of how the decisions we make may change our entire life.

Long before The Butterfly Effect, there was the idea that a single choice made in your life may radically alter how your life turns out. It's a pretty simple idea and one of the places the idea saw itself illustrated well was in the Star Trek The Next Generation episode "Parallels." Unlike the frequent Hollywood journeys where a character attempts to unmake their current circumstances by rewriting the past via time travel or interdimensional jumping, "Parallels" takes a surprisingly mature approach by simply exploring the consequences of choices and accepting them.

Upon his return from a tournament, Worf begins to experience moments of lightheadedness that clear with him finding his surroundings and the people in them subtly altered. At first, the details in his life that change are minor; the painting on the wall, the type of cake he is eating at his birthday party, how he placed at the tournament. As the incidents expand, so to does the significance of the changes in his life: he finds himself on an Enterprise where the Bajorans are attacking the Federation, where Captain Picard died in the Borg attack, where Worf is first officer, and ultimately, where Worf finds himself married to Counselor Troi. Despite the reactions of those around him, Worf maintains that his memories are correct and that his surroundings have changed. With the help of his wife, he discovers that he is traveling through different dimensions and he must find a way back to his own native universe.

Parallel universes are an old thing in science fiction. Star Trek did it back in "Mirror, Mirror," by creating a universe where all of Our Heroes were simply evil. "Parallels" humanizes the principle, by forcing Worf (and the audience) to ask, "how would things have changed if this episode had ended differently?" By illustrating the consequences of various actions (i.e. Riker destroying the Borg ship without recovering Captain Picard or Troi and Worf becoming intimate following his back injury in "Ethics"), Worf is forced to acknowledge that he has been pushing away people and things that matter to him. That is to say, by seeing - in some cases - how good his alternate universe selves have it, Worf understands that there is more to life.

The real brilliance of "Parallels" comes in its resolution. Instead of trying to change the universes he finds himself in, Worf struggles to return to his own home universe. Once there, his journey takes the logical - and emotional - step of trying to make some changes there. In a series that shies away from serialization, "Parallels" is remarkably mature.

And the story would have been far less likely to succeed with anyone other than Worf. While Data was easily as popular - if not, more - as Worf, the decisions he makes and the ways he grows on Star Trek The Next Generation have more to do with personal growth. Picard already experienced much of what Worf does here in "Tapestry" and Riker's choices seem like they all would have diverged from the Enterprise, making an episode like this with him almost impossible to do. Worf, however, has always been a bit of an outsider playing on a team that strives for unity and diversity. His abilities come into play frequently and the way he comes near to having relationships with characters without ever truly being humanized makes him the ideal candidate here. And it is refreshing to see that he grows as a result of his experiences.

Michael Dorn does an excellent job playing Worf with a great range. He makes the character lovable, loving, shocked, confused, commanding and pensive all in the space of forty-three minutes. "Parallels" reads as a resume for Dorn's talents without ever seeming cliche or out of character. Dorn perfectly illustrates an organic range without ever stepping outside the persona of Worf.

People who are not fans of science fiction, much less the Star Trek franchise, will find a great deal to like here. While the episode alludes to specific incidences in the past of the series, they are not necessary to appreciating the bulk of the episode. That is to say that in the end, "Parallels" comes largely down to looking at the consequences of our choices and experiencing with one character how awkward it might be to find oneself in the middle of a different life as a result of those consequences. If you can imagine how truly different your life would be if five years ago you had made a different decision about your life, you may appreciate the magnitude of that. Even if you cannot, "Parallels" illustrates it quite well.

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


For other Star Trek be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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