Star Trek: The Next Generation – Ethics [5.16]

Worf suffers an accident which leaves him paralyzed.  Dr. Crusher enlists the assistance of a specialist, Dr. Toby Russell.  Dr. Russell’s cavalier attitude toward patient care in favor of medical research alarms Dr. Crusher.  Faced with being crippled, Worf considers committing suicide (a normal decision for a Klingon) but changes his mind when he considers the impact this will have upon his son, Alexander.  He opts instead to try an experimental procedure of Dr. Russell’s.  He is nearly killed in this operation, but pulls through and regains the use of his legs.

Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore . Story by Sara Charno & Stuart Charno. Directed by  Chip Chalmers.

Previous Episode: Power Play • Next Episode: The Outcast

Ethics is a solid episode – well written and well directed – and is the perfect example of what I missed when Next Generation finished as a TV series and “graduated” to being a movie franchise.  Once that happened, never again would we get an interesting character-driven story about Worf struggling to reconcile his Klingon value of honor with the reality of how his death will impact not only his shipmates but also his son.  Never again would we see Riker react with such passion to the plight of one of his shipmates.  And never again would we get to see Dr. Crusher wrestle with the moral dilemmas inherent with being the Chief Medical Officer on board a starship.  Fortunately, we still have 2 1/2 years worth of stories to get through before we get to that point.

It’s easy to think of Ethics as a Worf-centric story, and indeed the plot does revolve around him, but in many ways the dramatic meat of the episode really sits with the characters around him as they deal with his situation:  Alexander, Riker, Troi, Picard, and most of all, Dr. Crusher.  Indeed, it’s a great Dr. Crusher story, and she’s as much the star of it as Worf is.  She’s the one who has to recognize and wrestle with the very different priorities of the visiting Dr. Russell, and must struggle to find the meeting place between her own medical ethics and Worf’s needs as a patient.  The episode does a great job highlighting her in her role on the ship, and gives her a number of strong scenes.  Gates McFadden meets the challenge, confidently portraying Beverly’s outrage and frustration over Dr. Russell’s approach to things.

Jonathan Frake’s Riker has a smaller role, but also stands out in his scenes with both Worf and Picard.  His moral outrage at Worf’s contemplation of suicide isn’t as “sensitive” as Picard’s steady calm, but it’s all the more human, relate-able, and even commendable as a result.  “Let me remind you of something,” he basically yells at the stoic Worf.  “A Klingon does not put his desires above those of his family or his friends. How many people on this ship consider you a friend? How many owe you their lives? Have you ever thought about how you’ve affected the people around you? How we might feel about your dying?”  The landscape of Next Generation is often one of supposed cerebral enlightenment, so having scenes where people react with outrage to outrageous things is always welcome.

And in all that, there is a Worf story as well, although Michael Dorn doesn’t actually have as much to play as the other performers do.  They script doesn’t make too much of a deal of it, but Worf’s decision in the end to not take his own life, and even to risk an dishonorable death (or at least one in which there is no great honor), it is a courageous choice, even a warrior’s choice.  And his choice not to willingly deprive Alexander of his father – even when it violates his culture and his sense of honor – is a caring one, and a clear step of maturity.

Shout out to the Past:
• There is a reference to Marla Aster from The Bonding and Tasha Yar, who died back in Season One’s Skin of Evil.

• There is also a brief reference to the Cardassian War.

Setting up the Future:
• I think in the upcoming episode Parallels, there will be reference to the events of this episode.

• There is no poker game seen this time, but it is referred to, with obviously Geordi, Worf, and Troi being amongst those involved.

• Watching the episode’s teaser for the first time all those years ago, and being well familiar by then with Next Generation‘s penchant for boring titles, I fully expected the episode to be called “The Accident”.  “Ethics” is slightly better, but only slightly.

• I am unfamiliar with the actress playing Dr. Russell, but my wife pointed out that she looks a bit like Hillary Clinton.

• Worf adding “Please” to the end of his request that Riker assist him take his own life is quite meaningful, I think.  “You and I have served together for many years. Fought side by side I know you to be a brave and honourable man. If you truly consider me a friend, help me now. Help me end my life as I have lived it, with dignity and honour. Please.”

• Interesting that they talk about Klingon anatomy as a “design” – something that today would have other (presumed unwanted)  implications

• Of course, Picard as always is Mr. Enlightenment.  His comments are pretty sound in this case, at least insofar as they are regarding understanding the Klingon way of seeing the world.  Would he really condone deliberately allowing Worf to commit suicide on his ship?

• Troi righteously tells Worf to get his act together

• Nice moment of seeing Worf’s point of view of things:  “No, I will not be seen lurching through corridors like some half-Klingon machine, the object of ridicule and disgust.”

• At first, I wondered why doesn’t Deanna call for any medical staff to help when Worf collapses on the ground.  But then I realized that they were all busy with the medical emergency.

• Dr. Crusher tells Dr. Russell where it’s at:  “I will not be drawn into a hypothetical argument, Doctor. Your research on this ship is over. You’re relieved of all medical duties until further notice. Is that clear?”

• Interesting exchange between Picard and Dr. Crusher:

PICARD: Beverly, he can’t make the journey you’re asking of him. You want him to go from contemplating suicide to accepting his condition and living with the disability, but it’s too far. The road between covers a lifetime of values, beliefs. He can’t do it, Beverly. But perhaps he can come part of the way. Maybe he can be persuaded to forgo the ritual in order to take the chance at regaining the kind of life he needs. A Klingon may not be good at accepting defeat, but he knows all about taking risks.
CRUSHER: The first tenet of good medicine is never make the patient any worse. Right now, Worf is alive and functioning. If he goes into that operation, he could come out a corpse.
PICARD: This may not be good medicine, but for Worf, it may be his only choice.

• A great line from Riker, mentioning their fallen comrades:  “Remember Sandoval? Hit by a disruptor blast two years ago. She lived for about a week. Fang-lee? Marla Aster? Tasha Yar? How many men and women, how many friends have we watched die? I’ve lost count. Every one of them, every single one fought for life until the very end.” It’s a great scene between Worf and Riker.

• A very meaningful line about We will speak again, soon.

Talking to my kids about Klingon culture with my kids

• This tender moment between Worf and Deanna, where he asks her to look after Alexander, may be the first indicator of their later relationship.  I guess that’s why they referred back to it when they start up their alternate universe relationship later on.

• I like the bit where Riker and Picard are just talking business while Worf is being operated on.

• Surgical suits cover everything except for the parts where they might breathe or sneeze out germs.  Seems odd.

• Dr. Russell thought she adjusted for this Klingon scanning problem – another indicator of her lack of patience as a Doctor.

• That video game that Alexander is playing with looks pretty simple

• I like the little medical alarm – it draws attention to itself but is not too distracting, the sort of thing that would genuinely be useful in a surgical situation, I’d think.

• Great response from Beverly’s to Dr. Russell’s “That’ll kill him.”  “Looks like we’ve done a pretty good job of that already, Doctor.”

• Gates McFadden is excellent in the death scene.  Interesting that death occurred at a normal 24 hour clock time, not a Stardate.

• It’s a bit hokey how Worf dies but then comes back, but it makes for some good scenes with Alexander

Dialogue High Point
There are a number of good moments referenced above, but the high point is Beverly’s last speech to Dr. Russell:

I am delighted that Worf is going to recover. You gambled, he won. Not all of your patients are so lucky. You scare me, Doctor. You risk your patient’s lives and justify it in the name of research. Genuine research takes time. Sometimes a lifetime of painstaking, detailed work in order to get any results. Not for you. You take short cuts, right through living tissue. You put your research ahead of your patient’s lives, and as far as I’m concerned that’s a violation of our most sacred trust. I’m sure your work will be hailed as a stunning breakthrough. Enjoy your laurels, Doctor. I’m not sure I could.

Previous Episode: Power Play • Next Episode: The Outcast

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