Star Trek: The Next Generation – Birthright, Part I [6.16]

Worf hears a rumor that his father, long-thought dead, is actually alive in a Romulan prison camp.  He finds his way there, but instead discovers that his father is dead and that the Klingons seem to be willing prisoners who turn Worf in to their captors.  Meanwhile, an accident leads Data to start dreaming.

Written by Brannon Braga. Directed by Winrich Kolbe.

Previous Episode: Tapestry • Next Episode: Birthright, Part II

Comments:
I remember watching Birthright all those years ago when it was first out, and watching it again recently felt like a real chore.  I remember it as an overlong story about Worf engaging in some needless intrigue and a boring romance, and some irrelevant fiddle-faddle about Data dreaming.  But actually watching it reveals an episode that is not one of the greats, but is actually one of the okays, at least the first part.

Birthright has an unusual structure for a two-parter, in that the first part (the only one I’ve rewatched so far) is made up of two almost entirely disconnected plots.  Up until this point, the two-parters told stories big enough to fill up both episodes, with subplots (such as Captain Jellico’s role on the Enterprise or Data commanding his own ship) being directly related to the main story.  Here, the episode spends it’s time roughly divided between Data encountering his father through a dream and Worf pursuing the possibility that his father is still alive.  These two stories have nothing to do with each other except the thematic father element, a connection which is highlighted in a fairly well done scene between the two characters in Ten Forward.

Unfortunately, that connection doesn’t end up going anywhere, particularly since Worf so boringly discovers even prior to the cliffhanger, that indeed no, his father isn’t alive, that in fact his father died in precisely the manner he’d always believed.  Now I haven’t watched the second part yet, so maybe I’m not remembering something, but I think it’s a mistake for the story to so quickly drop the hook of being about Worf’s father.  I’m not sure exactly what they should have done – would it have been better to learn to Mogh was in fact actually still alive?  But dismissing that side of things ejects the gravitas out of the episode, and makes me fearful that next time all I’ll be watching is proof both that Next Generation is bad at romances and that they had run out of ideas for Romulan-based plots.

Surprisingly more successful is the business with Data dreaming.  They are quite poetic and well directed, and truly reveal a new facet of Data’s character.  His interaction with the dream version of Dr. Soong is well played, and the whole plot comes to an end before it gets overcooked.  In that sense, it was probably a good thing that this story wasn’t continued into Part 2, though that was a bit of a disappointment at the time.

The other notable thing about this episode is that it serves as a crossover with Deep Space Nine.  It’s funny seeing Worf sitting around the promenade, knowing now as we do that this will be his home in just a couple of years.  All of Dr. Bashir’s stuff with Data and Geordi feels like filler-within-filler, but I do like the way they use him to surprise Data with the detailed sort of questions he asks.  It might have been nice to have seen Chief O’Brien interacting with his old shipmates, as well, and indeed it might have made more sense having him fulfill Bashir’s role.  But then they would have lost a bunch of dialog, and its obvious in hindsight that all this is being used largely to kill time until Part 2.

Guest Cast:
Siddig El Fadil appears as Dr. Julian Bashir, a regular on the at-this-point still starting-out Deep Space Nine.  He later called himself Alexander Siddig.  In addition to Star Trek, I’ve also seen him in the movies Reign of Fire and Vertical Limit.  More recently he has appeared in series such as Primeval and Atlantis.

James Cromwell makes his second appearance in the Star Trek franchise as Jaglom Shrek, thought he is nearly unrecognizable.  He had previously appeared in The Hunted, and would go on to have a key role in Star Trek First Contact.  He also appeared in LA Confidential, Babe, I Robot, Deep Impact, and more.  He also appeared in 24 as Jack Bauer’s father.

Cristine Rose plays Gi’ral.  She is also known for playing Angela Petrelli on the series Heroes.  She also played Ferris Bueller’s mother in the TV version of the film.

Richard Herd plays L’Kor.  He would later play Tom Paris’ father, Admiral Owen Paris in several episodes of Voyager.  He also apparently played an admiral in several episodes of SeaQuest.  He was also a regular on TJ Hooker for a while, and played the  leader of the invading aliens, John, in the original V.

Shout Out to the Past:
There are numerous ones, with references to Mogh and his death on Khitomer.  Also, Brent Spiner plays Dr. Soong again, this time as a young man (whereas before he played him in his last days on Brothers).  And Chief O’Brien is referenced, though he doesn’t appear.  The same with Alexander.

Set Up for the Future:
Of course, all the Worf stuff follows up in Part 2.   But in addition to that, I think there is some more talk about Data’s dreams coming up in Season Seven.

Observations:
• Picard turns down Beverly’s invitation to relax in a holosuite program that includes being carried into a meditation chamber on a cloud of chromal vapor with the line, “Well, Il be too busy discussing the finder points of water management with ten Bajoran bureaucrats.  And they won’t be carrying me on a cloud of chromal vapor.”

• This episode is one has one of the smallest roles for Picard, as he is in only two scenes.

• Interesting direction in the scene with Worf on the bridge, including close up of his hands with both Troi and Riker watching.  And Troi is in her normal uniform.

• I wish I’d been counting since starting this series again the number of times the show has scenes in which people have brief character-driven interactions in “pausing” moments that come in the midst of experiments and engineering work.

• I like this interaction between Bashir and Data:

Data:  Most people are interested in my extraordinary abilities.  How fast I can compute, my memory capacity, how long I will live.  No one has ever asked me if my hair will grow, or noticed that I can breathe.
Bashir:  Your creator went to a lot of trouble to make you seem human.  I find that fascinating.

• And though Picard is barely present this week, he gets another good line:  “You’re a culture of one, which is no less valid than a culture of one billion.”

• Data paints with two hands.

• The spacey music during Data’s dream does not really help things.

• Spot shows up!  And in a pretty funny way. “We are on the Bridge of the Enterprise.  My cat is present, my potted plant, and my paintings.”

• Morn appears!

• Data mentions that he can be in a vacuum for a period of time – this will be important when Data makes his last appearance in Star Trek Nemesis

Dialogue High Point
Not, I would say, “Data, you are the bird,” which maybe is a bit much.  Instead I like Data’s line as he describes his paintings:

I have created twenty-three individual illustrations in the past six hours, twenty-seven minutes.  I believe you could say…I have been inspired.

Previous Episode: Tapestry • Next Episode: Birthright, Part II

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One thought on “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Birthright, Part I [6.16]

  1. I thought this was a pretty good episode. Not great, but good. The Data dream stuff was really cool. Interesting and well-done. The Worf stuff was just OK.

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