Undergoing a crisis of faith, Worf spends time at a Klingon holy shrine and is shocked when Kahless, the legendary founder of the Klingon people, suddenly returns in front of him, in apparent fulfillment of prophesy. Kahless declares he has returned to lead his people back to glory, but he is opposed by Gowron, the current leader of the Klingons. Eventually, Worf discovers that Kahless is a clone of the original, but negotiates a new situation in which this clone can become the emperor of the Klingons, providing moral leadership, and working with Gowron to see the honor of the Klingons strengthened.
Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore. Story by James E. Brooks. Directed by Winrich Kolbe.
Well, I think it’s safe to say that the glory days of the Klingon episodes of Next Generation are behind us. Where once the “Klingon-arc” was one of the most engaging storylines in the series, it now feels like the show is having to work pretty hard to come up with something for Worf to do. Like Birthright before it, Rightful Heir is a modest success.
There is some interesting dynamics with Worf and his attempt to come to terms with the spiritual side of his Klingon heritage. In particular, the episode makes nice use of Data to offer some counterpoint on the whole issue of faith, though some of his remarks are a bit too “relevant” to be natural. But overall the episode does not really go far enough at exploring why this is such an issue for the Klingons as a people. What Koroth and his colleagues trying to achieve? What exactly is Gowron so concerned about? Is it simply all about the gaining and losing of power? The idea that there is something in the Klingon heart that is so hungry to take hold of the implications of Kahless’ return is interesting, but it’s not something that is really developed, either as an allegory of modern world religion (thankfully, as that would doubtless have been unsatisfying) or as an exploration of Klingon culture. In fact, the episode is pretty abrupt in terms of its treatment of Klingon culture, as we see Worf and the others totally restructure their government over the course of one tense scene.
On the strong side, the episode’s guest performances are good. Robert O’Reilly is always good as Gowron, and his ability to bug out his eyes serve him particularly well during his fight scene with Kahless. And Kevin Conway also does a good job as the Kahless clone, truly feeling like a charismatic leader. Most of the regulars don’t have much to do, although Michael Dorn is fine anchoring the story. However, it seems like a while since his character has been truly taken any place new, which is a pity since a few seasons ago he was certainly one of the true breakout characters.
• Alan Oppenheimer plays Koroth. He has done hundreds of credited roles, many of them voice parts (including Vanity Smurf). He was also one of three actors to play Dr. Rudy Wells on The Six Million Dollar Man.
• This was the last of Robert O’Reilly’s four appearances as Gowron on Next Generation, though he would continue to appear on Deep Space Nine.
• Charles Esten, who plays Divok, appeared for a handful of episodes of the US version of The Office, the head of the Stamford branch of Dunder Mifflin, and for a while Jim Halpert’s boss.
• Kevin Conway plays Kahless. He was the Control Voice for 145 episodes of the revival version of The Outer Limits in the lat 1990’s.
Shout out to the Past:
• There are references to Toq and the events of Birthright, as well as to Gowron’s history with Worf, especially from Redemption (including a reference to Kurn).
• Kahless himself appeared in the original series episode The Savage Curtain, although as an Original Series-style Klingon. This can be pretty easily explained by saying that he was conjured up from Kirk’s impressions of what Kahless would have been like.
• There is a brief reference to coalescent beings, as seen on Aquiel.
Setting Up the Future:
• I feel like somewhere along the way there is some reference to the Emperor again, but it was never very significant if I recall.
• I think this is the first reference to anything like Kahless returning to lead the Klingons again.
• Troi and Geordi both don’t appear in this episode.
• It’s a fun bit where Picard gets to tell off Worf for being derelict in his duties, but it feels like it’s there just so that Picard can have something interesting to do in the story. “Mr. Worf, your personal affairs are strictly your own concern until they interfere with the operation of this ship. You have now crossed that line.”
• The scene with Worf and Koroth near the beginning is pretty interesting. Koroth ahs a good speech, “So here we are, on a world circling that distant point of light. It has been fifteen centuries since he made that promise, and still we wait. What are ten days in the life of one Klingon compared to that? Is the son of Mogh really so easily discouraged? You came to us seeking answers but this is a place of questions.”
• Worf is caught in an interesting dilemma between Gowron and Kahless, with Gorwon’s arguments about Koroth really being the power behind Kahless being quite an interesting one.
• I like Gowron’s line: “Koroth. I see that not all fools die young.” In response, I like Kahless’ line to Gowron, “The wind does not respect a fool. Do not stand before the wind, Gowron.”
• Gowron’s asking Kahless questions about the details of his memories are effective.
• What does the conclusion of the story say about faith. Are we saying that faith is something people simply need even if they know that what they have faith in isn’t real? Or is it simply saying that just because one Kahless is fake, it doesn’t mean people won’t still have faith in a real Kahless? It could be taken both ways, but I find the second more interesting. I mean, if I met a fake Jesus, that wouldn’t automatically mean there wasn’t still a real Jesus.
Dialogue High Point
I think I’ll go with Kahless’ speech to the Klingons about battle:
What is wrong? Is there only anger and bloodlust in your souls? Is that all that is left in the Klingon heart? We do not fight merely to spill blood, but to enrich the spirit. Look at us. Two warriors locked in battle, fighting for honour. How can you not sing for all to hear? We are Klingons! Yes! Let it out! Let the joy in your heart be heard. We are Klingons!