Star Trek: The Next Generation – Parallels [7.11]

Returning to the Enterprise after participating in an athletic tournament, Worf finds himself moving into a variety of similar but not identical parallel universes, seemingly randomly.  He must deal with the confusion of finding himself both married to Deanna Troi and being the first officer of the Enterprise.  Eventually, it is realized that Worf had encountered a strange phenomena in space which caused him to shift universes whenever he is close to Geordi’s VISOR.  Returning to the source of the problem in order to undo the problem, the crew is startled when thousands of other Enterprise‘s being to appear from other universes.  However, Worf is able to seal the dimensional barrier and return home.  Back on his own Enterprise, Worf begins to show indications of starting to court Deanna.

Written by Brannon Braga. Directed by Robert Wiemer.

Previous Episode: Inheritance • Next Episode: The Pegasus

Comments:
Parallels is a somewhat illogical but really fun Star Trek episode, something which has become more of a rarity this season.  Let’s deal with the illogical aspects first, since they are relatively minor.  It really comes down to the solution that the story suggests for the problem it creates.  I can’t quite figure out why all the Enterprises have turned up in the universe that “our” Worf is running around in.  The episode seems to imply that variations of these events are happening in 285,000+ parallel universes all at once, and that probably Worf from lots of them passed through that temporal anomaly that caused all the problems, and that “our” Worf isn’t any more “the right one” than any of the others.  If all this is so, than why did the Enterprise’s all show up “here” rather than any of those other realities?  And why aren’t there dozens or hundreds of shuttlecrafts being sent back and forth to pick up the various Worf’s and fly them all back?  And what exactly is happening when all the duplicate Worf’s are seen sitting all around the shuttlecraft – if that’s the “normal” Enterprise‘s shuttle – what are all the other Worf’s doing there?

The answer of course is who cares, this was a fun episode, why don’t you just shut up and enjoy it?  And really, that’s what I did.  This was really the best Worf episode of the show since A Fistful of Datas:  this one was almost as funny and just as engaging.  The series is really not doing a great job of making real “Klingon” episodes anymore, so this sort of thing is a lot more enjoyable:  situations that play off his character, personality, and backstory, but where the focus is on plot and adventure, and not Klingon politics or culture.  It’s heaps of fun seeing Worf’s cringing at the idea of a birthday celebration, being shocked at Troi’s amorous behavior, and otherwise dealing with the strange changes going on all around him.  It’s also a treat for long-term fans of the show, as we get to several “What if?” scenarios about the show’s history, including what if Picard had been lost in the battle against the Borg, and even a brief but tragic glimpse of a Federation who lost their battle with the Borg.

Part of what makes the episode work are the casual way many of these changes are introduced.  Alyssa Ogawa is a doctor, Wesley is a Starfleet lieutenant, these is a Cardassian in Starfleet – these sorts of things just happen in the episode, with no fanfare and often no comment.  It’s a clever way of building the sense of disorientation and keeping us surprised.

Of course, the big thing that happens here is that we have the beginning of the Worf-Troi romance.  I’ve always found it hard to take such a thing seriously, especially in light of the more effective Worf-Dax pairing that we’ll see on Deep Space Nine.  But still, it feel plausible at this point, having seen the growing friendship between Worf and Troi in episodes like EthicsCost of Living, A Fistful of Datas, and others, including the way that Deanna has been shown to have bonded with Alexander.  And in this episode in particular, it’s touchingly played by both Michael Dorn and Marina Sirtis, and it brings a nice emotional element to the drama that would have been missing otherwise.

Guest Cast:
• Mark Bramhall, who plays the Cardassian Gul Nador in this episode, was a Vulcan Elder in the 2009 Star Trek film.  He also played “Centauri #2 in an episode of Babylon 5.

Shout Out to the Past:
• There are lots!  There are numerous references to Ethics and the accident Worf had on that occasion.  Along with that are lots of references to Alexander, although he doesn’t appear.

• They also refer briefly to Worf’s parents on earth, and his Klingon brother.

• The Argus array was a thing back in The Nth Degree.

• There is also talk about losing Picard (and the entire Federation) to the Borg, presumably going back to The Best of Both Worlds.

Setting Up the Future:
• And here, finally, we formalize the idea of Worf romancing Troi, something we’ll see in several upcoming episodes.

Observations:
• I like Worf’s log entry about the Bat’leth competition at the start:  “The conditions were difficult.  Several contenders were maimed.  But I was triumphant.”  If Worf won the competition, presumably against other “normal” Klingons, than I guess he’s pretty awesome.

• Michael Dorn’s delivery of “Today is my birthday,” is great, as is his performance overall.

• The set up with the surprise party is great.  “I love surprise parties!” beams Riker.

• There are lots of funny moments at Worf’s party, including his confusion about how to respond to the painting.  Deanna decorating Worf’s quarters sort of foreshadows where there relationship is going.

• A cast of Alexander’s forehead…the ridges of a warrior!  Awesome!

• Picard’s appearance at the party is a bit of a giveaway that something odd is happening, if we hadn’t noticed the thing with the cake.  But the episode being called “Parallels” already spoils it a little.

• Troi at Worf’s party, is wearing one of the old outfits she would always wear prior to Chain of Command. She actually wears a lot of her old episodes over the course of the story.

• Another funny exchange.  Troi says, “That would make my mother your step-mother.”  Worf is startled, and then responds, “I had not considered that.  It is a risk I am willing to take.”

• Spooky bit when Worf recovers from his dizzy spell in engineering.

• I don’t think I picked it up when I first watched it, but on this occasion it seems obvious that its Geordi’s presence that is causing the incidents.

• Worf recalls the precise Stardate he made the log entry?

• Worf is asked if he’s feeling all right, and he responds that yes he is.  Uh, except for all the dizziness and memory loss and changing trophies!

• Abrupt & cool how Worf finds himself on the Bridge in the middle of an emergency.

• Things get weirder and weirder…luckily parallel Worf lives in the same quarters as original Worf.

• I like the writing when Troi turns up married to Worf.  Her actions and responses all seem to make sense.  “Why’d you lock the door?”  Of course, Worf’s discomfort is funny, with his hair, the massage, the kissing.  But that seems like a small bed for a married couple.

• Perhaps the most awkward Data moment ever:  “I am not privy to the exact details of when, where or how your first coupling took place.  I could investigate it.”

• Captain Riker has a trombone behind him.

• It’s a touching moment between Worf and Deanna, when they are talking about their two children, and Alexander’s absence.

• Bajorans!

• Bazillions of Enterprises – cool.  285,000 hails!

• Even as Captain, Riker still puts his legs up on Data’s console.  I don’t ever remember seeing that when I was originally watching the series.

• Data’s explains what’s going on.  My response:  Huh?

• An Enterprise died – but that means some other Worf was killed!  Oh, Worf traveled into the past when he went home.  Maybe that means that all the other Worf’s were sent back into the past as well, when they were returned to their own realities.

• Shocking but funny when Troi turns up in Worf’s quarters.  “So…you do not live here?” “What’s that supposed to mean?”

• OK, so is Worf back in his home reality or not, since there was no birthday party this time?  I’d like to suggest (for the sake of simplicity) that he is, but his actions changed things slightly.  This time, Worf called the Enterprise from the shuttle with that strange message about whether everything was okay or not.  I assume this exchange was overheard by Troi, and that it caused her latent doubts about how good an idea Worf’s surprise party was to kick in, causing her to talk Will out of it.  “I know Klingons like to be alone on their birthdays.  I’m sure you have to meditate, or hit yourself with a pain stick or something.”

• Worf asks Deanna out to dinner!

Dialogue High Point
There’s a lot of good moments here, but maybe my favorite line is a casual from Troi when Worf complains after the singing at his party was not a Klingon song:

It wasn’t easy to translate.  There doesn’t seem to be a Klingon word for jolly.

Previous Episode: Inheritance • Next Episode: The Pegasus




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