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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.


  1. K. Jones
    May 29, 2015 @ 5:22 am

    This viewing I tried to think about it in context of there being a summer break, several months, between my seeing this cliffhanger. I think that summer is important in a few narrative contexts, the first obviously being that Worf is embroiled in a war that lasts two months, and the second that obviously, inherently (but only if you were there, and not so much if you marathon these things back-to-back) anybody who saw Denise Crosby show up in the last shot had two or more whole months to speculate "OH MY GOD IS IT HER?"

    It was clearly not just Denise playing a shady Romulan, or they wouldn't be dropping "you never know where humans might pop up" telling dialogue, nor would they have gone out of their way to make her the first ever blonde Romulan. No, this was Romulan-Tasha in every way for people to wonder at, marvel at, gawk at for an entire summer waiting for answers.

    The answer we got left me cold and effectively cut off the drama at the knees, to say the least, but that's for next week.

    I'd argue that the only thing elevating the Klingons from already being parody are O'Reilly and Todd's performances, and yeah, even the performances from the stock archetypal Duras sisters. I'd also say that the reason the episode looms large in many a memory despite being surprisingly simple and spartan about space battles and a sense of scale is because of the economy of storytelling.

    This one essentially belongs to Worf, Picard, and the guest cast. All the fun ensemble bits where the crew get to do cool things are in Part II.

    My favorite thing has to be Gowron's fatal wide-eyed reactions. "THE COUNCIL KNEW?!" As I understand the Klingon forehead makeup (much like the dwarves of a Peter Jackson movie, which were essentially just diminutive medieval Klingons) prevents any expressiveness in the eyebrows, limiting an actors emotive range, so they had to do a lot of eyeball acting, dramatic rather than subtle, for there to be an effect on their whole face that gives that sense of emotion. And O'Reilly just goes all-in on it.

    I suppose I could also tie this back to the Season 1 predicament and eventual evolution of the Ferengi from a sort of vague, interesting threat into a more stock Fantasy archetypal race. While the Ferengi essentially are recast as Space Goblins, here, by this point by and large the Klingons are recast as Space Dwarves (sort of incorporating the overt "Space Viking" references). The Romulans meanwhile continue slowly evoking Dark Elves.

    It's not the most nuanced of scenarios, but it is a sort of common fictional language that can give a casual viewer an easy sense of a fictitious history for these cultures.

    The limiting thing about that, then, is that for Klingon episodes to be relevant in the future now that they've been recast as Space Dwarves, they'll almost by default have to feature in some sort of Epic Quest plot, and to take a page out of Tolkien again, that means Ancient Treasures or Bloody Revenge.


  2. Froborr
    May 29, 2015 @ 12:25 pm

    Oh Sela. So much potential as a character, and so utterly wasted! Poor Crosby seems to keep getting saddled with those, doesn't she?

    For me as a kid, watching these when they first came out, her reveal was the only cliffhanger as memorable, as conducive to a long summer of agonized speculation, as the "Best of Both Worlds" one.

    And now we're entering what I've always considered TNG's best season, season 5. Sure, there are some utterly terrible episodes, but there are always a few of those. Both the average quality of this season, and the heights, are so good though! "Darmok." "Disaster." "The First Duty." "The Inner Light." Anything involving Ensign Ro, whose arrival finally completes the crew. (And O'Brien's departure after this season means they never quite have a full crew again.)

    I'm really looking forward to seeing what you have to say about it!


  3. K. Jones
    May 29, 2015 @ 1:11 pm

    Call me an organizational nerd, but the thing I'm most looking forward to is learning whether or not Josh will be alternating between TNG and DSN episodes in production date order, come season 6. This more than anything haunts my dreams, including the prospect of 1:1 comparison between late-era Next Gen and early-era Deep Space episodes.


  4. Daru
    May 29, 2015 @ 8:57 pm

    "My favorite thing has to be Gowron's fatal wide-eyed reactions."

    My fave thing too!


  5. Spoilers Below
    June 1, 2015 @ 8:00 am

    If writing for Star Trek is anything like Michael Pillar makes it out to be, I can actually understand why Moore would characterize Worf being "the fun one", as opposed to the other characters.

    From Fade In: From Idea to Final Draft, The Writing of Star Trek: Insurrection:

    " It may surprise you to learn that when I took over as head writer, the entire writing staff of Star Trek: The Next Generation was so frustrated and angry with Gene Roddenberry they were counting the days before their contracts expired (and indeed every one of them left at season’s end.) He wouldn’t let them out of the box and they were suffocating.

    My first time in Roddenberry’s Box was during the very first episode I worked on as head writer. We were already in production of season three, four shows were finished, twenty-two still to do. There were no scripts and no stories to shoot the following week. Desperate, I bought a spec script that had been sent in from an amateur writer named Ron Moore who was about to enlist in the U.S. Navy. It was a rough teleplay called “The Bonding” and would require a lot of reworking but I liked the idea. A female Starfleet officer is killed in an accident and her child, overcome with grief, bonds with a holographic recreation of his mother rather than accept her death.

    I sent a short description of the story to Rick and Gene. Minutes later, I was called to an urgent meeting in Gene’s office. “This doesn’t work” he said. “In the Twenty-Fourth Century, no one grieves. Death is accepted as part of life.”

    As I shared the dilemma with the other staff writers, they took a bit of pleasure from my loss of virginity, all of them having already been badly bruised by rejections from Gene. Roddenberry was adamant that Twenty-Fourth Century man would evolve past the petty emotional turmoil that gets in the way of our happiness today. Well, as any writer will tell you, ‘emotional turmoil’, petty and otherwise, is at the core of any good drama. It creates conflict between characters. But Gene didn’t want conflict between our characters. “All the problems of mankind have been solved,” he said. “Earth is a paradise.”

    Now, go write drama."

    Pillar goes on to explain how the restrictions taught him to be a much better writer, and how he punched up Moore's script in a way that, depending on how you read it, is either completely faithful to Roddenberry's vision, or is just restating the original pitch with one new element (Aliens give the boy the hologram, the inability to accept death is an external temptation rather than an exploration of the negative side of the holodeck) to make Roddenberry happy. The eventual product, with Moore's beloved Worf as the one allowed to fully express grief and emotion at being an orphan and to eventually help the kid through, is a fantastic episode.

    By season 4, of course, Roddenberry's involvement has actively diminished, but the work culture didn't seem to have much changed. But it's almost certainly easier to argue that a Klingon doesn't see the world the way the rest of the cast does, and getting to write cultures like the Klingons and Romulans that are chockful of raw emotion and baleful thoughts, would be a relief sometimes. Worf and Picard's genuine and affecting exchanges, where both are in the right, and have very clear reasons for why they are doing what they are doing… Just wonderful work from both Dorn and Stewart. But that kind of conflict is hard to come up with on a deadline. Doesn't excuse it, but makes it somewhat more understandable.

    That said, dang is this a good set of episodes! It's one of the few times I remember seeing a culture of paranoid and cunning folks like the Romulans actually act like it, and feel as smart and dangerous as they're supposed to. I’m looking forward to your treatment of part 2.


  6. Josh Marsfelder
    June 1, 2015 @ 5:54 pm

    Fade In is such a lovely book. I haven't read it all the way through yet, but I'm going to for this project. I've got something special planned for it.

    Thanks so much for quoting from it.


  7. Daru
    June 2, 2015 @ 8:43 pm

    I remember being so excited about this cliffhanger as a teen, it blew me away then. Now thinking back to me last rewatch the whole thing was kind of less than it was back in the days for me. Gowron's eyes will always be my favourite thing though – that sounds like some great exclamation: "BY GOWRON'S EYES!"


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