|I don’t know how you screw up a concept like “Klingon Ice Monastery”, but they do.|
You know, I think I’m just done listening to stories about Worf and Klingon heritage. Especially as told by Ron Moore.
Here’s another episode I vaguely remember liking that completely turned me off on the rewatch. It’s not one I have really fond memories of from back in the day-This was an episode I only caught once TNN started rerunning Star Trek: The Next Generation in the early 2000s. Consequently I’m not super broken up about having “Rightful Heir” fall flat for me as I don’t have any particularly potent nostalgia affixed to it and this season has been strong enough it can afford to give us a few duds at this point in the year….Even if we do seem to have, since “Suspicions” (and looking ahead to next week), crossed over into the Enterprise variant of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s month and a half long water-treading session.
None of you need to hear my reasons for being alienated by this episode. I most certainly do not need to go into my litany of disagreements with Ron Moore’s philosophy, writing style and approach to characterization again. My issues with “Rightful Heir” are the same ones I had with “Redemption”, only magnified to an even greater extent because I no longer have the time or patience to humour them. Worf is by now cripplingly overexposed as a character and has had way, way too many showcase episodes, even just this season alone. And the only reason he is so overexposed is because he’s the only character (on either show, frankly) that Moore actually enjoys writing for because he’s also the only character Moore knows how to write for. That’s a big problem for a showrunner, and an ever-present one.
(Moore isn’t the sole showrunner of The Next Generation by a longshot, but given Rick Berman and Michael Piller’s promotion to franchise overseers, the complex web of the producer/writer relationship and Jeri Taylor’s position, he definitely is one of them. He’s certainly the most senior staff writer by this point. This does not, however, make him the best.)
I mean should I even make an attempt to derive some erudition about the Klingons from their depiction in this episode? What more is there to say? It’s Moore-type Klingons. Ridiculous cartoon Viking/Dwarf stereotypes who like to eat, drink and stab in no particular order. Even the monks. Especially the monks. There’s a ghost of an interesting idea where the Kahless clone calls out the Klingons at the monastery for forgetting the reason why they fight and it almost seems like the story is going down a kind of jihad route by framing this in terms of a righteous struggle. And then it doesn’t, because of fucking course it doesn’t. I should have given up my hopes to see non-warrior caste and non-cartoon Klingons after the first season ended. Then there’s that business of Worf’s eagerness to believe the clone is the real Kahless contrasted with Gowron’s more grounded political and tactical savvy. Worf, as an outsider fundamentalist convert, would naturally be far more willing to accept such things than a “normal” Klingon. It’s still not my preferred reading of Worf, but what in the hell is apart from “Heart of Glory”?
And “Rightful Heir has problems apart from being yet another story about Klingon realpolitiking and yet another episode of The Chronicles of Worf’s Manpain too. “Rightful Heir” is supposedly a story about mysticism, spirituality and faith, but it’s a fundamentally banal story about mysticism, spirituality and faith because Ron Moore, at least at this stage of his career, is a fundamentally banal writer. It is proudly, self-indulgently, almost triumphantly Pop Christian, and like all such gloriously blinkered Pop Christian works it blithely assumes everyone’s experiences with spirituality map neatly onto the template gleaned from a particularly poor reading of Dante Aligheiri and Thomas Aquinas. Moore and the other staff writers admit they had trouble breaking this because they, as secular humanists, had the impression Star Trek as envisioned by Gene Roddenberry was fundamentally a secular humanist work and stories about spirituality were tough for them to crack. But then one wonders why they even bothered.
(Interestingly enough the writer we’d most expect to be staunchly in the secular humanism camp, self-proclaimed New Atheist arch rationalist Brannon Braga, has been responsible for the hands-down *most* mystical and baroque stories in the entire series.)
All it takes is a glance back at the immediately preceding episode to see how spectacularly out of touch the TNG writers are. While “Battle Lines” wasn’t anything uniquely special mysticism-wise when it comes to primetime US dramatic television, there was still a very explicit undercurrent there that touched on something a tad bit more universal than the “scrap Pop Christian cultural norms and assumptions incidentally picked up just by virtue of living in a Christian country” we got here. Kai Opaka’s (and Commander Sisko’s!) message of love, forgiveness and acceptance, and of tuning into your larger role in the universe, is a line of spiritual thought that can be applied to a myriad of different belief systems around the world. And that was completely intentional on Michael Piller’s part, who had admitted at the time he expressly wanted to see more mysticism in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, although he took it carefully and one step at a time. And Michael Piller actually does know what he’s talking about-He’d never admit it, and though it didn’t map onto any system of thought we’d recognise as such, but he was a deeply spiritual person in his own way. Remember, this was the guy who wrote “Emissary”.
Meanwhile, Deep Space Nine‘s sister show is proudly giving us Space Opera Viking Jesus.
Then there’s the teaser and opening act, which is just bald-facedly conflict-for-conflict’s sake bullshit thrown into barky and hackneyed military drama because ROTC man Ron Moore, following Gene Roddenberry, thinks any of that is actually interesting. Of course without that painful setup, the episode would likely have been about a half-hour shorter and even more boring. Literally anything else could have gone there instead of Worf morosely neglecting his duties. He could have talked to Deanna, you know, the person whose fucking job this is to sort out and the person Worf has a pre-existing relationship with. I mean I don’t actually think she even appears in the episode as is! Or why not use Guinan here instead of in “Suspicions”? Hell, Worf could have even gone straight to Riker or Picard with his problem. But of course, then Moore wouldn’t get to have his main man be a martyr for the Almighty Conflict at the hands of these horrid human squares in the Enterprise crew.