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Sins of the Father
Can Worf win his life-or-death courtroom drama? It's almost as exciting as the fact we're going to see the Klingon home world!
We kick off with the ever-popular exposition dump in the corridor - and there’s a callback to an earlier episode, too: Riker's merry jaunt with the Klingons last season. There’s a lot of stress about how severe Klingon officers are, because guess whose coming over to the Enterprise-D...? Honestly, it feels like an insult to Worf that Picard doesn’t check in with him too about the incoming Klingon exchange officer - I mean, of all the people not to consult! But then it’s not like Worf is going to be left out of this episode…
At first, we’re just enjoying having a spare Klingon aboard, even if he is giving the crew an absurdly hard time - all except Worf, who is being driven insane by being treated so gently. It swiftly turns out he’s not just some random Klingon, he’s Worf’s younger brother. But wait, we’re just getting warmed up! Worf and Kurn’s deceased father is being denounced as a traitor in the Klingon High Council, so we’re off to the Klingon home world for a courtroom drama - and as if that wasn’t exciting enough, Worf will be executed if he loses.
Wait, did that suck all the uncertainty out of the plot? I mean, obviously we’re not losing Worf mid-season... Well, let’s look the other way and just enjoy the ride, shall we? Besides, however you want to look at it we get a heaping helping of Klingon culture, and who’s going to complain about that!
Sparring in the throne room, assassination attempts in shadowy corridors, lies and deceptions uncovered - Picard nearly stabbed with a Klingon dagger! This episode pulls out all the stops and doesn’t stop playing with us until the very last moment.
This episode marks a major transition to the show. Our two-parter with the Romulans has emboldened the production team, and also made it clear that while Roddenberry is still visiting the offices, Rick Berman really has been given the keys to the kingdom. Remember when the series bible told them not to use the same old races over and over again…? This episode, and the Romulan stories earlier this season, blatantly break this guideline, but no-one could deny that these stories make full use of all the most fun toys in the Trek toybox. More than that, we are no longer referring back to classic Trek when we need something to reference. This story picks up directly from “A Matter of Honor” (which I consider a prologue to the House of Mogh saga) and uses it to launch us into glorious storytelling.
Any why not? We have the Klingon make-up, the uniforms, a big emblem from “The Icarus Factor”, and that wonderfully staccato Klingon language standing by. Why not put it all to good use? Oddly, though, this episode started out as two different scripts that Michael Piller asked newcomer Ronald D. Moore to knock into shape. One had the ‘Worf's father is accused of treason’ plot, the other had Worf’s brother. Moore was tasked with merging them together, but he was new to the business so W. Reed Moran (who shares the writing credit) was brought on to support him. There turned out to be no need - Moran didn’t know Trek lore half as well as Moore, and after supporting the writing process up to the first draft, it was Moore’s baby from then on.
Moore fell for his own story completely:
I was in love with “Sins of the Father” and I fought for it when there was some question about which way we were going to go with it. I really like the fact Worf took it on the chin that episode. It said he was willing to stand up and do the right thing for his people, even if they weren't going to do the right thing by him.
Moore must have been on the phone to Marc Okrand, the creator of the Klingon language, all the time. The script has plenty of moments like this one:
PICARD (perfectly pronounced) jIlajneS. ghIj qet jaghmeyjaj. I accept.
Apparently, this moment was Patrick Stewart’s idea! Moore recalls:
Patrick and I were at the Saturn Awards together, and he made a really good suggestion. When Worf is asking Picard to be his Cha’DIch, Picard originally says a single Klingon word, but Patrick thought it would be nice if Picard knew the whole line of ritual. At that time there wasn't a formal ritual, and there wasn’t one for Kurn either, so I went back and wrote a line for him to say in Klingon and I tied it into Picard.
I find it fascinating that despite luxuriating in all these details of Klingon culture that Moore is basically making up as he goes, nobody has the nerve to name the Klingon home world or ‘the First City’! There must have been some appreciation of just how badly such a naming might go, although of course in a few years time the movies will take the plunge.
This is Moore's first time writing an entire episode since joining the show, and wow does it show his potential far more than his spec script, “The Bonding”. This is a class screenplay that sets us up for an equally classy episode.
“How long has this bird been dead...?”
Tony Todd is brilliantly cast as Kurn, and knocks it out of the park, whether playing for drama or for comedy. It’s not easy to bring in a new actor and declare them a relative - remember Riker’s father in “The Icarus Factor”...? It’s perhaps easier here as it’s a surprise - even Worf didn't know about Kurn - although I think it was no easier dealing with the casting of Worf’s human brother in a later season. Todd is frankly a joy to watch in just about everything, although perhaps best known as the titular Candyman in Bernard Rose’s adaptation of Clive Barker’s “The Forbidden”. Todd becomes a Trek regular at this point, not only reprising this role in DS9 but playing many other roles in that show and Voyager.
Charles Cooper is great as K’mpec, the Klingon Chancellor, a role he’ll reprise again next season. He played the delightfully washed-up Klingon general in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, so he must have been an easy choice to play the senior Klingon here.
Patrick Massett is solid as Duras, but perhaps overshadowed by Thelma Lee’s bit part role as Kahlest, which she makes immensely fun. She had a tiny role in John Carpenter’s brilliant “They Live”, as one of the invading aliens in an upmarket liquor store.
But this story is all about Michael Dorn’s Worf, and everyone’s here to support him all the way. Dorn laps up the material given him, and that final scene where he accepts discommendation is a heart-wrencher thanks to the great dynamic between Dorn and Todd. One of TNGs greatest closing scenes!
Models, Make-up, and Mattes
Wow, so much to love here! Even though there’s very few studio miniatures, we do get to enjoy a Klingon Bird-of-Prey in the opening shot. Especially magnificent is the masterpiece created in Sound Stage 16, which cannot believe its luck at not being Planet Hell this week.
The Klingon throne room, along with all the other Klingon sets this week, was imagined by the production designer Richard James and built by set decorator Jim Mees. Check out James’ concept art - even on paper it already looks fantastic!
James won an Emmy for Best Art Direction for his work on this episode, and justly so. Even the humble corridor set outstanding, with Patrick Massett looking wonderfully menacing lurking in its red glow.
There are times the script shoots a little higher than the production team are willing to go. Moore’s description of the Klingon home world…
The ship enters orbit. The planet has a single large land mass, and the world is dominated by a vast ocean. The tilt of the planet’s axis has created wild seasonal changes and the atmosphere should appear turbulent and showing extremes of both warm and frigid weather on the planet.
…turns into this:
We’ll see this again twice more, ironically including the other episode that features an introduction to one of Worf’s brothers.
But of course, the absolute star of the episode is the matte painting of the Klingon homeworld, painted by the legendary Syd Dutton.
It has all the work to do in this story, as this establishing shot is essential to showing us where we are, and as ever Dutton delivers. But it’s not just Dutton: everyone is on top form here, not only delivering a brilliant episode, but also setting us up for TNG’s first and arguably most enduring plot arc. The prologue is over: the House of Mogh drama has officially begun... although I’m afraid you have to wait until the next season to find out what happens next!
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