Birthright Part II: When a Pointed Stick Becomes a Gin’tak Spear

Marie Brownhill
Game Industry News is running the best blog posts from people writing about the game industry. Articles here may originally appear on Marie's blog, Fan Collective Unimatrix 47.

Where Birthright part I seems to get cultural relativism wrong, Birthright II attempts to right that particular wrong. While Worf does not find his father in the prison camp, he does find a Klingon community that has lost what it is to be Klingon, and in his quest to bring their culture back to them, he destroys the very community their parents have created.

Plot Ahoy!

Worf, having been captured and imprisoned in the camp, notices that the Klingon children in the camp have no concept of what it is to be Klingon, even catching Toq using a gin’tak spear as a gardening implement. Tokath, the Romulan warden, comes to him in his quarters and confesses that he has a Klingon wife and wants peace, so he offers Worf the opportunity to live in the camp peacefully. Predictably, he attempts to escape. He creates a bomb from scavenged parts and flees into the jungle, activating his homing beacon in the process. Toq recaptures Worf.

Upon returning to the camp, Tokath has a tracking device implanted under Worf’s skin. Momentarily stymied in his escape attempts, Worf wanders around the camp. Ba’el, the girl whose moonlit swim he interrupted at the end of the previous episode, shows him various Klingon implements, and he explains their significance. Gi’ral interrupts them, and Worf leaves. Later, after telling the Klingon youth the story of Kahless, Ba’el asks him if Kahless took a mate. Worf goes to kiss her, but when he brushes back her hair to discover pointed ears, she tells him that Tokath is her father, making Gi’ral Tokath’s Klingon wife. Worf is incensed, but Ba’el sides with her father.

Worf proposes a ritual hunt after engaging in a traditional pre-hunt-ritual demonstration of skill. He promises not to attempt to escape, and he does not. During the hunt, Toq finds himself shocked at the emotions he feels, but he embraces his Klingon heritage. He drops the kill at the high table and demands that it be cooked before breaking out into a Klingon victory chant that previously, he’d only heard as a lullaby. Tokath takes Worf aside to give him an ultimatum: join us or die. Worf chooses death, but when he stands before the firing squad, Toq jumps in front of him. Toq, dressed as a Klingon warrior, tells Tokath and the Elders that if they kill Worf, they will have to kill him and a great many other young people as well. Ba’el ultimately joins Toq and Worf, so Gi’ral has Tokath call off the execution. She proposes that they let those young people who wish to go do so.

Worf takes those who wish with him to the Enterprise, which has been searching for him, but he counsels them to honor the sacrifice their parents are making by letting them leave. Later, when Picard asks if he found what he sought, Worf tells him there was no camp, only the survivors of an old crash. Picard, knowingly, accepts Worf’s story at face value.

Half-Romulan Ba’el remains behind.

Analysis

What “Birthright part II” does really, really well is recognize the importance of story-telling to culture. It’s far from accidental, that Worf’s re-telling of the Kahless story serves as the driver for the younger Klingons’ awakening. Shockingly, the camp is awash with physical symbols of Klingon culture, but without context, they’re simply objects. Toq’s use of the gin’tak spear to…do something with plants, while apparently ridiculous, deeply offends Worf’s sensibilities precisely because Worf has a cultural context for the spear. Thus, a stick with a metal tip stops being a gardening tool and becomes a gin’tak spear. For Toq, it’s a stick with a metal tip, and Worf is a crazy person. Stories give those objects a cultural context, so passing on the story of Kahless, one of the seminal Klingon legends, unlocks a world of context these kids have never seen before. The Qa’vaks set up thus stops being a childish game and becomes a precursor to a significant life-event, and what had been a lullaby suddenly dusts off its weapons and becomes a victory chant.

The other issue about stories is that they can’t quite be killed. Tokath has lost the children from the moment Worf tells them about Kahless, and Tokath comes to recognize this problem far, far too late. TNG doesn’t really flesh out the Romulans beyond emphasizing a culture of mistrust and militarization. We won’t hear any Romulan legends until Picard, so in a certain sense, the Romulans here step into a colonizer role. However gentle a dictator Tokath might be, he remains a dictator, and though he is not entirely guilty of stripping their culture from them, he certainly facilitates it. His point that he’s created a world in which Klingons and Romulans can co-exist peacefully is a valid one, but Worf’s argument—that his success only exists because the Klingons in question aren’t allowed to be Klingons—is equally so.

Gi’ral, L’Kor, and their fellow Elders shoulder some of the blame for their children’s deracination. Having been so dishonored, they clearly feel that they fall outside of Klingon culture, so they’ve already lost their ties. In that situation, opting not to rip open old wounds makes a certain amount of sense. They therefore construct an entirely new story, but it’s not one that has the same power as the Kahless narrative and is in fact based largely on a lie. According to the episode, the story teaches nothing, so it cannot compete with Worf’s stories. I’m never certain that I quite accept that aspect of the episode because there’s a lot to learn about sacrifice in the narrative their parents offer them, but that’s where the episode chooses to go.

I also dislike how Ba’el gets treated. The episode starts to set her up as an interesting character—fierce enough both to chafe under Gi’ral’s guidance and to call Worf on his blatant racism. Then, her entire narrative becomes twisted up in the idea that her parentage renders her unsuitable for the universe at large, which I find uncomfortable. Similarly, I don’t particularly care for the way the episode avoids confronting the power imbalance between Gi’ral and Tokath. We’re clearly meant to accept that their relationship is a valid one, but at the same time, Gi’ral is a prisoner. Tokath is her jailer. There are issues inherent to such a union that deserve at least a mild mention.

Still, there’s a lot that makes the episode worth a watch.

Rating:

Four cups of Earl Grey Tea

Stray Thoughts From the Couch

  1. It bears some mention that as a Starfleet officer, Worf has a real duty to escape, so while there’s a great deal to be said for returning their culture to the young Klingons, there’s little doubt in my mind that Worf’s doing that as the best way to secure the means to escape.
  2. This is an Enterprise-light episode, and it honestly works well as one. Birthright part I deals with Data’s discovery, and this episode allows Worf to confront his own. He may not find his father, but he does find lost Klingons.
  3. I remain a bit disappointed that he didn’t find Mogh. I think watching Worf wrestle with secret dishonor would have made Worf a far more interesting character. TNG often struggled with how best to use Worf, and this would have been a good chance to undo some of that. I’m still convinced that DS9 Worf is best Worf.
  4. Did anyone else find themselves really confused how Toq could look at that spear and think he could till with it? It’s just…not a great tool for that job.

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