SHIPS

“Firstborn:” How to Avoid Awkward Klingon Cultural Rites and Classic Temporal Paradoxes

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.

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

To say that Worf’s relationship with Alexander is fraught would be a massive understatement. Upon inheriting custody from K’Ehleyr, he chucked the boy onto a transport back to his parents on Earth. He only really accepts responsibility for Alexander when his parents can’t handle their grandson’s rambunctious nature. What follows is mostly a masterclass in how not to parent as Worf tries too hard to mold his son into Worf’s image of a perfect Klingon. To be fair, the show doesn’t seem to know what to do with Alexander either. He’s either the focus of the episode or simply not present, with “Rascals” being the exception that proves the rule. In “Firstborn,” both the show and Worf find some sort of reconciliation with Alexander in what should be a satisfying way but really isn’t.

Plot Ahoy!

You know it’s going to be an Alexander episode when the story opens with Worf in some sort of hybrid Klingon regalia rehearsing an awkward speech about the necessity of becoming a warrior. Alexander bursts into their quarters with Eric hot on his heels. Eric proceeds to chuck a water balloon, intending to hit Alexander, but strikes Worf instead. Eric exits stage left with prejudice. Worf, frustrated, accuses Alexander of being distracted by foolishness and then attempts to force Alexander to light the candle that symbolizes his choice to become a Klingon warrior. Naturally, Alexander refuses and flees.

Later, in the ship’s conference room, Captain Picard notices that Worf is distracted and asks him why. Worf admits that he’s distressed over Alexander’s decision, so Picard, purveyor of all good parenting advice, recommends that Worf take him to a Klingon outpost to celebrate the Kot’baval festival. Worf agrees. When they arrive, the festival is in full swing, and Worf wanders out to try his hand at defeating Molor during a ritualized reenactment of the great battle between Molor and Kahless. Playing along, Worf allows Molor to defeat him, but Alexander rushes out to rescue his father, wounding the actor playing Molor in the process. “Molor” brushes it off and heads into his final battle with Kahless. Worf and Alexander enjoy the festival until dark, when Alexander wants his father to give him money so that he can pay a man to show him the mummified “head of Molor.” Worf refuses, and during this family squabble, three Klingons attack Worf. Another Klingon shoots one of the brigands, and Worf dispatches the other two. The stranger identifies himself as K’mtar, the gin’tak of the House of Mogh, sent by Kurn to prevent Worf’s assassination by the Duras sisters. When Worf returns to the Enterprise with Alexander and K’mtar in tow, Riker wants more information. In lieu of providing a real answer, K’mtar produces a d’k tahg dagger emblazoned with the crest of House Duras. Riker then sets off after the Duras sisters while K’mtar starts trying to force Klingon warriorhood down Alexander’s throat.

Initially, Worf goes along with this, and K’mtar pushes Worf to send Alexander to the Ogat school, where he will learn to be a warrior. Worf refuses, and K’mtar threatens to invoke ya’nora kor, enabling him to remove Alexander from Worf’s custody on the basis of Worf’s lack of fitness as a parent. The threat infuriates Worf, and K’mtar storms off to go harass Alexander some more. After a disastrous attempt to teach the boy the “true” meaning of the Kahless/Morath story, Alexander leaves K’mtar in Worf’s quarters huffily.

Meanwhile, Riker’s attempts to track down the Duras sisters bears fruit. He calls in a favor from Quark who sends the Enterprise to the Kalla system where they find the remains of an illegal mining operations. They rescue the stranded Dopterian, Gorta, who in turn trades information for rescue. Based on his information, the Enterprise heads to the Ufandi system. Once there, they encounter a Yridian trader with a suspiciously small amount of magnesite ore in his hold. Riker bargains for the magnesite and detonates it. The blast reveals a Klingon Bird of Prey, which happens to belong to Lursa and B’Etor. The sisters beam over to discuss the failed assassination attempt, so Riker shows them the dagger. The sisters react with near fury, pointing out that the dagger contains a symbol for Lursa’s son, which is impossible considering she has only just found out that she’s pregnant. Worf heads out to find K’mtar and confront him about the dagger’s origin.

He doesn’t have to go far. K’mtar is in Worf’s quarters aiming a pistol at a sleeping Alexander. Worf grabs K’mtar, and K’mtar confesses that he is in reality Alexander who has traveled back in time to save his father’s life. However, rather than going to a more relevant time period, he came back to force this version of himself to become a warrior. In his timeline, Alexander became a diplomat and sought peace among the Houses. Worf warned him against it, and one of the other Houses killed Worf in retaliation. Worf tells him he shouldn’t blame himself and that his return will change Worf more than it will himself.

Later, Worf finds the younger Alexander in the holodeck, preparing to train with the bat’leth. Worf tells him that there will be plenty of time to train and leads him out of the holodeck to go do something else, presumably.

Analysis

As far as plans go, Alexander’s grand plan to get his father to send his younger self to Klingon military school is a pretty terrible one. It rests entirely on his ability to convince a thirteen-year-old boy to do something he has no desire to do, and anyone who has ever interacted with a new teenage will tell you that’s a monumental undertaking. Sure, K’mtar has the benefit of actually being the thirteen-year-old in question. However, the experiential gulf between K’mtar and Alexander renders K’mtar’s understanding of his younger self imperfect enough that he only succeeds in solidifying Alexander’s resolve not to become a warrior. He also brings along a d’k tahg contemporary to himself to use to implicate the Duras sisters, which seems like an obvious oversight, even taking into account his belief that the Enterprise crew would never find Lursa and B’Etor. He almost gets away with it because apparently no one on the Enterprise bothered to look closely at the dagger, but that pesky Riker managed to track down the sisters, blowing his plan out of the water.

Even K’mtar’s fallback plan—murdering his younger self—seems counterproductive. Worf’s intervention certainly prevents not only Alexander’s death but also allows the show to sidestep having to answer one of the classic temporal paradoxes. If K’mtar had managed to kill Alexander, then Alexander would never have grown up to be K’mtar. There would therefore be no K’mtar to go back in time and kill Alexander, unless you subscribe to the theory that K’mtar’s act would split the Trek universe into separate universes. A certain director subscribed to that idea.

Despite the utter idiocy of K’mtar’s plan, James Sloyan gives a fantastic performance. Sloyan’s K’mtar ramps up his panic over the course of the episode in entirely subtle and believable ways, so as a viewer, you’re fully prepared to accept that K’mtar’s level of commitment extends to murder. K’mtar’s anguish as he describes his mother’s last moments is palpable, but more importantly, it connects K’mtar’s insane attempt to honoring K’Ehleyr as well as Worf. K’Ehleyr’s last act was to connect Worf and Alexander physically, so for K’mtar, saving his father is a continuation of that. Whether the writers made that choice intentionally or not, that moment stands out as a bright spot in an otherwise relatively disappointing episode. Without Sloyan’s performance to carry it, I don’t know that it would have been as effective.

There’s plenty of emotional meat in “Firstborn,” but strangely, the episode tends to skirt around it. “Firstborn” presents itself as a Worf story, the story of Worf struggling to teach Alexander how to be a Klingon despite living among humans. The episode wants us to see Worf as a good dad, but he isn’t. During K’mtar’s simulation, Alexander pauses, unable to bring himself to stab the hologram to death. K’mtar crawls all over the boy for failing to make the kill, and the camera angles only emphasize just how small Brian Bonsall is when compared to Sloyan and the actor chosen to be the generic Klingon Warrior. Alexander stares at K’mtar with horror when K’mtar explodes at him, and as viewers, we’re somewhat horrified at the idea that these adult men want him to stab another person to death at thirteen. This would have been a fantastic moment for Worf to begin inching toward the epiphany the episode really wants to sell us, but he doesn’t. He rounds on his son and wants to know why he didn’t go for the kill. The scene really demonstrates just how wide the divide actually is between Alexander and his father’s vision of his Klingon heritage.

The other problem with “Firstborn” is that Alexander is less a character and more a set piece despite being the other side of the emotional conflict in the episode. “Firstborn” should be as much Alexander’s story as it is Worf’s because Alexander is just as caught between Klingon and Human cultures as is his father. We get a brief look at what that’s like for Alexander when he turns on K’mtar, but mostly that scene serves as a driver for K’mtar, not Alexander the child. “Firstborn” could have been a great opportunity to explore what life is like in a bi-cultural household, and we don’t get that. We get an episode trying to apologize for Worf’s bad parenting and promising that he’ll be better at it in the future. Unfortunately, based on Alexander’s appearances in DS9, those are empty promises.

Rating:

Three cups of Earl Grey Tea

Stray Thoughts From the Couch:

  1. I love the idea that Worf wants to teach Alexander how to be a Klingon. Worf isn’t that good at it himself. He wears his Klingon heritage over his Starfleet uniform in almost every shot he occupies in TNG which is a visual reminder that beneath the trappings, Worf is Starfleet and more human than he is Klingon, culturally speaking. That tension drives Worf to try and be more Klingon than the other Klingons, and I wish the show had touched on that.
  2. Does anyone else wonder why Worf has a Klingon dagger light fixture? Is it a weapon he just stuck on the wall under a spotlight? Who knows? It’s not great set design.
  3. Apparently Riker is a better Dabo player than he is a negotiator. 12 bars of latinum seems an awfully steep price to pay for gossip, but I love the interplay between Riker and Quark. Gorta is something of a throwaway character, but Colin Mitchell absolutely steals the scene.
  4. I’ve always wondered if Lursa gave birth before she dies in Generations. Her Memory Alpha entry lists the child as being “status unknown,” which is kind of chilling.
  5. James Sloyan is a familiar face; “Firstborn” is his third Star Trek appearance after “The Defector” and his recurring role as Mora Pol on DS9. He will go on to play the eponymous Jetrel on Voyager.
  6. This is Brian Bonsall’s last appearance as Alexander Rozhenko. Marc Worden steps into the makeup in DS9.

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