At the Brink

Redemption: On the Persistence of Bias

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.

In “Reunion,” which I did not cover, the Klingons asked Picard to serve as the Arbiter of Succession after the murder of K’mpec, the previous Chancellor. I recommend that you give that episode a watch, especially as it serves as the introduction of Alexander and sets in motion the story elements for “Redemption I and II,” which I’ll treat as a single episode for purposes of this blog. The most important parts are, of course, that Worf kills Duras, leaving Gowron as the remaining challenger for Chancellor. Now, some nineteen episodes later, the Klingons summon Picard to install Gowron as Chancellor, and Picard obligingly heads the ship in that direction. While en route, he advises Worf that Worf should address the grave injustice done to him during the events of “Sins of the Father,” and Worf, initially reluctant to do so, finally decides to ask Gowron to restore the honor of the House of Mogh. Meanwhile, Picard goes to Qo’noS and prepares to drape Gowron with the Chancellor’s ceremonial coat only for the Duras sisters to shock everyone by introducing Duras’s illegitimate son Toral as his heir and therefore a contender for the fancy jacket.

Picard ultimately declares Gowron the Chancellor, resulting in a civil war. Worf forces his brother Kurn to support Gowron as a bargaining chip for his honor, but the war initially goes badly for Team Gowron because the Romulans happen to be backing Team Duras. Picard, suspicious as to how easily the Duras family seems to be trouncing Gowron’s forces, argues that in light of their previous connections with the Romulans, the Federation should interfere. While the admiralty doesn’t grant him leeway to engage Klingons, they do allow him to set up a blockade on the Klingon/Romulan border, and the Romulans, under Commander Sela, obligingly object. Then, being Romulans, they try to sneak through the blockade, only for Data to uncover the attempt. The Romulans abandon the Duras sisters to Gowron’s mercies, and the sisters flee, leaving the young Toral to handle the consequences of their grab for power. Gowron secures his position as Chancellor; Worf gets his family honor restored, and everyone heads back to their respective territories.

“Redemption” is not one of my favorite two-parters. Sure, the episodes allow Worf to demonstrate his political acumen, and Data finally gets the opportunity to command a starship. However, as with “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” Denise Crosby’s character serves as the weakest link in the story. I did not understand why the show-runners thought bringing her back (again) was necessary when the episodes aired, and thirty years later, I remain perplexed. According to Memory Alpha, Crosby herself lobbied for a return to the show, having enjoyed her brief appearance in “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” and for some reason, the show-runners agreed. Crosby suggested that Yar have a daughter who would be raised by Romulans (read wolves) and who would actually attempt to be Romulan, and this idea gets tweaked into Sela, a half Romulan commander. While her appearance at the end of “Redemption I,” makes for a great reveal, the nonsense story of her birth gets throwaway treatment in “Redemption II,” and frankly, there’s enough meat in “Redemption II” that I can understand why. Sela just isn’t necessary for anything other than giving Guinan the opportunity to point out that the Klingon Civil War is ultimately Picard’s fault as he sent Yar back on the Enterprise C way back in “Yesterday’s Enterprise.” Any other Romulan could have served in that role, but we get Sela.

Data’s turn as commanding officer on the USS Sutherland is simply a much more interesting subplot. Data’s willingness to fight his captain for the opportunity is something we haven’t really seen before. We know already that Data is frighteningly efficient and possibly able to counter anything that Starfleet’s finest can throw at him (“Brothers”), so command seems to be a logical step. It should have been, but Picard initially does not consider him a viable candidate. Data hits the nail on the head when he wonders if Picard does not consider an android command material. With a wince, Picard gives him the Sutherland precisely because Data hits the nail on the head. Once aboard, Data finds himself wrangling Chris Hobson. If Picard’s bias necessitates a wince, then Hobson’s outright and unrepentant prejudice is just plain cringe-worthy. Data almost slips into a real anger, and I do think Spiner played these scenes with too much emotion than Data should have displayed, but “Redemption II” makes its point about prejudice with the ham-fistedness that often dogs TNG’s moral lessons.

If we consider how Data is coded, intentionally or not, his arc in “Redemption II” becomes still more nuanced. Data is profoundly literal, often missing the meaning of figurative expressions. He does not process the world or experience the way the rest of the crew does, and more importantly, Data knows that his difference renders interactions with the rest of the crew more difficult. There’s ample reason to read Data as being neurodivergent, and therefore, Picard’s bias should be contextualized as being an unconscious bias for neurotypical individuals over Data. Data calls him out on it, and I’d argue that Data can do so precisely because he is neurodivergent. He skips right past any awkwardness and forthrightly makes his case to Picard and forces Picard to wrestle with his bias.

This brings us lastly to Worf, the primary protagonist in this story. Undeniably, the episodes give Michael Dorn far more and better material for his character than he had in previous seasons; I would argue that Worf really comes into his own in Season Four. Between “Reunion” and these two episodes, Worf’s emotional depth runs the gamut from grief and rage to fish-out-of-water awkwardness to say nothing of the story ramifications that these episodes have with respect to Gowron and the Klingon Empire. However, upon re-watch, what stood out to me most was a particular moment in “Redemption I” in which Captain Picard criticizes Worf for using Federation resources to prove Duras’ family ties to the Romulans, a quest on which Picard sent him, while in the next breath commenting that he understands how conflicted Worf might be because he also feels caught between his duty to the Klingons and his duty to the Federation.

As with Data in “Redemption II,” Picard gets it wrong here. While I certainly understand what the intent behind this exchange is, the optics of it make me uncomfortable. Worf has a very real, emotional investment in how all of this plays out; he has spent his tenure aboard the Enterprise as an outsider, relegated to Other status by the Klingon heritage he so desperately tries to maintain. However, due to the events in “Sins of the Father,” he cannot move within true Klingon society, and moreover, as we’ll see in “Redemption II,” Worf has become too accustomed to Federation mores to be truly Klingon. Regardless, Worf must find a way to marry the two elements of his identity together, and he believes that regaining his family honor will help him to do just that.

I don’t want to make light of Picard’s concerns regarding what a Klingon civil war would mean, but however torn between ideals Picard feels, his dilemma is nowhere near as deeply, personally significant as Worf’s is. Picard, regardless of what happens with the Empire, gets to return to a culture in which he will never experience the Othering that Worf has and will continue to do; equating his conflict of duty with Worf’s conflict of self constitutes both a lack of awareness of his own privilege and an expression of same. I mentioned optics above, and I cannot ignore that Picard, a white man, takes the opportunity to tell Worf, a person of color, about how conflicted he feels without really listening to Worf’s dilemma. Picard takes Worf’s conflict and in turn occupies the figurative space that should be Worf’s. Worf, unlike Data, does not press the issue, and the episode seems to imply that the two conflicts are commensurate. While “Redemption I” does not reach the level of “Code of Honor,” the scene reveals a casual bias that persists throughout the series run.

Rating: Two Cups of Earl Grey Tea and a lemon

Stray Thoughts From the Couch:

  1. The blockade concept is stupid. Picard’s contribution to the Klingon Civil War makes absolutely no sense considering that the blockade attempts to restrict Romulan movement in space. Sela could simply go around the Federation “net,” but she doesn’t because plot.
  2. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Robert O’Reilly perform with J.G. Hertzler as Gowron and Martok. It’s a fun show at conventions, and I certainly want to give a shoutout to a fellow parent of multiples.
  3. I find it strange that Picard is so invested in Worf’s family honor that he mentions it in his opening log entry and then somehow fails to realize to what lengths Worf will go to achieve his goal.
  4. Does anyone else wonder what Worf’s plan for Alexander would be when he resigns from Starfleet? Alexander may be with Worf’s adoptive parents, but surely Worf realizes that he could end up dead during the conflict. Shouldn’t he make provisions for his son? Granted, Alexander doesn’t actually get to be a person until Lwaxana Troi decides he is, but still.
  5. Poor Toral. Just, poor Toral. Though, it’s disturbing that the Klingons still care about legitimacy.

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