In the seventeenth episode of the sixth season of The Next Generation, Worf discovers the secret. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
This is a neat episode full of worldbuilding and character depth, but I think it actually suffers from focusing solely on Worf and the prison camp. The first half of “Birthright” was so much fun because it paralleled the journey between Worf and Data, but here, it’s all Worf all the time. Which I don’t have a problem with! I’m very satisfied with the fact that The Next Generation has so frequently utilized his character to give us so many fantastic stories. Ultimately, it’s not that I think anything is wrong with “Birthright, Part II.” It’s simply not as thrilling as the first half.
There is, however, a lot going on that’s worth talking about. This is not just about a clash of cultures, but a clash of world views. Worf comes from a world where the war is over, but Romulans are still amongst the most despicable and oppressive cultures in the galaxy. But at the prison camp? Life is so different for these people. For what it’s worth, Tokath truly did achieve a peace between Romulans and Klingons that exists nowhere else in the known universe. That’s an admirable accomplishment, especially when you consider how it all started.
But in this life there is a huge lie, and “Birthright” demonstrates how that lie is all-encompassing. There’s nothing wrong with the hybrid Klingon-Romulan life that has arisen here, nor is it fair for Worf to judge Gi’ral for being of mixed heritage. Yet what have the adults in this camp done to maintain their way of life? They lied about the reason they stayed in the camp; they lied about the war; and they lied about the state of Klingon affairs. What’s most offensive to Worf, though, is that the Klingon way of life has been hidden away, treated as an unknowable and immoral secret. To Worf, that’s cultural violence. Why should these Klingons ever be ashamed of where they came from?
I think the answer is complex, and that’s one reason why the Worf-centric plot does work. We get a chance to understand the choice the Khitomer survivors made twenty years earlier and how the present predicament challenges everything they created. Hell, while Tokath might even be an antagonistic force by the end of the episode, we even comprehend why he’s so invested in this elaborate fiction staying put. He thought he was doing the moral thing by refusing to kill the prisoners of war and giving them a chance to live. His mercy and kindness actually doomed those prisoners to dishonor. What was he supposed to do? Kill them or give them another option?
It’s that other option that gives us the serene life we see on this remote planet. It also helps us to know why Worf’s presence threatens everything. Just the mere act of teaching about the proper weapons Klingons use or the experience of the hunt contributes to the thread unraveling the entire enterprise. That knowledge eats away at those born within the camp because it tells them there is another way. You can survive on the outside. You can be a Klingon on the outside! I think that this ends up being a powerful metaphor for children growing up and learning that the world their parents crafted for them is not all there is to life.
So yes, there’s a bit of heartbreak along the way. I liked the chemistry between Gi’Ral and Worf, though I’m completely uninterested in single-episode romantic developments at this point. They’re just not entertaining to me anymore because the result is always the same: the Enterprise character has to leave them in the end. At the very least, people like Toq and Gi’ral can find happiness and adventure in the universe without ruining what their parents have built. I do think that “Birthright” peters out by the end of this story, but the ending is probably the best possible solution. The children get to leave home, but they swear to never reveal the secret of the camp. Which is fair! The Klingom custom of dishonor would ruin their lives if they acted otherwise. But it’s not exactly the most exciting end to this story. I think that because there’s so much time devoted to one story here, the episode progresses a lot slower than I expected it to. But it’s certainly not a bad story! I just think the first half of “Birthright” grabbed my attention more.
The video for “Birthright, Part II” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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