Season Five - TNG

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Ethics

Written by Ronald D. Moore, Sara B Cooper, and Stuart Charno
Directed by Chip Chalmers

While helping out Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) in one of the Enterprise‘s cargo bays, the Klingon Worf (Michael Dorn) is gravely injured. The accident shattered seven of the vertebrae in his back and leaves him unable to move his legs. Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) pronounces the injury irreparable.

Since Klingons usually are just allowed to die with such a critical injury, there is really no medical information available for his condition. Worf wants to die and asks Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) to help him. Meanwhile, Dr. Russell (portrayed by Caroline Kava), a neuro-geneticist, arrives on the Enterprise and begins reviewing his case.

Meanwhile, Riker is trying to sort out what to do. He is having difficulty with his feelings since he is looking at the situation from the perspective of a human rather than a Klingon. Ship’s Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) is counseling Worf’s son, Alexander (Brian Bonsall), and at the same time trying to help Worf come to grip with the situation and do what is in the best interest of his son.

Ethics works very well on a variety of levels. On one hand, it is a great character piece for Worf by having him be in this situation. Always one to pontificate on the subject of Klingon traditions, he now must examine what those traditions say in relation to real life. On another level, it works with both Commander Riker and Dr. Crusher having to examine their own human-based prejudices in expecting Worf to be able to just “deal with it” and “learn to accept it” when it comes to his serious injury.

In this area is perhaps the greatest surprise of the episode, as it is Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) who is arguing for Worf and for understanding him from a Klingon perspective, not a human one. It’s a good part for Stewart as his more understanding, less emotional side as Captain comes through. Perhaps from his time as the Klingon Arbiter of Succession back in the episodes Reunion, Redemption Part I and Redemption Part II, he has gained a greater knowledge of Klingons and a better acceptance of their values than much of the crew.

Finally, it works on the level of just how far should a doctor go to possibly save someone’s life. Dr. Russell offers up an experimental procedure to Worf. She then plays on Worf’s desperation to get him to agree to the genotronic procedure. The doctor is reckless – during the rescue of another ship, she uses an injured colonist as another test subject for one of her medical theories. When he dies, she still thinks the end justifies the means.

It’s interesting to see the debate between Dr. Crusher and Dr. Russell, as both believe they are doing what is best for Worf, and yet neither of them is correct. As Picard makes Crusher see, she is willing to give Worf a life with very little quality in the name of keeping him alive. While at the same time, Dr. Russell sees him as nothing more than a test subject.

During the episode, there is more building of the bond between Worf and Troi as he asks her to agree to raise Alexander should he not survive the procedure. It’s something that’s built on during the final years of the series, only to be abandoned once Worf joins Deep Space Nine.

The acting here is superb. All the actors involved manage to get their emotional conflicts across; the conflicts between what Worf wants and what they believe. Gates McFadden is given some great material to work with, and manages to rise to the occasion magnificently. Here she is more than just the doctor who comes and scans people and pronounces them well. For a change, she is given a real doctor’s role and does a fantastic job with it.

Michael Dorn has Worf evolve during the episode, and does it in such a subtle way that he keeps the character true to the conservative air fans expect from Worf. By the end of the episode, his relationship with his son has changed for the better, yet in such a way that it is not a drastic, unnatural change. Worf is very obviously growing into his role as father of the boy.

If there’s one problem with the episode, it’s the ending. This seems to be the problem with many of the recent episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, although this one does not suffer in that department as much as the previous two. One major complaint fans had with Star Trek: Voyager was that so many episodes would end where whatever problem and consequences encountered during the show was immediately erased as if it had never happened. This occurs here as well.

Since Worf appears on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, it’s no real spoiler to say he survives the procedure. However, by the end of the episode he is beginning to walk again, and is in perfect condition the next time he is seen on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Had there been an episode or two where he is walking with a cane (or something to that effect) it would have given this episode a bit more power behind it, rather than dismissing its events so quickly.

However, the Star Trek universe was not yet ready to be serialized, although this is one instance where it would have served it well. This episode is a fine character piece which raises interesting moral questions and allows viewers to search themselves for answers. It’s a great play on allowing various traditions and beliefs to exist without testing them against our own belief systems.


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