Written by Ronad D. Moore, James E. Brooks, Brannon Braga, and Rene Echevarria
Directed by Winrich Kolbe
The Klingons have so often spoken of the Emperor Kahless, a legendary figure whose mythic status probably was more embellishment than fact. However, they hold him in such high regard because of the legends surrounding him, he has become almost God-like among the Klingons.
When Worf (Michael Dorn), a Klingon serving on the Enterprise, fails to report for duty due to his involvement in a Klingon ritual, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) gives him leave to go on a spiritual quest to Boreth. There, a group of Klingons have a religious colony where they meditate and perform rituals while awaiting the return of the Emperor Kahless. As Worf performs his ritual again in the caves they inhabit, Kahless (portrayed by Kevin Conway) appears to him.
It’s not an apparition, however. It seems that the real Kahless has come back to reclaim his place as Emperor and leader of the Klingons. Not immediately convinced of the reality in front of him, Worf summons the Enterprise and Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) performs biological scans which seem to indicate he is Kahless. He seems to know the things he should know… Act the way he should act… Say the things he should say. It couldn’t be true… could it?
I’ll leave the actual resolution of this episode up in the air, but I’ll say that it is done well. (More on that in the spoiler below.) I thoroughly enjoyed this story the first time I saw it as well as since then when I’ve already known the outcome.
Much of that credit goes to the actors. Michael Dorn rarely does a wrong turn portraying Worf through both Star Trek: The Next Generation as well as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In this episode, he takes Worf on a spiritual journey. For him, it’s almost as if Jesus has reappeared to lead his people. Although the other Klingons in the temple seem to believe almost immediately, Worf shows a bit of a cautious nature at first, then believes, and then changes direction a third time at the resolution of the story. Dorn handles it all well and believably. It would be easy to fall out of character or have the emotions shift too quickly and seem false. This never happens here; Dorn portrays with just the right amount of skepticism and passion that each time it feels genuine and yet the change in direction doesn’t feel false.
Guest-starring as Kahless, Kevin Conway gives an excellent turn as a spiritual leader apparently back from the dead to lead his people. He exudes confidence in who he is and immediately gives off the aura of a true leader. That’s not easy for an actor walking into a new role totally unfamiliar to him, and Conway gives a performance in which he seems to be as convinced of his status as Emperor as Kahless should be.
Robert O’Reilly is back again as the Klingon leader, Gowron, who has and will appear many times throughout this series as well as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. His performance here is uneasy and it should be. He is afraid of Kahless and also skeptical. The two emotions seem to be contrary, but here O’Reilly pulls it off quite well. A good performance is also turned in by Alan Oppenheimer as the spiritual leader at the Klingon temple.
The episode focuses on Worf and the Klingons, and there’s really little for the rest of the crew of the Enterprise to do. That’s the one downside to this episode – it really feels completely detached from the rest of the show.
The other problem I had was that while I liked the ending, in some ways I thought it copped out on what could have been a great examination of what happens when a religious icon comes back. If someone came back tomorrow claiming to be Jesus, I doubt many on this planet would believe it, but if they did, what would happen? This story would have been a terrific one as it examined this, but the writers took it in a different direction. It’s one of the problems (among many) they had with Star Trek V: The Final Frontier where what could have been a great examination of religion ended in a cop-out. Thankfully, a lot of this is remedied in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
However, this is better than a lot of other episodes and quite entertaining. The Klingon race always seems to have good writing going for it and is one of the consistently well-portrayed races by guest stars as well. This is truly a “Worf” episode and if you’re looking to follow his story throughout both series, it’s an important one to see. If you’re looking for a good episode in which more than one crew member is really involved in the story, this isn’t it.
Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Suspicions
Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Second Chances