Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"The Emissary"

**1/2

Air date: 6/29/1989
Teleplay by Richard Manning & Hans Beimler
Story by Thomas H. Calder
Directed by Cliff Bole

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Starfleet sends the Enterprise on an urgent mission to rendezvous with a special emissary with crucial information, and it turns out the emissary is the half-human, half-Klingon woman K'Ehleyr (Suzie Plakson, appropriately tall and formidable, but also personable), who was involved in some mysterious way with Worf six years earlier. Worf is not pleased to see her.

I gotta say: I wanted to like this episode — with its Worf character development, Klingon angst that turns to Klingon sex, and, of course, Suzie Plakson — but ultimately it just doesn't work. K'Ehleyr briefs the Enterprise staff on the situation: A Klingon ship whose crew has been in stasis for the past century (and thus still thinks the Klingons are at war with the Federation) is about to awaken, and the Enterprise may be the only ship close enough to stop them before they unleash a fury of terror on nearby Federation colonies. I find this plot just a little bit ludicrous. The Klingons of the old era are seen as not merely aggressive, but also apparently as mindless drones — and besides, where would the honor be in destroying colonies with minimal defenses?

More interesting is the backstory that surrounds Worf and K'Ehleyr; they had an unconsummated relationship six years ago, and they haven't spoken since the relationship ended. This episode establishes Worf's attitude on relationships, which is that they must be taken seriously — as seriously as, say, a heart attack. K'Ehleyr, unlike Worf, has an outward sense of humor, but pursuant to all Trekkian characters who are trapped between cultures, she struggles with her Klingon temper. Unfortunately, the Worf/K'Ehleyr bickering is not performed well enough to transcend cliche.

The high point of the episode comes when K'Ehleyr uses Worf's holodeck exercise program and Worf joins her in a battle that turns to (apparent) heated sex. I guess one of my problems with the episode is that the sex and its aftereffects are kept so far off the screen that it's something of a letdown. The episode tiptoes around the word "sex" so carefully that it doesn't seem like the characters actually had it. Worf's attitudes on sex are the same as everything else — he takes it as a deadly serious enterprise that must end in marriage (which K'Ehleyr doesn't want) and doesn't seem to know what fun is. You've got to admire his personal code.

Worf also gets his "first command" in a scene of trickery that persuades the Klingon ship to stand down. Unfortunately, like a lot of the episode, the concept is better than the execution, which feels forced.

Previous episode: Manhunt
Next episode: Peak Performance

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7 comments on this review

Jay - Sun, Dec 26, 2010 - 11:25am (USA Central)
In The Emissary, How did that probe go Warp 9? Where is the engine, and how could a lifeform be that close to it and survive? Outrageous...
Paul C - Wed, Sep 21, 2011 - 7:05pm (USA Central)
In the Emissary the probe has been in space. Touching it with your bare hands is not advisable! Would have thought it was a bit cold?
xaaos - Thu, Nov 22, 2012 - 7:53am (USA Central)
Why did Starfleet send the probe? Couldn't they just simply send all the vital information of the mission to Captain Picard via... email?
William B - Tue, Apr 2, 2013 - 6:50pm (USA Central)
I agree that the Klingons' total unwillingness to listen to any kind of reason strains credulity. That said, I think it works within the context of the episode, which at its most fundamental is about Worf's "Iceman" (--Riker) persona and stubbornness. Worf has a personal code of honour which is so rigid that he will not bend or permit humour or bluff or any of those things, right now in his life. Worf's attitude toward sex as automatically entailing mating for life is one of those Klingon codes that we suspect actual Klingons don't actually take seriously -- the Klingon women on the Pagh were considering having casual sex with Riker, for instance, which may or may not have been a joke but at least was on the table as a joking matter; Worf is attached to Traditional notions of honour which are not only viewed as antiquated by humans and K'Ehleyr, but (though this episode doesn't state this) even by other Klingons. The 23rd century Klingons are meant to reflect this trait of Worf's to the extreme -- their dedication to old values at the expense of reason keeps them out of step with the "modern" world, in which Klingons are not only allied with the Federation but are closer to adopting Federation (human) values.

The story of Klingons in most of TNG and DS9, with Worf as the most significant character (B'Elanna has a much different story on Voyager), is about whether it's possible to integrate Klingon values of honour-through-combat, chivalry, and deep passions and violence, into a "modern" world in which those values are not only no longer necessary but largely counterproductive. Violence no longer *should* be the solution to conflict resolution; notions of honour can sometimes lead to inflexibility. On the other hand, Worf in particular and Klingons in general have passion, courage, bravery and integrity that are useful traits which should not be discarded; and these traditions help them deal with their *powerful* emotions such as anger which otherwise become impossible to direct properly (leading to broken glass tables). I think that if anything, this is "about" how we, as 20th-21st century viewers, should integrate old traditions into our modern culture, in which we (mostly) value peace, diversity and liberalism but are somewhat alienated from our past and we lack clearer, universally accepted values. Worf and K'Ehleyr are two characters trapped between two worlds -- Worf hangs onto the tradition especially strongly because he is surrounded by those who do not hold it; K'Ehleyr largely tries to avoid her Klingon side but still has ties to her. I think the two are partly attracted to each other because the other offers something they lack -- for all Worf's seriousness he wants some of K'Ehleyr's levity, and vice versa.

As a result, for Worf to come up with a way to "trick" the Klingons into recognizing the Klingon/Federation alliance represents a form of creative thinking that helps get *Worf* out of his own rigidity, which is what allows for the reconciliation between him and K'Ehleyr at the episode's end.

I don't mind that the 1989 writing bounces around the sex word too much; it was clear enough to me. I think Worf and K'Ehleyr have great chemistry and the episode gets to the heart of who Worf is in lots of interesting ways. The implausibility of the Klingon ship is still a problem, but not a big one for me because it reads as thematically on point. On the low end of 3.5 stars for me.
Rikko - Fri, Apr 12, 2013 - 11:31am (USA Central)
Actually, I liked this one A LOT more than Jammer.

Maybe it's the context of the episode, and I don't mean the story within "The Emissary", but the episodes that preceded it. After 3 long hours of "We're far from home", crazy sex-driven Lwaxanas and lame irish stereotypes I was ready to embrace any resemblance of a good story. And this was the ok story I was looking for: Character development and a brand new interesting Klingon.

What's not to like? The execution was a bit cliched and bad, yes, but they were aiming for something that could change the way you looked at Worf forever. That's a lot more fun than the menopause issues of the Trois.

The only part I could do without is the "Klingon lost in time" story. As soon as they woke up, they should have contacted the Empire for feedback and that's it, problem solved.

@ William B: Just another thoughtful analysis of yours :) I'm starting to like reading your comments, I never gave so much thought to early episodes, so it's cool to read stuff that sometimes makes more sense than the actual episodes we're discussing, hah.

William B - Fri, Apr 12, 2013 - 4:38pm (USA Central)
@Rikko, thanks! I enjoy your take on this episode too. (I forget whether there was some reason established that the Klingons couldn't receive messages from the Klingon High Command -- but I think there may have been. They might also believe it to be a trick, thouse paranoid Klingons.)
SkepticalMI - Mon, Sep 30, 2013 - 7:23pm (USA Central)
I too believe that this is a better episode than Jammer gives it credit for. I tend to be a sucker for Klingon episodes (I must be Ron Moore's favorite fan), but really, this isn't even much of a Klingon episode. It's a Worf episode through and through.

Very often, Worf is the token "bad guy". Not bad, per se, but he exists for the sole purpose of giving the barbaric hostile suggestions and being shot down by the enlightened Picard. There's a whole Youtube compilation of it if you don't believe me. So it's great to actually see his side of the story for once. He's not just the angry, susicious Klingon. He is someone with deeply held beliefs, proud of his deeply held beliefs, and surrounded by people who do not agree with (or, quite possibly, openly condescend about) his beliefs. No wonder he's so reserved, so repressed, and always uncomfortable with himself.

Or maybe this was the episode that gave him that characterization, I don't know. Either way, it worked in this episode. The, uh, pillow talk scene was a particular favorite of mine. I find Jammer's dismissal of Worf as being simply overly serious to be wrong. Is it just being too serious to believe that strongly in your culture and your honor? Is it really too serious to want to marry someone you love? Because frankly, that's what it comes down to. Worf wants to formalize and honor his relationship with K'Ehleyr and to pledge his commitment to her, while K'Ehleyr simply wants a good time with no thought or care to what Worf wants. While that may be a bit dismissive of K'Ehleyr's side of the story (and indeed, it's not exactly fair to declare marriage before discussing it with your girlfriend...), that is Worf's side. And when it's put that way, it's hard to dismiss his feelings as just him being overly serious.

People also have a tendency to dismiss TNG as too perfect, that nobody ever disagrees with one another, but clearly this is not the case here. It would be quite the cliche to have Worf and K'Ehleyr abandon their worldviews for true love. It's clear they both care deeply for each other. But at the same time, I applaud the writers (particularly on Worf's side, since he'd representing traditional values and is thus the easy punching bag for Hollywood) for letting the characters stay true to themselves. It really does make sense, and it represents Worf's full understanding of himself. He knew, particularly after his failed oath, that he and K'Ehleyr really could not be together. And he was fully prepared to let it go, even if it hurt him. That shows a true maturity of the character.

One interesting irony that I noticed. When it comes to the romantic subplot, Worf is shown as the inflexible one, unwilling to compromise. But when it came to the sleeper ship subplot, it was K'Ehleyr who was the irrational, illogical one who just wanted to fight. Again, not a cliche. It shows that Worf is not just being inflexible for inflexibility's sake, but that he had a reason to be the way he was with K'Ehleyr. He can be open-minded when need be.

So yes, I think this was a great character-driven episode. While the sleeper cell subplot may not have been completely airtight, it was done well enough. They sealed up some plot holes easily enough (Klingon ship would be a few days late, new Federation colonies in the area that could not defend themselves), which is good enough that the rest of them can be explained away. Maybe the crew was ordered to have radio silence, and thus would ignore any orders coming from Klingon High Command. Maybe Starfleet thought K'Ehleyr's presence would be an absolute necessity, hence why she was shot there in a probe (a cool scene, by the way). In any case, the problem was set up reasonably well enough, and it was solved in a clever matter. And dealing with the problem only highlighted and supported the character driven aspects of the show. All told, well done.

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