Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Loud as a Whisper"


Air date: 1/9/1989
Written by Jacqueline Zambrano
Directed by Larry Shaw

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The Enterprise is assigned to transport renowned mediator Riva (Howie Seago) to a war-torn planet so he can broker a peace between two warring factions trying to overcome 15 centuries of bitter conflict. Riva turns out to be deaf, and he communicates through a "chorus" of three telepaths who speak for him, each one representing a specific facet of his personality.

This is an episode that seems like it was sold on a promising concept that ultimately no one could build enough of a story for. The early scenes set up the story in what by now comes across as formula TNG: lots of exposition, some of it interesting, some of it not, all of it taking up screen time in a very slow-moving story. Then we get back to the Enterprise where we have to sit through another round of introductions to the crew. Given that Riva is so well-known, I don't understand why everyone is surprised to find out he's deaf. (Maybe because if they already knew, the story would have no excuse for its exposition.)

Riva is very confident in his abilities to broker a peace agreement. So confident, indeed, that when a member of one faction tries to sabotage the talks by killing Riva's chorus, Riva's confidence is shattered almost beyond repair. We then get a series of scenes (too many, in my opinion) where the Enterprise crew tries to coax Riva back to the peace process he's supposed to be brokering. Only Counselor Troi is able to get through to him, in part because of their previous romantic overtures.

I'm sorry, but the solution just doesn't work. Riva's argument is that starting from zero and teaching sign language to both sides will become the common ground that will allow the communication and negotiations to flourish. Call me cynical, but I find it more likely that someone's going to pull out a gun and shoot up the place out of sheer frustration during such an arduous process. If these people have been fighting for 15 centuries (shouldn't they all be dead by now?), how is Riva and his simplistic solution honestly going to make a dent? I'm all for TNG optimism, but this is pushing it.

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13 comments on this review

DPC - Sat, Dec 8, 2012 - 9:05pm (USA Central)
It's a daring episode, and it's also an influence for the to-be sitcom "Herman's Head" that would be created some 4 years later...

Some conflicts on Earth have lasted decades or longer as well - nobody's managed genocide quite yet...

I do agree; Riva's solution is too simple... But the overall concept was novel and innovative for sci-fi, right down to the name of Riva's trio, that of "Chorus" (which could have had been influenced by Greek myths)...

Yeah, it could have been better... 2/4 stars is definitely a good rating, but something about the story hits not the wrong spot for me as well...
Jay - Wed, Dec 12, 2012 - 4:14pm (USA Central)
It was hilarious that one energy blast vaporized three people, as if they were fused together. And they all reacted in complete unison.
Rikko - Wed, Dec 19, 2012 - 7:00pm (USA Central)
At this point, TNG was still "Bad Season 1" when it dared to introduce unorthodox ideas, that means that no matter how good the initial concept was, they couldn't pull it off.

"Loud as a Whisper" was just boring and featured a lot of Troi counselling, which is never a good thing, imo.

But the worse is the ending, as Jammer said. It is totally bananas and unrealistic. "Let's all learn sign language. Future world peace. The End."

@ Jay: They were so tuned with Riva that they became one :P

ChrisM - Tue, Jan 1, 2013 - 7:11am (USA Central)
One thing which really annoyed me about this episode, and it has been a recurring theme as I make my way through Seasons 1 and 2 on Blu-ray - the use of Counsellor Troi and her empathic abilities.

In this episode, she practically humiliates Worf in front of Picard and Riker in the transporter room by openly confronting him about his strong discomfort towards Riva. It just strikes me as completely inappropriate for Troi to be describing people's feelings in front of other people. For one, why would anyone trust her as a confidential and non-judgemental therapist if she's willing to disclose people's emotions whenever she sees fit?

Secondly, it opens up a bit of a can of worms in terms of her role on the ship. We know that the Doctor can relieve the Captain if she feels that he or she is not fit for duty. But the way Troi has confronted Picard in the past about the feelings she has sensed in him makes it seem as if she also has a similar responsibility. Fair enough if she detected feelings of utter despair or loss in a crew member, that might indicate suicidal ideation or trauma, but to question Worf on a personal dislike of someone was very nosy and unprofessional.

Picard's comments in "The Drumhead", about reconsidering the use of an empathic counsellor when Crewman Tarsus is under suspicion based on a Betazoid's intuition, actually make a lot more sense now. There has been a substantial number of episodes in Season 1 and early Season 2 where Picard has consulted with Troi about a person - even muting the viewscreen so that he can see what she senses in the person. There's something quite under-handed about that, and I don't think I ever realised it until I've gone back and observed the sheer number of times it happens (and I know it continues in later seasons).

I liked this episode for trying something different, but I agree that the solution was a bit much to stomach and it's hard to believe that Picard would have so much faith in such a plan given that Riva's Chorus were blown away in under 2 minutes of negotiation. I give Riva a day before he's disintegrated by one or both factions (hey, that might actually bring them together!).
Jay - Mon, Jan 14, 2013 - 11:51am (USA Central)
@ ChrisM

I'm a bit skeptical that empathic powers would work over viewscreens anyways.
Corey - Tue, Mar 12, 2013 - 4:34pm (USA Central)
Jammer says he doesn't see how Riva's plan will "...make a dent". So guess I'll explain. Whenever people have problems, alcoholism, drug or porn addiction, etc. the key is the person who has the issue has to WANT your help. If they want help, you can help them, and if they don't, you can't.

The people of that planet specifically asked for Riva - they WANT his help, a key pre-requisite for success. Therefore, they will do what Riva asks, and he's right, doing something co-operatively will help them learn to live together (though surely Riva isn't saying you don't still have to address various grievances,, land/resources/prisoner exchanges, etc.).

If they DON'T want Riva's help then yes, his death would seem to be forthcoming. I also think it's rather irresponsible of the Enterprise not to leave communication equipment capable to reaching Federation planet/outpost/starbase and some security personnel, no matter what Riva says. If Riva does end up dying, and Picard could have left security but didn't, and Riva is as famous as the episode says Riva is, won't that be massive egg on the Federation's face?

Anyways, Marina Sirtis acting didn't bother me here, so overall I give the episode 3/4 stars.
William B - Mon, Mar 25, 2013 - 5:29pm (USA Central)
Like Corey, I think that Jammer underrates this episode. I also think that what is crucial is that the people on the planet do want to end their peace, but can only see themselves interacting with Riva.

The other important thing is that Riva now has a particular stake in this planet that he didn't before. His chorus was killed by a person on this planet -- and the lead negotiator from the side of the conflict who tried to kill Riva has made it clear that this was an anomaly and punished him immediately. Tragedy has a way of bringing people together, when they recognize that the tragedy is shared. By staying even after his chorus was killed, Riva demonstrates a huge commitment to the peace talks which no one could have anticipated, and so, I think, does the lead negotiator from the side that attacked Riva, by shooting his own. Riva, by indicating that he is willing to move past his chorus being attacked, also removes the excuse that the side who did not attack Riva might otherwise have for pulling out of the negotiations -- if Riva can get past it, than so can they.

Certainly, this was not stated, and I think it's fair to criticize the episode for acting as if only Riva's sign language can seal the deal. But I find that *myself*, watching the episode, I am very impressed by Riva's ability to get past the death of his chorus and not holding a grudge.

The episode is certainly slow-paced. That said, I think that the ideas present in this episode are worthy, interesting, and unusual. The relationship between Riva and his chorus, and Riva's realization that he can move on without them and as a person himself, suggest to me issues of both the difficulty integrating different perspectives into one; the relationship between royals and their followers (Riva is identified as a royal, and his willingness to continue his diplomacy without assistants represents a royal recognizing that despite their belief they have the 'right' to have servants following them around all the time, they have to work like others do); and the way disability and apparent "lack" shapes identity. Some of these themes clash in unfortunate ways -- I think that the ideas of Riva-as-nobility with servants whose whole identity is geared toward him, and Riva-as-disabled-person (akin to Geordi-with-visor) interfere with each other. It's hard to know whether we should view the chorus as Riva's friends, or as a lower-class group of people bred to 'serve' royal Riva, or as basically an equivalent to Geordi's visor, and the treatment of them certainly varies depending on which we take. But the episode ultimately produces a fair amount to chew on as well as an optimistic message that I find credible, at least within the confines of a TV narrative where exaggeration (like "warring for 15 centuries") is the norm.

I do agree with ChrisM's point about Troi humiliating Worf in the transporter room. That is deeply unprofessional and uncalled for. It also has no apparent plot purpose. I also don't quite understand why Worf is so angry that the Klingon/Federation treaty was negotiated, because, hello, he's a Klingon Starfleet officer. Still, I think this is counterbalanced by Troi throughout the rest of the episode -- I like the way she responds with a bit of coyness to Riva's aggressive flirting, the way she and Riva start to communicate as equals in a way that foreshadows the way Riva will connect to others, and the way she turns him around at the end by focusing in on Riva's best qualities (his consideration for others, his ability to find common ground with others). I think that she did a good job of letting Riva know he should stop feeling sorry for himself without saying those exact words. )It's too bad she couldn't use that insight for herself in "The Loss," but I'm getting ahead of myself.) I think this is the best use of Troi doing her job up to and including the episode. (I like Troi in "Haven," but that episode had nothing to do with Troi-as-Starfleet-officer/Troi-as-Counsellor.)

3 stars from me, though maybe on the low end.
Grumpy - Mon, Mar 25, 2013 - 10:25pm (USA Central)
"We! Are all in this! Together!"

Sorry, Picard, but this is Riva's show. There are zero stakes for the regular crew. They're not even responsible for bringing peace to the planet; they could leave immediately and nobody would care. Contrast this with "The Host," where the regulars are roped more directly into an otherwise superficially similar plot.
dipads - Sat, Jul 27, 2013 - 3:38pm (USA Central)
The woman chorus in this episode is married to the actor who plays the Q character in this series. Just a bit of fun trivia.
SkepticalMI - Tue, Sep 10, 2013 - 10:27am (USA Central)
I wasn't as skeptical as Jammer and others were on Riva's final solution. The whole point was to force the two opposing sides to put some effort into the peace treaty. By spending all their efforts trying to learn to talk to Riva, it would make the mediation problem easier.

Well, at least easier in the Trek sense. I don't buy that two factions who have been waging war for so long just needs to talk to each other and then will become friends no matter how awesome Riva is. Tolerate each other's presence with a cease fire, perhaps. But ideological differences exist in the real world. And actual grievances exist in the real world. And just telling people they need to communicate with each other will not make other problems go away. But that's not Roddenberry's vision, so whatever. I'll accept it in the confines of the show.

In general though, I found this episode boring. Sure, it's a sci-fi-ish concept, but once again it seems the writers didn't know what to do with it. We had quite a bit of awkward exposition (thankfully very little on the actual conflict, which was irrelevent to the show), particularly in the beginning when Riva explained how his chorus worked. As an aside, if Riva is so freaking famous, wouldn't Picard already know about his chorus? Wouldn't it be in the 24th century Wikipedia article on him?

So the episode moves slowly. Notice that the stinger ended with Picard et al walking around an empty room. Oooh, exciting.... And so because it moved slowly, the conflict (chorus' death) didn;t happen until literally 60% of the way through the episode (I checked). That leaves little time for Riva to deal with his problem, which probably makes the final resolution feel rushed. Maybe that's why so many don't buy Riva's final solution.

Another problem I have with this episode (and many others, honestly), are all guests on the Enterprise sex-obsessed? Riva, an accomplished diplomat, starts hitting on Troi in the middle of an official meeting. Such conduct would be completely unbecoming, even today. Can you imagine a diplomat doing that today? And yet it happens all too often in TNG. The one good aspect of it was that Marina Sirtis' acting in response was pretty good as trying to be as diplomatic as possible.

Personally, I also thought Data's demonstration of sign language to Picard was pretty funny. He seems to be the go-to guy for comedy so far this season. Not as much as the last two episodes, obviously, but it was a good moment.
Filip - Wed, Apr 2, 2014 - 4:12pm (USA Central)
A really interesting episode. It really intrigued me with the way Riva communicated with everyone else and that part of the story was, in my opinion, executed very good. The entire concept of his chorus was both well thought out and performed, and I was interested to see what was going to happen.

However, the episode is obviously not without its problems, some of which damaged the episode as a whole. First was the part already mentioned by Jammer and some other people in the comments - how didn't anyone know about Riva's condition before they met him? The comment about that being on 24th century Wikipedia made me laugh. But OK, that wasn't really such a big problem. However, the scenes on the planet were. Everything up to the point where they beam down to the planet was done really good, and after that, things just started to make no sense. Why did Riva beam down to a rock in the middle of nowhere? It gave the impression that the planet was about 500 square meters big and that the rock where the planet scenes took place was pretty much all there is to it. Then, the scene where his chorus gets killed. Oh my... To say that it was poorly acted would be an understatement. Furthermore, it was more like I was watching a theatre play which relied on the viewer's imagination to colour up the scene instead of watching a TELEVISION show. I didn't get that sense of alarm when Riker jumped to save Riva, everything about that scene was just bland, slow, and empty. I realise that they had a 42 minute time constraint for the whole episode (and that it was 1988 after all) but come on... It could've been done way better.
And the final scene when they leave him on the planet also made little sense. Someone already said that it wasn't smart to leave him there without any means of contacting the Federation. I'll add this: what was he going to eat? Where would he sleep? Where would he go to the bathroom and wash himself? Again, it leaves the impression like they were on some rock traveling through space, Riva and three of those guys, sitting at that table for months learning sign language. Literally doing only that and nothing else for months. Come on...

If you ask me, if the planet scenes had been done better, this would've been a truly great episode. It is still good, I guess the whole aspect of his chorus really sparked my interest.
Mary - Fri, Aug 8, 2014 - 6:00pm (USA Central)
I have one nitpick. Riva is not human and has never been to Earth but he communicates with ASL? How did he learn American Sign Language?
Ospero - Sat, Sep 13, 2014 - 7:01am (USA Central)
@Mary: Practicality, I'd imagine. The actor playing Riva, Howie Seago, is deaf in real life (and American, therefore he very likely knows ASL), so they were using the resources they had available. It doesn't make sense in-universe, admittedly, but then neither do all the aliens speaking English (yes, universal translator, but why do their lip movements match the English words?).

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