Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Rightful Heir"

***

Air date: 5/17/1993
Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore
Story by James E. Brooks
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Suffering a personal spiritual crisis that causes Worf to be late for work one day (an offense which Picard finds to be transgressive to a bizarre degree — maybe only slightly less severe than killing Duras in "Reunion"), Worf requests a leave of absence to go be with other Klingons and immerse himself in his spiritual side, something he has found gnawing at him ever since his experience with the young Klingons in "Birthright, Part II." He goes to a colony on Boreth, where Klingons are awaiting the return of the ancient warrior Kahless, who has been prophesized to return. While sitting in a trance after several days or weeks or however long it takes for a Klingon's head to clear, Worf witnesses Kahless materialize before him, in the flesh. Later, Worf engages the outspoken Kahless (Kevin Conway) in a bat'leth fight. Because he's annoyed. Or maybe because it's fun.

And we've just barely gotten started. "Rightful Heir" is nothing if not ambitious in its storytelling, even if it threatens to ascend into the stratosphere of the absurd. The story at first seems like it's going to be another slog through ponderous Klingon mumbo-jumbo much the way the juiceless "Birthright, Part II" was, but Ron Moore shows here why he earned his reputation as the Klingon Guy; "Rightful Heir" has plenty of Klingon Claptrap, yes, but it also gains steam after the first couple acts with the much-needed juice, political shenanigans, and earnest dialogue. What starts as an out-of-left-field crisis of Worf's spirituality becomes, by the end, a battle for the hearts and minds of the Klingon Empire (albeit one told via microcosm on a few sets on the Enterprise).

The literal return of Kahless manages to pose the question of resurrection and prophecy in sci-fi allegory terms: If, say, Christ claimed to return from the dead after millenniums and was not accompanied by a hell of a convincing show of sound and fury, who would actually believe it to be true? Okay, maybe don't answer that, but I tend to think (hope?) most sane people — even believers — would be extremely skeptical. (I personally find the notion of belief in literal resurrection, religious or otherwise, to be silly on the level of believing in magic, but, hey, that's just me. I guess that would put me on Team Gowron for this story's sake — if not for all the political corruption, of course.)

The crucial element of success here is the story's suggestion of sprawling consequences for the Klingon Empire, as Kahless' return implies the dawn of a new era of leadership — but one that Gowron is not simply going to step aside and cede. Gowron engages Kahless in a bat'leth battle, and Kahless loses, which goes against the prophecy of Kahless' greatness. Worf (and, by storytelling microcosm, many others) begins to lose his faith, suspecting that political manipulators Koroth (Alan Oppenheimer) and Torin (Norman Snow) may be manipulating the entire situation for their own political power play — which it turns out they are, because they actually created Kahless as a clone from the long-dead real man's preserved DNA. (While the Klingons are allowed to believe in the supernatural, the supernatural itself does not actually exist here, this being Star Trek.) This actually proves to be an interesting story twist; it's a prophecy come to life because of science. But how much resonance does Kahless hold for the empire? Enough to divide it, it would seem.

Worf's proposed solution to this complicated quagmire is one of compromises that considers the importance of symbols like Kahless alongside the pragmatism of the political realities. (And I liked the way Worf's conversation with Data, of all unlikely people, ended up helping Worf come to his decision.) If you like Klingon politics, you will probably like "Rightful Heir," which is ultimately as intriguing as it is borderline ridiculous. And it's got the juice.

Footnote: Ron Moore also seemed to be trying out lines for later use here: Worf's "And if you do not tell me what you have done, then I will kill you right here!" sounds a lot like his line to Picard in "First Contact," which I still love for its gloriously theatric delivery: "If you were any other man, I would KILL you where you stand!"

Previous episode: Suspicions
Next episode: Second Chances

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21 comments on this review

Patrick - Fri, Aug 31, 2012 - 12:13am (USA Central)
Ron Moore also had Tom Riker say that the Defiant was a "tough, little ship" in the DS9 episode, "Defiant". *William* Riker would make that same description of the vessel in Star Trek: First Contact.


Just sayin'.
David - Fri, Aug 31, 2012 - 12:20am (USA Central)
At this stage in the series I was soooooooooooooo over Klingon drivel and Worf was becoming a bore. This episode didnt help on either front. I hated the idea of a clone of Kahless. All the ritualistic stuff was I guess meant to be deep but was pretty pretentious. Gowron--do we need to see him whiney and growling about a threat to his rightful place in the Empire?!?..Uh nope.

Overall I thought this was one too many visits to the Klingon well by Moore and TNG.

I thought it was a snoozer up there with Birthright II. Only worthy of 1.5 stars.
grumpy_otter - Fri, Aug 31, 2012 - 5:17am (USA Central)
Guess I have to disagree with you again, David, lol. I love Klingon drivel!

But I've had a crush on Worf since he grew his hair long. I think I share with many other women the desire to find out if he really would be too much to handle (remember when he discussed that with Guinan? Yummy!)--so Worf on center stage is just fine by me!

I share your skepticism about the return of a "savior" Jammer, and have often pondered what would be convincing evidence of a deity. I heard one comedian suggest putting a million dollars in his bank account--I guess that would work for me, too!
Elliott - Fri, Aug 31, 2012 - 1:20pm (USA Central)
Let's not kid ourselves. This is an episode of DS9. It has all the hallmarks: person of faith finds himself at odds with his secular society and needs to introspect or meditate or whatever to figure it out. Person of faith encounters a deeply fulfilling event in his spiritual life for which he shall act as stand-in for all or most of his society. Person of faith comes to find that this spiritual event was a rouse and a lie, but this crater-sized disappointment is barely adressed, and more egregiously, the original spiritual problem which led to this situation is totally forgotten about. Boy is it familiar.

We also have the "sprawling society" trope. Look, the interconnected and continuity bejewelled societies of (especially) DS9 are fun. It's fun to keep track of who's who and who is loyal to whom and to see familiar faces interacted with the main cast. No arguments from me. But in the end, the profundity of the society is no more or less valid than any other alien-of-the-week. The allegorical elements of the societies either work or they don't but it depends not one bit on whether that allegorised society is a one-stop planet or a decades-old fictional culture like the Klingons.

I am reminded of just about the only interesting thing Ezri Dax ever said, that the Klingon culture is doomed to collapse in hypocrisy. Worf's (the show's) solution, rather than to attempt to use this betrayal by religious leaders as a means to begin to purge Klingon culture of its poisonous tendencies, is to validate their idiocy AND use it to gain political control. What an unbelievable bastard! And I'm drowning in the irony of this coming from a man who was claiming to be under a genuine spiritual direst. I'm not saying I don't believe that the allegory is effective or true-to-life. On the contrary, I think corrupt governments use religion at every opportunity to manipulate and seize more power, but Worf's rôle in this has to be completely ignored if we are to see him as an heroic figure hereafter.

I'd give it 2 stars.
Butkus - Fri, Aug 31, 2012 - 2:22pm (USA Central)
Once you go Klingon, you won't go back.
Paul - Sat, Sep 1, 2012 - 9:39am (USA Central)
I've always taken issue with TNG (and to a lesser extent, DS9) using the Kahless character, considering how it originated on TOS. It's a really weird bit of continuity.

In "The Savage Curtain", Kahless plays like most Klingons in TOS -- as a real bastard (who has weird voice-mimicking abilities?). It would have made more sense for TNG to simply invent a new Klingon Christ figure.

Strangely, Trek continuity was generally at its worst in TNG as compared with DS9 and VOY (though not Enterprise, which is an entirely different discussion). And yet, the creators brought back the Kahless name here (and earlier in TNG, with incorrect pronunciation). Total misfire, if you ask me.

The episode otherwise is pretty good. It's really the last glimpse of Worf as we've known him (the creators take the character in weird places in season 7) until he appears on DS9.

However, I did think that it's odd that Kahless or the emperor doesn't get mentioned again until "The Way of the Warrior" and is never seen again.
Nick P. - Mon, Sep 10, 2012 - 4:19pm (USA Central)

Weird episode, I WANT to hate it, but for some reason it is very watchable.......I think Jammer is right, it bates you into thinking it is another boring spiritual quest, and swithces to a real fun political drama. And yes, this is the last time until DS9 Worf acts pretty much in character.

So, is this Kahless ever mentioned again in Star Trek?
John - Sun, Sep 16, 2012 - 11:56pm (USA Central)
Worf makes reference to Emperor Kahless in his first appearance on DS9. And then again in "The Sword of Kahless". I think that’s pretty much it.

Good review Jammer. I used to love this one but after re-watching I think 2.5-3 stars is about right.

Minor point: I always thought Worf (a Starfleet lieutenant) has far too much influence here. It's clearly just for the sake of the plot but stands out like dog's b@lls.
J - Fri, Jul 5, 2013 - 12:27pm (USA Central)
@Jammer: minor correction, I don't believe worf requests a leave of absence. Picard asks Worf if there is a place he could go, then tells Worf to take leave.
William B - Fri, Sep 20, 2013 - 3:30pm (USA Central)
I'm not quite sure how I feel about this one, all things considered. A few quick notes (I probably will have to think about this at length before coming to any real conclusions):

1) Picard's anger at Worf's showing up for late one day really is weird. Mostly, I think the reason is that Picard is emphasizing Worf's (minor) screwup just so that he can transition more easily into telling Worf to take a leave of absence without Worf arguing about it.

2) I like the justification given by Gowron for having the Enterprise transport Kahless -- keep him away from Klingon ships!

3) Clone-Kahless sure takes the revelation that he's a clone in stride after the first scene where he finds out. And I think that hints at one of the episode's big problems -- in its rush to make Worf the protagonist, Kahless is basically sidelined in the key decision-making scene which decides the fate of the Empire and Clone-Kahless' role in it.

4) I really like Data's role in the scenes with Worf, since in a lot of ways it is meant as a bookend to "Birthright," in which Worf's spiritual insight was part of what sent Data on his path there, and here Data sends Worf partly on his path.

5) On the other hand, I struggle to find a link between what Data actually says to Worf and what Worf concludes in the next scene. Data's lines are about Data's own spiritual crisis, and, at core, are about the question of whether or not a person can believe that one has a spiritual component; Data, even more a walking machine than humans are (and we are, as Picard pointed out back in "Datalore," machines of a sort too), is in an even better position than humans to reflect on the necessity of making a leap of faith to believe in one's personhood besides being a mere collection of neurochemical processes. However, that leap of faith, which basically amounts to *believing that one has a spiritual side, a "soul", perhaps*, is not the same as the leap of faith required to believe that Clone-Kahless is actually Kahless. That's, like, not a leap of faith at all.

Now, what I think Worf probably is saying is that Clone-Kahless, as the biological heir to Kahless and as a repository of his teachings, is someone people want to believe in because they want to believe in Kahless' teachings, and they crave what Clone-Kahless can give them as a symbol. They want to believe in him as being a representative of those teachings, in other words. But Worf doesn't quite seem to believe this, because that's pretty close to what Clone-Kahless says at the episode's end -- that as long as Kahless' teachings live on, it doesn't truly matter whether "the real Kahless" returns. But Worf seems to still be surprised by this revelation, so I'm not clear what exactly he thinks the leap of faith he refers to means, and I think that makes it hard for me to see the episode as holding together.

6) I think that, at core, this is what the episode is about, anyway. Klingons want to believe in Kahless, because the Empire has descended into decadence and corruption, and Worf himself has lost touch with the Klingon spirit. Klingons like Korris and Konmel from "Heart of Glory" try to recapture the Klingon spirit only by becoming more vicious hunters/predators, which is not a real option. What they need is to find something intrinsically Klingon in Kahless. Initially, Worf (and the other worshipers) believe that they need to *see Kahless*, the original, the supernatural article, in order to incorporate him into their lives. At the episode's end, a way of reinterpreting Kahless as a secular person -- Kahless' great "supernatural" feats as a representation of the meaning of his teachings, in other words -- is proposed, through Clone-Kahless. The leap of faith is in believing that it doesn't matter whether Kahless really does literally return in a supernatural sense, but that a metaphorical, non-literal return of Kahless into the hearts and minds of the Klingon people by reintegrating his teachings, perhaps with Clone-Kahless as a symbol of that, can be accomplished and lead to the same thing. I think that is how religion can be interpreted in the 21st century: the value of the moral teachings in different religious traditions can be integrated into a secular world by recognizing that it is the *moral* teachings themselves, and not the literal meaning, that is important, which is what Clone-Kahless suggests at the end (and to a degree, I think is what Data's spiritual crisis resolution is about, too -- Data doesn't believe that he will live on into some literal afterlife, but still believes that he has personhood, even though that can't be strictly proven).

The question is why Clone-Kahless is necessary for Klingons to accomplish this integration of the value of Kahless' teachings in a way that doesn't require Kahless to have literal supernatural powers. Really, he shouldn't be; isn't Clone-Kahless also a symbol of the religious hierarchy's deception and clear attempt to seize political power from Gowron? And so, when Worf says that he will FORCE A WAR on Gowron if Gowron does not accept Worf's proposed solution of installing Clone-Kahless as emperor, I don't really know what he's talking about or hopes to accomplish. Surely Klingons can incorporate the teachings of Kahless into their everyday lives on their own, without Emperor Clone-Kahless presiding over them? Worf does not himself seem to want Clone-Kahless as his personal emperor, and so his insistence that this is what Klingons Want And Need is deeply condescending.

7) And, in general, I guess the problem is that it's hard to tell what exactly it is that Kahless represents at this stage in the story. Kahless opposes corruption and decadence, right? Well, yes, but I'm not sure how different Kahless' finding joy in fighting is from the Klingons drinking in between brutal fights in "Redemption II," which mostly sickened Worf and put him off Klingon society and which he largely saw as decadent. Kahless wants Klingons to have joy! Well, okay. Certainly there's lots of evidence that the Klingon Empire is a screwed up place, with values out of whack, but I don't think that we see enough to understand why Kahless himself is such an inspirational figure.

Anyway, having talked it through, I think this is probably a 2.5 star show -- it has some good ideas, and some effective drama, and the very very end of Worf's spiritual crisis when he talkes with Clone-Kahless on the transporter pad makes sense to me and ties in with his conversations with Data and *to some degree* feels connected to Worf's overall decisions. But I don't really buy Worf's solution of Clone-Kahless getting Emperor status, and certainly not when it's under threat of Civil War.
William B - Fri, Sep 20, 2013 - 3:45pm (USA Central)
You know, I just rewatched the last few minutes of the episode -- from the last Data/Worf scene on -- and I think maybe I'm too harsh on the episode, though not too harsh on Worf. Worf *is* condescending to the Klingon people in this scene, projecting his own need for spiritual guidance onto the Klingon people (with some evidence) and assuming that they, unlike him, will be able to take guidance from Clone-Kahless, the kind of guidance he felt initially from him before the revelation of his true nature shocked Worf and left him betrayed. If Klingons can get the guidance from Clone-Kahless without being lied to, then they can get the best of what Worf experienced without the worst. This still leaves Worf in a position of making decisions for the whole Empire based not so much on right/wrong as based on attempts to maintain the political balance of power and to do the best good for the Klingon people; he thinks and acts as a politician rather than a man, and this makes him not much different from Gowron. As Elliott points out above, there is a direct line between this and Ezri's speech in "Tacking Into the Wind"; Worf keeps taking measures to forestall the Klingon Empire from collapsing onto itself from its own inertia, because he loves the Klingon Empire but fails to believe in it. This makes him a tragic figure in some respects, but in others is makes him a big part of the problem. I guess the real question, perhaps, is whether "Tacking Into the Wind," at the end of Worf's arc, actually helps resolve these issues or just cements the essential problems of Worf's character; I can see either argument. But I think maybe this is a low 3-star show, and forms a reasonable part in the saga of Worf's involvement in Klingon affairs, which continues to make him an outsider even as he takes a more and more active role, and even if his actions are not necessarily right.
Jons - Fri, Jan 10, 2014 - 12:29pm (USA Central)
Klingons are the Star Trek species I like the least. So you can imagine how I felt about a Klingon-related episode.

And I feel it's so unfair, because it's the most developed species in ST. It's the one we see the most and that seems like a real society. But I hate everything they stand for: Tradition, machismo, violence, ignorance. One wonders how such a species would ever have arrived to Warp drive.
mephyve - Sat, Jan 25, 2014 - 10:49pm (USA Central)
Boring!!! I usually like the Worf episodes but this seemed to be an excuse to bash faith and religion. I watch a lot of sci-fi so I'm used to atheistic views popping up in storylines: not a big deal. This however was heavy handed and boring. They may as well have had a bunch of atheists sitting around a table discussing how religion is a tool invented by the government to control the people. Yeah, and not to mention, man made God and not vice versa.
Basically it was a one sided dialog, unlike the Riker episode where he fell in love with the adrogynous 'woman'.
Moonie - Thu, Jan 30, 2014 - 4:51pm (USA Central)
I *am* an atheist, and I found this boring. I finished a knitting project while watching it, lol. Then again, I don't like Klingons to begin with. Honor, warriors, sword, blood, blablabla.... not my thing. Give me the Romulans any day!!!!!

Smith - Mon, Feb 17, 2014 - 8:00am (USA Central)
Great concept that did not live up to potential. Little too much "klingon blabber". The original concept was more "christ-like"...which was entertaining, but Berman heavily censored this out of Moore's work.
Langtonian - Sat, May 31, 2014 - 2:54pm (USA Central)
What I don't get is this. If this Kahless is a clone, how does he remember appearing to Worf in a vision when Worf was a child?
2piix - Fri, Jun 27, 2014 - 7:08pm (USA Central)
@William: The leap of faith isn't believing that Clone-Kahless is really Kahless. The leap is believing that he will lead the empire in the way he was designed to, like Kahless. That he has Kahless' purity of heart. His warrior spirit. His sense of honor and duty. That he is a symbol for what Klingons are "meant" to be.
Andrew T - Sun, Jul 6, 2014 - 4:35pm (USA Central)
What shocked me in this episode was how insensitive they were to the Kayless clone who had to listen to them all call him a fraud, while he was probably trying to deal with the fact he had just been declared a clone.

Still I do like this episode and Birthright, so I feel season six was pretty strong with klingon episodes that I enjoy.
SkepticalMI - Tue, Aug 12, 2014 - 8:06pm (USA Central)
I'm having a hard time with this episode. I've thought about it and thought about it, and still don't know how I feel about it. The idea surrounding this episode is a good one, I think. There's a ton of interesting possibilities here, both with the return of Kahless as well as the revelation that he's a clone. There are so many interesting players involved as well.

But that may also be why it's hard to judge the episode. There's a heck of a lot of plot to get through, and because of that certain aspects of it seem a bit rushed. Or not given the attention they deserve. Worf's crisis of faith is a central theme to the episode, and it starts out very well. But his final solution, while smart, seems to come out of nowhere. And there really isn't a resolution to his issues. Did he seem to go with what Kahless and Data said, that it doesn't matter whether or not what you believe is the truth? That's not a very satisfactory resolution, as it is in complete contradiction to everything we saw from Worf beforehand. After all, we know he's a believer, but he wasn't satisfied with that. He was still trying to get a vision of Kahless, he still wanted confirmation of his belief. And then when Kahless did appear, Worf wanted confirmation of that. Either way, while Worf has his faith, he still wants to know what is real.

But on the other hand, perhaps it is fine that Worf's issues are left unresolved. After all, it would be unrealistic to assume that Worf's faith journey would wrap up nice and neatly in 43 minutes. Perhaps it is better that it remains unanswered here.

Meanwhile, Gowron's story is just as interesting. Watching this, I was saddened by what DS9 did to him. Here, Gowron is a pretty shrewd politician, which fits ok with his previous portrayals. He's a jerk and unscrupulous, but he knows what he's doing. So why did he have to turn into such an incompetent buffoon by the end of DS9 that Sisko told Worf to go into the assassination business?

So I like what Gowron did here. He was plainly skeptical, but still very cognizant of the threat Kahless represented to his power. All of his moves here rang true, from asking the Enterprise to transport Kahless (wow, an excuse to keep the main cast involved that actually worked in-universe!), to his probing of Kahless' story. And when, during their duel, Kahless tried to use his oratory skills to stop the fight (as he successfully did with Worf), Gowron was not fooled and finished the duel. And despite Gowron being a complete bastard, by the time he actually won there was enough doubt about Kahless that we were actually cheered by his victory.

But our time with Kahless is fairly short. We don't really get much on him or on the priests who cloned him. How did Kahless not have any doubts before this? He was imprinted with only stories, not his whole life. How would that feel to him? How did he instinctively know what his role would be? And how much of the original Kahless is still a part of him? Will he be successful as a ceremonial emperor? There was a lot of potential with Kahless, but he was shunted aside too easily. Andrew mentioned the insensitivity of everyone talking about him as if he wasn't there. I liked that scene; I thought that insensitiveness worked given the high stakes involved. But it does accidentally mirror the plot itself, as the role of the Kahless clone is shunted aside for matters of faith and politics.

I also am not sure where Worf came up with his plan or why. Or why it had to be him. It seemed like the whole final solution came about because Worf is a main character so of course he has to be the one to come up with it. It doesn't really fit with Worf's character; as WilliamB pointed out it is a remarkably cynical and political move. Yes, Worf's done that before, but only when forced on him and dealing with his own honor. This is different; I don't think it fits in with Worf's character. Suggesting it? Maybe. But demanding it or forcing civil war? Yeesh.

Ah, what the heck. It's a good episode. And a pretty good Worf episode. And an ok Klingon episode. I'll take it.
Todd - Wed, Aug 20, 2014 - 5:59am (USA Central)
Skeptical, I disagree on the notion that DS9 suddenly made Gowron incompetent. For starters, we don't know if he was ever a particularly effective tactician to begin with, but that wasn't the problem on DS9. The problem was he was *intentionally* making Martok (who apparently WAS an effective tactician) look bad by sending him into hopeless battles to discredit him.

I do wish we'd seen more of what supposedly made Kahless great, emphasizing a sense of honor, but for an episode about faith, Worf's proposed compromise of having Kahless installed as emperor was the best possible compromise to avert division or even another civil war. Neither Gowron, nor Korath, seem particularly happy about it (maybe not even Worf, for that matter) but seem to understand it's the best solution there is.

All in all, despite being an agnostic myself, I really enjoyed this episode and what address, regarding faith and symbols.
SkepticalMI - Sun, Aug 24, 2014 - 4:06pm (USA Central)
Todd, good point about his rivalry with Martok. I had forgotten about that aspect. Which did, actually, fit in with what we know of Gowron. I never got the impression that Gowron was a particularly honorable Klingon, but I think he did care quite a bit for the good of the Empire. That's what he talked about in Redemption, and it's what he talked about here. He was also a perfect embodiment of a politician. So I guess the question is, is he the type of person who would put his own personal position ahead of the good of the empire? If someone put the question to him, I assume he would say no, but he does seem to have an inflated sense of ego (see Unification where he tried to rewrite history). So I guess I can see him turning into a Nixon, where paranoia ends up causing other problems.

Sure, Martok had no political ambitions, but how would Gowron know that? All he knows is that a Changeling replaced Martok, and the Changelings tried to have the Federation assassinate him. Presumably, the plan would be that the Changeling Martok would then become chancellor. So presumably, there was a reason even then that people saw Martok as a natural successor. And thus that would be reason for Gowron to be worried about him.

And yet, would Gowron really intentionally start losing the war (and that was my impression of the DS9 episode in question)? That seems a harder pill to swallow. But I will admit that Gowron's fall is more complex than I initially made it seem.

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