Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Firstborn"

**1/2

Air date: 4/25/1994
Teleplay by Rene Echevarria
Story by Mark Kalbfeld
Directed by Jonathan West

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Worf's son Alexander reaches the age for the Klingon Rite of Ascension, in which he can begin the journey to become a Klingon warrior. Worf of course wants Alexander to follow in his traditional Klingon ways, whereas Alexander is understandably reluctant, having never been all that enthusiastic when it comes to Klingon stuff (I guess that's probably an understatement). But Alexander is not completely unreceptive, especially after Worf reframes the dialogue by taking him to a nearby colony and immersing him in some Klingon culture.

"Firstborn" is notable in that it treats Alexander as a halfway plausible child rather than an annoying cliche or plot convenience. I can't stress how much that's in the show's favor. Whereas most Alexander-centric episodes tend to be dead on arrival, this one shows Alexander as a child trapped between cultures with his father steering him in a direction that might not be best for him. On the other hand, I'm not exactly singing this episode's praises; the Klingon material is standard-issue fare, and there's the matter of that bizarre twist at the end. (And I guess this too qualifies for the season's Family Tree Theater sweepstakes.)

The crux of the story revolves around a character named K'Mtar (the reliable guest actor James Sloyan), who helps Worf fight off an assault on the Klingon colony and says he's a loyal friend of Worf's brother Kurn. He offers to help Worf bring Alexander into the Klingon fold. This results in the aforementioned standard-fare Klingon dialogue, before we get the turning point where Worf and K'Mtar push too hard to get Alexander to kill a holodeck opponent in a bat'leth combat simulation, prompting Alexander's revolt. (Lesson for Klingon parents with partially human sons: Some pre-adolescent children don't actually want to kill people.)

Some plot details arise (obliquely involving the Duras sisters and a knife in K'Mtar's possession) which leads to the revelation that K'Mtar is actually an adult Alexander who traveled back in time 40 years to convince his younger self to become a warrior rather than a peacemaker — in order to avert a sequence of events that will result in Worf being killed. Adult Alexander decided that if he can't change his past he'd kill himself as a child (sort like the premise of Looper in reverse).

There's a tortured character at the center of "Firstborn" — so much so that he's willing to undo his own existence (not to mention unleash untold contamination upon the timeline) in order to save his father. This is, to put it simply, a stretch. We're supposed to believe that time travel is such a casual device that it can be used to rectify personal demons (why isn't everyone doing it then?) and that adult Alexander feels so guilty about his father's death (who would be something like 80 years old by that time) that he believes he himself should die for his life's choices? Wow.

On the one hand, there's decent character work here, where this extreme and bizarre scenario makes Worf realize just how much Alexander needs to choose his own path rather than being marched down the path of warrior-hood. (And there's a haunting scene of well-utilized continuity where adult Alexander recalls the night of his mother's murder.) On the other hand, the logical/emotional arc of the adult Alexander is so pathetically sad as to be absurd. It's just really hard to swallow this character's motivations. Part of you wants to shake the guy and tell him he has to live with his life's choices (which were honorable on their own terms). One wonders if "Firstborn" might've been a better final outing for Alexander without the central sci-fi twist that it was clearly sold on.

Previous episode: Journey's End
Next episode: Bloodlines

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11 comments on this review

Jay - Sun, Mar 10, 2013 - 11:17pm (USA Central)
Yeah, we had a taste of time travel as regret therapy in Voyager's Timeless, and as you mentioned, again here. If that is common in the future, then the temporal free-for-all we saw in "Year Of Hell" may well be the future's norm. Surely Lucsly and Dulmur will be needing somer backup.
William B - Tue, Mar 12, 2013 - 6:01pm (USA Central)
Hm, probably the reason why Future Worf's death is so far into the future -- when he's 80 or whatever -- is to avoid having to suggest that Worf himself will die any time soon. Caution, thy name is TNG season seven. At any rate, you are right that that hurts the episode badly, and I think an episode

I do think that bringing Alexander back as a clumsy idiot who wants to be a Klingon in DS9 undermined the strengths of this episode, and was a much worse end to the character arc, such as it was.

But at any rate, the most important arc is not Alexander's, but Worf's -- for Worf to realize that he should not be imposing his own values, and in particular his own insecurity about his Klingon heritage. Like Spock with Vulcanness, Worf feels he has to be more Klingon than most Klingons *because* he is so immersed in human culture and has so little deep connection to Klingonhood. The recognition that Alexander, like K'Ehleyr, largely prefers human/Federation culture and values and that's okay is really the ending (an ending) to Worf's series-long struggle uniting his Klingon genetics and Federation allegiance. This is what I think is important about this episode in a low-key way -- TNG character arcs are seldom flashy in the least, and are sometimes so subterranean as to be nearly nonexistent. But I think that's what Worf's story mostly is in TNG and this episode, for its flaws, gets Worf to a good end-place. I'd have to think about how DS9 works with this -- I feel like Worf's ending up as Federation ambassador to Qo'noS is not particularly justified, though his relationship to Martok is well-developed over the show.
Patrick - Tue, Mar 12, 2013 - 7:42pm (USA Central)
I'll guess I'll have to be the lone voice of dissent here. I always thought this episode was both an enjoyable romp in trying to find the Duras Sisters (with a wry cameo from Quark) coupled with some family drama that wasn't teeth-pullingly cloying. It's an Alexander-centric episode that works well with the character as Jammer points out.

As for the casualness of the time travel, it's no more casual than The Orb of Time from DS9 (who's to say it wasn't used in that alternate future for Alexander in this story). In fact, the Original Series was pretty blase about time travel in "Assignment: Earth" to to the point where they just do it to check on 20th century earth. I was just pleased that it wasn't a time travel story that wasn't mired in heavy technobabble . Not even TNG's series finale can claim that.

Raspy voiced James Sloyan is ,as usual, brilliant. Whether it's Admiral Jarok or Jetrel or Odo's adopted father, he punches up the drama at least five fold.

A solid three stars for me.
Nick P. - Wed, Mar 13, 2013 - 7:21am (USA Central)
I am with you, Patrick, this episode isn't half bad. People are actually complaining about the time travel? Do they even "KNOW" what show we are watching?

Anyways, for season 7, this one was fairly acted, moved nicely, I was never bored, and never yawned once, which rarely happens in S7 TNG. Now, if there is a complaint, it is the end. Why should someone not try to give their kids their own values? You can always tell when something is written by a non-parent. If you don't fill your kids mind with values, someone else will, that is FACT. If the kid is yours, you might as well be the one to fill him with "values". I know I am, and I don't feel bad about it for one second.
Paul - Thu, Mar 14, 2013 - 8:43am (USA Central)
This episode isn't terrible, but it really lacks punch. The scenes at the Klingon festival are really boring and even the Duras sisters can't spice things up.

Worf as a character is really odd to me. He's given as much material as any TNG character (save Data and Picard) but sometimes the episodes are really weak. Really, anything that doesn't involve Klingon politics (other than 'Parallels') in TNG and DS9 that centered on Worf wasn't that good.
Sanagi - Mon, Mar 25, 2013 - 11:44pm (USA Central)
I hate Alexander. He's relentlessly boring and he generates a Stupid Jerk field that makes Worf awful, too. This episode, and the later DS9 one, also makes him an inconsistently portrayed continuity snarl, elevating him from Bad Character to Intolerable Disaster.
Rosario - Sun, Jun 16, 2013 - 9:20pm (USA Central)
@Nick: Full agreement on values. Good for you sir.

@Sanagi: Mostly agreed on Alexander. I don't hate him, I merely loathe him because he diminishes Worf by his very presence.

I won't say much about the time travel since I've said more than enough on it elsewhere. Star Trek has just never accepted the central truth that the very act of arriving in the past from the future contaminates the timeline. Star Trek thinks you must actively interfere in order to contaminate. Incorrect.

@William B.:
"...bringing Alexander back as a clumsy idiot who wants to be a Klingon in DS9 undermined the strengths of this episode..."

Respectfully disagree sir. As far as Alexander's arc is concerned this episode was centrally about him making his own choices. It was his choice to embrace Klingon culture at a later date. It may have been a poor decision but at least it was his.

Full agreement though on Worf's arc and very much enjoyed the Spock comparison. How true.
William B - Sun, Jun 16, 2013 - 9:55pm (USA Central)
"Respectfully disagree sir. As far as Alexander's arc is concerned this episode was centrally about him making his own choices. It was his choice to embrace Klingon culture at a later date. It may have been a poor decision but at least it was his."

That's a good point. I suppose you could also say that the fact that Worf stops pushing Alexander all the time about Being a Klingon is what makes Alexander realize maybe he wants to be one after all.

"Full agreement though on Worf's arc and very much enjoyed the Spock comparison. How true. "

Thanks!
William B - Wed, Nov 6, 2013 - 4:23pm (USA Central)
I talked a little about this before, and I agree with what I said at the time, though I will go a little further in this. What's interesting is how much this episode is a bit of a collage of of other Worf-centric stories in the show's past. Alexander's entry into the First Rite of Ascension makes reference to the Second Rite, with the pain-sticks references "The Icarus Factor," the description of the story of Kahless chasing his brother and fighting him for telling a lie goes back to "New Ground," the sense of Klingon culture and songs recalls "Birthright, Part II," the Duras sisters go back to "Redemption." Kurn and the House of Mogh are referenced. And maybe most of all, the ghost of K'Ehleyr haunts this episode, not in a magic candle anaphasic life form kind of way, but this episode spends a lot of time reminding us of K'Ehleyr and what she means to Worf and Alexander. Alexander and Future Alexander talk about her, we see her picture on the table beside Alexander, Worf mentions that he wishes to is trying to abide by her wishes but doesn't know how, and the way Future Alexander identifies himself to Worf is by relaying what happened the moment his mother died. “The Emissary” is an underrated episode, and pretty key to how Worf’s character works, and his attraction to and frustration with K’Ehleyr is because from a very similar initial vantage point (positioned between human and Klingon cultures), she took the opposite tactic of how to deal with it.

It's hard to get involved in Alexander as a character, because Brian Bonsall is pretty annoying and many of these stories just make Worf look like a buffoon. But James Sloyan (previously Admiral Jarok and Dr. Mora) is a great actor, and I think his performance is the first (only?) thing that makes Alexander fully comprehensible as a character. Now, look, yes, the time travel device is probably silly and represents a weird overuse of time travel. But in his last scene with Worf, he talks both about his mother dying *and* his father dying, because of petty Klingon disputes, and he feels the folly of believing that Klingon culture could be tamed by some pacifistic outlook. Future Alexander’s desire to change his younger self is mostly about Future Worf’s death, but it’s about K’Ehleyr too, and I think Future Alexander’s desire to change himself makes a lot of sense when you consider that it’s about preventing *both* his parents from dying with him being unable to do anything about it. The line he quotes of Worf’s from “Reunion,” where Worf tells him in ferocious Klingon tones to look upon death, and that he never has forgotten it, somehow makes me see how deeply this moment imprinted itself onto Alexander in a way that can never be clear with the kid. Even if this Future Alexander will cease to be since the time has changed, it is clear to me now that any Alexander will always be marked by K’Ehleyr’s death. No wonder, when he convinces his younger self that Life Is Not Safe, Future Alexander he makes it appear to be a Duras family attack, because this brings to mind the fundamental trauma that turned his life around.

And K’Ehleyr’s death is the first time he sees what a harsh, unforgiving life Klingons can lead. It’s true that Duras was beyond dishonourable in killing K’Ehleyr for finding out information about him, and so does not represent the “truth” of Klingon honour, he does represent the truth of Klingon violence. Alexander’s first real exposure to full Klingon-ness is his mother being killed for standing up for justice, and then Worf going and killing her killer in revenge. There are (basically) two ways he can respond to this loss of innocence. He can deal with it by becoming more like K’Ehleyr, recognizing the worst traits of Klingons and devoting himself to standing up against it, modeling himself after human society and becoming more peace-loving and merciful, as a way of hoping to change the Klingons by example. Or he can become more like Worf frequently is, incorporating the violence and brutality into his life but accompanying it with a strict honour-code, albeit a code that still means he will be killing anyone who crosses him. This conflict itself in the choices presented to Alexander reflects the choices available to Worf, who knows (deep down) that Klingon culture is on the decline but who fits uneasily into human society and recognizes that Federation values, while perhaps honourable, can also be foolishly trusting. (Hence being the guy who always wants to raise shields and fire at the first sign of trouble.) We learn in this episode that Future Alexander basically chose to be like K’Ehleyr, and tried to prevent things like her death from happening by dedicating himself to peace and reform, and this led to his father’s death. And so he wants to prevent himself from ever making this choice.

We see how Alexander gets started on this path, and for the first time how Alexander is the product of two different worlds. “New Ground” gestured vaguely to Alexander having a Klingon side in that he was angrier than other children, or something, Alexander’s petty thieving and rude behaviour would not be unusual for a human child whose mother died before his eyes and whose father didn’t seem to want him. Besides his forehead, Alexander mostly never seemed to have much Klingon in him, and this always made sense as the influence of K’Ehleyr, who disliked her Klingon heritage, but was part of the package that rendered Alexander flat. But in this one, we actually see that Alexander, the child, does take to Klingon culture if you give him a chance—to a point. He likes getting involved in the bat’leth fight (and takes it too far); he seems to get a kick out of fighting. His real objections, though he’s too young to voice them, are to the ruthless aspects of the warrior code. He shows mercy even to holographic men, and while he may want to fight he doesn’t want to kill. He can’t quite deal with the rigidity of some of Klingon mythology—that Kahless’ brother must be a coward, for example.

Worf is usually the one pushing Klingon values onto a son who doesn’t seem to want them. In this episode, Alexander is more willing than he has been in the past. In order to show Worf the limits of his behaviour, Future Alexander comes along as K’mtar to basically out-Worf Worf, to push for Klingon values hard enough to try to push out mercy and perceived human weakness. When he sees how K’mtar treats his boy—and the eventually ruthless tactics that this involves—Worf is able to see more clearly the ways in which he is crushing out of his son some of the human values which Worf himself and K’Ehleyr, especially, valued. (That Future Alexander has to lie and deceive Worf and Alexander in order to impress the importance of becoming a ruthless warrior for self-protection suggests that Worf’s balance of maintaining real honour and integrity in a warrior system is very difficult—even Future Alexander becomes involved in some of the corrupt machinations that pretty much typify the Klingon government.) And then when he gets a chance to hear what his son’s life had been/would have been, Worf realizes that he’s willing to die (at some indeterminate point in the future) if that means his son comes into his own.

As to the point others mentioned above about Worf deciding not to instill his values to Alexander: I think I agree and disagree. I do think parents have a responsibility to instill values into their child. But Worf is also a child of two cultures, Klingon by birth but raised by humans. And K’Ehleyr wanted Alexander to be raised mostly as a human. Worf isn’t letting Alexander pick up any old value system—he even says that he thinks the cause of peace is a just one. And it’s, ultimately, his mother’s cause. Worf believes in peace, too: he values the act of war, but also dislikes bloodshed for its own sake (as we saw in “Redemption II”). I think that he can become more comfortable with his own values *and* Alexander’s in this moment. Worf has to be constantly vigilant, to the point where he cannot dedicate himself to peace and diplomacy, but he is willing to bear that burden if his son can pursue his (and his mother’s) just cause. I think this is touching both for Worf-as-a-parent, and Worf-as-man-of-two-worlds. Back in “Heart of Glory,” the first episode where Worf came alive, Worf was attracted to the warrior code presented by Korris, but recognized that Korris was a throwback to the past, whose desire to hold onto his warrior ethic in a world that no longer supported it meant that he had to dismiss honour as well. In this episode, I think he recognizes that his son’s way of resolving the difficult questions of how Klingon society should work when peace is genuinely seen as valuable will be different from his own, and this is okay. Even if he is sacrificed at some point in the future in the growing pains of the Klingon Empire moving toward peace, or in Alexander’s attempt to do so, Worf can deal with it.

I think that all works very well in this episode, making it one of the most interesting late season seven episodes, though admittedly there is not much competition. What holds it back from greatness are some of the expected season seven problems. The time travel element is pretty necessary to tell this story—I think that Future Alexander really has to represent the future, here—but it is still overused in the final season. Brian Bonsall is better than he’s ever been as Alexander, but he still can’t convey the conflicting emotions he needs to. The pacing Is not great—the episode is quite slow at times. And there are not one, not two, but three separate scenes of the Enterprise crew talking to some amoral mercenary in trying to track down the Duras Sisters, a plot point which is itself mostly a diversion. Yes, one of them was Quark, so, it’s nice to see that I guess. And I think that the emotion of the last Worf/Future Alexander scene is somewhat blunted by the fact that there Is no real way Worf should have accepted and been able to deal with all the revelations in that scene quickly. All that said, I think this episode still deserves three stars for what it accomplishes.
mephyve - Fri, Jan 31, 2014 - 6:56am (USA Central)
Finally back on track with a sensible story. Nice twist that I didn't see coming . I'm not actually a member of the Brian Bonsall hate club. As far as I'm concerned, he was a kid playing a kid so I wasn't looking for an award winning performance. He says his lines and makes appropriate faces; that's adequate enough for me.
Nice episode
3 stars
moonie - Mon, Feb 10, 2014 - 1:09pm (USA Central)
God how I hate the Klingons and their culture.

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