Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Star Trek: TNG S1 Ep20: Heart Of Glory

"Why do you mock me? Why do you wish to anger me?"

Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) is arguably a slog through Season One. Though I have stayed on task looking at each individual episode, at one point, following Season One, Episode 9, The Battle, I had considered ending the agony by jumping ahead to Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season One, Episode 20, Heart Of Glory. Hopefully for fans of this series interested in tagging along on my Season One journey the decision to remain faithful to my episode by episode coverage was worth it.

My coverage of the series, particularly on those first eleven episodes, has not been overly kind or glowing. They were certainly less than stellar, and to that point to make parallels to Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969) would be generally laughable. Of course, that all changed for me over the course of Season Two and Season Three, as it did for many, ranking ST:TNG among the top five best science fiction series ever created. Until now though, ST:TNG would hardly register on anyone's radar.

My son, The Boy Wonder, no doubt speaking from the ignorance of anything but heavy exposure to ST:TOS and out of loyalty, appropriate for this episode, noted ST:TNG to have its shortcomings. "It's not Star Trek without Spock." Oh, but it is. I've tried to convince him, but alas he has taken flight from his interest with this series for video games.

In fact, the characters are always the draw for the best series and ST:TNG is no exception. Heart Of Glory, as you know, centers on the character of Klingon Worf. And to my absolute and surprise, when I experienced Heart Of Glory, it was the Worf character, the performance by Michael Dorn, the strong direction by Rob Bowman (The X-Files) grounded in a tight script by Maurice Hurley, Herbert Wright and D.C. Fontana that snapped me from my ST:TNG malaise. Also, little did I know this was anything but a fluke, but rather the start of a real affection for this Worf character.  I had never been particularly fond of Klingons and yet the writers and performers indeed won me over. I was turning Klingon. Do you remember the song Turning Japanese (1980) by The Vapors? Same idea.

Prior to Heart Of Glory, on the series in general, the first season is populated with deficiencies. Sometimes poor dialogue, weak story ideas and a lack of direction concerning character would have a tendency to take their toll. Season One is awkward and incomparable to the first for ST:TOS, but it's not without its moments and perhaps those points kept its chances afloat. Heart Of Glory is one of those major highlights.

Despite the strength of Heart Of Glory and a few standouts, Season One of ST:TNG unconvincingly offered little evidence to suggest that it might one day rival ST:TOS. It's rather remarkable what ST:TOS achieved in a single year given the obstacles a television series must overcome.

When I originally penned the bulk of this post it was before the series arrived on Blu-Ray in all of its glorious color and vibrancy. There is a good deal of grain to the episode here, but the high definition is notable. The format cannot repair the substance of certain episodes that teeter on the brink of boredom but it does re-invigorate the series as a visual experience. For Heart Of Glory it's a revelation taking the infant series to another level.

I've had my quibbles with the series to date. There was real separation from the classic ST:TOS and adjustments had to be made. The crew was going where "no one has gone before." Gone were the females as objects of pure desire. Gone was the rough and tumble Captain James T. Kirk supplanted by the more cerebral and pensive Captain Jean Luc-Picard. Though, there were moments, like the ones in Heart Of Glory, where I started to really like this Captain. My affection was growing for him in Coming Of Age (Ep19) and others as well.  It wasn't love yet, but Patrick Stewart was fashioning his role in a way that was uniquely his own. I was beginning to really like this fellow.

The cast, though a little uncomfortable in the first season, was really beginning to win me over. Though, for me, Denise Crosby as Lt. Tasha Yar was the odds on favorite to be removed. And fortunately that wasn't far away.

But much of what I liked about ST:TNG clearly came together for the story called Heart Of Glory. This was an episode worth writing about. Bowman's effort captures a sense of atmosphere, tension and intrigue with some of the best character drama of the first season.

The story emphasizes a real sense of scale with a massive production set called The Batris where Number One, Data and Geordi La Forge beam over from the Enterprise-D and into some terrific suspense and atmosphere before stumbling upon and rescuing three Klingons just moments before the vessel explodes.

The Klingons speak of the Federation officers as infidels quickly aligning their beliefs within a relevant contemporary political context.

Worf, a Klingon and Federation Officer, is like a US soldier who also happens to be Muslim. The context of the story here and the Klingon focus deliver a perfect analogy and a genuinely compelling little tale of conflicted loyalty and trust.

Worf's loyalties to the Federation are tested as his Klingon brothers by blood make every effort to manipulate him to their love for the glory of war.

There are many in Star Trek fandom who love to dress like Klingons and speak Klingon and engage in Klingon rituals. And interestingly I was beginning to understand their love for Klingon mythology. That world never really spoke to me a youngster, but ironically the Klingon-centric Heart Of Glory was the first story to really get the old ST:TOS juices flowing. It was the kind of excitement I had for watching the classics. And this story was delivering something fresh without aping those originals and transforming them into the likes of those earlier ST:TNG efforts of Season One.

Much of the credit goes to the story and, as I mentioned earlier, Dorn's performance. As the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion Book noted, Michael Dorn "had presence." Dorn helped evolve his character into an important player on ST:TNG eventually leading to his key involvement for several seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999). That's an impressive development from the bowels of obscurity, to a recurring role, to unexpectedly become an important cog in the franchise wheel. In fact, it is written that "Worf, the lone Klingon in Starfleet, almost suffered from Gene Roddenberry's insistence that 'no old races' - that is, alien races that appeared in the original Trek- be featured at first in order to distinguish TNG from its predecessor." Fortunately, in this instance, Roddenberry lost that battle. No one is an island.

Bob Justman (1926-2008), associate producer and supervising producer on ST: TOS and ST:TNG, "was among those lobbying for a 'Klingon marine,' a concept the Great Bird finally agreed would show in the most obvious way the difference between this generation and the last - detente and even alliance with the Klingon Empire." It was all part of the new thinking and a move toward eradicating racism. Nevertheless, there would still be plenty of enemies and isms to mine. And speaking of races, tough to get around those Ferengi, at least in ST:TNG.

As the companion book notes, Worf is "absent througout the evolving first-season bible," but his impact beginning right here with Heart Of Glory is indeed significant.

The Enterprise-D receives word from Starfleet of a battle in The Neutral Zone. Number One suggests saucer separation for safety but the option is discarded. Readouts indicate the potential for Romulans - the first mention of them this Season. Some of these threads would materialize further in S1, Ep26, The Neutral Zone further bolstering a series establishing itself.

La Forge has activated a visual acuity transmitter connected to his visor to transmit what he sees on the Talarian freighter back to the bridge. The visuals are beamed over to the bridge main screen and Picard calls the images "extraordinary." The scope of the sequence is another first for the series. To reiterate, the set piece for the sequence is one of the most impressive from Season One. There is a real sense of a failing, damaged vessel. It is large in scope and much more sophisticated that a simple colorized matte backdrop. The music and sound effects also give a unique vibe to the remote islolation of the ship.  All of this combined with Geordi vision sets the tone for a great episode.

There's a rather humorous moment when La Forge spots the metal fatigue in the ship's structure. An inquiry into how long before the hull ruptures results in a response of "It's impossible to to be exact - I'd say five minutes."  Five minutes is more or less a pretty accurate read from impossible. Only La Forge can go from impossible to five minutes in a breath. And where is a Data data analysis when you need it? Lapses in some story logic regarding radiation and safety are forgivable. You're in a forgiving mood when it comes to the strength of this story's intrigue and sense of adventure.

The Away team and Klingons beam away to safety in a nick of time. One minor annoyance. When the team beams over they begin moving before fully materializing. It always annoyed me to see life forms move in the Transporter Room after being beamed aboard before they were fully materialized. I much preferred when they remained still until the materialization was completed.

Heart Of Glory would be the first true character study regarding the question of allegiances for Worf and one of the more fascinating character depictions in Season One. The rescued Klingons include Captain Korris of the Klingon Defense Force and Lt. Konmel. Kunivas dies on the operating table. Picard and company make for an interesting exchange as Picard and Worf pick apart the art of Klingon deception.

The character interaction and script is so strong Heart Of Glory delivers scene after scene of engaging drama.

In Sick Bay, Kunivas dies and the Klingons (including Worf) look skyward and howl in the traditional Klingon rite of passing dubbed the Klingon Death Ritual - the first time presented in the Star Trek television mythology. The howl notifies the dead "beware a Klingon warrior is about to arrive." It is unsettling to see Worf unite through his common cultural bond with these deceitful Klingons clearly of questionable character. A discomfort enters the viewer's mind as a result of Worf's cultural outreach. Worf is like family and our concern grows.

Feelings of concern are amplified as Korris attempts to cultivate sympathy by referring to them as "Brothers, lost among infidels." The art of persuasion is powerful, but this bonding, especially between brothers forged by blood, almost works as a kind of inverted Stockholm Syndrome only these guests/prisoners essentially exert influence or a form of empathy on their host captor - Worf. Korris shows nothing but disdain for Starfleet. Heart Of Glory works not only as a great character study, but as a study on Klingon lore.

The previous sequence speaks to the character and the quality of Worf's heart, but his Klingon brothers continue their efforts to manipulate him through their blood connection. Will Worf sway? There's an element to the story that once again probes the depths of nature versus nurture - the influence of our established homes versus our genetic make-up. In a sense, these Klingons are like children separated at birth. One has been exposed to the act of kindness repeatedly, while the others led an entirely different existence. You know what they say about kindness? Never mistake it. This is at the core of Worf and the struggle within his very own heart of glory.

As much as Spock shared both a human mother and Vulcan father, and lived an internal struggle within between the influence of two worlds, Worf, too, has two competing aspects affecting his very fiber - Klingon and humanity. These are always fascinating existential questions on Star Trek. And as much as Data is perceived as ST:TNG's answer to Spock, much can be said of Worf's own comparable journey. Elements of this wonderful character study would continue throughout the series and it all begins here. Worf is the product of a disciplined race, a true warrior, tempered by the influence of humans within a melting pot of professionalism. We are asked to consider that which is more powerful in our lives - that of the influence of nature or that of nurture. Worf shall answer that question here in Heart Of Glory securing the importance of his character to the others on this new series.

Konmel admits to Worf the truth of their presence on that Talarian cargo ship. Worf discovers the two Klingons destroyed one of their own Klingon vessels. The Klingons speak of the corruption of the Klingon empire and the birthright of all Klingons to battle and that the peace with the Federation is nothing more than an illusion. A colleague of mine would agree with that assessment.  He once held the Klingons in the esteemed position of ultimate enemy status until it was usurped by the driving forces of the Borg. It is the peace that makes them soft or as Korris pleads, it makes his "heart wither and die." Like radical fundamentalists, Worf sees his fellow Klingon brothers twisting and contorting their belief system to suit their own warring desires.

On the bridge, Picard understandably shares his experience with Riker and Data regarding Worf's behavior at the Klingon Death Ritual. Questions of trust are in play.  Could Worf possibly fall prey to natural cultural impulses?  Picard shows concern for Worf and the influence of his people on him and how he will handle that connection. Picard says it was "like looking at a man that I had never known." Picard makes an important point about how little we sometimes really know regarding those close to us and the influence of one's primal nature.

Worf offers the Klingons a tour of the Enterprise-D and they dream of glorious battles. "Perhaps your dreams of glory no longer fit the time," says Worf suggesting a more evolved Worf. The Klingons frown upon "civilized men" and Worf's personal beliefs are challenged by them with each exchange.

On the bridge, a Klingon cruiser arrives in their airspace. The Captain of the Klingon cruiser asks of the survivors of the destroyed Klingon cruiser T'Acog, destroyed by Korris and Konmel. Picard informs the Klingon captain of the fate of the Klingons.  He is shocked to discover the escapees are alive. He demands they be turned over. Picard justifiably attempts to get as much information as possible about what has transpired. After all, he is dealing with Klingons and the art of deceit is not a new concept. But issues of rendition, harboring, political asylum, refugee status, extradition and a host of other political scenarios fall into question depending on the information available.

Tasha Yar is sent to secure the criminals. Worf is asked to step aside. The Klingons plea for his aid as a blood brother pushing the conflicted nature within Worf. There is an almost child-like innocence to Worf, as Klingons go, as a result of his sheltered, farm-reared existence on Gault and the "kindness" he has received in his life.

Worf returns to the bridge and is notfied by Picard of the Klingons' wish to recover the two prisoners. Worf knows they will be executed. He looks to Picard for other options as a result of his nurtured existence by humans and as an officer in Starfleet. This further illustrates how different Worf is as a result of his upbringing.The performances are strong throughout.

Worf requests permission to speak with the Klingon Captain who has demanded the prisoners. Worf exhibits the human act of compassion once again highlighting this is a new era in Star Trek. Worf understands they must be punished, but also understands the natural inclination by Klingons to yearn and burn for past Klingon glories. Worf feels it to his bone and core and like Spock must seek control of primal urges. Worf pleads that the Klingons have a chance to die in battle with honor. The Klingon captain denies the option.

Elsewhere, the Klingon prisoners plot their escape. Utilizing components from their belts and boots. A makeshift weapon is created. The breakout happens and two security die along with Konmel. Korris is on the run. He makes way to Main Engineering. Korris demands to speak with Worf, his "countrymen." Worf and Picard go to him.

What is clear is that Korris is essentially a traditional, throwback Klingon and makes ovations to Worf to join him. Worf demands that he put down the phaser. Worf makes the only case he knows and proves he is truly enlightened.

Korris angrily growls, "I don't care what you look like, you are NO Klingon!" Worf replies, "perhaps not." Ultimately killing Korris Worf does indeed respect the traditional Klingon desire to die with honor in battle and even gives him the Klingon Death Ritual. It is a sobering moment, but offers a glimpse, as does much of the episode as to the character at the heart of Lt. Worf.

Picard reports the Klingons have been killed to the Klingon Captain. He inquires of Worf how they died. Worf replies, "they died well." Picard offers to return the bodies, but they are to be discarded as refuse. Worf is offered a place among the Klingons should his Federation service conclude. Worf indicates he will stay with the Enterprise-D. This is a fine, closing moment and harkens back to the flavor and spirit of all that was splendid with ST:TOS.

"The bridge wouldn't be the same without you."

Heart Of Glory gets the tension just right and positions the cast accordingly to create a sense of genuine excitement with a worthwhile tale to be told. It's honestly the first time I felt the series had a consistent pulse. At its core, the tale asks us the question of change, progress and the ability to evolve into something greater than primitive religion, culture or hostile mores. There are compelling social and political questions in play throughout Heart Of Glory not to be missed and still relevant today. Some episodes have tapped into what makes Star Trek work so beautifully, but Heart Of Glory gets it right start to finish.

One of the great thematic threads of Heart Of Glory is to what degree Worf's heart is a heart of loyalty to his new Starfleet family. Which side will he fall if asked to choose? We all need to make a choice and often times must choose sides. Life forces these choices when two opposing forces meet head on and face to face. Sitting it out isn't an option and certainly not for a Klingon with a heart of glory.

Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009) begged thematic questions of divided loyalty between Cylons and humans. Aeryn Sun was also faced with similar themes early on regarding her loyalties to the Peacekeepers race or her newfound makeshift family in Farscape (1999-2003). The Tok'ra were by no means Goa'uld in Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007). Humans were faces with differentiating between the two. And questions of trust are abound in all of these wonderful series.

Heart Of Glory is another splendid example of this theme in action and succeeds by infusing ST:TNG with the spirt of the classic series. This Klingon-centric story would establish Worf and offer a glimpse into the fragile Klingon - United Federation Of Planets alliance. Heart Of Glory would plant the seeds of the ongoing Worf/Klingon saga, the story of Khitomer and the Romulan betrayal detailed further in Worf-centric stories like the brilliant Sins Of The Father (S3, Ep17). Implications regarding Worf's family would follow in Family (S4, Ep2) and Homeward (S7, Ep13). This is the kind of foreshadowing and serialization that would make the new series such a success and influence genre television for years. Most of all, like the irreplaceable original series, Heart Of Glory places emphasis on character over effects, Worf stands out as a real highlight by capturing one of the real character highlights of the first season. While it may still be a little rough around the edges it lays the groundwork for better things to come especially for Worf. This one definitely has heart.

Heart Of Glory: B/B+.
Director: Rob Bowman.
Writer: Maurice Hurley, Herbert Wright, D.C. Fontana.


Roman J. Martel said...

Great review and I agree with your rating on this one too. When I revisited season one, this was the first episode that really clicked for me. A solid story, some solid acting and the direction really worked too. You images captured some of the interesting camera work and lighting in this episode. If memory serves, this is the first episode that really started to flesh out Klingon culture beyond what we had seen in TOS and the movies. Although the concept of the honor bound Klingon appears first in Star Trek III - the Search for Spock.

Thanks for tackling this season, it's a tough but interesting one.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thanks Roman and exactly right. This was the episode that "clicked" for me.

The Big Goodbye was good, but Heart Of Glory was one of those, "now this is Star Trek" moments!!!

John Kenneth Muir said...


Great review of this very good episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Like you, this is the first episode of the series that grabbed me, and -- wow -- it REALLY grabbed me.

There is a palpable sense of danger in this episode, and that's one reason I enjoy it so much. So many episodes of the first season lack that sense or quality of danger, that notion that something terrible could happen, that the crew isn't safe.

I love the scene here of the Klingons escaping from the brig by building a gun. That is just...awesome. The soundtrack is also great, and builds menace (as well as conveying a sense of Klingon culture).

As you note, this is also an amazing character episode in terms of Worf's development too.

I re-watched "Heart of Glory" recently and still love it, but I did note that the early stuff, with Geordi's visor takes too long, and prevents us from really getting into the meat of the episode sooner.

Therefore, I totally agree with your rating of B+!


The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Great to hear from you and great input.

I agree. Infinitely re-watchable episode. I've seen it several times and it is enjoyable for all the reasons you mention.

I know what you mean about the Geordi part. Feels a little odd and out of place at the beginning.

I might have marked it higher, but thought the series might not be hitting all of its beats as far as performance goes, but it is still exceptional despite being in that awkward first season. I liked it a lot. It "GRABBED" me as well.