Rewatching Star Trek: The Next Generation after a 20-year break.
In “Heart of Glory,” we get our first real exploration of Worf’s backstory, as the Enterprise-D rescues some Klingons who can’t convincingly explain what they were doing on a battle-scarred freighter. It’s a good Worf story, and the guest stars are sufficiently elegiac, sympathetic, and honorable; however, never for a moment did I believe Worf’s loyalties were divided.
The story doesn’t directly feed into the Klingon Civil War arc (a storyline that helped make TNG truly great and that spilled over into the follow-on series, Deep Space Nine). But this 1987 episode is our first sympathetic look at the Klingons, who had a brief appearance as hapless victims in the 1979 “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and lots of screen time as villains in the 1984 “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.”
When we first met Klingons in the 1960s series, they were aggressive ideological enemies of the Federation, and they appeared in plot lines that commented on the Cold War culture of the time. However, in a characteristic bit of optimism, original series creator Gene Roddenberry put the mop-topped Chekov on the bridge crew, depicting him as proud of his Russian heritage but also fiercely loyal to Captain Kirk.
Seeing Worf on Picard’s bridge was an occasion for many Trek fans to question their assumptions about Klingons, but “Heart of Glory” hints that Worf might face some prejudice on the Enterprise. When he is taking two Klingon visitors on a stroll through the corridors, a brief shot shows a woman in civilian clothes, reaching out to pull a little girl away from the Klingons. It might have been a perfectly instinctive protective response to the presence of strangers, but the scene was included in an episode that hinged on Worf’s isolation.
At that point in the story, Picard and the other crew members are wary of the Klingons because their story doesn’t seem to add up, but they’re nobly giving them the benefit of the doubt. As Worf opens up to what may be the first Klingons he has met in his adult life, we watch the Klingons respond with empathy, as Picard learns that Korris and his band of warriors are part of a fringe group who are wanted by the Klingon Empire for threatening the peace with the Federation. In a rather brilliant bit of world-building, on the wall behind the Klingon official who delivers this exposition we see both the Klingon symbol and the Federation symbol.
When the Enterprise security team shows up to arrest the guests, we see Worf freeze; he looks back and forth between his fellow Klingons and his fellow security officers, and then we fade out for a commercial break. When we come back, Worf is still standing there, and he does some more looking, yet he manages to take no action whatsoever, at which point the little girl steps out of a turbolift right in front of the big bad Korris, who picks her up.
Thanks to various reaction shots and dialogue, we’re prepared for an action sequence of some sort, but after pausing dramatically, Korris simply hands the girl to Worf and meekly surrenders. We the audience are left feeling that we had misjudged a noble warrior who was simply having a hard time finding a place to fit into a postwar society.
If the show had ended here, I think it would have been a better story in terms of its message. We learn that these honorable traditional Klingons who represent the culture Worf has left behind will be executed for their crimes against a new Klingon culture sympathetic to the Federation
However, you gotta please the groundlings, so the next act features the Klingons escaping (implausibly they assemble a futuristic zapping pistol from doohickeys and greebles on their costumes) and killing a guard. Korris makes it to engineering and points a phaser at the warp core, threatening to destroy the whole ship.
The whole final act seems contrived just to give us a fight sequence. I felt less sympathetic to Korris now that we’ve seen him killing a good guy, and I was puzzled as to why the good guys hadn’t searched the prisoners, kept a better watch on them, and/or hit them with phasers on stun. (One of the Klingons dies after being shot multiple times by the guards.)
The episode began with a long sequence in which an away team investigates the battle-damaged freighter, featuring a long sequence in which LaForge patches his visor through to the bridge main screen. Picard gets very interested in how LaForge processes all the information he receives, and there’s a nicely understated bit where we learn that LaForge always sees an “aura” around Data. “Well, of course. He’s an android.” Riker diplomatically reminds the captain of the task at hand, which is fortunate, because in short order we learn the ship’s hull will break up in about five minutes, something falls from the ceiling, the crew has to plot a path around poison gas, the undefined life signs turn out to be Klingons, Yar tries to beam everyone back but the transporter fails, we see an explosion inside the derelict and a wall of flame rushing towards the landing party, there’s an external shot of the freighter blowing up, and then we see that Yar tried again and this time everyone made it back OK. Whew!
So, yes, the away mission was fun to watch, but Picard’s boyish wonder at LaForge’s visual interface took up time that could have resulted in the death of everyone on the away team. If somehow Picard’s commentary on LaForge’s visor had led LaForge to discover the signs of metal fatigue that made them realize the ship was about to break apart, then this scene would have been more than a distraction.
Because so little happened in that long opening sequence, I felt the ending was sloppy. I do like that Worf has clearly figured out that Korris didn’t climb to the upper level of Engineering because he wants to shoot the warp core, but rather he’s bluffing in order to provoke a confrontation with Worf, which would give him an honorable way to die.
Given that cultural context, and the fact that we were being invited to sympathize with a guest villain who had just killed a goldshirt, I thought the crisis resolution was a cop-out. Worf fires on Korris and drops him to the floor, which for some reason shatters so that Korris can fall through it and die when he hits the level below.
I’d prefer to have seen a shorter away team sequence, to save room for perhaps a final martial arts showdown between Worf and Korris, where they could have speechified at each other while fighting, in the manner of Kirk facing off against Kruge while the Genesis Planet self-destructed around them, and Kirk wasn’t just fighting to beat Kruge, he was fighting in order to save the newly resurrected Spock. I think it would have gone a long way to establish Klingons as following their own moral code if we had seen Worf reluctantly take Korris down in a brutal hand-to-hand battle, where Worf holds back just enough to let Korris know they can both stop at any time, and Korris fights back just enough to justify Worf’s violence. It would be have been powerful to see Worf embrace his dying opponent and perform the surprisingly intimate death ritual.
No Troi or Wesley in this episode. Not much for Crusher to do other than treat a dying Klingon.
I remember being very interested in my first sight of the “Klingon death ritual,” but after seeing a great deal of Klingon culture over the years (Troi guffawing over rituals involving “painsticks” and the memorably choreographed and photographed discommendation ritual come to mind), this early glimpse of Klingon culture seemed underwhelming.
Another minor technical weirdness…. we learn the Klingon ship is traveling at warp 5, and is still over an hour away, yet the Enterprise can put a “visual” of the approaching vessel on the main viewer. How do you get a “visual” on something that is approaching you at many times faster than the speed of light?