Loud as a Whisper (ST:TNG Rewatch, Season 2, Episode 5)

Rewatching Star Trek: The Next Generation after a 20-year break.

A mediator who communicates via a telepathic chorus is a warring planet’s only hope for peace.

While the episode isn’t perfect, nothing made me want to facepalm.

I cared about Riva (the mediator) and his romantic (but at the same time respectful and professionally empathetic) interest in Troi. Her fascination with his methods, the shocking plot twist that shakes his confidence, the clever way that Troi encourages (or engineers?) his recovery, and Riva’s resourceful solution to his peacekeeping dilemma all fit together nicely.

While the scene where deaf Riva bonds with blind LaForge felt like another cheesy after-school special, this was the 80s, a time when special education kids were still sequestered from the mainstream, so the social message that seems heavy-handed three decades later was probably on point and much needed at the time.

Though the dinner scene where the smoldering-eyed Riva silently flirts with Troi was on the twee side of adorable, it also showed him in action as an expert communicator, so that we had reason to trust in his confidence and charisma — even when it bordered on arrogance. (This is something I found lacking in portrayals of other supposedly charismatic characters, like the rebel leader Ramsey in Angel One, or the title character in the Outrageous Okona).

A few camera angles were too tight on Riva’s face, so that we couldn’t clearly see the sign language gestures that Troi was supposed to be guessing. It was annoying in the way that an amateur video of a dance is painful to watch when the camera cuts off the performers’ feet.

Towards the end of the episode, the crew is a little slow to pick up on the fact that Riva’s ranting gestures are a formal language that could be learned. Nevertheless, I found myself enjoying the process, smiling through scenes where the show takes the time to dramatize the discomfort that mainstream audiences would experience when boldly going through a strange new pattern of communicating.

Riva (portrayed by deaf actor Howie Seago) did a very good job matching his facial expressions to the words spoken by his chorus, but I could tell that Data’s oral translation was often out of synch with RIva’s signing.

Although Data’s quest for human emotions was not a main focus of this episode it was good storytelling to put Data in the position of orally translating Riva’s rants that Data sucks as a translator because his voice lacks emotional nuance (though of course Riva is a bit more diplomatic about it).

Diana Muldaur does another good job in the thankless role of Dr. Pulaski, delivering medical technobabble that is appropriate to her character and unusually well-integrated with character development for LaForge.

By contrast, Worf’s early distrust for Riva turns out to be a cheap red herring, unresolved and apparently introduced only to add some tension to the opening scenes and perhaps to give Worf a little more to do.

On the sci-fi side, the show sports some cool solar system graphics in Picard’s ready room, a decent topographical map and glimpses of a sign language database on an LCARS display, and some surprising alien firearm special effects (casualties in this war don’t just vanish in a tidy flash of light).

I was happy to spot the as-yet-unnamed Chief O’Brien (though he had no lines).