TNG: S3E17: “Sins of the Father”

In which Worf meets long-lost family, nobody likes politicians, and Picard threatens war. 

Instead of drinking scotch as I usually do, I am drinking absinthe tonight, because maybe I will hallucinate there not being all this damn snow. So far, no luck.

"But the more you hate me, the more you will learn. I am hard but I am fair. There is no racial bigotry here. I do not look down on pinkskins, point-ears, warthogs or spoon-heads. Here you are all equally worthless."

“But the more you hate me, the more you will learn. I am hard but I am fair. There is no racial bigotry here. I do not look down on pinkskins, point-ears, warthogs or spoon-heads. Here you are all equally worthless.”

Remember back when Riker beat the crap out of the Klingons aboard their own ship? The time has come for the Klingons to return the favor, in the form of Commander Kurn, who has specifically requested to serve aboard the Enterprise. Kurn is a bit kurt, but all of these sorts of cultural exchanges have their rocky starts, right? Surely he would have studied for the cultural exchange just as Riker did to try to fit in? Surely he wouldn’t pull a Gunnery Sergant Hartman, would he?

In fact, he seems to have studied Starfleet regulations but intends to run an incredibly tight ship, far more disciplined than Picard or Riker usually require. There’s an interesting tension on the bridge, as compared to when Riker was the XO on the Pagh. Without seeing more of this yet, I posit the question: Is this a failing of Kurn for not studying Federation culture, or a failing of Federation culture for being dishonest with itself? The Klingon warriors aboard the Pagh pretty much said exactly what they meant, when they meant it. Meanwhile, Picard and Riker as the two humans present not cowed by Kurn’s demeanour, are looking at each other like ‘this is going to be an interesting ride’ rather than telling him flat-out that he has misread a key social dynamic. It may be that Klingon culture is generally so forthright that Kurn didn’t realize the regulations may not be how every ship is run. Let’s watch for that as the episode continues.

Riker joins Wes at Ten-Forward, with his patented step-over-the-back-of-the-chair sit. Wes is upset with Kurn’s attitude, and Geordi is not pleased either. In fact, they seem to believe he’s showing unusual laxness to Worf. To be fair, they have a point. He’s using words like ‘please’ and all but patting him on the head until Worf starts to bristle. Judging by the way the Klingons in “Heart of Glory” behaved toward Worf, it’s possible he has doubts about Worf’s… Klingonity? Klingon-ness? Warrior’s Spirit, that’ll do.

Kurn is going to the Captain’s Mess with Riker and they have a small chat about Starfleet Culture where Kurn tells Riker to basically eat his ridges. Kurn is also less than pleased by the opportunity to try ‘burned replicated bird meat.’ Again, we are reminded that Klingons tend to prefer to eat fresh food, even on a starship, which would make gagh (‘serpent-worms’) easily the most portable delicacy, since you could keep barrels of it aboard even a 12-man scout ship. One tends to imagine that the food they keep live may be fed by replicator, but the food itself is killed only immediately prior to eating.

After dinner and a couple of choice insults, Worf shows up at Kurn’s quarters, and Kurn doesn’t miss the opportunity to screw with Worf’s head, insulting him by proxy in refering to the Enterprise as a ship of comfort, rather than one fit for a warrior. Once it’s out in the open, the subtext just becomes text; Kurn accuses Worf of having thin blood, being a ‘capable Starfleet officer,’ and other such unforgivable offenses until Worf knocks over a table and offers to beat the crap out of Kurn until Kurn reveals that he’s Worf’s younger brother.

"Look, Brother. It's not that  I think you're a human. I just don't think you're a Klingon anymore."

“Look, Brother. It’s not that I think you’re a human. I just don’t think you’re a Klingon anymore.”

Kurn was a year old when Worf and his parents went to Khitomer, while Kurn stayed with his uncle. The family Mogh never came back, nor did Klingon High Command know that Kurn wasn’t killed at Khitomer. Years later, Kurn saw the cultural exchange program and used it as an opportunity to check in on his big brother. Of course, the real crux is that as the elder brother, Worf is the only one who can challenge the High Council over their declaration of their father as the traitor who allowed the Romulans to attack Khitomer. Worf requests leave to go to Quo’nos to challenge Duras over the matter. His leave is denied, because Picard is going to divert the Enterprise and stand by Worf himself.

This building tells us everything we need to know about Klingon culture.

This building tells us everything we need to know about Klingon culture.

As the challenger, Worf will not be allowed combat, and Kurn steps up to be his second. There’s all sorts of power dynamics going on with Klingon ritual, so Kurn will hide his true identity for now. Worf’s entourage consists of Picard, Riker, and Kurn as he addresses high council, and everyone seems to believe he has forsaken his heritage. And the entire proceedings are conducted via shouting, as I’m sure you all expected.

Duras accuses Mogh of sending Romulans the Klingon defense access codes, resulting in the deaths of everyone on Khitomer, and divests Worf of his bandolier in a ritual challenge. Everything is ritual here, but while the council goes into recess to consider the challenge, Picard puts everyone on high alert and starts the detective work. Down on Quo’nos, the chancellor tries to convince Worf to drop the challenge and forget his father’s honor, which seems incredibly fishy. Riker requests all the logs from the Intrepid, first ship on the seen, to try to dig to the bottom of the mystery. Meanwhile, Duras also tries to convince Kurn to drop his role in the proceedings, and when that doesn’t work he has Kurn jumped by thugs in an alley.

This is a pretty fantastic portrayal of Klingon realpolitik. Honor sounds well and good but it seems that even the Klingons must bow to political necessity. There’s something going on and Mogh was blamed as a cover-up. From Duras’ personal investment, it’s a good bet his family was involved. This is pieced together from vague recollections of House Duras being generally terrible people. So it turns out that a captured Romulan ship did receive a transmission from Khitomer just before the shields went down, but in comparison to the logs of the Intrepid, something is wrong with the timestamps. Again, because of a cover-up.

Jean-Luc Picard: Master of disguise.

Jean-Luc Picard: Master of disguise.

Since Kurn is out of commission, Worf asks Picard to stand as his second, and Picard accepts with all the iron of the Hero of Maxia. During the proceedings, Picard gets a call that there was one more survivor of Khitomer, a woman named Kahlest, and Picard calls for a recess to find her in the slums. According to Kahlest, Mogh went to Khitomer to hunt down a suspected traitor, and she refuses to testify. Picard manages to take out one of the thugs Duras obviously sent to jump him, and Kahlest saves him from the other. His showing in personal combat convinces her he may be worth her showing up in court.

Kahlest showing up in court shakes Duras loose, and the chancellor pulls Worf, Duras, Picard, and Kahlest into closed chambers to basically settle out of court. Duras’ family seems to have been the traitorous one, but for some reason Duras needs to be protected. Since Duras’ family is still alive and powerful, whereas Worf is an exiled scion of a dead house, and was used as a scapegoat. And must continue to be used as a scapegoat, with all that entails. Picard and Chancellor Kempok  get into a really good shouting match about honor which escalates to Picard demanding the public exoneration of Worf even at the risk of destabilizing the Klingon Empire and Kempok threatening to dissolve the alliance with the Federation. It’s up to Worf to de-escalate things, which is a sentence nobody would have ever thought could be said.

"Bite my ridges, Duras."

“Bite my ridges, Duras.”

Worf offers to sacrifice his life to uphold the Empire so long as his brother is allowed to live and the secret of his lineage is kept. Since Kurn would seek revenge, Worf offers instead his own public disgrace, for the good of the Empire. In council chambers, Worf allows himself to be ritually excommunicated from Klingon society, but the symbolism here is beautiful. They stand in a circle and turn their backs on him. He forces his own brother to do the same. The gesture implies dishonor and seems to confer non-person status. But every time Worf has entered council chambers on camera, we see him do so by beaming in, facing the throne directly. As he leaves for what may be the last time in his life, he does so by turning his own back on all of them. And at the very least, Kempok and Duras know that the dishonor is theirs. I would have liked to see a close-up of one of them just for that extra twist of the knife, but it is otherwise basically a perfect scene.

2 thoughts on “TNG: S3E17: “Sins of the Father”

  1. Pingback: Worlds in a Blender | TNG: S5E10: “New Ground”

  2. Pingback: Worlds in a Blender | TNG: S3E25: “Transfigurations”

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